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FBI grilled Cook County judge with ties to indicted Chicago cop

David Salgado

Chicago police officer David Salgado. | FOX32 Chicago

Cook County Circuit Judge Mauricio Araujo attended the wake for the mother of Chicago cop David Salgado.

Araujo dropped by Salgado’s bachelor party — in South America.

And Araujo was invited to his wedding.

But are they friends? Not according to the judge, when the FBI asked him.

Araujo told the FBI that Salgado — who is now facing federal corruption charges — was “more than an acquaintance but not quite a friend,” according to an FBI summary of the interview.

Araujo certainly saw Salgado frequently. As a judge, he approved nearly half of the search warrants issued to the officer’s gang crimes unit in the past three years, according to records and interviews.

Mauricio Araujo

Cook County Circuit Judge Mauricio Araujo signed 82 search warrants for a Chicago police gang crimes unit at the center of a federal corruption case. | Rich Hein / Sun-Times

The FBI questioned Araujo about a month before Salgado and his supervisor, Chicago police Sgt. Xavier Elizondo, were indicted in May 2018, accused of stealing cash from drug dealers during searches. Salgado and Elizondo are charged with presenting false information to judges to obtain search warrants.

Araujo hasn’t been charged with any crime.

On March 27, 2018, an FBI agent and a federal prosecutor visited a courtroom in the Leighton Criminal Court Building at 26th and California after Araujo finished hearing cases for the day.

Records reviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times show the judge asked them, “Are you here for me?” They asked to speak with him in private, and he said no.

Araujo asked the FBI agent to confirm that he wasn’t a target of the investigation — but the agent declined.

The judge also is quoted as telling the authorities, “You’ll be hearing from the attorney general about this.”

Then, on April 11, Araujo was interviewed at the U.S. attorney’s office. That’s when he described his relationship with Salgado as “more than an acquaintance but not quite a friend,” according to an FBI summary that says the judge talked about when he socialized with Salgado.

The Leighton Criminal Court Building, where Judge Mauricio Araujo was assigned until last year, when he was accused of sexual harassment. | Sun-Times files

He told them he went to a wake for Salgado’s mother and that he had met with Salgado in Cartagena, Colombia, at Salgado’s bachelor party, which overlapped with the 80th birthday party for Araujo’s father there, according to the summary.

Araujo also told the authorities he was invited to Salgado’s wedding and reception in 2017, according to the document, which quotes the judge as saying the situation involving Salgado and Elizondo was sad and that it had damaged the trust that people have in the police.

Shortly after Salgado and Elizondo were indicted on May 9, 2018, Chief Cook County Judge Timothy Evans changed the rules for judges to approve search warrants. Police officers now must call a randomly assigned duty judge when seeking approval of a warrant after hours or on weekends, court spokesman Pat Milhizer said. Officers seeking warrants during regular court hours are sent to the chambers of Judge LeRoy Martin Jr., chief of the court’s criminal division, where they’re sent to a randomly assigned judge. Officers also can seek approval from one of the six judges in the rotation who preside at preliminary bail hearings.

Araujo approved 82 search warrants for the officers’ Area Central gang enforcement unit from 2015 to 2018, records show. That’s nearly four times more than any other judge.

Though Araujo won’t comment, a source close to the judge said he was just “accessible” to officers.

A few dozen other Cook County judges also have signed warrants for the gang team in the past three years, records show. Nearly all the other judges signed just one or two warrants for the unit. One judge signed 22.

The Sun-Times reviewed 188 search warrant “data forms” obtained through a public records request. The newspaper asked the police department for information about searches involving Elizondo and Salgado and three other officers who’ve been stripped of their police powers but haven’t been charged.

Xavier Elizondo

Sgt. Xavier Elizondo when he appeared in federal court last May. | FOX32

Salgado was the “affiant” who requested many of the warrants, and Elizondo supervised many of the searches, the records show.

In December 2017, Salgado presented Araujo with an informant who gave a false story so the gang unit could obtain a warrant to search an apartment in Humboldt Park, according to federal court records.

The officers discovered $15,000 — which the FBI had secretly planted in a stove at the apartment as part of a sting operation on the cops. The officers also found surveillance equipment that the FBI had installed in the apartment, court records show.

The officers properly placed the entire $15,000 in evidence, the court records show. But the following month, according to court records, the officers stole $4,200 in another search that also was monitored by the FBI. That’s at the center of the federal indictment against the officers.

Araujo no longer signs off on search warrants after being assigned last year to administrative duties in response to a sexual harassment complaint made by a Cook County prosecutor. Araujo is accused of calling the prosecutor a “bitch” and suggesting that he had sex with her when they were law students.

He is now limited to performing marriage ceremonies and conducting legal research at the Daley Center.

The harassment complaint remains under investigation by the Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board.

Many of the warrants Araujo signed for the Area Central Gang Enforcement Unit 311 were “John Doe” warrants, meaning an anonymous informant provided information to justify the need for a raid.

Officers are supposed to bring unnamed “John Does” before a judge so the judge can question the informant and verify that the source is a real person and decide whether the information seems trustworthy, according to Dan Locallo, a retired Cook County judge.

“With a warrant, you are authorizing police to go in to someone’s home, so you want to make sure that there is good, constitutional reason for them to violate that privacy,” Locallo said.

A source close to Araujo said the judge questioned every John Doe informant before he would approve any search warrant. During the day, he’d often meet cops and their John Doe informants in parking lots outside the courthouse at 26th and California where he worked, according to the source, who said the officers didn’t want their informants seen by criminals in the courthouse.

At night, the judge would drive to meet officers and their John Doe informants because he didn’t want snitches with criminal backgrounds coming near his home, the source said.

It’s not uncommon for judges to do that.

But the number of warrants Araujo signed for the gang enforcement unit seems “unusual,” according to a Cook County judge who spoke only on the condition that he not be identified by name.

The Dec. 20, 2017, raid that led to the $15,000 seizure by the gang unit involved a John Doe informant. Authorities say Salgado presented Araujo with false information from the John Doe. An FBI informant wearing a hidden microphone was recorded telling Elizondo and another officer that he bought marijuana in the apartment, according to court records.

But the affidavit for the warrant, prepared by officers, said something different: that the informant saw two bricks of heroin on a kitchen table while buying the drug there, records show.

Then,on Jan. 28, 2018, an informant secretly working for the FBI gave the cops a tip about a Hyundai parked at a hotel near Midway Airport. The informant told the officers they’d find cocaine and cash in the car.

FBI agents hid $18,200 in marked bills in the car to see whether the officers would make a proper inventory. The officers seized the money, keeping $4,200 and turning over the rest to the police department, according to the FBI.

The officers are accused of lying in their police report that they “observed the vehicle to be open,” though it was locked, according to the FBI, which said the informant told the officers a key was hidden in the bumper, which they used to open the car.

At least 14 people have pleaded guilty to charges after they were arrested as part of Area Central Gang Enforcement Unit 311 raids authorized by Araujo, records show.

Five went to prison. The rest got probation. Seventeen others were arrested, but the charges against them later were dropped, court records show.

Cook County prosecutors have said the corruption charges against Elizondo and Salgado have prompted them to dismiss dozens of cases in which the officers had a role in an arrest. And in the past three years, the city has paid out at least $200,000 to settle lawsuits against officers on their gang unit.