Bridgeport developer taped ex-pols Moreno and Medrano for feds
Sunday, July 29, 2012
by STEVE WARMBIR
The dirty deal went down just before Christmas 2010 in the car of a Bridgeport developer, the feds say.
Inside the car were Joseph Mario Moreno, who had just been voted out of his job as a Cook County commissioner, and Michael DiFoggio, a Bridgeport developer who — from all appearances — wanted a garbage transfer station to be located in the Town of Cicero and was willing to cut a few corners to do it.
Just months before, Moreno had been appointed to a Town of Cicero local business assistance committee by Cicero President Larry Dominick. It was a plum appointment that came with free health insurance.
Moreno wanted more, though, authorities allege. He was willing to assist DiFoggio to get what he wanted from the Town of Cicero — but at a price, federal prosecutors allege.
Inside his car, DiFoggio passed an envelope to Moreno, allegedly containing $5,000 cash.
DiFoggio even had better news for Moreno, telling him that another $5,000 was on its way, the feds allege.
“Thanks, buddy, I appreciate it,” Moreno told DiFoggio as he got out his car.
DiFoggio asked Moreno if he was happy.
“Yes, I am,” Moreno said.
The happiness wouldn’t last for long.
DiFoggio was secretly working for the FBI, recording that conversation with Moreno and many others, as part of a significant public corruption investigation, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned. DiFoggio also recorded Moreno’s friend, former Chicago Ald. Ambrosio Medrano, and introduced an undercover FBI agent posing as a crooked purchasing agent to Medrano as part of a sting operation to snare businessmen allegedly looking to pay bribes for hospital business, court records show.
DiFoggio’s cooperation appears to be critical in three criminal complaints made public last month charging seven men, including Moreno and Medrano. Medrano worked on Moreno’s county staff and had previously gone to prison for public corruption when he was a Chicago alderman. Medrano pleaded guilty to one count of extortion in 1996 and was sentenced to 30 months behind bars.
As for DiFoggio, he is a successful, politically connected Bridgeport home developer and plumber whose family has deep ties in the neighborhood. He has been cooperating with the government since March 2010 because of his own legal problems, according to sources familiar with the matter and court records.
DiFoggio was charged earlier this month with tax evasion for allegedly failing to pay more than $150,000 in federal taxes owed on income he received from one of the businesses he owns, MDF Construction.
As part of the scheme, DiFoggio allegedly took about $250,000 paid to MDF and diverted it to help pay off the interest and principal on a loan for a yacht he bought, court records show.
DiFoggio appeared in a nearly empty federal courtroom Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to the tax crime, but he is expected to change his plea next month.
DiFoggio’s attorney, Marc Barnett, declined to comment on his client’s cooperation. The U.S. Attorney’s office also declined to comment.
Outside the courtroom, when a reporter asked why he recorded Moreno for the FBI, DiFoggio snapped, “Who told you that?”
When asked if he was denying it, DiFoggio had no comment, then moments later sprinted away from a Sun-Times photographer trying to take his photo.
DiFoggio is only referred to in court records as Cooperating Witness 1 and is never named, but his cooperation is no secret within the tightly knit Bridgeport neighborhood, sources said. DiFoggio, nicknamed “Bird,” has one of the larger, more prominent houses in the neighborhood, with an indoor pool.
His late father, another plumber also named Michael, nicknamed “The Blaster,” was one of the original members of the Old Neighborhood Italian American Club. It’s a neighborhood gathering spot with a variety of members, including local businessmen and local mobsters. Another of its founders was the late Bridgeport mob boss, Angelo “The Hook” LaPietra.
DiFoggio himself is known to spend time at the club and has also routinely made campaign contributions to the 11th Ward Democratic organization.
DiFoggio has been a social acquaintance of Moreno’s for several years, occasionally eating at the same restaurant, and began recording him about two months after DiFoggio started cooperating with the FBI, records show.
In May 2010, Moreno described his new job with the Town of Cicero as head of the local business committee to “help business development, licensing, zoning, permits, all that s---,” according to court records.
Court records allege DiFoggio and Moreno agreed to grease the skids to allow a waste transfer station in town — a deal that never came to fruition. Moreno has been removed from the town committee, and town officials have said they had no knowledge of his actions.
As part of his cooperation with the FBI, DiFoggio recorded people face-to-face, over the phone and at meetings in restaurants and his car over two years, records show.
DiFoggio also introduced to Medrano “a friend” of his, who in reality was an undercover FBI agent posing as a crooked purchasing agent working on behalf of hospital systems. That introduction lead to Medrano and four businessmen being charged for allegedly trying to pay bribes to get contracts at a Los Angeles County hospital.
Moreno himself was charged in the Cicero bribery case in October last year, but the case was put under seal and not publicly announced. The charges against Moreno remained secret and were only revealed last month. While Moreno was under investigation, the FBI listened in on Moreno’s cell phone calls and reviewed his personal email, with court permission, records show.
Moreno’s prominent defense attorney, Richard Kling, declined to comment on the delay between when Moreno was charged and when the charges were announced, or whether Moreno is cooperating with federal authorities.