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State Sen. Sandoval’s $68,400 side gig: translating news releases

State Sen. MartSandoval (D-Cicero)  |  Seth Perlman~AP

State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero) | Seth Perlman~AP

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Updated: December 27, 2012 6:08AM

W hen the Town of Cicero sends out news releases in Spanish, they frequently highlight the contributions of “el Senador Sandoval.”

What they don’t tell Cicero taxpayers is that they are footing the bill for state Sen. Martin Sandoval to translate those words into Spanish.

In a situation that is unique among Illinois lawmakers, Sandoval’s Puentes Inc. is paid $4,200 each month as a media relations consultant for a town he represents in Springfield, according to Cicero records and the town’s spokesman.

Puentes is paid another $1,500 a month by the village of Melrose Park, which is outside the Democrat’s Senate district, for similar work.

In all, the two suburbs pay him $68,400 a year — almost as much as the $74,569.20 salary he makes as a state legislator.

Being a contractor for Cicero and Melrose Park is a better arrangement for taxpayers than having him as an employee of either local government, Sandoval says. This way, he says, the suburbs that hire him don’t have to provide a pension and other benefits.

“I have never wanted to be a double-dipper,” says Sandoval. “I have helped both of these municipalities on a

pro bono basis for many years, and it came to a point where they asked me to provide a greater level of service. We decided this was the best, most transparent way to help my community.”

Juan Ochoa, who is challenging Cicero Town President Larry Dominick in the February election, disagrees. Ochoa says Sandoval’s arrangement with Cicero does indeed amount to double-dipping and creates a conflict of interest.

“It’s unethical that he is representing the Town of Cicero [in the Senate] and has a contract with the Town of Cicero,” says Ochoa, who recently moved to Cicero and formerly was chief executive of the government agency that oversees McCormick Place and Navy Pier. “I find it hard to believe there are no other companies that can perform that task, and not as expensively.”

Other legislators have continued to draw paychecks from local governments after voters sent them to Springfield. Among them: state Rep. John D’Amico (D-Chicago), who is on the payroll of the city of Chicago’s Department of Water Management, and Steve Landek, who does double duty as a Democratic state senator and mayor of Bridgeview.

State Rep. Jack Franks (D-Marengo), a lawyer, discloses that his firm does business with local governments. But Franks says the 10-member law firm had those municipal clients before he became a legislator and that he doesn’t personally handle any of the work for them.

Sandoval, 48, appears to be the only Illinois lawmaker who works for local government handling public relations.

He was elected 10 years ago and formed Puentes — which is Spanish for “bridges” — in May 2006, state records show. Sandoval says he is the sole owner and employee of the company, which is based at his home on the Southwest Side of Chicago.

Puentes got its first payment from Cicero in August 2006, and Melrose Park began paying the company in September 2008, records show.

Sandoval’s firm also had a one-year, $800-a-month contract with the city of Aurora that expired in April 2011 and was not renewed.

Cicero spokesman Ray Hanania says the town continues to pay Puentes the same $4,200-a-month rate Sandoval has charged since he began working there.

“Puentes does translation services for the town’s various departments, including mine, when I request translations mainly for media releases that are distributed to the Hispanic media,” says Hanania. “They are producing and distributing information in Spanish for the Hispanic media also.”

Puentes also has billed Cicero for other public relations work, including “advertisement placement in Latino print media” and “reassessment of media distribution list.”

Some of the news releases that Sandoval helped produce for Cicero feature photos of the state senator and include his comments on issues.

Melrose Park Mayor Ronald Serpico did not return calls seeking comment on Sandoval’s work for the suburb.

Last month, police and event organizers in Melrose Park escorted Sandoval from a forum involving Illinois House candidates. Sandoval says he was campaigning for Democrat Kathleen Willis, who was endorsed by Serpico and unseated Republican state Rep. Angelo “Skip” Saviano in the Nov. 5 election.

During the forum, Sandoval stood on a chair and yelled, “The Republicans are not with our people.”

But he praises Dominick — who is a Republican — as well as Serpico for hiring his firm. The senator says his moonlighting as a publicist has benefited the fast-growing Hispanic population in the suburbs.“I am proud that these non-Latino mayors have asked me to be part of the bridge to reaching out to Latinos in their municipalities,” he says.

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