Sources: Feds Also Raided Contractor With Close Ties to Sen. Sandoval

Bluff City Materials
The offices of Bluff City Materials were raided Tuesday by the FBI, multiple sources tell WBEZ. Dan Mihalopoulos / WBEZ
Bluff City Materials
The offices of Bluff City Materials were raided Tuesday by the FBI, multiple sources tell WBEZ. Dan Mihalopoulos / WBEZ

Sources: Feds Also Raided Contractor With Close Ties to Sen. Sandoval

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Federal investigators have raided the northwest suburban offices of a politically connected company headed by a longtime, major campaign contributor to state Sen. Martin Sandoval, WBEZ has learned.

Multiple sources said the raid took place Tuesday at the Bartlett offices of Bluff City Materials Inc., one of several companies owned by Michael Vondra, a construction and asphalt magnate with deep political ties in state government.

For decades, Vondra has been one of the biggest players in Illinois’ asphalt and construction industries.

The law enforcement activity in Bartlett came on the same day FBI agents raided the Cicero and Springfield offices of Sandoval, a high-ranking Democrat who has been a state senator since 2003 and is chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

Then on Thursday, the FBI hit village halls in southwest suburban Lyons, McCook and Summit. The IRS has also confirmed to WBEZ that its criminal investigations unit executed search warrants Thursday around Chicago, but wouldn’t offer specifics.

Executives at the offices of Bluff City Materials, at 2250 Southwind Blvd., declined to comment Friday on the raid. Spokesmen for the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago also declined to comment.

Authorities have acknowledged the raids at the government offices this week, but nobody has been charged, and officials would not describe the nature of their investigation.

But the sources who spoke to WBEZ on the condition of anonymity said that Bluff City Materials was among multiple non-governmental locations also raided during one of the most dramatic weeks in the recent, corruption-riddled history of Illinois.

And public records show Vondra and his companies have been major political supporters of Sandoval for many years.

Since 2004, state campaign records show Vondra-associated companies have contributed at least $29,000 to Sandoval, and Vondra has been an honorary chairman at the senator’s annual golf outings at a DuPage County golf course Vondra once owned.

Nearly $4,800 of that total came from the Vondra-owned Reliable Materials-Lyons company, which is right next to the village hall that got raided by the FBI on Wednesday.

Vondra’s companies also gave at least $16,250 to the unsuccessful Cook County Board campaign of Angie Sandoval, the state senator’s daughter, state campaign records show.

Vondra also has been a major contributor to McCook Mayor and Democratic Cook County Commissioner Jeff Tobolski, records show. Tobolski has not commented on the raid Thursday at the village hall of his tiny suburb.

Vondra and one of his business associates also had roles in the downfall of disgraced ex-Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Vondra, who was never charged in the Blagojevich case, was identified by the Chicago Sun-Times as “Individual B” in the ex-governor’s criminal complaint.

Federal prosecutors alleged Vondra sought help from Blagojevich for one of his business ventures. The governor contemplated offering that help in exchange for $100,000 in political contributions from Vondra by the end of 2008, the complaint alleged.

Former Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris is now linked to several of Vondra’s business ventures, including Bluff City, state records show.

Harris was a key witness for the federal government in its cases against Blagojevich and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. He was sentenced to 10 days in federal prison.

​It was unclear whether the raids this week were related to an ongoing probe that has looked at Illinois House Speaker and state Democratic Party boss Michael Madigan, utility giant ComEd and others with ties to Madigan, as WBEZ and the Better Government Association first reported in July.

Last month, Sandoval issued a public apology after a supporter staged a mock assassination of President Donald Trump at a fundraiser for Sandoval, which sparked national, bipartisan criticism.

Sandoval, 55, came to power with the help of the now-defunct Hispanic Democratic Organization, a patronage army created by supporters of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley.

When HDO collapsed in the wake of a hiring fraud scandal at Chicago’s City Hall, Sandoval was not charged with any wrongdoing, and he was among HDO’s most vocal defenders, saying authorities who targeted the group acted out of racism against Latinos.

In addition to his work in Springfield, Sandoval owns a company called Puentes Inc., which has done public-relations work for the town of Cicero and other municipal clients, according to state records.

Dan Mihalopoulos is an investigative reporter at WBEZ. Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover state politics for WBEZ.