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Ex-state rep, anti-violence advocate vouched for reputed drug dealer

Rashod Bethany

Rashod Bethany

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Updated: April 20, 2013 6:40AM

After the reputed leader of a Far South Side crack-cocaine ring was busted by the feds, Chicago anti-violence advocate Tio Hardiman and a former state legislator wrote letters to the court vouching for him.

The 2008 letters were among the character references U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber said he received on behalf of Rashod Bethany, whose sentencing hearing began Monday and continues Wednesday.

During the hearing, authorities said they suspect Bethany tried to arrange the murder of the key informant in the case using a phone a guard allegedly smuggled into the federal lockup for Bethany.

Also, a former crack user testified that a member of Bethany’s crew shot her in the face to keep her quiet about a crime she witnessed.

Bethany, who was arrested in 2006, has pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy and faces 10 to 30 years in prison. He’s been tied to five murders and numerous beatings, but was not charged with the violence, officials say.

In 2008, Hardiman, now the director of CeaseFire Chicago, sent a letter to the court saying Bethany “was an affable young man” who volunteered in teenage violence-prevention programs.

“I was flabbergasted and shocked to receive this news because the Rashod I’m familiar with always wanted to help teens stay away from gangs and violence,” Hardiman said in the letter, which was not on CeaseFire stationery.

Coy Pugh, a former state representative, also wrote a letter vouching for Bethany in 2008, telling the court of his “untapped potential.”

At the time, Bethany’s attorneys were trying to get him released on bond, a request the court rejected.

Asked why he sent the letter, Hardiman said Monday that he’s close to Bethany’s father.

“I only told the truth about Rashod during the little time he was around me,” said Hardiman, whose organization, CeaseFire, landed a $1 million anti-violence contract with the city in 2012.

“I always work with the highest-risk guys in Chicago,” he said. “However, I do not condone their behavior. That’s why I did not write the letter on behalf of CeaseFire.”

At Monday’s hearing, Christopher Labno, an agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said he suspects a jail guard smuggled a cell phone to Bethany, which he used to try to arrange the murder of the government’s key informant.

But on cross-examination, Labno said he never spoke to the people who warned the informant of the “hit.” And the only evidence of the phone was a charger found in a jail cell that Bethany once occupied, Labno admitted under cross examination by Bethany’s attorney Beau Brindley.

The most heart-rending testimony came from Mercedes Garner, a former crack-cocaine customer of Bethany’s crew who took the witness stand in a shirt emblazoned with the word “LOVE.”

Garner said she witnessed Bethany and his crew exchange gunfire with rivals outside a crack house at 120th and Emerald on Sept. 27, 2004. She said police asked her what happened, and she denied seeing anything.

Later, a Bethany crew member picked her up in a car and told her: “Bitch, I’m fittin’ to kill you.”

“I said, ‘I’m not going to say anything!’ ” she testified.

But he shot her in the face anyway.

Bethany’s attorney sought to distance his client from responsibility for Garner’s shooting. She admitted Bethany never threatened her.

“I thought he was my friend,” she said.

Still, Garner believes Bethany ordered the shooting to keep her from snitching. And she’s not sure he won’t stop trying.

“Ain’t no telling [if] they will send someone after me ... to finish the job,” Garner said.

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