The Chicago Sun Times by Frank Main and Natasha Korecki - April 8, 2011
Former Chicago Police Officer Jerome Finnigan and another member of the now-disbanded Special Operations Section were charged Thursday in federal court with stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from drug suspects, while two other officers were charged with lying in court. Finnigan, 48, was previously charged in 2007 with plotting to kill a fellow officer who he believed was cooperating with investigators. He’s been in a federal lockup ever since. Lawyers who have sued Finnigan have been frustrated their cases were put on hold as they waited for the feds to complete their criminal investigation. “Why did it take four years to come out with the same charges that were in state court?” said attorney Louis Meyer, whose firm has four pending lawsuits involving Finnigan. Former Chicago Police Officer Keith Herrera, who wore the wire that captured Finnigan’s alleged murder-for-hire scheme, also was charged Thursday in federal court with Officer Eric Olsen, 37, who’s been on desk duty, and former Officer Stephen DelBosque, 35. All four intend to plead guilty, prosecutors said. Finnigan and Herrera, 33, face separate charges in state court for participating with a ring of Special Operations Section officers that allegedly kidnapped and robbed drug suspects. Those charges will be dismissed under the deal. The Special Operations Section was disbanded in 2007 after the allegations came to light. Seven other officers have pleaded guilty to wrongdoing in state court. Finnigan was the alleged mastermind of the shakedown operation, which stole about $600,000 from drug suspects in 2004 and 2005 in five separate incidents, federal prosecutors said. Finnigan’s cut was $200,000 and Herrera’s was about $40,000, authorities said. In one of the five incidents, Finnigan, Herrera and other officers illegally searched a home in the 2000 block of North Keeler on Aug. 15, 2005, prosecutors said. The officers allegedly ransacked an upstairs apartment of a drug suspect, stealing about $86,000 while turning in the drugs they found. The officers also allegedly broke into a downstairs apartment of a family unrelated to the drug suspect and handcuffed 13-year-old Jose Fematt, who was babysitting his sister. A female officer drove the boy around the neighborhood in a squad car, asking about his upstairs neighbor and about drugs, according to a lawsuit filed last month by Fematt. “My client’s never been arrested,” said Fematt’s lawyer, Torri Hamilton. “He graduated from high school and works full-time now. It’s a really backward world where in neighborhoods like this the drug dealers may be nicer to you than police officers who are breaking down the doors, putting handcuffs on you, driving you around and threatening you. Certainly in this case, they were not role models.” Finnigan and Herrera were each charged with one felony count of civil-rights conspiracy and one count of filing a false income-tax return. DelBosque and Olsen face misdemeanor civil-rights charges for allegedly giving false testimony about drug arrests. Finnigan, who became a Chicago Police officer in 1988, won numerous awards for his work in the Special Operations Section. He was a member of the Hostage-Barricade-Terrorist Incident team and won the Superintendent’s Award of Valor in 1999 for saving a store owner during a robbery attempt. He also was named top cop by the Illinois Police Association. The Special Operations Section was an aggressive citywide unit tasked with targeting drug and gun crimes in the toughest parts of Chicago. Authorities have said the unit’s loose supervision allowed Finnigan and other officers to shake down drug suspects with impunity. Herrera faces at least 14 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but his attorney Robert Kuzas said he expects his client will receive less prison time because of his cooperation with investigators, including his decision to wear a wire against Finnigan. “He was one of the youngest officers in SOS,” Kuzas said. “He got led astray. He is remorseful and he actually put his life on the line for this investigation.” Finnigan’s attorney declined comment. In 2009, prosecutors dismissed criminal charges against two other Special Operations Section officers, Carl Suchocki and Tom Sherry. They had been accused of armed robbery, kidnapping and home invasion. Last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Gilbert, who is overseeing one of the many lawsuits filed against Finnigan, expressed frustration about the slow pace of the case before him, in part attributed to “the federal government’s deliberations as to what to do,” on the criminal side with Finnigan. “I don’t mind saying I’m frustrated,” Gilbert said in court. Plaintiffs’ attorneys said they were awaiting criminal charges so they knew which direction to head in their lawsuits.