Operation Greylord was an investigation conducted jointly by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Chicago Police Department Internal Affairs Division and the Illinois State Police into corruption in the judiciary of Cook County, Illinois (the Chicago jurisdiction). The FBI named the investigation "Operation Greylord" after the grey curly wigs of British judges, or a local racehorse.
The 3 1/2-year undercover operation took place in the 1980s, with the cooperation of some state and local law enforcement and judicial officials. Eventually, with trials extending ten years after the end of the undercover phase, as discussed below, over 92 public officials were indicted (almost all in federal court), and most eventually were convicted, either by guilty pleas or trials.
The undercover phase included two local courts and two Illinois attorneys who agreed to operate undercover (and were allowed to do so by senior Illinois judges, including Harry Comerford of Glenview) as well as numerous FBI agents and cooperating local law enforcement officers. Cook County Judge Thaddeus Kowalski also cooperated with authorities even though he knew his cooperation might endanger his career. Recently elected downstate judge Brocton Lockwood operated undercover in the Chicago Traffic Court. In addition, Assistant State's Attorney Terrence Hake went undercover in the Criminal Division of the Cook County Circuit Court, initially as a prosecutor and later as a defense attorney (although actually on the FBI payroll).
Key undercover FBI agents and lawyers included: David Grossman, David Reis and Hake. As a Cook County prosecutor, Hake initially complained about the bribery and corruption in the Murder and Sexual Assault preliminary hearing courtroom in Chicago. The FBI and United States Attorneys Office learned of his complaint and recruited him to pose as a corrupt prosecutor and later as a bribe-paying criminal defense attorney. Lamar Jordan, David Benscoter, Marie Dyson, William C. Megary, and Robert Farmer were the principal FBI case agents and supervisors during the investigation. Six Internal Revenue Service agents also played key roles in tracking the money flows, including Dennis Czurylo and Bill Thullen.
During the next decade, four United States Attorneys -- Thomas P. Sullivan, Dan K. Webb, Anton R. Valukas and Fred Foreman -- supervised the investigations and prosecutions. First Assistant United States Attorney Daniel Reidy and Assistant United States Attorneys (AUSA) Charles Sklarsky, Scott Lassar, Scott Mendeloff and Candace J. Fabri led many of the prosecutions. In 1985, Valukus and AUSA James Schweitzer indicted 22 corrupt court personnel, along with Judge Raymond Sodini, who presided over the corruption in his courtroom at Chicago Police Headquarters.
The first listening device ever placed in a judge's chambers occurred in the undercover phase, when after hearing tapes recorded by undercover agent/prosecutor Hake, a higher court found evidentiary probable cause and allowed the FBI to bug the narcotics court chambers of Judge Wayne Olson, one of those later convicted of corruption. In order to acquire evidence of corruption, agents obtained judicial and U.S. Department of Justice authorization to present false court cases for the undercover agents/lawyers to fix in front of the corrupt judges. The investigative phase ended when one of the fake victims of a contrived crime dropped his FBI badge, which had another name as the local Chicago beat cops noticed.
Indictment and Trial Phase
The first defendant to be found guilty was Harold Conn, Deputy Traffic Court Clerk in the Cook County judicial system. Conn was convicted in March 1984 and was one of the many bagmen in the ring of corruption. The last conviction was that of Judge Thomas J. Maloney, who was indicted in 1991 on bribery charges and convicted in April 1993 of fixing three murder cases for more than $100,000 in bribes. Maloney was released from federal prison in 2008, and died the same year.
A total of 93 people were indicted, including 17 judges, 48 lawyers, ten deputy sheriffs, eight policemen, eight court officials, and state legislator James DeLeo. Of the 17 judges indicted, 15 were convicted. One judge, Richard LeFevour, was convicted on 59 counts of mail fraud, racketeering and income-tax violations, and later sentenced to 12 years in prison, as well as being disbarred. The stiffest sentence was received by former Circuit Judge Reginald Holzer, who received an 18 year sentence for accepting over $200,000 in bribes from multiple attorneys. Three defendants commmitted suicide, including former Circuit Judge Allen Rosin.
The systemic corruption led to the formation of the Special Commission on the Administration of Justice in Cook County, a group assembled in August 1984 to examine the problems of the Cook County courts. The group also issued recommendations that were designed to contribute to a period of reform in the courts. The Commission, led by Jenner & Block attorney Jerold Solovy, wrote a total of 165 recommendations for the courts of Cook County. Questions remain as to whether those changes achieved the cleanup which many citizens and Better Government advocates desired.
Operation Greylord also led to several similar investigations targeting corruption in Cook County, including Operation Silver Shovel, Incubator, Lantern, Operation Gambat, and Safebet. Operation Greylord also became known for its use of eavesdropping devices in order to obtain evidence for trial.
Most of the prosecutors have since left government service and joined large law firms, including Jenner & Block. One, Candace J. Fabri, became a judge in Cook County in 2006, and was recently rated "Well Qualified" by a local attorneys' group; only a former public defender received a higher rating. Circuit Judge Thomas R. Fitzgerald, who cleaned up Traffic Court after the Greylord investigation, was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, from which he retired in 2010.
In 2009, an attorney for some of those convicted in the Greylord investigation requested that Governor Pat Quinn issue mass pardons, calling her clients rather than the taxpayers the real victims, but the governor did not grant that request before he was defeated for re-election in 2014. In 2010 and 2014, respectively, two attorneys disbarred for unethical conduct disclosed in the Greylord investigation sought to regain their respective law licenses, but were denied; another attorney withdrew a similar application in 2003.
- "Investigations of Public Corruption". Federal Bureau of Investigation. 15 March 2004. Retrieved 21 Oct 2011.
- Hinkel, Dan (5 July 2011). "Thaddeus Kowalski, 1931-2011". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 21 Nov 2011.
- Brocton Lockwood with Harlan H. Mendenhall, Operation Greylord: Brocton Lockwood's Story (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1989)
- Terrence Hake with Wayne Klatt, Operation Greylord: the True Story of an Untrained Undercover Agent and America's Biggest Corruption Bust (Chicago: American Bar Association Press, 2015
- Possley, Maurice (5 August 1983). "Operation Greylord". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 24 Oct 2011.
- "Chicago Division: A Brief History". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 21 Oct 2011.
- Jensen, Trevor (22 October 2008). "Judge was convicted of rigging cases". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 24 Oct 2011.
- "'Greylord' Judge Gets 12 Years". Los Angeles Times. 27 August 1985. Retrieved 21 Nov 2011.
- Lindberg, Richard (1994). "No More Greylords?". IPSN. Retrieved 24 Oct 2011.
- James Merrimer, Grafters and Goo Goo (Southern Illinois University Press, 2008)