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Former SOS Officers To Plead Guilty To Civil Rights Charges

Former Chicago Cops Jerome Finnigan and Keith Herrera

Former Chicago Police Officers Jerome Finnigan (left) and Keith Herrera (right) [Credit: Chicago Police Dept./CBS]

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CHICAGO (CBS) – One current and three former Chicago police officers have agreed to plead guilty to federal civil rights violations in a case that involves shaking down suspected drug dealers and others.

As WBBM Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts reports, all four were once assigned to the department’s elite Special Operations Section, which has since been disbanded.

U.S. Attorney’s office spokesman Randall Samborn said that fired officers Jerome Finnigan and Keith Herrera will admit presenting false information and testimony to conceal illegal searches during which cash was stolen.

Former Officer Stephen DelBosque and Officer Eric Olsen have agreed to plead guilty to conducting illegal searches and lying about it, in court or before a grand jury.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780’s Bob Roberts Reports

The officers were charged as part of a federal investigation into “rogue officers” within the SOS unit, prosecutors said in a news release on Thursday. The charges stem from investigation into a scheme in which members of the SOS unit illegally searched and arrested drug dealers and innocent civilians and stole drugs and cash from them.

“These serious charges do not reflect the conduct of the thousands of police officers who risk their lives each day to serve with honor and integrity,” U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said in a written statement. “As a result of a thorough investigation, the SOS was disbanded and other defendants were brought to justice in the state courts.”

The charging documents accuse Finnigan of pocketing $174,500 in 2004, and Herrera of pocketing $40,000 in 2005. The two will also plead guilty to federal tax charges stemming from those illegal proceeds.

Finnigan has been jailed since 2007, awaiting trial for allegedly plotting to have another unnamed officer killed, because he believed the officer was cooperating with the investigation of the SOS unit. Herrera, who was cooperating with the feds, wore a wire to record Finnigan discussing his plot.

Samborn said that the other three defendants were charged with federal crimes for the first time on Thursday.

No date has been set for the four to enter their pleas. Finnigan and Herrera each could face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. DelBosque and Olsen could get up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Finnigan, 48, who joined the department in 1988, has been in federal custody since his original arrest in September 2007. He has since resigned from the department.

Herrera, 33, who joined the department in 2000, also has resigned. DelBosque joined the department in 2000 and has since resigned. Olsen has been an officer since 1995 and is currently on call-back status.

At least seven other officers have pleaded guilty to state charges in the investigation into corruption in the SOS unit.

Officer Frank Villareal was sentenced to four years probation in 2009 after pleading guilty to one count of felony theft. Sgt. James McGovern was sentenced to two years probation for misdemeanor attempted obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors dropped more serious charges against them in 2009 in exchange for their cooperation with the probe into SOS activities.

Five other former SOS officers also pleaded guilty to charges from the probe in 2009. They were sentenced to jail after they admitted they shook down purported drug dealers and other innocent citizens, ransacking their cars and homes in search for money, drugs and weapons.

Brian Pratscher, Guadalupe Salinas, Bart Maka and Donovan Markiewicz all admitted to a scheme in which they barged into homes and stole money — in one case after withholding insulin from a diabetic man until he told them where to find the cash.

Another officer, Margaret Hopkins, was sentenced to 60 days in jail in 2009 after she admitted she falsified a police report when her colleagues illegally searched purported drug dealers and others for drugs and money.

Villareal and McGovern were also among the officers who stopped mostly Hispanic male motorists without probable cause and wrote false police reports. They also stole money from residents and inventoried only a portion of the cash. They would split the rest among their fellow rogue officers, according to prosecutors.

When residents objected to the illegal searches, the cops would sometimes handcuff them and ordered them to show the officers where their stored additional cash and narcotics, prosecutors said. In a June 30, 2004, incident, Villareal allegedly stood by and watched as Finnegan, the scheme’s purported ringleader, and officer Bart Maka snatched the phone away from a woman who was pregnant with triplets.

Villareal also was part of a group of officers who illegally searched a home in the 4500 block of West Marquette on March 28, 2004. The group inventoried 300 grams of cannabis and a weapon they found in the residence. They failed to report that they pried open open a safe and found cash, a gold watch and a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card.