Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) admitted to the FBI that he accepted free upgrades on a town home he purchased from convicted Chicago influence-peddler Tony Rezko, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. The congressman has previously been the subject of a federal investigation for engaging in real estate deals with a developer named Calvin Boender.
During a 2008 interview with the FBI, Gutierrez reportedly said that he asked Rezko for upgrades on the town house before purchasing it. The congressman claimed that the price of the home had risen by $35,000 since he had first considered buying it, and Rezko agreed to give him an additional bathroom and a higher quality carpet to make up for the increase in cost.
Gutierrez’s claims to the FBI contradicted previous statements that he made to the Sun-Times in 2006.
“I walked in with my wife — as any other consumer could have — and purchased the unit at the listed price, with no considerations,” said the congressman at the time. He further claimed that he never discussed the real estate deal with Rezko directly, and instead bought the home through one of the real estate developer’s salespeople.
A spokesperson for Gutierrez denied that the congressman accepted free renovations on the town house.
“The congressman never received any free ‘upgrades’ — or anything else for free — on his home at River Walk, and certainly never told anyone that he did. Any report that he did is completely false,” spokesman Douglas Rivlin told the Sun-Times.
But reports of Gutierrez’s deals with Rezko aren’t the only ethics concerns he’s facing at the moment. The Chicago Tribune reported last week that the Illinois lawmaker has also kept his wife and daughters on his campaign payroll. In 2010, Rep. Gutierrez paid his wife Soraida, $37,000 for work she did on his campaign. His daughters Omaira Gutierrez and Jessica Gutierrez were also paid $4,270 and $600, respectively, for campaign work they did in previous years.
While the practice of paying family members through campaign funds is legal as long as the relatives are qualified for the positions, some watchdogs say there is a potential for abuse.
“Is there anything patently wrong with having a family member work on a campaign?” Dave Levinthal, communications director at the Center for Responsive Politics, told the Tribune. “Arguably not. But it gets into sticky territory when the candidate, him or herself, stands to benefit personally in a significant way from political donations that are being made to fuel political efforts.”
Alana Goodman is NLPC’s Capitol Hill Reporter