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Tuesday, May 28, 2024 | Back issues
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Favors Ran Out for Chicago Power Brokers

CHICAGO (CN) - The 7th Circuit upheld the convictions of two Chicago powerbrokers who traded civil-service jobs for political advocacy and mobilization activities.

A description of the political patronage that permeated Chicago in the case sets the stage for the court's 17-page decision.

Despite a 1983 court order and a series of negotiations known as the "Shakman decrees," which were intended to combat machine politics in the city, patronage remained embedded in Chicago politics. The Mayor's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, abbreviated as IGA, continued to exert significant influence over hiring decisions for basic city jobs.

"Though it had no official role in hiring or promotion of city jobs, the IGA received lists of vacancies from personnel officers within the city's various departments and indicated preferred candidates, who then received interviews and jobs," according to the opinion authored by U.S. District Judge James Shadid, sitting on the three-judge panel by designation from Peoria. "The IGA also formed organizations of city employees to perform campaign work, directed political organizations to support selected candidates, and used the organizations to work precincts for candidates during elections. As compensation for their work, these organizations competed amongst themselves for city jobs awarded through IGA. The IGA selected the organizations which were to receive the jobs and based their decisions on recommendations from political coordinators."

To avoid the checks imposed by the Shakman degrees, city employees falsely inflated quantitative evaluation ratings for candidates, conducted sham interviews and falsely certified that political affiliation had played no role in hiring decisions.

The defendants accused of such fraud in the case were Alfred Sanchez and Aaron Del Valle. Both men were affiliated with the Hispanic Democratic Organization (HDO), which largely supported Mayor Richard Daley.

"Sanchez participated in every aspect of the scheme," Judge Shadid wrote. "He ran campaign organizations for the IGA for more than a decade, as a city employee he falsified ratings forms and as a head of the Department, he directed his personnel officer to submit names of HDO participants to the IGA for hiring."

Sanchez began his career as a political leader in southeast Chicago. When his group merged with other Hispanic political organizations from the North and West Sides of the city, Sanchez was allegedly contacted for political-mobilization services in exchange for government jobs for HDO members. The alliance supposedly helped the group grow in numbers and influence, and landed Sanchez a job as deputy director of the Mayor's Office of Inquiry and Information in the early 1990s. Sanchez later became commissioner of the Department of Streets and Sanitation in 1999.

Sanchez was purportedly given lists of vacant positions and applicants on a regular basis, and would highlight or check the names of those who should be hired. His recommendations went to the IGA, which would initiate the fraudulent hiring process.

Del Valle's role in the scheme was allegedly less prominent, but equally essential. Del Valle served as "coordinator of coordinators," receiving job requests from local HDO coordinators and passing them along to Sanchez.

When Del Valle testified before a grand jury during the investigation into Sanchez, he denied any role in the hiring process, and claimed that his work involved checking "lottery lists" for HDO volunteers used to randomly select applicants for hand-laborer and motor-truck-driver positions within the group.

Del Valle's alibi began to crumble when a search of his computer turned up April 2004 spreadsheets that sorted individuals seeking city jobs by HDO coordinator. An almost identical list faxed to the IGA that month was titled "Al's Picks," presumably referring to Alfred Sanchez.

A grand jury charged Sanchez with nine counts of mail fraud and charged Del Valle with one count of perjury. Sanchez was found guilty of four counts and Del Valle was also convicted. The government dropped three counts at a retrial, and Sanchez was convicted of a single count of mail fraud.

Both defendants appealed but found no sympathy in the 7th Circuit.

Sanchez said the government elicited prejudicial testimony from him during the retrial about a prior uncharged drunken driving incident. After Sanchez testified that he worked for Chicago 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the government had questioned him about a motor vehicle accident in which Sanchez was allegedly driving while intoxicated in a city-owned car. After a jury recess, the testimony was stuck down as irrelevant and a curative instruction was given to the jury.

The 7th Circuit rejected Sanchez's contention that the testimony had prejudiced the jury and amounted to prosecutorial misconduct.

"Driving under the influence is a serious matter and certainly it has negatively impacted many people," Shadid wrote. "However, it is not of such a unique nature that a mention of an uncharged instance could be said to have significantly bolstered the government's case. In other words, the mention of drunk driving was an error and was prejudicial, but not so much so that its absence makes the government's case significantly less persuasive."

Sanchez also argued that city jobs are not "money of property" for the purposes of federal charges of mail fraud because his actions did not cost the city any additional resources. He urged the court to overrule its 2008 decision in United States v. Sorich, which explicitly holds that jobs are property for the purposes of mail fraud. The court declined the invitation, pointing out that "whether or not jobs are 'property', the money paid for the job (that is, the salary) is 'money.'"

Del Valle also claimed the trial court's repeated refusal to sever his case from that of Sanchez. The 7th Circuit ruled that, while most evidence in the trial centered on Sanchez, it was necessary to present evidence to the jury to contextualize how he allegedly committed perjury before the grand jury.

It is clear from the record that there was ample evidence to support Del Valle's conviction," Shadid wrote.

Sanchez was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. Del Valle received a one-year sentence.

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