Former city councilor Ricardo Munoz sentenced to 13 months in prison

Another federal judge on Thursday dismissed the idea that corrupt politicians are immune to headlines about jailed brothers, sentencing the ex-Ald. Ricardo Munoz sentenced to 13 months behind bars for stealing nearly $38,000 of the Chicago Progressive Reform Caucus.

A lawyer for Munoz, who admitted spending the money on personal expenses like skydiving and a parent’s college tuition, acknowledged during Munoz’s sentencing hearing that public figures should be held at a higher level. But referring to the names “Blagojevich”, “Madigan” and “Burke”, attorney Richard Kling said, “you know this isn’t the last time”.

U.S. District Judge John Kness later responded by telling Munoz, “I disagree with the argument that because public corruption is continuous and persistent, apparently, I should just give up and not don’t sentence you to jail time because it won’t do any good.

Kness said that if he allowed Munoz to avoid jail, the community would “send the wrong message, and a negative message.”

“People need to make it clear that public figures are held to a higher standard. And if you didn’t want to be held to a higher standard, you shouldn’t run six times for councillor,’ the judge added.

Munoz pleaded guilty in September to wire fraud and money laundering, admitting he took the money. But Kling noted in court that Munoz repaid all but $6,891 of the stolen funds, which the judge ordered him to pay as restitution.

Kness told Munoz to stand in his 17th-floor courtroom as he delivered sentence. When he did, Kling briefly placed his hand on Munoz’s back. Later, Munoz left Dirksen’s federal courthouse without comment.

“It’s sad,” Kling told reporters after the hearing. “He was a great guy who did a lot for the community.”

Last year’s guilty plea for Munoz, who represented the 22nd Ward, made him the latest in a long line of Chicago City Council members convicted of federal crimes. Patrick Daley Thompson was convicted by a federal jury last month, costing him his seat on the council, where he represented the 11th Ward. Thompson’s sentencing is set for July 6.

Aldus. Edward M. Burke (14th) and Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) remains on the board despite being charged in federal indictments still pending.

Before learning of his sentencing on Thursday, Munoz fought back tears while speaking to the Kness. Although Munoz first mentioned his children and then his work representing the 22nd arrondissement, he became very emotional saying, “What I did was wrong. I am ashamed. I am now a convicted felon.

“I humbly ask for clemency,” Munoz said. “My life has changed dramatically.”

Kling had argued for a light sentence earlier in the year, noting that the federal courts in Chicago “saw governor after governor, legislator after legislator, alderman after alderman, county councilor after councilman, continuing to adopt the same behavior,” suggesting that sending Munoz to prison will not deter the next corrupt politician.

That prompted federal prosecutors, who sought a one-year prison sentence for Munoz, to respond that “public officials … need to know that if they break the law, they will be held accountable.”

They cited U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman’s remarks during the 2014 sentencing of former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno. During that hearing, Feinerman said the way to “affect the cost-benefit analysis” was “to impose harsher penalties.”

Moreno was sentenced to 11 years in prison.

Kness questioned Kling and Assistant U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual about that argument on Thursday. Kling agreed that Munoz should be held to a higher standard, although he insisted that Munoz did not need to be sent to prison.

But Pasqual said “the public has the right – society has the right – to demand a higher standard from public servants”.

Munoz announced his retirement from the city council in 2018. Before pleading guilty last year, he told the judge he considered himself “retired” rather than unemployed.

He originally faced 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering in the indictment filed against him in April 2021. He accused him of attempting to cover his tracks by refunding money he took from the Reform Caucus or claiming it was for “consulting” or “Election Day Expenses.”

Munoz’s plea deal alleges he took $37,891 from caucus, $16,000 of which he transferred in October 2016 to a joint account he held with a family member. He then used $15,254 from the joint account to pay for tuition at an out-of-state university.

Munoz then obtained a Parent Plus federal loan, then repaid $16,000 to the caucus.

He also bought jewelry from Louis Vuitton, women’s clothing from Nordstrom, three Apple iPhones and tickets to the Chicago Bulls with caucus money, according to the plea deal.

Munoz made cash withdrawals of $10,560 from the Progressive Caucus account in November and December 2018, including while he was on vacation in New York in late November 2018, he said.

Ricardo Munoz leaves the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, 219 S. Dearborn St., after pleading guilty in September.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Federal authorities raided City Hall and Burke’s offices on November 29, 2018, a move that exposed for the first time the federal government’s public corruption investigations, which are still ongoing.

But between November 2018 and February 2019, Munoz used the Progressive Caucus debit card to spend a total of $1,400 on a Southwest Airlines ticket from Los Angeles to Chicago for an acquaintance, Los Angeles Kings hockey tickets, a stay at the Los Angeles Crowne Plaza hotel and Lover’s Lane in West Dundee.

In March 2019, according to the plea agreement, a contractor asked Munoz for the Progressive Caucus account balance so it could be reported at a meeting. Munoz told the entrepreneur in an Apple iMessage that the account contained $11,000.

He really did have $94.79, according to the plea agreement.

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