In a rare and unexpected move, a federal appeals court has ordered the release of a Nebraska businessman who was last year convicted alongside corrupt former Chicago Ald. Ambrosio Medrano.
Jim Barta was entrapped into paying a bribe by the FBI, the 7th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled Monday evening, just hours after hearing oral arguments in Barta’s case.
The 72-year-old Nebraskanis due to be released from a federal prison in MinnesotaTuesday afternoon. ButMedrano’schances of release aren’t improved by the ruling, Barta’s lawyer said.
Medrano — currently serving a 13 year sentence, andthe only former Chicago alderman to be convicted of corruption offenses on three separate occasions — was convicted in June, 2013 withBarta and a third co-defendant, Gus Buenrostro, of conspiring topaying bribes to try to win medical supply contracts with Los Angeles County.
Bartahoped his mail order pharmacy business would make millions selling prescriptions under the scheme, prosecutors said.
But Barta was “entrapped as a matter of law” the Appeals Court ruled in a paragraph-long initial ruling Monday, cutting short Barta’s release by nearly a year. Just hours earlier, Barta’s lawyer Corey Rubenstein had argued before the court that Barta was “pushed” by an undercover FBI agentinto signing a bribe check that he otherwise “was not predisposed” to paying.
Sting operations like the one that lead to Medrano and Barta’s indictment are routinely used by the feds, and frequently lead to unsuccessfulcries of entrapment from defense attorneys. The Seventh Circuit, which will issue a full written ruling at a later date, isin particular widely seen aspro-prosecution.
But Rubenstein said Tuesday that Barta’s case was “very unusual” and not a sign of any wider change. “The government kept hounding him to make a payment,” he said, adding thatBarta’s family is “thrilled” with Barta’s release.
The U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment.Medrano’s attorney Gal Pissetzky, who also argued before the court Monday, did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
First convicted in the 1990s for accepting bribes while on Chicago’s City Council, Medrano over the course of his life has been given more total federal prison time — 15 and a half years—than any public official in Chicago history. He’s scheduled to be released in November, 2025.