Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Mayor reverses on who's to blame

October 22, 2008

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
Two years ago, Mayor Daley accepted his share of responsibility and offered to “apologize to anyone” for the torture of suspects by Jon Burge — even as he argued that the ultimate responsibility rests with the Chicago Police Department.

On Tuesday, the mayor changed his tune.

Hours after Burge was arrested in Florida and charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, Daley refused to accept even an ounce of responsibility for one of the ugliest chapters in the history of the Chicago Police Department.

Never mind that a $ 7 million report by special prosecutors faulted Daley, who served as state’s attorney during the 1980’s, for failing to follow up on a 1982 letter from then-Police Supt. Richard Brzeczek that strongly suggested abuse in the case of accused cop killer Andrew Wilson.

“I was very proud of my role as prosecutor. I was not the mayor. I was not the police chief. I did not promote this man in the ’80’s,” Daley said Tuesday.

“Brzeczek ran against me in ’84. He was the head of the Police Department….The Police Department cleared him and they promoted him in the `80’s. I was not the mayor then.”

Daley said there is “no room whatsoever for any type of torture” and he’s pleased that a “20-year-long” federal investigation of Burge has “finally” culminated in an indictment. Since Burge is facing criminal charges, it means Chicago taxpayers who have spent millions to defend Burge in civil cases will no longer have to pay his legal fees.

But the mayor said he feels no accountability whatsoever for Burge’s decades-long reign of terror.

“I just don’t…I was state’s attorney. I had 700, 800 prosecutors under me. It would be like [holding] you [accountable] for some of the headlines you write about me. I don’t hold you accountable…You can’t hold me responsible,” Daley said.

He added, “Looking back, you could do a lot of things [differently]. But you don’t look back. You look forward.”

In the 1982 letter, Brzeczek passed along explosive information he had received from Dr. John Raba, medical director of Cermak [Prison] Health Services.

Raba had examined Wilson and found: multiple bruises, swelling and abrasions on his face and head; a battered right eye; linear blisters on his thigh, cheek and chest “consistent with radiator burns.” Raba also reported Wilson’s claim that electric shock had been administered to his gums, lips and genitals.

“There must [be] a thorough investigation of this alleged brutality,” Raba wrote.

Brzeczek tossed the political hot potato to Daley, who referred it to his Special Prosecutions Unit for further investigation. Nothing ever came of the investigation.

It wasn’t until the early 1990’s that the Police Board finally got around to firing Burge.

The mayor’s response Tuesday was in sharp contrast to his contrite tone in July, 2006, when Daley was gearing up for his 2007 re-election campaign and was concerned the special prosecutor’s report could come back to haunt him in the African-American community.

On that day, Daley accepted his share of responsibility for what he called “this shameful episode in our history….I’ll take responsibility for it. I’ll apologize to anyone….It should never have happened….Everybody should be held accountable…The system could have broken down.”

But Daley categorically denied he deliberately looked the other way to avoid jeopardizing either his political ambitions or the prosecution of an accused cop killer.

“Do you think I would sit by, let anyone say that police brutality takes place, I know about it, that I had knowledge about it and I would allow it? Then you don’t know my public career. You don’t know what I stand for…I would not allow anything like this,” the mayor said then.

On Tuesday, Daley was asked if the Burge nightmare could ever happen again. His answer was hardly reassuring.

“Anything could happen again. You try to do a lot of preventions….But individuals could do something outrageous any time,” the mayor said.

“We have good police officers. I know you want to beat them all up all the time. But we have good men and women in the Police Department,” he said, adding that “90.9 percent are hard-working men and women who want to do the job” the right way.

After decades of accusations, Burge finally faces charges

October 22, 2008

APOLLO BEACH, Fla. -- Former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge's arrest here Tuesday didn't close the book on decades-long allegations of police torture, federal authorities said.

The FBI will investigate "others who may have participated in these crimes or knew about them but remained silent," said Chicago's FBI chief, Robert Grant.

Burge, 60, was arrested at his Apollo Beach home on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice. He's accused of lying under oath in a lawsuit accusing him and other officers of torture. After his court hearing in Tampa, he was released on $250,000 bond.

Burge was accompanied by former Chicago Police Lt. Tom Brady, who lives near Burge and brought his friend his reading glasses.

Burge told the court he travels to Las Vegas as a security consultant for trade shows. The judge told Burge he's restricted to Florida and the Chicago area. He must turn over four pistols and a rifle to Brady.

Burge limped as he left court. He explained that he suffers from knee problems. "I'm old. I'm hurting," he said. "Please leave me alone."

Burge wouldn't talk about the charges, but Brady was quick to defend him. "The city of Chicago politics caught him up in this," Brady said. "The mayor of the city of Chicago fired him after he was found innocent, twice."

At least three of Burge's former police colleagues -- John "Jack" Byrne, Peter Dignan and Daniel McWeeney -- also have denied under oath that they were involved in torture. Their 2006 statements were given in a lawsuit brought by alleged torture victim Darrell Cannon, court records show.

Asked Tuesday if he still stands behind his 2006 statement, Byrne said, "Of course I do. I don't worry about it. . . . I feel very bad for Jon Burge. I've known him all my life."

The charges against Burge are in connection with sworn statements he gave in 2003 in a suit by former Death Row inmate Madison Hobley. Hobley claimed Burge and other officers tortured him into confessing to a 1987 arson that killed seven people.

Burge was asked if he used sleep deprivation, phone book beatings, electric shock or other methods to torture suspects.

He replied, "I have never used any techniques set forth above as a means of improper coercion of suspects while in detention or during interrogation." Later, he added, "I have not observed nor do I have knowledge of any other examples of physical abuse and/or torture on the part of Chicago Police officers at Area 2."

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said prosecutors will try to prove that Burge tortured suspects and knew that other officers did, too. One method was "bagging," putting a typewriter cover over a suspect's head, the indictment said. Fitzgerald emphasized that prosecutors are not necessarily claiming Hobley was tortured.

Hobley was on Illinois' Death Row for the murders of his wife, child and five others in a 1987 arson on the South Side. In 2003, Gov. George Ryan pardoned him and three other Death Row inmates after they claimed they were tortured into giving murder confessions.

Edward Egan, a former appellate judge, and Robert Boyle, a former Cook County prosecutor, later were appointed as special Cook County prosecutors to investigate the torture allegations. In 2006, they released a report that found Hobley probably was lying about torture.

Last year, federal authorities launched a new investigation of the 1987 arson -- and whether Hobley was involved.

Egan and Boyle's $7 million investigation concluded that dozens of other suspects were tortured decades ago by Burge and his colleagues. Still, the special prosecutors said they were unable to bring charges against the former officers because the state's statute of limitations had expired.

Fitzgerald said the federal statute of limitations for torture also has expired. But the federal statute of limitations for perjury is five years. Prosecutors were able to charge Burge with perjury because he gave his statements in November 2003.

"If Al Capone went down for taxes, it's better than him going down for nothing," Fitzgerald said.

Flint Taylor, an attorney who represents some of Burge's alleged victims, said he was "extremely pleased and gratified that, so many years later, a U.S. attorney has made the move to indict the leader of the police torture ring. I presume some of his henchman will be charged, too."

Already, the torture claims have cost the city of Chicago millions of dollars. Hobley and the other three pardoned Death Row inmates sued the city and agreed to share nearly $20 million in a legal settlement.

In one lawsuit, Cook County Judge Dennis Dernbach is continuing to battle former Death Row inmate Leroy Orange in court. Orange accuses Dernbach of coaching his 1984 murder confession while Dernbach was an assistant state's attorney on the case. Dernbach denies the claim.

Natasha Korecki reported from Florida. Frank Main, Carol Marin and Shamus Toomey contributed from Chicago.

Feds punch hole in 'perjury trap,' statute of limitations excuses

October 22, 2008

BY ABDON M. PALLASCH Staff Reporter/
Can't be done -- it's too late.

That was the $7 million answer that a special prosecutor delivered two years ago in the case of former Chicago Police Cmdr. Jon Burge, accused with his men of torturing false confessions from as many as 148 defendants, most of them minorities, in the 1980s.

Attorneys for those who said they were tortured had argued that, even if the statute of limitations had expired for the torture, Burge and other officers and prosecutors who took part or cooperated in any such coerced confessions could be charged with lying under oath in civil suits.

Not practical, special prosecutors Ed Egan and Robert Boyle concluded after spending four years on a probe that ultimately cost $7 million. Burge and the others could get any perjury or conspiracy charges dismissed on a "perjury trap" defense, Egan and Boyle said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald made clear he disagrees.

"I don't know that the law has ever recognized a 'perjury trap,' " Chicago's top federal prosecutor said. "If it ever was recognized, this ain't one of them. People in this courthouse have received substantial sentences for perjury if convicted."

Experts say that, given that city of Chicago officials concluded Burge tortured people when they fired him, it should be easy enough to prove he perjured himself when he denied torture in written answers in a civil suit, especially if fellow officers come forward to testify.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dozens of companies, people get lifetime ban from city work

October 7, 2008

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter/
Twenty-five companies and 26 individuals -- most of them caught up in the Hired Truck and minority contracting scandals -- have been banned forever from doing business with the city.

"The city should be consistently sending the message that, no matter who you are and who you know, you'll be barred from benefiting from city contracts if you act unethically," said Inspector General David Hoffman, whose office investigated seven of the targeted firms.

"I don't think Procurement has ever taken action against this many companies and individuals. It's a step in the right direction and suggests a seriousness about debarment matters that is welcome."

The city contracting equivalent of the death penalty targets 20 individuals and 18 companies convicted of criminal offenses in federal court.

The Procurement Services Department's hit list includes: A. Affetto Trucking and Anthony Affetto; American Tank Inc. and Timothy Shrader; Cayla Trucking and owners Richard and Debra Coveliers; Elliott Inc. and Martin McDonagh; FRC Trucking and Frank Cannattello; Garfield Trucking and Richard Rylewicz and Charles Romano; Get Plowed, Inc. and owner Michael C. Jones; GNA Trucking and John Canatello; Joseph S. Ignoffo and Ignoffo Trucking; LR&C Truck Line and Leroy and Commelie Peters; R&V Trucking and Robert Mangiamele; Sarch Hauling Ltd. and Salvador Alverez.

The debarment list also includes Leahy & Assoc., John Leahy and Edward Wisniewski, co-defendants in the $100 million minority business fraud engineered by the mob-connected Duff family. It also targets companies involved in a fraudulent fence contract that victimized the Chicago Board of Education. They are: Tru-Link Fence and Products, Tru-Link Commercial, Inc. and owner James H. Levin; MPZ, MPZ Enterprise and MPZ Construction and James Picardi, brother of Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Michael Picardi.

Seven companies and associated individuals were never convicted, but nevertheless handed lifetime bans after Hoffman found "substantial evidence" that they had either forged documents as part of the minority certification process, obstructed investigators or otherwise de-frauded the city.

They include: Patricia Trucking; Victory Transport; Pitts Transportation; G& L Trucking, Inc. and ATS Decorators. Two other companies -- Chicago Sound and Joyce Ford -- were debarred earlier this year.

For years, Chicago Sound supplied sound equipment for city festivals. According to Hoffman, the company was partly owned by Lori Cole, whose father was one of the founders of Cole Taylor Bank. The city's investigation determined that Cole was not a legitimate women's business enterprise, the inspector general said.

Earlier this year, Chief Procurement Officer Montel Gayles found himself in hot water with Mayor Daley after issuing a three-year ban against James Duff, head of a mob-connected family that became the poster child for minority business fraud in Chicago.

Hours after defending a penalty that African-American aldermen condemned as a slap on the wrist, Gayles fell on his sword and ordered the permanent debarment that Hoffman recommended more than a year ago.

"The Department of Procurement Services, along with the Office of the Inspector General, is committed to eliminating misconduct and fraud from city contracting," Gayles said Monday in a press release.