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Ex-police officer pleads guilty in murder-for-hire scheme

He was the ringleader of an “elite” Special Operations Section that ransacked homes without warrants and shook down drug dealers for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

On Tuesday, former Chicago Police Officer Jerome Finnigan, wearing an orange jump suit and shackles, admitted to those crimes as well as to the most outrageous charge — that as an officer, he ordered a hit on another cop.

But as part of his plea deal made public in federal court on Tuesday, Finnigan pleaded guilty only to the murder-for-hire charge and to a tax charge; an agreement where he would see no more than 13 years in prison for his crimes.

Four years after Finnigan’s arrest, it remains unclear what federal prosecutors won out of the negotiation.

While Finnigan’s plea deal says he cooperated and that he would continue to do so, the 28-page document offers no hints that the investigation would go any higher than it had since his 2007 arrest.

In court on Tuesday, Finnigan, 48, downplayed the murder-for-hire plot, calling it: “for lack of a better word, [a] charade” and said “it was not my intent to kill anybody.”

“It was a big mistake. And though it was a mistake, it was unlawful, and I accept full responsibility for that,” Finnigan said.

For years, speculation has centered on whether any current or former supervisors would be charged in the case. Civil attorneys stalled their federal lawsuits, awaiting word on whether Finnigan’s case would move up the chain or expand to others in the now-disbanded and disgraced Special Operations Section. But to date, that has not happened.

The U.S. Attorney’s office had no comment.

However, one source said that prosecutors have told defense attorneys in recent months that ancillary investigations have spun out from the Finnigan investigation. The city, meanwhile, said it had not been in recent contact with federal investigators concerning the Finnigan case.

Finnigan and fellow SOS cop Keith Herrera were charged formally earlier this month, and two other officers in the unit were charged with misdemeanors. Herrera also pleaded guilty, but prosecutors will move for a sentence below 13 years because of his cooperation.

If a judge accepts the deal at sentencing, Finnigan could be sentenced from 10 to 13 years. Former federal prosecutor Lawrence Beaumont said prosecutors could have charged Finnigan with money laundering or racketeering to get a higher sentence. They didn’t for a reason, he says.

“Presumably they’re rewarding him for his cooperation or they do expect something else to come of it,” Beaumont said. “As long as he made a good-faith effort to cooperate, they’re going to reward him, even if they don’t get anywhere.”

Officers in the SOS division are accused of regularly trampling citizens’ civil rights, by going into homes without warrants and stealing cash, ripping off drug dealers and splitting the money, and in some cases targeting and shaking down Hispanics who drove pricey cars.

Finnigan is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 11.

Contributing: Frank Main

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