Longtime Democratic operative Patrick Doherty was sentenced Wednesday to more than five years in federal prison for a wide range of corruption schemes stemming from a sprawling federal bribery investigation involving red-light cameras.
In handing down the 64-month sentence U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman said he was struck by the “pervasiveness” of Doherty’s corrupt practices, which included bribing a state senator, paying off a suburban trustee, and shaking down a businessman looking for help with a land deal in McCook.
“This was not only a way of doing business, it was a way of life,” Guzman said.
Doherty, 67, admitted in a plea agreement with prosecutors that he helped funnel payments from an employee of red-light camera company SafeSpeed LLC to former state Sen. Martin Sandoval in exchange for the senator’s help in Springfield. At the time, Doherty was moonlighting as a sales agent for SafeSpeed.
He also admitted he participated in a scheme with his former boss, then-McCook Mayor and Cook County Commissioner Jeffrey Tobolski, to shake down a business owner seeking to purchase land in McCook.
The 24-page plea also included several newly revealed schemes. In one, Doherty admitted to bribing another public official — identified only as Public Official B — to give village contracts to SafeSpeed. Among the illicit offerings, according to the plea, were membership to a Countryside cigar lounge and “30 to 50 people to work for Public Official B and Public Official B-backed candidates for free.”
Doherty also admitted using his position as Tobolski’s longtime chief of staff to obtain benefits such as meals, sporting-event tickets and travel from a business owner in exchange for promoting a pilot program in Cook County that would use the business owner’s products.
In addition, Doherty admitted filing false tax returns over a four-year period that substantially understated his taxable income, according to the plea.
Before the sentence was handed down Wednesday, Doherty stood hunched at the lectern and apologized for his crimes, saying his decisions had “ruined” his life.
“I feel sorry for what I’ve put my family through,” he said. “The last three years have been hell.”
Doherty is the latest to be sentenced in a probe that stretched from Chicago’s southwest suburbs to the Capitol building in Springfield, where federal agents raided Sandoval’s offices in fall 2019, thrusting the case into the public spotlight.
Sandoval pleaded guilty to bribery charges in early 2020 and was cooperating with the ongoing investigation before his death later that year of COVID-19 complications. Also convicted were a handful of suburban mayors and other political operatives. Charges against several others are pending.
Doherty, who doubled as a sales agent for SafeSpeed, was initially indicted in 2019 on charges he conspired with company executive Omar Maani as well as John O’Sullivan, then the supervisor of Worth Township, to pay $4,000 in bribes in exchange for the official support of an Oak Lawn trustee to add SafeSpeed cameras at additional intersections.
Additional charges were later added alleging he directly bribed Sandoval, at the time the powerful head of the Senate Transportation Committee, in exchange for Sandoval opposing legislation adverse to SafeSpeed and “obtaining IDOT approvals for (SafeSpeed’s) red-light cameras.”
Doherty’s plea agreement stated that Doherty and Maani agreed to make monthly $2,000 payments to Sandoval through a company affiliated with the senator’s family. Doherty also agreed to pay for car repairs for one of Sandoval’s personal vehicles, the plea stated.
Sandoval pleaded guilty in 2020 to bribery and tax charges. He admitted to taking at least $70,000 in government-supplied cash from Maani in return for acting as SafeSpeed’s “protector” in the state Senate.
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In a separate scheme, Doherty admitted that in 2018 and 2019 he personally solicited more than $6,000 in bribes from a developer — identified only as Individual A — who was doing business with McCook.
On Sept. 5, 2019, the day after the developer handed Tobolski $2,500, Doherty called the developer to assure him the village would be cutting a check to his company, according to the indictment.
Doherty also said that any future work for the developer’s company was “all contingent on what you can give,” according to the charges.
Tobolski pleaded guilty in 2020 to separate extortion charges alleging he shook down a McCook restaurant owner for cash in exchange for a license to sell liquor at private events. Tobolski is also cooperating with investigators and is awaiting sentencing.
Maani, who wore a wire as part of the sprawling federal investigation, was charged with bribery in August 2020 and has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. attorney’s office. He is no longer affiliated with SafeSpeed.
SafeSpeed and company CEO Nikki Zollar have not been charged and have denied any wrongdoing.
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March 1, 2023 at 04:22PM