Cook County probation official interfered in probe, witness says
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Chicago Tribune by Cynthia Dizikes and Todd Lighty
Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune
Philippe Loizon, shown in 2014, a deputy chief in Cook County's probation department, is at the center of an investigation into whether the office conducted illegal searches.
Cook County probation department boss under investigation allegedly interfered in inquiry, witness says
A high-ranking boss at the center of an investigation into possible civil rights violations by Cook County's probation department allegedly interfered in the nearly yearlong inquiry, a key witness has told the Tribune.
The witness said Philippe Loizon, a deputy chief in the probation department, promised him a job and arranged for him to receive hundreds of dollars to meet with the Chicago law firm conducting the investigation. Loizon also had his lawyer sit in and monitor the interview, according to both the lawyer and the witness.
The witness, former probationer Robert Jones, said that he protected Loizon during the interview by not telling investigators everything he knew and that he lied in an affidavit.
The chief judge's office, which oversees the court's probation department, hired the firm last year after the Tribune found that Loizon and the weapons units he supervises conducted questionable and illegal searches. Loizon and others under his command allegedly pressured probationers like Jones to become confidential informants.
"The man got in contact with me because he wanted me to do something," Jones said of Loizon, adding, "He called me and made me promises."
Loizon, a veteran probation officer, declined to comment.
Chief Judge Timothy Evans called Jones' allegations disturbing and asked lawyers looking at the department to investigate further.
If true, Jones' account constitutes "a violation of the probation officer oath of office and could be grounds for discipline, dismissal or referral to the office of the Cook County state's attorney for possible prosecution," Evans said in response to Tribune inquiries.
Jones' account also raises questions about the investigation, already constrained by the law firm lacking subpoena power to compel testimony or to collect evidence.
Some probation officers and others have further questioned the independence of the investigation, given that the firm was hired by Evans and that Evans had been repeatedly warned over the years about potential problems in the department.
Evans retained the Laner Muchin law firm in the wake of a Tribune investigation published last May that uncovered allegedly rogue units inside the probation department that may have violated the civil rights of probationers and others. The Tribune found that the weapons units had conducted searches that triggered accusations that drugs had been planted, money stolen and people threatened with jail if they refused to work as informants for Chicago police or the FBI.
In response, Evans banned Loizon from street work and assigned him to desk duty.
Loizon in the past has defended his relationship with Jones and other probationers, and has said he has done nothing wrong. Loizon's supporters said the weapons units have made Chicago safer, and have led to crimes being solved and guns and drugs being taken off the streets.
In the Tribune investigation, Jones said he developed a relationship with Loizon while on probation for a 2009 drug conviction. Jones said Loizon did favors for him, including taking him to a dentist to have his teeth fixed, bringing him gourmet pizzas and taking him to White Sox baseball games, where Loizon worked security.
Jones also said he worked as a confidential informant for law enforcement, secretly wearing wires and working undercover on criminal investigations. Jones said he thought the probation department pressured him to risk his safety or face the prospect of going back to jail, and should have instead helped him get a job.
Although law enforcement agencies regularly groom informants, Cook County probation officers are not trained in cultivating and handling such sources. Department bosses do not want officers working to make probationers informants, fearing that probationers could be easily manipulated and compromised, sources said.
Loizon's personal ties to probationers — some of them informants for law enforcement — have been questioned within the department, the Tribune has reported. In a highly unusual arrangement, one probationer who became an FBI informant at one point lived with Loizon and his family.
Promises and lies
Loizon and Jones have known each other for years, and Jones said they stayed in touch after the Tribune began asking questions about the department and the chief judge ordered the investigation.
Jones, who now lives outside St. Louis, said Loizon promised him an $18-an-hour job working at a company of one of Loizon's golfing friends. Jones said he was given $500 to travel to Chicago, where he said he was advised on how to answer potential questions from the lawyers investigating the probation department.
Loizon also hired a private detective and dispatched him to the St. Louis area to take Jones' statement, according to Jones and the detective, John Edward Byrne.
Jones told the Tribune that he lied to Byrne about his relationship with Loizon. In a copy of the affidavit Jones provided to the Tribune, Jones told Byrne that Loizon did not buy him pizza or take him to baseball games.
"Phil Loizon never forced me to do anything or suggested that I do anything other (than) follow the probation department rules," Jones said in his affidavit, which he believed was given to Laner Muchin. "He always stressed to me on multiple occasions that he plays by the rules, saying, 'I don't make promises, make deals or give (any) special treatment.'"
To protect Loizon, Jones said he shifted the blame onto his former probation officer, who worked under Loizon. Jones in his affidavit claimed that the probation officer had pressured him to become an informant. "That wasn't truthful, that wasn't truthful at all," Jones said.
Jones said he also was untruthful in his affidavit when he claimed he never provided any information to the Tribune for its investigative story. "I know that's a lie," Jones said.
'A friend of mine'
Jones said he agreed to travel to Chicago last summer at Loizon's request and speak with Laner Muchin. When he arrived, Jones said Loizon had him stop first at the probation offices. Loizon had arranged to have former Cook County Judge Daniel Locallo — Loizon's friend, golfing partner and lawyer— drive Jones to the interview and sit in on his questioning, according to both Jones and Locallo.
Locallo, who retired as a judge in 2009, confirmed that he met with Jones at Loizon's request, drove Jones to meet with Laner Muchin and sat in on Jones' interview. He also confirmed that he gave $100 to Jones, which he described as "transportation money" for Jones' trip back home. Locallo said neither he nor Loizon interfered with the investigation.
"Phil's a friend of mine. He said go to the interview, so I did," recalled Locallo, adding that he thinks Jones' affidavit clears Loizon. "I said, 'If the affidavit is true, tell the truth,'" Locallo said he told Jones.
Although Locallo has represented Loizon in the past, he said he is not representing him in the probation investigation.
Locallo said he was not paid for his role in facilitating Jones' interview and has not seen Jones since that summer day at Laner Muchin's offices. Since then, Locallo said, Loizon told him that Jones asked Loizon for money, texting him his bank account routing numbers. Locallo suggested Jones is now claiming he lied because he did not get paid.
Jones denied the accusation and said he reached out to the Tribune because Loizon did not deliver on his alleged promise of a job.
Joseph Gagliardo, Laner Muchin's managing partner, said that until the Tribune brought Jones' allegations to their attention, "there was no indication by anyone that we interviewed, that the process had been interfered with in any way."
He said he was unaware of the ties between Loizon and Locallo.
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