Feds charge political operative with ties to Ed Burke, Martin Sandoval

Rudy Acosta Sr. allegedly concealed information from the FBI about cash payments made to a state senator, who a source confirmed was Martin Sandoval.

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Former State Sen. Martin Sandoval walks out of the Dirksen Federal Building after his arraignment hearing on Jan. 28, 2020, in Chicago.

Former State Sen. Martin Sandoval walks out of the Dirksen Federal Building after his arraignment hearing in January last year in Chicago.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times file

Federal investigations have been swirling for years around Rudy Acosta Sr., a longtime political operative for Ald. Edward Burke and the late state Sen. Martin Sandoval.

Beyond the corruption charges leveled against Burke and Sandoval, Acosta is the father of a onetime reputed drug kingpin whose own case has been pending for more than five years. He also has ties to a Summit bar operator who admitted bribing public officials there.

It turns out that Acosta, 70, has been questioned several times by the feds. But prosecutors now say he held back crucial details. And Monday, they charged him with concealing material information from the FBI.

A two-page charging document alleges that, under questioning by the FBI in 2017 and 2018, Acosta hid the fact that he’d made cash payments to an unnamed state senator. He also allegedly hid the fact that Acosta and the senator had received “benefits” from an unnamed individual.

The unnamed senator was Sandoval, a source confirmed for the Chicago Sun-Times.

The charges against Acosta appear in a document known as an information — typically a signal that a defendant plans to plead guilty. Acosta could not be reached for comment, but defense attorney Jeffrey Steinback confirmed that is Acosta’s intention.

“I simply want to say that Rudy is doing everything he can to rectify some misjudgments he’s made in the past, and this charge is a formal reflection of that effort,” Steinback said.

Acosta has served as one of the most important precinct captains for Burke, who since 2019 has faced a blockbuster racketeering indictment alleging he used his seat on the Chicago City Council to steer business toward his private tax law firm. Burke has pleaded not guilty, and lawyers in his case have for months been sorting through hundreds of pages of pretrial motions.

Meanwhile, Acosta has also acknowledged he had a close relationship with the family of Sandoval, who last year pleaded guilty to federal corruption charges but died in December.

Sandoval admitted in January 2020 that he took a “protector fee” from someone with an interest in the politically connected red-light camera company SafeSpeed. He also admitted he’d engaged in corrupt activity with other public officials and accepted over $250,000 “in bribes as part of criminal activity that involved more than five participants.”

SafeSpeed has not been charged with wrongdoing and has portrayed a former partner in the firm as a rogue actor.

The charging document filed against Acosta identifies eight occasions on which Acosta was questioned by the feds. They happen to include May 12, 2017 — the day on which Burke’s lawyers say prosecutors applied to tap Burke’s personal cell phone — as well as June 13 and August 11, 2017 — two days on which Burke’s lawyers say that tap was extended.

In a separate case, Acosta’s son and namesake has been accused by the feds of bragging about ties to Mexican drug cartels in a case that has been pending since late 2015.

Acosta also has ties to Mariano “Mario” Martinez, who admitted late in 2019 that he gave more than $6,500 in bribes to public officials in Summit and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors. Those details came to light when Martinez pleaded guilty in his own federal drug conspiracy case.

A defense attorney for Martinez, who ran Mars Bar in Summit as well as an adjacent car wash, wrote in court records that Martinez had been part of Acosta’s political operation. But the defense attorney, Dennis Doherty, also indicated that Acosta’s nephew helped the feds snare Martinez in the drug case.

“Rudy Acosta is a local politician, and former precinct captain for Alderman Burke,” Doherty wrote in 2019. He added that, “Rudy Acosta was active in local Berwyn politics for many years” and that Martinez was “very active in local politics, and was a volunteer political worker for a number of years.”

“This is how [Martinez] came to know Rudy Acosta very well,” Doherty wrote.

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