Racketeering lawsuit targets Sandoval, SafeSpeed

  • Martin Sandoval

    Martin Sandoval

 
By Peter Hancock
Capitol News Illinois
phancock@capitolnewsillinois.com
Updated 2/4/2020 1:14 PM

SPRINGFIELD -- Former state Sen. Martin Sandoval and SafeSpeed LLC, the red-light camera company at the center of federal corruption charges against him, are now the targets of a racketeering lawsuit that seeks to void tens of thousands of traffic citations issued through the company's devices.

Lawrence Gress, a Downers Grove resident and lead plaintiff in the case, filed the suit Monday under the federal Racketeering, Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law most often used to prosecute organized crime syndicates. But RICO also allows for private civil suits for actions that are part of a criminal enterprise.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The lawsuit alleges SafeSpeed, its officers and employees paid bribes to Sandoval and other government officials to gain approval for placing its red-light cameras at various intersections in area suburbs.

Sandoval and the other government officials, the lawsuit alleges, were paid as "undisclosed sales agents" or "consultants" based on a percentage of the camera revenue.

Sandoval served in the state Senate from 2003 until Jan. 1, when he resigned amid the corruption scandal.

Last week, Sandoval pleaded guilty to one count each of federal bribery and tax fraud as part of a deal with prosecutors in which he agreed to cooperate with ongoing investigations. The RICO lawsuit is separate from the criminal case, but it is based largely on the same set of facts to which Sandoval has pleaded guilty.

It alleges SafeSpeed operated a corrupt enterprise, known as an "association-in-fact," by conspiring with the other defendants to pay bribes or kickbacks to public officials who would steer contracts toward the company for operating red-light cameras.

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Sandoval is accused of using his position in the Senate to serve as the company's "protector" by ensuring legislation unfavorable to the company, including bills to ban the use of red-light cameras, would never pass and to help override objections from the Illinois Department of Transportation about the placement of certain cameras.

In exchange, the lawsuit alleges, SafeSpeed and its employees arranged to pay $20,000 a year in donations to Sandoval's campaigns.

The lawsuit was filed as a proposed class action on behalf of an estimated 100,000 or more individuals who were fined $100 to $200 for each ticket issued by a red-light camera that was "corruptly and improperly installed, over repeated objections from IDOT, as a direct and proximate result of bribes paid."

Other defendants named in the suit are SafeSpeed co-founders and employees Nikki Zollar, Chris Lai, Khalid "Cliff" Maani and his son Omar Maani; former Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Ragucci; the city of Oakbrook Terrace; Cook County Commissioner and McCook Village President Jeff Tobolski; Tobolski's chief of staff, Patrick Doherty; former Chicago Deputy Aviation Commissioner Bill Helm; former Village of Justice Police Chief Robert Gedville; Worth Township Supervisor and Democratic committeeman John O'Sullivan; Summit Mayor Sergio Rodriguez; Alsip Mayor John Ryan; former state Rep. Michael Carberry of Oak Lawn; Summit Police Chief John Kosmowski; and Summit Public Works Chief Bill Mundy.

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