Crusader Staff Report
Alderman Carrie Austin’s 34th Ward office on the Far South Side on Wednesday, June 19 was raided by federal agents, with Austin the second elected official under the spotlight in a continuing investigation that may target more Black aldermen.
After obtaining a search warrant, federal agents stormed Austin’s office at 111th and Normal, where they removed what appeared to be computer equipment in cardboard boxes. Men and women in slacks were seen moving in and out of the office before moving the items in SUVs parked in front of Austin’s office.
A group of Austin critics stood on the corner watching the raid unfold. Austin was not there and was not charged with any wrongdoing. WGN went to Austin’s home, but no one answered the door. The Crusader left a message on Austin’s voicemail but a response was not returned by press time Wednesday.
Austin reportedly appeared with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot at a news conference Wednesday morning at Julian High School in Washington Heights in her Far South Side ward. The press conference announced summer anti-violence initiatives for Chicago youth.
For months, the Crusader had been hearing from sources that Austin would be the next alderman to be raided after federal agents raided Alderman Ed Burke’s 14th ward office in January of this year. The Crusader could not publish the information because it could not confirm it with reliable sources. The sources said another Black alderman was also target by the feds. Since then, word spread that more aldermen would be targeted by federal agents after Alderman Daniel Solis (25th) wore a wiretap for two years.
As the Crusader reporter was driving back from Austin’s office after the raid, a close source texted the reporter to say that another raid was taking place at a second Black alderman’s office. The Crusader visited that office, but nothing was going on. That same alderman has also been the talk of a possible raid by federal agents.
Burke last month was charged with racketeering and the attempted extortion of two Burger King owners trying to apply for a building permit to renovate their fast food restaurant.
Citing an unnamed source, Crain’s Chicago Business reported that the FBI is investigating Austin on how she and her staff spent and invested campaign cash. Austin heads the 34th Ward Democratic organization. She once chaired the City Council Budget Committee and Operations, but Mayor Lori Lightfoot replaced her with Alderman Pat Dowell (3rd Ward).
In a special report this year, a story on the WBEZ website said Austin had the poorest attendance records at committee meetings out of the 50 aldermen, showing up 34 percent of the time. She told the radio news station that she doesn’t have to show and that she listens to council meetings over the speaker system in her office.
Preston Brown, who pushed Austin to a runoff in April, said in a statement, “Today is a great day for the citizens of the 34th Ward and the City of Chicago. Any corruption found in city government needs to be exposed and eliminated.”
Austin is the longest-serving Black alderman. After Burke, she is the second longest-serving official on the City Council with 25 years in public office. She was appointed by Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1994 after her husband, Alderman Lemuel Austin died while in office. She has a large crop of supporters who have re-elected her many times.
In April, Austin was elected to a seventh term after beating challenger Preston Brown in a runoff.
CORRECTION: The Crusader first reported that Austin is the longest-serving alderman on the City Council. She is not. Alderman Ed Burke is the longest-serving official on the City Council.