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Posted: 8/27/2001 11:02:45 AM EDT
[url]chicagotribune.com/news/chi-0108140213aug14.story[/url] Officers guilty in shakedowns Polish immigrant sting ensnares 2 By Janan Hanna and Eric Ferkenhoff Tribune staff reporters Published August 14, 2001 Two veteran Chicago police officers were sentenced to probation Monday after pleading guilty to shaking down undercover federal agents who were posing as Polish immigrants and pretended to be drunk as they walked out of bars and clubs. The guilty pleas from Officers Steven G. Miller, 56, and William Tortoriello, 51, came as new details emerged in court documents about what happened outside a club on the Northwest Side that formed the foundation of the case against the officers. According to the documents, the officers approached the agents, posing as patrons of the club, asked for identification and then took hundreds of dollars from them. The undercover operation by federal authorities and police internal affairs investigators was launched amid widespread complaints from Polish immigrants that they had been systematically victimized by police. Many of the victims were reluctant to cooperate with state and federal authorities, who had captured numerous shakedowns and shakedown attempts on video, said Assistant State's Atty. Nancy Donahoe. "Can we blame them," one police investigator familiar with the case said. "One day the police are robbing you, the next day they want to talk to you." Authorities said nine officers were targeted, though only four were charged. Two other officers, James Petruzzi, 48, and Michael Simpson, 52, are awaiting trial, and prosecutors said the investigation is continuing. One police officer under investigation committed suicide last November. Probation and fines Under the terms of a plea agreement reached with prosecutors, the two officers were each sentenced to serve 30 months' probation and ordered to pay $1,000 in fines by Cook County Circuit Judge Mary Ellen Coghlan. Official misconduct carries a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison. In exchange for the guilty pleas, theft charges were dismissed against the officers. Donahoe said prosecutors considered the fact that the officers will lose their pensions and will never be able to work as police officers in agreeing to the deal. The case against the officers followed a nearly three-year probe that was cut short when two Jefferson Park officers--apparently unconnected to the probe--discovered surveillance equipment in two police vehicles in the Northwest Side police district. Sources have said many of the same officers had come under investigation for similar crimes while they worked together in the neighboring Grand-Central District. But that probe stopped, apparently after the officers learned of the investigation.
Link Posted: 8/27/2001 11:04:04 AM EDT
(continued) Investigators familiar with the federal probe said the officers likely stole thousands of dollars running shakedown scams over the past several years. They said some of the money was spent on gambling trips and recreational boats. Miller and Tortoriello are not expected to cooperate in the ongoing investigation, said defense lawyer Terry Gillespie, who represented both officers. "There was no deal that in exchange for their plea they would cooperate," Gillespie. "They just took their medicine. They bit the bullet and they're going on with their lives." He characterized the conduct of his clients as aberrations during otherwise unblemished careers. No conspiracy alleged Both Gillespie and Donahoe said the federal and state probe has not produced evidence that the police officers--those charged and those under investigation--were operating in concert, conspiring to defraud immigrants in the Jefferson Park neighborhood. But to many in the Polish American community, the officers' conduct smacked of an organized effort to target vulnerable new immigrants who feared retribution if they complained about being robbed. Police have said some of the victims were threatened with deportation if they didn't turn over cash or jewelry to the officers. "Obviously this is an issue that was much greater than just stopping an individual and asking for some money," Les Kuczynski, general counsel at the Polish National Alliance and national executive director of the Polish American Congress, said Monday. "Obviously this was against the Polish community in a district that had a lot of immigrants, a lot of fear that the police were not there to protect and serve, but rather to take advantage. ... It's not a rogue police officer taking advantage of one citizen; it was a concerted effort." Court documents filed in the case reveal that Miller and Tortoriello brazenly abused their power to confront and interrogate the suspected Polish immigrants. The Cardinal Club At 4:30 a.m. on March 12, 2000, Tortoriello targeted FBI Special Agent George Ragus, who was posing as a patron at the Cardinal Club, 5155 W. Belmont Ave. As Ragus left the club and began stumbling toward his car, Tortoriello asked him where he was going and whether he was in any condition to drive, according to court records. Tortoriello then requested identification from Ragus, grabbed his wallet, inspected his driver's license and removed $280. Tortoriello kept $100, told Ragus to put the rest of the money in his pocket, and then placed Ragus in a squad car and drove him to the address listed on his license. In a similar fashion, Miller confronted Special Agent Milan Momcilovic on April 9, 2000, as he emerged from the Cardinal Club. After Miller grabbed his wallet, Momcilovic told Miller that he was planning to use the money in his wallet to buy a new car for his grandmother in Milwaukee, according to court documents. Miller took $200.
Link Posted: 8/27/2001 11:04:39 AM EDT
(continued) The same agent was stopped 30 minutes later, this time by Tortoriello, who questioned Momcilovic about whether he used drugs, according to court records. After asking for identification, Tortoriello took $300 from Momcilovic's wallet and sent him on his way, cautioning him to be careful. As Momcilovic began walking away from the officer, he was groping in his pockets and told the officer he was looking for his money. Tortoriello approached Momcilovic and returned the money, placing the $300 in Momcilovic's back pocket. With their guilty pleas, Miller, who resigned from the force late last year, and Tortoriello, who resigned earlier this year, have forfeited an estimated $500,000 each in pension benefits and will not be permitted to work in law enforcement again, police and prosecutors said. "Their pensions are history, they're through," said police spokesman Pat Camden. Police officials noted that any officer convicted of a state felony charge automatically loses pension benefits. A conviction in federal court does not result in the same automatic loss.
Link Posted: 8/27/2001 11:07:24 AM EDT
There is nothing wrong with being able to bribe a cop in Chicago. It can even work out to your advantage. It has always been know that Chicago cops are very easily turned away by the site of $100 bills, in the back seat of your car. C-rock
Link Posted: 8/27/2001 11:15:47 AM EDT
Why else? [url]http://home.earthlink.net/~thegardenweasel/imbrotheme.wav[/url]
Link Posted: 8/27/2001 11:20:54 AM EDT
Jefferson Park, Chicago. The 41st. Ward. Well that's hittin' real damn close to home.
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