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Column

Sandoval raids could be a big deal

Several colleagues say they weren't surprised

Rich Miller
Rich Miller

Chicago-based investigators with the FBI and the IRS on Tuesday swooped into Democratic state Sen. Martin Sandoval’s district office, Statehouse office and home, removing boxes of documents and seizing computers. 

Last November, the feds launched a simultaneous raid of super-powerful Chicago Alderman Ed Burke’s city and ward offices, but they didn’t raid the man’s house. 

So, yes, this is definitely serious stuff. Imagine the evidence the feds had to provide to the Justice Department headquarters and to a federal judge in order to pursue and then obtain such a sweeping warrant. You don’t get permission to do all that for a simple fishing expedition, or because the target’s kid got a job or merely to convince the dude to flip on somebody else. 

The Chicago Tribune reported that Sandoval may have steered business to “at least one company in exchange for kickbacks.” The coordinated federal raids didn’t exactly surprise many Statehouse types. One lobbyist said he was with seven colleagues the day of the raid and they all claimed to have an unsavory Sandoval story. Another was with 17 colleagues and all but two had a story about Sandoval, um, “asking” them for various things in exchange for helping them with their legislative agendas. 

Officials with the Senate Democrats and the Illinois Secretary of State said that they did not have copies of federal warrants, which would be helpful to figure out what the feds were after. That’s somewhat surprising because the secretary of state controls the Statehouse and the Senate Democrats control their own office suites. Senators themselves do not technically control their offices. The federal agents reportedly showed their warrant to the SoS police when they arrived at the north entrance and then presented it to an employee near or in Sandoval’s unlocked, open office, but no copy was apparently kept. 

Nobody knows whether the raids were an outgrowth of current investigations or whether somebody flipped on him or if an irate civilian lodged a complaint. Burke, for example, got in trouble partly because he allegedly tried to shake down a regular guy who took umbrage. 

Sandoval not only is the Senate Transportation Committee chairman, but he is also a member of leadership as the Majority Caucus whip.

Senate President John Cullerton has refused to remove Sandoval from either of the two positions. He’s even said nobody is sure whether the feds are really after Sandoval (which is kind of preposterous because, while the feds can definitely display a mean streak, they’re not going to raid an elected official’s offices and home because they’re going after another person).

Sandoval hasn’t been charged with anything yet and we don’t even know what the feds were really after here. They’ve since raided or visited three small towns in Sandoval’s district. 

But Cullerton’s stance is not going over well with several members of his caucus. Cullerton has elected as many suburban PTA types as he could over the years, and those folks tend to be squeaky-clean people who ran for office to do squeaky-clean things. They most definitely did not come to Springfield to defend this kind of stuff.

Sandoval has been on the outs with House Speaker Michael Madigan and his team for years. The feud reached a fever pitch last year when Madigan sided with Congressman Chuy Garcia’s organization and successfully backed Alma Anaya against Sandoval’s daughter Angie for Garcia’s Cook County Board seat. 

Madigan’s “general,” 13th Ward Alderman Marty Quinn, reportedly wanted to take Sandoval himself out, but that plan was nixed. Even so, after last year’s conflict and the resulting extreme bad blood, people close to Madigan’s organization figured Sandoval would eventually be placed on the Garcia/Madigan hit list. 

Sandoval prepared for that impending battle partly by raising lots of money and launching a massive play for publicity. 

Among other things, Sandoval placed himself at the center of this spring’s effort to pass an infrastructure bill, holding high-profile hearings around the state and making impossible-to-ignore comments to locals about how they needed to get behind specific tax hikes if they wanted their project money. He’s reported raising $263,000 in campaign contributions since July 1. A recent fundraiser got him more publicity than he bargained for when a photo was posted online of an attendee “shooting” a tequila “gun” at a person dressed as President Trump.

And now he’s the one under the gun.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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