A Cook County sheriff’s officer and his son have been snared in a federal sting into contraband tobacco trafficking, authorities say.
On Jan. 30, sheriff’s Officer Lawrence A. Draus allegedly took $10,000
wrapped in newspaper from an informant for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The informant was posing as a trafficker in contraband cigarettes — those without a tax stamp.
For several months, Draus’ son allegedly extorted protection money from the informant, saying his father could stop police from busting a warehouse where the illegal tobacco was stored, according to the ATF.
The son, Lawrence E. Draus, also bought dozens of cases of contraband cigarettes from the informant, authorities said. Each case contains more than 10,000 cigarettes, officials say.
On Jan. 30, Draus Sr. met the informant for the first time at a restaurant, accompanied by his son, authorities said.
Draus Sr. allegedly accepted the package of cash under the table.
“I am doing this for my son. I don’t care about anything. It’s for him. I
want him to do good,” Draus Sr. allegedly told the informant in a secretly recorded conversation.
The informant asked Draus Sr. to “scare off” someone “hovering around my business,” according to a federal complaint. “Get me his name,” Draus Sr. allegedly responded.
The informant provided Draus Sr. with the name of another man secretly working for ATF, according to the complaint.
On Feb. 1, Draus Sr., wearing a badge around his neck, allegedly confronted the man outside the warehouse. After a brief discussion, Draus allegedly told the man to “hit the road” and he left, according to the complaint.
Draus and his son have been charged with conspiracy to commit extortion. They were arrested Tuesday and released on their own recognizance, ATF spokesman Tom Ahern said.
ATF accuses Draus’ son of accepting about $60,000 in protection money from the informant since July. The son also paid about $217,000 for 170 cases of contraband cigarettes, the complaint said.
“It’s early in the case,” said Brendan Shiller, attorney for Draus Sr. “He’s innocent until proven guilty.”
The sheriff’s office has been cooperating with the federal investigation since mid-summer 2011, said sheriff’s spokesman Frank Bilecki.
Draus Sr., a 35-year veteran of the office, has specialized in investigating animal crimes. He was relieved of his duties and suspended after his arrest, Bilecki said.
The Drauses were busted as part of a larger investigation into contraband tobacco sales, Ahern said. The investigation continues into whether anyone else was involved in the alleged extortion conspiracy, he said.