For the past few days we've been thinking about the paperwork from a September raid on the Springfield office of state Sen. Martin Sandoval. We don't know why the feds went snooping — Sandoval has not been accused of wrongdoing — but we know the search reflected a broadminded curiosity about video gambling, construction, a suburban red light camera company and ComEd.
Maybe the details will be divulged over time, but we're already intrigued by the many dozens, yes, dozens, of people and entities mentioned in the Sandoval search warrant. They represent a trip across the Illinois landscape of politics and clout.
On Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker joined the fray. Here's the background:
One of those named in the search warrant is Rick Heidner, owner of Gold Rush Gaming, a video gambling company that has machines in such towns as Lyons, McCook and Summit. Heidner is also part of a team that wants to build a harness racing track and casino in Tinley Park — a conglomeration known as a racino. None of those facts is spelled out in the Sandoval search warrant. Instead, Heidner and his company are referenced under a general heading of items to be seized: Items related to Rick Heidner, Gold Rush Gaming.
Here's something else not listed in the search warrant: Heidner has longstanding business ties to a banking family whose financial involvement with mob figures helped torpedo the proposed Emerald Casino in Rosemont. That fact was exposed last weekend by the Tribune's David Heinzmann.
On Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker reacted to that report: He intervened in the race track deal, saying the state would not sell the land on which the proposed racino would be located.
Pritzker is smart to halt the action right here, right now, until regulators come up to speed with the Tribune's disclosures. Illinois is embarking on a huge gambling expansion statewide. Immense amounts of money potentially are in play. Many legislators see nothing but new buckets of revenue. A governor who moves swiftly to keep scandal at bay is protecting the reputation, and the reality, of legal gambling in Illinois.
We aren't accusing Heidner of any wrongdoing. In the past he has partnered in business deals with Rocco Suspenzi, chairman of Parkway Bank and Trust, Heinzmann reported. Back in 2003, the FBI and Illinois Gaming Board found that Suspenzi and his son Jeffrey concealed their own ownership stake, as well as that of a reputed mob figure, in the Emerald casino deal. And now the governor is sidelining Heidner's race track activity.
Why the Illinois Racing Board evidently didn't understand Heidner's background when it approved the horse track portion of the proposed casino is one of many questions we have. Pritzker should have questions too.
So you see what we mean about that federal document. It's chock full of characters whose paths intersect at the nexus of Illinois politicians, campaign contributors, regulated industries and government contractors. While no one has been accused of a crime, the warrant evidently relates to several ongoing investigations.
• ComEd and its parent company, Exelon, are listed in the Sandoval search warrant. Exelon CEO Anne Pramaggiore abruptly retired Tuesday, the Tribune reported.
• Safespeed, a red light camera company, is listed in the warrant. Safespeed was the subject of a Tribune investigation two years ago. That report revealed Sandoval had interceded with the Illinois Department of Transportation on Safespeed's behalf while accepting campaign donations from the company and its owner.
• Also listed in the warrant is John Harris, the former chief of staff to Rod Blagojevich, the imprisoned former governor. News reports have Harris working for Michael Vondra, a Sandoval campaign supporter who's in the road construction business. Vondra's listed in the search warrant. Sandoval has stepped down as chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee.
What does it add up to? Maybe all this federal activity leads nowhere. Or maybe this line in the Sandoval document becomes key: Agents were looking for "Items related to any official action taken in exchange for a benefit."
Would such a thing ever happen in Illinois?
Chicago Tribune, Wednesday