Al Sanchez, the former city of Chicago Streets and Sanitation Department commissioner, took the stand Tuesday in his own defense against federal corruption charges. That move alone made Sanchez's trial a standound amid Illinois political corruption scandals.
Sanchez's testimony was the biggest moment of the trial. It went way back, beginning with his life story.
"My father was born in a box car in Roundout, Illinois," he said. It was peppered with questions about what power Sanchez may or may not have had over the hiring in his department, and ended with Sanchez laying any questions about City Hall hiring at the feet of his political father, Mayor Daley.
Sanchez took the stand just after 1 p.m. He claimed that he could not be guilty of getting jobs and promotions for members of Daley’s Hispanic Democratic Organization in exchange for their political work, as he's charged.
"Did you have the ultimate hiring authority when you were Commissioner of Streets and Sanitation?" asked his attorney, Tom Breen.
"No," Sanchez replied.
"Who did?" Breen followed.
"IGA," Sanchez said.
IGA is the Intergovernmental Affairs Department, which was run by convicted patronage chief for Mayor Daley, Robert Sorich.
Sanchez testified that when he got out of college and returned to Chicago to get into a public service job, he asked who the top Hispanic was in the city, and he was told "see Ed Vrdolyak."
Vrdolyak, a former alderman, was convicted on fraud charges and sentenced earlier this year to probation.
When Assistant U.S. Attorney Manish Shah began his cross examination late this afternoon, he said simply, "You were the commissioner of Streets and Sanitation?" -- to which Sanchez tersely replied "I had nothing to do with hiring."
Shah: "You were the commissioner?"
Sanchez: "I had nothing to do with the hiring."
Judge Gettleman advised that it was a question being asked. "You were the commissioner?"
"Yessir," Sanchez replied.
Shah: "In charge of 4,000 jobs?"
Sanchez: "I had nothing to do with hiring."
In anticipation of Sanchez's testimony, the federal courtroom brimmed with journalists and spectators on Tuesday, including the U.S. Attorney himself, Patrick Fitzgerald.
Sanchez's codefendant, Aaron Del Valle, took the stand earlier in the day. Del Valle was a political operative for Sanchez and is charged with perjury.
Del Valle, a former Chicago rookie cop, testified about his work and political history. His attorney also showed big screen photos of Del Valle with his 4-year-old son and fiancee.
In 2007, federal investigators asked Del Valle if, officially or unofficially, he had any influence with jobs at Streets and San. He repeated his answer today on the stand.
"I could not get anybody hired, promoted or transferred," Del Valle said.
The feds claim he lied in that statement, hence the perjury charge.
Del Valle testified that people like State Sen. Tony Munoz and State Rep. Eddie Acevedo called him to check on the progress of people on a lottery list for jobs in Streets and San -- but that he would only check on the prospective worker's status, not do anything about getting them hired.
Del Valle admitted under cross examination that even though the Streets and San hierarchy flow chart showed him at the bottom as a "data entry clerk," he was really appointed to an assistant general superintendent position, making $70,000 a year. Del Valle's was one of the few positions exempt of the Shakman Decree in a department with the city's largest number of non-sworn workers.
Closing arguments in the high-profile case begin Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. The case could go to the jury tomorrow afternoon.