2/5/2020Guilty Plea In Second Illinois Photo Ticketing Scandal
Former Illinois Senate Transportation Committee chairman pleads guilty to taking bribes to sink anti-red light camera legislation.
Martin A. Sandoval cut a deal last week with federal prosecutors, admitting his guilt in the second photo ticketing scandal that has rocked the state of Illinois. The powerful politician is now testifying against others involved in red light camera industry corruption in return for a reduction in his sentence.
Until recently, Sandoval held the chairmanship of the state Senate Transportation Committee. He wielded his gavel to block the efforts of lawmakers seeking to ban red light cameras in the wake of the Redflex corruption scandal in 2014. For his service, Sandoval pocketed more than $250,000 in bribes from the industry.
Safespeed, a small red light camera firm, also used Sandoval to pressure the Illinois Department of Transportation to sign off on permits. According to federal authorities, Sandoval asked an unnamed witness, thought to be Safespeed co-owner Omar Maani, to demand an annual $20,000 campaign donation from Safespeed CEO Nikki Zollar. The donation was to be laundered in a way that would disguise the photo ticketing company's involvement.
"I can see if I can ...find out from anyone when the next reporting period, and we will do it right, right after that," Maani told Sandoval. "Kind of, just kind of not make it obvious."
In July 2018, Sandoval met with the Maani at a Burr Heights restaurant to discuss having Safespeed pay him an extra $5000 a month in protection money. He also wanted a cut of every ticket issued by the company, which operates automated ticketing machines in thirty suburban Chicago communities, including Oakbrook Terrace.
"I've learned that there are people who helped Safespeed who get a monthly, um, [consulting fee] when they have helped with the sighting of a camera," Sandoval told Maani. "On a monthly basis, infinitum."
Sandoval pointed out that he intervened to promote the red light camera in Oakbrook Terrace and considered himself eligible to receive a cut of every citation issued.
"It galls me to know, but because we've established such a great relationship, um, 'cause you know I'll go balls to the walls for anything you ask me," Sandoval said. "It's hard for me to swallow how [people] make so much off of you. Right? And I gotta do the work."
He ultimately took $70,000 in protection money before federal agents intervened in September 2019. He took another $250,000 in bribes from other entities, causing him to understate his income to the IRS by $133,350. That meant he shortchanged the IRS by $38,682 and the state tax collector by $5000.
Sandoval faces ten years in prison, but his deal offers a substantial sentence reduction in return for his cooperation in testifying against others involved in the red light camera bribery scheme. He must also pay $85,825 in restitution to federal and state tax authorities plus $70,000 to cover the cost of prosecution. He is free on $10,000 bail while awaiting sentencing. Safespeed on Monday distanced itself from Maani, saying he had been fired.
"The alleged criminality of Mr. Maani and Senator Sandoval has caused significant harm to Safespeed's business and its reputation," a company press release asserted. "To be clear, Omar Maani's alleged criminality does not reflect the values and integrity of Safespeed and its employees."