Facing life in prison for his part in a massive drug-dealing operation led by crooked Chicago cop Joseph Miedzianowski, gang member Mohammed Omar spilled his guts to a federal prosecutor in hopes of reducing his own sentence.
Among the information Omar passed along in June 2001, he told authorities another Chicago cop, Detective Reynaldo Guevara, was taking bribes in murder cases — to let off suspects or frame them — and shaking down gang members for cash, a newly obtained court document shows.
What, if anything, the U.S. attorney’s office — which prosecuted Miedzianowski and Omar and was headed at the time by Scott Lassar — did with the tip given to one of Lassar’s assistant U.S. attorneys isn’t known.
Following numerous allegations that Guevara framed innocent people in murder cases, though, the city of Chicago has settled two wrongful-conviction lawsuits involving cases Guevara investigated. And Lassar — whose law firm Sidley Austin LLP was brought in by the Emanuel administration in 2013 — recommended earlier this year that City Hall ask Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez to review five murder convictions in cases Guevara investigated.
Records show Chicago taxpayers have paid Lassar’s firm more than $1.9 million for its work on the claims involving Guevara, who retired from the Chicago Police Department in 2005.
Most of the misconduct allegations involving Guevara date to before 2001.
Lassar, the top federal prosecutor in Chicago from 1997 until Aug. 31, 2001, won’t comment.
“Scott Lassar has a reputation for being someone who’s legitimate,” says Russell Ainsworth, a Chicago attorney who represents two men who say they were Guevara victims. “But it seems very odd that the city chose the person who didn’t prosecute Guevara to lead its independent investigation.”
City Hall spokeswoman Shannon Breymaier declined to comment on Lassar.
Omar told a federal prosecutor — as well as a police sergeant present at the interview — “Guevara’s ‘policy’ was to catch a person with drugs or guns but let them buy their way out of trouble,” the court document shows. “Guevara was also said to have accepted bribes to change positive or negative identifications during lineups for murder cases.”
Omar wasn’t the first to accuse Guevara of wrongdoing. By 2001, claims of misconduct were mounting, but Guevara remained an Area 5 detective.
“The flags come up . . . [but] they refuse to act,” says G. Flint Taylor, a partner in the Chicago civil rights firm People’s Law Office who has represented victims of alleged police misconduct.
Guevara joined the police department in 1976. Six years later, what appears to be the first misconduct complaint naming him was filed by a woman who accused him and two other officers of abusing and harassing her and a male companion.
The police department didn’t “sustain” that allegation.
But more followed.
The Emanuel administration is barred from making Guevara’s disciplinary record public because of a court order in an ongoing lawsuit filed by the union that represents Chicago’s rank-and-file police officers, according to Breymaier.
According to interviews and court records, though, 15 misconduct complaints were filed against Guevara from 1982 to 2005, accusing him of beating and harassing suspects, coercing confessions and searching a home without a warrant.
Two of the complaints were sustained: one in which Guevara was accused of beating a suspect and another that accused him of slapping and choking a man during a traffic stop. The city’s Office of Professional Standards recommended suspensions in both cases, court records show, but it’s unclear whether disciplinary action was taken against Guevara.
Guevara declined to speak with a reporter. In court depositions,he has refused to answer questions, citing his right against self-incrimination.
City Hall has spent more than $19 million investigating, defending and settling misconduct allegations involving the detective. Most of that — $15 million — went to Juan Johnson to settle a 2005 lawsuit. Johnson spent 11 years in prison after his conviction in a 1989 murder. When he was retried and ultimately acquitted, witnesses said Guevara forced them to implicate Johnson.
Earlier, the city paid $45,000 to settle a 1999 lawsuit involving allegations of misconduct, records show. Two murder suspects, acquitted at trial, said Guevara forced a witness to say they killed Oscar Pagan Arman — a man Guevara acknowledged in court filings was his wife’s nephew.
“We are prevented from commenting on the officer’s discipline history since he has not been with the department since 2005, and we cannot disclose [complaints] that are more than 4 years old,” a police spokesman said, citing police union contract provisions. “Over the last four years, we have made it a priority to . . . prevent the type of police misconduct that has occurred in the past and respond to any police misconduct swiftly, consistently and with transparency.”
By ANDREW SCHROEDTER, Better Government Association