Martin Sandoval’s long saga of greed and bullying

Sandoval specialized in intimidating people who needed something from their government. Expect him to roll over on other corrupt public officials.

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Former state Sen. Martin Sandoval leaving federal court Jan. 28, 2020, after pleading guilty to bribery and tax charges.

Former state Sen. Martin Sandoval leaving federal court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to bribery and tax charges.

Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times file

“It’s hard for me to swallow how [people] make so much off of you. Right? And I gotta do the work.”

That’s from the July 31, 2018 federal surveillance of now-former state Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) complaining, according to media reports, to one of the founders of the red-light camera company SafeSpeed. Sandoval was bemoaning how he was killing and passing bills on the company’s behalf while watching other people make bank off the red-light cam industry. 

This was, apparently, not new behavior for Sandoval. “I usually say, ‘What’s reasonable? You tell me,” Sandoval told the SafeSpeed official when discussing what his bribe would be. He was obviously practiced at shaking people down and ended up demanding $5,000 a month.

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His plea deal claims he took $70,000 from the SafeSpeed official (the money was supplied by the government). Overall, though, Sandoval “accepted over $250,000 in bribes as part of criminal activity that involved more than five participants.”

Well, at least we now know how Sandoval could afford the expensive suits he always wore.

The feds may have had Sandoval under surveillance since at least August 16, 2017, when they apparently recorded a phone conversation with the SafeSpeed official about the company’s annual $10,000 campaign contribution. 

The feds raided Sandoval’s Statehouse office two years later, in late September of 2019. They seized $3,000 in cash that day and another $18K a few weeks later. 

Sandoval has agreed to cooperate in full, meaning all those folks he shook down, or who eagerly ponied up cash to get something done or who profited with him on villainous schemes probably haven’t been sleeping well. 

He was the longtime chairman of the Transportation Committee, so it’s assumed Sandoval will be giving up road-building industry types. His federal search warrant mentioned several other types of companies and individuals, including video gaming and sweepstakes businesses. 

His plea agreement notes that Sandoval “also engaged in corrupt activities with other public officials.” So, we can expect him to roll over on whoever those folks may be. I assume we can start with some of the local officials whose offices were raided right around the same time as Sandoval’s was searched.

Sandoval was a brazenly greedy bully who specialized in intimidating people who needed something from their government. 

His annual golf fundraiser, which was a must-attend for anyone who needed something from him, had grown to lavish excess. And last August, the event wound up attracting unfavorable national news coverage when photos emerged of a server “shooting” someone wearing a Donald Trump mask with a tequila gun. It’s probably no surprise that some of the people who helped Sandoval run that gaudy fundraiser are also under federal scrutiny. 

But maybe Sandoval can finally do some good for his state (and himself, by reducing his prison sentence) by helping weed out the people who prefer to take the short-cut of illegal cash rather than doing the real work usually required to get things done. 

Also, here’s a little bit of unsolicited advice: If you’re a legislator or a local government official and you’re starting to become envious of the people around you who are making a lot of money, please quit your job right away. Go be a lobbyist or something. Or stop hanging out with rich people. 

I’ve seen this happen over and over again and it never ends well. Save yourself the trouble and get out now. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting to better one’s financial situation. But if you can’t do it honestly then you’re heading for disaster. You will be caught. Heck, you may already be caught and don’t even know it, like Sandoval was for two years. 

Just go away. 

And the leaders have to stop enabling these people. It was no big surprise when Sandoval was busted. Yet, Senate President John Cullerton routinely assigned red-light camera regulation bills to Sandoval’s committee knowing exactly what he would do with them, and also put Sandoval in charge of the massive infrastructure bill last year. 

And House Speaker Michael Madigan created a new appropriations committee especially for now-former Rep. Luis Arroyo to oversee the capital plan’s formation. That’s like giving a gas can to a pyromaniac. Arroyo (D-Chicago) was arrested last year for bribery.

Yes, the people of their districts elected them, but the leaders do not have to continually enable their worst clowns. 

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

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