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Ex-cop testifying in bribe trial faced corruption allegations more than a decade ago

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Updated: November 26, 2013 6:44AM

Former Chicago police Officer Ali Haleem was the star witness in the federal trial this week of two former Cook County officials accused of taking bribes, his testimony culminating five years’ work as an FBI mole that began in 2008 when he was busted for selling guns to a felon and extorting a tow-truck driver.

But Haleem was suspected of abusing his authority long before he got caught and still managed to hold on to his badge, police records obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show.

Haleem remained a cop despite two internal affairs investigations into whether he was aiding drug dealers, the records show.

In the first case, more than a decade ago, a confidential U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant accused Haleem of involvement “in the smuggling of pseudoephedrine into the United States for the purpose of selling these pills to dealers who manufacture methamphetamines.”

A DEA agent told the Chicago police in 2001 that the informant told them Haleem was crooked. Later, the informant told the police Haleem was paid for tipping off the smuggling operation about investigations.

Despite that tip, police officials concluded they had to close their investigation of Haleem, citing a lack of cooperation from the DEA, the FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago. So he stayed with the department but was transferred from the narcotics unit to a beat car on the Southwest Side.

A few years later, Haleem weathered another internal affairs probe, this one prompted by an informant telling authorities the officer was paid to warn targets of drug investigations.

Haleem, 46, testified in federal court this week against former Cook County Board of Review employees Thomas Hawkins and John Racasi. Haleem secretly recorded the two discussing bribes to fix property-tax appeals.

On the wiretaps, the defendants claimed Joe Berrios — the former Board of Review commissioner who’s now county assessor, as well as Cook County’s Democratic Party chairman — was “in cahoots” with them. Berrios, who is not charged with any wrongdoing, said this week that Hawkins and Racasi lied.

The trial resumes Friday.

Haleem’s work as a snitch also was central to building corruption cases against seven others, including the campaign treasurer for former state Sen. Rickey Hendon.

The Chicago police, the FBI, the DEA and the U.S. attorney’s office all declined to comment Thursday.

Haleem was born in the West Bank to a Palestinian family who came to the United States in 1972. As a cop, he initially attracted positive attention, proclaiming himself the “Mayor of 63rd Street” and working to build trust between authorities and the Southwest Side’s Arab community.

FBI records in his police file paint a different picture.

“Haleem is well known in the Arab community in Chicago as being a ‘dirty’ cop and everyone is afraid of him because of his contacts in the FBI and DEA,” according to a 2001 FBI report.

That year, the DEA informant told agents that Haleem had been involved with people who brought in the raw materials for making meth from Canada.

Haleem was accused of providing Chicago police and DEA reports to criminals for “several thousand dollars each time he illegally disseminated documents to members of the smuggling ring,” according to police records.

The feds brought down the ring, which Khaldon Esawi and Khaled Obeid, brothers from the west suburbs, were convicted of leading. They were among more than 100 people nationwide — including more than a dozen in the Chicago area — busted in 2002. Authorities said they found evidence the Chicago ring was funneling proceeds to Middle East terrorist groups including Hezbollah.

But the FBI declined to open an investigation into Haleem because the claims against him were “historical in nature.” And the Chicago police said Marsha McClellan, a federal prosecutor here, would not return their calls.

“The DEA and the FBI have declined to investigate the matter and the Assistant United States Attorney has failed to cooperate or provide any information which would reveal if Officer Haleem is or is not a target of their investigation” into the meth ring, Chicago police internal-affairs officers wrote in closing their probe of Haleem in June 2003.

They took Haleem out of the narcotics unit and returned him to the 8th District, which they said “thwarted his ability” to get the sort of sensitive information he allegedly peddled to the bad guys.

They added that Haleem should not be made aware he was being watched because “this would negatively impact any future investigation.”

Another investigation of Haleem came soon. In 2004, two officers were at a restaurant questioning a man on the government’s terrorist watch list when Haleem called the restaurant and asked to speak to the officers. Haleem began to question them and showed up in his beat car to learn what was happening, police said.

The officers found Haleem’s interest strange.

Then, the man on the terrorist list became an informant. He led the police to a man who was busted for marijuana possession. And that man told police that when Haleem was a narcotics officer, he sold information about investigations to drug dealers in the local Middle Eastern community for $10,000 to $15,000 a person.

The police launched an internal investigation into those allegations against Haleem, but the investigation was closed in 2006 after no evidence was found of wrongdoing, the records show.

He left the Chicago police last year, after the Sun-Times reported he was the mole at the center of several political corruption investigations.

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