Political operative for Ald. Burke, Sen. Sandoval charged with lying to FBI

Political operative for Ald. Burke, Sen. Sandoval charged with lying to FBI

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

Federal charges were filed against a longtime political operative for two Chicago politicians previously charged with corruption, Chicago Ald. Ed Burke and the late state Sen. Martin Sandoval.

Rudy Acosta Sr. was charged with withholding information from the FBI about cash payments he made to an unnamed senator, which the Chicago Sun-Times confirmed was Sandoval. Charges stated Acosta and the senator had received “benefits” from an unnamed individual in 2017 and 2018.

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

Acosta 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 has also been linked to Mariano “Mario” Martinez, a bar operator who pleaded guilty in 2019 to heroin charges 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 defense attorney, Jeffery Steinback, confirmed the former political operative intends to plead guilty to withholding information about the bribes.

The Acosta charges came on 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 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 the culture by making politics more transparent and ethical. Ethics reform bills 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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