Credentials used in quest for guns
By Ray Gibson and Matt O'Connor, The Chicago Tribune
Federal authorities are investigating how dozens of phony police
credentials ended up in the hands of unqualified individuals in
Chicago and the suburbs, court records show.
In some cases, the badges were presented to gun shops in attempts
to illegally buy handguns, and others were used by individuals hired
by Ford Heights with the aid of a federal grant to patrol public
housing complexes there. The badges also were given to individuals
who worked security at the Chicago Housing Authority's Robert Taylor
Federal agents executed a search warrant on a Chicago Heights firm
last December to seize records relating to Comrail International
Railroad and its operation of a railroad police department.
Under federal law, railroads are permitted to hire individuals to
staff police departments, but Comrail had been notified in March 2002
by federal authorities that it wasn't recognized as a legitimate
railroad as defined by federal law. Comrail should not be confused
with Conrail (Consolidated Rail Corp.), which has been in operation
Attorneys for Comrail and company officers acknowledged the
investigation, but one of the attorneys said neither Comrail nor
company officials were its targets.
"They were questioned, but to the best of my knowledge it has
nothing to do with them," said attorney Michael O'Malley. He said the
investigation was looking for how individuals got Comrail police
credentials. "They are looking for that missing piece," he said.
On numerous occasions during a one-year period, federal agents dug
through the garbage of Comrail, retrieving employment applications,
pages of a manual on searching individuals, and a document describing
various positions such as chief or investigator, according to court
Federal investigators have traced the purchase of at least 49 gold
badges inscribed with the phrase "Comrail Railroad Police" and a coat
of arms to an address in Carol Stream, but sources said that more
than 100 badges could have been issued.
The U.S. attorney's office also has subpoenaed the records of the
state agency that certifies all sworn police officers in Illinois and
obtained a "very lengthy" list of personnel submitted by Comrail,
according to Kevin McClain, the legal counsel for the Illinois Law
Enforcement Training and Standards Board. The board has never
recognized Comrail as a legitimate police agency
Last year, the poverty-ridden village of Ford Heights received a
federal grant of about $134,000 from the Cook County Housing
Authority to hire auxiliary police to assist Ford Heights officers in
patrolling more than 300 units of public housing in the village.
According to court records, "special agents were advised by
personnel with the Ford Heights Police Department that members of
Comrail were using and displaying Comrail badges and credentials
while accompanying Ford Heights police officers on official business."
Weeks later, village officials pulled the auxiliary officers off
the street in what was described as a dispute between a Village Board
member and acting police chief Percy Coleman.
At a raucous Village Board meeting following the removal of the
auxiliary police, residents demanded that they be brought back.
Village officials said at the time that the auxiliary police would be
brought back after their credentials were checked.
Village attorney Dirk Van Beek said he wasn't familiar with
Comrail. He said he wasn't aware of any subpoena of village records
over the hiring of the auxiliary police who used Comrail credentials.
Coleman was fired from the acting chief's job in June. At the same
time he held the acting chief's job, he was also a parole supervisor
for the Illinois Department of Corrections, where he is paid $75,000
a year, a job he continues to hold.
Coleman, who was the 34th Ward Republican committeeman, never
sought permission from the Department of Corrections for the second
job. When he filed a statement of economic interests in connection
with his acting chief's position, he failed to disclose his state job
as required by state law.
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"I wouldn't be willing to comment on anything," Coleman said Friday.