December 2009 News: The Chicago Criminal Law Blog

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December 2009 Archives

Man Pleads Guilty to Dog Theft

Anything that can be sold can be stolen. And while most dog owners consider their loyal companions more like family members than property, anyone charged with stealing a dog (or any pet, for that matter) gets the same charge as if he or she stole a microwave oven or a bottle of vodka.

Unless, however, one of the stolen animals turns up injured or dead (Daily Herald).

The debate over whether a group of university students investigating a 1987 murder conviction paid witnesses to say what they wanted to hear reminds me of the late, great crime drama "The Wire." Specifically, I'm reminded of the drug-addicted but principled (and reliable) police informant Bubbles.

But first, a recap:

As has been widely reported, Northwestern University journalism students affiliated with the Chicago-based Innocence Project claim to have compiled evidence proving that Anthony McKinney was wrongly convicted and imprisoned (31 years) for a crime he did not commit. Prosecutors, on the other hand, say that's baloney and now are accusing the students of paying witnesses for testimony that helps their cause. 

Anyone who's seen the 1990s film "Trainspotting" remembers the gruesome scene in which an otherwise healthy infant dies from days (weeks?) of neglect because her drug-addicted parents were constantly nodding-off from hard narcotics.

That was a work of fiction, but the humanity-draining qualities of heroin and similarly hard drugs are very real.  

There are better ways to get home on a brisk, snowy evening than punching an off-duty cop and taking her car at gunpoint (Fox Chicago). The officer suffered only minor injuries and is expected to recover just fine.

But the 17-year-old boy charged with the crime really knows how to inspire sympathy, telling police: "I was walking home and I was very cold. I didn't want to walk home."

So he allegedly pulled a gun on a woman, grabbed her keys, jacked her upside the head and drove off in her car. Who wouldn't?

Damage done to All Saints Episcopal Church in Ravenswood certainly was intentional. The assailant broke a stained glass window, fed a garden hose through the opening and flooded part of the building, according to a Tribune article. The crime was committed against a house of worship, but was it a hate crime?

It's anything but a simple question.

A Kane County attorney (NBC Chicago) found guilty of ripping off her partner, whom she met through their church, no doubt set off a wave of groans among Illinois attorneys.

La Fox resident Ann Day was convicted by a jury on 12 counts of theft and 16 counts of forgery for lifting more than $137,000 from partner Karen Tietz. Day's former partner Tietz was quoted as saying "I'm glad she'll spend Christmas in jail."

Chicago Mobster Goes Back To The Slammer

Maybe my sense of what the mob is really like has been warped by too many Martin Scorcese and Francis Ford Coppola movies, but I was a little surprised to read about the guilty plea of 54-year-old Mario Rainone (Daily Herald) for felony residential burglary.

I mean, all his fellow gangsters have to do is provide some, uh, "incentives" for the members of the jury -- just one will do -- and hope for a mistrial. No such luck for Rainone, though, who was sentenced last week to 7 1/2 years in prison.

Rainone is widely believed to be a member of the notorious gang known as The Chicago Outfit (American Mafia), or simply "The Outfit" made famous by Al "Scarface" Capone.

The insanity defense is often used to deflect responsibility for heinous crimes and sometimes it's simply a desperate attempt to stay out of prison. Remember the so-called "Twinkie defense" successfully used by a San Francisco supervisor, where he blamed the cold-blooded murder of activist Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone on temporary insanity caused by too much sugar?

But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, as with Judge Joseph Condon's ruling of not guilty by reason of insanity in the case of a Crystal Lake man who told police he tried to kill his girlfriend because she had become the devil.

Old-time Chicagoans, at least those who were here in 1980s, may recall the fatal shooting of political powerhouse Jay Given (Northwest Indiana Journal) at the Jockey Club in East Chicago, Indiana. He was shot in the back of the head as he headed outside for a cigarette.

Retired Indiana State Police detective Ray Vukas, who worked on the murder case with Chicago Police, described the case (Northwest Indiana Journal) as a mess from the start.

First, let's go back to the evening of May 15, 1981.

Gov. Pat Quinn may have signed (Vending Times) Illinois' Video Gaming Act into law over the summer, but it appears as if state lawmakers' efforts to use video lottery terminals (VLTs) to help close the estimated $9 billion budget gap have hit a major snag.

More than two-dozen Illinois cities so far have passed ordinances banning video gambling for different reasons, but mostly in response to concerns about the role of organized crime in the VLT market voiced by the Chicago Crime Commission (PDF). The organization, joined by activists and a few elected officials, have organized in opposition to the video lottery law under the moniker Coalition Against Neighborhood Gambling.

The state is planning to put 45,000 video gambling machines throughout the state. Cook County Board Commissioner Bridget Gainer was quoted in the Chicago Crime Commission press release as saying she understands the need to raise revenue, but believes video gaming would only expand the reach of organized crime in the state.

"It is imperative that those charged with regulating video gambling in Illinois thoroughly understand that video poker has left a wake of crime and bankruptcy in every state that has legalized it."

Motorist Takes 'Mama Bear' Role Too Far

We all want the best for our children: A safe and secure home, opportunities to excel in school, meaningful relationships with peers and above all, happiness. And if some jerk was dancing with your son's girlfriend at a party, you would track him down with your car and pin him up against a wall until he stopped breathing, too, wouldn't you? 

No, you wouldn't (right?). 

That would be taking the mama bear role way too far. But that is exactly what police say 33-year-old Streamwood mother Timera Branch allegedly did (The Grio). Now she remains in custody on a $1 million bond, facing first-degree murder charges that could put her away for at least 20 years.

 

As cell phones become sophisticated to the point where they're fully functional computers, boasting prices to match, the tiny wonders have become targets for theft. Most of the cost is diverted to the service contract, but Apple's popular iPhone 3G costs about $300, Palm's Pre costs $150 and the Blackberry Bold is about $200.

They're a pickpocket's dream come true, although many of the reported thefts have been committed with brute force. 

The arrest of Rogers Park teenager Anthony Williams (Fox Chicago), accused of multiple thefts of expensive "smart" phones is a case in point. He allegedly stole fancy phones, one valued at $500, from at least two women on the North Side.

Firefighter Convicted In Gas Meter Scam

A Chicago firefighter found a crafty way to reduce his home gas bills without reducing his carbon footprint. He took the gas meter from a burned out house (he presumably helped put out the fire) and used a false social security number to secure free gas service at his home (Fox Chicago).

Gotta give the guy points for creativity, but the gravy train couldn't last forever. He was convicted of I.D. theft, two counts of forgery, fraud, official misconduct and theft. He'll be sentenced on Jan. 25 and faces two to five years of probation.

Raise your hand if you ever drank alcohol before your 21st birthday. Okay, leave it up if your mom or dad ever gave you a beer or a glass of wine before your 21st birthday. Right, most of us are not such pollyannas that we actually waited until that magical age.

Is dad a reckless monster for giving you that glass of Merlot with dinner when you were 16? Of course not, but the law has to draw a line somewhere and technically that is illegal. It falls under the broader offense of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, a misdemeanor. 

Just don't let the cops see you do it.

But under no circumstances should you do what Far South Side resident Ameenah Williams allegedly did (Fox Chicago) when she was approached by the police, who saw two 14-year-old boys walking on the sidewalk with cans of beer.

Bicyclist Killed In Road Rage Incident

What is it about being in an automobile that makes otherwise civil, reasonable people completely lose their minds if someone, say, cuts them off?

Sure, it's annoying when other motorists tailgate, drive too slow in the left lane, fail to signal, etc. But driving is the single most dangerous activity we do on a day-to-day basis, so it pays to keep cool and channel that anger in non-destructive ways.

Senseless, primal road rage allegedly was the culprit of 32-year-old bicyclist Jepson Livingston's death (Tribune) in Logan Square.

It's official. After weeks of prison tours by federal officials and hysterical grandstanding by politicians, the federal government has finally chosen a new home for detainees (Chicago Public Radio) currently housed at Cuba's Guantanamo Bay maximum security facility: Thomson, Illinois.

Roughly 100 detainees suspected of terrorism-related offenses, many of them scooped up during the initial invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, will be held at the new state prison. Thomson is in a remote part of northwestern Illinois, about 150 miles from Chicago.

Anyone arrested on suspicion of committing a crime has the right to pay a sum of money in exchange for release from custody, unless the judge decides custody is in the best interests of the community (suspected serial killers, for example). It's called posting bail and it happens all the time.

But a McHenry County judge would like to know (Daily Herald) how suspected marijuana grower Phillip Koeckritz, 35, was able to cough up $10,000 cash in three weeks. Judge Joseph Condon is particularly curious in light of comments Koeckritz made that he was too poor to afford a lawyer.

Trio of Banks Robbed Without Incident

It's amazing that criminals still rob banks, given the current state of security technology and the fact that perpetrators rarely get away with it anymore. But these are desperate times and, as notorious bank robber Willie Sutton once said, "that's where the money is."

Enough said. And as long as banks are where the money is, criminals will do everything they can rob them, including a recent pair of bank robberies in suburban Chicago (Sun-Times) and another one downtown (Tribune).

Neither of the three robberies were particularly creative, just the old standby of a note demanding cash and threatening gun violence and/or a bomb. But apparently that method still gets results, although neither story said how much loot the thieves made off with.

John Haley likely never intended to kill 62-year-old fisherman Du Doan (Sun-Times) when he sneaked up behind him and pushed the Vietnamese immigrant and Vietnam War veteran into Lake Michigan two years ago. But now the 33-year-old man convicted of involuntary manslaughter has 10 years to think about what went wrong.

It's not clear what motivated Haley to push the man into the frigid waters in Septemeber 2007, other than he was drunk and bored. He also pushed another man (Tribune), Ronald Squires (age unknown), into the same harbor one month earlier. Squires swam to safety and testified at trial.

Doan could not swim and drowned shortly after Haley pushed him from behind.

Here's one way to cut costs in the cash-strapped State of Illinois: Give inmates, including violent and otherwise dangerous criminals, get-out-jail-early cards. But to avoid public outrage over the early release of armed robbers, repeat drunk-drivers and other unsavory characters, it's probably best not to say too much.

A secret change in Gov. Pat Quinn's prison policy (Sun-Times), reported by the Associated Press and the Sun-Times, tried to do just that.

Evidence paints a gruesome, if hazy picture of what happened: The shooting deaths of two women, a botched robbery and the paralyzation of a third victim. The puzzle pieces are just starting to fall into place as to why last weekend's tragic events (ABC 7 Chicago) took place.  

Lead suspect James Amison, 37, was charged with murdering Stephanie Reed, his wife; the attempted murder of his father, James Johnson, who was severely injured from gunshot wounds; the attempted robbery of Far South Side nightclub and may yet be charged with the strangulation murder of Tashika Smith, with whom Amison had had a relationship.

Twenty-two-year-old Samantha Tumpach made headlines when she was arrested on suspicion of attempting to record the popular film "Twilight: New Moon" (The Chicago Criminal Law Blog) with her camcorder. That was not her intention, but officials take these things very seriously.

She could have faced a three-year prison term for the felony, and already served two days in a Cook County jail, but charges against her finally were dropped (Sun-Times).

Chicago Police Seize 670 Pounds of Dope

Patience paid off for the Narcotics Section of the Chicago Police when, after two days of surveillance, they arrested two men that led to the seizure of about 670 pounds of marijuana (Fox Chicago) worth an estimated $2 million at the retail level.

Police were tipped off by the Drug Enforcement Administration that Jose Bazaldua was a member of a Mexican drug-smuggling operation. After starting a surveillance detail of Bazaldua and his associates, they watched him drive to a truck yard in Stickney and accept "large bales of cellophane-wrapped packages."

Many Chicagoans and Americans in general absolutely love their dogs, so much so that news of NFL quarterback Michael Vick's conviction on dog fighting charges (ESPN) caused national outrage. But even though Vick served his time and astoundingly was hired by another team, the gruesome crime persists throughout the country.

Two Maywood men who pleaded guilty to felony dog fighting charges, 38-year-old Martez Anderson and 27-year-old Lance Webb, were sentenced (ABC 7 Chicago) to two years and 18 months (respectively) in prison.

Artificial 'Agent' Arrested By Real Cops

People commit a wide variety of crimes for any number of reasons, often to gain financial advantage or just for kicks. Not to condone illegal activity or anything, but if you're going to break the law, shouldn't you determine if it's worth the punishment should you get busted? And if confronted by police, it's probably not a good idea to push your luck.

Apparently 46-year-old Laurence Bradley, of Hyde Park, didn't get the memo (Southtown Star). His alleged crime -- a felony charge of impersonating a peace officer -- falls into the "just for kicks" category, but at what price?

One of my favorite holiday cartoons is the original Chuck Jones production of Dr. Seuss's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (YouTube), in which the Grinch steals (among other things) Christmas trees from Whoville.

Life often imitates art, as police departments across the country say the struggling economy has prompted an uptick in theft from commercial tree lots (Fortune). But they're not trying to destroy Christmas and the cut trees are just like any other merchandise.

However, the theft of Carpenter Park's (formerly) living Christmas tree (NBC Chicago), an 8-foot-tall Colorado Blue Spruce planted as part of Carpentersville's 2007 Arbor Day celebration, shows signs of extreme Grinchiness.

Feds Raid Mob-Linked Video Poker Bars

Governor Pat Quinn signed a bill earlier this summer to legalize video poker and help the state raise much-needed revenue. They won't be up and running until 2010, but you can already feed your hard-earned dollars into a "speakeasy" video poker machine in Chicagoland today.

The legalization of video poker in Illinois, otherwise good news for gambling enthusiasts, threatens to upend a staple source of cash for the Chicago mob.

Calvin Hollins, Jr. and Dwain Kyles, owners of the former E2 nightclub (Sun-Times) where 21 patrons died as a result of a stampede, will both serve two-year prison sentences for a housing court violation.

The second floor to the club was barred from use months before the deadly incident but Hollins and Kyles ignored the court order. On Feb. 17, 2003, a security guard shot pepper spray into a crowd in an attempt to break up a fight but instead triggered a stampede down the stairs leading to the first floor exit.

Shortly after his arrest in early 2000, Andre Crawford gave videotaped confessions about his rape and murder of 11 South Side women between 1993 and 1999. A twelfth woman, allegedly the only survivor of Crawford's brutal crime spree, recently testified (Tribune) about her violent rape and near-murder.

Photos of the woman's face following the attack -- "hair matted with blood around a gaping wound" -- also were shown in the Cook County courtroom during her testimony. She spent four months in a hospital recovering from her serious wounds. 

Internet-Savvy Mugger Nabbed By Police

The popular online classified ad board Craigslist is useful for selling, buying, dating, networking -- you name it. Personally, I've sold a car, bought a computer, found a new home for a rooster and landed freelance work using the popular site.

But Internet-savvy, 20-year-old Chicago resident Dwayne Williams (Tribune) allegedly found another use: Luring unsuspecting victims to a dark alley to be robbed at gunpoint after responding to ads for televisions and other merchandise.

It may not seem like such a big deal -- and her case may receive some merciful treatment -- but harsh penalties for covertly taping feature films in the theater are meant to dissuade would-be pirates. A 22-year-old Chicago woman's alleged attempt to record the popular vampire flick "Twilight: New Moon" (Sun-Times) landed her in the Rosemont jail for two nights. 

But Samantha Tumpach's adventures in the criminal justice system have only just begun.

Just as it became crystal clear that last year's attack that killed 166 people in the massive Indian city of Mumbai was carried out by Pakistani terrorists, the plot thickens (Reuters):

U.S. prosecutors accused David Headley, the first American charged in the Mumbai plot, of performing surveillance for the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is blamed for the November 2008 Mumbai rampage on hotels and a Jewish center.

Not only is Headley a US citizen, but he's also a Chicago resident. Pakistani-born Headley spent most of his childhood in Pakistan, where he was raised by his father.

One can hardly blame Rudy Fratto, who pled guilty to federal charges of tax evasion, for delaying his sentencing hearing. I mean, if you had the financial weight of the Chicago Outfit behind you (and all the legal resources that affords), as police suspect, and faced time in a federal prison, wouldn't you?

Chicago Outfit gangsters have done everything from faking heart attacks and strokes to "babbling incoherantly as if possessed by an evil spirit," according to an entry on the Chicago Syndicate organized crime blog.

But this move just reeks of desperation.

An irate woman at a Tinley Park supermarket is being investigated for a hate crime (Tribune) after allegedly pulling on a Muslim woman's traditional head scarf, or hijab (Wikipedia). The incident happened on Nov. 7, just days after the fatal shootings at Fort Hood, Texas that left 13 soldiers dead.

Muslim leaders expressed deep concern that just this kind of backlash against Middle Easterns in general would occur in the aftermath of the attacks, which allegedly were carried out by Muslim Army Major Nidal Hasan.  

I doubt too many Chicago criminal defense attorneys are jumping at the chance to represent a 70-year-old man nabbed with two bottles of expensive champagne in his jacket. But you have to hand it to him, at least he has good taste.

And since the suspect in question has 62 prior arrests, according to an Associated Press article, perhaps it makes more sense to make his considerable risk of prison time worth the effort. Seriously, what self-respecting, seasoned liquor thief would trade his freedom for cheap wine (the name of the $135-per-bottle champagne was not disclosed in the article)?

It's becoming increasingly difficult for dirty cops to hide their cowardly deeds, as the growing ubiquity of cameras (cell phones, cheap camcorders, etc.) has proven. A 250-pound Chicago police officer named Anthony Abbate (Tribune), for example, was caught on video beating up 125-pound bartender Karolina Obrycka.

For those of you who don't want to watch the the whole video (Tribune), which is quite disturbing, here are some highlights and a recap by the Associated Press:

 

Abbate was convicted for the felony aggravated battery of Obrycka, but served no jail time, and now faces a civil suit.

All 29-year-old Derrick Barringer (Fox Chicago) sought was a pair of gloves and a clipboard, according to police reports, but he wanted to make sure he did it right. So what does a forward-thinking car thief bring along with him? A "how-to" guide, of course.

Despite the snarky headline, Barringer did not order his book from Amazon but was found toting a homemade guide for how to successfully break into cars without getting caught.

Did Chicago Police Sergeant John Pallohusky misunderstand the purpose of the Chicago Police Sergeant's Association fund when he allegedly helped himself to $1 million (Tribune)? Sure, he's a Chicago Police sergeant, but it was for all of the sergeants and theft of this magnitude is nothing at all like lifting a ten spot from the office slush fund.

Barring a guilty plea, he'll now have the opportunity to tell a jury what was going through his mind when he allegedly skimmed (more like scooped) more than a half-million dollars from the organization for which he was a board member and president.

Andrea Thomas, a 16-year-old junior at Carver Military Academy, was attacked and left for dead by several women with knives and baseball bats over the weekend. Now she's conscious and talking (Tribune), raising hopes among her family members and the police that she'll be able to help bring all of the attackers to justice.

So far she hasn't talked about the stabbing and she remains in critical condition, according to the article.

Bloody Holiday Weekend Claims 12

At least 13 people were murdered in the Chicago area (CBS Chicago) during the Thanksgiving weekend (between last Wednesday and Sunday night), including two murder-suicides that claimed a total of five lives. The article details 12 gun-related deaths even though the headline only mentions nine.

It began at about 5:00 p.m. last Wednesday when 18-year-old Shannon Moore was found lying on the ground with multiple gunshot wounds. Witnesses say they heard a loud argument followed by gunshots. Moore died three days later at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

A shooting at an Englewood gas station early on Thanksgiving morning left one man dead. An unidentified man approached 21-year-old Ricky Coleman and fired several shots. Police so far have no suspects.

Friday was the bloodiest, with two suspected murder-suicides.   

Sometimes it's okay to laugh at reported crimes, especially when no one gets hurt. A recent incident that gives new meaning to the term "Black Friday" is a real gem: A Chicago man was charged with assault and property damage for allegedly smashing TVs and cameras with a hammer (Fox Minnesota) at a Winona, Minnesota Target store.

But it wasn't just vandalism. Witnesses say 39-year-old Jerome Eberle really put on a show until he was finally tasered and taken into custody by police.