Cop charged in plot to kill former officer

U.S. COURT | Accused of corruption, he called for 'paint job' on witness, feds say

September 27, 2007

Chicago Police Officer Jerome Finnigan showed his buddy a photo of a former cop they worked with in the elite Special Operations Section.

Finnigan was worried. He was facing corruption charges for allegedly robbing people. He knew the ex-cop was going to testify against him. And he wanted him dead, officials say.

Finnigan allegedly told his friend -- Keith Herrera, a fellow SOS member and a co-defendant in the corruption case -- that he planned to give the photo to hit men from a street gang to help them identify and kill the former cop. Finnigan code-named the intended hit a "paint job," officials say.

Unfortunately for Finnigan, Herrera was cooperating with the government. Based on that evidence, Finnigan, 44, was arrested about 6 a.m. Wednesday outside his Southwest Side home on a charge of using a telephone to plot a murder for hire. Authorities then searched his home.

Wearing painter's pants, an inside-out sweat shirt, flip-flops and leg shackles, an unemotional Finnigan was ordered held until a bond hearing Monday. Asked if he had any comment, he put his chin to his chest and was escorted out of U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole's courtroom.

Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine called the newest charges against Finnigan "another chapter in a truly sordid story." U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald added that when the person trying to arrange the hit is a police officer, "it doesn't get any more serious than that."

Although Finnigan is charged with plotting the murder of the former cop, he told Herrera Sunday that they might as well take care of all the witnesses against them, the FBI says.

Finnigan has a history of intimidation, officials say. He allegedly made a veiled threat against Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Anna Demacopoulos, a prosecutor handling his corruption case. "'When this thing's over, I'm going to own her,' " he said, according to prosecutors.

Also, Finnigan has been charged with trying to keep a witness from testifying before a Cook County grand jury.

Prosecutors say he was the ringleader of a crew of rogue officers -- Herrera, Carl Suchocki, Tom Sherry, Margaret Hopkins, Frank Villareal and Sgt. James McGovern -- who committed dozens of ripoffs, including a $450,000 theft from a home in 2004.

Finnigan was free on a $4 million bond in the Cook County corruption case. During the discovery process, in which prosecutors turn over evidence, he learned the alleged target would be a witness against him, the FBI said.

The Sun-Times is not naming the former cop who was the alleged target of the hit because he is a cooperating witness not charged with any crime. Herrera was not named in the court documents, but sources confirmed his identity.

Finnigan originally discussed the murder plot with Herrera in July, saying a relative knew two former Two-Six gang members who could do the job for $5,000, officials say. In August, after they appeared at a court hearing, Finnigan allegedly told his friend the "paint job" was "all taken care of."

Last Friday, Herrera secretly recorded Finnigan. Finnigan never used the word "murder" or "hit." But authorities say when he talked about the job, he was really telling Herrera he was looking for a different hit man, someone more professional than the gang members.

"He's, he's, he has painted, has done a lotta paint jobs, dude," Finnigan allegedly said. "No complaints about the work."

But Herrera said he found someone to carry out the hit and asked Finnigan for the photo of the former cop. So Finnigan allegedly handed over the photo and warned Herrera to wipe off any fingerprints. Finnigan also told Herrera that the ex-cop drove a black Mecury Marquis. Finnigan promised to give Herrera the ex-cop's address, the FBI says.

"C - - - - - - - - - sent me a card to his son's graduation party," Finnigan said, explaining how he got the address. "Two years ago. Johnny's graduation party."

Finnigan agreed to split the cost of the killing, authorities said.

On Sunday, Finnigan dropped by Herrera's house. On a piece of paper, he wrote the initials of the ex-officer and three other cops, correctly speculating they were cooperating with authorities, said an affidavit by FBI agent Tom Simon.

Finnigan allegedly told Herrera that "they might as well take care of all the witnesses against them," the affidavit said.

"He's happy that it was uncovered," said a lawyer for one of the witnesses.

Mayor Daley said the explosive new charges against Finnigan are "a good thing," but refused to condemn the Special Operations Section. "It doesn't reflect the entire police department," he said.

 
 

Federal agents arrested Chicago Police Officer Jerome Finnigan at his home this morning on new charges stemming from a probe of the Police Department's special operations section. Left, FBI agents check out Finnigan's Southwest Side home. (Tribune photo by Milbert O. Brown / September 26, 2007)

 
When Chicago Police Officer Jerome Finnigan talked to a fellow indicted cop about killing another officer providing information against them in a corruption probe, he worried about leaving fingerprints on a photo of the target, according to charges filed Wednesday.

But he didn't worry about the cop sitting next to him. He believed they were in the plot together, federal prosecutors said, and that both would benefit from hiring someone to kill their former fellow officer.

Authorities involved in the investigation said Finnigan had good reason to feel comfortable; they could not recall a Chicago police officer ever wearing a wire to gather evidence on another city cop.
 
Until now. The other officer talking to Finnigan about whether to hire a gang member or a professional hit man for the slaying was secretly recording the conversations, and the FBI and federal prosecutors were listening in.

Finnigan, 44, already at the center of a widening probe of corruption, kidnapping and robbery in the Police Department's Special Operations Section, was charged Wednesday with plotting the murder-for-hire of a former police officer. The unit polices high-crime areas and focuses on making gang and drug arrests.

"The complaint charges that in the face of serious pending state charges and a federal investigation that could result in additional charges, the defendant solicited the murder of a fellow police officer who he believed would be a witness against him," U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said. "The gravity of this conduct speaks for itself."

The police officer who wore the wire began cooperating recently and immediately told investigators of the plot to kill another former SOS team member, authorities said. The man is no longer a police officer, but he has been named in several civil lawsuits that claimed he was part of Finnigan's team that robbed, kidnapped and falsely arrested people over several years.

Finnigan was arrested between 6:30 and 7 a.m. Wednesday outside his house in the 5200 block of South Sayre Avenue, Fitzgerald said.

Shackled at the feet and dressed in jeans and a faded green sweat shirt turned inside out, Finnigan appeared briefly in court Wednesday afternoon. U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cole ordered him held until a bond hearing Monday morning.

In asking that the hearing be set for Monday instead of sooner, prosecutors said they planned to present new evidence and possibly new charges.

In telephone recordings made last week, Finnigan and the officer discussed whether they should hire a member of a Hispanic street gang or a "professional hit man" to kill the officer, referring to the planned hit as a "paint job," authorities said.

The recordings also captured the officers talking about the possibility of killing an additional officer, who they believed was also cooperating with authorities, according to the charges.

Authorities said Finnigan and the other officer discussed killing up to four fellow cops.

Attorney Joseph Lopez said that a client, Frank Villareal, was one of the targets. Villareal was one of two police officers charged months after the original arrests in the case that netted Finnigan and Officers Keith Herrera, Carl Suchocki and Tom Sherry.

Finnigan is alleged to have had multiple meetings and phone conversations with the cooperating police officer over the last week.

In a recorded conversation last week at Finnigan's home, he said he "wished he had kept a silencer he had for a weapon," according to an FBI affidavit filed in court Wednesday.

Finnigan also allegedly showed the undercover witness a photo of the officer he wanted to kill that "he had cut from a larger photo containing other members of their SOS team," according to the affidavit. He allegedly planned to give the photo to a gang member to help identify the target.

According to the criminal complaint, the officer whom Finnigan allegedly wanted killed had moved to a new address, but he said that would not be a problem.

"I got the brand-new one," Finnigan said, according to charges. "You know why? [He] sent me a card to his son's graduation party. He sent me the brand-new address. Oh, yeah, dude. I got the new address."

The complaint alleges that Finnigan had been planning to kill the former officer since at least July and that he told the cooperating witness after an Aug. 7 court hearing that the "paint job" was "all taken care of."
 
Finnigan's lawyer, Michael Ficaro, declined to comment.

A family member who asked not to be named said Finnigan grew up in various Chicago neighborhoods, attended high school in Las Vegas and worked as a carpenter before becoming a police officer. His father was a painting contractor who moved the family often, the relative said.

He is married and has a teenage son, the relative said
 
Campaign disclosure records show Finnigan has made $2,500 in donations to the campaign fund of DuPage County State's Atty. Joseph Birkett between 2004 and 2006. Birkett couldn't be reached for comment.

Finnigan, who joined the Police Department in 1988, was given the department's award for valor for heroism in the line of duty in 1999.

Since at least 2002, Finnigan and other SOS officers allegedly robbed and, in some cases, kidnapped suspected drug dealers and citizens with no criminal background.

In one case, four SOS officers drew their guns to clear out a Southwest Side bar and then forced the owner to take them to his suburban home, where he was robbed of thousands of dollars, the initial state charges alleged.

In another, the officers allegedly ransacked a man's safe, stealing cash and a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card worth as much as $20,000. They also allegedly handcuffed a pregnant woman after she tried to call for help when she found them in her South Side home.

Prosecutors alleged they took hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more. Cook County State's Atty. Richard Devine said Wednesday that investigators are still working to account for all the money they believe may have been stolen from people. Internal Revenue Service investigators are involved in the case, attempting to trace money allegedly stolen.

The Tribune reported in August that federal prosecutors were joining the Cook County state's attorney's investigation of SOS. Investigators are also looking into the Chicago Police Department's internal affairs division, which was aware of the allegations against Finnigan and several other officers for at least four years but took no action.

Sources familiar with the investigation said that internal affairs "did very little" to investigate the claims from people who said they were robbed by SOS officers. But a spokeswoman for the Chicago Police Department said Wednesday that the department fully investigated claims against SOS and had tried to get the state's attorney's office to prosecute them earlier.