Closing arguments heard in Sanchez trial

March 18, 2009 3:11:50 PM PDT
The jury heard closing arguments on Wednesday in the corruption trial of Al Sanchez.The former head of the Chicago Streets and Sanitation Department allegedly built an army of patronage workers.

He was the one with the juice, said one witness, when it came to getting city jobs. In her closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Julie Ruder said Sanchez earned that juice by supporting the mayor for years, as well as candidates supported by the mayor.

The 61-year-old former Streets and Sanitation commissioner is charged with several counts of fraud. Prosecutors accused Sanchez of rigging city hiring to get members of the once-powerful Hispanic Democratic Organization, known as HDO, jobs.

Ruder said, "The motive was to pay off political workers with public city jobs." She said Sanchez was part of a scheme to falsify rating forms and to conduct sham interviews, all to promote or hire hand-picked political workers. Rudder said thousands of qualified workers never had a chance.

Rudder told jurors, "Al Sanchez knew how the process was supposed to work and he knew how to cheat."

To make her point, Rudder used charts for some of her presentation.

In his closing argument, defense attorney Tom Breen told jurors, "Sanchez is not a PowerPoint presentation but a human being."

From the beginning of the trial, Breen has invoked race as a defense. He told jurors Sanchez spent a career trying to help minorities because Sanchez faced discrimination as a Mexican-American while trying to get steel mill jobs when he was young.

Breen said Sanchez only recommended candidates and was not responsible for hiring.

Sanchez testified on Tuesday that the mayor's Office for Intergovernmental Affairs, known as I.G.A., controlled all the city hiring.

Breen told jurors, "Everybody knew this was the system. Nobody ever knew it was a crime. And within the system , Sanchez was achieving his goal, helping minorities."

The federal prosecutor said Al Sanchez shouldn't blame the system because he is the system.

Closing arguments ended on Wednesday afternoon. The judge is in the process of giving the jury instructions. The jury should get the case about 5 p.m.

Aaron del Valle, 36, a former Sanchez aide who belonged to the Hispanic Democratic Organization, is charged with one count of lying to a grand jury.

The case is the latest chapter in this city's long-running controversy over patronage.

A 30-year-old consent decree -- the Shakman Decree -- bars the practice, but critics say it has been all but ignored in this city where the vestiges of old-fashioned political machine rule still linger. In recent years, city hiring has taken place under the watch of a court-appointed monitor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.