The operator of a Summit bar that’s come under scrutiny as part of a political corruption investigation in the southwest suburbs is an associate of a top political operative for Ald. Edward Burke and state Sen. Martin Sandoval, both facing their own problems with federal investigators.
Mariano “Mario” Martinez — who runs Mars Bar, 6030 S. Harlem Ave. — has personal and professional connections to Rudy Acosta Sr., a Burke precinct captain and Sandoval pal, according to records and interviews.
Martinez, 50, was charged earlier this year with possessing and distributing a kilo of heroin.
Court papers filed in March by his lawyer identify Acosta’s nephew as the “cooperating witness” who helped federal authorities ensnare Martinez.
Martinez’s name surfaced after federal agents visited Summit on Sept. 26 as part of the ongoing corruption probe and questioned Mayor Sergio Rodriguez on matters including whether political pressure was applied to get Mars Bar a late-hours liquor license, sources told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Authorities requested records from Rodriguez related to the bar, sources said.
Martinez said he knows of no arm-twisting about the license.
Rodriguez, who doubles as Summit’s municipal liquor commissioner, hasn’t been accused of any crime. He didn’t return calls seeking comment.
In 2016, the southwest suburb awarded Mars Bar a liquor license to operate until midnight, though the business wanted to be able to stay open until 2 a.m., records show.
In 2017, the bar, which offers video gambling, obtained a 2 a.m. license. At some point, it pushed unsuccessfully to get a 4 a.m. license — coveted because the extra hours can bring in extra revenue from drinkers and gamblers.
Last year, there was a shooting involving Mars Bar patrons with gang affiliations just outside the tavern, according to police records.
Other records show 27-year-old Juan O. Castaneda, who Martinez said is a relative, owns Mars Bar.
Martinez said he actually runs the establishment, and he’s listed on some of the paperwork filed with Summit village hall.
Castaneda’s address on Mars Bar’s incorporation paperwork, filed with the Illinois secretary of state’s office, corresponds to that of the Berwyn home owned by Martinez and his wife that was used to secure Martinez’s bail earlier this year in the pending drug case.
Court records show Martinez has a criminal record including a decades-old robbery conviction that could have made it difficult to get liquor or gaming licenses if he was Mars Bar’s owner of record.
In recent months, federal prosecutors agreed to ease up on Martinez’s restrictions while awaiting trial, removing his curfew and electronic monitoring conditions, records show.
Martinez has pleaded “not guilty” to the drug charges, though there is a change-of-plea hearing set for next month. His lawyer did not return calls, and the U.S. attorney’s office would not comment.
Martinez told the Sun-Times he’s not cooperating with federal authorities, saying, “I’m going to do my time.”
Acosta’s son and namesake Rudy Acosta Jr., a onetime reputed drug kingpin who made headlines for building a castle-like home on the North Side along the Kennedy Expressway, also faces federal drug charges in another pending case. Prosecutors have said he has ties to Mexican drug cartels.
The younger Acosta’s wife is related to Martinez’s wife, the elder Acosta said.
Martinez for a time was part of Acosta’s political operation, according to court records filed by Martinez’s attorney as part of his drug case.
“Rudy Acosta is a local politician and former precinct captain for Alderman Burke,” according to the filing. “Rudy Acosta was active in local Berwyn politics for many years. Defendant [Martinez] is a resident of that community” and has been “very active in local politics and was a volunteer political worker for a number of years.
“This is how defendant came to know Rudy Acosta very well,” and Martinez ended up “working for years at the direction of Rudy Acosta and the political organization there.”
The filing also said: “In addition to being involved in local politics, defendant had discussed in years past with Rudy Acosta assistance in securing employment for defendant’s step-son a position as a deputy Cook County sheriff,” though a job apparently never transpired.
Acosta said he remains loyal to Burke, is still one of his precinct captains and couldn’t get anyone hired by the sheriff’s office even if he wanted to.
Acosta denied that Martinez did much political work for him but said they had been friends.
“He was close at one time,” Acosta said of Martinez. But “my son wasn’t happy with him … I wasn’t happy with what Mario was saying” about some things that Acosta didn’t want to discuss with a reporter, so “we wrote him off.”
According to an affidavit filed in Martinez’s case by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, the unnamed cooperating witness “has known Martinez for over 20 years and . . . has purchased narcotics from Martinez in the past.”
Asked about Sandoval, Acosta said, “I had a close relationship with the Sandoval family.”
Sandoval’s home and offices were raided Sept. 24 by federal agents. He hasn’t been charged with a crime.
A search warrant sought records about the red-light camera contractor SafeSpeed, LLC, the utility company ComEd and the gaming firm Gold Rush Gaming, among other groups and people.
“My heart goes out to him,” Acosta said.
Acosta has been paid by Sandoval’s campaign for various tasks over the years, including $1,500 in 2011 for undisclosed “services rendered” and $500 in 2010 to reimburse him for providing piñatas for a campaign golf outing, according to the Illinois State Board of Elections.
In 2008, one of Burke’s political committees paid Acosta $400 to provide entertainment, apparently for a campaign event, records show.
Acosta has been one of Burke’s most important precinct captains, someone who took care of constituent needs in the 14th Ward and helped bring out the vote come Election Day.
Acosta also has been involved in campaigns in the suburbs, including Summit, where he said he and Sandoval once backed a losing candidate for mayor.
In a case made public in January, Burke was charged with attempted extortion, accused of muscling a Burger King franchise to hire his law firm to handle property tax appeals.