Former Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd Ward) pleaded not guilty Wednesday after being indicted on charges that he drained more than $38,000 from the bank account of the City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus and used those funds to pay for trips, jewelry, iPhones and tickets to sporting events.
Muñoz, 56, faces 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. He was released on a recognizance bond after the virtual hearing and is due back before U.S. Magistrate Judge David Weisman on June 4.
In July 2018, Muñoz announced he would not run for re-election for alderman after 25 years in office, saying he wanted “to make some real money.” Muñoz was first appointed to the City Council by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1993.
Muñoz was removed from the Progressive Caucus — formed to oppose former Mayor Rahm Emanuel — in January 2019 after being charged with misdemeanor domestic battery. He entered treatment for alcoholism soon after.
Police said Muñoz hit his wife during an argument, but he was acquitted by a judge.
Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), then chair of the Progressive Reform Caucus, announced the questionable spending by Muñoz and notified authorities in April 2019.
It is against the law for politicians to use campaign funds for personal expenses.
Muñoz, who was the group’s chairman and treasurer, told reporters in April 2019 there had been a “misunderstanding” and he pledged to pay back the caucus.
Muñoz was replaced on the Chicago City Council by his one-time ally, Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd Ward), who has said he was “saddened” by the charges against Muñoz.
The indictment released Thursday alleges Muñoz used funds contributed to the caucus to support progressive initiatives to cover a variety of expenses, including $16,000 for a relative’s college tuition and $4,000 for jewelry, and skydiving trips. The indictment also alleges Muñoz used the caucus’ campaign funds to spend $161 at a suburban Lover’s Lane shop.
The fraud began in 2016 and ended in 2019, according to the indictment.
According to the indictment, Muñoz withdrew cash from the caucus’ bank account and used the fund’s debit card more than a dozen times. In other instances, Muñoz withdrew funds from the caucus’ bank account and then transferred it to his personal campaign account, Citizens for Muñoz, and then to his personal checking account, according to the indictment.
“Muñoz attempted to conceal the fraud scheme by making materially false representations to the Illinois State Board of Elections and staff members and contractors of the [caucus],” according to a statement from the Office of the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois.
Each count of wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison, while the money laundering count carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. However, if convicted, Muñoz may serve less time in prison based on sentencing guidelines.