The trial of two Chicago police officers accused of using bogus information to steal cash and drugs is set to begin Monday at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse.
Among those expected to testify in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly is embattled Cook County Circuit Judge Mauricio Araujo, according to a witness list filed by federal prosecutors.
Sgt. Xavier Elizondo and Officer David Salgado were charged in May 2018 in a three-count federal indictment with conspiracy to commit theft and embezzlement. Earlier this year, a new indictment accused them of a civil rights conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Elizondo also was accused of trying to persuade Salgado to conceal evidence.
Elizondo and Salgado have been accused of abusing a system that lets cops use anonymous “John Doe” informants. An informant working for the officers gave false information to Cook County judges to get warrants that let the cops search properties where they stole money, drugs and cartons of cigarettes, according to the indictment. They also are accused of sharing the illegal proceeds with informants.
Araujo is expected to answer questions about a warrant he signed for the officers outside a Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in River North, prosecutors have said.
In March, the Chicago Sun-Times published an investigation that found that Araujo had approved nearly half of the search warrants issued to Elizondo’s gang unit over three years. The FBI questioned Araujo about a month before Elizondo and Salgado were indicted.
Araujo isn’t accused of any crime.
In his FBI interview, the judge described his relationship with Salgado as “more than an acquaintance but not quite a friend.”
Separately, the judge has been accused by the state Judicial Inquiry Board of making improper advances toward a female police officer and a female court reporter as well as demeaning a female prosecutor.
During the FBI’s investigation of Elizondo and Salgado, agents set multiple traps for the officers, court records show. They hid thousands of dollars in a rental car and inside a stove in an unoccupied apartment the officers were led to believe was a stash house.
A federal source began posing as a tipster for the accused cops in December 2017 and told Elizondo about the stash house on the West Side, authorities say. According to prosecutors, Elizondo agreed to give the source a cut of whatever was found inside.
The officers’ other tipster helped them land a search warrant for the stash house using false information, prosecutors say. Elizondo, Salgado and other officers raided it Dec. 20, 2017, and found the $15,000 that agents had stashed in the hood of a stove. However, the FBI had also placed closed-circuit recording devices in the apartment, which the officers found. So the cash was apparently inventoried with the police department.
In January 2018, the FBI stashed $18,200 in a rental car parked at a hotel near Midway Airport and left a key in the rear bumper. Elizondo, Salgado and other officers found the vehicle and drove it first to a warehouse before, then returned it to the hotel parking lot, then took it to a Mexican restauran, where they ate dinner before driving it to Homan Square and making an inventory of just $14,000, authorities say.
Federal agents came to tow the car at Homan Square the next day but ran into Salgado, according to a court document that says they told him they were from internal affairs and that, a short time later, Salgado called Elizondo to warn him.
Authorities say Elizondo told Salgado to “just relocate everything, alright?”
“Just make sure whatever you have in your house isn’t there no more, you know what I mean?”
The trial is expected to last two weeks.