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Illinois governor demands chairman step down amid FBI probe

October 2, 2019
FILE - In this June 2, 2019 file photo is Illinois State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, at the Illinois state Capitol, in Springfield, Ill. Gov. J.B. Pritzker says that Sandoval should step down as chairman of the Transportation Committee while he is under federal investigation for fraud involving construction work. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, File)
FILE - In this June 2, 2019 file photo is Illinois State Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, at the Illinois state Capitol, in Springfield, Ill. Gov. J.B. Pritzker says that Sandoval should step down as chairman of the Transportation Committee while he is under federal investigation for fraud involving construction work. (Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP, File)

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois’ governor demanded Wednesday that a state senator step down as chairman of the Transportation Committee while he is under federal investigation for possible bribery and fraud involving state construction work.

J.B. Pritzker told reporters in Oak Lawn that Sen. Martin Sandoval, a fellow Democrat, should be removed if he doesn’t relinquish the post. Pritzker is concerned about the integrity of his $41.5 billion state construction program, in which Sandoval took a leading role last spring.

“We must assure the public that this work is on the up and up,” Pritzker said. “Corruption and self-dealing will not be tolerated.”

The FBI and others raided Sandoval’s offices and home Sept. 24. A redacted search warrant from the U.S. District Court in central Illinois, released by the Senate in response to an open-records request, shows officials sought evidence about possible violation of seven federal laws, including conspiracy to defraud, bribery or theft of federal funds, and mail and wire fraud.

The search warrant mentioned several unidentified lobbyists, local government officials, five Illinois Department of Transportation employees and businesses including “highway” and “construction” companies.

An inventory attached to the search warrant shows agents walked out with numerous cellphones, computers, a file labeled “IDOT,” and a spreadsheet with information from “Friends of Martin Sandoval”.

Sandoval did not respond to a message seeking comment. Has not been charged with wrongdoing.

Senate President John Cullerton said earlier this week that he wants more information about what federal officials are seeking before making a decision about Sandoval’s future.

“This remains an active investigation, and the Senate president wants to make informed decisions,” Cullerton spokesman John Patterson said Wednesday.

Pritzker noted that during negotiations for the so-called Rebuild Illinois program, the administration clashed with Sandoval several times over such things as using recycled asphalt chips in road construction. Sandoval advocated it; the Transportation Department opposes it.

The governor pledged that each project funded under the program will be carefully screened by administration officials.

“I feel confident that the procedures that were gone through are good ones,” Pritzker said. “But as we go through and those projects are reviewed, we’re going to make sure and identify any challenges that that may exist, so that we’re doing the right thing.”

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Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor .