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Feds Subpoena Illinois Election Board For Chicago Ald. Carrie Austin’s Political Disclosures

FBI, federal prosecutors wanted all records of the alderman’s Democratic ward organization and two other political committees.

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Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th Ward, attends a City Council meeting on June 12, 2019.

Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th Ward, attends a City Council meeting on June 12, 2019.

Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

Federal authorities investigating Chicago Ald. Carrie Austin have sought all records of Austin’s political funds from the state’s election board, WBEZ has learned.

On June 27 – eight days after FBI agents raided Austin’s 34th Ward office on the city’s Far South Side – federal prosecutors in Chicago sent a subpoena to the Illinois State Board of Elections asking for “all items related to” three political groups controlled by the veteran alderman.

The U.S. attorney in Chicago, John Lausch, told state elections officials to give an FBI agent all documents for the 34th Ward Regular Democratic Organization and for two other political committees called “Citizens for Carrie M. Austin – Alderman 34th Ward” and “Friends of Carrie Austin 34th Ward Committeeman,” according to a copy of the subpoena that WBEZ obtained this week.

Austin, 70, has been an alderman and the leader of her ward’s Democratic organization for a quarter-century. She’s also vice chairwoman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Austin has not been charged and did not return messages Tuesday.

A spokesman for Lausch did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Court records show federal law enforcement’s interest in Austin is broad, with investigators probing a wide variety of topics, including real-estate projects in the 34th Ward, her newly constructed home, family members and longtime top aide Chester Wilson Jr.

The subpoena to the state election board came as Austin’s political funds turned in a flurry of amendments to their own campaign-finance disclosure filings in recent months, state records show.

In July, Austin’s ward organization filed 18 amendments to campaign fundraising and political spending reports that it had submitted to elections officials. Another of her three campaign committees amended its disclosure reports 11 times last month. It’s an unusually high number of corrections filed in a short amount of time.

The three committees reported having a total of about $164,000 in cash on hand at the end of June, according to state records.

Austin’s daughter Fatrice Austin-Geiger heads two of the three political groups that support her mother’s campaigns. Fatrice Austin-Geiger is a longtime employee in the office of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White -- one of many close Austin relatives who are government workers. She could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Dianne Turner, who has worked for Austin at City Hall as an “independent contractor,” is the treasurer of all three of the alderman’s political committees. The city has paid Turner more than $445,000 since the start of 2013, records show.

The subpoena to the election board also requested communications the agency has had with Austin during her 25-year career as alderman.

“We complied with [the subpoena] and provided them the correspondence and copies of the records that were not available online,” said election board spokesman Matt Dietrich.

Those communications mostly consist of the elections board chiding Austin’s campaign officers for inconsistencies or errors in her campaign fund disclosures. An August 2015 letter from the state elections board to the ward organization notes that the committee reported a $25,970 donation to Chicago for Rahm Emanuel — a donation the then-mayor did not report.

Over the years, the election board also repeatedly has asked Austin’s committees to break down how it had spent tens of thousands of dollars lumped together as “Election Day Expenses” on disclosure reports.

Austin was one of the most prominent African-American allies of Emanuel and former Mayor Richard M. Daley. Her clout peaked during the 12 years when she led the City Council’s Budget Committee under Daley and Emanuel.

But she lost that powerful position when Lori Lightfoot became mayor earlier this year, even though Austin -- who supported Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s mayoral bid -- vowed to be loyal to Lightfoot.

WBEZ’s Claudia Morell contributed to this article.

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