Ex-County Commissioner Moreno sentenced to 11 years in federal bribery case
BY STEFANO ESPOSITO Staff Reporter February 19, 2014 1:32PM
Joseph Mario Moreno and his wife, Noncy, leave the Dirksen Federal Building after the former Cook County Commissioner received an eleven year sentence from his bribery case Wednesday afternoon 2-19-14. | Kevin Tanaka/For Sun-Times Media
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Updated: February 20, 2014 2:24AM
Several times Wednesday, U.S. District Court Judge Gary Feinerman marveled at how — given the well-publicized history of political corruption in Illinois — former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno couldn’t have known that what he was doing was illegal.
In the end, Feinerman attributed Moreno’s seeming indifference to something even older than dirty politics: simple greed.
“He was an eager participant in all the schemes,” Feinerman said of Moreno’s crimes. “He embraced them with gusto and excitement, and pursued them with vigor.”
Time and time again, instead of serving the public, Moreno chose to put himself first, Feinerman said, in handing the disgraced politician an 11-year prison term.
Moreno, 61, shook his head gently as he learned his fate.
Moreno, wearing a charcoal pin-striped suit, partly blamed booze for his fall — which, his attorney said, has former friends now crossing the street to avoid him.
“I made bad choices in the people that I began to associate with, which, coupled with the excessive use of alcohol surrounding political events, my judgment became clouded,” one of Moreno’s attorney’s said, reading out loud a letter Moreno penned for Feinerman. “I began to drink heavily in order to quell my conscience about what was going on around me. Although hard to admit that I didn’t know the difference, I now know that what I regarded as politics as usual were illegal acts.”
Last July, Moreno 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 the Cook County health and hospital system, 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 the Democrat held from 1994 to 2010, and in his 2010 work as a member of Cicero’s Local Business Assistance Committee.
While Moreno’s attorney, Richard Kling, said after Wednesday’s court hearing that he was disappointed with the term, it was less than the 14 to 17 1/2-year range prosecutors sought.
Feinerman said that while Moreno’s crimes were especially “brazen,” Moreno deserved some leniency for his years of good work in the community and the fact that he is 61 years old and has young children at home.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who took office after Moreno’s exit from the board, called his case and the recent tax fraud conviction of former Commissioner Bill Beavers both “discouraging” and “disheartening.”
“It’s another discouraging piece of news that’s disheartening to us in public office,” Preckwinkle told reporters after a county board meeting Wednesday. “These kinds of public trust cases are discouraging to those of us who work hard everyday to serve the people of Cook County and I won’t pretend otherwise.”
“All we can do individually is try to do our very best and try to earn the trust of the citizen’s of Cook County,” Preckwinkle said. Moreno is expected to report to prison on April 21.
Contributing: Brian Slodysko