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Wealthy Chicago entrepreneur’s new venture: police work

Augie FabelII

Augie Fabela II

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Updated: December 5, 2012 6:25AM

Fabela — recently appointed to the rank of sheriff’s commander — is overseeing the restructuring of the warrant unit, the records system and the intelligence center. He’s revamping training policy. He’s also serving as the sheriff’s liaison to the Cook County Department of Homeland Security.

To get a better idea of how things work, Fabela, a “special assistant to the sheriff,” has been going out on calls with deputies.

“He’s on the front line kicking in doors,” said Frank Bilecki, a spokesman for Sheriff Tom Dart.

How did a guy who counts prime ministers and billionaires as acquaintances decide to help the sheriff deal with low-life bad guys?

It started a few years ago when Winthrop Harbor Police Chief Joel Brumlik became aware of the tycoon’s interest in law enforcement. Brumlik is also president of the Air-One Emergency Rescue Coalition, a nonprofit helicopter search-and-rescue agency. Its board members include Chicago Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who introduced Fabela to the work the agency was doing, and the businessman decided to make a $20,000 donation, Brumlik said.

A few months later, Fabela “wanted to take it a step further,” according to Brumlik.

“I said, ‘If you’re willing to put in the training and go through the background process, I think you would be a great officer,’ ” Brumlik said.

So Fabela went through police academy training, getting state certification to become a cop. Last Dec. 7, he was sworn in as an officer with the Winthrop Harbor Police Department.

He is now a part-time Winthrop Harbor officer, assigned to Air-One, with the title of deputy commander of special operations.

In January, Fabela was the ground-support officer during what ultimately was an unsuccessful helicopter search in Walworth County, Wis., for a man suspected of shooting at a hunter on the public hunting grounds of the Kettle Moraine Forest. Fabela coordinated the search with the Walworth County Sheriff’s Office, Brumlik said.

Bilecki said the sheriff’s relationship with Fabela developed after Air-One offered its help for the NATO Summit, held in Chicago last May.

“Many law enforcement partners reached out to the sheriff’s office to offer assistance, should the need arise,” Bilecki said. “One such was Air-One, which Augie is very involved with. From there, discussions progressed into various ways Augie could potentially serve the sheriff’s office and give back to the law enforcement community.”

Fabela’s sheriff’s salary hasn’t been finalized, but it will be only a token figure — between $1 and $26 a year, Bilecki said. He won’t get health or pension benefits.

“The sheriff is excited and fortunate to have such a generous, dedicated and talented individual working for next to nothing for the taxpayers of Cook County,” Bilecki said.

Asked why Fabela would want to become a cop, Brumlik said: “My opinion is that these are high-powered people with high adrenaline levels who want to do good.

“This is not something he got because of who he is,” he added. “He’s a highly trained tactical officer.”

Other successful business people have been drawn to law enforcement, too.

Brett Goldstein, an executive at the OpenTable restaurant reservation service, quit his lucrative job to become a Chicago cop in 2006. The 9/11 terror attacks inspired him to enter public service.

Goldstein was promoted to director of predictive analytics for the police department. Then, last year, Mayor Rahm Emanuel named him the city’s chief data officer.

There’s also Shervin Lalezary, a Beverly Hills real estate attorney who became a reserve deputy for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for a salary of $1 a year. In January, Lalezary made national news when he pulled over a man suspected of being Los Angeles’ most dangerous arsonist.

Fabela’s net worth is a mystery, though some news reports have called him a billionaire.

He’s done few interviews, and public records don’t reveal a lot about him. Through a spokesman, he declined an interview request for this story.

In 1992, Fabela, then 26, and a Russian businessman co-founded VimpleCom, a cellphone company, in Russia. The company, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, now boasts annual revenue of more than $24 billion and more than 210 million subscribers in 18 countries.

Fabela is chairman of the supervisory board of VimpelCom and also chairman of Illinois-based Aurora Cord and Cable — a privately held U.S. defense contractor.

He was part of a Swedish car manufacturer’s attempt to buy Saab from General Motors, a deal that fell through in 2009.

Fabela is also a member of the renowned World Economic Forum based in Davos, Switzerland. Last month, he participated in a conference with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, offering his thoughts on Russia’s legal system and oil industry, according to news reports.

Fabela has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University in international studies, according to his corporate profile. It says he was born in Chicago, though it’s unclear where he grew up or where he lives while he’s working for law enforcement agencies here. Records show he has owned property in Naperville, Florida and Wisconsin.

Three different Humvees — the massive SUVs based on the military version — are registered in his name at the address of his defense company in Aurora, records show. Two of the vehicles have special Illinois Police Association license plates.

Several people who know him described him using the same words: energetic, religious, intelligent and patriotic.

As with Goldstein, they said 9/11 was a motivating factor in Fabela’s decision to jump into law enforcement.

“He comes across to me as any other human being you come across in law enforcement,” said one person who knows him and asked not to be named. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in a suit.”

That person added: “He could be sitting on an island, sipping on a drink with an umbrella in it.”

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