CHICAGO — A former Chicago police officer who authorities say was the ringleader in a band of rogue police who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from suspected drug dealers and ordered a hit on a fellow officer to keep him from revealing the scheme was sentenced Thursday to 12 years in federal prison.
Standing in an orange jump suit, with shackles around his ankles, Jerome Finnigan stood impassively as U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning who said he once had been a good officer who tried to "rid the community of the scourge of drugs ... (who) became a scourge yourself." She paid special attention to the charge that Finnigan plotted to have an officer killed to keep him from testifying against him, saying, "This act is unfathomable."
Finnigan, who pleaded guilty in April to a federal tax charge as well as ordering the hit on the other officer, said Thursday that he never intended to have anyone killed.
The 48-year-old Finnigan, who could have received a maximum sentence of 13 years in prison under terms of his plea, acknowledged that he went from an aggressive and effective narcotics officer who took millions of dollars of worth of drugs and 1,000 guns off the street to the kind of criminal who he was battling.
"I did become a corrupt police officer," he said, even as he defended his career.
Finnigan has long been the central character in an unfolding investigation into a now-disbanded elite narcotics unit that repeatedly stormed into the homes of suspected drug dealers, pulled over their cars, and then stole hundreds of thousands of dollars — once even forcing a diabetic man to tell them where he'd hidden cash by withholding his insulin.
Finnigan himself admitted to prosecutors that in 2004 and 2005 he took part in five robberies that netted members of the unit more than $600,000, with $200,000 of that going into Finnigan's pocket.
His arrest four years ago and the arrests and convictions of seven members of the unit on charges such as felony theft, official misconduct, tax evasion were among a string of embarrassing incidents for a department that has been plagued with allegations of police misconduct and brutality that has included the beating of a female bartender by an off-duty officer, a videotape of which was shown around the world.
But the sheer brazenness of the criminal enterprise Finnigan headed made the case among the darkest chapters in the department's history, one that led to the dramatic step of dismantling the elite unit and promises to more closely monitor the actions of police officers.
After the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Netols said that the actions of Finnigan and the other officers in the unit "impacts the community's trust" in the police force. But after Finnigan suggested in the hearing that what he was a doing was well known to his superiors, Netols said that with Finnigan's sentencing and the upcoming sentencing of one other member of the unit in November, the prosecution was "effectively completed."
Finnigan, who has been in federal custody for approximately four years, will have to serve eight more years. According to his attorney, Marc Barnett, Finnigan could be released in approximately 6 1/2 or 7 years if he behaves himself in prison.