EAST CHICAGO | The corrupting mix of concrete and bribery continued to pave East Chicago's political landscape beyond the infamous sidewalks-for-votes scandal of the previous decade, recent federal court filings show.
Now a Hobart contractor joins a lengthening line of East Chicago political and business officials who have checked into the federal prison system for bilking taxpayers in the process of currying political favor.
Gerardo Lozano, owner of region-based Greentree Builders, was sentenced last week to 21 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to felony bribery of a public official, prosecutors confirmed.
Lozano admitted in Hammond federal court last year he performed free work in 2008 at the private home of then-School City of East Chicago Treasurer Frank Ramirez's home. Ramirez faces sentencing Jan. 25 for accepting the bribe and steering school district contracts to Lozano.
The government contends Lozano received about $173,000 for contract work from the school district, according to a recently filed sentencing memorandum in Hammond federal court.
Among several home improvement projects performed by Lozano at Ramirez's private residence were the excavation of an old driveway and backyard, purchasing and installing concrete and installing a paver patio, the memorandum states.
Lozano also is accused of over-billing the school district to cover the costs of some of Ramirez's home improvements.
It's not the first time concrete served as the foundation for federal crimes in East Chicago.
In 2004, three East Chicago city councilmen, a city controller, a parks superintendent and a city engineer were convicted of federal crimes in a scheme to curry votes by providing free concrete work for city residents. The convictions were a permanent black mark of corruption on the administration of former Mayor Robert Pastrick, who never has faced criminal charges in the matter but lost a multimillion-dollar civil racketeering lawsuit.
The corruption carried over into the next administration of former Mayor George Pabey, who is serving time in federal prison for having city employees perform work — on city time — at his private residence in Gary's Miller neighborhood.
In the sentencing memorandum filed in Lozano's case, federal prosecutors name Pabey as the common denominator behind $1.3 million in city, School City of East Chicago and East Chicago Public Library work steered to Lozano's Greentree Builders.
"In fact, when a school board member questioned whether the School City should be paying Greentree Builders $26,887 in May 2008, Pabey thumped his chest and put her in line," the memorandum states.
The filing states "it was certainly no coincidence" that Lozano's company also provided free work at Pabey's Miller home — the same one at the center of Pabey's own conviction for public corruption.