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Double-bust at Cook jail
Contraband-smuggling investigation also turns up murder-for-hire plot

Saturday, June 18, 2005
Daily Southtown
by Frank Main

A murder-for-hire plot was exposed during a Cook County sheriff's investigation that has implicated 12 current and former correctional officers in a jailhouse smuggling ring, authorities said Friday, including a handful from the south suburbs.

During the probe, a drug dealer asked a sheriff's informant to kill two people, said Tom Kinsella, chief of the sheriff's police. The informant secretly taped the dealer offering to supply two guns and money for the hits, Kinsella said.

But the dealer complained "all the guns are tied up for the weekend" and told the informant he wanted the hits carried out next week, Kinsella said.

Investigators did not want to wait that long for the conspiracy to play out and took the man into custody, Kinsella said. Murder solicitation charges were pending Friday. The man already is charged with delivery of narcotics.

The plot was unveiled during a six-month probe of smuggling of drugs, cell phones and money into Division 10 of the sprawling jail complex near 26th Street and California Avenue. Sheriff's officials called it "Operation Ten CANS," which stands for Division 10 Contraband and Narcotics Sting.

"These officers sold their badges to become small-time drug couriers, and as a result, they will learn what it is like to live on the other side of the jail bars," Sheriff Michael Sheahan said.

Among the seven current officers charged were Aurora Torres, 36, of Orland Park; Robert Lewis, 35, of Lynwood; and Paul Thomas, 37, of Richton Park.

Also charged were Kenneth Biller, 38, of Hanover Park; Matthew Robinson, 38, of Chicago; Lamar Henderson, 34, of Chicago; and Humberto Aguilar, 44, of Chicago.

Biller, a 13-year veteran, has the most seniority.

Along with the correctional officers, five former and current inmates and four other people were arrested. It was the largest crackdown on jailhouse smuggling in Cook County since 1993, when 15 sheriff's officers were arrested in Operation Fallen Star.

The officers earned between $300 and $1,000 each time they smuggled items into the jail, Sheahan said. The drugs included marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Gang-affiliated inmates used the contraband cell phones to "run their business out of the back of their cells," the sheriff said.

Court-approved "consensual overhears" of phone conversations were a key part of the investigation, which also involved the state's attorney's office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Also Friday, Sheahan announced he is installing drug detection equipment at all of the jail's entrance points to combat smuggling. The machines, bought with nearly $1.1 million in asset forfeiture funds, can detect even small amounts of narcotics.

Sheriff's officials, meanwhile, will watch to see if their ban on jailhouse smoking that takes effect Aug. 1 will lead to smuggling of tobacco and matches.

"Stopping the flow of illegal drugs and other contraband is a constant challenge for every jail and prison in the nation," Sheahan said.

Charges of official misconduct, bribery and bringing contraband into a penal institution were filed against each of the current and former officers. They face at least five years in prison if convicted.

Five former correctional officers who resigned earlier this year while under investigation also were charged. They are Eugene Chan, 48; Jerry White, 37; Michael Lawson, 37; Andres Ravelo, 31, and Angel Aviles, 30, all of Chicago.

Among the current and former inmates charged in the probe were Alfredo Gonzales, 24, freed from the jail in April after he was found not guilty of murder; Edgar Martinez, 28, held in the jail since February 2000 on a murder charge; William Clarke, 24, in jail since November 2003 on a murder charge, and two alleged thieves, John Werner and Brad Scianna.

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