Gam­bling king­pin ‘not a tar­get’ for feds

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY MITCHELL AR­MEN­TROUT, STAFF RE­PORTER mar­men­trout@sun­times.com | @mitchtrout

Fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors might have been in­ter­ested in Rick Hei­d­ner’s ties to a crooked exs­tate sen­a­tor, but the video gam­bling king­pin is not in the crosshairs of the feds him­self.

But that could change, the area’s top fed says.

Ten months af­ter FBI agents went look­ing through ex-state Sen. Martin San­doval’s of­fices for doc­u­ments re­lated to dozens of peo­ple and busi­nesses in­clud­ing Hei­d­ner’s lu­cra­tive Gold Rush Amuse­ments slot ma­chine firm, Chicago’s top fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor sent a let­ter as­sur­ing Hei­d­ner’s at­tor­neys that the be­lea­guered entreprene­ur “is not a tar­get” of a sweep­ing pub­lic cor­rup­tion in­ves­ti­ga­tion that has en­snared some of Illi­nois big­gest po­lit­i­cal heavy­weights.

“In the con­text of a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, a ‘tar­get’ is a per­son who is linked by sub­stan­tial ev­i­dence to the com­mis­sion of a crime and who, in the pros­e­cu­tor’s judg­ment, is likely to be charged,” U.S. At­tor­ney John Lausch wrote in a June 26 let­ter, pro­vided by Hei­d­ner’s team and first re­ported by WTTW.

“At this time, your client is not a tar­get of this in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Of course, this rep­re­sen­ta­tion is based on the in­for­ma­tion known to this of­fice as of the date of this let­ter and could change,” Lausch wrote.

It’s un­usual for top pros­e­cu­tors to write let­ters such as the one Lausch sent.

When author­i­ties raided San­doval’s of­fices in Septem­ber 2019, Hei­d­ner had been poised to launch an am­bi­tious new horse rac­ing track and casino project in Tin­ley Park.

But when Hei­d­ner’s name sur­faced in search war­rants re­leased pub­licly a month later, Gov. J.B. Pritzker pulled the plug on Hei­d­ner’s “ra­cino,” re­fus­ing to sell state land for the project that rep­re­sented a key part of the Demo­cratic gov­er­nor’s mas­sive state gam­bling ex­pan­sion.

San­doval has since pleaded guilty to ac­cept­ing bribes from a red-light cam­era com­pany, in re­turn for block­ing leg­is­la­tion that would’ve put the brakes on its busi­ness.

And Hei­d­ner, whose slots sit in more than 500 bars, restau­rants and lounges across the state, has never been ac­cused of wrong­do­ing.

“A me­dia spot­light has been on Mr. Hei­d­ner and Gold Rush Amuse­ments since Oc­to­ber 2019 when their names ap­peared in con­junc­tion with gov­ern­ment search war­rants that re­sulted in in­ac­cu­rate spec­u­la­tion about Mr. Hei­d­ner,” his spokesman said in an email. “Mr. Hei­d­ner is con­fi­dent that he and Gold Rush have acted prop­erly and he will con­tinue to take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion to re­store his rep­u­ta­tion against the false and mis­lead­ing nar­ra­tive that has been ad­vanced pub­licly since last year.” Even out from un­der the fed­eral mi­cro­scope, Hei­d­ner is en­trenched in a lengthy le­gal fight to keep his mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness alive.

The Illi­nois Gam­ing Board filed a dis­ci­plinary ac­tion against Hei­d­ner in De­cem­ber seek­ing to re­voke his gam­bling li­cense for al­legedly of­fer­ing up a $5 mil­lion “il­le­gal in­duce­ment” to the owner of a gam­bling par­lor chain that planned to re­move Hei­d­ner’s ma­chines. Hei­d­ner’s team has said it’s all part of a “smear cam­paign” or­ches­trated by a com­peti­tor with whom he’s also wran­gling in civil court.

The feud with the reg­u­la­tory agency was ratch­eted up in Fe­bru­ary, when Hei­d­ner sued the Gam­ing Board for al­legedly leak­ing loads of his sen­si­tive per­sonal in­for­ma­tion to three gov­ern­ment agen­cies in vi­o­la­tion of state pri­vacy laws. Gam­ing Board ad­min­is­tra­tor Mar­cus Fruchter deemed it “an iso­lated in­ci­dent in­volv­ing one em­ployee who acted alone and out­side the scope of their du­ties.”

On top of that, like all other gam­ing op­er­a­tors in Illi­nois, Hei­d­ner lost more than three months of busi­ness be­cause of the COVID-19 shut­down.

With Hei­d­ner’s ma­chines turned off from March 16 through July 1, records show Hei­d­ner se­cured a fed­eral PPP loan to keep his Hoff­man Es­tates busi­ness afloat. His spokesman said Hei­d­ner re­ceived just un­der $1 mil­lion. The Gold Rush ap­pli­ca­tion in­di­cated the loan through Park­way Bank and Trust Com­pany helped re­tain 120 jobs.

Rick Hei­d­ner

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