Feds say they followed Chicago Ald. Carrie Austin, saw her walking ‘unassisted’ despite medical claim

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Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), pictured at a June City Council meeting.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Federal prosecutors say recent FBI surveillance of Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) undermined her claim that she is medically unfit to stand trial on public corruption charges.

When Austin’s lawyers asked U.S. District Judge John Kness last month to find her unfit, they said her deteriorating health issues had brought her to a point where she could not pass a six-minute walking test in September, and that she struggles even with the help of a portable oxygen concentrator.

But while being surveilled on Nov. 19, the feds say Austin was seen walking in and out of a salon unassisted. After spending three hours at the salon, she was allegedly seen visiting a beauty store — “again, unassisted.”

“FBI agents did not observe her using oxygen at any time during the surveillance,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Vikas Didwania wrote in a court filing Friday.

The only time the FBI saw Austin using an oxygen mask was when she left a medical facility Nov. 21, according to Didwania. 

“Afterwards, she dined-in at a restaurant in the south loop,” Didwania wrote. “She walked into and out of the restaurant unassisted. She was there for approximately 40 minutes.”

Didwania wrote that “nullifying a federal indictment is a grave outcome,” and that Austin has provided “no medical opinion that a trial would jeopardize her life.” And, the prosecutor noted, she plans to “continue to work the demanding job of an alderman for the next several months until her ward disappears under newly drawn maps.”

The feds asked the judge to set a trial date as soon as possible.

Austin lawyer Thomas Anthony Durkin said in a statement later Friday that while he had only skimmed the new filing, “we are struck by the cavalier attitude of the government that completely and callously ignores the voluminous medical records we provided.”

“We also are bemused that the FBI saw fit to conduct surveillance on Ms. Austin’s recent comings and goings,” Durkin said. “Do they have nothing better to do?”

Austin’s lawyers wrote last month that she has been “under the constant care” of specialists for serious health problems ever since her indictment. They pointed to her collapse during a December 2021 City Council meeting that led to her being taken by ambulance to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. They said doctors there found she had a condition caused by a partial collapse of the lungs. They also said her breathing issues then worsened.

Austin is accused of taking home improvement materials — sump pumps, a dehumidifier and kitchen cabinets — as kickbacks from a developer overseeing a $50 million development in her ward.

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