FILE - Martin Sandoval, federal raid

Men carrying boxes and a bag marked "evidence" leave the Illinois State Capital in Springfield in this Sept. 24, 2019, file photo.

Federal agents could be investigating how a popular bill that would have banned many cities and towns from using red-light cameras ended up dying in one of state Sen. Martin Sandoval’s committees. 

While the unredacted search warrant released Friday does not specify which chamber in the General Assembly the bill was from, it was listed as a point of interest in the same paragraph as searching for SafeSpeed, a politically-connected red light management company that Sandoval had taken steps to help in the past

House Bill 173, had it been enacted, would have banned red-light cameras in any non-home rule municipality. Introduced in January 2015, it was sponsored by state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, with bipartisan support from a group of influential lawmakers. It passed House muster by a supermajority margin. The two representatives from Sandoval’s Senate district, former state Rep. Silvana Tabares and House Speaker Michael Madigan, didn't put up a fight. Tabares voted “present” and Madigan didn’t vote.

When the bill went to the Senate, support waned. 

It was sent to the Senate Executive Committee and relegated to a subcommittee chaired by state Sen. Antonio Munoz, D-Chicago, a long-time ally of Sandoval’s and fellow member of the Hispanic Democratic Organization. 

The Senate sponsors, after seeing the bill put into a subcommittee and not voted on, tried to amend the bill into a study “evaluating automated traffic law enforcement systems in this (s)tate.”

After being sent back to the catch-all Assignments Committee, the bill then was sent to the Transportation Committee, which was chaired by Sandoval, on May 13, 2016. 

On May 24, 2016, Sandoval directed the amended bill to the Subcommittee on Special Issues, which had no members. 

It would be shuffled back and forth a few more times before dying when the session ended in January 2017. In September 2016, SafeSpeed and individuals connected to the company donated $20,000 to Sandoval’s campaign.

“It turns my stomach,” said former state Sen. Dan Duffy, the Lake Barrington Republican who sponsored the bill. “It’s a corrupt system based on generating revenue for the red light camera companies, for those individuals and for the politicians that receive campaign donations from those companies.”

Duffy spent his time in office on a crusade to ban red-light cameras, garnering support in Chicago’s black community because the cameras were often located in low-income African-American areas. 

Duffy said he recalled the first time Sandoval allowed a measure banning red-light cameras to be heard in the committee and he was stunned to see Senate President John Cullerton make a rare committee appearance to testify against Duffy, bringing a video of Duffy triggering a red light camera in 2009 that Cullerton had retrieved from a company that managed Schaumburg’s cameras, according to the Daily Herald

“I realized why Sandoval allowed the bill to be heard because they were trying to publicly embarrass me,” Duffy said. 

The measure Duffy backed died in committee.

In regard to House Bill 173, there was no similar theatrics, rather what Duffy called “crickets.”  

“I do not know for sure if it’s my bill, but it sure appears that way,” said state Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills. “I can’t wait to find out what’s going on.”

Federal agents raided Sandoval’s Springfield office along with his district office in Cicero last month in what the search warrant called a hunt for “items related to any official action taken in exchange for a benefit.”

Staff Reporter

Cole Lauterbach reports on Illinois government and statewide issues for The Center Square. He has produced radio shows for stations in Bloomington/Normal and Peoria, and created award-winning programs for Comcast SportsNet Chicago.