Feds raid home, offices of Illinois lawmaker close to Madigan
A fourth political ally of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has become the latest target of an ongoing federal investigation.
The longtime Illinois state senator who is the latest subject of a federal raid was also the lawmaker most responsible for handing Illinois drivers a doubled gasoline tax.
Weeks after the outgoing head of Chicago’s FBI field office signaled more revelations were on the horizon, federal agents on Sept. 24 conducted raids on the offices and home of state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago.
Sandoval, who chairs the powerful Senate Transportation Committee, 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.
The Chicago Tribune reported eight agents left Sandoval’s Springfield and Cicero offices loading “two cardboard boxes, two brown bags labeled ‘evidence’” and possibly a desktop computer into black SUVs.
Federal authorities told the Tribune they were investigating allegations that Sandoval had used his political position to award at least one company government contract in exchange for kickbacks.
The outcome of the investigation could shed new light on Sandoval’s role in drafting the state’s new infrastructure plan. Construction bills are often hotbeds of political favoritism. 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 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.
Regarding the Sandoval raids, FBI Special Agent John Althen said agents were in the Statehouse to conduct “authorized law enforcement activity,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. He declined to comment further.
Federal agents also visited Sandoval’s southwest Chicago home, one of whom identified himself as an officer with the criminal division of the IRS, according to the Tribune. Officers were seen exiting Sandoval’s residence with “duty belts and handcuffs” only to return and take wheeled hand trucks inside.
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.
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.
The Sandoval raids are the latest development in what appears to be an escalating federal investigation into Illinois and Chicago political power brokers. The investigation appeared to peak in May when federal prosecutors brought a 14-count indictment against powerful Ald. Ed Burke, 14th Ward, Chicago’s longest-serving alderman.
The investigation into Burke revealed former Chicago Ald. Danny Solis had worn a wire to record Burke, in cooperation with the FBI. Weeks following the Burke indictment, FBI agents raided the ward office of Ald. Carrie Austin, 34th Ward; and a federal court sentenced former Ald. Willie Cochran to one year in prison on corruption charges – the 30th Chicago alderman since 1972 convicted of a felony related to his official duties.
Moreover, a series of federal raids on the homes of high-ranking political insiders appears to be circling in on Madigan, the nation’s longest-serving Statehouse speaker. Madigan confidants who have been the subject of high-profile federal raids include former state lawmaker and lobbyist Mike McClain, former Chicago Ald. Michael Zalewski and former Madigan political lieutenant Kevin Quinn.
In August, a federal indictment against state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park, on embezzlement charges was another political corruption bombshell that dropped during Sallet’s tenure. Cullerton has pleaded not guilty to those charges.
Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot both campaigned on promises to fight corruption and clean up state and local government, respectively. Lightfoot has moved the city closer to those goals by empowering the city watchdog and limiting conflicts of interest, as well as introducing reforms to the city’s controversial workers’ comp program and ticketing-and-towing scheme.
Pritzker is the subject of a federal investigation into a scheme to save $331,000 on property taxes by removing the toilets from a neighboring mansion he owns on Chicago’s Gold Coast so it could be deemed uninhabitable and the value drop from about $6.25 million to about $1.1 million. He paid the taxes after the story became public.
As for his campaign promise to fight corruption, Pritzker has remained inactive at best.