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Ex-Ald. Ambrosio Medrano’s latest corruption trial begins

Former Ald. Ambrosio Medrano

Former Ald. Ambrosio Medrano

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Updated: July 5, 2013 2:39PM

He once boasted that he did his time in federal prison “like a man,” because “I’m not a snitch.”

So if the prospect of returning to the slammer scares disgraced former Chicago Ald. Ambrosio Medrano, he wasn’t about to show it Monday afternoon.

Instead, a sharp-suited Medrano, 59, beamed at jurors as his latest corruption trial began.

He looked loose, but the stakes are higher than ever.

Back in 1996, he was convicted of taking $31,000 in bribes. This time, prosecutors say, he was caught scheming to dole bribes out.

Along with co-defendants Gus Buenrostro and Jim Barta, Medrano conspired to pay off a Californian official so that Barta’s business could win a big Los Angeles County health-care contract, they allege.

“This case is about three men who attempted to make a corrupt deal,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Stetler said in his opening argument. Pointing at Medrano, he added, “He’s the man who hatched this deal!”

Unbeknownst to the three defendants, Stetler said, the official didn’t exist and the agent who claimed to represent him was an undercover FBI agent. Michael DiFoggio, a Bridgeport developer who was caught cheating on his taxes, helped set up the sting.

Medrano and Buenrostro’s lawyers didn’t get a chance to speak Monday. But Barta’s attorney, Joe Duffy, portrayed Barta, 71, as a hardworking Nebraska grandfather who had dragged himself up by his bootstraps to run “one of the largest cattle ranching organizations in the U.S.” and to become the owner of a mail-order prescription drug business with a $1 billion in annual revenue, part of which comes from a deal with Cook County.

Duffy ridiculed the idea that Barta would risk everything he had built. He said Barta had no interest in the deal but wrote the undercover agent a $6,500 “commission” check as a favor to Buenrostro, a struggling old friend and “hustler” Barta was secretly recorded saying had “always been a day late and a dollar short.”

What’s expected to be a two-week trial is the first of two pending cases Medrano faces. His co-defendant in the second alleged health-care scam, former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Moreno, has indicated he will plead guilty and is cooperating with the government.

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