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Ex alderman, county commissioner charged in corruption probe

Thursday, June 28, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times

It was a rare scene that unfolded in Chicago’s federal courthouse on Thursday — even for seasoned onlookers.

A solemn-faced former Chicago alderman, Ambrosio Medrano, already convicted once of bribe-taking in the historic Silver Shovel investigation, walked into the familiar setting of federal court.

He was wearing handcuffs.

Medrano sat down at the defendant’s table and joined his friend, former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno.

Also arrested and charged Thursday was Stanley Wozniak, managing partner of the famed Chicago nightclub, The Joynt.

Together, the two former public officials and nightclub owner were charged in a series of schemes that accused them of greedily using bribes and kickbacks to get public business. The allegations include a $6,500 bribe offer allegedly passed just last week by Medrano and others to get hospital business; and an alleged $5,000 bribe pocketed by Moreno.

The charges came as a result of an FBI and IRS probe that included secret wiretaps as well as wired-up cooperators.

“I don’t want to be a hog, I just want to be a pig,” the feds say Moreno is heard unwittingly telling a cooperator. “Hogs get slaughtered, pigs get fat.”

Moreno was charged with taking an envelope stuffed with $5,000 to ensure development of a waste transfer station in west suburban Cicero while he sat on the town’s economic development panel.

In one exchange captured on tape, Moreno allegedly tells a cooperator about the benefit of putting vacant property back on the tax rolls.

“And you make money, and you make money,” the cooperator adds.

“Abso-f---ing-lutely,” Moreno replies, according to charges.

Federal investigators charged three bribery schemes in three different criminal complaints — with Medrano, 59, and Moreno, 58, named in two apiece.

The Cicero allegations make up one complaint.

A second complaint charges that Medrano and Moreno, along with three Chicago-area businessmen — one of them Wozniak — used kickbacks to sell bandages to public hospitals, including Stroger Hospital of Cook County.

And in a third complaint, Medrano and two different businessmen are accused of using bribes and kickbacks to get business from an out-of-state hospital system.

At the Thursday afternoon hearing, a federal magistrate judge ordered Medrano held in custody, pending a detention hearing next week, after Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox argued he’s a possible flight risk. Sources said prosecutors asked for Medrano’s detention because as a convicted felon, he faces considerable time behind bars if he’s again convicted of charges.

Moreno, who was not arrested, but turned himself into court with his lawyer, was released on bond. Wozniak, whose Facebook page pictures him with the cast from the “Soprano’s” and jokes he attended “Whatsamata U” University, also was released on bond, leaving court without comment.

At the hearing, Medrano’s lawyers had argued keeping him in custody was unnecessary, as was his arrest. “I think it’s the government’s usual fantasies. They think just because we are of Mexican origin we’re going to go to Mexico,” said one of Medrano’s lawyers, John R. De Leon.

The two men are former politicians, but U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said the case went way beyond innocent negotiations.

“It’s not politics. If people are taking out bribes to put out contracts to folks, and are paying kickbacks back, that’s just criminal behavior,” Fitzgerald said. “I would not equate that with politics at all.”

The charges against Medrano come after he served federal time for admitting he accepted $31,000 in bribes from FBI mole John Christopher and an undercover FBI agent. He also admitted that he placed two “ghosts” on a city council committee payroll.

In one of the schemes made public Thursday, Medrano is accused of being part of an effort to pass a bribe just last week to an undercover agent he believed was an out-of-state county hospital official. Medrano was allegedly trying to get a 10 percent kickback on any Sav-Rx contract the hospital system signed by saying he’d be the minority go-through required by that hospital.

“Then it’s all perfectly legit, it is all up and up,” Medrano is accused of telling the undercover agent.

Medrano allegedly arranged in March for James Barta and Gustavo Buenrostro of Sav-Rx to pay $10,000 in good faith money to the undercover agent. Then a week ago, on June 22nd, Medrano and the two met with the agent at a restaurant in Omaha, Neb., where Barta wrote the agent a check on a Sav-Rx account for $6,500.

At Rahm Emanuel’s first City Council meeting as mayor, aldermen approved new rules prohibiting convicted felons from gaining access to the Council floor. The proposal originated with Ald. Danny Solis (25th) and targeted Solis’ nemesis – Medrano.

“It’s a very sad day for his family,” said Medrano attorney Gal Pissetzky. “We will fight this case for Mr. Medrano. He has been held in custody. However, we think it’s for the wrong reasons, and when we come back to court next week, we hope that the judge will make the right decision and release him on bond.”

After his release from prison, Medrano at one point worked on Moreno’s staff. Moreno was a commissioner for 16 years, ending in 2010.

According to federal authorities, together, they allegedly got kickbacks in exchange for using their influence to secure bandage contracts with Stroger Hospital in a scheme that began while Moreno was still a commissioner.

The men are accused of persuading the hospital to buy bandages under the brand name “Dermafil” from Wozniak and another charged businessman, Gerald Lombardi. Wozniak and Lombardi were agents of Chasing Lions, LLC, a disabled veterans-owned business in Lisle.

In intercepted calls, Moreno and Medrano discussed using their influence over individuals federal officials refer to as county hospital officials “A, B, and C,” so that Moreno would get $5 for every “patch” ordered by Cook County, and Medrano would get $2, according to charges.

At one point, according to charges, Medrano allegedly talks about how Moreno was using a calculator to tally up their expected illicit proceeds based on an order by Cook County hospitals.

In the Cicero case, Moreno is accused of meeting with the cooperator in August 2010, telling him he wanted just “a little piece” of the proceeds.

The former commissioner believed he had a deal to get 10 percent of the revenue if he threw his support behind the waste station, according to federal officials. In December, he allegedly accepted an envelope containing $5,000 from the undercover agent with promises that an associate would kick in at least another $5,000 in coming weeks.

“Mr. Moreno is aware of the seriousness of the allegations. He looks forward to having the matter resolved in court,” said defense lawyer Richard Kling. “It is not going to be resolved on TV or in the newspapers.”

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