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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Chicago police officer charged with attempted extortion

FBI says cop took bribes from tow-truck operator in exchange for business
The Chicago Tribune by Angela Rozas - July 23, 2008

A Chicago police officer who was arrested Wednesday on charges of attempted extortion ensured a bribe-paying tow-truck driver got the work at accident scenes by alerting him by cell phone so he could beat rivals there, authorities alleged. Michael Ciancio, a 21-year veteran who worked in the Jefferson Park District, kept track in his traffic citation book of how many cars he directed to the tow-truck driver, pocketing about $600 to $800 each week for the last two years, the charges alleged. That could have boosted his income by as much as $42,000 a year. A law-enforcement source said the five-year investigation extends to at least five police districts. The cooperating tow-truck driver said he had been paying off officers in the Jefferson Park and Albany Park Districts for more than 15 years. Ciancio is the second Chicago police officer charged since last month in the ongoing FBI probe. Joseph Grillo, a Grand-Central District officer, was charged with helping another officer in an insurance scam. Ciancio, 56, was released on his own recognizance after an initial appearance in U.S. District Court. He has been relieved of his police powers and is not on active patrol, the FBI said. Chicago police declined to comment Wednesday. The FBI, working with the U.S. attorney's office and the Chicago Police Department's Internal Affairs Division, investigated Ciancio for 16 months.

According to the charges, the tow-truck driver wore a wire to record conversations with Ciancio as the two allegedly discussed the bribes. While wearing the recorder, the driver delivered a combined $2,300 in bribes to Ciancio, the charges alleged. In return for his cooperation, the witness, who has a lengthy arrest record, hopes for help from federal authorities on possible criminal charges against him. To try to steer work to the bribe-paying tow-truck driver, Ciancio sometimes asked police dispatchers to inform him of car wrecks by computer so rival businesses wouldn't hear it on their scanners and respond to the scene first, the charges stated. If that didn't work, Ciancio scared off rival towing companies, authorities said. In one alleged incident in June 2007, another tow-truck driver working with the FBI responded to a crash scene where Ciancio was working and made an agreement with a crash victim to tow the driver's sport-utility vehicle. The crash victim later told authorities that Ciancio directed him to ditch the tow truck, saying he had called another. When the first tow-truck driver balked, Ciancio then threatened to cite the driver for solicitation if he didn't unhook the SUV, the charges alleged. The bribe-paying tow-truck driver, also cooperating with the FBI at the time, then was tipped by Ciancio to the accident, drove to the scene and removed the SUV, authorities said. At the direction of the FBI, the undercover tow-truck driver began to stall on his payoffs, annoying Ciancio, authorities said. "I didn't hear from you, I says what the [expletive] happened, you know," Ciancio was quoted as saying. "I thought it was like Christmas and I looked under the tree, there was no gift . . . know what I mean?" Angela Rozas email:

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