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Friday, December 6, 2019

Sandoval resigns Senate seat amid federal corruption probe, effective Jan. 1

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By Vincent Caruso, Illinois Policy Institute | Dec 4, 2019

Sandoval

The state lawmaker who credited himself for Illinois’ massive gas tax hike in July will no longer be serving in the state Capitol come next year.

On Nov. 27, state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, submitted his resignation from the Illinois Senate, scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2020.

Sandoval’s resignation comes the same day Chicago Sun-Times investigative reporter Robert Herguth published an article suggesting possible abuses of his erstwhile role as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee. According to the Sun-Times, Sandoval’s daughter and daughter-in-law both landed jobs at the Chicago Transit Authority while Sandoval led the committee that holds influence over it.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan played an integral role in Sandoval’s election to the Senate, ensuring that he ran unopposed in the 2002 Democratic primary.

Sandoval stepped down from his influential chairmanship in October, facing pressure as subject of a federal corruption probe into alleged conflicts of interest involving a red-light camera company and other firms.

It was from his powerful leadership post on the transportation committee that Sandoval shepherded to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk one of the governor’s top legislative wishes.

As committee chair, Sandoval played a key role in shaping the $45 billion capital plan Pritzker signed into law in June, doubling the state gas tax and increasing a variety of other taxes and fees. The bill lifted Illinoisans’ total gas tax burden to third-highest from 10th in the nation.

At the time of Pritzker’s signing, Sandoval’s website boasted, “The $45 billion construction package is the culmination of a three-month negotiation process led by state Sen. Martin A. Sandoval.” An Illinois Policy Institute analysis in July found that waste and pork-barrel spending included in the plan amounted to more than $1.4 billion. In May, the Institute published a report finding lawmakers could have spent $10 billion extra on infrastructure without hiking taxes.

Federal probes into Illinois corruption have included Chicago aldermen, lawmakers and lobbyists with close ties to Madigan, and state Sen. Thomas Cullerton, D-Villa Park, who faces federal embezzlement charges that state during three years he was paid about $275,000 in salary and benefits but performed little to no work for the Teamsters Union. Cullerton has pleaded not guilty, and while he was removed as chair of the Labor Committee, he remains chair of the Veterans Committee and sub-chair of Utility Rate Regulations.

Sandoval’s resignation comes weeks after Senate President John Cullerton announced he will retire in January 2020, bringing to an end a 40-year legislative career. A Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Institute found Cullerton is set to collect $2 million in pension benefits.

On Oct. 11, the Illinois Senate released an unredacted search warrant federal agents served on Sept. 24 before raiding the lawmaker’s Springfield office. The warrant shows agents were seeking information on red-light camera company SafeSpeed and Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, among other individuals and companies.

SafeSpeed, a longtime political donor to Sandoval, was also at the center of a separate raid conducted on the village hall of suburban McCook, where Tobolski doubles as mayor. Tobolski’s county chief of staff Patrick Doherty is a paid consultant for SafeSpeed.

In September, FBI and IRS agents conducted raids on the home and offices of Sandoval as well as government buildings in McCook and two other suburban Cook County villages. The Chicago Tribune reported Oct. 5 SafeSpeed was among the subjects for which federal authorities were seeking information.

In August, a Downers Grove resident added Sandoval as a defendant in a lawsuit alleging the outgoing senator had used his position as head of the transportation committee to land his son a job at the Regional Transportation Authority, despite lacking relevant qualifications and experience.

Federal authorities have accused neither Sandoval, SafeSpeed nor any of the local public officeholders targeted during the September raids of a criminal offense.

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