Ambrosio Medrano says he doesn’t want to be known around town as a stand-up guy. At least not in the sense that Chicago’s political hacks mean when they use that term of endearment.
Likewise, he says he doesn’t want to toss such nasty City Hall slurs as “mole,” “stool pigeon,” “rat” or “snitch” at those troublemakers who seek leniency through secret cooperation with federal law-enforcement agents.
Never mind that Medrano faces a second prison stay — this one scheduled to last 13 years — after again getting nabbed by a confidential government informant sporting a hidden recording device.
The thrice-convicted, 60-year-old former alderman remains convinced he made the best choice he could when he rejected the feds’ efforts to flip him to their side.
Had he agreed to wear a wire, Medrano likely would have avoided being sentenced to such a long stretch behind bars.
Being an informant simply wasn’t for him.
“I couldn’t live with myself,” Medrano said during an exclusive interview Tuesday with the Chicago Sun-Times. “Some people call it cooperating. Some people call it being a rat. I just refuse to blame anybody for what happened to me.”
In a coffee shop in Pilsen, which he represented in the City Council before his first prison sentence, Medrano was careful to avoid sounding too defiant. This was not Bill “The Hog with the Big Nuts” Beavers dropping F-bombs on the G and declaring, “I’m too old to be a stool pigeon.”
The feds eavesdropped on Medrano as he arranged for bribes and mimicked another old line that refers to swine: “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”
On Tuesday, Medrano preferred to invoke yet another metaphor to describe his situation. He spoke of a boy left holding the bat after a baseball he hit has broken a window and all the other kids in the game have run away.
“Do you say, ‘It wasn’t me. It was all of us’?” Medrano said. “I don’t know.”
Once an ally of Mayor Richard M. Daley, Medrano lost his Council seat and was sentenced to 2? years in prison in the 1990s, after pleading guilty to soliciting a $31,000 bribe from an undercover mole in the Operation Silver Shovel scandal. He says he turned down a federal offer to cooperate then.
“I certainly wasn’t going to allow myself to be used in some kind of scheme or scenario,” Medrano says.
Back in Chicago after prison, Medrano reveled in organizing opposition to his successor as 25th Ward alderman, Danny Solis, but the law prevented him from running against Solis, and his son failed in a campaign for his old job.
Medrano got back in the political game officially as an aide to Joseph Mario Moreno, a Cook County commissioner. It was there that Medrano found federal trouble again.
A judge sentenced him last week to 10? years behind bars for his part in a bribery scheme that also involved Moreno. Another judge tacked an additional 2? years onto his sentence Monday, for paying a bribe to try to win contracts in Los Angeles County.
That judge, John Tharp, suggested Medrano hadn’t meant it when he followed his first conviction 18 years ago with a courtroom apology in which he claimed there was “no end to the pain and sorrow I feel.”
“I could see why he said that, but it’s certainly not true,” Medrano said Tuesday. “I do feel the pain. I do feel the anguish. I do see the disappointment from what happened. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough for me to walk away from what I did.”
But Medrano insisted he’s not a bad person.
“To me, this has turned into a situation where it’s good versus evil,” he says. “Instead of the word ‘evil,’ I’m going to substitute that word for temptation. I succumbed to the temptation of possibly making easy money. Instead of saying, ‘No, there’s no need for you to pay or to give me anything in return for helping you or assisting you,’ I went along for the ride. That’s really no excuse.”
As with the first time he got in trouble, Medrano continues to contend he doesn’t have the ability or the inclination to help build new corruption cases.
“I don’t know anybody per se who has done anything illegally,” he says, although he acknowledged “people think I’m not saying anything or not cooperating because I don’t want to get anybody in trouble.”
Medrano surely knows, too, that people around town will think he’s being rewarded for standing up to the federal heat. For what it’s worth, we have to note his wife got a job in Daley’s administration soon after he went to prison for the first time. She still works for the city. Their son, 35, also has a city job he’s held for 16 years.
He will say goodbye next month to them, as well as to his daughter and 16-month-old granddaughter. Medrano hopes to get out of prison by the time he’s 68 — “if I’m lucky” — but realistically expects to be there until age 70.
Whether he’s sincerely repentant this time or not, Medrano says, “Whatever I did stops with me.”