A federal probe of court corruption sets the standard for future investigations.
|Judge Richard LeFevour was sentenced to twelve years in prison for his role in the Greylord scandal, which revealed corruption within Cook County’s court system. He was convicted of taking thousands of dollars in bribes to fix traffic cases. (Tribune photo by Frank Hanes)|
One lawyer in the room–Terrence Hake–was not surprised by the news. Disgusted with the corruption that permeated the Cook County court system, he had become the FBI’s mole in its unprecedented investigation of judicial corruption. First as a prosecutor and later as a defense lawyer, Hake had burrowed into the dark side of justice, handing out bribes to fix cases concocted by the FBI.Four months after the Greylord investigation was revealed, the first indictments were announced, naming two judges, a former judge, three attorneys, two court clerks and a police officer. “I believe this will be viewed as one of the most comprehensive, intricate and difficult undercover projects ever undertaken by a law-enforcement agency,” U.S. Atty. Dan Webb said in announcing those charges.
The allegations ranged from fixing drunken-driving cases to more serious felony charges. One lawyer was caught on tape bragging that “even a murder case can be fixed if the judge is given something to hang his hat on.” By the end of the decade, nearly 100 people had been indicted, and all but a handful were convicted. Of the 17 judges indicted, 15 were convicted. The tally of convictions included 50 lawyers, as well as court clerks, police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
Greylord was not the first federal investigation of public corruption in Chicago, but it was a watershed in its use of eavesdropping devices and a mole to obtain evidence instead of relying on wrongdoers to become government informants.
Over the next several years, federal authorities launched similar investigations targeted at corruption in Chicago’s City Hall (including Operations Incubator and Silver Shovel), other governmental bodies (Operation Lantern) and organized crime (Operation Gambat and Safebet). Scores of public officials, including aldermen, judges and legislators, were convicted.