Evil vs. the Angels of Stony Island
by Jim Heaney



ON APRIL 30th, 1981, I was driving to Hammond, Indiana, following up on a window lead when I heard on the radio that I’d been indicted.
I almost drove off the road.
The news announcer said that Nick Sure had been arrested. Thomas Sullivan’s term as U.S. attorney was up, and his last act as prosecutor was to get indictments of me and the rest of the rental fraud crew.
I made some quick calls, and hired the William Martin Law Firm. As a former assistant state’s attorney, Bill Martin understood both sides of the street, which would benefit me. I paid him a retainer and he made arrangements for my arrest.
On May 3rd, at six in the morning, an FBI Agent knocked on the door. After he read me my rights, he asked if I had a plan for handling my situation.
“I want to get this over with so I can go on with my life.”
Within days, William Martin’s law partner Richard Stokis sat down with me and Assistant U. S. Attorney Joan Safford in the Dirksen Federal Building in downtown Chicago.
“Twenty-one counts of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud, a five-year sentence for each. Combined counts total one hundred and five years. How do you want to plead?” Safford asked.
Before I could answer, Richard asked what the allegations were based on.
“The use of newspapers, television, and radio, and the cross- ing of state lines with the intent to commit fraud,” Safford said. “I had nothing to do with the advertising,” I said. “But you did know the ads were fraudulent.”
“No,” I replied. “As far as I knew there were no exact addresses used, only vicinities. To my knowledge, there were apartments in those vicinities for rent. And once again, I had nothing to do with the actual advertising.”
“You were the office sales group. Chester Morgan was one of the aliases used,” she said.
“Chester Morgan is a nickname, a name people remember because of its unusual sound. It’s a common practice in sales to use a name easily remembered.”
“That is also a crime,” she said.
“So I get a hundred and five years for that?”
Safford glared at me, then opened a thick file on the table.
“These are all rental agreements we believe were signed by you—or Chester Morgan. These people were defrauded out of money ranging from thirty dollars to one hundred dollars. What do you say about that?”
“I disagree. Have you verified that none of the Renters Assistance Center clients received apartments, because I would argue they did. I’d check those out if I were you, because my stack of records is different than yours.”
“Then you are not going to plead guilty to these charges?” She turned to glare at Stokis. “Counselor, I thought your client agreed to cooperate with us.”
Stokis silenced me with a look and addressed Safford.
“My client did not profit. He was paid only two hundred dollars a week. By your reports, $700,000 was stolen. He received $5,000 at most, and can prove that people found apartments.”
Safford seemed annoyed. Sure, she had complaints, but she didn’t have all the files. Stokis sensed it, too. He continued.
“Ms. Safford, my client’s reasons for being there are not what you think.”
“I know. I heard it all. Poor Cherish and he couldn’t leave her. But how do you explain Washington? It shows conspiracy. He was there. He’s a part of this case and he’s going to jail.”
“I disagree,” I said.
Stokis shot me a look and I clammed up again.
“Washington was a major error in judgment on my client’s part, but it produced a defining moment.”
“And what was that?” she asked. “In Washington, my client made a choice between right and wrong. For the past two years he has walked on the right side of that line. He’s making a honest living and his employer will state he is a good employee. He has quit drinking and he’s attending AA meetings.”
Safford was unimpressed by my transformation into an honest citizen.
Stokis forged on. “Think carefully about this, Ms. Safford; you might not win this one. Our argument is that a young, overweight drunk woke up in front of a Help Wanted sign and worked for lunch money so that he could protect a young woman. A jury will hear what was about to happen to Cherish, that he influenced her quitting, and the Illinois Attorney General’s office will substantiate the claim. They will testify that an investigator from Michael Benedetto’s office had a meeting early on, at which time he told Jim what was going on. We’re going to ask him why he didn’t stop the crimes being committed.”
“You know they couldn’t do anything until the legislature fixed the holes in the law,” Joan Safford said.
“You know it, and I know it, but that’s not the way it’s going to play in the newspapers. It’s going to look like the state allowed fraud to be committed on the people of Chicago. Think how that’s going to make your boss look. I mean, couldn’t the authorities have somehow tipped off Cherish’s parents about the danger she was in?”

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