Former alderman, 2 others, convicted in bribery scheme

Tribune reporter

Former Chicago Ald. Ambrosio Medrano was convicted a second time on corruption-related charges when a federal jury found him guilty Monday of trying to win a contract in Los Angeles through bribery.

The conviction came nearly two decades after Medrano pleaded guilty in Chicago's infamous Operation Silver Shovel federal probe. And the onetime police leader from the Pilsen neighborhood still faces additional legal headaches — another criminal case that alleges he agreed to take a bribe to try to influence a bandage contract at Stroger Hospital.

Still, attorneys for Medrano, 59, vowed they would fight on and said their client was in good spirits despite the setback. The former alderman, who is free on bail, left the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse without comment.

"He's strong," attorney Gal Pissetzky said. "He's looking forward to continuing his fight. He's not going to back down."

Medrano's longtime friend, Gustavo Buenrostro, 50, and James Barta, 71, the owner of a Nebraska pharmaceutical company, were also convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery.

The jury deliberated three to four hours before convicting all three on the lone count.

U.S District Judge John Tharp Jr. set Sept. 24 for sentencing them. Each faces a maximum of five years in prison.

The convictions stem from a lengthy and broader federal investigation in which the government used a mole — Michael DiFoggio, a Bridgeport businessman and Medrano pal with tax troubles — and an undercover FBI agent to snag a number of targets, including Joseph Mario Moreno, a former Cook County commissioner.

Moreno faces charges in two separate plots, including allegedly pocketing $5,000 in cash to back a waste-transfer station in Cicero while he was serving on that west suburb's development board. Court records show he could plead guilty next month.

The convictions Monday came after a two-week trial in which Medrano and his co-defendants contended they were victims of an aggressive FBI sting.

The plot to pay off a Los Angeles County official for a mail-order pharmaceutical contract with the county hospital system was a ruse concocted by the FBI. An undercover agent posed as a crooked medical sales representative who said he had access to the official, but both the LA county official and the contract were made up.

The defense cried entrapment, but prosecutors countered that Medrano had first approached the agent, through the mole, about a potential deal.

"The jury considered it and rejected it," Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Stetler said of the entrapment allegation. "The FBI merely provided an opportunity for these individuals to do what they did. This was Ambrosio Medrano's idea from the very beginning."

Pissetzky remained adamant that the government set up Medrano.

"The government pursued these individuals from day one," he said. "They created the scenario themselves, and after creating the scenario, they kept pursuing and pursuing."

At trial, Pissetzky argued that Medrano never fully believed that the undercover agent had a contact in LA.

Barta, whose connection to the case came through Buenrostro, a longtime friend, sat stone-faced when the verdict was read.

His attorney, Joseph Duffy, contended that the cattle rancher and owner of Sav-Rx, the pharmaceutical company seeking the contract, had no intention of breaking the law.

Duffy argued that only the dogged advances of the FBI agent — who repeatedly requested that he speak to Barta as the deal was being set up — led his client to write a $6,500 check as the first payment to win the contract.

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