Monday, July 28, 2008

Sheriff's officer faces firing over FBI data

July 27, 2008

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart will move to fire an officer charged by federal authorities with illegally using an FBI computer database to obtain information about a drug dealer.

Authorities said Rodney Quinn accessed the National Crime Information Center database using a sheriff's mobile-data terminal on May 8, 2003. Quinn searched for information about the drug dealer's 1998 Ford Expedition, even though he did not have an official reason to do so, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors did not say what Quinn did with the information.

Quinn, a sheriff's employee since 2002, has been on desk duty for three years as the FBI investigated, sheriff's spokesman Steve Patterson said.

Frank Main

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Feds say contractor attacked FBI agent

MINORITY FRAUD PROBE | Franklin Park firm was being served with search warrant

July 22, 2008

The owner of a Franklin Park construction company has been charged with assaulting a federal agent who was attempting to execute a search warrant as part of a joint city-federal investigation of alleged minority business fraud.

John Esposito, owner of National Concrete Pipe in the near west suburb, is accused of "pushing, rushing at and engaging in a physical struggle" with Special FBI Agent Brian Etchell last Thursday.

Federal agents had arrived at National Concrete to investigate allegations that the company had lied about its minority subcontractors to satisfy the City of Chicago's minority set-aside requirement.

According to an affidavit filed by FBI agent Alan W. Reiner, who accompanied Etchell, the agents asked Esposito during a "voluntary interview" whether "another business was acting as a fraudulent minority business enterprise, functioning as an improper pass-through" for National Concrete Pipe.

Esposito reportedly denied the allegation and invited the agents to follow him to "an outdoor area on the grounds of his business to show us what he claimed was inventory belonging to the MBE," the affidavit states.

When Etchell pointed to what appeared to be a new sign and asked how long it had been there, Esposito reportedly used a profanity and pushed the agent.

"Esposito then rushed at Special Agent Etchell. Esposito was then on top of Special Agent Etchell on the ground. The two continued to struggle," Reiner's affidavit states.

"I jumped on Esposito and attempted to pull him off. Several workers of the business then arrived and assisted me in separating" the two men. The attack reportedly left Etchell with only minor injuries.

The affidavit says federal agents "had received information as part of the FBI investigation that the sign and the inventory area supposedly belonging to the MBE had been recently added in response to an interview from a representative from another government agency."

Esposito could not be reached.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Lynwood issuing tickets for baggy pants

By Alan Krashesky LYNWOOD (WLS) -- It's another one of those clothing trends that some teens love and many parents hate.
And now one Chicago suburb is taking its dislike of those below the hip saggy pants to a new level by banning them and handing out tickets.
"They just rolled up on us and told us to come here. And they didn't say why, so we didn't come. So then, we came to them, and they put us in the back of the car," said Antonio, 19, ticketed for wearing baggy pants, recounting a recent experience with south suburban Lynwood police. " We went to the station. They wrote out these tickets, and now we got to go to this little Lynwood court thing."
He is one of the first to be ticketed under a week-old ordinance that outlaws baggy pants and carries a $25 fine. Lynwood Mayor Eugene Williams says he wants his growing community to keep an upscale appeal to help attract businesses.
"It makes it very hard to drive through the neighborhood with a retailer and show him where he could possibly locate a store, and you've got people walking around that have no regard to anything," Williams said.
"In this case, I think it's very clear who the police are going to interact with. They're going to interact with young men of color because it tends to be young men of color who wear their pants this way. This is really the worst kind of racial profiling," said Ed Yohnka, American Civil Liberties Union.
Regardless of the motive for the ordinance, Yohnka said this ordinance opens the door to trouble.
Mayor Williams denies the ordinance has racial undertones. He says after being raised in Chicago's Robert Taylor projects and teaching in Chicago public schools for more than 20 years, the new ordinance is more about tough love. Some residents don't buy it.
"He can't raise my kids. And I love my mayor. I voted for him. But he's wrong on this one," said Margaret Liddell, Lynwood resident.
Some other residents say they believe in a tough economy, this is just a creative way for the village to make money. The mayor denies that allegation. He also says some parents have thanked him

Governor: Chicago might need National Guard help

CHICAGO -- Governor Rod Blagojevich is raising the possibility of bringing in Illinois State Police troopers or even the National Guard to help Chicago fight a recent increase in violence.
Blagojevich says he'll meet with state police, National Guard and other officials later in the day to discuss the options.
The governor says Chicago Mayor Richard Daley hasn't asked for help, but Blagojevich says he'll call the mayor once he has some concrete suggestions about what help he can provide.
The governor didn't have many specifics, but he says it's more likely that state police will be brought in than the National Guard.

Blagojevich also says there are a lot of retired Chicago police officers and state police troopers who could be rehired for the summer.

Weis says cops worry about suspensions

BY FRAN SPIELMAN City Hall Reporter
Embattled Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis emerged unscathed from a day-long City Council inquisition today, but not before disclosing a troubling trend: Police officers are being less aggressive as violent crime rises because they’re afraid of piling up citizen complaints.

“I think he’ll survive — and he should,” said Police Committee Chairman Isaac Carothers (29th), who put the rookie superintendent on the hot seat.

Standing alongside Carothers, Weis said, “This has been made out to be confrontational-type thing —and it wasn’t. I don’t mind tough questions. The city … has the right to ask tough questions — especially when our crime is up nearly 13 percent. I’m not happy with that. I’m gonna do everything I can to bring it down.Ó

Weis acknowledged the contradictory trends of rising crime and less aggressive policing under Perry Mason-style questioning from Carothers.

The alderman recited a string of statistics that Weis did not challenge. Compared to this time last year, Chicago has had 28 more homicides, 2,626 more gang disturbances, 1,210 more reports of a person with a gun, 7,136 more reports of shots fired and 473 more reports of narcotics sales.

With crime indicators headed upward, police should be more aggressive, but the opposite has occurred. Gang loitering interventions are down 1,163, narcotics loitering interventions have dropped 2,329, and police have taken 500 fewer guns off Chicago streets.

Carothers (29th) called it "de-policing," a condition that exists when officers Òstop doing their jobsÓ because they're afraid nobody has their back.

Weis took issue with the term. But he acknowledged being so concerned about the drop in arrests, he recently exhorted over 100 police officers to pick up the pace and "take back street corners" from gangs that refuse orders to disperse.

"I have heard from many officers that there is a degree of timidness -- that people are not maybe as engaged as they should be because of fears of lawsuits, fears of [complaints registered] being put against them by criminals and by other folks who are just trying to impugn their integrity," the superintendent said.

To reverse the trend, Weis said he has directed his command staff to "go out to roll calls to try and re-instill the confidence that we are here for our officers and to ask them to aggressively police." But he said, "I'm not naive. When officers have told me, 'It's tough out there. I don't want to get sued,' it's not unreasonable to believe that some officers might not be as aggressive as we need them to be."

Carothers blamed low morale that nosedived after Weis ordered an unprecedented housecleaning that swept out 21 of 25 district commanders and nearly all of the Police Department's top brass.

A career FBI agent brought in from the outside, Weis argued that you can't change the culture of an organization by leaving the same people in place and that change is better made "all at once."

Carothers summoned Weis to appear before his City Council committee to address the citywide surge in homicides and other violent crime that boiled over at Taste of Chicago. That's when four people were shot, one fatally, as the crowd from the city’s annual July 3rd concert and fireworks show was dispersing.

Today, Weis reiterated the policing plans tipped to aldermen during private meetings last week, as first disclosed by the Chicago Sun-Times.

He’s hoping to develop a methodology by the end of this year to realign at least some police beats or districts to get more officers into high-crime areas. And he plans to resurrect a "better trained, better supervised" version of the disgraced and disbanded Special Operations Section by changing the focus of so-called Targeted Response Units.

"I know there's a lot of negative things associated with that. But, not the concept. That was a very aggressive enforcement group that would go out and take weapons off the street and arrest a lot of bad guys. The failings were in, perhaps, a lack of leadership and a lack of centralized accountability. But the concept was strong,” he said.

As for the Taste debacle that infuriated Mayor Daley, Weis disclosed that there were 995 officers assigned there July 3, including 23 tactical teams and nine more added at the first sign of trouble.

That’s 399 more officers than were assigned to secure the annual fireworks show last year.

“We had never seen large groups of individuals coming in like that. … There’s too many people inside of a small area. Next year, we’re gonna see if we can limit that and control the access,” Weis said.

Ald. Sharon Dixon (24th) said she’s tired of the media’s laser-like focus on the Taste shootings when Lawndale residents are living in constant fear. She was not alone. Aldermen from across the city complained about rising crime and shortage of manpower.

“What happened at Taste happens every day where I live — every single day. If we were addressing the issues in the communities [like Lawndale], it probably wouldn’t escalate to the Taste,” Dixon said.

Relationship with cop gets attorney in trouble

A Kane County assistant state's attorney will be suspended for four weeks without pay for having a relationship with an officer who served as a witness in several of the prosecutor's cases.

County Prosecutor John Barsanti said he was tipped about the relationship between Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Lovig and the officer. Lovig eventually acknowledged the relationship.

Barsanti's office is conducting an internal investigation on the relationship. Maintaining such a relationship without disclosing it, is a violation of office policy, Barsanti said.

Lovig, 43, will start her suspension next month. Lovig has led the state's attorney's domestic-violence unit since 2002.

According to Barsanti, Lovig's relationship with the unnamed officer began in 2001, and the office has identified six cases in which the officer served as a witness.

Two of those cases resulted in acquittals, and two others ended with a guilty plea. The remaining two yielded convictions, and these may be retried.

One of them is already scheduled for a retrial. Duka Smith, 31, of Aurora, was convicted in April of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. His conviction was vacated last week, Barsanti said. A new court date has been set for July 17.

Additionally, Barsanti said he has informed the defense attorneys in each of the five other identified cases. The concern, he said, is that the defense attorneys, the judge and the jury deserve to know whether testimony given may be biased and whether it affected the outcome of the trial.

"We have an obligation to ensure that all parties in a criminal matter are treated fairly, including defendants, and that the interests of justice are served," he said.

The identity of the Aurora police officer was not released.

No immediate disciplinary action has been taken against the officer. "I am disappointed that the actions of our officer may have compromised justice being served in these cases," Chief Greg Thomas said.

Was old-style patronage more honest?

BY MARK BROWN Sun-Times Columnist
The lawyer who defended city patronage chief Robert Sorich on federal fraud charges says he faults Mayor Daley and the corporation counsel's office for the hiring procedures that sent his client to prison, which isn't to suggest he thinks they did anything wrong.

Meanwhile, the lawyer who prosecuted Sorich said he thinks the old-style Democratic Machine patronage system in effect in Chicago in the 1960s and '70s -- before the Shakman court decrees -- was "so much more honest" than Daley's underground patronage operation, which isn't to suggest he'd turn back the clock.

These were among the insights offered during a panel discussion Friday on the future of patronage hiring in light of Sorich's recently upheld conviction.

'He had a job to do'
The Better Government Association hosted the event -- bringing together Thomas Anthony Durkin, Sorich's lawyer, with Patrick Collins, the Sorich prosecutor -- for a rare outside-the-courtroom exchange, made possible by the fact that Collins is now in private practice and mostly free to speak his mind.

Rounding out the panel were Michael Shakman himself and former Chicago alderman-turned-radio host Cliff Kelley, but Durkin and Collins were the draw.

What actually convinced me to attend was word that former City Clerk James Laski was planning to be there, too, possibly in hopes of confronting Collins, the guy who sent him to prison for his role in the Hired Truck scandal.

Sure enough, Laski was hanging around the railing at the Harold Washington Library when we arrived and confirmed he wanted to see Collins.

Later, before the session started, heads turned as Laski made his way to the head table for his encounter with the guy who put him away.

Fireworks? No, entirely cordial.

"He had a job to do. It's as simple as that," Laski explained on the way back to his seat.

"And he said he read the book. He liked the book," Laski added, referring to his self-published tell-all.

System 'poorly thought out'
But back to the main event, much of it a rehash with Collins arguing for the umpteenth time that the prosecution of Sorich and three co-workers wasn't about patronage but rather about the fraudulent hiring practices that were used to enable a sub rosa patronage system.

Durkin reiterated for the umpteenth time his contention that prosecutors trying to nail Daley improperly swept up Sorich in an overreaching interpretation of federal fraud laws -- an argument rejected in April by a federal appeals court.

But they also set aside the usual script.

"There are very valid reasons the mayor has stated why he wanted to run the hiring out of the intergovernmental affairs office," Durkin offered at one point, then stopped himself when he remembered Daley's version of events was never made public during the trial.

"There's a document," he continued, apparently referring to a sealed account of the mayor's 2005 interview by federal investigators. "I've read it. I think there are some pretty valid reasons there."

"Do I condone the way they did this? No. I think it was improperly set up. I think it was poorly drafted and poorly thought out," Durkin said.

"This is what I do fault the mayor's office on. They could have set it up -- the way they did it -- correctly, and they didn't, and they should be faulted for that," he said. "But should Robert Sorich be in jail for 43 months? That's preposterous."

Earlier, he had observed: "I don't think Daley's motives in that were purely negative," another reference to the decision to allow Intergovernmental Affairs to oversee hiring and promotions, which we now know led to the system being rigged.

How it used to be
Collins said the hiring fraud investigation grew out of the Hired Truck scandal, in particular the prosecution of former Water Department boss Donald Tomczak.

Collins said he vividly recalled his first meeting with the once-powerful political operative, after Tomczak had decided to "flip" and become a cooperating witness.

"I gave him my little speech about telling the truth and how important it is. He says, 'Everything in the indictment is true. I did it all,' " Collins recounted.

And there are other things you don't know, Tomczak continued, proceeding to clue in investigators about how hiring and promotions were rigged.

Collins later observed that the patronage system in effect before the Shakman restrictions, when a letter from a sponsoring ward committeeman was routinely placed in a job applicant's city personnel file, was "so much more honest."

"There's some honesty in that, frankly, that was completely absent in this fraud system that was built, perpetuated and thrived for years," Collins said.

In a way, Durkin and Collins were saying the same thing. If the mayor had been aboveboard, his people wouldn't be in jail.

HDO is dead, but members still call shots

BY MARK BROWN Sun-Times Columnist

The Hispanic Democratic Organization is officially dead. The group that became known, feared and loathed by its initials -- HDO -- filed its Final Report this week with the Illinois State Board of Elections, legally terminating its activities as a political committee.

Some would say HDO has been effectively deceased since the federal Hired Truck investigation of City Hall began focusing attention on its activities in 2004.

But they would also tell you the group's individual members continue to carry on pretty much as before Hired Truck, just not as effectively since the federal heat made the organization and its leaders too hot to handle, shutting off its patronage and fund-raising pipeline.

At the peak of its power, HDO controlled hundreds of jobs and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations -- all with the de facto if not explicit blessing of Mayor Daley.

Before closing the books, the organization doled out its last $32,575.

Roosevelt Media, a company affiliated with HDO founder and chairman Victor Reyes, got the biggest check, $10,411, while his sister Virginia, a lawyer, was paid $4,772 for unspecified services. Another $7,000 went to Alberto Guevara in connection with his brother Carlos Guevara's losing campaign this year against state Sen. Iris Martinez, one of several recent political rebukes to HDO.

The job holders, though, are still out there, still serving as loyal political armies in support of pretty much the same regional coordinators who controlled them during HDO's heyday. These HDO "cells" remain a potent political force, especially in legislative and aldermanic races.

In fact, for all the hoopla surrounding the federal investigation, it's notable how few of HDO's leaders were actually charged in connection with it.

The highest-ranking HDO leader indicted was former Streets and Sanitation Commissioner Al Sanchez, who ran a political street army of perhaps 100 patronage workers for HDO. A couple of his top lieutenants also got nailed.

Sanchez is scheduled to go on trial next March, and until his case is completed, nobody is ready to say for certain that the Hired Truck probe -- and its sister investigation of city hiring fraud -- are at an end. But many believe all signs point that way.

In case you've forgotten, Reyes has never been charged, even though he was named by the U.S. attorney's office as an unindicted "co-schemer" in the fraud trial of former City Hall patronage chief Robert Sorich and three associates.

Defense lawyer Tom Breen, who represents both Reyes and Sanchez but represented Reyes first, says he would not have taken Sanchez as a client if he "thought there was any chance of any charges being brought against Victor Reyes."

Others came to a similar conclusion when federal prosecutors raised no objection to Breen taking Sanchez's case. Often under those circumstances, they will complain about a conflict of interest.

Reyes left city employment in 2002, and it's possible the statute of limitations has run out on any potential case against him, although Breen won't make that assertion.

Instead, he says: "Quite frankly, I don't know what he would have done wrong."

Some of us assumed Reyes did everything Sorich did and more, but obviously, the U.S. attorney's office felt the evidence against him was weaker. The hiring fraud case stalled when Sorich declined to cooperate against higher-ups. Sorich is now serving a 43-month prison sentence.

A federal appeals court recently upheld the Sorich verdict -- and the legal theory under which the case was brought. Some speculate that will breathe new life into the city investigations, and as much as I'd like to think that, I've seen no signs of it.

There haven't been any indications Sanchez is inclined to turn "flipper" on his old associates either.

As one of its last acts when it still had some real money, HDO paid $140,000 to Breen's law firm in late 2006, partly as a retainer for future services. Breen declined to say whether the money was to be applied to representing Reyes or Sanchez or both.

In the meantime, there aren't a lot of outward signs Reyes' career was thrown off kilter by the federal attention. His political consulting firm continues to report an extensive list of lobbying clients in Springfield and City Hall, and he's still listed as a director of Park Bancorp.

The political officeholders most closely connected to HDO have continued to get re-elected, although they have been unable to extend their reach in efforts to pick off those deemed disloyal. A reminder: HDO was never as much about Hispanic political empowerment as about which Hispanics would have the power.

So, HDO is dead. Ding-dong?