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January 2010 Archives

After a judge sentenced Rudy Fratto to a year in prison for the white collar crime of tax evasion, the widely suspected Chicago mobster showed off his healthy sense of humor when he said the following outside the courtroom (Sun-Times):

  "I'm a reputed good guy."    

Not that avoiding taxes on an estimated $800,000 over seven years is the mark of a "good guy," but Fratto tried to explain that he was living beyond his means as he made an honest effort to take care of his family.

He certainly knows how to hide money, though, as prosecutors were able to prove that Fratto had several firms pay him through the bank account of a defunct company he controlled.

Everyone should work in the service industry at least once in their life, assuming they'll one day move up from there. Working as a short-order cook, waitress, cashier or pizza driver cultivates humility and empathy. It's humbling work, to say the least, especially when berated or stiffed by customers.

But no one should have to experience what 20-year-old Pizza Hut delivery man Jonathan Kroning allegedly went through a couple of weeks ago (Sun-Times).

Authorities identified 20 residents in public nursing homes in the Chicago area who have outstanding arrest warrants ranging on from domestic violence to indecent exposure, many of them for felony charges. It is likely that many of them will need Chicago criminal attorneys. 

The raids came after the Chicago Tribune exposed the widespread abuse of nursing home residents. Twenty-five federal marshals, Chicago police officers and Cook County sheriff's officers took part in the sweeps; which were ordered by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

This case is very unusual for a number of reasons. Two young men were arrested about 30 minutes after they allegedly robbed a Payless Shoe Source in the South Side neighborhood of Chatham (Sun-Times).

According to the article, police say the two men entered the store at 8:47 p.m. with a makeshift handgun that was really "a staple gun or wrench" wrapped in duct tape. Then they announced that they were robbing the store.

Police say the surveillance video footage shows how one of the accused robbers had forgotten to pull down his ski mask before entering the store, "so he pulled it down real quick -- so the eye holes were off, causing him to begin stumbling around."

Just imagine that for a moment.

Widespread Check-Cashing Scheme Busted

Police agencies throughout the northwest suburbs have arrested nearly two dozen suspects for what they say was a $2 million fake payroll check-cashing scheme (Sun-Times). A flurry of suspicious checks throughout the area got the attention of police and sparked a wider fraud investigation. 

Those left holding the bag (i.e. worthless checks for which they paid out real cash) include Wal-Mart, Northwest Liquors in Elgin and All Credit Lenders.

The alleged ring leader of the crime scheme printed out counterfeit payroll checks, which were then cashed at several businesses across a four-county area (including Boone, Kane, McHenry and Winnebago). Ill-gotten cash was then laundered through area casinos, according to the article.

When Assault Becomes Battery

Many people believe an "assault" is pretty much the same thing as an "attack," and in some ways it is. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines assault as "a violent physical or verbal attack." But the legal definition of assault is much more in line with Webster's second definition: "a threat or attempt to inflict offensive physical contact or bodily harm on a person."

Definitions of legal terms are very precise and technical for good reason. If someone is charged with assault, the prosecution must prove it based on set elements of what constitutes the crime.

Illinois and the City of Chicago have some of the nation's most stringent gun laws, particularly the city's controversial ban on handgun sales currently in the crosshairs of the US Supreme Court. If it's so difficult to get a piece in the Second City, then why is gun violence here so rampant?

The answer may have something to do with Illinois' neighbor to the east, according to federal statistics (NWI.com).

Those convicted or who plead guilty to sex offenses, including rape and sexual assualt, must register with the state. But registered sex offenders still are eligible under Illinois law to hold a professional license, as overseen by Daniel Bluthardt, the state's Director of Professional Regulation (Fox Chicago).

Only massage therapists face revocation of their license when they register as sex offenders. But critics say sex offenders with other professional licenses, including a realtor who pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography  last year should face tighter scrutiny.

In an effort to crack down on crime on and around Chicago's extensive "El" train network, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) has installed cameras at 24 Green Line stations (AP, via bnd.com).  

While the CTA claims to now have 1,657 cameras at 73 stations, the agency hopes to have at least one camera at every station by the summer.

The CTA also announced a new pilot program to determine whether or not it makes sense to retrofit the train cars with cameras as well. Expected to begin this spring, the program will look at cost and efficiency concerns.

Was 2004 Police Shooting Justified?

Things don't always go as planned when cops make the decision to fire their weapons and sometimes innocent bystanders get hurt. Hindsight is 20/20, but it's no easy task determining whether or not shootings were justified.

More than five years after the fact, a Chicago Tribune investigation calls the actions of two officers who shot and injured a 13-year-old girl into question.

According to the officers, they chased an alleged gunman to the front door of a West Side residence, where he tried to ram his way into the doorway while turning and firing his pistol at the cops. One of the officers hid behind a tree and opened fire as soon as he stepped out.

2010 Law: School Threats Now Felonies

Call it a sign of the times. More than a decade after the tragic Columbine High School shootings in Colorado and a spate of similar shootings since, Illinois law now takes threats of destruction or violence against schools more seriously than ever.

House Bill 1105, which took effect on Jan. 1 of this year, changes school threats from a misdemeanor to a class 4 felony (CBS Chicago).

Just about anyone with functioning reproductive organs can become parents. Making the baby, at least initially, is the easy part (often done with no intention of actually making a baby) but parenting is difficult, infinitely humbling work. Still, being a horrible parent is not necessarily against the law.

Leaving your two toddlers at home alone while you go out on a Friday night (Sun-Times)? Yeah, that's not only uncool but also quite illegal.

One of two children allegedly left home alone by their mother, both between the ages of two and three, was seen by a neighbor crying on an outside deck of an apartment. The neighbor called the police and the mother, 24-year-old Far South Side resident Loran Guzman, was charged with two felony counts of endangering the life and health of a child.

Woman Pursues Would-Be Purse-Snatchers

In retrospect, 22-year-old Kendra Coffey says her decision to chase after a couple of suspected thieves after they allegedly grabbed her purse was not the best idea (Tribune). Luckily she only suffered minor scratches when she was dragged about a half-block by their car.

She says she was walking in the vicinity of her apartment near the UIC campus, listening to music on headphones, when a man reached out of a car window to take her purse. Most people would just let it go, grateful they weren't physically injured first.

But not Coffey.

Molestation Suspect Faces Deportation

A 76-year-old Naperville man, Daniel G. Hernandez, faces a possible deportation after his trial on sexual molestation charges, regardless of the outcome in court (Sun-Times). He has been accused of sexually abusing one of his grandchildren last December.

Hernandez remains in DuPage County Jail on a $17,500 bond, although US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents issued a "no bond" hold on the defendant, which means he's to be held until ICE officials can work out a bond for his deportation proceedings.

It seems like high-profile murder defendant Drew Peterson, charged with killing ex-wife Kathleen Savio, is beginning to take his case a little more seriously. While he joked about life in jail and chewed gum during his arraignment in May, a Tribune article reports his demeanor during recent testimony as "somber."

Savio died from drowning in March 2004 and prosecutors believe she was murdered. There was also evidence of blunt force trauma and cuts, according to the autopsy report (DocStoc).

Peterson, a veteran and decorated sergeant with the Bolingbrook Police Department, allegedly taunted Savio on several occasions leading up to her death.

A former colleague of Savio has said Peterson once invaded Savio's home, grabbed her, held a knife to her throat and then threatened to kill her.

He ultimately backed off, however, telling Savio that stabbing her "would be too bloody."

Police say a high stakes gamble by Frank Caira and Jack Mann failed to pay off when the two men were arrested under suspicion of solicitation of murder (Tribune). 

Caira had been arrested and charged more than a year ago for using the name of a Northwestern University professor to buy chemicals for the manufacture of the drug ecstasy. He allegedly tried to cover his tracks by asking a friend, Mann, to help find someone to put a hit on a federal prosecutor and a drug agent. Those are very serious felony charges.

A 2008 Illinois law requires the state police crime lab to collect DNA evidence from murder and manslaughter victims. Crime victims are more likely to have committed crimes themselves, according to research (Tribune), so lawmakers passed the bill in an attempt to solve the state's backlog of cold cases (Chicago Police Dept.).

At the risk of sounding insensitive, dead people probably don't care too much about their privacy. But it's not nearly that simple, of course, as the Tribune article points out.

In the apparent escalation of a dispute over a Kane County man's girlfriend, Antwan D. Youngblood beat the man within an inch of his life with a baseball bat (Fox Chicago).

Youngblood, 31, was convicted last week for the incident on charges of attempted murder, armed violence and two counts of aggravated battery. The trial lasted two days and the jury deliberated for four hours, according to the article.

He faces up to 30 years in prison.

School Exec Charged With $376K Theft

After a year-long investigation, Cook County Regional Office of Education superintendent Charles Flowers has been accused of stealing nearly a half-million dollars of taxpayer money (ABC Chicago). He turned himself in to police and will face corruption charges (theft and official misconduct) for his alleged white collar crime.

Prosecutors say 51-year-old Flowers began ripping off the already broke and bankrupt school district soon after he won election as the regional superintendent in 2007. Some of the money allegedly went to his sister and girlfriend, who was put on the district payroll.

Making Sense Of 'Sexting'

Technology usually outpaces the law, and the phenomenon known as "sexting" is no exception. The story of a 16-year-old Plainview girl (Fox Chicago) who sent a naked picture of herself to a male acquaintence, only to have it broadcast to more than 600 classmates, illustrates the difficulty of handling such cases.

Sexting is popular among hormone-addled teenagers who usually don't mean any harm. One in five teenagers (or 20 percent) admits to have engaged in sexting, according to a survey(PDF) by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.  

That said, offenders can face felony charges of distributing child pornography, depending on the situation. Adult men convicted of child pornography-related crimes often get 20 or so years in prison, but that's something entirely different.

Isn't it?

Chicago resident Michael Tillman was arrested on July 22, 1986 (Sun-Times) for the murder, rape and kidnapping of 42-year-old Betty Howard. He says that for three days, police officers beat him with a phone book, punched him until he vomited blood and waterboarded him with a plastic bag over his head and soda poured into his nose.

He finally confessed to the heinous acts and was sentenced to life in prison. Trouble is, he didn't commit the crime and there was no evidence linking him to it. Adding insult to injury, the real killer was arrested and convicted of the rape and murder shortly thereafter (linked to the crime scene by fingerprints and in possession of the victim's belongings) but Tillman still was not able to achieve his freedom.

Finally, after 23 lost years, Tillman is free to be with his family and chart his own course after an assistant Cook County State's Attorney asked Judge Vincent Gaughan to drop charges and release him:

"It felt good, and I'm glad justice finally prevailed," Tillman said after being released.

Chicago Crime In Decline, Police Say

Chicago Police say crime in the Second City dropped significantly in 2009 (Chicago Public Radio).  Overall reported crime (misdemeanors and felonies) was down 8.8 percent from last year - and nearly 30 percent compared to the year 2000.

Superintendent Jody Weiss attributes the 10.5 percent decline in homicides to an increase in gun seizures:

"We've taken one unit, the gang enforcement unit, put 'em under citywide control. Through their efforts they took in one thousand-five weapons."

Burglary was the one crime category that increased in 2009, up 1 percent over 2008, while motor vehicle theft fell by a whopping 18 percent (Fox Chicago). 

It seems as though Jewel's Bus Company, which operates in Roseland, needs to update its hiring policies. Less than four months after a Jewel's bus driver kidnapped a kindergartener (Tribune) from the South Side, another Jewel's driver was arrested and charged with sexually abusing a teenage girl (Fox Chicago).

Even more disturbing is the fact that the 17-year-old girl is mentally challenged, likely considered an easy target for accused offender Antonio Ross. 

Ross allegedly fondled the girl's breasts and initiatiated other, more-explicit sexual contact, on March 24, 2009 and was charged with criminal sexual assault of a victim who was between the ages of 13 and 17. Ross was 26 years old at the time of the incident.

"Are you calling me f------ stupid?" pizzeria owner Michael Cosmano rhetorically asked delivery man Milton Rodriguez before shooting him in the chest with a .45 caliber pistol nearly 29 years ago (Sun-Times). At least that's what investigators are alleging took place since reopening Rodriguez's cold case file with the help of several witnesses.

Not to say he had it coming or anything, but perhaps Rodriguez should have known that calling his boss "stupid," if that's indeed what took place, would not get him the higher wages or better working conditions he reportedly had asked for.

What took police so long? In short, it seems as though there was a cover-up.

13-Year-Old's Pimp Convicted

Despite the legitimate arguments in favor of the decriminalization of prostitution, including the health and safety interests of sex workers, young girls often are treated as slaves by their pimps. Really, how could anyone say that a 13-year-old prostitute is in charge of her career?

A prosecutor was quoted as saying that one particular 13-year-old was nothing more than "an easy product to sell" in the eyes of accused 18-year-old pimp Josue Gomez (Daily Herald).

Gomez was found guilty (NBC, Rockford) on a charge of juvenile pimping last week. He faces between four and 15 years in the slammer, according to the article.

Self Defense Or Cold-Blooded Murder?

It's not easy to prove self defense in a murder case, especially if there are no witnesses. And the case of 24-year-old Douglas Park resident Edrinna Bryant (Tribune), arrested for stabbing to death her live-in boyfriend, is a particularly tough case to call.

On the one hand, 7% of women are physically abused by their partners and 42% of murdered women are killed by their spouses or intimate partners (A Safe Place for Help).

But, in this case, witnesses allege Bryant faked evidence of physical abuse to support her claim that she killed Hardy in self defense.

Man Harassed, Beaten On Red Line Train

In what sounds like the precursor to an assault and battery suit, Rogers Park resident Daniel Hauff recounted the moments leading up to a beating on the CTA Red Line last Sunday.

Hauff was treated in area hospital and released without serious injuries, but told reporters that the conductor left the scene too early and claims police should have been called sooner.

It all started at about 3 a.m. near the Argyle stop when Hauff said he tried to calm two men who were having a dispute aboard the train he was riding on.

One of the disputants, who was quickly joined by two other riders, allegedly yelled anti-gay slurs at Hauff.

The Tribune reports Hauff pressed the emergency intercom when things started turning ugly and the train's conductor arrived.

If author and one-time Chicago resident James Lewis is in fact the Tylenol killer (ABC Chicago, WLS), then writing a fictional novel about a flurry of poisoning deaths in the Midwest certainly doesn't help him cover his tracks. Nor does his $1 million extortion letter to Tylenol manufacturer Johnson & Johnson at the height of the 1982 cynanide poisonings that left seven Chicago residents dead.

Lewis is now the main suspect nearly 28 years after the seemingly random Tylenol deaths sparked fear across the nation. Whether or not charges are filed will hinge on the results of DNA tests conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

But first, a little background to this strange saga.

He's managed to evade criminal charges of financial fraud for years, although he's been investigated by the FBI for allegedly bilking "his pastor, fellow parishioners at his church, his children's former teacher, retirees and the disabled," according to an SEC complaint cited by a Tribune article.

He also has been accused of defrauding several professional athletes who hired him to invest their money. But his alleged sociopathic, predatory behavior didn't end there.

A 20-foot drop from the balcony of the defunct and boarded-up St. Mary's Carmelite Church in Joliet wasn't enough to take the life of a priest accused of sexual assault (AP, via Washington Examiner). The 37-year-old priest, Rev. Alehandro Flores (Tribune), was found unconscious and remains in intensive care.

Flores, the parochial vicar of Holy Family Parish in Shorewood, hasn't been charged with anything, but is under investigation by the Kane County State's Attorney's office.

The temptation to make a little extra cash on the side proves overwhelming for some in positions of regulatory power. Indeed bribery is the only way to win business in some countries.

So perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised about Chicago plumbing inspector Mario Olivella's conviction by a federal jury (Sun-Times) this week.

Crime Of Passion Ends In Guilty Plea

Who hasn't gotten so angry at the sight of a former girlfriend (or boyfriend) and her (or his) new squeeze that all they wanted to do was run them over mercilessly? Usually such blind rages cool off after taking a few deep breaths.

But not for 25-year-old Patrick Ohiku (The News-Gazette), who assaulted former boyfriend Brandon Drum and another man (Marshall Hughes) with his car in Urbana. Neither of the victims were too seriously injured: Drum had a broken arm, an injured knee and bumps on his head, while Hughes only had a knot on his head.

All three of the men were lucky, since Ohiku easily could have killed the pair.

Anyone who's watched the brilliant crime/cop series "The Wire" remembers former police brass Howard Colvin's involvement with a pilot program aimed at helping at-risk youth chart better futures for themselves. It seemed utterly futile at first, but at least one student managed to turn his life around.

The main lesson learned is that you gotta win them over while they're still relatively young, and even then it's an uphill battle. The series does a great job showing the enormous odds these kids are up against, shattering the myth of equal opportunity, as well as illustrating the revolving-door nature of prison.

Once they've gotten that far, they're already lost.

Suburban Chicago resident Valerie Kenney has pled guilty to misdemeanor battery for tugging on the traditional Muslim head scarf - or hijab - of Amal Abusumayah at their local grocery store.

Prosecutors had filed felony hate-crime charges, which were dropped after Kenney's plea.

Kenney made loud and angry references to the fact that the alleged shooter who killed 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas in November was from the Middle East - apparently so loud that the visibly Muslim Abusumayah could hear.

That's downright rude but what she did next straddled the line between battery and a hate-crime.

In the history of half-baked crimes, this one takes the cake: 30-year-old North Side resident Muhammed Lawal was arrested (Sun-Times) two days after police say he stole "an unusual rhinestone-studded jacket" in Uptown.

How'd they find him?

How else? He had the gall to actually wear the unusual, rhinestone-studded jacket in public shortly after taking it. Pure genius!

Murder Suspect Armed And On The Run

[Suspect has been apprehended. Scroll down for update]

Jerry Hudson, also known as "Shorty," is on the run and wanted for the New Year's Day murder of a Bolingbrook woman (Tribune) at an Oak Brook hotel.

Melissa Bridgewater was shot at least five times at close range outside the Doubletree Hotel, resulting in her death, allegedly by Hudson. Bridgewater was married to Hudson for 18 years before their divorce in 2006.

Now he's a fugitive and considered armed and dangerous.

Prostitution Sting Snares Seven

Five women, one man and one transgendered individual were arrested last week for sexual solicitation (Tribune) by Aurora detectives at a hotel on the west side. The detectives aimed their sting operation at suspected prostitution services advertised online, most notably the "erotic services" section of Craigslist.

It's a dubious distinction, but the murder of 62-year-old Far South Side resident Joyce Fulgium (Sun-Times) on Jan. 2 is the first Chicago homicide of 2010. At least New Year's Day remained homicide-free.

Fulgium was "savagely" beaten and stabbed during what investigators describe was a home invasion. Police found her body after a nearby relative became suspicious and called. Her front door had been kicked in, some belongings were taken and the perpetrators fled in Fulgium's Jeep Wrangler.

Citing excessive "noise and stench," Chicago aldermen have tried (and failed) to make dog hoarding - i.e., owning more than five dogs - a misdemeanor before. And they may not get much futher this time (Sun-Times) either.

While it may sound reasonable to limit households to a manageable number of pets, the criminalization of six dogs may not be.

Federal regulators recently gave West Side's Columbus Park Nursing & Rehabilitation Center its lowest overall rating of "well below average" for unsafe conditions, misuse of psychotropic drugs and other violations. Medicare gave the facility a one star rating, while the Illinois Dept. of Public Health has cited the center (Tribune) at least five times for various violations since Jan. 1, 2002.

Of the 193 residents at the center as of Dec. 31, 2006, 32 were felons and one was a registered sex offender. But even felons, if diagnosed with mental illness, qualify for Medicaid-funded housing at state nursing homes (Tribune). 

So perhaps it should come as no surprise to hear about the brutal murder of a 72-year-old dementia patient (Tribune) who accidentally wandered into the room of convicted felon Ardyce Nauden.