Representative Luis Gutierrez has been the center of a great deal of media attention as the national political debate has shifted to immigration reform. Long a vocal opponent of the government's policies toward immigrants, the congressman from Chicago was arrested this past weekend at a protest demanding changes.
But as he appears in the national news, Gutierrez has also made a spate of local headlines for a different reason: suspicious dealings with city real estate developers.
The latest, and perhaps most damning: the Chicago Tribune reports that the FBI has been asking questions about Gutierrez's ties to real estate developer Calvin Boender. In March of this year, Boender was convicted of five counts of bribery and obstruction of justice.
Gutierrez, a nine-term congressman, has had questionable dealings with Boender dating back to 2004. At that time, the developer loaned Gutierrez $200,000 in a real estate transaction. While some of the paperwork is missing, Gutierrez says he paid Boender back with interest within a few months.
But that deal, coupled with the tens of thousands of dollars donated over the years by Boender to Gutierrez's campaigns, appears to have endeared Boender to the congressman. Later in 2004, as Boender sought city approval for his controversial Galewood Yards development project, Gutierrez made the unusual move of lobbying City Hall strongly on his behalf.
Gutierrez told Daley he understood that a planner, Nancy Kiernan, told the mayor at the summer meeting that Boender was "a bad guy of sorts."
"I absolutely refute this characterization," Gutierrez wrote. "Mr. Boender also has been responsible for development in Bucktown and (elsewhere) during the past 25 years, and I take issue with the Planning Department official's alleged negative comments."
Gutierrez asked the mayor for "any support that you can give" Boender.
The congressman's letter created a stir in Daley's planning department.
Danita Childers, a former top planning official who testified at Boender's trial, called the congressman's involvement in a local zoning matter "highly unusual" and said she was shocked at the tone of the letter.
The FBI ultimately prosecuted Boender for arranging $40,000 in free improvements to the home of Ald. Ike Carothers in exchange for the alderman's support on the project. Both he and Carothers have been convicted.
According to the Tribune, Childers' testimony about Gutierrez's involvement in Galewood Yards, as well as information about the $200,000 loan, piqued the FBI's interest.
The Bureau "has interviewed City Hall employees and Chicago aldermen" about Gutierrez's involvement in the case, the Tribune reports.
And while most of the questioning happened in 2008, as the FBI was preparing its case against Boender and Carothers, some inquiries took place as recently as February of this year.
On Monday, the Chicago Sun-Times reported onGutierrez's daughter's purchase of an affordable housing unit in 2008 that showed she received preferential treatment. Gutierrez denies any wrongdoing.