After hunting the Conservative Vice Lords street gang for more than a year, authorities finally had the prolific drug dealers in their sights back in June 2014.
But then, poised to execute more than 30 arrest and search warrants, federal agents and Chicago police officers suddenly heard nine devastating words on the wiretapped phone call of a major drug supplier: “We gotta homie that works for the task force.”
And that “homie” had a warning: “They gonna hit 10-12 houses over there. And it’s coming soon.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Shoba Pillay told a jury Tuesday “those words were shocking to those officers and agents.” She said the tip came from then-Chicago Police Officer Ronald T. Coleman, who allegedly breached “a circle of trust” and is now on trial for obstruction of justice charges in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle.
Coleman’s lawyers say the feds only have two untrustworthy witnesses to tie Coleman to the tip.
“Ronald Coleman’s only interest was doing his job as a police officer,” Matt McQuaid, one of Coleman’s defense attorneys, told the jury during opening statements Tuesday.
McQuaid said Coleman, 46, grew up and played basketball on the West Side — right where he wound up working with the Drug Enforcement Administration on an investigation of the Conservative Vice Lords known as Operation Five Leaf Clover. When it appeared that a man he had played basketball with in high school would be caught up in the investigation, Coleman allegedly warned that man’s cousin, who Coleman also knew from high school.
Coleman — who the police department says is no longer a Chicago police officer — had allegedly spotted the man with Rodney Bedenfield, the Conservative Vice Lords’ primary heroin supplier. Over the course of a year, Bedenfield had provided the gang with tens of thousands of user quantities of heroin, records show.
Through a chain of phone calls, word of Coleman’s alleged warning trickled back to Bedenfield. On a recorded phone call, an associate told him: “He say whatever ya’ll got going on, he say stop it and he’s like and just clean up. He say cause they got us coming.”
The tip didn’t do Bedenfield much good. Authorities caught him lugging three bags in his car from a home in the 2100 block of South Spaulding to a home one block over in the 2100 block of South Christiana. So they searched that house too. And Pillay said they found what amounts to a “drug trafficker’s starter kit,” including at least five handguns, a rifle, 400 grams of heroin and several pieces of drug paraphernalia.
Some of Bedenfield’s guns had laser sights, prosecutors have said. A duffel bag full of $83,000 cash was also found in his home, even though Bedenfield “has no legitimate employment history.” In the end, Bedenfield wound up with an 18-year prison sentence, records show.