Chicago taxpayers might pay $400,000 to an Aurora man imprisoned for more than a decade on a drug case built on testimony from corrupt Chicago Police Officer Glenn Lewellen.
Four years after a federal jury balked at an $11 million payout to Refugio Ruiz-Cortez, the City Council’s Finance Committee is poised to authorize a settlement that’s a fraction of that amount. It’s one of three settlements on the agenda for the committee meeting Tuesday.
Ruiz-Cortez was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison at a 2001 trial on drug charges that, his attorneys claimed, were hopelessly tainted by the involvement of Lewellen.
Ten years later, the drug conviction was vacated and the charges against Ruiz-Cortez were dismissed after Lewellen was indicted. U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer even wrote a letter of apology to Ruiz-Cortez.
Lewellen was sentenced to 18 years in prison after being convicted of participating in a drug conspiracy with his longtime informant, Saul Rodriguez. It was Rodriguez’s tips to Lewellen that allowed the pair to kidnap, rob or arrest rival dealers.
In Lewellen’s case, Rodriguez admitted he had intimidated Ruiz-Cortez into holding 10 kilograms of cocaine at his apartment in Aurora, then tipped Lewellen about the drugs so he could bust Ruiz-Cortez,
But Lewellen sprung the trap too early, and a courier hadn’t completed the handoff when he arrived at Ruiz-Cortez’s apartment in Aurora. Lewellen called for backup after letting the courier go, then told his fellow officers he’d seen Ruiz-Cortez drop a bag holding the drugs before running into his apartment building.
Ruiz-Cortez said he met a man named “Carlos” in 1999 who tried to persuade him to get involved in illegal drug activity. Ruiz-Cortez said he refused despite Carlos’ threats, but eventually, several men brought a duffel bag full of drugs to his apartment. Scared for his family, Ruiz-Cortez said he allowed the drugs to be left there for pick up.
Ruiz-Cortez alleged Lewellen eventually convinced the feds that Ruiz-Cortez was the source of the drugs.
Four years ago, jurors deliberated for a little more than four hours before apparently agreeing with lawyers for Lewellen, who had cast Ruiz-Cortez as a liar. Lewellen’s attorneys noted then the Aurora man didn’t complain he had been set up by the corrupt cop until after Lewellen was charged.
Ruiz-Cortez testified he had been afraid to speak out because of threats from Lewellen.
John Escalante, a former interim Chicago Police superintendent, also took the stand at that trial.
In 2001, Escalante was a sergeant supervising Lewellen and was only a few blocks away when Ruiz-Cortez was arrested. Escalante testified he knew of Rodriquez as a “prolific” source of information for police, but said the department would have investigated him if they’d been aware of the scam he was running with Lewellen.