Pubdate: Sun, 19 Jan 2003
Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)
Copyright: 2003 Chicago Tribune Company
Author: Todd Lighty
Bookmark: (Corruption)


He vacationed with drug dealers, sold them arms, talked too much

The beginning of the end for Chicago cop Joseph Miedzianowski came Dec. 9, 
1998, when an operator with AT&T security left a puzzling message at his 
office in the Gang Crimes Unit.

The telephone company wanted to talk about a wiretap on a suspect's phone.

"Now this was a request by me?" he said when he returned the call, knowing 
he hadn't ordered a wiretap.

"Well, not necessarily ... it has your name on the order," the operator said.

The operator told him the tap had been placed on the cellphone of Joseph 
"Pote" DeLeon--a high-ranking member of the Imperial Gangsters street gang, 
and a key member of a drug ring Miedzianowski had been running for years.

Miedzianowski hustled the call to a conclusion, telling the operator: 
"Everything's cool."

But it wasn't.

The inexperienced operator had misread the paperwork and inadvertently 
alerted Miedzianowski that he was the target of an investigation.

The FBI had Miedzianowski's phone tapped and agents were listening when the 
AT&T operator blew the cover on its three-month investigation. They were 
still listening when Miedzianowski picked up the phone and urgently 
summoned DeLeon to a meeting, where he told the gang member to get rid of 
any drugs and the .40-caliber handgun the cop had given him as a Christmas 

Before the day was out, the FBI scrambled to roll up the network of 
Miedzianowski's drug conspirators. Within a week, Miedzianowski was arrested.

Even fellow officers who were suspicious of the fast-talking cop once known 
as "Hammerin Joe" by the street gangs around Humboldt Park were stunned by 
the case the federal government put together. Prosecutors had another name 
for the former altar boy, high school wrestler, and college fraternity 
brother from Evanston: the most corrupt cop in the history of Chicago.

In April 2001 a jury found that for more than a decade he had led a dual 
life as a police officer and drug dealer, operating a Miami-to-Chicago drug 
ring with leaders of the Imperial Gangsters, the Spanish Cobras, the Maniac 
Latin Disciples and the Latin Lovers.

On Friday, a federal judge could sentence Miedzianowski, 49, to prison for 

Miedzianowski was the broad shouldered, storied street cop with a knack for 
getting guns off the street, cultivating informants, and working cases long 
after other cops called it a day. He was a charmer, the office prankster.

He also carried a 9-foot bullwhip in his car to break up rowdy crowds. And 
when a suspect needed "tuning up," he was the muscle. He could be abrasive 
and egotistical, inventing a past built on a patchwork of lies: that he 
attended Northwestern University, earned a wrestling scholarship, graduated 
from college, was fluent in several languages, and that he served in Vietnam.

Even his fellow gang members marveled at his gradual transformation from 
crooked cop to drug dealer. He vacationed with dealers, attended their baby 
showers, sold them hand grenades, robbed rivals, and fell so in love with a 
drug courier that his gang believed he had gone over the edge.

"He lost sight of what was going on," said Nelson Padilla, the imprisoned 
leader of the Latin Lovers.

Daniel Sampila, a former lieutenant in the Gang Crimes Unit, said he was at 
a loss to explain why Miedzianowski became so corrupt.

"He's some kind of weird, sinister person. I can't figure it out. Giving 
gangbangers guns. Giving up covert vehicles. Identifying undercover 
officers. Hiding and protecting murderers. Going on fishing trips with 
gangbangers. There's something flawed in his brain, his personality," 
Sampila said.

"I cringe when I hear the name Joe Miedzianowski. ... He had a lot of 
people fooled."

I Was Framed

Joe Miedzianowski (pronounced mehd-zuh-NOW-ski) was a police officer for 22 
years. Even a partial list of corruption--as told by federal prosecutors, 
documents, interviews and witnesses at his trial--reads like a movie script:

He planted drugs and guns on suspects, tortured them with a hot coat 
hanger; beat them with lead-knuckled gloves and stole their drugs, cash and 

He fixed the criminal cases against his gang members, signed them out of 
jail for sexual trysts with girlfriends; helped a wanted killer flee the 
state; and supplied guns, including a submachine gun, and bags of 
ammunition to gang members.

And he betrayed fellow officers by undermining investigations of gang 
members close to him, and instructing one to burglarize cops' homes and 
steal their guns.

In a series of jailhouse interviews, Miedzianowski angrily denied doing 
anything wrong. Overzealous prosecutors and FBI agents framed him, he said, 
eager to notch their belts with the badge of a Chicago cop.

"The Chicago Fire? Mrs. O'Leary's cow didn't do it, I did. Am I behind 
anthrax? The Twin Tower attacks? What the hell didn't I do? This is 
ridiculous," he said.

Even after he was convicted, Miedzianowski threatened to kill the lead 
prosecutor, Brian Netols, and plotted to obtain AK-47 assault rifles and 
missile launchers for associates to help him escape from the federal 
courthouse during a hearing, according to Justice Department and Chicago 
police documents.

Miedzianowski denied plotting to hire someone to kill Netols, whispering, 
"I'd rather do it myself, with my bare hands."

As recently as last month, Miedzianowski was accused of providing an 
imprisoned gang member with personal information about a Bureau of Alcohol, 
Tobacco and Firearms agent the gang member reportedly wanted killed, 
sources said. Miedzianowski, who once worked with the ATF agent, has been 
placed in segregation at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, an area 
inmates call "The Hole."

If he was a drug dealer, he asked in an interview, where are the financial 
trappings of that lifestyle?

"There's no money here. Do I go on trips? Do I live extravagantly? There 
ain't no boat. There's nothing. ... If I was the dope dealer they said I 
was, I wouldn't be living in that little three-bedroom house. And I 
wouldn't be driving a 1988 Ford Bronco. What proof do they have? No guns, 
no money, no assets."

But even John Galligan, Miedzianowski's longtime partner, has cooperated 
with the federal government since the trial, providing prosecutors with 
additional evidence of Miedzianowski's corruption.

Galligan had pleaded guilty to fabricating a search warrant Miedzianowski 
used as a pretext to steal a kilogram of cocaine and then falsely 
testifying at a court hearing where the drug dealer claimed police stole 
her drugs.

According to his statement to federal authorities, Galligan said he order 
for it to be done, it's going to be done," Miedzianowski said. "If somebody 
needs a tuneup ... there's certain things you've got to do to get the job 
done, and I do them...

"We need some bad cops to keep the public in line. I'm not talking bad as 
in thieves. You need a couple guys that can do the job right. I do what I 
have to do to get the job done. I always have done it. My bosses know how I 

In 1984, Miedzianowski got in a jam that reached all the way to City Hall. 
He was accused of assaulting a Humboldt Park minister, Rev. Jorge Morales, 
who was a political ally of then Mayor Harold Washington.

Miedzianowski said Morales was drinking from a bottle of wine outside his 
church and resisted arrest. Morales said Miedzianowski grabbed the wine 
from another man, broke it on the pavement and beat Morales when the 
minister asked him to clean up the broken glass.

The department combined the Morales case with another brutality involving 
Miedzianowski and Galligan and suspended the two. But the Police Board 
dismissed the charges.

Morales, now with the Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ, 
said he regretted not filing a civil lawsuit against Miedzianowski. "It's 
sad that so many innocent people have been hurt by his wrongdoing," he said.

Police commanders split up Miedzianowski and Galligan but they were 
reunited after Washington's death in November 1987.

My Mentor

Even fellow officers who did not particularly like Miedzianowski said he 
had a nose for recovering guns.

"I profile people driving by. We stop the Mexican with the cowboy hat. 
Always stop them. Always stop the girl, a cute girl, in a nice car in a 
[bad] neighborhood," Miedzianowski said. "She's a courier.

"Stop the guy with a baby seat in the car. I always come up with a gun. The 
guy with the baby seat ... they think it lends some credibility toward 
them. Gives them a little shield like they're a family man. He's got a pistol."

He also excelled at recruiting informants.

"There's no way to get directly inside the gang," Miedzianowski said. "I 
never used ... wiretaps. I don't use tails. I use my informants. My 
informants do all my work for me. They get me into every house, into every 
gang leader."

He seemed to have sources in every gang selling cocaine and marijuana in 
and around Humboldt Park. There was Little Omar, Pote, Biggie, Mo and 
Casper. Nelson "Baby Face" Padilla was 16, a peewee in the Latin Lover 
street gang when he said he met Miedzianowski in the early 1980s.

"He was one of those cops that would come through the neighborhood and 
intimidate everybody," recalled Padilla, now 38. "He was big and muscular 
and he never gave up on a foot chase. He was definitely not a Dunkin' Donut 
cop like the rest of them fat asses."

Miedzianowski asked Padilla and his fellow gang members if they were 
behaving and inquired about school.

Slowly, Miedzianowski gained Padilla's trust and loyalty. When Padilla was 
arrested with a handgun, he said Miedzianowski intervened and he was let go 
on the condition he'd bring in another gun. Their relationship grew as 
Padilla rose to become prince, or leader, of the Latin Lovers.

Padilla said he provided information to Miedzianowski and Galligan about 
where rival gang members kept drugs and guns, eliminating the competition 
in the neighborhood along Fullerton Avenue, between Western and California.

On several occasions, Padilla visited Miedzianowski at his Far Northwest 
Side home, where he was once photographed with his arm around 
Miedzianowski's son, who was then 10.

As a gang crimes specialist, Miedzianowski held the rank equivalent to that 
of a detective. Increasingly, gang members were no longer informants and 
the enemy but his friends.

"Joe became my mentor," Padilla said in a recent interview from federal 
prison in Florida. "I loved Joe."

Gangs became a way of life for Miedzianowski and a way to make money. 
Padilla said he assisted Miedzianowski and other rogue cops in stealing 
from drug dealers. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Padilla said he and 
Miedzianowski participated in 15 robberies--or "geezos"--their slang word 
for holdups.

The first geezo was arranged around 1989 by an old friend of Padilla's, 
Mohammed Omar, who was a member of the Spanish Cobras and already an 
operative for Miedzianowski.

Padilla said he and Omar teamed up with Miedzianowski to rob drug dealers 
at the former Diamond Touch carwash near Grand Avenue and Central Park 

The scheme was to sell 10 kilograms of cocaine to two drug dealers, but 
nine of the kilos would be fakes. Miedzianowski inspected the fake dope and 
concluded it looked real enough and gave his go-ahead.

The kilogram of cocaine was cut open and the buyers nodded their approval. 
Because they had done business with Omar in the past, they trusted him and 
didn't inspect the rest of the shipment before handing over a duffel bag 
with at least $150,000.

Padilla said Miedzianowski and Galligan had parked nearby at a Kentucky 
Fried Chicken restaurant. The officers pulled over the buyers' car and 
seized the kilos before the buyers discovered they had bought fake drugs.

According to Omar's statement to the FBI, Miedzianowski used the cash to 
remodel his home and told him: "Keep them coming."

During the summer of 1990, Omar said Miedzianowski gave him a handgun and 
an official Chicago Police Department jacket so he could pretend he was a 
cop. Omar assisted Miedzianowski in stopping two drug dealers transporting 
three-kilograms of cocaine. Miedzianowski released the dealers but he and 
Omar kept their drugs

Other times, Padilla said Miedzianowski and Galligan staged his arrest in 
front of drug dealers after Padilla bought cocaine on credit. Miedzianowski 
provided Padilla with bogus bond slips he could show the dealers that his 
drugs had been seized by police.

Teflon Cop

Miedzianowski's suspicious activity did not go unnoticed.

In the early 1990s, Miedzianowski and Galligan were assigned to the Bureau 
of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to work on an investigation of the Latin 
Kings. ATF supervisory agent Diane Klipfel accused Miedzianowski of 
stealing money and jewelry during a drug bust.

Klipfel's charge set off a flurry of other accusations. Miedzianowski 
accused Klipfel of stealing, and Klipfel charged that Miedzianowski 
threatened to kill her and her children.

The ATF and Chicago police investigated Klipfel's accusations but her 
charges were not sustained. Both agencies accused the other of not cooperating.

In January 1993, a directive from ATF headquarters in Washington ordered 
Miedzianowski and Galligan sent back to the Police Department.

While assigned to ATF, Miedzianowski met another drug dealing informant, 
Juan "Casper" Martir, at the time second-in-command of the Imperial Gangsters.

Preferred Treatment

As he had done for Padilla, Miedzianowski arranged for Martir to have 
sexual trysts with a woman while he was in federal custody.

When Martir was released from prison at the end of 1993, he sought out Omar 
and the two began dealing drugs. They occasionally paid Miedzianowski a few 
thousand dollars so he would protect their operations from legitimate law 
enforcement officers, according to government documents.

That protection included helping Padilla elude homicide detectives looking 
to question him.

When a rival from the Maniac Latin Disciples was gunned down in January 
1995, witnesses implicated Padilla.

Miedzianowski obtained a copy of the investigative file and showed Padilla 
the witnesses' statements. Padilla hid in Martir's drug stash houses for a 
month then fled the state, using the name of a Chicago police detective as 
an alias.

"I always maintained my communications with Joe," Padilla said. "He was my 
guardian angel."

Meanwhile, Martir had failed to share his drug profits with his gang and 
decided for his own safety to move his drug operation to Miami in 1996.

Before he left, Martir arranged a meeting with Miedzianowski at the old 
police station on Maxwell Street and introduced him to a high-level figure 
in the Imperial Gangsters, Joseph "Pote" DeLeon.

Miedzianowski and DeLeon hit it off. DeLeon told FBI agents Miedzianowski 
gave him crack cocaine to sell, and bags of ammunition and 12 guns as 
gifts. DeLeon sold the guns and ammo to fellow gang members who were 
fighting rivals.

He told the FBI that Miedzianowski tipped him off about planned police drug 
sweeps through his drug corners, provided him names of gang members who 
were police snitches, and identified undercover police vehicles such as a 
Geo Tracker and a Ford Thunderbird with tinted windows.

Once, Miedzianowski brought DeLeon into an area of the police station 
off-limits to informants and suspects.

Sgt. Ed Stack said he later realized Miedzianowski had conducted a "reverse 
lineup"--allowing DeLeon to see the faces of undercover police officers who 
buy drugs on the street.

Miedzianowski would page cohorts when undercover officers were working in 
their turf, telling them that "Fig and the boys are buying dope."

"Fig" is Officer George Figueroa, an expert on the Imperial Gangsters. He 
said undercover officers were able to purchase from all the street corners 
controlled by the gang but one: the area around St. Louis Avenue and 
Lyndale Street controlled by DeLeon.

"It never even dawned on us that someone on our side was betraying us," 
Figueroa said.

New Attraction

By the spring of 1997, his gang friends said Miedzianowski was falling 
deeper and deeper into the life of a drug dealer. He dated the former 
girlfriend of an Imperial Gangster.

And then he met Alina Lis, a blue-eyed blonde who was the godmother of one 
of Martir's children. Lis would eventually earn the title "frequent flyer" 
for the amount of cocaine she transported aboard airplanes.

Lis was then 33--11 years younger than Miedzianowski.

"She is a very attractive girl," Miedzianowski said. "She's got a heart. 
Just like my wife, she's got a heart. My wife is unbelievable. That's the 
honest to God truth. My wife is beautiful on the inside as she is on the 
out, just like Lis. She exudes love, just like my old lady, I swear."

Lis said Miedzianowski falsely told her he and his wife had separated, and 
that he was taking care of his son and daughter. She was impressed with how 
polite he was, always opening doors for her.

"We spent a lot of time together for me to believe that there was no wife 
living at home," said Lis, who was convicted of drug charges. "Another 
thing that made me fall in love with him was he was a wonderful father."

Miedzianowski said he kept his 18-month affair from his wife, even though 
Lis said Miedzianowski often spent the night with her.

Lis, who denies dealing drugs, said she and Miedzianowski had made plans to 
marry and have children.

Miedzianowski set Lis up in an apartment in the 8500 block of West Bryn 
Mawr Avenue, buying furniture and signing the lease with an alias, Joe Lis. 
The three-story tan and brown brick building is six blocks from 
Miedzianowski's home.

Associates said he was paying Lis' bills and had become "greedy," demanding 
that Omar and Martir pay him $15,000 a month in protection money. Omar said 
he refused to pay and tried to distance himself from Miedzianowski.

Padilla also saw changes as Miedzianowski spent more time with Lis, whom 
fellow gang members called Ala.

"He lost sight of what was going on. He's a cop," Padilla said. "Before he 
was dealing with Ala, yeah, we used to kick it with him but he wouldn't be 
in the house while we were cooking cocaine, he wouldn't be in the house 
when a shipment came in. He wasn't going to the airport picking people up. 
But Ala was doing all that. When Joe got involved with her, then, things 

Miedzianowski's sergeant also noticed that he was missing a lot of time at 
work for unexplained reasons.

That year, he helped capture a fugitive killer from Connecticut featured on 
the television show "America's Most Wanted." But he also was delivering 
kilos of crack cocaine to DeLeon, who had become the drug ring's biggest 
customer and had risen within the Imperial Gangsters to become a board 
member overseeing the gang.

Miedzianowski hung out in bars with gang members and he attended showers 
for their babies, buying them gifts. Miedzianowski and his family in spring 
1998 vacationed in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, with a drug dealer, who 
arranged a fishing excursion for Miedzianowski and his son, and videotaped 
the trip.

Listening In

The balancing act fell apart when Martir was arrested on drug charges in 
Florida in February 1998.

An informant tipped authorities Martir had been regularly calling 
Miedzianowski from prison, calls that are automatically recorded.

In cryptic conversations, Miedzianowski told Martir he would put in a good 
word with prosecutors if he kept his mouth shut about the Chicago drug 
operation. He also promised to collect drug debts to pay for Martir's lawyers.

Armed with the Florida calls, prosecutors in September obtained a court 
order in Chicago to begin secretly listening to and tracing phone calls of 
Miedzianowski's and others in the conspiracy.

Tape recordings played at trial caught coarse, freewheeling conversations 
between Miedzianowski and members of his drug conspiracy.

In one conversation, Miedzianowski reminded a gang member that he wanted 
loyalty and threatened to harm those who dare cross him. "I would not only 
[expletive] them, I would [expletive] their brothers, their sisters, their 
aunts, their uncles," he said. "If they had a parakeet, I'd [expletive] the 

On Dec. 16, 1998, FBI agents arrested Miedzianowski when he showed up for 
work. Miedzianowski's commander summoned him into his office, where agents 
were waiting. "You are under arrest. Please don't touch your gun," one of 
them told him.

Even before his trial, the Chicago Police Department disbanded the Gang 
Crimes Unit and instituted tighter controls over homicide files, 
information Miedzianowski had provided to gang members and their lawyers.

Of the 22 suspects eventually arrested with Miedzianowski, 18 pleaded 
guilty and received shorter prison sentences for cooperating with the 
government. Four others went to trial with Miedzianowski and were convicted.

At trial, prosecutors played more than 250 secretly tape-recorded 
conversations between Miedzianowski and gang members.

In the end, Miedzianowski's gift of gab did him in.

"The only thing that [ticks] me off about him is that he ... talked on the 
phone the way he did," Padilla said. "I still can't fathom what he was 
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