A Cook County sheriff’s officer and his son have been snared in a federal sting into illegal cigarette sales.
Officer Lawrence A. Draus, a 35-year veteran and high-profile member of the force, and his son, Larry Draus Jr., who goes by his middle name, Eric, were arrested earlier this week. They've been charged with with conspiracy to commit extortion.
According to a 23-page criminal complaint, Eric Draus was allegedly buying cases of illegal, untaxed cigarettes. Each case carried more than 10,000 cigarettes.
The complaint states that Eric Draus for several months had been extorting protection money out of a confidential informant posing as a trafficker in contraband cigarettes, with Draus claiming that his father could prevent police from breaking up a warehouse where the cigarettes were being sold.
On Jan. 30, Larry Draus allegedly took $10,000 wrapped in newspaper from an informant for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
“I am doing this for my son. I don’t care about anything. It’s for him. I want him to do good,” Draus Sr. allegedly told the informant in a secretly recorded conversation.
The informant asked Draus Sr. to "scare off" someone "hovering around my business," according to a federal complaint.
"Get me his name," Draus Sr. allegedly responded.
The informant provided Draus Sr. with the name of another man secretly working for ATF, according to the complaint.
On Feb. 1, Draus Sr., wearing a badge around his neck, allegedly confronted the man outside the warehouse. After a brief discussion, Draus allegedly told the man to "hit the road" and he left, according to the complaint.
Draus and his son were arrested Tuesday and released on their own recognizance, ATF spokesman Tom Ahern said.
The Drauses were busted as part of a larger investigation into contraband tobacco sales, Ahern said. The investigation continues into whether anyone else was involved in the alleged extortion conspiracy, he said.
Frank Bilecki, the Director of External Affairs for the Cook County Sheriff's Office said Draus has been suspended.
"He was immediately relieved of his duties after his arrest," said Bilecki.