Illinois state Sen. Martin Sandoval resigned his post as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee Friday shortly after the release of an unredacted search warrant that federal agents used to raid his home and government offices.
The warrant lays out a broad investigation into his dealings with ComEd, Exelon, a video gambling company, a red-light camera company, an asphalt contractor, and state and municipal officials.
According to the unredacted warrant, agents were searching for "items related to any official action taken in exchange for a benefit," also known as a kickback.
Senate President John Cullerton confirmed Sandoval's resignation late Friday morning.
The unredacted document was released by Senate Democrats after WBEZ filed a lawsuit to obtain it under the state's open records law. Previously, Cullerton had released a redacted copy of the warrant.
Federal agents were looking for evidence of Sandoval's interaction with ComEd and Exelon related to any issues those companies supported, including potential rate increases, according to the warrant.
After reviewing the warrant, Saint Xavier University Center for Fraud and Corruption Director David Parker said it looked expansive. And he said it appeared that federal investigators were looking at a large swath of Sandoval's interactions with businesses, state officials and municipal officials.
Investigators sought evidence related to Sandoval's dealings with ComEd and Exelon, including legislation supported by the companies and potential energy rate hikes.
“You have to wait and see just how deep it really goes,” Parker said. “If it’s a matter of corporate culture with a lot of the top executives knowing exactly what was going on and putting their blessing on it that is certainly different than a few rogue executives,” Parker said.
Agents also sought information related to red-light camera operator SafeSpeed. House Bill 173 is mentioned as a federal search target. In 2016, legislation to ban red-light cameras passed in the state House of Representative with bipartisan support. After being assigned to the Senate Executive Committee, it was relegated to a subcommittee chaired by state Sen. Antonio Munoz, D-Chicago, and allowed to pass its deadline with no action. It was then re-assigned to Sandoval’s Senate Transportation Committee, where Sandoval assigned it to a subcommittee with no members. It was never voted on again.
Ceasar Santoy was named along with a collection of others in relation to SafeSpeed. Gov. J.B. Pritzker nominated Santoy to the Illinois Tollway Authority Board in February. Santoy has not been approved by the Senate.
Pritzker said Friday that Santoy should step down.
“Corruption and self-dealing are unacceptable and will be rooted out whether it’s in my administration or in the legislature and so from my perspective, Ceasar Santoy should step aside from his position on the tollway board,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker said Santoy was vetted and his administration didn’t find anything to prohibit Santoy from serving when he was nominated. The governor also said it was important to note that Santoy has not been charged with a crime.
“He was qualified for the position, but it’s clear now anyway that there is some cloud and investigation, that’s not to say that he’s yet been found to have done anything [illegal] or even charged from what I understand,” Pritzker said. “But still, it’s important for us to make sure that there’s no cloud that carries over to any work that gets done with the tollway.”
Santoy's attorney didn't address whether Santoy should step down from the tollway authority.
"I’ve been informed that Mr. Santoy is not a target," attorney Brendan Shiller said. "The government got a warrant for certain communications and Mr. Santoy cooperated fully and provided those communications."
Messages seeking comment directly from Santoy and the tollway authority were not returned.
Agents also sought information related to Gold Rush Amusements Inc. and owner Rick Heidner. Gold Rush is a video gambling company with 480 locations statewide, according to its website. Heidner couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Gold Rush has made more than 300 campaign contributions in Illinois since 1999, to both Democrats and Republicans, with the vast majority since 2005. During that time, Gold Rush contributed $11,500 to the Friends of Michael Sandoval, $30,500 to the Friends of Michael Madigan, $23,500 to Citizens for John Cullerton, and $18,500 to the Democratic Party of Illinois. Madigan is the longtime speaker of the house.
In a statement, Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider called the state Democratic Party a "crime ring."
“The unredacted warrant provides another glimpse into the vast network of background players involved in the corrupt Chicago Democrat machine that runs this state," Schneider said. "From another close Madigan ally to Pritzker’s Tollway appointee, there is virtually no level of state and local government in Cook County that is not teeming with self dealing Democrats looking to screw over taxpayers. The Illinois Democratic Party is a crime ring masquerading as a political party.”
Messages seeking comment from the Democratic Party of Illinois were not returned.
Parker said he expected corruption to be an issue in the 2020 election.
“We’ve got Republicans screaming ‘we’re looking at lobbying’ and now this is a Democratic state Senator under investigation,” Parker said. “So it becomes even more newsworthy if you can tie it back to the parties.”
During the raid of Sandoval’s office last month, agents took cell phones, computers, USB drives, campaign spreadsheets and other items.
Federal investigators also searched Sandoval’s Cicero office and his home. Chicago media outlets reported federal agents also visited Bluff City Materials, a sand and gravel business that serves contractors in several industries, including concrete and asphalt. Owner Michael Vondra did not return a message seeking comment. Vondra has donated money to Sandoval's campaign fund and to Sandoval's daughter's campaign fund.
As for the now vacant Senate Transportation Committee seat, Cullerton spokesman John Patters said he's not sure when a replacement will be announced.