The highest-ranking member of Mayor Richard Daley's cabinet to testify in his own defense was found guilty Monday on four of seven counts of mail fraud.
Al Sanchez, accused of engaging in fraud to camouflage the fact that city jobs were given only to political workers, showed no emotion as the verdict was read at the Dirksen Federal Building.
Sanchez's codefendant, Aaron Del Valle, was found guilty on one count of perjury.
As he left the building, Sanchez said he never expected to be convicted.
"We all knew we had a job to get done and we did it, and now I'm sitting up here convicted of crimes that I don't even know what the crime is," Sanchez said after the verdict was read. "I just did my job the way I was supposed to do it, and I worked as hard as I could and I've always felt that the city needed more people of different diversity, and I made recommendations to make sure we had a work force that represented the city."
During the trial, Sanchez repeatedly denied getting jobs for campaign workers, testifying that he was too busy running snowplowing operations and working in the city's alleys to corrupt hiring.
"I had nothing to do with hiring," Sanchez testified last week.
"This was a system of hiring that he had absolutely no control over," Sanchez's defense attorney, Thomas Breen, said Monday afternoon. "This was a system of hiring that was in place for years -- decades -- before he assumed his office. And no one has had the guts to come forward and say that."
Sanchez, 61, ran the Streets and San from 1999 to 2005, and he said it was Daley's Office of Intergovernmental Affairs that made hiring decisions.
The prosecution alleged that Sanchez, as a leader of the now-defunct and discredited Hispanic Democratic Organization, traded city jobs for political work - including work on Daley's campaigns.
City hiring was a "sham," said assistant U.S. attorney Steven Grimes.
"Time and time again, people were going for jobs, and thinking they had an honest shot at jobs, and meanwhile, people with clout behind closed doors rigged the systems, and so that some people who supplied work to political patronage armies got jobs, and people who didn't, lost out," U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said Monday.
But during closing arguments last week, Breen overwhelmed the government's evidence with his carefully embroidered tale of Sanchez's heroic life. Breen said his client deserved a "civic award," and he painted a portrait of his client as a Daley administration chump whose expertise and authority was limited to "Snow. Garbage. Rats. That's it."
"He's a decent, decent human being, and I'm sorry we're here," Breen said after the verdict was read. "Mr. Sanchez stands convicted unfortunately, and it's really sad."
Breen pointed out that there were no Hispanic members in the jury.
The two-week trial marked the latest round in the long-running legal battle over the custom of political patronage in Chicago that calls for reserving city jobs for those who get out the vote.
Daley on Monday evening noted that the charges are several years old and insisted that new safeguards are now in place.
"Let's be clear: I have have or ever will support any activity that is illegal. I feel for Al Sanchez and his family today because I knew him to be a hardworking employee, committed to doing his best to serve the people of Chicago."