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Ex-State Sen. Sandoval Dies Of COVID-19 In Midst Of FBI Cooperation After Corruption Charges

Hannah Meisel/NPR Illinois

Former State Sen. Marty Sandoval (D-Chicago) died Saturday after a battle with COVID-19, nearly a year after resigning from the legislature amidst an ongoing federal corruption probe involving Democratic politicians and other power brokers from Chicago’s City Hall to Springfield.

Sandoval, 56, pleaded guilty to corruption charges in January and had been cooperating with federal prosecutors in multiple investigations after finding himself embroiled in the federal investigation involving in a public raid of his Springfield and Cicero offices and Gage Park home in Sept. 2019 and an indictment earlier this year.


In statements to multiple news outlets confirming Sandoval’s death, Sandoval’s defense attorney Dylan Smith said he was “very proud” to have represented the former senator.

“While he may have strayed from the standard he set for himself, he was making a genuine effort to make amends for his mistakes through his cooperation with the government and its ongoing investigation,” Smith said.

Smith added that Sandoval “loved his family deeply” and requested privacy on their behalf while they grieve.

Sandoval had been hospitalized with COVID-19 since before Thanksgiving. A statement released late Saturday afternoon by his wife and adult children called Sandoval "the center of our family."

"Marty was larger than life with an enormous heart and an endless devotion to us. We’re proud of his legacy, miss him already and know he joins his four siblings and parents in a better place all too soon,” the statement said.

Sandoval had served as chairman of the Senate’s Transportation Committee for a decade before stepping down from the position in October 2019 — a few weeks after federal agents went hunting for computers, flash drives and other documents in his offices and home. Despite mounting pressure, Sandoval didn’t announce his resignation from the Senate until late November, and even then didn’t make it official until Jan 1, allowing him to collect legislator pay, health benefits and accrue more time for an eventual state lawmaker pension.

The Democrat was first elected to the Senate in 2002, after serving as a commissioner on the Cook County Water Reclamation District for four years. Sandoval amassed power as chair of the Transportation Committee, preferring to negotiate the particulars of legislation behind closed doors. As a result, Transportation Committee hearings chaired by Sandoval often lasted only a few minutes with quick approval of legislation and a bang of his gavel.

Sandoval was known as brash, but also had strong allies. The Democrat worked his political muscle for a $40 billion infrastructure bill in the spring of 2019 during Gov. JB Pritzker’s inaugural legislative session. In tense moments while negotiating the massive capital bill last year, Sandoval’s sometimes-combative personality was on display when he facetiously said that Republican members reluctant to vote for raising the state’s gas tax for infrastructure funding could have their districts written out of the bill.

“For those who are critical of the investments, I challenge them to face their constituents ‘mano to mano,’ as we do on the Southwest Side of Chicago, and tell them they don’t need any investments in their highways, roads and bridges,” Sandoval said.

But just a few months after Pritzker signed the historic capital bill, Sandoval’s political fate dramatically changed.

Subpoenas made public in the weeks after the federal raid revealed the feds were searching for information on red light camera companies, construction companies, southwest suburban businesses including a cigar club and golf club, plus information connected to electric utility Commonwealth Edison, which this past summer agreed to a $20 million deferred prosecution agreement acknowledging its role in a bribery scheme that sought to curry favor with longtime House Speaker Mike Madigan.

Read more: Key Madigan Ally, ComEd Lobbyists And Official Indicted In Federal Bribery Scheme; Madigan Declines To Step Aside Even After Allies Indicted, Calls For His Resignation

Sandoval’s daughter, Angie, is a senior account representative at ComEd.

In his January guilty plea, Sandoval admitted to taking a “protector fee” in connection with red light camera company SafeSpeed. Federal court documents include Sandoval saying he’d “go balls to the walls for anything you ask me.”

Sandoval had been cooperating with prosecutors for more than a year, and had been spotted waiting for federal agents to pick him up at a Southwest Side Dunkin’ Donuts. In a court filing just before Thanksgiving, prosecutors said Sandoval had been providing “valuable cooperation that is expected to last at least several more months.” His next court date was postponed until April 1.

Sandoval’s 2002 election was a sign of political and demographic change on Chicago’s Southwest Side. The 2002 election cycle was the first after the Democratically controlled re-map process drew new lines for legislative districts for the General Assembly, Congress and the Chicago City Council. Sandoval’s former Senate district has overlapped with Madigan’s House district since redistricting in 2011.

After the implosion of the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization in the mid-2000s — a patronage organization with ties to former Mayor Richard M. Daley — a new more progressive politics has emerged in Chicago’s Latino communities, which sometimes chafes the older generation of Latino Democrats. Sandoval watched this play out in the spring of 2018, when his daughter Angie lost her primary race to replace now-U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia on the Cook County Board. Garcia, a progressive, backed Alma Anaya, and she won the race by 15 points.

State Sen. Celina Villanueva (D-Chicago), another progressive, replaced Sandoval in the Senate after he resigned in January, said in a brief statement that she sent her “deepest sympathies” to Sandoval’s family and used the moment to highlight the disproportionate impact COVID-19 has had on communities of color.

“COVID-19 is real and continues to devastate communities across the Southwest side,” Villanueva said Saturday. “Please show compassion for your neighbors and wear a mask, social distance and listen to the health experts who are desperately trying to save lives. Not taking these basic precautions has real consequences felt by thousands of families across the state.”

In Chicago, throughout the state and nationwide, Latino and Black communities have been hit hardest by the virus. Many of those deemed “essential workers” who are most exposed to COVID-19 risks are Black and Latino.

Hannah covers state government and politics for Capital News Illinois. She's been dedicated to the statehouse beat since interning at NPR Illinois in 2014, with subsequent stops at outlets including WILL-AM/FM, Law360, The Daily Line and a temporary stint at political blog Capitol Fax before returning to NPR Illinois in 2020 and moving to CNI in 2023.
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