Former Alderman Ambrosio Medrano is a rarity. He’s done something few convicted elected officials have done; he admitted he did something wrong.
Medrano, who represented the 25th Ward, which includes the Near Southwest Side Mexican enclave of Pilsen, did not go to trial for his crime. He chose not to cooperate with the government in exchange for a better deal; rather, he pleaded guilty to accepting a bribe from a city contractor seeking favorable treatment. “I took responsibility for what I did and I still take responsibility for what I did. I don’t look forward to a pardon; it won’t erase what I did,” Medrano told The Chicago Reporter.
In 1996 Medrano had been an alderman for nearly five years. On Friday, Jan. 5, he met with FBI agents who showed up unannounced at his City Hall office. Medrano spoke to the agents that afternoon for about two hours before he realized he was a target, he said. All the while his attorney was paging him to tip him off. The agents then gave him a front-row seat to watch a video. Medrano had the starring role; the tape showed him accepting $1,000 from corrupt contractor and FBI “mole” John Christopher.
Medrano told the agents, “you got me” and set in motion the first conviction in Operation Silver Shovel, the 9-year federal investigation into public corruption, including an illegal dumping scheme. Nineteen individuals were indicted in Silver Shovel; only 12th Ward Alderman Ray Frías was acquitted.
Medrano recalled that the FBI agents suggested that he could help himself by providing information about other individuals. According to Medrano, they said, “–˜We got you on 21 counts and each count is five years.’ They told me they were gonna hit me with the RICO Act. Later on you figure out it’s a scare tactic trying to get you to say other things.” The federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act provides for higher penalties in conspiracy cases.
When an FBI agent hinted Medrano should wear a wire to eavesdrop on other officials, he replied, “You got the wrong guy.” FBI Spokesman Ross Rice said that Medrano and other suspects in Silver Shovel “were informed of the investigation and given the opportunity to cooperate with what was then an ongoing investigation.”
Medrano also said the agents asked him if he “had anything” on another high-ranking Latino elected official whom he would not name. At that point Medrano became angry and denied any knowledge that would implicate others. When asked about Medrano’s allegation, Rice said, “I don’t think it was as point-blank as that.”
“I’m not a snitch,” Medrano said. “It goes beyond that–”you don’t blame somebody else for your mistake.”
Medrano pleaded guilty to one count of bribery. In his case, federal sentencing guidelines mandated a prison term of 27 to 33 months. U.S. District Judge Wayne R. Andersen sentenced him to 30 months. Medrano served his term at the Federal Work Camp at Oxford, Wis. Andersen also imposed three years’ supervised release and ordered Medrano to pay $31,000 in restitution to the United States. Medrano will be under supervised release until Jan. 1, 2002.
Medrano said prosecutors targeted him and other minorities in Silver Shovel and other public corruption cases. “Why was it only blacks, [and] a few Hispanics?” he said. Scott Lassar, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, categorically denies that his office pursues race-based, selective prosecutions.
Medrano, 47, still lives in Pilsen, and now works as Midwest promotions director for Fonovisa Inc., a California-based music label specializing in Mexican regional music. His attorney, Edward M. Genson, a criminal defense lawyer with the Chicago law firm of Genson & Gillespie, is not surprised by his continued popularity. “He admitted what he did and took his punishment like a man, and I think that’s why people have stuck by him.”