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Ex-Streets and Sanitation boss Sanchez gets 2 1/2 years in prison

The federal sentencing hearing Thursday of ex-Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez meant 2 1/2-years in prison for the onetime city official.

It prompted opinions over this week’s disaster on Lake Shore Drive as well as a hiring scheme that has gone on in the city for decades.

But it also did something else.

It ended a seven-year run of federal prosecutions into city hall that began with the Hired Truck scandal in 2004.

Sanchez was the very last defendant to be prosecuted as part of a hiring scandal that grew out of the Hired Truck probe. Prosecutions were prompted by a Chicago Sun-Times investigation in 2004.

Sanchez was one of 49 to be convicted in the scandal. While authorities had probed others in the hiring scheme, the statute of limitations had run out, sources said. Prosecutors have previously said no other prosecutions stemming from the investigation were expected.

Sanchez himself said he refused to cooperate with authorities even though he once sat down with them and that refusal contributed to slowing the probe into hiring fraud at City Hall.

Even as Sanchez learned of his sentence Thursday, his lawyer pointed to “the white elephant in the room” — a decades’ old hiring scheme was set up by other people at City Hall, not his client, he said.

When Sanchez was later asked to whom his lawyer was referring, he said: “probably Mayor Daley.”

Sanchez said after court that it was no secret how hiring worked in City Hall and that he wrongly took the fall for it.

“I wished someone had stepped forward and said ‘this is the process, I didn’t make it up,’” Sanchez said. “Every commissioner should be sentenced up there with me.”

When asked if Daley should have said something, Sanchez responded: “Someone.”

Sanchez’s lawyer, Tom Breen, later said that the hiring practices were known throughout City Hall.

“I would assume that most people should know, unless they’re in a bubble,” Breen said.

Still, both in court and out, Sanchez boasted that there’s one thing he couldn’t be accused of in his time at the helm of Streets and Sanitation — he always kept Lake Shore Drive open.

He worked to capitalize on this week’s blizzard before the judge, saying he worked tirelessly to keep the side streets — and the Drive — clear of snow.

Sanchez, short in stature, was told to move the microphone down before he started talking in court.

“Rahm Emanuel size,” Sanchez quipped.

But he soon grew agitated, his voice rising.

His goal, he said, was never to amass a political army by leveraging city jobs.

“I’m going to have to be able to keep Lake Shore Drive open” and keep the side streets clear of snow. “That was my goal,” not a political organization, he said.

After court, Sanchez expanded on Tuesday’s issues on Lake Shore Drive.

“You never want to lose Lake Shore Drive. That’s like our state highway,” he said. He said the drive should have been cleared more quickly of snow and theorized that snow trucks were likely taking too long to return with salt.

“Lake Shore Drive should never, ever, be closed,” he said.

Sanchez’s lawyers said Sanchez was appointed commissioner in June of 1999, after the 1999 blizzard. His lawyer said Sanchez still worked within the department at the time of the blizzard.

In court, Sanchez said he’s tried to live a “stand-up kind of life” and felt the entire investigation was an injustice done to him, a man who worked hard. He said he’s had to endure a seven-year ordeal.

“They had to get Al Sanchez,” Sanchez said. “They’ve already destroyed me.”

However, in imposing the 30-month sentence, U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman said Sanchez, 63, was a leader in a sham city hiring scheme that ended up politicizing truck drivers.

“The process was rotten to the core,” Gettleman said.

Gettleman gave Sanchez credit for being a Vietnam veteran, for working tirelessly at the helm of Streets and Sanitation and for being an advocate for minority groups. Gettleman also noted Sanchez’s age and that he is battling illness. Sanchez is to report to prison on May 9.

Sanchez, who was a leader in Daley’s Hispanic Democratic Organization, was convicted last summer of one count of fraud tied to a hiring scheme that involved handing out plum city jobs to clouted candidates. Prosecutors said Sanchez ordered others to falsify resumes and rating forms and to take late applications to reward candidates who were political soldiers.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Manish Shah called Sanchez’s conduct pure corruption, saying it involved steering taxpayer money to reward those foot soldiers who did work for HDO in political elections.

“Mr. Sanchez knew his political power and his success was being fueled by this fraud,” Shah said.

His codefendant, Aaron Delvalle, was sentenced to one year and a day in prison. The sentence of more than a year means Delvalle can get time off for good behavior.

Delvalle was convicted of lying to a grand jury about the city’s hiring scheme. His testimony came while he was on leave as a Chicago police officer so he could run for city alderman.

“It’s a tragedy a nice young man like you got yourself into this, but here you are,” Gettleman said. “You basically became a soldier in a corrupt army.”

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