Longtime lawmaker Terry Link, who wore wire on colleague, pleads guilty in tax case

Former state Senator Terry Link | Brian O’Mahoney/For Sun-Times Me

Link was a key player in the casino debate and had been the head of the Lake County Democratic Party since 1992 before resigning last month.

Longtime Illinois lawmaker Terry Link pleaded guilty during a virtual court hearing Wednesday morning, capping a lengthy legislative career with an unexpected fall from grace.

Federal prosecutors charged the former senator one month ago with filing a false income tax return for 2016, claiming his income was $264,450 that year even though he knew his total income “substantially exceeded that amount.”

That was 10 months after Link publicly denied that he had been the unnamed state senator who had cooperated with federal investigators and worn a wire on Luis Arroyo, who was then a state representative but was charged last October with bribery.

A source confirmed to the Chicago Sun-Times in October that Link was that unnamed senator, though. The initial criminal complaint against Arroyo said the unnamed senator had been caught submitting false income tax returns and expected to be charged for it.

Republicans pushed for Link to resign from the Legislative Ethics Commission, but Link didn’t until last month, after he was criminally charged. He has since resigned from the senate entirely, effective last Saturday.

The charge against Link came amid a drumbeat of public corruption cases this summer, beginning with a bribery case against ComEd in July that implicated House Speaker Michael Madigan. The speaker has not been charged and denies wrongdoing, but the ComEd case has triggered legislative hearings.

Public corruption charges have also been filed this summer against Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta, former Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski and Bloomingdale Township Highway Commissioner Robert Czernek, as well as an ex-Chicago Public Schools official, a onetime partner in a politically connected red-light camera company and a former ComEd vice president.

Two of Link’s colleagues in the senate, Thomas Cullerton and Martin Sandoval, have also recently faced public corruption charges.

Link had been the head of the Lake County Democratic Party since 1992 but resigned last month. He’s a former poker buddy of ex-President Barack Obama, dating back to the days when the two served together in the state Senate. Obama even mentioned Link in his 2016 speech to the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield. Though Link ran for mayor of Waukegan in 2013, he finished last in a three-way Democratic primary.

A longtime advocate of gambling expansion, Link finally won his fight for a Waukegan casino with the gambling expansion law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker last year.

A cloud formed over Link last year when his involvement in the case against Arroyo surfaced. Arroyo was accused in October of trying to bribe a senator to introduce legislation that would legalize sweepstakes machines. Arroyo resigned from his seat in the House and has pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors have told the judge presiding over the Arroyo case they expect to file “additional, related charges.”

While seeking what would turn out to be a $2,500 payment from Arroyo, Link allegedly told him, “I’m lookin’ for something, you know? I’m in the twilight, you know.”

Following the charges against Arroyo, Link denied he was the unnamed senator. He first denied it to WBEZ and then again to reporters in Springfield the next day while helping pass bills in the legislature.

“I said, what’s your source? You answer me. You’re a reporter,” Link said that day when asked if he wore a wire on Arroyo. “I answered the question yesterday. I’m not going to continually answer this every day of my life. I’m down here to do a job that I was elected to do, and that’s what I’m gonna do.”

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