Disgraced former Chicago Ald. Ambrosio Medrano once boasted that he wanted to be a “pig” who feasted on government contracts.
On Friday, he was sent back to the pen.
Calling the serially corrupt 60-year-old Southwest Side politician a “cynical” operator who followed the city’s unofficial motto of “Where’s mine?” U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman sentenced Medrano to 10½ years in prison.
Nearly five decades after legendary columnist Mike Royko coined that motto to describe Chicago’s culture of corruption, Medrano is living proof of the struggle the city and state continue to have with dirty public officials, Feinerman said.
“At some point, you think the message would get through,” Feinerman told Medrano, who previously served time for soliciting a $31,000 bribe in the 1990s, and was this time caught plotting to take kickbacks on a $1 million-plus contract to sell bandages to Stroger Hospital on the very day in 2011 that former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was sentenced.
Prosecutors said Medrano’s recidivism meant he deserved to be launched with a sentence longer than the 14 years Blagojevich got. But Feinerman said Medrano’s age and diabetes factored into his decision to impose a sentence that is below federal guidelines and closer to the 9-year prison term Medrano’s attorney, Gal Pissetzky, suggested.
Though Medrano’s latest crimes were ”very serious” and took advantage of a program that was meant to help military veterans, they had a “much smaller impact” than the former governor’s, the judge said.
During the emotional hearing Friday, Medrano, his wife, Mireya, and son Ambrosio Jr. all broke down in tears as they pleaded for mercy.
Just as he had when he was first convicted more than a decade ago, Medrano apologized in the packed courtroom, saying he had “acted foolishly without thinking about the consequences” when, while working as an aide to co-defendant and former Cook County Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, he helped set up the bandage scam.
“I wish that I could go back in times to correct my wrongs, but that is not possible,” he said.
For her part, Mireya Medrano angrily told prosecutors Chris Stetler and Megan Cunniff Church that they should be “ashamed” for calling Medrano greedy, arguing he was simply trying to support his family.
But Stetler said Medrano also wanted a beachfront vacation home in Central America.
The federal prosecutor pointed to one of the most damning pieces of evidence against Medrano — the tape in which he echoed Moreno’s comments that he wanted to be a “pig” who made money on dirty government deals, but not a “hog” because “hogs get slaughtered.”
Stetler said that those comments were “consistent with [Medrano’s] approach to public office” and showed “crystal clear that he knew what was going on.”
“People should expect honest government, whether or not they agree with the decisions public officials make,” he said, adding that after Medrano was released from prison more than a decade ago, he “got back into government so he could, in his own words, strive to be a pig.”
Though Feinermen cut Medrano a little slack Friday, Medrano retains the dubious distinction of being the only former Chicago City Council member to be convicted of corruption on two separate occasions.
He could yet serve more time behind bars than any other elected official in Chicago history.
While the 15-year sentence handed to Cook County Judge Thomas J. Maloney in 1994 for accepting bribes to fix murder trials remains the heftiest single sentence ever imposed on a Chicago-area elected official, Medrano was sentenced to 2½ years for his 1990s bribe conviction. And he still faces a potential further 5 years on Monday when he’s sentenced for attempting a similar government contract scam in Los Angeles County.
He’d like to serve his time at the federal prison in Englewood, Colo., where Blagojevich is currently locked up, his lawyer said.