The dust was still settling from Tuesday’s FBI raid on the home and offices of an influential Illinois state senator when — boom — it happened all over again.
This time — in a move news reports indicate was directly related to the first raid — federal agents Thursday targeted municipal buildings in two Cook County suburbs — Lyons and McCook.
Just as they did when they hit the offices and home of Chicago state Sen. Martin Sandoval, investigators carried off records they apparently believe will shed light on one of numerous ongoing corruption scandals that have implicated many public officials in Chicago and the General Assembly.
Senate President John Cullerton, a longtime Chicago pol, expressed bewilderment at the situation, saying that he’ll “wait and see” what happens before he takes any action regarding Sandoval’s position as the chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
This is the second time in two months that Cullerton has confronted the issue of chairmanships occupied by legislators under an investigatory cloud.
In August, Cullerton’s cousin — state Sen. Tom Cullerton, D-Villa Park — was indicted in connection with an alleged conspiracy to steal $274,066 from the Teamsters union via a no-show job.
While he was allegedly bilking union members of their dues money, Tom Cullerton was — in the finest tradition of Illinois politics — looking out for the working man as chairman of the Senate’s labor committee. John Cullerton ultimately removed his cousin from the labor committee post. Lest his feelings be hurt too badly, he put him in charge of veterans’ affairs.
In comments to the news media, John Cullerton expressed concern that Sandoval’s legal problems might stem from his connection to the not-so-august Senate. That’s apparently what is under investigation.
Both Chicago newspapers are reporting that the Sandoval probe stems from “allegations Sandoval used his official position to steer business to at least one company in exchange for kickbacks.”
Most people have never heard of Sandoval. But his political base makes him a big player in certain circles, and he was one of the driving forces behind the recent doubling of the state’s gasoline tax — from 19 cents a gallon to 38 cents a gallon — to fund a $45 billion infrastructure spending plan.
What kind of guy is he? Well, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said she was “not surprised” that the feds came calling on his home and offices.
Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown was even more scathing in describing Sandoval’s character.
“It’s not that he wasn’t already high on everyone’s list of ‘Most Likely to Get Caught on an FBI Wiretap.’ His fellow legislators would have put him on the top of the list,” Brown wrote.
Got that? The guy Senate Democrats, according to Brown, consider the most marginal among them is the guy they put in charge of the very committee — transportation — where billions of dollars slosh around just waiting to be directed to competing construction proposals.
Some might ask, “Why?” This being Illinois, the better question is, “Why not?”
How did Sandoval conduct business involving public money and proposed construction plans? He was apparently famous for gaveling public committee hearings “in and out within a matter of minutes.”
“The main reason the hearings are so quick is because the bulk of the committee’s real business is generally done behind closed doors. Actually, just one closed door: The door to Sandoval’s office" writes CapitolFax's Rich Miller. "Federal agents basically cleared out that office this week, so who knows what they were looking for or what they found."
The question hovering above the Sandoval raids is where they fit in the overall context of corruption investigation(s) federal authorities are conducting in Cook County and Springfield.
That’s because some of those already implicated are deeply rooted in Chicago and Illinois politics.
Take Frank Coli, the former Teamster leader who faced a long prison sentence in an extortion case and agreed to cooperate with the feds.
Coli is a big-time political player whose late father has been identified as a hitman for “The Outfit,” the nom de guerre for organized crime in Chicago. Coli give Tom Cullerton to the feds.
What else has he shared?
Then there’s Alderman Danny Solis, the corrupt city official, who also ran afoul of the law.
He reportedly wore a wire for at least three years, taping conversations with powerful state and municipal officials.
One was Ed Burke, the longtime alderman whose wife is the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court. Burke already has been charged in a massive corruption indictment.
The feds also have also conducted raids on several associates of House Speaker Michael Madigan, a move widely interpreted as an effort to get to the state’s most powerful politician.
Mystery abounds. But there’s even more.
For those who have forgotten, the feds are reportedly investigating Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his and others’ roles in the effort to defraud Cook County taxpayers of $230,000 in property-tax payments in an assessment scheme.
There has not been much about that in the news in recent months. Maybe the feds have decided to give the billionaire governor, his wife and relatives, and his associates a pass. After all, after being caught, Pritzker did pay the money back.
But maybe their investigative plate is full, and they’ll get to it when they get to it.
Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is email@example.com.