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Former county commissioner Moreno pleads guilty in extortion case

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 6:19AM

Former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno pleaded guilty Monday to a federal charge in connection with bribes and other favors involving county contracts and a business deal in Cicero.

Moreno, 60, confessed to one count of conspiracy to commit extortion. He signed a plea deal in which he admitted to taking a $5,000 cash bribe from a company seeking to build a waste transfer station in Cicero and to getting a $100,000 mortgage on his house erased in exchange for his influence in a county hospital contract.

He also confessed to seeking future favors in two deals. Federal authorities said Moreno wanted stock options for a company selling bandages to Cook County Hospital, plus $5 for each bandage sold.

In the Cicero matter, Moreno expected another $5,000 plus 10 percent of the transfer station’s profits, according to the plea agreement.

The crimes occurred in Moreno’s capacity as a Cook County commissioner, an office he held from 1994 to 2010, and in his 2010 work as a member of Cicero’s Local Business Assistance Committee. His case was seen as possible connection to other federal investigations in Cicero.

But Moreno’s lawyer, Richard Kling, said his client has made no promises to develop evidence in other prosecutions. “Mr. Moreno is accepting responsibility for his own behavior and his own behavior alone,” Kling said.

Wearing a dark gray suit, Moreno spoke softly and briefly during his hearing before U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman and made no comment afterward to reporters.

Moreno’s sentencing was set for Oct. 17, and he remains free on bond in the meantime.

Federal guidelines suggest a sentence of 14 to 17½ years, with a maximum of 20 years. Kling said he will cite prosecutors’ recommended sentence of four years for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. in arguing that fairness demands Moreno should get similar consideration.

“It’s a horrible time” for Moreno, Kling said, “For many years, Mr. Moreno served the taxpayers of the county. He did some good things and now he has done some bad things. He is remorseful.”

But recorded conversations show Moreno had a constant eye on self-enrichment as he dealt with possible government contractors.

For the Cicero transfer station, he expressed a preference for ongoing payments out of its profits rather than big money upfront. “No, hey, I want the volume, to go for a ride. … I like the residuals,” Moreno told an unidentified businessman.

Later in the same conversation, Moreno said, “I don’t want to be a hog. I just want to be a pig. Hogs gets slaughtered, pigs get fat.”

The plea deal said Moreno got a $100,000 loan on his home from Ronald Garcia, owner of Chicago Medical Equipment and Supply. It said Garcia forgave the loan after Moreno worked to get county business for the company.

Property records show the 2007 loan was made on a home in the University Village project on the Near West Side. The development of some 900 homes replaced the old Maxwell Street shopping district with high-end housing that drew heavy subsidies under the city’s tax-increment financing program.

Federal officials did not disclose how much of the $100,000 loan Moreno still owed when Garcia released him from the debt. Moreno’s home, for which he paid $1.48 million in 2007, has had a pre-foreclosure notice filed against it, county records show.

Former Ald. Ambrosio Medrano, who was on Moreno’s staff at the county, also is awaiting charges for his role in the hospital bandage deal. Medrano in June was convicted separately in a bribe scheme to win a Los Angeles County medical contract.

Medrano also served prison time for taking bribes as an alderman and could be headed for an unprecedented “three-peat” in political corruption.

Garcia and three other business executives were charged with crimes in the Moreno case. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said two have pleaded guilty and that the other men, Garcia and Stanley Wozniak, are awaiting trial.

Contributing: Tim Novak

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