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Lawyers seek to quiz informant on any ties to Chicago’s top cop

Informant Saul Rodriguez | Handout photo

Attorneys for a man who says he was wrongfully imprisoned on drug charges want to interview a murderous police informant about any possible ties to Interim Chicago Police Supt. John Escalante and one of his commanders while they were narcotics cops years ago.

The informant, Saul Rodriguez, is serving a 40-year prison sentence for crimes ranging from robbery to murder. He’s trying to take the Fifth Amendment and refuse to answer the lawyers’ questions on behalf of their client, Refugio Ruiz.

On Monday, Ruiz’s attorneys asked a federal judge to order Rodriguez to give a deposition, saying he can’t incriminate himself because he’s already pleaded guilty to the underlying crimes.

Rodriguez was a highly paid informant for a corrupt narcotics officer, Glenn Lewellen, between 1996 and 2001. Lewellen is serving 16 years in federal prison for participating in drug rip-offs and kidnappings with Rodriguez and his crew.

One of the tips Rodriguez gave Lewellen led to the 1999 drug arrest of Ruiz in Aurora. Ruiz served 10 years in prison before federal prosecutors moved to dismiss the indictment against him in 2010 based on new evidence.

Ruiz then filed a wrongful conviction lawsuit against the Chicago Police Department. He is accusing Lewellen and his partner at the time, Noel Sanchez, of fabricating details about how the cocaine was recovered.

Sanchez is now the commander of the South Chicago District. Escalante, who became the city’s top cop in December, was a sergeant who supervised Lewellen and Sanchez in the department’s narcotics division when Ruiz was busted for possession of 10 kilograms of cocaine in 1999.

Lawyers for Ruiz have asked a judge to order Rodriguez to answer questions about his relationship with Escalante, Sanchez and Lewellen, as well as his activities as an informant.

On Dec. 22, Rodriguez had asserted his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

In court papers filed in the Ruiz lawsuit, Sanchez has denied wrongdoing. The lawsuit doesn’t accuse Escalante of any misconduct.

Ruiz’s attorneys have submitted questions to Rodriguez asking what he and Sanchez did together while Rodriguez was an informant. They also asked whether Rodriguez met with Escalante, and what they talked about.

The attorneys want to ask Rodriguez about then-Officer Matthew Cline, the son of former Chicago Police Supt. Phil Cline, and whether he arrested Rodriguez between 2000 and 2005.

“In fact, you testified that you agreed to help out Officer [Cline] by providing him sources of guns and money to avoid charges, correct?” one proposed question says.

In court papers, the city of Chicago has objected to the questions about Rodriguez’s relationship with Escalante and Sanchez.

Sanchez’s own attorneys have submitted proposed questions asking Rodriguez if he is a liar and that “you don’t know Noel Sanchez, correct?”

“Noel Sanchez has no knowledge of your drug operations between 1996 and 2009, right?” one question says.

Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesman for the police department, declined to comment on Monday’s court filing. He previously said Sanchez remains in “good standing” and any suggestion that Escalante endorsed Rodriguez’s criminal activity is “inaccurate.”

Rodriguez got more than $800,000 from the city for the tips he gave Lewellen between 1996 and 2001, according to police records. The city paid him $10,000 for the information that resulted in Ruiz’s 1999 arrest.

In a deposition, Escalante said he didn’t know about any of Rodriguez’s criminal activities while Rodriguez was working as a police informant.

During that period, Phil Cline was the chief of the Bureau of Organized Crime and was a supervisor of Escalante, Lewellen and Sanchez. Cline would have signed off on the checks to Rodriguez, according to Escalante’s deposition. Cline later became Chicago’s police superintendent, serving from 2003 through 2007.

Ruiz’s lawsuit accuses Lewellen and Sanchez of making a false report that Ruiz had walked out of his apartment carrying a large yellow bag containing 10 kilograms of cocaine on July 8, 1999.

Ruiz admitted he stored the cocaine in his Aurora apartment for a drug dealer because he was afraid of him. Rodriguez had sent a female courier to the apartment to ask Ruiz to carry the drugs to her car, but Ruiz refused, the lawsuit said.

The woman then carried the bag out of the apartment and put it in the trunk of her car. Lewellen allegedly removed the drugs from her car and told her to leave, according to the lawsuit.

Contributing: Jon Seidel