City Hall hiring fraud trial begins

March 4, 2009 3:30:54 PM PST
Lawyers delivered opening statements Wednesday in the corruption trial of former Streets and Sanitation commissioner Al Sanchez. Sanchez is accused of influencing city hiring in Chicago by rewarding political campaign workers. A former city worker is also on trial.

Sanchez resigned as the city's Streets and Sanitation commissioner in 2005.

Sanchez is on trial with his one-time right-hand man, Aaron del Valle, who is charged with one count of obstruction of justice for allegedly lying to the grand jury about the case.

The bulk of the case is going to center around seven counts of mail fraud against Sanchez. Two years after he was indicted, the former Streets and Sanitation commissioner goes to trial.

For years, the public knew Sanchez as the face of the city's snowstorms, always talking about the city's full complement of fighting vehicles. Now, the 61-year-old has a full complement of lawyers trying to convince the jury that Sanchez did nothing more than give the City of Chicago 30 years of honest service.

But the federal government says Sanchez was anything but honest when it came to hiring and promoting thousands of Streets and Sanitation workers. Sanchez was a leader in the powerful Hispanic Democratic Organization known as HDO. Prosecutors say members of the group were routinely rewarded with jobs and promotions in exchange for campaign work, primarily for politicians backed by Mayor Daley.

In opening statements, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Grimes said Room 100 at City Hall was full of job applicants hoping to gain employment with the city based on their qualifications. Grimes said, what all these people didn't know was that their applications and interviews didn't matter, because hiring at City Hall was "a sham from top to bottom."

Grimes said sham interviews were conducted and ratings forms were falsified in an effort to hire HDO members. Grimes told the jury, "Mr. Sanchez used those city jobs as currency...and used access to those jobs to further his own political career."

Sanchez' defense attorney told the jury his client had nothing to do with the hiring, even for his own department. The attorney said that all hiring was controlled by the mayor's office, known as the intergovernmental affairs office, IGA. That's where Mayor Daley's former patronage chief Robert Sorich worked. He is now serving prison time.

As for Sanchez, his lawyers said his client's job was to "make sure people in the city got honest city services while trying to expand Hispanic representation in the city."

As for hiring fraud, this is the second big city corruption trial. The last one involved Sorich and three others almost three years ago. They were all found guilty. Sorich is now serving a four-year prison term.

Many of the witnesses in the Sorich trial are the same ones who will be on hand for Al Sanchez's trial, including the prosecution's first witness. That witness took the stand Wednesday and will continue Thursday morning.