Latest Conviction Critical to Greylord Success, Prosecutor Says
CHICAGO (AP) _ The conviction of the highest-ranking official charged in Operation Greylord marks ″the pinnacle″ of success for the federal government’s undercover probe of corruption within the nation’s largest court system, a prosecutor said Sunday.
Cook County Circuit Judge Richard LeFevour, 54, was convicted Saturday of 59 counts of mail fraud, income-tax fraud and racketeering for accepting bribes to dismiss parking tickets and fix traffic cases.
He will be sentenced Aug. 27, when he could face up to 300 years in prison and fines of up to $103,000.
Eighteen Greylord defendants, including three judges, have pleaded guilty or have been convicted as a result of the investigation. One defendant, a judge, has been acquitted. Cases against seven other defendants, including lawyers, police officers and court employees, are pending.
Special U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb said Sunday that LeFevour’s conviction should dispel any doubts about the investigation’s effectiveness.
No single incident launched the 31/2 -year probe, Webb said, adding that various sources had tipped federal authorities ″there was something going on.″
Among those sources was Brocton Lockwood, a former Southern Illinois jurist who tipped federal authorities to corruption in the Cook County court system, then posed as a crooked judge and helped gather evidence by tucking a tape recorder in his cowboy boot and a microphone in his robe.
Webb said LeFevour’s case was the most important in establishing the value of the operation that included the electronic bugging of some judges’ chambers.
’I don’t think there is any question that the conviction of Judge LeFevour is the pinnacle of the Greylord project,″ Webb said. ″He was probably the second most powerful judge in Chicago.
″I was afraid that if he were acquitted, there might be a perception that the Greylord project had not been successful.
″It would have been an incorrect perception, but the conviction was important to the success of the investigation after the FBI, the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) and government lawyers spent five years putting this together.″
Webb said LeFevour’s position as chief judge of the 1st Municipal District enabled him to play a major role in the county’s judicial corruption.
″When you have a judge who was that powerful, it’s important that we establish that he was guilty. ... A supervising judge controlled and manipulated other lawyers and judges as they carried out corrupt activities,″ Webb said.
A former U.S. attorney, Webb returned from private practice to act as a special prosecutor in LeFevour’s trial.
Webb declined to say whether there might be more Greylord indictments.
Webb said prosecutors spent 18 months carefully planning the probe because ″We knew there had never been an undercover investigation of the court system like this before, and we had to find out for sure if judges were involved and how many.
″The planning paid off,″ he said, ″and the court of appeals has upheld the legality of the investigation.″
Last week, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction of Ira Blackwood, a former Chicago policeman and Greylord defendant sentenced to seven years in prison for taking bribes to fix court cases. The ruling was the first affirmation of a conviction arising from Greylord.
The operation was dubbed Greylord after an FBI agent noticed a newspaper reference to a racehorse of that name, Webb said.
″When the story first broke, I saw stories in the media that Greylord was a reference to English lords and some sort of cloudy area between honesty and dishonesty, but that wasn’t it at all,″ Webb said.
Testimony in other Greylord cases has indicated that the practice of fixing parking tickets and drunken-driving tickets could mean as much as $50,000 a year to some judges.
The undercover work of Lockwood, who was working in Chicago as a visiting jurist when he tipped authorities and who has since resigned his judgeship, provided some insight into the workings of the system of bribes and payoffs.
At one Greylord trial, for instance, Lockwood testified that he was told during the investigation that, if he would fix cases, he could clear as much as $50,000 a year in additional income after paying off the assignment judge.
During LeFevour’s eight-week trial, prosecutors contended that LeFevour was aid $100 for each case he fixed and that he maintained a much higher lifestyle than his annual salary, which ranged from $42,000 to $50,000 at the time, could provide.
Testimony focused on $143,000 in income over five years for which LeFevour could not account.
Several merchants testified about expensive clothes bought by LeFevour’s wife. Prosecutors said LeFevour had bought ″thousands of dollars worth of jewelry″ and made 25 trips, including some to Europe, in a five-year period. They said he bought a $157,000 condominium in Michigan and lived in an $1,800- a-month Chicago apartment.
But the defense said LeFevour, who is on a paid leave of absence, had received loans from family and friends, won money at the racetrack and shared in income from paintings sold by his wife.