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Ex-Ald. Ricardo Muñoz pleads guilty in fraud case, admits he used caucus money for personal expenses

The onetime veteran alderman pleaded guilty just five months after a federal indictment accused him of using the Progressive Reform Caucus as a personal piggy bank, stealing thousands to pay for a relative’s college tuition, skydiving excursions — and even at Lover’s Lane.

Former Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) in federal court Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.
Former Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd)
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Former Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd) pleaded guilty Monday to wire fraud and money laundering, admitting he took nearly $38,000 from the Chicago Progressive Reform Caucus to pay for personal expenses like skydiving and a relative’s college tuition.

The onetime veteran alderman entered his plea five months after a federal grand jury handed down a 29-page indictment that alleged Muñoz’s behavior continued after the feds’ aggressive pursuit of public corruption had blown into full view in late 2018 and early 2019. It said he even used some of the money at Lover’s Lane in February 2019.

Muñoz faces a likely sentence of around a year in prison. He is also expected to pay $6,891 in restitution “owed to the victim.” His sentencing is set for Jan. 5.

Richard Kling, Muñoz’s defense attorney, said after court that Muñoz “spent decades giving to the West Side community that elected him.”

“Sometimes good people do foolish or stupid things,” Kling said. “He’s admitted to this court that he did a foolish or stupid thing. He’s ready to accept responsibility and pay the price.”

Muñoz, 56, declined to comment.

Attorney Richard Kling, left, speaks to the media about his client former Ald. Ricardo Munoz, right, inside Dirksen Federal Courthouse at 219 S Dearborn St Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.
Attorney Richard Kling, left, speaks to the media about his client, former Ald. Ricardo Muñoz, right, inside Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Muñoz announced his retirement from the City Council in 2018. He was charged in a domestic violence incident involving his wife early in 2019, but a Cook County judge found him not guilty of misdemeanor battery in June of that year. Muñoz was also in counseling for alcoholism that year.

Before he entered his plea in federal court Monday, Muñoz told U.S. District Judge John Kness he considers himself to be “retired” rather than unemployed. He said he has been living in Riverside, and he acknowledged he had three cans of Budweiser Sunday evening. However, he said he felt fully sober during Monday’s hearing.

After Muñoz’s plea, Kness agreed to hold a sealed hearing regarding what prosecutors called an “outstanding bond violation.” The judge asked all members of the media and public to leave the room.

Three sitting members of the Chicago City Council also face separate federal indictments of their own. Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) is charged with racketeering, Ald. Carrie M. Austin (34th) is charged with bribery and lying to the FBI, and Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) is charged with tax counts and lying to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Former Ald. Ricardo Munoz walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse at 219 S Dearborn St after his hearing in which he plead guilty Monday, Sept. 27, 2021.
Former Ald. Ricardo Muñoz walks out of the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on Monday after pleading guilty in his fraud case.
Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

A fourth, Ald. James Gardiner (45th), is the subject of a federal investigation revolving around potential bribery allegations, according to a source. He has not been criminally charged.

Muñoz faced 15 wire fraud counts and one money laundering count in the indictment filed against him April 29. It accused him of trying to cover his tracks by repaying the money he took from the Progressive Reform Caucus or by claiming it was for “consulting” or “Election Day expenses.”

The former alderman’s plea agreement with prosecutors alleges he took $37,891 from the progressive caucus, including $16,000 he transferred in October 2016 to a joint account he held with a family member. He then used $15,254 from the joint account to pay tuition to an out-of-state university.

Muñoz later used $16,000 from a Parent Plus loan to pay the money back.

He also bought jewelry from Louis Vuitton, women’s clothing from Nordstrom, three Apple iPhones and Chicago Bulls tickets, according to the plea agreement.

Muñoz made $10,560 in cash withdrawals from the progressive caucus account in November and December 2018, including while he was on vacation in New York in late November 2018, it said.

Federal authorities famously raided Burke’s City Hall offices Nov. 29, 2018, a move that first revealed the feds’ public corruption investigations, which are still ongoing.

Between November 2018 and February 2019, Muñoz used the progressive caucus debit card to spend $1,400 on a Southwest Airlines ticket from Los Angeles to Chicago for an acquaintance, Los Angeles Kings hockey tickets, a stay at the Los Angeles Crowne Plaza hotel, and at Lover’s Lane in West Dundee.

In March 2019, the plea agreement said, a contractor asked Muñoz for the progressive caucus’ account balance so it could be reported at a meeting. Muñoz told the contractor in an Apple iMessage the account had $11,000 in it.

It really only had $94.79, according to the plea agreement.