CHICAGO (CBS) -- Former Ald. Ricardo Munoz pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to federal charges accusing him of using money from a political fund he once controlled on personal expenses -- including sports tickets, vacations, jewelry, clothing, and more.
Munoz, 56, faces a 16-count indictment charging him with 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering.
During a brief hearing held by phone on Wednesday, Munoz pleaded not guilty through his attorney, Richard Kling. His next court date was set for June 4.
The indictment accuses the former 22nd Ward alderman and former chairman of the Chicago Progressive Reform Caucus (CPRC) of using money from the caucus' political action committee for assorted personal expenses.
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These included $16,000 for a relative's college tuition, as well as jewelry, clothing, cellphones, vacations, tickets for a Los Angeles Kings hockey game, airline tickets, aerial sightseeing trips, skydiving excursions, and items from Lover's Lane – which was the only specific store mentioned.
The indictment claimed Munoz obtained the money through cash withdrawals and debit card purchases from the CPRC bank account, or by transferring money from the CPRC account to an account for another political fund he controlled called Citizens for Munoz, and then on to his personal checking account.
Munoz tried to conceal the fraud scheme by making false statements to the Illinois State Board of Elections and staff members and contractors for the CPRC, the indictment alleged.
The CPRC was a political organization made up of several aldermen in the City Council. Munoz – who served as an alderman from 1993 until 2019 – was its chairman and performed the duties of its treasurer. The caucus removed him as chairman in 2019, after accusing him of questionable spending in filings with the Illinois State Board of Elections.
Public officials are not legally allowed to receive payments from political funds for personal expenses, prosecutors pointed out.
Munoz was appointed as alderman in 1993 by Mayor Richard M. Daley to replace Jesus "Chuy" Garcia, who at the time left the City Council for the Illinois Senate, and in 2018 was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives after eight years on the Cook County Board.
Munoz decided not to run for another term in 2019. Ald. Michael Rodriguez now represents the 22nd Ward.
In June 2019, Munoz was acquitted of a misdemeanor charge domestic battery. He had been arrested on Jan. 2 of that year after police said he got into a quarrel with his wife on New Year's Eve two days earlier, and shoved and hit her.
A month after the alleged incident, the Chicago Tribune reported Munoz's wife, Betty Torres Munoz, said she wanted to reconcile with her husband – calling him a "really good man" dealing with alcohol addiction.
The fraud and money laundering indictment against Munoz came the same day as Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th) was indicted in a separate federal case tied to the collapse of a Bridgeport bank, accusing him of lying about loans he received from a failed bank in his ward.
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