Former Ald. Ricardo Muñoz (22nd Ward) pleaded guilty Monday to charges that he drained $16,000 from the bank account of the City Council’s Progressive Reform Caucus and used those funds to pay for a relative’s college tuition.
Muñoz pleaded guilty to one charge of wire fraud and one charge of money laundering before U.S. District Judge John F. Kness. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 5.
Muñoz, 56, faced 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering that alleged he spent $38,000 that belonged to the caucus on himself and family members.
During the hearing, Muñoz spoke only to answer Kness’ questions. At one point, the judge admonished Muñoz to speak slower to allow the court reporter to transcribe his remarks. Muñoz apologized, and said he was “just a little nervous.”
Muñoz pleaded guilty to transferring $16,000 from the caucus’ account on Oct. 31, 2016 and then making a $15,234 payment to an out-of-state college to resolve an overdue tuition bill. At the time of the tuition payment, Muñoz’s account had approximately $300 in it, Assistant U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual said.
After the hearing, Muñoz’s attorney Richard Kling told reporters that the former alderperson spent decades serving the Little Village community. Muñoz declined to answer questions from reporters.
“Sometimes good people do foolish or stupid things,” Kling said. “He has admitted to this court that he did a foolish or stupid thing, he’s ready to accept responsibility and pay the price.”
Kling said he would ask the judge to take into consideration Muñoz’s service to the community when deciding his sentence.
Muñoz’s plea agreement calls for a sentence of 10-16 months in custody, although Kness will determine the former alderperson’s sentence. Muñoz also agreed to pay $6,000 in restitution to the caucus.
Had Muñoz been convicted of both of the charges he pleaded guilty to, he could have faced a maximum of 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine, even as sentencing guidelines called for a lesser penalty.
Muñoz, who was the caucus’ chairman and treasurer, told reporters in April 2019 there had been a “misunderstanding” and he pledged to pay back the caucus.
Muñoz’s acknowledgment that he stole funds from his closest allies on the Chicago City Council caps a political career spanning a quarter century that began when former Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed him to the Chicago City Council in 1993.
Muñoz announced in July 2018 he would not run for reelection, saying he wanted “to make some real money.”
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 was replaced on the Chicago City Council by his one-time ally, Ald. Mike Rodriguez (22nd Ward).
The indictment returned April 29 alleged Muñoz used funds contributed to the caucus to support progressive initiatives to cover a variety of expenses, including $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.
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.