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Ex-Daley operative Victor Reyes once again in the midst of a big political storm

The Chicago lobbyist or one of his firms has come onto federal authorities’ radar in two cases they’re investigating. He has business and personal ties to others under scrutiny.

Victor Reyes’s law firm and his lobbying practice were named in a recent subpoena demanding Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan’s office turn over “all documents and communications with or concerning the employment by Exelon or ComEd.” 
Victor Reyes’s law firm and his lobbying practice were named in a recent subpoena demanding Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan’s office turn over “all documents and communications with or concerning the employment by Exelon or ComEd.” 
Brian Jackson / Sun-Times file

When Mayor Richard M. Daley held office, one of his most powerful — if least visible — aides was Victor Reyes, Daley’s City Hall patronage chief.

Reyes, who since has gone on to become a powerhouse Chicago lobbyist, still likes to stay out of the spotlight. But that’s getting harder as federal authorities continue to pursue their wide-ranging investigation of political corruption in Chicago and the suburbs, a dragnet that so far has resulted in criminal charges against politicians including Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) and former state Sen. Martin Sandoval.

Unlike Burke and Sandoval, Reyes hasn’t been charged with any crime. But he or one of his firms has come onto the radar of federal authorities in two of the cases they’re investigating, records show. And he has ties to others who have come under scrutiny as federal investigators plow their way across the political landscape in the city and suburbs:

  • Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, D-Chicago.
  • Former Ald. Danny Solis (25th).
  • Asphalt contractor Michael Vondra.
  • ComEd and its parent Exelon Corp.
  • SafeSpeed, LLC, which contracts with local governments to provide red-light traffic cameras.

Perhaps most significantly, Reyes’ law firm Reyes Kurson Ltd. and his lobbying practice the Roosevelt Group were named in a recent subpoena demanding Madigan’s office turn over “all documents and communications with or concerning the employment by Exelon or ComEd.”

Reyes, 56, and his colleagues have lobbied on behalf of the utility giant at various times over the years. They’ve also raised money for Madigan’s campaign funds.

What investigators are looking for regarding Reyes in the Madigan or ComEd investigations isn’t clear.

But authorities have been looking at whether Madigan, with the help of lobbyists, muscled ComEd into hiring certain people and businesses, using his clout over legislation that would affect the electrical utility’s bottom line.

That’s clear from the case against ComEd, which has pleaded “not guilty” to bribery.

Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.

According to federal filings in the case in July, ComEd was seeking Madigan’s backing for legislation worth more than $150 million to the utility when it paid a total of $1.3 million to Madigan associates who did little or no work.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported in February 2019 that an affidavit showed Reyes had been secretly recorded talking with then-Ald. Solis, pressing Solis to send lobbying clients his way. Solis was cooperating with agents on investigations including the ongoing case against Burke, who is charged in a May 2019 federal racketeering and extortion indictment with using his Chicago City Council role to withhold permits for a Burger King in his ward in an unsuccessful effort to get the restaurant to hire his law firm for property tax appeals.

Reyes won’t talk about whether federal authorities have interviewed him or answer any other questions, saying in a written statement that he shouldn’t be held “culpable for the bad actions of others. I am responsible only for my own behavior, and I am mindful to always follow the law. I’ve never been charged with any wrongdoing and, given that I have done nothing wrong, have no reason to believe I ever will be.”

Reyes also has been a lobbyist for others now facing scrutiny, including:

  • SafeSpeed, for which he lobbied until being dumped by the company amid the ongoing investigations.

Sandoval, a longtime friend of Reyes, has pleaded guilty to taking bribes from someone at the red-light-camera company — believed to have been Omar Maani, a former partner there — to block any legislation that would threaten the company’s revenue streams.

SafeSpeed is led by Nikki Zollar, a former state government official who has portrayed any misconduct as the work of a rogue partner and possibly working with others.

SafeSpeed is believed to be cooperating with federal authorities.

Among the company’s once-vast army of sales consultants — who typically shared in red-light ticket revenue from communities they convinced to install or keep SafeSpeed cameras — was Reyes’ Roosevelt Group partner Mike Noonan, a former Madigan aide. Noonan was getting a cut of SafeSpeed camera revenues in Chicago Heights, where Mayor David Gonzalez is a Madigan ally.

The Roosevelt Group also has been a lobbyist for Cicero, whose town attorney Michael Del Galdo was listed early on as an official in SafeSpeed, records show.

  • Vondra, the asphalt contractor behind companies including Bluff City Materials and Reliable Materials. Reyes’ lobbying business has represented both of those companies.

A search warrant for Sandoval’s offices last fall sought “items related to” Vondra, his companies and associates “and / or any issue supported by any of those businesses or individuals, including but not limited to shingles and asphalt recycling.”

Sandoval, who chaired the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee, had long pushed for the state to expand the use of recycled asphalt shingles in road construction, which would benefit Vondra, a Sandoval campaign contributor.

That same search warrant also demanded by name records related to Vondra’s employee John Harris, who went to work for him after serving a brief prison sentence for his role in former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s corruption case, in which the former governor tried to sell an appointment to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by President Barack Obama.

Before he was Blagojevich’s chief of staff, Harris was a top Daley aide whose duties including cleaning up the city’s $40 million-a-year Hired Truck Program, which was shut down after a Sun-Times investigation revealed that private hauling companies often were paid to do nothing.

The Hired Truck Program had close ties to the Hispanic Democratic Organization, a Daley political army run by Reyes. The city program was run by a former street gang member named Angelo Torres who was involved in HDO and who went to prison in what came to be known as the Hired Truck scandal.

Back then, Harris and Reyes were fishing buddies. And Harris was part of a city panel that recommended a $1 billion O’Hare Airport terminal construction contract be given to a private venture led by Bechtel Infrastructure Corp., whose chief lobbyist was Reyes.

The FBI investigation into the Hired Truck Program expanded into city hiring and found that City Hall was bringing in and promoting people on the basis of their political work and ties to HDO even though the law bans political considerations in hiring for most city jobs.

As the one-time head of Daley’s City Hall patronage office, Reyes came under scrutiny by the FBI but wasn’t charged with any crime.

Reyes, who lives in Bridgeport, also has been a top adviser to state Sen. Iris Martinez, D- Chicago, who won a four-way primary last spring to run the Cook County circuit court clerk’s office, which in the past has provided jobs for Madigan’s political workers. Martinez, a member of the Illinois Democratic Party state central committee, has called on Madigan to resign as state party chairman in the wake of the ComEd investigation.