Documents show feds were after evidence of bribery and theft from federally funded program in raid of state Sen. Martin Sandoval’s office

Chicago Tribune
Dan Petrella, Jamie Munks, and Jason Meisner

Federal agents who raided the state Capitol office of Sen. Martin Sandoval last week were looking for information related to concrete and construction businesses, lobbyists and public officials, and “items related to any official action taken in exchange for a benefit,” according to documents released Tuesday by the Illinois Senate.

Agents seized computers, cellphones, hard drives, invoices and a spreadsheet from Sandoval’s campaign fund, according to a heavily redacted search warrant and related documents obtained by the Chicago Tribune through an open-records request. The FBI was seeking evidence of violation of seven federal corruption statutes, including bribery, theft from a federally funded program, and mail and wire fraud, according to the documents.

The documents reference 19 individuals: five Illinois Department of Transportation officials, two lobbyists, one municipality president, one municipality attorney, one construction company official, two highway company officials, three people referred to as “associates” of an unnamed entity and four people listed as “officials.”

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Sandoval, a Chicago Democrat who chairs the powerful Transportation Committee, has not responded to numerous requests for comment on the Sept. 24 raids by FBI and IRS criminal division agents of his Capitol and district offices as well as his Southwest Side home. He has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

The search warrant also shows federal investigators were interested in Sandoval’s company and its clients. The name of the business is blacked out.

Sandoval’s statement of economic interest, filed with the secretary of state, shows he owns a company called Puentes, which does work for clients including the town of Cicero. Among other work, the firm translates news releases into Spanish.

A source with knowledge of the case told the Tribune last week that investigators are looking into allegations that Sandoval used his public office to steer business to at least one company in exchange for kickbacks.

The same day Sandoval’s offices were raided, FBI agents visited the Bartlett headquarters of Bluff City Materials, one of several companies tied to businessman Michael Vondra. Vondra and his businesses have been major campaign contributors to Sandoval and other politicians, state campaign finance records show. He did not respond to requests for comment.

On Thursday, federal agents raided the village halls in west suburban McCook and Lyons, and “conducted investigative activity” at the village hall in nearby Summit. All three towns are in Sandoval’s 11th Senate District. Vondra and his companies have been major contributors to McCook Village President and Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, and Lyons Village President Christopher Getty and his political party.

In addition to the village hall raids, federal agents searched a number of nonpublic entities last week, a source with knowledge of the investigation told the Tribune last week.

IDOT spokesman Guy Tridgell said in a statement Tuesday that the agency “has not received a subpoena for any records of communications between its employees and Sen. Sandoval.”

“The department will be transparent and cooperative with authorities as the investigation of Sen. Sandoval moves forward,” Tridgell said.

Sandoval remains chairman of the Transportation Committee. In that role, he was a key sponsor of legislation creating the $45 billion “Rebuild Illinois” infrastructure plan Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law in June. Sandoval chaired hearings around the state this spring at which he pushed local officials and others requesting funding for their projects to get behind the tax increases that would provide the money.

In an emailed statement, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said, “this administration expects public servants to be held to the highest ethical standards, and it is unconscionable to use elected office for monetary gain in any way.”

“State agencies will fully cooperate with any investigation,” the statement said. “Corruption and self-dealing will not be tolerated, and employees who have fallen short of these ethical standards will be disciplined, up to and including termination, and should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”