CHICAGO — Federal prosecutors filed bribery and tax charges on Monday against a former Illinois state senator who led the powerful transportation committee, alleging he accepted payments in exchange for supporting costly red-light camera programs across the state.
The U.S. attorney's office in Chicago listed the charges against Sen. Martin Sandoval in a two-page filing in U.S. District Court. The 56-year-old Chicago Democrat “corruptly solicited, demanded, agreed to accept and accepted” payments for “continued support for the operation of red-light cameras in the State of Illinois," the document says.
The alleged bribery occurred between 2016 and 2019, when, as chair of the transportation committee, Sandoval wielded enormous influence in how state transportation funds were spent.
A message seeking comment left with Sandoval's attorney, Dylan Smith, was not immediately returned.
The prosecutors' filing offers few details, including what company or companies may have been involved, or the specific value of any bribes.
Agents raided Sandoval's office in Springfield, his office in Chicago and his home on Sept. 24 amid still-active federal investigations of public corruption that have ensnared multiple Democrats.
Sandoval also was charged with a count of filing a false tax return. It accuses him of misstating his income in a 2017 return when he indicated he made around $125,000. His income "substantially exceeded that amount" and Sandoval knew it, the filing says.
After it became clear in the fall that Sandoval was an investigative target, he announced his resignation, effective Jan. 1. Sandoval had represented the 11th District since 2003.
Sandoval was a driving force behind an increase in the gas tax to help fund Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker's $45 billion capital construction plan to rebuild roads, bridges and schools.
The corruption investigation is apparently focused in part on SafeSpeed, LLC, one of the largest red-light camera operators in the state.
A Chicago Tribune investigation found that Sandoval directly intervened with the Illinois Department of Transportation on behalf of SafeSpeed to install a red-light camera at an Oakbrook Terrace intersection, all while receiving thousands from the company in campaign contributions.
State Representative David McSweeny (R-Barrington Hills) tried to pass legislation in 2015 that would have banned red light cameras, only to see the bill die in Springfield when Sandoval was the powerful chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.
“I think the U.S. Attorney John Lausch is doing an outstanding job. I applaud the efforts of the FBI. I hope they keep going and we need to get to the bottom of all this – Sandoval is a good first start," McSweeney said.
Governor JB Pritzker said the charges show how, "almost anything can be corrupted by almost anyone."
“This kind of activity is utterly repellent, the people who are committing these crimes, people who get elected to public office and then serve their own pockets and not the interests of the people they are supposed to be representing those people need to get out of public office," Pritzker said.
In a written statement, Senate President Don Harmon reacted to the charges saying:
“The searing image of federal agents toting boxes out of former Senator Sandoval’s Capitol office was an embarrassment to all of us who take public service seriously.”