Sen. Koehler accepted campaign cash from company snared in FBI probe

Illinois Capitol News

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — When FBI agents raided the offices of State Senator Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero) last month, one of the companies in their crosshairs was Bluff City Materials and its owner, the ‘Asphalt King’ Mike Vondra, according to a now-unredacted search warrant recently released by the state Senate.

Among other clout-heavy gambling companies and energy lobbyists named in the warrant, Bluff City Materials, an asphalt company located in suburban Bartlett, was still seeking political influence in the statehouse as recently as ten days ago.

Even after WBEZ reported federal agents raided the headquarters of Bluff City Materials, the company gave a $5,000 campaign contribution to state Senator Dave Koehler, a Peoria Democrat who sits on the Transportation Committee.

“They donate every year,” Koehler said on Sunday. “They’re a sponsor of my golf outing every year.”

Koehler acknowledged the donation could look bad, “if something happens,” he said. “If [Vondra] is indicted, it becomes a different issue.”

Often, politicians donate contributions from questionable donors to charity in an attempt to distance themselves from controversy. To date, Koehler has opted to hold onto the funds pending further developments. None of the people listed in the FBI search warrant have yet been charged with any crimes.

In recent years, Koehler sponsored legislation, in one case with Senator Sandoval as a co-sponsor, that would have directly benefited Bluff City Materials by requiring the state to recycle asphalt shingles or pavement materials.

“If other companies want to get into the business, they’re welcome to do so,” Koehler said.

None of those measures became law. Koehler said he introduced the ideas from an environmental standpoint, and claimed they would have created jobs.

Koehler said the ongoing federal investigation is “upsetting to me,” but he doesn’t expect to come under the scrutiny of the FBI.

“I certainly don’t my name connected to this investigation, and it won’t be,” he predicted.

Sandoval resigned his post as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee last week, a position that came with an annual perk of $10,570.

Sandoval remains a member of Senate President John Cullerton’s Democratic leadership team, however, a position that comes with some measure of prominence, but no additional income.

“I agree with Senator Cullerton that until anything definitive comes out, we should wait until we see what happens,” Koehler said.

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