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he best reality show in town this week is playing out in a federal courtroom, where an old adage it takes a thief to catch a thief is being put to one heck of a test. On trial is the famously secretive Springfield power broker William Cellini, charged with trying to extort a Hollywood movie producer. On the witness stand, testifying under cross-examination, has been the monumentally crooked businessman Stuart Levine. Each day Levine has admitted to all manner of appalling and sleazy behavior, and each evening everybody in the courtroom has rushed home to take a shower. Levine has admitted to putting in the fix on government contracts to rake in millions for himself and his shady associates. He has admitted to putting the squeeze on businesses looking for government contracts, a practice known as pay to play. He has admitted to wild, all-day sex and drug parties at which he had a particular fondness for a potent mix of crystal meth and an animal tranquilizer. He has admitted to stealing $2 million from the estate of a good friend ripping off the dead mans deaf daughter and another heir and then paying himself another $1 million for his legal work. A jury might reasonable question Levines credibility. Theyd be crazy not to. But prosecutors have been putting bad eggs on the stand to testify against other alleged bad eggs for as long as bad eggs have hatched crimes together, which is to say forever. The bad eggs know where the bodies are buried, sometimes literally. The practice of flipping a witness offering a criminal a soft sentence in return for his testimony against others became

It can take a real creep for feds to catch a crook

more controversial in the late 1980s when prosecutors relied on it heavily to nail mob bosses. Among the most notorious witnesses was New York hit man Salvatore Sammy the Bull Gravano, who confessed to 19 murders. In 1991, he testified against his boss, John Gotti, in exchange for a reduced sentence of just five years. The prosecutor doesnt really have much choice, said DePaul University Law professor Leonard Cavise, commenting on the practice in general. Im sure theyd rather put on Mr. Clean Jeans. The Justice Department regularly offers prosecutors training sessions on how to handle


Prosecutors have been putting bad eggs on the stand to testify against other alleged bad eggs for as long as bad eggs have hatched crimes.
witnesses with baggage, former federal prosecutor Dean Polales said. The key is to hide nothing about the witness get it all out there before the trial and again during the trial. Then, Polales said, do everything you can to corroborate the witness testimony. In this respect, the secretly taped conversations between Levine, Cellini and others could prove to be especially important. Levine was an enthusiastic thief, but he may have found his real calling as a federal witness. His testimony in earlier trials helped convict two other notorious government fixers, Tony Rezko and Ed Vrdolyak. Flipping on his pals may, in fact, be the most honorable thing Levine has done in years, even if hes doing it only to win a shorter prison sentence.

ts Joe Fergusons turn on the hot seat Thursday at the City Councils budget hearing. As fun moments go, this will not be one of them. Veteran aldermen feel no love for the citys inspector general. They despised his predecessor, David Hoffman, too. But lets recall how The City That Works ended up with an Office of Inspector General. It was September of 2005. Just weeks after Mayor Daley was interviewed by the feds about the fine art of city hiring. And just 18 months after the Sun-Times broke the first story of the Hired Truck scandal that grew into revelations about phony minority contractors, mob involvement and, yes, hiring. Daley, who promised reform in the wake of every scandal, was under heavy pressure to pull a new rabbit out of his reform hat. And so he hurriedly went shopping for a former fed, one of U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgeralds prosecutors. Abracadabra, Chicago had its first IG. Hoffmans honeymoon ended in a heartbeat, but he battled on before leaving to run

City Hall still gives inspector stiff arm

for the Senate. Ferguson arrived in late 2009. He, too, is a former fed and was one of Fitzgeralds supervisors in charge of money-laundering and terrorism-financing investigations. He built on what Hoffman had begun, despite the huffing and puffing of not only aldermen but also the citys Law Department, which still objects to sharing certain information with Ferguson. He has sued them. The case is in the Illinois Supreme Court. The good news, or so it seemed, was that our new mayor, Rahm Emanuel, pledged during his campaign to give Fergusons office more money, independence and oversight into other opaque areas of government, such as the contract-rich Public Building Commission and the Park District. Hasnt happened. Meanwhile, Ferguson has infuriated certain alderman by asking questions that they consider rude. Like how come many city TIF contracts required developers to give money to former mayor Richard M. Daleys wifes charity, After School Matters? Like how come the Chicago Police Departments 2004 investi-

gation into the death of 21-year-old David Koschman, the victim of a single punch thrown by a Daley nephew, wasnt closed until this year seven years later when the Sun-Times began asking questions? Even now, CPD and the states attorneys office cannot explain missing files, deleted information and a shocking level of ineptitude or solicitude in a case in which not even misdemeanor battery charges were filed. Like how come Fergusons investigators found that in just one year 2009 54 Chicago firefighters stole at least $100,000 in phony mileage expenses but the city fired only four of them? On Tuesday, Ferguson asked Emanuel to issue an executive order making theft of city funds an automatic firing offense. The IGs website,, is a model of transparency, something the current mayor talks quite a bit about. Its interesting reading. Ferguson has 218 investigations under way. I cant wait to hear what the aldermen ask Ferguson. But I have a question: Why have they not once, except for this annual budget bludgeoning, invited him to come testify about the pile of reports and investigative findings he keeps issuing? As for the mayor? Its time for him to keep his promise.