A federal dragnet of historic size looks to snare dozens of targets in multiple suburbs

It’s impossible to tell from the redaction in search warrants how many individuals and entities are under investigation, but it’s a lot.

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State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago

State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, is among dozens of targets in a political corruption investigation that appears to involve at least seven municipalities, writes Rich Warren.

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The Illinois Senate recently released a heavily redacted copy of the federal search warrant served during the raid of Sen. Martin Sandoval’s Statehouse office last month. And the Village of McCook also released a heavily redacted search warrant from the federal raid of its town hall.

It’s impossible to tell from the redactions exactly how many individuals and entities are under investigation, but it’s a lot. McCook’s warrant has almost six full lines of text blacked out after the phrase “Items related to.” Sandoval’s warrant contains 67 redactions, but it’s unclear if all those are for separate individuals and entities or just multiple words in the same names.

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Even so, by counting things like “Associate A,” or “Lobbyist B,” or “Official A’s company,” I totaled up more than 70 people and entities clearly listed in the two warrants.

And we’ve only seen parts of two of the numerous search warrants served. So there’s more. We know the Village of Lyons also was hit, as was a sand and gravel operation owned by a businessman named Mike Vondra.

Vondra is known in some circles as “The Wizard,” a nickname that is both complimentary and disparaging at the same time. It comes from his uncanny business sense and his ability to work the system to benefit his many companies, which naturally makes some of his competitors furious.

Vondra’s main business is asphalt, perhaps one of the most politically drenched industries in this state. Asphalt companies vie for contracts with this state’s innumerable local governments, as well as with the state. Many of those companies are by necessity politically active. Vondra is said to excel at this.

Vondra has been an honorary chairman of Sandoval’s huge annual golf outing fundraisers over the years and has contributed thousands of dollars to Sandoval’s campaign fund. As chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sandoval took the lead in his chamber on the state’s massive new infrastructure law.

Vondra’s Statehouse lobbying team is led by Victor Reyes, whose Roosevelt Group firm started working for Vondra in 2006. Reyes is super-close to Sandoval and has worked to elect Sandoval and his allies for nearly two decades. Nothing has emerged to connect Reyes or his firm to the current federal investigation.

At least seven municipalities are being looked at during this probe. We know that because the FBI was looking for evidence in Sandoval’s office regarding “Municipality 7 Attorney, Municipality 7 President,” etc.

The feds were looking for any items related to five unnamed officials with the Illinois Department of Transportation in Sandoval’s office. According to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, the agency has received no federal subpoenas or search warrants and neither has his office.

The G was also looking for information in Sandoval’s office about two unnamed lobbyists, an unnamed “Foundation,” an unnamed construction company, an unnamed highway company, an unnamed “lounge” and an unnamed “Club.”

The Sun-Times has reported that federal investigators asked Summit’s mayor “whether another political figure tried to pressure village officials into giving a local bar a license to operate later into the night,” but it’s not clear if either the lounge or club in the Sandoval warrant are connected to Summit.

Multiple media outlets have reported that the feds are asking questions about SafeSpeed, a politically connected red-light camera company.

Red-light cam companies are popular with a certain set. With enough influence over a town government you can get a cam or two (or more) installed and then receive a percentage of the fines. Some Statehouse lobbyists have supplemented their incomes by recommending cam locations to their municipal clients. The cam companies are also popular with politicians who need jobs for their campaign workers.

But the Sun-Times also reported that the feds asked Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski’s chief of staff about SafeSpeed investor Omar Maani and some low-income housing projects Maani built in Cicero and Summit. The feds also asked the mayor of Summit about the housing projects, according to the Sun-Times. According to the Forest Park Review, Maani at one time worked for a man who now handles legal work for the Town of Cicero. Sandoval has a lucrative translation contract with Cicero. The Roosevelt Group also lobbies for Cicero and SafeSpeed.

Again, we don’t know yet who will be ensnared, but it’s one of the biggest dragnets we’ve ever seen in Illinois, and that’s saying something.

One more thing. The warrant served on McCook includes items relating to “CW1” and “CW2.” That federal “CW” reference usually translates to “Cooperating Witness.”

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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