A man with ties to a top political operative for Ald. Edward M. Burke and state Sen. Martin Sandoval admitted Wednesday he gave more than $6,500 in bribes to public officials in Summit — and he agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors “in any matter” for which he’s called upon.
The surprise details were revealed in federal court as Mariano “Mario” Martinez, 50, pleaded guilty to a drug conspiracy.
Last month, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that his name had surfaced after federal agents visited Summit on Sept. 26 as part of an ongoing public corruption probe that has roiled Chicago and Illinois politics.
Martinez runs Mars Bar, 6030 S. Harlem Ave. in Summit, and he’s also run an adjacent car wash. He was charged earlier this year with possessing and distributing a kilo of heroin.
Back in September, the feds questioned Summit Mayor Sergio Rodriguez on matters including whether political pressure was applied to get Mars Bar a late-hours liquor license, sources have told the Sun-Times.
Authorities also requested records from Rodriguez related to the bar, sources said.
Martinez declined to speak to a reporter after he pleaded guilty in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly and left the building.
Martinez, who lives in Berwyn, has personal and professional connections to Rudy Acosta Sr., a Burke precinct captain and Sandoval pal, according to records and interviews.
Martinez previously told the Sun-Times he knew of no arm-twisting of public officials to help his bar and said he was not cooperating with federal authorities, insisting “I’m going to do my time.” But if he cooperates as anticipated in his plea agreement, prosecutors have said they will recommend a lighter sentence for his drug crime. Kennelly put off scheduling a sentencing hearing.
In his plea agreement, Martinez acknowledged he gave bribes totaling more than $6,500 to public officials, including an elected official, since 2014. And on March 31, 2017, he had a discussion by phone with “Summit Official B” about getting “Summit Official A” to use his official position to assist Martinez with one of his businesses.
Martinez also provided benefits to the two unnamed officials to gain their support, according to the plea agreement.
It’s not clear from the plea agreement what business was involved in the scheme.
When Rodriguez was interviewed by agents, they played him a recording of a conversation between two other people, a source said. And questions put to Rodriguez by federal agents focused on Mars Bar.
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.
Public records indicate 27-year-old Juan O. Castaneda, who Martinez has said is a relative, owns Mars Bar. Martinez has said he actually runs the establishment, and he’s listed on some of the paperwork filed with Summit village hall.
Summit’s public works director and building inspector, William Mundy, was also approached by federal agents on Sept. 26 but he declined to speak at length, opting to get an attorney, sources have said. He didn’t return phone calls Wednesday.
Rodriguez, who doubles as the town’s liquor commissioner, also didn’t return a reporter’s calls. He became mayor after the 2015 death of long-time Mayor Joseph Strzelczyk, and the 2014 departure of Strzelczyk’s nephew, Chester Strzelczyk, who resigned as the village administrator after reporters found he’d given himself a “loan” with taxpayer money.
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.
Court records filed by Martinez’s attorney indicate that a confidential informant who helped the feds snare Martinez on the drug charge is a nephew of political operative Rudy Acosta Sr. Acosta’s son and namesake, who has been accused of having ties to Mexican drug cartels, has been charged in a separate pending drug case.
The elder Acosta said recently he’s still a Burke supporter, even though the alderman has been charged with attempted extortion for trying to muscle a Burger King owner in his Southwest Side ward into hiring Burke’s law firm for property tax work.
Sandoval hasn’t been charged, but his home and state offices were raided by federal agents on Sept. 24.