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updated: 6/3/2013 9:57 PM

Ex-Chicago alderman's corruption trial begins

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  • Former Chicago Alderman Ambrosio Medrano

    Former Chicago Alderman Ambrosio Medrano
    Associated Press file photo

Associated Press

A former Chicago alderman who was convicted in one of the city's most famous corruption cases was back in court Monday to stand trial on federal bribery charges.

Ambrosio Medrano and two businessmen were charged last year with felony charges of conspiring to commit bribery. According to court documents, Medrano, Gus Buenrostro and Jim Barta agreed to bribe an undercover FBI agent posing as a purchasing agent for an out-of-state hospital, the documents say.

"This case is about three men who attempted to make a corrupt deal," Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Stetler said in his opening statement. He pointed to Medrano as he added the politician was "the man who hatched this deal."

Medrano is accused of helping to set up a meeting between the businessmen and the undercover agent in the hopes of steering business from the hospital system that the FBI agent said he represented, to the Nebraska-based prescription services provider Sav-Rx owned by one of the businessmen.

After the meeting, prosecutors say, one of the businessmen wrote a check for $6,500 for the undercover agent in exchange for his promise to use Sav-Rx to provide mail-order prescription drug services for the hospital system.

Barta's attorney, Joe Duffy, portrayed his 71-year-old client as a hardworking Nebraska grandfather who worked his way up to run "one of the largest cattle ranching organizations in the U.S." Duffy noted Barta was also the owner of a mail-order prescription drug business with a $1 billion in annual revenue.

The attorneys for Medrano and Buenrostro will deliver their opening statements Tuesday.

Medrano also faces charges in a separate corruption scheme in which federal prosecutors accuse him and former Cook County commissioner, Joseph Moreno, of trying to accept kickbacks in a scheme to sell bandages to public hospitals, including Cook County's Stroger Hospital. The two were 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 case, Moreno suggested to a confidential informant that he wanted to be paid to use his influence but that he wanted to be careful so as not to attract the attention of the authorities.

"I don't want to be a hog; I just want to be a pig," prosecutors allege he said in a secretly recorded conversation with the informant. "Hogs get slaughtered, pigs get fat."

Medrano 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.

Medrano has tried twice to regain his City Council seat. In 2002 he ran unsuccessfully after a court ruled a state law barring felons from running for public office was unconstitutional. In 2007 he tried to run again, but the state's Supreme Court ruled he was ineligible because he had been convicted of taking payoffs while on the council.

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