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Woman pleads guilty in minority-owned business scheme

December 3, 2010

BY NATASHA KORECKI Federal Courts Reporter
A woman accused of running a bogus minority-owned business to get city contracts pleaded guilty to a federal charge, averting a trial that was to begin on Monday.

But the amount of jail time 61-year-old Aurora Venegas will face is already in dispute after she pleaded guilty to just one of the five counts in her indictment Friday.

» Click to enlarge image Aurora Venegas, who was accused of running a bogus minority-owned business, pleaded guilty to one charge Friday.

(Jean Lachat/Sun-Times)

Venegas owned Azteca Supply Co., a onetime certified minority — and woman-owned business that was the largest female-owned subcontractor on Mayor Daley’s O’Hare Modernization Project.

Mayoral hopeful Gery Chico’s law firm was the longtime lobbyist for Azteca, which hired the firm to get certified by City Hall as a woman-owned business.

Prosecutors accused Venegas of fraudulently receiving more than $9.5 million tied to contracts between 2001 and 2008.

However, Venegas pleaded guilty to just one count involving a landscaping bid out of Orland Park. Her lawyer, Joseph Duffy, said she made about $2,800 as a subcontractor off a larger, $57,000 contract.

While the plea was a narrow admission, prosecutors say the other alleged conduct in the original indictment -- including allegations of fraud involving city contracts -- will be in play at sentencing.

Venegas faces eight to nine years in prison.

"We plan to prove up the full scope of the charges in the indictment at sentencing," Assistant U.S. Attorney April Perry said.

Defense lawyers said they expect to intensely dispute the government.

"She's obviously very upset. She decided to plead to one count because she wanted to resolve this matter," Duffy said after court. "She feels she was a legitimate (minority business owner) for nearly 20 years and a real value to the community."

A sentencing date has not yet been set.