Ald. Burke, Sen. Sandoval political crony guilty of lying about bribes

Ald. Burke, Sen. Sandoval political crony guilty of lying about bribes

A longtime political operative for Chicago Ald. Ed Burke and the late state Sen. Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about bribes.

A longtime political operative for two Chicago politicians previously charged with corruption, Chicago Ald. Ed Burke and the late state Sen. Martin Sandoval, on April 13 pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about bribes.

Rudy Acosta Sr., 70, was charged with withholding information in 2017 and 2018 from the FBI about Sandoval and other elected officials, even as he was giving the investigators information about other criminal activities. Acosta’s plea agreement states he and Sandoval received bribes from a businessman and that Acosta also bribed Sandoval.

Sandoval last year pleaded guilty to engaging in corrupt activity with other public officials and accepting $250,000 in bribes. He died in December 2020 after contracting COVID-19.

Acosta faces roughly six months in prison, but his sentencing was delayed to give him more time to cooperate with federal investigators.

Acosta was a city fire inspector for 33 years and served as a precinct captain for Burke, the longest-serving alderman in Chicago history and former czar of city finances, who was indicted on 14 counts of corruption in May 2019. Burke is alleged to have used his Chicago City Council seat to steer business to his property-tax appeals firm – one of the most lucrative in Chicago.

Acosta also worked for other aldermen indicted for corruption, including one with mob connections.

He has also been linked to Mariano “Mario” Martinez, a bar operator who pleaded guilty in 2019 to heroincharges and said he gave more than $6,500 in bribes to public officials in Summit, Illinois. Martinez’s defense attorney wrote in court records that Martinez had been part of Acosta’s political operation.

Acosta’s son, Rudy Acosta III, faces federal drug conspiracy charges. He is charged with drug dealing in Chicago for a Mexican cartel.

The Acosta charges came on March 29 – the same day the Chicago Tribune revealed a federal investigation into influence peddling by Chicago-based marijuana company Green Thumb Industries. The company hired four close associates of former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, including Madigan confidant Michael McClain, who was charged in the $1.3 million ComEd bribery scandal that implicated Madigan.

Then on March 31 former state Sen. Annazette Collins was charged with federal tax crimes. She is now a lobbyists and has been tied to two ongoing federal investigations: the $1.3 million ComEd bribery scandal and a federal bribery probe into unlicensed gambling machines.

Illinois is the second-most corrupt state in the nation and that corruption comes with a heavy price tag for the state economy – more than $550 million in foregone economic activity per year.

Not only does this cost all Illinois taxpayers, but it shakes residents’ faith in state and local politicians. The ongoing federal corruption probes are a reminder that Illinois has a lot of work ahead to undo the political culture of corruption.

State lawmakers are considering reforms that could help change that culture by making the politics and oversight of state government more transparent and ethical. Ethics reform bills being considered in the General Assembly would ban lobbying by sitting lawmakers, block the Statehouse’s revolving door between lawmaking and lobbying, make financial disclosure statements more revealing, and empower the legislative inspector general to investigate and publish political misconduct without lawmaker approval.

Federal investigators can attack Illinois corruption one indictment at a time, or state leaders can attack its base by boosting transparency and ethical standards. Reforms may not stop every criminal instance after Illinois spent decades building its culture of corruption, but they would be making a very public rejection of business as usual.

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