Architect of Illinois gas tax hike accused of ‘racketeering conspiracy’

Architect of Illinois gas tax hike accused of ‘racketeering conspiracy’

The lawmaker who carried to the governor’s desk an infrastructure plan that doubled the state’s gas tax used his influence as a powerful state lawmaker to land his son a government job, a lawsuit alleges.

A lawsuit alleges youth and inexperience were conveniently ignored when a transit agency hired the son of a powerful state lawmaker.

The lawsuit accused state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, of using his influence as chair of the powerful Illinois Senate Transportation Committee to land his son a job for which he was not qualified at Pace, the suburban division of the Regional Transportation Authority, or RTA.

Lawrence Gress, the plaintiff, said Pace gave him an illegitimate job interview that took place two days after the bus service had already sent a formal job offer to Martin Sandoval II, the senator’s son.

Gress, who had previously worked for RTA from 1993 to 2005, interviewed for a role as a community relations representative at Pace in 2016. According to the Chicago Tribune, he had most recently worked for a firm that marketed Ventra, the Chicago Transit Authority’s fare payment system, to corporate executives in the city. Sandoval II was four years out of college and in his 20s at the time.

“I look at this and try to connect the dots in a way doesn’t suggest patronage and I have a rough time doing it,” Gress’ attorney, Kent Maynard, told the Daily Herald in March.

The Downers Grove resident filed the suit against RTA in 2017. He added the Sandovals and other transportation officials in August, accusing the lawmaker and his son of racketeering, according to the Tribune. Sandoval and RTA “secretly and corruptly determined that Sandoval II would be awarded an employment position, to the exclusion of many other equally or better qualified candidates,” according to the suit, using Gress and others as “unwitting pawns in order to stage a scene to hide their own misconduct.”

Maynard told the Tribune that each of the Pace officials interviewed in videotaped depositions have failed to explain how they chose Sandoval II as the best person in a pool of over 80 candidates.

Corruption of clout?

On Sept. 24, FBI agents raided Sandoval’s home and both his Cicero and Statehouse offices as part of an investigation into allegations that Sandoval had used his political position to award at least one company a government contract in exchange for kickbacks.

It is not clear whether the racketeering accusations against Sandoval are related to that investigation.

Sandoval played a leading role in passing Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s massive infrastructure plan in June, which doubled the state’s gas tax and raised a variety of vehicle fees.

“The $45 billion construction package is the culmination of a three-month negotiation process led by state Sen. Martin A. Sandoval,” the lawmaker boasted on his website at the time of Pritzker’s signing.

Construction bills are often hotbeds of political favoritism. And many of Sandoval’s political donors are “engineering, planning, construction and related companies,” Crain’s Chicago Business noted.

In May, an Illinois Policy Institute analysis found state lawmakers could have spent an additional $10 billion over the existing $17 billion on infrastructure without waste and tax hikes. Ranking projects by need, making renovation a priority over new construction and awaiting the federal dollars from a new highway bill were all part of the recommendations.

Instead, at least one lawmaker admitted what Illinois again got was the traditional Statehouse horse trading in which projects are used to secure votes on other issues. “A capital bill is helpful for people being able to take votes so they can show that these (other) votes were worth it for their district,” said Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, who was formerly chair of the House Transportation Committee.

The Sandoval raids were the latest development in what appears to be an escalating federal investigation into Illinois and Chicago political power brokers. Jeffrey Sallet, former special agent in charge of Chicago’s FBI field office, on Sept. 4 called for term limits on state and local offices to curb the endemic corruption. He said more federal action was coming.

Sandoval has served in the Illinois Senate for nearly two decades and has chaired the Senate Transportation Committee since 2013. His senate district in southwest Chicago overlaps with the legislative district of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, with whom he has long held a close political relationship in the General Assembly.

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