EC bribe taker gets light sentence for his cooperation with feds
A federal judge sentenced the former School City of East Chicago treasurer to just five months in prison after a federal attorney described the defendant as offering more cooperation than anyone else involved in a public corruption case in Northwest Indiana.
“He’s the only public official who is truly remorseful,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Bell said during Francisco “Frank” Ramirez’s sentencing hearing Friday morning at the U.S. District Court in Hammond.
U.S. District Judge Philip Simon also ordered Ramirez to serve five months of home detention as part of the one year of supervision once released from prison.
Ramirez pleaded guilty in March to accepting free work, worth about $6,000, from Greentree Builders, in exchange for giving the company — owned by Gerardo Lozano — landscaping contracts with the school district in 2008.
Simon ordered Ramirez and Lozano to pay the school district the $4,108 Lozano overcharged for the landscaping work. The judge said the two of them can determine how much each pays.
Lozano has said that Ramirez approached him about the bribe first, but Ramirez’s attorney, Thomas Vanes, disputed that after the hearing Friday, saying it was the other way around.
Ramirez apologized to the court Friday, saying he was ashamed by his actions.
Ramirez said he knew what he did was wrong but got caught up in the city’s culture of corruption. The corruption centered around former East Chicago Mayor George Pabey, who ran on a campaign of restoring the public’s trust in government, but was later convicted in federal court of using city money and workers to renovate a home he owned in Gary, Ramirez said.
“It was an atmosphere of arrogance,” Ramirez said. “... It was almost like it was our turn, there’s nothing wrong with it.”
Vanes said that Ramirez has eight children and has been frank with them so they understand the consequences of his actions.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for Ramirez to serve 2 to 21/2 years in prison. However, Bell asked for a reduced sentence because of what he called Ramirez’s total cooperation.
Bell told the judge that of the more than 30 public corruption defendants he has worked with in the past decade, Ramirez is the first to have cooperated fully with the government. Most, he said, have shown no interest in admitting their criminal acts.
Judge Simon, who already had sentenced co-defendant Lozano to two years in prison, expressed surprise that someone in Ramirez’s position would put his job and freedom in jeopardy for such a small amount of money. The crime, he said, further hurts the public’s trust in public officials.
“The perception is what will they do for a $100,000 bribe?” Simon said.
However, the judge said he also wanted to reward Ramirez for his contrition and cooperation and granted the government’s request for a sentence below the recommended guidelines.
Ramirez said after the hearing that while he hopes other public officials don’t make the mistake he did, he doesn’t know if public corruption in East Chicago will ever stop.
“The judge said it’s not worth it,” Ramirez said. “It isn’t.”