"What we are hoping to establish is case precedent with this case, that no longer is it acceptable to put phony, sham candidates on the ballot to deceive the voters, to dilute the vote," said attorney Anthony Peraica, sitting in his Southwest Side law office.
His client, Jason Gonzales, agreed. "It’s been happening for years. It’s something no one has really challenged and something that needs to be put in court and have its day in court."
In 2016, Gonzales challenged Mike Madigan for the seat the speaker of the Illinois House has held since 1971.
"What happened in my election was a massive fraud on voters,” Gonzales said.
The March 2016 Democratic primary ballot also included two other names: Joseph Barbosa and Grasiela Rodriguez, in a district that was more than 70% Hispanic.
At the time, Gonzales said the two were fake candidates orchestrated by Madigan and his aides to confuse and divide Hispanic voters. Reporters were unable back then to find either a campaign headquarters or a website for Barbosa or Rodriguez.
Yard signs for Madigan covered the 22nd District, including some that called Gonzales a convicted felon. As a teen, he had spent 71 days in jail for credit card fraud, then got three college degrees and a pardon from then-Gov. Pat Quinn.
"I don’t think anybody has a right to come in with things that are untrue, spread lies which Mike Madigan… and his people have been doing for years,” Gonzales said in a recent interview.
Madigan coasted to victory with 65% of the vote. A few months later, Peraica filed a lawsuit on behalf of Gonzales, claiming defamation of character and an attempt to dilute the Hispanic vote.
Nearly one year later in July 2017, Madigan’s political committee paid the Chicago law firm of Hinshaw & Culbertson $75,439, according to state campaign finance records. In total for the nearly two-year period, Madigan’s political fund has reported legal expenditures of $1,254,566, the great majority of it paid to Hinshaw & Culbertson.
In a July 8 court filing, Madigan’s attorney denied any impropriety in the 2016 election but wrote "…even if Plaintiff’s allegations were true, Defendants’ purported conduct would be protected by the First Amendment."
Gonzales' lawsuit is just part of the legal stew for Madigan, who also serves as the Democratic committeeman of the 13th Ward. He faces a second federal lawsuit filed by David Krupa who was defeated in February’s aldermanic election.
Krupa alleges intimidation and harassment by the Madigan political team to get the 19-year-old college freshman off the ballot in his unsuccessful bid to replace 13th Ward Ald. Marty Quinn. Quinn easily defeated Krupa.
Through it all Madigan has denied any wrongdoing.
Neither the speaker nor his attorneys responded to phone calls or emails requesting comment. They have asked U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kennelly to dismiss the Gonzales lawsuit through summary judgment. If Judge Kennelly rules against Madigan, a trial date is set for early October.
For now, as the Gonzales case proceeds, Peraica said he has 60 depositions and drawers full of legal documents detailing the alleged dirty tricks.
"Politics ain’t bean bag," the old saying goes. And Peraica, a former Cook County Commissioner, knows that firsthand, having been accused of destroying political yard signs in the past. So why the outrage now?
"Because it’s illegal. It’s unconstitutional,” he said. “Just because it’s been done in Cook County for a hundred years does not make it right."