CHICAGO (AP) — A former Chicago alderman who was imprisoned years ago in one of the city's most famous corruption cases and a former Cook County commissioner appeared in federal court Thursday on charges alleging they took part in bribery schemes worth tens of thousands of dollars.
The former alderman, Ambrosio Medrano, and the one-time county commissioner, Joseph Moreno, stood in court during a brief hearing Thursday. The case is among the last to be brought by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who is set to retire at the end of the week after a decade fighting corruption in the Northern District of Illinois.
The charges allege Medrano and Moreno tried to accept kickbacks in a scheme to sell bandages to public hospitals, including Cook County's Stroger Hospital. Both men appeared in court, Moreno voluntarily and Medrano after being arrested earlier Thursday. One of five businessmen charged in at least one of the bribery schemes also appeared during the hearing.
As he has after various high-profile cases, including the convictions of two former Illinois governors, Fitzgerald deflected any kind of praise in the direction of his staff.
"Seeing how well they work and how talented they are and how motivated they are makes me feel great as a U.S. Attorney today, and I'll feel great about it Monday as a citizen knowing these people are out there plugging away," Fitzgerald told reporters after the hearing.
Medrano, a former alderman who later worked on Moreno's county staff, is accused of agreeing to receive kickbacks to use their influence so that two of the other co-defendants could sell bandages to Stroger Hospital in Chicago.
Investigators allege that under the scheme, Medrano would receive $5 per bandage and Moreno $2 per bandage — an order of a thousand boxes would yield $70,000 with $24,000 going to Medrano.
The 59-year-old Moreno, who was a county commissioner for 16 years until 2010, was also accused of accepting a $5,000 bribe to ensure construction of a waste transfer station in Cicero while he was on the community's economic development panel.
In that alleged scheme, Moreno is accused of using his influence to get the facility built, saying that it would not, in fact, be built without his help. According to court documents, Moreno suggested to a confidential informant that he wanted to be paid for his help, but he did not want to take too much.
"I don't want to be a hog; I just want to be a pig," he said in a secretly recorded conversation with the informant. "Hogs get slaughtered; pigs get fat."
According to court documents, Medrano and two other businessmen agreed to bribe an undercover FBI agent posing as a purchasing agent for an out-of-state hospital. According to the documents, one of the businessmen paid the undercover agent $6,500 just last week to do business with a Nebraska-based "provider of managed care prescription medication services."
Cicero, a community just west of Chicago, has been dogged by allegations of corruption since the days when Al Capone ran his bootlegging empire from there. One of the most famous corruption cases prosecuted by Fitzgerald's office was that of Betty Loren-Maltese, the president of Cicero who spent more than eight years in prison for a $12 million fraud that the judge at the time described as "the outrageous and relentless pillage of the town treasury."
Medrano, 58, spent nearly two years in prison after pleading guilty in 1996 in the government's Operation Silver Shovel investigation into payoffs to aldermen and other Chicago-area politicians.
The former alderman tried to regain his City Council seat in 2002 after a court ruled unconstitutional a state law barring felons from running for public office. But he ultimately lost the election.
A second effort in 2007 to return to the City Council was short-circuited when the Illinois Supreme Court ruled Medrano was ineligible to serve because he was convicted of taking payoffs the last time he was on the council.