Department on lookout for cops in gangs

Talk to a gang member, and he'll tell you about cops who have ripped him off.

Cops who sell drugs.

Even cops who are gang members themselves.

Enough money-hungry police officers have fallen into the orbit of gangs they're supposed to bust that such claims often ring true.

Take the Austin 7, seven officers arrested in 1996 for engaging in robbery and extortion. One of them was a high-level gang member.

Or the Shakespeare police district on the Northwest Side, where more than 20 officers were once under investigation for links to gangs, according to a 1995 Chicago Sun-Times series.

Lately, the Chicago Police Department has become more vigilant in weeding out potential gang members before they are issued a gun or a badge, said David Bayless, a department spokesman. Potential officers must undergo background checks, drug testing, psychological evaluations and written exams. They must have two years of college credits or military experience to qualify.

Two young police recruits were booted from the 722-member Class of 2000 when evidence mounted of their ties to street gangs, Bayless said.

A female recruit was fired for interfering with the arrest of her niece. A male recruit was fired after he overdosed on drugs in Mexico.

"The reason they were fired was because of what we learned in the past about what can happen when our officers become involved in criminal activity," Bayless said, calling the outlaws a "few bad apples."

Over the last decade, a handful of Chicago police officers have been unmasked as gang members in high-profile federal investigations.

In the Austin 7 case, Edward Lee Jackson Jr. was identified as a ranking member of the Conservative Vice Lords, a position he held even when he patrolled the Austin police district on the West Side, authorities said. Jackson, known as "Pacman," received a 115-year sentence in October.

"They had no credibility," Joseph M. Alesia, deputy supervisor of the gang crime unit in the Cook County state's attorney's office, said of Jackson and the six other officers arrested in the probe. "It caused us to dismiss a lot of cases that on their face looked like good cases to prosecute because of the officers involved."

Jackson had become a member of the gang in his teens. His father was a founder of the gang, one of the largest and oldest in Chicago, prosecutors said.

The Shakespeare District was a source of embarrassment for the department, too. One Shakespeare officer, Tommy Marquez, admitted he was a member of the Latin Counts street gang in his youth, but insisted he was not in the gang as a cop. He pleaded guilty to extortion in 1995.

Another officer, Sonia Irwin, was convicted in 1996 of aiding and abetting the Gangster Disciples street gang. She was a Chicago police officer while she dated Gangster Disciples Chairman Larry Hoover's right-hand-man, Gregory "Shorty G" Shell, renting cars for him and driving him to a Downstate prison to meet with Hoover.

"They used her charge card to rent motel rooms and cars," said Bernie Murray, chief of the felony division for the Cook County state's attorney's office, who prosecuted Hoover.

Irwin owned a South Side restaurant, June's Shrimp on the 9, where the Gangster Disciples made drug deals, prosecutors said.

Bayless said he knows of no officers fired during police Supt. Terry Hillard's four-year tenure for having gang affiliations. But several officers in recent years have been charged with crimes that prosecutors suspect were tied to gangs.

Officer Pedro Mataterrazas II was working for a drug-dealing friend before he entered the police academy in 1998 and made at least 10 trips to Nashville in cocaine-loaded cars after he took the oath to serve and protect, prosecutors said. He pleaded guilty in October 2000 to drug charges and was sentenced to 72 months in a federal boot camp.

One of the most infamous cases involved former gang crimes officer Joseph Miedzianowski and his partner John Galligan, who were convicted last year of overseeing a Miami-to-Chicago drug ring in a conspiracy with Chicago gang members. Both await sentencing.

Miedzianowski was accused of harboring a killer from the Latin Lovers street gang, Nelson "Baby Face" Padilla, after he shot and killed a rival gang member, Roberto Detres, in 1995. The dirty cop brought Padilla a copy of the police file on the investigation, and let him read it and learn the names of witnesses, authorities said. Padilla eventually was convicted of the crime and pleaded guilty to participating in Miedzianowski's drug operation. He was sentenced to 35 years in state prison and awaits federal sentencing.

At least three other officers, whose badges were stripped in 1999, also are under investigation in the Miedzianowski case, sources say. They remain in the department on desk duty. The scandal prompted Hillard to break up the department's gang unit two years ago and reassign its officers.

One Northwest Side plainclothes police officer said his philosophy when dealing with gangs is "live and let live," that is, until someone is killed or wounded. The officer, who did not want his name used, said that in return for his hands-off approach, he expects information in return. He said he carries a starter pistol used in sports events to force reluctant gang members to give up information about crimes.