A Chicago police sergeant and an officer on his gang team “used their police powers to lie, cheat and steal” by obtaining bogus search warrants to routinely rob drug dealers of cash and narcotics, federal prosecutors said as the officers’ federal corruption trial got underway in earnest Tuesday.
Sgt. Xavier Elizondo and Officer David Salgado have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges alleging they paid off informants to lie in so-called John Doe affidavits to win a judge’s approval for a search warrant. Elizondo is also charged with attempting to destroy evidence, while Salgado faces one count of lying to the FBI.
In his opening remarks to the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Franzblau said Elizondo and Salgado are “corrupt police officers who betrayed their badges” and tried to cover their tracks when the FBI caught up to them.
After becoming suspicious that they were being watched, Elizondo was captured on a wiretapped phone call telling Salgado to get rid of stolen drug money that had actually been planted by the FBI, Franzblau said.
“Just make sure whatever you have in your house isn’t there no more, you know what I mean?” Elizondo allegedly said in the January 2018 call, according to Franzblau.
The next day, after the FBI raided Salgado’s home, both Elizondo and Salgado “wiped” call records from their phones in an attempt to cover up the crime, Franzblau said.
Elizondo’s attorney, Michael Clancy, told the jury in his opening statement that no evidence exists that Elizondo ever stole a dime from searches executed by his team. He described Elizondo as an effective crime fighter who has “played a game” with informants, as all good cops do.
“Law enforcement is allowed to play these games to fight crime,” Clancy said. “They’re policing out there. This isn’t some money grab.”
Clancy also said the informants in the case — several of whom are slated to testify for prosecutors — weren’t making much money. He noted that the informant at the center of the charges was given “150 bucks and a pack of smokes” by Elizondo for his assistance.
“We’re talking about change from Mr. Elizondo’s pocket,” Clancy said. “(These informants) got their phone bills paid, money for a meal.”
Meanwhile, Salgado’s attorney, Michael Petro, told jurors that the credibility of the informants was highly questionable since they admittedly lied under oath to the judges who signed the warrants and were either paid for their cooperation with federal investigators or given immunity.
“Money and freedom provide people with a motive to lie,” Petro said. “They slant their testimony.”
Elizondo, 47, who’s been with the department for 23 years, and Salgado, 39, an officer since 2003, have both been on paid desk duty since January 2018.
They face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge of obstruction.
The two-week trial before U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly promises to put a rare spotlight on the arcane process that Chicago police officers use to obtain John Doe search warrants that don’t require the sworn testimony of an informant for a judge to approve.
At least two of Elizondo’s former team members are expected to take the stand for the prosecution, including one officer, Joseph Treacy, who will testify that Elizondo turned pale and started dry heaving into a sink when he learned that the FBI had raided Salgado’s home, according to a recent prosecution filing.
The trial also will feature unusual testimony by a Cook County judge who was the go-to source for Elizondo and Salgado when they needed a warrant signed on the fly.
Among the warrants approved by Circuit Judge Mauricio Araujo was one in December 2017 authorizing the search of a purported drug stash house that turned out to be an elaborate ruse concocted by the FBI.
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