Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.
That was then, back in the 1930s and 1940s, when The Shadow was a famous crime-fighting fictional hero. He operated under an assumed identity that he would jettison to take a crack at the bad guys.
And this is now, when FBI agents executing a search warrant in one of their latest public corruption investigations are looking for, among many other things, “items related to Vahooman ‘Shadow’ Mirkhaef or any employee, officer, partner or representative related to” Mirkhaef, a.k.a. “The Shadow.”
The feds must figure The Shadow knows something that would be of interest in their sprawling criminal investigation that has touched politicos in Chicago, Cook County and Springfield.
The Shadow is just one of dozens of public employees, public officials and politically connected people whose names showed up in the federal search warrants that were recently executed in a series of FBI raids on the offices and homes of state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, and small communities — McCook, Lyons and Summit — located in Sandoval’s district.
The Illinois Senate last week released an un-redacted copy of the search warrant, and it’s proved to be catnip for those speculating about what’s under investigation and, more important, who among our dedicated public servants is in deep trouble.
Judging from the outside, it looks as if it’s same old, same old: pay-to-play schemes that involve trading campaign contributions and probably cash for government contracts related to construction projects, red-light cameras and gambling.
Among the identified offenses for which the feds are seeking evidence are the usual cocktail of white-collar criminality: conspiracy, bribery, fraud, wire fraud and honest-services fraud. But there is a whisper of routine thuggery, including the obstruction of commerce by means of “extortion” and/or threats of “physical violence to any person or property” to further the plan.
Sitting in the middle of this web of intrigue is Sandoval, who not only was chairman of the powerful Senate Transportation Committee but also operated two companies, one in his wife’s name, that do business with municipal entities.
One of his contracts is with Cicero, where Sandoval maintains what was described as a lucrative contract to provide Spanish translations of city newsletters.
Sandoval was clinging to his transportation committee chairmanship until Friday, when he submitted a shotgun resignation.
Senate President John Cullerton had publicly stated his reluctance to force Sandoval out, even though the ongoing investigation is focused on Sandoval’s role in putting together Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s $45 billion infrastructure building plan.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford spoke for Cullerton when she said, “Clearly, from a social-justice perspective, I don’t feel comfortable calling for the punishment of someone who hasn’t been charged.”
That might seem high-minded until readers learn what Lightford does feel comfortable calling for.
A 2017 court-ordered investigation of illegal patronage hiring at the Illinois Department of Transportation revealed that Lightford was among numerous politicians who pressured IDOT to put friends, family members and campaign contributors on its payroll. Lightford used influence to get her daughter, a non-lawyer who had worked as a package handler at an airport, a position that was supposed to be filled by a lawyer.
Lightford also used her influence to get her boyfriend or husband — Eric McKennie — a job at the Chicago Transit Authority after he lost his illegal patronage position as a “staff assistant” at IDOT. McKennie subsequently lost his position at the transit authority because he rarely showed up for work.
A state inspector general’s report released in February concluded that there was “little doubt” that McKennie was hired because of Lightford, to whom “McKennnie holds himself out as being married.”
Despite Sandoval’s pivotal role in this investigation, he’s strictly small potatoes, a small-time grifter who operates in a city where big-time operators reign supreme.
Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan’s name has come up in this probe as it relates to allegedly pressuring Commonwealth Edison/Exelon to hire his friends as lobbyists. The feds are also reportedly investigating Sandoval’s ties to ComEd.
That, of course, raises the question of why ComEd/Exelon is hiring friends of powerful politicos for corporate and lobbying jobs and what this company that relies on publicly approved rate increases gets in return.
Most of those identified in the search warrant are not known to the public. But there are some familiar names, including John Harris, chief of staff to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Harris ratted out his former boss, giving the feds so much help in convicting Blagojevich that Harris escaped with a 10-day sentence to federal prison.
“I lost my way,” he told his sentencing judge.
Has this veteran of Cook County politics lost his way again? Or was he just following “The Chicago Way”?
Another familiar name is public relations maven Dennis Culloton. When public officials or entities get in trouble, they turn to Culloton to publicly proclaim their virtue. One of his biggest former clients is former Gov. George Ryan.
So it was natural for Safespeed, a red-light-camera company named in the search warrant, to hire Culloton, and for Culloton to announce that Safespeed “conduct(s) our business ethically and with integrity.”
Safespeed, according to the Chicago Tribune, has been a major campaign donor to Sandoval, and its red-light cameras are big operators in the suburbs.
The way this probe is going, readers will need a scorecard to keep track of all the people of interest. But that’s no surprise — watching federal prosecutors chase down errant politicians and their corrupt friends is one of Illinois’ leading entertainment activities.
Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.