Ex-city official signals plea deal coming in federal bribery case

Former deputy aviation commissioner William Helm is accused of bribing ex state Sen. Martin Sandoval for help in approving a construction project.

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William Helm leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse March 10, 2020, after pleading not guilty to a charge he offered a bribe to former state Sen. Martin Sandoval involving a state road construction project.

William Helm walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse March 10 after pleading not guilty to a charge that he offered a bribe to former state Sen. Martin Sandoval to help in a construction project.

Ashlee Rezin Garcia / Sun-Times file

A former top city official charged with bribing disgraced ex-state Sen. Martin Sandoval has indicated he’s closing in on a plea deal with federal prosecutors in the case.

In a joint status report filed Friday, prosecutors and an attorney for William Helm — a former deputy commissioner of Chicago’s Department of Aviation — said they “anticipate that this case will be resolved without a trial” and requested a status hearing this fall. 

Helm’s name popped up repeatedly in a series of sweeping public corruption investigations until prosecutors charged him in March. The old-school political operative has pleaded not guilty

His indictment revolves around an East Dundee construction company which sought approval from the Illinois Department of Transportation in 2017 “for signalization and roadwork” and then retained Helm and his consulting company to help secure that approval.

Sandoval was then head of the state Senate’s transportation committee and “in a position to assist,” according to the indictment.

Helm allegedly offered Sandoval an unspecified amount of money to secure IDOT approval, according to the indictment. 

The company that retained Helm is not named in the indictment, but a source said it is owned by a member of the Palumbo family. Neither the company nor any of its owners have been accused of wrongdoing. 

Palumbo Brothers Inc. was once considered among the biggest road builders in Illinois. It was swept up in a federal investigation in the 1990s that put some members of the family behind bars.

Sandoval has already pleaded guilty in a separate case and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. In his plea agreement, he admitted he had “accepted over $250,000 in bribes as part of criminal activity that involved more than five participants.”

Helm also worked as a paid sales representative for the red-light camera company SafeSpeed while on the city payroll, the Chicago Sun-Times has reported. 

On Friday, Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta was hit with federal bribery charges for allegedly seeking and receiving benefits from SafeSpeed in exchange for expanding the company’s services in the southwest suburb. SafeSpeed has denied any wrongdoing.

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