By Todd Lighty

Tribune Staff Writer

April 16, 1999

A Chicago policeman accused of leading a double life as a drug kingpin allegedly interfered with a murder investigation, armed gang members with semi-automatic weapons and betrayed fellow officers working undercover, according to accounts from four co-defendants who pleaded guilty on Thursday to drug conspiracy charges.

In an appearance before U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning, the four admitted their roles in a Miami-to-Chicago drug ring that the FBI said distributed more than 220 pounds of powder and crack cocaine in Chicago from 1995 through 1998 -- a ring allegedly protected and run by Officer Joseph Miedzianowski.

The four include the ring's drug courier, two customers and its chef, who admitted to cooking about 55 pounds of powder cocaine into crack allegedly for Miedzianowski.

In their plea agreements, they supplied new details in the government's case against Miedzianowski, including how in 1995 he allegedly told a murder suspect the names of possible witnesses in the case and how two years later he supplied a dozen semi-automatic pistols and revolvers to the Imperial Gangsters in their bloody street war against the Spanish Cobras.

Further, their plea agreements also reveal accusations that a second Chicago officer was present while Miedzianowski supposedly mediated a drug dispute outside a police station.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Brian Netols declined to identify the second officer, or provide more details about the murder.

But Netols said that with the four co-defendants breaking ranks they have "obviously provided significant" information about the drug ring and police corruption.

Miedzianowski's lawyer, Phillip A. Turner, said the allegations were ludicrous, brought forth by desperate people looking to spare themselves long prison terms.

"We are going to refute every last one of those allegations," Turner said. "We will do it with witnesses of our own and documentation."

Miedzianowski, 46, a longtime officer in the gang crimes unit, has been in federal custody since his arrest last December. He was scheduled to be arraigned Friday on charges of participating in a conspiracy to distribute drugs.

Lawyers for the four who pleaded guilty -- Yolanda Navarro, 26; David Ruiz, 28; Francisco Figueroa, 29; and Joseph DeLeon, 32 -- either did not return messages or declined to comment.

But according to their plea agreements, the four offer fresh, gritty details of the government's allegations that Miedzianowski ran a major drug ring while both on and off duty.

In exchange for their cooperation and their testimony against Miedzianowski and others, the four likely will receive sharp reductions in prison sentences that could have sent them away for anywhere from 17 years to life.

Some of the most highly charged accusations came from DeLeon, a high-ranking member of the Imperial Gangsters.

Miedzianowski, according to court documents, once described DeLeon as a friend, and the government alleges he was the drug ring's best customer.

According to his plea agreement, DeLeon said he bought roughly 88 pounds of crack cocaine from the drug ring from summer 1996 to 1998 -- with Miedzianowski allegedly personally delivering about 20 pounds to him. DeLeon also said he supplied some drugs to gang members who would sell smaller quantities on Chicago's streets.

DeLeon also told prosecutors about a second police officer who might be partially aware of Miedzianowski's alleged role, according to the plea agreement. The second officer, according to DeLeon, stood nearby as Miedzianowski tried to resolve a dispute over drug prices and supplies between DeLeon and Juan Martir, a convicted drug dealer who is also cooperating with prosecutors.

The second officer did not participate in the meeting, which occurred outside the Grand Central Area police headquarters, according to court documents.

DeLeon and Martir never resolved their differences that day, and DeLeon alleges that Miedzianowski stepped in and replaced Martir as his new supplier of cocaine.

DeLeon's plea also added detail to previous allegations by the government that Miedzianowski thwarted the efforts of fellow officers trying to arrest drug dealers. Whenever undercover cops were working DeLeon's neighborhood, Miedzianowski allegedly tipped him off.

He also accused Miedzianowski of supplying him with at least 12 semi-automatic pistols and revolvers and bags full of bullets.

"During the time Miedzianowski was giving (DeLeon) firearms and ammunition, the Imperial Gangsters were at war with the Spanish Cobra street gang," court documents say. "Miedzianowski knew (DeLeon) was giving most of the firearms and ammunition . . . to fellow members of the Imperial Gangsters, and that these firearms were utilized for Imperial Gangster street protection and retaliation."

Francisco Figueroa, according to his plea agreement, admitted delivering cocaine and collecting money for the drug ring and cooking powder cocaine into highly potent crack cocaine. Figueroa also told prosecutors that Miedzianowski joined with others to rob rival drug dealers and accused the officer of interfering with a murder investigation.

In 1995, according to Figueroa's plea, Nelson Padilla -- the "prince," or leader, of the Latin Lovers street gang -- "was wanted for murder" by Chicago police detectives, according to court documents.

Miedzianowski allegedly gave Padilla and others the names of witnesses to the fatal shooting, documents show. Miedzianowski never turned in Padilla, who hid in Miami for a while before quietly returning to Chicago.

Netols, the federal prosecutor, would not discuss the status of the murder investigation but said his office was working with state prosecutors and Chicago homicide detectives.

Padilla also has been indicted in connection with the current drug investigation and is in federal custody.

Figueroa told prosecutors that he taught Miedzianowski's girlfriend and co-defendant, Alina Lis, how to cook powder cocaine into crack.

"Joseph Miedzianowski was frequently at (Lis') apartment while (Figueroa) cooked the cocaine, complaining about the smell made by the cooking crack," according to Figueroa's plea agreement.

Lis' former roommate, Yolanda Navarro, also is cooperating with the government.

Navarro said Miedzianowski allegedly tipped her off about an investigation of her former boyfriend and used a building owned by his elderly mother to stash drugs.

Drug seller David Ruiz, according to court documents, said he saw Miedzianowski inside one of Martir's stash houses and that he was aware that Martir allegedly paid protection money to Miedzianowski.