A former Chicago Police officer and four co-defendants were convicted Tuesday of various charges in a federal case that involved allegations of murder, robbery and kidnapping -- and even provided a glimpse into City Hall’s zoning politics.
Former Chicago Police Officer Glenn Lewellen and the other men were found guilty of conspiracy to distribute multiple kilograms of cocaine, officials said. Lewellen, who was free on bond, was taken into custody after the verdict was read.
"We are pleased with the guilty verdicts that were returned today in a very significant case," said U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald.
The jury did not reach a verdict on separate charges of whether Lewellen participated in a racketeering conspiracy that included kidnappings, robberies and drug trafficking over a decade from 1998 to 2009.
Also, a sixth defendant, Manuel Uriarte, was found not guilty of participating in two murders in 2000 and 2001, officials said. The jury could not reach a verdict on a racketeering charge against him.
Lewellen was accused of involvement in a crime ring led by Saul Rodriguez, a drug dealer arrested by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration in 2009. Rodriguez was a key government witness.
Fifty-five witnesses took the stand during a complex trial before U.S. District Judge Joan Gottschall.
The trial began in November and the jury deliberated for about two weeks.
Rodriguez was an informant for Lewellen in police investigations between 1996 and 2000, getting paid about $800,000 for his tips, records showed. They also were partners in real-estate deals and their business relationship continued after Lewellen resigned in 2003.
Prosecutors alleged they were partners in crime, too.
But defense attorneys argued there wasn’t any evidence implicating Lewellen in the crew’s crimes except for the testimony of Rodriguez and two other ring members. Lewellen made millions of dollars, but the money was legitimate, his attorneys said.
Rodriguez, a former La Raza gang member, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and faces a sentence of 30 to 40 years in prison.
Another ring member who testified against Lewellen is expected to land a four-year prison term and a third member received immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.
Co-defendants Anothony Sparkman, 25, and Robert Cardenas, 32, were both convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and related charges. Uriarte’s brothers, Hector, 33, and Jorge, 31, were convicted on racketeering conspiracy and other charges.
The trial took a turn into politics when Rodriguez testified he paid two attorneys $15,000 in a zoning matter.
Rodriguez said he assumed the money was used to pay bribes to Ald. Ed Burke (14th) and others to obtain zoning approval to build homes on the Southwest Side. The City Council approved the project in February 2000.
Burke has said he didn’t know at the time that Rodriguez was a drug dealer and said he approved the zoning simply to improve the 2700 block of West 37th Place where the homes were built.
And Lewellen’s attorneys painted Rodriguez as a liar trying to curry favor with the government by providing agents with false information about a powerful politician like Burke -- or a cop like Lewellen.