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Gov. Pritzker: ‘Let me be clear.’ Sen. Sandoval should quit top committee post — or get the boot

Sandoval has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but Pritzker argued he should not preside over a committee so heavily involved with the capital bill.

State Sen. Martin Sandoval, left; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right.
State Sen. Martin Sandoval, left; Gov. J.B. Pritzker, right. File Photos.
Seth Perlman/AP; Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday said he has urged Illinois Senate President John Cullerton to ask state Sen. Martin Sandoval to step down as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee or remove him if he won’t go voluntarily — amid a federal investigation into an alleged kickback scheme.

Pritzker reacted quickly to the news of Sandoval’s raid — to get ahead of worries that the investigation would taint the governor’s massive capital plan, which Sandoval helped put together.

“We must assure the public that this work [the capital plan] is on the up and up,” Pritzker told reporters. “Corruption and self-dealing will not be tolerated.”

Cullerton was just as quick to resist any attempt to be pushed to take action.

“This remains an active investigation, and the Senate President wants to make informed decisions,” Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said.

FBI agents were seeking evidence of kickbacks in exchange for official actions — as well as information related to five Illinois Department of Transportation employees and several lobbyists — when they raided Sandoval’s office in the Capitol building last week, records show.

Pritzker, who has not taken questions from reporters since Aug. 27 after suffering a femur injury, said he has spoken to Cullerton about Sandoval’s chairmanship.

“Let me be clear,” Pritzker told reporters. “While Sen. Sandoval is under investigation, it’s in the best interest of the state that he no longer serve as chairman of the Transportation Committee. If he doesn’t step aside, he should be removed.”

Men carrying boxes and a bag marked “evidence” leave the Illinois State Capital in Springfield in September.
Men carrying boxes and a bag marked “evidence” leave the Illinois State Capital in Springfield last week. File Photo.
John O’Connor/AP

Pritzker said the capital plan, of which Sandoval helped to negotiate, “was carefully put together.” The governor, however, assured that the plan “absolutely, unequivocally must be done transparently, and above board.”

Sandoval has not been charged with any wrongdoing, but Pritzker argued he should not preside over a committee so heavily involved with the capital bill.

“I am making sure and reviewing the procedures so that the many projects that are getting appropriations are appropriated with the utmost confidence,” Pritzker said. “That these are done in the best interest of the taxpayers and with nothing of the sort of corruption or self dealing that has been alleged.”

The governor said neither the governor’s office nor the Illinois Department of Transportation have been interviewed by federal authorities, and neither has received requests for subpoenas or been given search warrants.

Pritzker said he’s “angry” over the recent spat of federal investigations into elected officials — despite WBEZ reporting earlier this year that Pritzker, his wife and brother-in-law are themselves under federal investigation for a more than $330,000 property tax break Pritzker received on one of his Gold Coast mansions.

“Frankly I’m angry that there is corruption that exists that we have to root out. I want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to root it up and make sure that we do everything we can to restore the public confidence in their elected officials,” Pritzker said.

The response from Cullerton’s office on Wednesday is no different from the stance the Senate president took the day after the raids.

Last week, Cullerton said he did not know the circumstances prompting the federal activity, but he noted it is “obviously very troubling.”

Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, left, is handed an oversized gavel by Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval in 2013.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, left, is handed an oversized gavel by Illinois Sen. Martin Sandoval in 2013. File Photo.
Seth Perlman/AP

“It doesn’t look good, but we don’t know what it’s about. We don’t even know if he’s the subject matter,” the North Side Democrat said of Sandoval. “But it looks like it’s a criminal investigation.”

Asked if Sandoval will lose his chairmanship of the Transportation Committee, Cullerton said then that he planned to “wait and see what happens” — since Sandoval has not been charged.

Items named in a heavily redacted search warrant released Tuesday included those related to a highway company, a construction company, “any business owned and controlled by Martin Sandoval,” several municipalities and a political organization, among other entities. Names were redacted by state officials after the Sun-Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the warrant last week.

Sandoval and IDOT officials have long clashed over whether to allow recycled asphalt shingles in road construction, according to Pritzker’s office. Sandoval pushed for it, while IDOT opposed it. Sandoval tried several times to insert his position into the state’s capital bill but failed.

The move would have benefitted a long-time supporter of Sandoval, businessman and asphalt magnate Michael Vondra, a source said.

A Bartlett police official confirmed Tuesday that the FBI recently visited Bluff City Materials, a business tied to Vondra, but the official could provide no further information.

Federal agents descended Sept. 24 on Sandoval’s home and offices as part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Two days later, federal agents visited village halls in Lyons, Summit and McCook, where Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski is mayor. They also visited Getty Insurance in Lyons, the agency of Lyons Mayor Christopher Getty, and interviewed the mayors of Summit and Crestwood.

The feds have been asking questions about a politically connected red-light camera company, SafeSpeed LLC.