CROOKED CITY

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A Toast, Of Sorts, To The Real Warriors...

About four years ago seven men gathered at a near west side restaurant to discuss strategies by which they might combat the wrongful conviction movement in Chicago.

It was a monumental undertaking, as the myth that Chicago cops are a bunch of racist thugs willing to frame innocent people had burrowed itself deep into the city’s institutions. 

So powerful had the wrongful conviction narrative become in the city that Tribune columnist Eric Zorn had written a piece about it, entitled A Toast, of Sorts, to the Warriors praising key players in the movement and offering them a toast of congratulations. 

So it was with a sense of impossibility that all seven of us gathered at the restaurant. It was very likely we would never overcome the forces of the wrongful conviction movement in the city. 

We were also an unlikely collection. Two of the men at the restaurant were retired detectives who had been accused of torturing suspects. They spelled out to the rest of us how a collection of lawyers, university professors, students and their supporters undermined murder convictions by getting witnesses to change their stories. The detectives described how their retirement was spent going from one deposition and hearing to another, reading their names in the paper, accused of the worst transgressions, transgressions they never committed. 

Two other men were retired Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents, Jim Delorto and John Mazzola, now working as private investigators. Because Delorto and Mazzola had worked for attorneys who defended cops accused of wrongdoing in murder cases, they had a broad knowledge of the cases. Probably no one in the city knew as much as they did about how wrongful conviction activists undermined legitimate murder convictions. 

Another attendee of the meeting was a retired Chicago Tribune reporter named William Crawford. In a long and distinguished career, Crawford had won numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize. 

Finally, there was me, a Chicago cop and writer. I had just published my first book and had been drawn to several murder cases in which offenders had been released on the claims of police misconduct. 

Our decision on how to proceed was easy enough. In the months before our meeting, Crawford had camped out at the office of the lawyers who were representing Alstory Simon, a man framed for two murders he did not commit. 

Simon had been framed as part of a depraved plot by Northwestern University Professor David Protess and his private investigator, Paul Ciolino. By getting Simon to confess to the murders he did not commit, Protess and Ciolino were able to spring Anthony Porter from death row. 

Porter’s release from prison was the crowning achievement of the wrongful conviction movement, and initiated a flood of other wrongful conviction claims against Chicago cops and prosecutors. 

But Crawford saw the case for what it was, a criminal conspiracy by Protess and Ciolino. He broke down, step by step, the truth about this scam and wrote it in a long article, called Chimera. He sent it to editors and journalists throughout the city, then the country. 

Not one of them would take up his story. 

But while Crawford had unfolded the truth about the Porter case through the court records, the detectives and cops involved in the case had not been contacted. No one had heard their story. So one day I called the pension board and found out that one of the lead detectives on the case, Charles Salvatore, still lived in the city. A lady at the pension board agreed to call Salvatore and see if he would talk to me. A few minutes later, Salvatore called and said he would meet. 

The saga of what the detectives and cops went through in the Porter case became the other crucial half of the narrative revealing the dark truth about the wrongful conviction movement and its representatives. 

Over the course of the next five years, all seven of us, particularly William Crawford and I, would spend our days amassing more and more evidence that the Porter exoneration was a criminal scam. Hardly a day went by when Crawford and I didn’t speak about some new piece of evidence, some new development. Our narrative of the case became airtight. 

Eventually the evidence we brought forth was so compelling that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez could no longer ignore it, though it was clear she wanted nothing to do with it. The reason is that one of the key themes of the Porter saga is that it could not have taken place without prosecutorial misconduct. 

But after a year-long investigation, Alvarez released Simon from prison in 2014, though she refused to declare him innocent of the murders. 

Along the way, Crawford turned his article about the case into a book, Justice Perverted and I published Crooked City, my account of how I came to believe the wrongful conviction movement was a scam. 

Then Simon’s lawyers filed a $40 million lawsuit against Northwestern, Protess, and Ciolino. Only this lawsuit wasn’t in the Chicago courts. It would therefore not be presided over by one of the many incompetent judges from the Chicago machine, political hacks who got the job for patronage. It could not be undermined by powerful political pressure. 

This was a court outside the boundaries of the most crooked city. And so yesterday, the judge in this case rejected every motion to dismiss that lawyers for Northwestern, Protess, and Ciolino could manufacture. 

Turns out Crawford’s take on the Porter exoneration, and mine, has been bolstered in the courts once again. 

With this ruling, there is great pressure on Northwestern to settle the case, as the depositions and evidence gathering in a trial would paint a picture so disturbing that Northwestern could never live it down. 

Whether Northwestern, Protess, and Ciolino settle or not, the evidence of corruption in the wrongful conviction movement can no longer be contained. 

The real story has can now come out. And this is the story: A collection of extremely radical lawyers, professors, and activists hailing back to the 1960s riots and calling themselves revolutionaries banded together to attack the police. Over the course of the last forty years, they moved from obscurity to the very centersof power in the city’s institutions by vilifying the police and transforming killers into folk heroes. They did so in Chicago because the corruption in the city means that its leaders are easily bought off or intimidated. 

And they did so with aid of the media. Long ago, Chicago’s lost its free press, replaced with a collection of journalists with impressive degrees but little sense of duty to the republic that gave them life. Among these journalists, Tribune writer Eric Zorn stands at the forefront, but there are a host of other media figures tied to the wrongful conviction hustle. 

So, a toast to everyone involved in getting Alstory Simon out of prison and getting the truth about the Porter case in front of the public. To William Crawford, Jim Delorto, John Mazzola, and the detectives who first attended the meeting at the restaurant four years ago. To retired Chicago sergeant Charles Salvatore, who came forward and provided the crucial information about the case, to the all the other retired cops who also worked on the case. 

It could be a new beginning in the Crooked City. 

By Martin Preib

 

 

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