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Moreno, Medrano tell judge they can’t afford to pay for their legal defense

Former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno leaves federal court after being charged with taking part bribery schemes Thursday June

Former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno leaves federal court after being charged with taking part in bribery schemes Thursday, June 28, 2012. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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Updated: September 3, 2012 1:16PM

He was once the commodore of the Diversey Yacht Club — expensively suited, smooth-talking, the owner of a $1 million home in University Village.

Now under federal indictment for corruption, former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno has fallen on such hard times that he can’t afford to pay for his own legal defense, his lawyer said in court Wednesday.

Appearing alongside Moreno in federal court, his co-defendant, former Ald. Ambrosio Medrano, said he, too, is broke and needs the government to cover his legal fees.

Both are accused of taking bribes and kickbacks to sell bandages to public hospitals including Stroger Hospital.

Appearing before U.S. Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow, each man entered a “not guilty” plea and asked for taxpayer help with his defense.

Moreno’s once-lucrative legal practice has lost business since the charges against him were announced earlier this summer and he now “owes a lot more than he takes in,” his attorney, Richard Kling, told the judge.

“He’s underwater with respect to his home. . . . Based on the market, he’s going to have a difficult time selling it, let alone making payments,” Kling said.

Medrano’s attorney, Gal Pissetzky, said the former alderman is trying to turn his “hobby” as an event promoter into a full-time job but that he also “cannot afford legal counsel.”

Denlow approved their requests for support from the federal defender program.

According to federal prosecutors, Moreno and Medrano were promised cash for every bandage that Cook County purchased from Chasing Lions, a medical products distributor.

Medrano was convicted in 1996 as part of the federal Operation Silver Shovel probe. On Tuesday, he pleaded not guilty in a second case, in which prosecutors say he and two businessmen used bribes and kickbacks to get business from out-of-state hospitals.

Moreno has pleaded not guilty in a third case, in which he’s accused of accepting an envelope stuffed with cash to back the development of a new waste-transfer station in Cicero while he sat on the town’s economic development panel.

Both men remain free on bail.

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