CHICAGO (STMW) – To one of Chicago’s most powerful politicians, Saul Rodriguez was just another young real-estate developer.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports Rodriguez, then only 24, wanted to build five condominium buildings in Ald. Ed Burke’s 14th Ward in 1999. So he hired William Barbaro Construction, whose owner, William Barbaro, was a regular contributor to the campaign funds of Burke and then-Ald. William Banks (36th), head of the city council’s zoning committee at the time.
In July 1999, Rodriguez applied for the zoning change he needed. City planners objected, questioning the proposed increase in residential density of the Southwest Side neighborhood.
But as the ward’s alderman, Burke all but had the final say, and he gave the go-ahead. In early 2000, the city council’s zoning committee and then the full council approved the project.
Rodriguez built five two-story buildings on the south side of the street in the 2700 block of West 37th Place in Brighton Park. He estimated each building would cost $190,000.
Burke said he didn’t know at the time that Rodriguez was a reputed narcotics trafficker.
That allegation would come to light in 2009, when Rodriguez was charged in federal court with being a murderous drug kingpin.
Rodriguez’s indictment got more attention in November, when a Chicago cop was charged with taking part with Rodriguez’s alleged drug crew in robberies and kidnappings. Another law enforcement official still might be charged in the ongoing case, a source says.
“We had no way of knowing at the time — which was more than a decade ago — that Mr. Rodriguez was anything other than a developer,” Burke said.
According to federal authorities, Rodriguez, who as a teenager was a member of the La Raza street gang, for years straddled two worlds. In one, prosecutors said, he bought and sold hundreds of pounds of cocaine and heroin with the help of Chicago police officer Glenn Lewellen, hatching drug deals at a strip club in Bridgeview. The crew allegedly engaged in kidnappings, robberies, torture including sodomizing victims with broom handles, and even murder.
In the other world, Rodriguez was a successful businessman, a real-estate developer and a boxing manager. One of his fighters, David “El Torito” Torres, fought in a 2008 bout televised on ESPN2 at the Playboy Mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Among Rodriguez’s alleged partners in crime was Lewellen, 54, a Chicago police narcotics officer when he recruited Rodriguez as an informant, officials said. The city paid Rodriguez a total of more than $700,000 for information that led to the seizures of his rivals’ drugs and cash, according to a source.
After retiring from the department in 2002, Lewellen took part in Rodriguez’s drug business, according to prosecutors. He was involved in a 2003 kidnapping in which cash and 100 kilograms of cocaine were ripped off, according to his indictment. He also lied at the drug trial of an Aurora man who was convicted but later was freed after the charges were vacated because of his false testimony, prosecutors said.
According to property records., Lewellen also sold Rodriguez a home in Cicero in 2003. And Lewellen bought a home in the development across the street from Rodriguez’s on 37th Place, records show.
Lewellen, who became a home-builder and tournament poker player after he left the police department, has told authorities he owns $2.5 million in property in New Lenox. Prosecutors said Lewellen has $800,000 in the bank, which he’s disputed.
Rodriguez, who lived in a Countryside mansion, was arrested in 2009 after he allegedly plotted to steal 600 kilograms of cocaine a Mexican drug cartel was supposedly storing at a Channahon warehouse. At a meeting at the Polekatz strip club in Bridgeview, authorities said Rodriguez warned a crew member — who turned out to be a secret Drug Enforcement Administration informant — about how dangerous the mission was.
But the cocaine was fake, planted by the DEA in a sting. Rodriguez’s crew members were arrested, and, soon after, he was busted, too.
–Chicago Sun-Times, via the Sun-Times Media Wire