For decades, Roberto Caldero was an influential behind-the-scenes player in politics at all levels in Chicago and Illinois, with especially close ties to former Congressman Luis Gutierrez and disgraced ex-25th Ward Ald. Danny Solis.
On Wednesday, federal prosecutors charged Caldero with bribing Solis and corrupt former Chicago Public Schools official Pedro Soto. They also brought unrelated tax charges to a former state lawmaker and his sons who were hired by Commonwealth Edison, which has admitted to a long-running Springfield bribery scheme.
According to court records, Caldero allegedly arranged for a campaign contribution to Solis in exchange for the alderman getting an honorary street designation in the name of a Caldero client’s father.
The feds also accused Caldero of giving champagne and admission to a museum event to Soto and promising “possible future employment” to the one-time CPS chief of staff for secretly aiding a client who was pursuing a $1 billion janitorial contract from the school district.
Caldero told WBEZ he vehemently denied all the charges in the eight-count, federal grand jury indictment.
“I never bribed any elected official,” Caldero said Wednesday evening, soon after the case against him was unsealed in U.S. District Court in Chicago. “I never once made a statement to any government official or elected official that I would give them something in return for something. Never, ever, OK?
Caldero noted his vast experience in government and his long relationships with a wide range of local political leaders.
“I’ve dealt with commissioners and elected officials since Harold Washington days,” he said, referring to the Chicago mayor from the 1980s. “I’ve had very close friends who were commissioners — city, state, county and all over the place. Nobody ever said I went to them and offered them a bribe. It’s not my style. It’s not something I would even think of doing.”
Caldero acknowledged supporting Solis, but he said he did not do that as part of any quid pro quo arrangement.
“I went to every fundraiser for Danny Solis for 20 years,” Caldero said. “I’ve raised probably $100,000 for Danny, if not more. But I never did a donation or raised money for him and said, ‘But you got to do this for me.’ If I did something like that inadvertently or whatever, it’s something I know nothing about at the moment.”
Solis was one of the most powerful City Council allies of Mayors Richard M. Daley and Rahm Emanuel, representing Pilsen and other nearby neighborhoods from 1996 until 2019.
But court records show Solis wore a wire to help the government build its pending case against an even more powerful politician — 14th Ward Ald. Edward Burke — after investigators confronted Solis with evidence of his own wrongdoing.
Solis has not been charged. And according to a court filing by Burke’s lawyers last year, Solis may avoid prosecution in exchange for his cooperation with the feds, even though he admitted to “illegal solicitation and receipt of campaign contributions” when he was chairman of the Council’s powerful Zoning Committee.
Soto pleaded guilty last year to lying to the feds.
A spokesman for U.S. Atty. John Lausch, the top federal prosecutor in Chicago, declined to comment Wednesday on the government’s case against Caldero.
The feds say Caldero repeatedly promised Solis $50,000 for his political campaign fund from an unnamed individual who wanted an honorary street designation for his father and a park to be renamed for his grandfather. Solis introduced the honorary street measure in October 2016, according to the indictment of Caldero.
In the end, though, Solis got $5,000 from the contributor on Dec. 7, 2016, prosecutors said.
State campaign-finance records show a $5,000 contribution to the 25th Ward Democratic organization — which was then led by Solis — on that same day from Cacciatore & Company, a real estate firm in downtown Chicago.
And City Council documents indicate Solis sponsored a “memorial resolution” to honor Victor Cacciatore Sr., in October 2016.
Also Wednesday, federal prosecutors indicted former Illinois Democratic state Rep. Eddie Acevedo of Chicago and his two sons, Alex and Michael, on charges that they each lied to avoid paying income taxes.
After the elder Acevedo left the legislature, the three of them ran a lobbying company in Springfield that had few registered clients.
When reached for comment about his indictment, Eddie Acevedo told a WBEZ reporter, “I have no idea what you’re talking about” and hung up.
Alex Acevedo most recently lost a campaign to become alderman of Chicago’s 25th Ward. He also lost a bid to take over his father’s seat in the Illinois House.
Last July, Lausch’s office issued a subpoena to House Speaker Michael Madigan’s office, asking for communications the speaker’s office had with Eddie Acevedo regarding efforts to give him or his family contracts, payments or jobs.
In December 2016, Michael Acevedo also emailed Commonwealth Edison a signed subcontract for Apex. Neither Apex nor ComEd disclosed that they had a relationship in lobbying registration forms.
The email was disclosed as part of a legislative inquiry into ComEd after the utility admitted to federal prosecutors that it had embarked on a years-long effort to bribe Madigan by contracting with his political allies, even though they performed little or no work for the utility. As part of that probe, ComEd released internal documents and communications to the legislative panel related to its admission.
In a 2017 exchange, two ComEd lobbyists who’ve since been indicted wrote, “Eddie is driving our Friend crazy.” One of the lobbyists on the email was close with Madigan and often referred to the speaker as “our Friend.”
Eddie Acevedo also served in House leadership when Madigan was speaker. The indictments revealed Wednesday do not make clear whether the Acevedos’ charges relate to the ComEd scandal.
Lausch’s spokesman also declined to comment on the indictments of the Acevedos.
Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team. Tony Arnold and Dave McKinney cover state politics.