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Former Illinois State Sen. Martin Sandoval, Caught In Federal Corruption Probe, Dies Of COVID-19

CHICAGO (CBS/AP) -- Former Illinois State Sen. Martin Sandoval, who pleaded guilty earlier this year to bribery charges and was cooperating with federal investigators in a wide-ranging corruption probe, has died of COVID-19.

Attorney Dylan Smith confirmed the death based on his conversations with Sandoval's family.

"I was proud to have represented Martin Sandoval," Smith said. "He was someone of considerable ability who had done a great deal of good in his life and someone who was working very hard to make amends for his mistakes and, in his own way, doing what he could through his cooperation with the government to contribute to their efforts to clean up things in Springfield.

"And I know he was sincerely remorseful for having strayed from his own standards," Smith said.

Sandoval resigned from the Illinois Senate in January, just days before he pleaded guilty to agreeing to act as a "protector" for red light camera company SafeSpeed in exchange for thousands of dollars in bribes, and was cooperating with federal prosecutors in a sweeping corruption probe tied to ComEd, SafeSpeed, and others.

SafeSpeed itself has not been charged with any wrongdoing, and the company has said it had any crimes committed by anyone with an interest in the firm was done without its knowledge or authorization.

Former SafeSpeed co-owner Omar Maani has been charged with bribery, but is cooperating with federal prosecutors and wore a wire for the FBI as part of the probe.

A SafeSpeed spokesperson said the company "has acknowledged, with regret, that several individuals with past associations with the company have been named as part of ongoing federal investigations. However, we have also stated repeatedly that SafeSpeed had no knowledge of their criminal conduct, did not authorize it and does not condone it."

"We have severed ties with those individuals and we applaud the government's efforts to root out corruption," the company said in a statement.

Federal prosecutors said Sandoval also took additional bribes in connection with "corrupt activities with other public officials" in exchange for using his position as a state senator and chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee to benefit other people and their business interests. Those other public officials were not named in the plea deal.

In total, prosecutors say Sandoval took $250,000 in bribes from crimes involving more than five people, including $70,000 in connection to his support for the red light camera industry.

Sandoval was charged with one count of bribery involving federal programs and one count of fraud and false statements. He pleaded guilty to both counts and faced a maximum of 13 years in prison, although prosecutors agreed to recommend a shorter sentence in exchange for his ongoing cooperation.

In a filing last month, prosecutors wrote Sandoval "has been fully compliant with the conditions of his release and has provided valuable cooperation that is expected to last at least several more months."

Months after Sandoval's guilty plea, ComEd admitted to a yearslong bribery scheme that sought to curry Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's favor in advancing legislation relaxing state regulation of ComEd's rates by directing $1.3 million in payments to the speaker's associates. ComEd acknowledged it stood to benefit by more than $150 million from that legislation. The utility entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the feds, and has agreed to pay a $200 million fine, enact a number of reforms, and cooperate with investigators in exchange for prosecutors dropping charges in 2023 if ComEd lives up to its obligations.

Last month, Madigan confidant Michael McClain, former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, former ComEd executive and lobbyist John Hooker, and former lobbyist Jay Doherty were charged with bribery conspiracy, bribery, and willfully falsifying ComEd books and records, accusing them of coordinating the bribery scheme. All four have pleaded not guilty.

Madigan himself has not been charged with a crime, and has denied any wrongdoing.

Sandoval was never charged in connection with any wrongdoing involving ComEd, and it's unclear if his cooperation helped the feds bring charges in that case.

Illinois State Sen. Celina Villanueva, who was appointed to fill Sandoval's seat in January, and went on to win election to a full term in November, said his death shows "COVID-19 is real and continues to devastate communities across the Southwest side."

"Please show compassion for your neighbors and wear a mask, social distance and listen to the health experts who are desperately trying to save lives. Not taking these basic precautions has real consequences felt by thousands of families across the state," Villanueva said in a statement. "My deepest sympathies go to Martin's family during their time of loss."

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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