Lozano gets 21 months for bribery
BY Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org January 4, 2013 8:18PM
Updated: February 6, 2013 6:12AM
A Hobart man who pleaded guilty to bribing the School City of East Chicago treasurer will spend 21 months in prison after a federal judge ruled against his request for a sentence outside of custody.
U.S. District Judge Phillip Simon said public corruption is too serious of a crime to let off without some time in prison.
“It’s this kind of petty bribery that I think is really corrosive,” Simon said during Gerardo “Jerry” Lozano’s sentencing hearing Friday afternoon.
Lozano admitted last year that he provided almost $7,000 worth of renovation work to then-Treasurer Francisco Ramirez’s house for free in exchange for $173,000 worth of work with the school district in 2008.
The scheme started when then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton visited East Chicago, and Ramirez hired Lozano’s company, Greentree Builders, to do some landscaping at the high school. The work continued at other schools, and Lozano eventually overbilled the district for the work, in what Simon called an attempt to have the district pay for the free work Lozano gave to Ramirez.
John Cantrell, Lozano’s attorney, argued that his client, a high school dropout, was talked into starting his own business by friends and officials in East Chicago and that he quickly got in over his head.
“This will never happen again,” Cantrell told the judge, adding that Lozano has already gotten a new job and will graduate from college this spring.
Lozano apologized and asked the judge for leniency.
“I know I was wrong,” he said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary Bell disputed statements by Lozano and Cantrell that the crime was a mistake and a one-time occurrence. He noted that the entire crime took about four to six months.
“It wasn’t just a bad decision; it was a scheme that lasted a long time,” he said.
He also referred to a government court filing that details how Lozano was a friend of then-Mayor George Pabey, who helped him get contracts with not only the school district but also the East Chicago Public Library and was convicted several years ago of using city money and workers to renovate his own house in Gary. The court filing says that Lozano even provided free work on that same house, and that Pabey yelled at a school board member after she questioned a payment to Lozano.
“A conviction and embarrassment is not enough in this case,” he said.
Along with the prison sentence, Simon ruled that Lozano must also pay $5,136 in restitution for the amount he overbilled the school district.