Former 22nd Ward Ald. Ricardo Muñoz pleaded guilty on Monday to spending cash from a political fund on personal items such as sports tickets, meals and travel.
Muñoz, 56, who retired in 2019, appeared in court in person before U.S. District Judge John F. Kness and pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. He was indicted in April on 15 counts related to the conduct.
Federal prosecutors alleged Muñoz stole from a political action committee formed by the Chicago Progressive Reform Caucus, where he served as chairman and performed the duties of its treasurer. Prosecutors accused him of moving funds from the CPRC into another fund he controlled, Citizens for Muñoz, and then into his personal checking account.
“He devoted his life to trying to help the community,” Muñoz’s attorney, Richard Kling, told reporters after the hearing. “Sometimes people do foolish or thoughtless things.”
Though he admitted to drinking the night before, Muñoz assured the judge he was sober for the hearing. Muñoz has previously said he has been treated for alcoholism. He said he lives in Riverside now, and is retired from any type of employment.
Muñoz stood with his head bowed while Assistant U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual read the allegations levied against the former alderman.
Among the personal items purchased with the funds were $169 for tickets to a Los Angeles Kings hockey game, $265 for a room at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Los Angeles and another $160 spent on items at Lover’s Lane in West Dundee, the charges alleged.
He also bought jewelry, cuff links, women’s clothing, three Apple iPhones and accessories, aerial sightseeing trips and sky diving excursions, according to the indictment.
Muñoz also transferred $16,000 to pay college tuition for an unidentified person, according to the charges.
He tried to hide the fraud by lying to the Illinois State Board of Elections and staff members and contractors about the legitimacy of the expenditures and by cutting off others’ access to the CPRC fund to conceal the low balances, the indictment said.
Muñoz told other caucus members that there was substantially more money in the CPRC fund, prosecutors said. “Bottom line. Progressive Caucus has 11K,” Muñoz said in a chat message, according to the indictment.
But Pasqual told the judge during the plea hearing that there was less than $100 in the fund at that time.
Muñoz could face up to 30 years in prison for the two counts, though the written agreement reached with the government anticipated a sentencing range of between 10 and 16 months, Kness said, reading from the plea agreement during the court hearing.
Kness cautioned Muñoz that he does not have to abide by the agreement reached with prosecutors, and may also calculate a different sentencing range. Kness scheduled sentencing for Jan. 5.
Before concluding the hearing, Kness asked reporters covering the hearing to leave to discuss a bond violation. Kling declined to elaborate on the matter after the hearing.
Muñoz first became alderman in 1993 when he was appointed by former Mayor Richard M. Daley. At the time, he was the youngest member of the City Council.
In 2019, Muñoz was charged and acquitted of battering his wife.
Muñoz is one of three current or former aldermen who have been indicted on federal charges so far this year. In April, 11th Ward Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson was indicted the same day as Muñoz in a separate corruption case that alleges he filed false tax returns and lied to Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. officials about $219,000 in loans and other payments he’d received from a Bridgeport bank before it closed in 2017. Ald. Carrie Austin of the 34th Ward was indicted in July on federal bribery charges.
Ald. Edward Burke, 14th, is currently awaiting trial after he was indicted in 2019 on federal racketeering charges.