- The Washington Times - Monday, March 23, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) - A federal jury convicted Chicago’s former streets and sanitation commissioner Monday of using bogus documents and other fraudulent acts in a scheme to load the city payroll with political campaign workers.

Al Sanchez, 61, looked on without expression as U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman read the guilty verdicts on four charges of mail fraud and acquittals on three others. Afterward, Sanchez said the conviction was unfair.

“We had a job to do and we did it and now I’m sitting up here convicted of crimes and I don’t know what the crime is,” Sanchez said.

“I just did the job the way I was supposed to do it,” he added. “I worked a hard as I could.”

A former Sanchez aide, Aaron Del Valle, 36, was convicted of one count of perjury.

Prosecutors said Sanchez engaged in fraud to camouflage the fact that city jobs were given only to political workers, including those belonging to his Hispanic Democratic Organization.

Sanchez ran the streets and sanitation department under Mayor Richard M. Daley from 1999 to 2005. In 2006, Daley’s former patronage chief was convicted of fraud, but the longtime mayor himself has not been accused of wrongdoing.

Sanchez defense attorney Tom Breen said his client had been a cog in an organization where the real decisions were made by higher-ups _ but he declined to say if Daley was among them.

Breen said Sanchez was taking the blame for something that was done throughout the city government, not merely in the department of streets and sanitation.

“This was done every day in every department in the city and he has to wear the jacket for it,” Breen said disgustedly.

The two-week trial marked the latest round in a long-running Chicago controversy over political patronage _ the practice of reserving jobs for those who get out the vote.

Political patronage was barred by a 1983 court decree but vestiges of the once mighty Democratic machine still linger. A court-appointed monitor now watches over the city’s hiring practices.

Breen told the jury, which deliberated for two and a half days, that Sanchez grew up in “Slag Valley” in the shadow of the steel mills and faced serious discrimination as a Mexican-American.

He said Sanchez was a Vietnam veteran who pulled himself up by the bootstraps and tried to help members of other minority groups as head of the Hispanic Democratic Organization.

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