As soon as the calm and poised federal prosecutor finished asking Richard Zasiebida several questions Wednesday about the Wrigleyville rooftop business known as Skybox on Sheffield, defense attorney Chris Gair leapt from his seat in the courtroom.
Gair told Zasiebida he would “start with something easy.”
But then the defense attorney for former Skybox owner Marc Hamid launched into a devastating hours-long takedown of the key government witness in Hamid’s trial at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
Under Gair’s blistering cross-examination, Zasiebida admitted that he smoked marijuana daily for years while working at the rooftop and also succumbed to a cocaine addiction. He said his drug use is over, but it was once “more than recreational” and sometimes took place while he was working.
Zasiebida often wiped his brow during the questioning. He admitted that he pocketed cash from customers at the rooftop, and he told jurors he underreported his income to the IRS for several years. He also admitted to Gair that he once paid for a lesson on how to beat a polygraph test as he sought a job in law enforcement — adding that prosecutors were hearing that for the first time as he testified.
Eventually, Zasiebida found work as an officer at the Crestwood and Oak Park police departments for about six months each after hiding his transgressions from several departments.
“They’re terrible attributes to be a police officer,” Zasiebida acknowledged.
Now Zasiebida is a driver for Uber and Lyft.
Gair paced around the courtroom as he tried to catch Zasiebida in a fib Wednesday, waving his arms and pointing his finger at Zasiebida while accusing him of “big, fat” lies. Hamid watched calmly from the defense table, legs crossed. Prosecutors objected often, and U.S. District Judge Thomas Durkin repeatedly warned Gair to “just ask questions.”
Zasiebida conceded his previous testimony to a grand jury about Hamid may have been misleading because he failed to mention that he stole money from the rooftop — though he later tried to take that description back, saying he “misspoke.” He said his drug use didn’t affect his work, but he said it “did not put me in a good place” and “I’m taking full responsibility for it.”
The former cop admitted last week that he cheated the IRS out of $139,566 by underreporting the money he made between 2007 and 2011 from the ticket brokerage Just Great Seats Inc. and from an illegal sports betting operation. He struck a plea deal with prosecutors in which he agreed to cooperate with them in exchange for a potential prison sentence of as little as a year.
Jeff Steinback, Zasiebida’s attorney, later said his client made a “conscious, voluntary choice” four years ago “to step off the path he was on and turn his life around.”
“And everything he has done since that time has been in an effort to do that,” Steinback said. “He has owned up completely to everything that he did, however embarrassing or difficult owning up to those things may have been, and he stands by those things. He walked away from that lifestyle and that conduct voluntarily and tried everything he had in him, against all odds, to pursue a very noble and honorable career.”
Steinback declined to comment directly on the testimony.
Meanwhile, the feds are putting Hamid on trial for allegedly cheating the Chicago Cubs out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalty payments, as well as cheating the city, county and state out of sales and amusement taxes.