(Chicago Tribune) Two days before a task force that included Chicago police and federal drug agents moved to make arrests in a yearlong drug investigation, a wiretap picked up a stunning disclosure during a phone call to a target of the probe.
“We gotta homie that works on the task force,” the caller told the target, warning him to “clean the place up.”
A few hours later, officers on surveillance watched as drugs were moved out of a stash house on Chicago’s West Side that investigators had planned to raid.
It looked to authorities like a member of the task force had leaked word of the undercover investigation.
On Thursday, a federal jury agreed with prosecutors that the renegade was Chicago police Officer Ronald T. Coleman, convicting him on a single count of obstruction of justice.
By warning a high school friend about the impending drug busts, Coleman, 46, of Chicago, violated a “circle of trust” that officers depended on for the integrity of their investigation as well as their safety, prosecutors alleged.
Coleman had been detailed to work with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. He was a 17-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department when he was charged last November.
He had been suspended without pay after his indictment, but a statement issued on behalf of police Superintendent Eddie Johnson after Coleman’s conviction said he would be seeking the officer’s firing.
U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle, who presided over the four-day jury trial, scheduled sentencing for Nov. 15. Coleman faces up to 20 years in prison.
The prosecution case largely hinged on the testimony of two cousins who had been high school basketball teammates of Coleman’s at Providence St. Mel.
The indictment alleged that in June 2014 Coleman conducted surveillance for the DEA on a residence in the 1600 block of South Trumbull Avenue when he saw one of the cousins, Dewan Davis, meeting with a known heroin supplier.
The other cousin, Laron Conway, testified that as a result of a call from a woman, he reached out by phone to Coleman on the morning of June 9, 2014.
Conway told jurors that Coleman told him that police were going to search as many as a dozen houses in their old neighborhood, including Davis’ residence. Conway also said Coleman told him he didn’t want to see Davis there when police showed up and to tell Davis to “cut the (expletive) out.”
The next day, Conway said, he called Davis to pass on the tip from Coleman.
Davis also testified, corroborating his cousin’s account.
“He said they were coming to raid the house,” Davis told jurors of his conversation with his cousin.
Davis testified that he called Rodney Bedenfield, the drug supplier whom the feds had wiretapped, to warn him about the impending raid.
Federal authorities were listening in to the call.
“We gotta uh clean that place up,” Davis told Bedenfield in an audio recording played by prosecutors for the jury. “… We gotta homie that works for the task force.”
About an hour later, officers on surveillance saw Bedenfield exit his home carrying three bags, drive a vehicle around the block and move the bags into a residence in the 2100 block of South Christiana Avenue.
Two days later, agents raided that residence and seized 400 grams of heroin, narcotics packaging paraphernalia, a rifle, six handguns and ammunition, authorities said.
Coleman took the stand in his own defense at trial and said he’d informed a superior officer that he played basketball with two targets. Coleman said he’d also told police about knowing Davis in 2014 but acknowledged it wasn’t documented anywhere.
He never mentioned Conway to investigators, Coleman said.
Coleman said he talked to Conway on June 9 and knew he was Davis’ cousin, but said they talked about an upcoming picnic. They’d been talking on Facebook as part of a group about an upcoming reunion.
By June 10, Coleman heard on the wire that Davis called Bedenfield and told him “to move some things from his home.” He didn’t offer to call Conway “and find out who that homie on the task force was,” Coleman acknowledged during a cross-examination.
He kept in touch with Conway as the leak investigation continued but didn’t tell police about it. He said he didn’t mention his contacts with Conway because the two did not discuss “work.”
The investigation of the Conservative Vice Lords street gang culminated with 27 people being charged, authorities said.
Bedenfield, 43, of Chicago, was convicted of narcotics and firearms charges and was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
Article Org: chicagotribune.com