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Prosecutors Will Urge Stiff Term in Moreno Corruption Case

Federal judge is asked to ignore calls for leniency and impose nine-year sentence on 'fully unrepentant' former Santa Ana councilman convicted of scheme to control city.

January 26, 2001|JACK LEONARD and RICHARD MAROSI | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Federal prosecutors will ask that former Santa Ana Councilman Ted R. Moreno spend nine years behind bars for a political corruption scheme aimed at taking control of the City Council, according to court documents filed Thursday.

Calling the politician "fully unrepentant," the U.S. attorney's office filed a sentencing position imploring a judge to ignore calls for leniency made by Moreno's supporters.

With sentencing due Wednesday, friends and constituents of Moreno have flooded the court with letters urging a lighter sentence. The letters laud his community service and his role in blazing a trail for other Latino politicians in the heavily Latino city.

But in court papers, prosecutors painted a contrasting portrait of Moreno, accusing him of being "driven by his own lust for power."

Prosecutors contend Moreno deserves stiff punishment, particularly for alleged efforts to cover his trail by encouraging others to lie to federal investigators.

"It's a sentence that accounts for his role in the offenses as an organizer and leader," said John Hueston, chief of the Santa Ana office of the U.S. attorney's office. "I believe it's important that the court take into consideration his continuing failure to accept responsibility."

The government's position is the best indication yet of the prison sentence Moreno may face next week. U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Taylor has already approved sentences recommended by prosecutors for two Moreno allies implicated in the same case.

A federal jury in September convicted Moreno on 25 counts of extortion, money laundering and mail fraud. Jurors rejected Moreno's claim that federal agents entrapped him into accepting cash from a gas station owner while promising him a beer and wine license. Moreno used the money in an unsuccessful attempt to elect several political allies to the council.

The case polarized the community, in which some saw Moreno as a rising star who championed the cause of the poor, while others viewed him as an overly ambitious young upstart.

In recommending at least six years in prison for Moreno, U.S. probation officials wrote a report to the court that drew on the two sharply differing views of Moreno.

"If tragedy and irony make for compelling drama, then consider the case of Ted Moreno," the report began, according to documents filed by Moreno's attorney. The report concluded that Moreno was driven by both a wish to set an agenda in the city and by a "corrupting desire to enhance his power on the City Council."

More than 100 letters have urged the court to look at Moreno's devotion to the community that he served for eight years.

One bedridden resident wrote that Moreno found her help when she couldn't afford to pay her utility or grocery bills. And former City Councilman John Acosta commended Moreno's efforts to "make Santa Ana a better place."

Moreno's attorney, Dean Steward, argued in court pleadings that a six-year prison term would be "unjust," especially because two colleagues already sentenced for roles in the case avoided prison altogether.

Resurrecting Moreno's defense at trial, Steward also argued that an FBI informant encouraged the councilman to take the bribes when Moreno expressed misgivings.

But prosecutors strongly urged the judge not to take Moreno's community service into account. The former councilman's work, they said, was "expected and not extraordinary for an elected representative."

And prosecutors condemned Moreno's continuing assertion that he was entrapped, calling his stance part of a continuing effort to "shift blame to the FBI for his own corruption."

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