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Commissioner pushed to get contract for pal
COOK COUNTY | 'Recommendation' not pressure, Moreno says

Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Chicago Sun-Times
by Mark J. Konkol

Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno pushed to get his friend and political supporter, Ronald Garcia, a piece of a multimillion dollar hospital system billing collection contract, the Sun-Times has learned.

Georgia-based Med Assets Inc. hired Garcia's firm, Chicago Medical Equipment and Supply, as a minority-owned subcontractor, but recently ousted the company, claiming Garcia overbilled it by as much as 135 percent.

After Chicago Medical was removed from the contract, Moreno's close friend, county hospital board audit committee chairman Dr. Luis Munoz, forwarded a proposal to audit Med Assets -- which had only submitted one bill.

"My company has been subjected to deliberate pressure from Commissioner Moreno to retain a specific minority business enterprise for work on a project for the Cook County Bureau of Health Services," Med Assets President John Bardis said. "I have consulted with [former U.S. Attorney] Dan Webb at Winston & Strawn. . . . We are going to report this matter to the U.S. attorney and offer our complete cooperation."

Moreno denied trying to influence Bardis, a South Side native ,to give Garcia, who has given $10,250 to the commissioner's campaign, a piece of the contract.

"He's full of s---. I told him 'I don't care if you use Chicago Medical. All I care about is that you comply with the [minority participation] statute,'" Moreno said. "I was absolutely not trying to help a friend. I was looking forward to make sure the [minority business enterprise] statutes were being complied with. [Garcia] has the only company that I knew was a MBE at the time and did that work. It was merely a recommendation."

Moreno initially sent word of his recommendation through interim hospitals chief David Small, which led to a sitdown between Bardis and Garcia, sources said.

The County Board approved the contract in March, and Bardis hired Garcia's Chicago Medical. Earlier this month, Chicago Medical was fired for allegedly charging Med Assets $40 per hour for each employee, rather than the agreed $17-an-hour per worker -- about $430,000 in five months, Bardis said.

What followed was a hospital board vote to hire Med Assets competitor, Deloitte and Touche, to audit the billing contract. The proposal was introduced by Munoz, Small said.

Moreno -- who recommended Munoz to be on former County Board President Bobbie Steele's transition team and the hospital board -- said he did not ask Munoz to call for the audit.

Munoz did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Last week, Bardis met with several commissioners to expose the situation. He also met with Moreno, who said he told Bardis again that his concern is minority-owned firms are involved in the contract.

"If [Bardis is] is saying I tried to influence or badger to keep Ronny [Garcia], if that's what he's saying, he's full of s---," Moreno said. "If [Bardis] continues to imply those things and slander me, I will sue the s--- out of him and go after him to the fullest extent of the law."

Commissioner Timothy Schneider, who met with Bardis last week, said he's very concerned about the allegations.

"If this independent hospital board isn't fully independent then that's a problem," he said.

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