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On eve of sentencing, lawyer lauds cop who ordered hit on fellow cop

Updated: November 9, 2011 12:33PM

Former Chicago Police Officer Jerome Finnigan seemed like a model cop.

According to his lawyer, he won the department’s highest award for valor, helped solve five murders and took dozens of guns and hundreds of thousands of dollars of drugs off the street.

But he was also one of the dirtiest cops in recent Chicago history, federal prosecutors say.

Finnigan, who pleaded guilty to ordering a hit on another officer and a tax charge earlier this year, is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday in U.S. District Court — nearly four years after he was arrested.

Finnigan was a member of the now-disbanded Special Operations Section, a citywide unit responsible for targeting narcotics dealers. He led a crew of SOS cops who ransacked homes without warrants and conducted illegal traffic stops while shaking down criminals and innocent citizens alike.

Finnigan has admitted to a role in five robberies in 2004 and 2005. His crew stole at least $600,000 and his cut was more than $200,000, none of which he reported to the federal government as income, prosecutors say.

Finnigan, 48, faces 10 to 13 years in prison under his April 26 plea agreement.

In a recently filed sentencing memo, his attorney, Marc Barnett, argued that Finnigan should receive the minimum term of 10 years because his illegal acts were out of character and were outweighed by numerous civic deeds during his 20 years on the force.

Twice, Finnigan was selected as the department’s officer of the month, Barnett pointed out.

“His desire to make the community safer” is “an instinctive part of his character,” Barnett said.

Finnigan has been named as a defendant in numerous lawsuits that accused him of participating in beatings and making threats as he and other officers stole cash and drugs from people.

Many of those lawsuits have been postponed until Finnigan’s sentencing.

One lawsuit said Finnigan ran into Janice Redmond with an unmarked car as she stood on a West Side street in 2005, sending her flying over the hood and onto a parked truck, the lawsuit said. He allegedly jumped out of the car and yelled at her for being in the street and drove away. Redmond received a $4,500 legal settlement from the city for an injured knee.

But Barnett insisted in Finnigan’s sentencing memo that “there is not a scintilla of evidence that indicates Jerome has a violent nature.”

Barnett also downplayed Finnigan’s murder-for-hire plot.

Another officer, Keith Herrera, secretly recorded Finnigan discussing plans to hire someone to kill an unidentified officer who might cooperate in the federal investigation of the robbery crew. The murder was never carried out.

At his April plea hearing, though, Finnigan called the murder-for-hire plot a “charade,” saying he never intended to kill anyone.

“The record shows that Jerome Finnigan was not the individual to broach the homicidal idea, but another officer,” Barnett wrote in the sentencing memo.

Barnett also emphasized that Finnigan has cooperated with authorities since his arrest in 2007. He has participated in more than 10 sessions in which he provided information regarding federal investigations in progress, his lawyer said.

It’s unclear whether any of that information will lead to charges against any other officers or their supervisors.

In the sentencing memo, Barnett warned U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning that Finnigan could become a victim in prison because of his “dedication to rid the streets of unlawful firearms and narcotics.”

Since he was arrested, Finnigan has been held in a federal lockup in downtown Chicago under tight security for his own protection, Barnett said. He characterized Finnigan’s jail conditions as unusually harsh.

Unlike other inmates who can have unlimited showers, Finnigan gets three a week; his phone calls are limited; he can’t have any contact with visitors; he can’t email anyone; he doesn’t have access to TV, and he can’t use the gym, Barnett said.

A 10-year sentence is justified, in part, because Finnigan has spent four years in “the hole,” even though he wasn’t considered a disciplinary problem, Barnett said.

Herrera is scheduled to be sentenced in November for his role in the holdup crew. He has pleaded guilty to participating in three robberies.

Two officers have received probation after pleading guilty to federal misdemeanor charges in connection with the Finnigan crew. Seven other officers have pleaded guilty to criminal charges in Cook County court.

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