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Recorded phone conversations connect dots in former alderman’s bribery case: feds

Former Ald. Ambrosio Medrano

Former Ald. Ambrosio Medrano

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Updated: July 16, 2013 6:14AM

He’d been plotting to bribe a Los Angeles County official for months, prosecutors say.

So when disgraced former Chicago Ald. Ambrosio Medrano was offered a chance to seal the corrupt deal for a lucrative government contract, they say, he leapt at it.

“Where do I sign?” Medrano was secretly recorded telling an undercover FBI agent, before joking that they could “cut our fingers” in a Mafia-style blood oath.

That moment was just one of many potentially damning conversations highlighted for jurors by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven Grimes during his closing argument Thursday in Medrano’s two-week federal trial.

Originally convicted in 1996 for accepting bribes while he was an alderman, Medrano, 59, is now fighting to prevent a return to federal prison.

He denies he conspired with his co-defendants, Nebraska businessman Jim Barta, and their mutual pal, Gus Buenrostro, to pay a $10,000 bribe to secure Barta’s business a mail order prescription contract with Los Angeles County.

The defendants say FBI agent Gabe Casanova concocted the plan when he posed as a healthcare lobbyist who could pass on the bribe to an unnamed and ultimately fictitious L.A. County official.

But Grimes said the FBI sting wouldn’t have happened without Medrano. “It was his idea!,” the prosecutor said of the corrupt deal, pointing at Medrano.

Grimes highlighted another secretly-recorded conversation in which Medrano allegedly discussed how the bribe could be delivered.

“Just let us know when his golf outing is,” Medrano was recorded saying to Casanova. “If he has one. That’s what’s popular in Chicago.”

Still, the majority of Grimes’ two-hour closing argument was directed at Barta, a big-time cattle rancher whose pharmaceutical business has a contract with Cook County.

Barta’s attorney, Joseph Duffy, said at the start of the trial that Barta was so successful he didn’t need to risk paying a bribe. Barta only agreed to legal lobbying efforts as a favor to Buenrostro, who was down on his luck, Duffy said.

But Grimes said the secrecy with which Barta acted — keeping details of the deal from his staff — showed he knew the deal was crooked.

“The laws of this country do not allow people like Mr. Barta to use their wealth . . . to corrupt what would otherwise be open bidding on government contracts,” he said.

Attorneys for all three defendants will get their chance to address the jury before jurors begins their deliberations Friday.

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