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Brown: Moreno’s goal? To be a pig who doesn’t squeal

Former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno who was sentenced 11 years prisfor participating bribery scheme leaving federal court 2012.

Former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, who was sentenced to 11 years in prison for participating in a bribery scheme, leaving federal court in 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 3, 2013 6:41AM

Former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno earned his spot in the Chicago corruption hall of fame last year with the revelation of one little statement caught on an FBI wiretap.

“I don’t want to be a hog, I just want to be a pig,” Moreno famously said in the course of trying to negotiate a bribe from FBI mole Michael DiFoggio. “Hogs get slaughtered, pigs get fat.”

With either of those barnyard options now off the table for Moreno, he seems more intent on letting everybody know that he’s no rat either.

Moreno pleaded guilty Monday in federal court with no agreement to cooperate in the ongoing investigation and accordingly no promise from prosecutors to go easy on him.

That leaves Moreno looking at federal sentencing guidelines that suggest he serve the next 14 to 17.5 years in prison.

That’s enough to make any critter gulp, unless he thought the option was worse, as in: Pigs get fat, rats get exterminated.

I’m not trying to be overly dramatic about that, but you have to understand it had been widely believed Moreno was indeed cooperating with federal authorities. His decision to basically throw himself at the mercy of the court caught many by surprise.

That speculation started when Moreno was allowed to self-surrender on the day the case went public in June 2012, while his co-defendant, former Ald. Ambrosio Medrano, was hauled into court in handcuffs. Moreno’s bond was arranged that day while Medrano was detained until he posted his mother-in-law’s home to secure his release.

Then it turned out the underlying case involved a sealed complaint and arrest warrant against Moreno from nine months earlier concerning his activities with DiFoggio trying to locate a waste transfer facility in Cicero. That added to the notion he had been turned into a government witness.

It wasn’t just reporters who thought so. Moreno’s co-defendants were pretty well convinced of it, too.

Medrano has received most of the attention in this case as the two-time loser who was the first person sent to prison in Operation Silver Shovel.

Medrano made his name by pleading guilty in Silver Shovel and heading off to prison without cooperating against any of his City Council colleagues. He’s forced prosecutors to take him to trial in this case, too, and recently was found guilty. Yet another charge — and trial — awaits him. He’s old school all the way.

Moreno was viewed as another type of operator entirely — a stylish dandy who would rather deal than face prison.

As I told you previously, Moreno was a bigger catch in this probe than Medrano. Moreno is the sharpie lawyer with his hand in a lot of cookie jars who had advanced far beyond Medrano in the Southwest Side political pecking order. Moreno actually put Medrano on the county payroll late in his 16-year career as commissioner.

Of course, it always appeared likely the real end game here was an investigation of higher-ups in Cicero Town Hall or Moreno’s former fellow commissioners on the Cook County Board.

The mole in this case, DiFoggio, is a Bridgeport businessman, which also set minds to racing as to what doors he could open for federal investigators. Still, there has been no indication he has brought them anything beyond what has already been charged to date.

With no cooperation agreement with federal authorities, Moreno’s attorney Richard Kling will have to convince U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman that his client deserves a lesser sentence than called for under the guidelines.

“Mr. Moreno is accepting responsibility for his own behavior and his own behavior alone,” Kling told reporters outside court.

Later in an interview, Kling shot down the notion that Moreno had experienced a change of heart somewhere along the way — or that he still may.

“He is not going to testify in any of the other cases,” Kling told me. “He never was.”

Kling suggested the extent of Moreno’s cooperation was to fold his tent early and accept responsibility instead of fighting the charges.

“We knew from the beginning what the quality of the government’s evidence was,” Kling said.

It’s somewhat unlikely that the judge will think Moreno’s crimes deserve 14 years behind bars, but the surprise is that he would take the chance.

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