Federal agents raid Springfield, Cicero offices of Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval, source says
By JASON MEISNER, JAMIE MUNKS and RAY LONG
CHICAGO TRIBUNE |
SEP 24, 2019 | 8:07 PM
Federal agents on Tuesday raided the Springfield and Cicero offices of longtime Democratic state Sen. Martin Sandoval as well as his family’s Southwest Side home as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.
Investigators are looking into allegations Sandoval used his official position to steer business to at least one company in exchange for kickbacks, a source with knowledge of the case told the Chicago Tribune.
No criminal charges had been filed.
Sandoval, who has been in office for 17 years and chairs the influential Senate Transportation Committee, could not be reached on Tuesday, and calls to his office were not returned.
In what has become a familiar scene in Illinois, FBI and IRS agents spent hours behind closed doors in Sandoval’s offices in the state capitol, where an agent stationed in a nearby hallway turned back a Tribune reporter seeking comment.
Shortly after 12:30 p.m., at least eight men left the Senate Democratic offices carrying cardboard boxes, two brown bags labeled “evidence” and what appeared to be a desktop computer wrapped in plastic. News cameras rolled as the agents left the building, loaded the material into two SUVs and drove off.
At about the same time nearly 200 miles away, agents executed search warrants at Sandoval’s district office in the 5800 block of West 35th Street in Cicero, as well as his longtime family home in Gage Park, sources told the Tribune.
A man who answered the door at Sandoval’s brick, three-story building Tuesday said the legislator was not home. Later, two officials with duty belts and handcuffs came out of the home to get wheeled hand trucks, taking them inside. One identified himself as from the IRS criminal division.
An FBI spokesman confirmed that agents were at the capitol conducting “authorized law enforcement activity,” but declined to comment further.
The raids marked the latest in a slew of ongoing public corruption probes that have sent shock waves from City Hall to Springfield over the past 10 months.
In November 2018, the FBI took over the City Hall offices of longtime Ald. Edward Burke, who at the time was the powerful chairman of the Finance Committee, and papered over windows with brown butcher paper before leaving down a back staircase with computers and files. Burke has since been indicted on sweeping racketeering charges alleging he used his clout to steer business to his private law firm. He has pleaded not guilty.
In June, a similar scene played out when agents executed search warrants at the Far South Side ward office of influential Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th, the second longest-serving active member of the City Council. Austin has not been charged.
Sandoval is also the second state senator to come under the cloud of a federal investigation.
Last month, his colleague Sen. Thomas E. Cullerton of Villa Park was indicted on embezzlement charges alleging he pocketed almost $275,000 in salary and benefits from the Teamsters union despite doing little or no work. Cullerton has pleaded not guilty.
Born in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on the city’s South Side, Sandoval, 55, first won election to the Senate in 2002 with the support of former Mayor Richard M. Daley and the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization, a patronage army that crumbled amid a federal investigation into hiring practices at City Hall.
Controversy has often dogged Sandoval’s political career. In 2011, Sandoval was among a handful of lawmakers whose legislative scholarship records were reviewed by federal authorities after state education officials sent them over. The centuryold scholarship program, long riddled with abuse, eventually was abolished.
Last month, Sandoval faced national criticism after photos showing a man pointing a fake gun used as a novelty beverage dispenser at someone wearing a mask depicting President Donald Trump were taken at a political fundraiser hosted by the senator and posted on social media.
Sandoval apologized, said he wasn’t aware of the incident when it occurred and blamed it on a vendor hired to provide music and entertainment.
Sandoval currently makes $80,038 as a legislator, including a stipend of $10,574 for his committee chairmanship, state records show.
He serves a Southwest Side district that shares half of its territory with powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who has worked with Sandoval over the years on a variety of legislative issues but also been at odds with the senator at times.
In the March 2018 Democratic primary, Sandoval supported the candidacy of his daughter, Angie Sandoval, for the county board seat vacated by Jesus “Chuy” Garcia when he ran for Congress. Madigan’s 13th Ward organization, however, went with the victorious Alma Anaya, who was supported by Garcia.
As Senate transportation chairman, Sandoval was positioned to play a key role in implementing the massive $45 billion construction program pushed through the General Assembly and signed into law by Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker earlier this year.
State Sen. Martin Sandoval outside a Chicago elementary school on Aug. 31, 2018. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)
But his position on the committee has also drawn criticism. In 2015 and 2016, Sandoval interceded on behalf of a campaign donor that stood to make millions off red light cameras at an intersection straddling Oak Brook and Oakbrook Terrace, the Tribune has reported.
The Illinois Department of Transportation originally said the intersection was too safe to need cameras, but Sandoval asked IDOT to change its mind. At one point, Sandoval told IDOT he wanted to help the agency but “wasn’t getting the type of cooperation on his issues that he would like to see,” according to emails uncovered by the newspaper.
IDOT then approved Oakbrook Terrace’s application.
Meanwhile, Safespeed, the company that had lobbied for the cameras, and its owners collectively donated tens of thousands of dollars to Sandoval’s campaign coffers, including one contribution for $10,000 in September 2016 that at the time was the largest single donation the firm had given anyone.
Oak Brook later passed an ordinance complaining the cameras were part of a process that sought to "corrupt local law enforcement” and enrich political leaders, but the village eventually dropped a lawsuit seeking to ban the cameras from the corner.
Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Ragucci told the Tribune on Tuesday that the village has not received any requests for information from federal authorities related to the camera controversy.
The chief critic of the deal — Oak Brook council member Michael Manzo — said he still believes the cameras should be taken down. When asked if he’s spoken with the FBI, he declined comment.
More recently, Sandoval was named in a federal lawsuit alleging the senator used his influence as Transportation Committee chairman to get his son a job in 2016 as a community relations representative at Pace Suburban Bus Service.
The plaintiff, Lawrence Gress of Dowers Grove, alleged he was subjected to a “sham interview” and passed over for the job in favor of Sandoval’s son, Martin Sandoval II, who is some 40 years younger and vastly less experienced.
Pace has denied the allegations, which include a civil racketeering conspiracy. An attorney for Sandoval could not be reached immediately.
With Tuesday’s raids, Sandoval became the latest political associate of Madigan to face federal scrutiny.
In mid-May, the FBI raided the homes of former lobbyist Mike McClain of Quincy, a longtime Madigan confidant, and ex-23rd Ward Ald. Michael Zalewski.
The information the FBI was seeking included records of communications among Madigan, McClain and Zalewski related to attempts to get ComEd lobbying work for Zalewski, the Tribune has reported.
Sandoval’s daughter, Angie, works for ComEd as a senior account representative.
Also in mid-May, the FBI raided the Chicago home of Ald. Marty Quinn’s brother, Kevin Quinn, a political and government operative Madigan parted ways with last year amid sexual harassment allegations. One source told the Tribune the federal government showed an interest in computers in Kevin Quinn’s home.
Last month, the Tribune disclosed that a Cook County grand jury has subpoenaed election records regarding the reelection bid of Madigan’s handpicked Ald. Marty Quinn, who serves in the Southwest Side ward where Madigan has reigned as committeeman for decades.
Sandoval’s political connection to Madigan was solidified in 2011, when his Senate district was redrawn following the census to overlap with Madigan’s House district.
Under the mapmaking, which Madigan oversaw with Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago — a distant cousin to Thomas Cullerton — the speaker was placed in a growing Latino district on the Southwest Side.
At the time, Sandoval embraced the move.
“The Irish and the Latinos have had a long history of shared immigrant values, hard work ethic and religious faith,” Sandoval told the Tribune in 2011. “We’re both White Sox fans, and now we’ll share a majority Hispanic district. I look forward to having the Madigans over for a traditional home-style Mexican barbecue."
Chicago Tribune’s Dan Petrella, Joe Mahr and William Lee contributed.