Seven local Chicago officials were charged on Tuesday with conspiring to pay bribes to a fictitious bureaucrat who was supposed to be handing out $25,000 grants "like candy."
The sting operation uncovered the latest case of public corruption to stain the nation's third largest city and the state of Illinois.
Of the seven people indicted by a federal grand jury, the most prominent was Dean Nichols, 62, formerly the campaign treasurer for Illinois State Senator Rickey Hendon, a Democrat from Chicago who retired abruptly last year after 18 years in office.
Numerous alderman and city officials have been convicted over the years and two consecutive governors -- Republican George Ryan and Democrat Rod Blagojevich -- are serving prison sentences for corruption while in office.
Last month, federal prosecutors in Chicago charged two former Chicago area politicians with accepting kickbacks in return for making sure a public hospital bought bandages from a favored company.
Late last year, a sting operation using a fictitious grant for a day care center ensnared Illinois State Representative Derrick Smith, an appointee who easily won election just a week after corruption charges were brought. Smith's lawyer said he was entrapped by authorities.
In the latest sting, authorities invented a corrupt official with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A confidential informant, identified by prosecutors only as a Chicago police officer who began cooperating during a 2008 investigation of public corruption and gun-trafficking in the Chicago area, told Nichols the official would provide multiple $25,000 grants "like candy" in exchange for kickbacks.
Nichols and the other defendants were accused of filing applications for 40 grants for invented organizations such as "Edutainment Services, Inc." and "Children's Athletic Program," federal prosecutors in Chicago said.
If convicted, Nichols could face up to 5 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on each of three counts of bribery conspiracy. One of his co-defendants was charged with four counts of bribery conspiracy, and the others were charged with one count each.
(Reporting by Andrew Stern; editing by Greg McCune and Mohammad Zargham)