Feds Recommend 1-Year Prison Sentence for Former Ald. Ricardo Muñoz

Ald. Ricardo Munoz appears on “Chicago Tonight” on July 23, 2018. (WTTW News)Ald. Ricardo Munoz appears on “Chicago Tonight” on July 23, 2018. (WTTW News)

Federal prosecutors are asking a judge to sentence Ricardo Muñoz to just over a year in prison after the former 22nd Ward alderperson pleaded guilty earlier this year to wire fraud and money laundering charges.

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In a sentencing memorandum filed Wednesday, federal prosecutors said Muñoz “abused his public position and betrayed the public trust” by embezzling nearly $38,000 in city money over the course of approximately three years. They’re asking U.S. District Judge John Kness to issue Muñoz a sentence of one year and one day in federal prison.

Muñoz was charged in April with taking funds from the Chicago Progressive Reform Caucus (CPRC) and using them to pay for trips, jewelry, iPhones and tickets to sporting events — conduct federal prosecutors said must be “met with a serious repercussion.”

“Defendant violated the trust of the contributors to the CPRC, his constituents, the general public, and the voting members and staff of the CPRC …” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Morris Pasqual and Jared Hasten wrote in the 25-page memorandum. “In doing so, defendant also violated the oath he took as an alderman where he swore to faithfully discharge the duties of his office to the best of his abilities.”

Muñoz, who was first appointed to the City Council by former Mayor Richard M. Daley in 1993, was indicted on 15 counts of wire fraud and one count of money laundering. He pleaded not guilty during a hearing in September.

According to prosecutors, Muñoz withdrew $16,000 from the CPRC’s account — the largest single withdrawal in the caucus account’s history — in October 2016 and immediately used nearly all those funds to cover a family member’s overdue tuition payment.

Prosecutors said Muñoz paid those funds back months later, but continued taking funds from the CPRC in subsequent years. In October 2018, he allegedly took $7,100. That December, he took another $500 to pay for Chicago Bulls tickets, according to prosecutors.

He also used misappropriated funds to pay for “jewelry and cufflinks from Louis Vuitton, an insurance payment on a personal luxury vehicle, women’s clothing from a Nordstrom’s store, and an aerial sightseeing trip,” among other items, prosecutors said.

Ald. Scott Waguespack (32nd Ward), then chair of the CPRC, 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.

According to prosecutors, 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 them to his personal campaign account, Citizens for Muñoz, and then to his personal checking account, according to the indictment.

In their sentencing memorandum, Pasqual and Hasten said a sentence for Muñoz that doesn't include prison time sends the “wrong message to the public: that public officials who violate the law are held to a different — more lenient — standard than others.”

“In fact, public officials should be held to a higher standard,” they said. “Defendant was only able to commit these crimes because of his role as an elected official; everyday citizens do not have access to political action committee funds that they can dip into when they are short on cash. A custodial sentence here would promote respect for the law by showing that no one — not even elected officials — are above the law.”

Muñoz is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 5.

Heather Cherone contributed to this report.

Contact Matt Masterson: @ByMattMasterson[email protected] | (773) 509-5431

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