Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Businessman pleads guilty to bribing ex-state Sen. Martin Sandoval to secure the purchase of state-owned property


A suburban businessman pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal charges alleging he paid at least $15,000 in bribes to then-state Sen. Martin Sandoval to secure the purchase of state-owned property near his company in McCook.

Vahooman Mirkhaef, 60, who goes by the nickname “Shadow,” pleaded guilty to bribery conspiracy during a video conference before U.S. District Judge Mary Rowland.

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In his plea agreement with prosecutors, Mirkhaef admitted he also provided cash and other benefits over a three-year period to another elected official, identified only as Public Official A, in return for the official “using his position to attempt to benefit and not interfere with the operation” of Mirkhaef’s business.

Sources have told the Tribune that public official is ex-McCook Mayor Jeffrey Tobolski.

Preliminary sentencing guidelines call for up to 27 months in prison for Mirkhaef. He’s cooperating with authorities in hopes for leniency, according to his plea. Rowland set a status hearing for Jan. 26.

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Mirkhaef became the latest to be convicted in a wide-ranging corruption probe that went public when federal agents raided Sandoval’s Springfield offices in September 2019.

An hour before Mirkhaef’s hearing, longtime Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta pleaded guilty to bribery for accepting a cash payment from a red-light camera company executive in exchange for helping the company boost revenue. The executive, Omar Maani, was cooperating with the FBI and also paid bribes to Sandoval.

Mirkhaef, meanwhile, was charged earlier this month in a criminal information alleging that Mirkhaef enlisted Sandoval’s help in 2018 to secure property owned by the Illinois Department of Transportation that was adjacent to his trucking logistics company, Cub Terminal, at 5300 Joliet Road in McCook.

At the time, Sandoval was the powerful head of the Senate Transportation Committee and held considerable sway over IDOT.

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Mirkhaef’s plea agreement stated he was urged to contact Sandoval by Public Official A and another uncharged co-conspirator, identified in the document as Individual A.

In June 2018, Sandoval met with officials at IDOT and “sought to influence and advise them” regarding the sale of McCook property to Mirkhaef, according to the charges. After Sandoval intervened, IDOT put the land up for sale at public auction, where it was purchased by Mirkhaef that August.

The charges stated Mirkhaef, through Individual A, agreed on two separate occasions to pay Sandoval $25,000 cash for his efforts. That December, Sandoval went to Mirkhaef’s office to confirm that the money was still coming, the charged alleged.

On Jan. 21, 2019, Mirkhaef and Sandoval met at restaurant in McCook, where Mirkhaef “arranged to pay in excess of $15,000 in cash” to the senator, according to the plea agreement. The plea does not state whether the rest of the promised money was ever paid.

State election records show Cub Terminal donated $23,500 directly to Sandoval’s campaign coffers between 2014 and 2019, including a $5,000 contribution just two months before the FBI raid on Sandoval’s office.

He also donated $4,000 to the failed campaign of Sandoval’s daughter, Angie, for a seat on the Cook County Board in 2017, records show.

Sandoval, who pleaded guilty to a bribery scheme involving the same executive, died of complications from COVID-19 in December 2020.

Tobolski, who was also a Cook County commissioner, has pleaded guilty to accepting at least a quarter of a million dollars in bribes through a variety of schemes, including the extortion of a restaurant owner looking to serve liquor at an event at a village-owned facility. Tobolski is cooperating while awaiting sentencing.


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