Chicago Federal Judge: “It’s Not Business as Usual to Bribe Public Officials”

A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office:


CHICAGO — The head of a large Nebraska-based prescription medication provider was sentenced today to 21 months in federal prison for conspiring with a former Chicago alderman and another man to commit bribery of a fictitious public official to purportedly obtain business from the Los Angeles County hospital system.

The defendant, JAMES BARTA, 71, of Fremont, Neb., and two co-defendants were convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery following a two-week trial in June in U.S. District Court.

Barta was also fined $125,000 and ordered to begin serving his sentence in early January by U.S. District Judge John J. Tharp, Jr. Co-defendants, AMBROSIO MEDRANO, 59, of Chicago, GUSTAVO BUENROSTRO, 50, of Arlington Heights, are scheduled to be sentenced, respectively, on Nov. 4 and Nov. 25.

“This offense involves bribery to influence governmental action,” Judge Tharp said, adding that Barta was a “paradigm of what a businessman should be, and yet . . . he readily agreed to pay a bribe to get a contract.”

The judge noted a recording that was played at trial of Barta saying that he expected to pay a bribe and doing so was “business as usual.”

“It is not business as usual to bribe public officials,” Judge Tharp said, adding that this message “must be repeated to avoid the cynicism that overtook Mr. Barta.”

According to the evidence and court records, which included numerous audio and video recordings of conversations with the defendants, Medrano introduced an undercover FBI agent, who was posing as a purchasing agent, to Barta, the president of family-owned Sav-Rx, and Buenrostro, an associate of Barta and a former Sav-Rx employee. Barta,

Buenrostro, and Medrano agreed to bribe the undercover agent and the fictitious Los Angeles County hospital official — with Barta handing a $6,500 check to the undercover agent at a restaurant in Omaha on June 22, 2012 — to do business with Sav-Rx, a Fremont, Neb.-based national provider of managed care prescription medication services.

Between December 2011 and March 2012, Medrano, Buenrostro, and a cooperating witness discussed the scheme, resulting in a meeting attended by those three,

Barta, and the undercover agent at a Chicago restaurant on March 21.

During the meeting, Barta discussed Sav-Rx’s business, including a contract with Cook County.

The undercover agent explained a kickback arrangement for him and the fictitious Los Angeles County hospital official, if they were to succeed in expanding Sav-Rx’s services into the Los Angeles County hospital system.

Barta replied that the arrangement was okay with him.

In subsequent conversations, Medrano allegedly assured the cooperating witness and undercover agent that Barta and Buenrostro wanted to do a deal with the agent and were willing to provide an initial $10,000 payment in good faith.

The same group of individuals met again on May 9 at a Chicago restaurant and continued discussing steering Sav-Rx’s services to Los Angeles County, including using Medrano and Buenrostro to be the minority participants in a contract, with Barta endorsing that idea.

Barta directed Buenrostro to do research on Los Angeles County and paid the lunch bill.

The undercover agent said that the fictitious hospital official was not going to take any action until there was an agreement and the official saw some money.

“We understand that and that’s not the problem,” Barta replied.

On June 22, 2012, Barta, Buenrostro, and Medrano met with the undercover agent at a restaurant in Omaha.

The undercover agent explained that half of the good faith money they had been discussing was for his role in brokering the contract and half was for the fictitious Los Angeles County official.

The undercover agent assured Barta that the good faith payment would be refunded if Sav-Rx did not obtain a contract from the hospital system.

Gary Shapiro

Gary Shapiro

After further discussion about the indirect manner that Barta’s payment would be funneled to the fictitious official, Barta wrote a check on a Sav-Rx operations account, payable to the undercover agent for $6,500, and gave it to the undercover agent.

The sentence was announced today by Gary S. Shapiro, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and Robert J. Shields, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The government was represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Stetler.

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