Evil vs. the Angels of Stony Island
by Jim Heaney

No answer. I wished Franco was still around; he’d enjoy going on the record about the guy from the Illinois AG’s office I’d met in his coffee shop.
Stokis sat silent for a moment, as did Joan Safford. Then my lawyer spoke up.
“I’ll answer for you, Ms. Safford. They didn’t care. She was just one person. Only one person, Miss Safford.” “The state Attorney General’s Office is not on trial here.”
“Perhaps not, but government is supposed to protect its citi- zens. How did you know Nick was in Washington, Ms. Safford?”
“We had information that suggested…”
Stokis interrupted her.
“Wrong. My client tipped you off. The night Nick phoned, Jim picked up the phone in his apartment and waited for the tap. When he heard the click, he deliberately referenced Nick’s location by talking about Washington and Jimmy Carter. That’s your ‘information that suggested’ where Nick was, and to a reasonable person, that information also ‘suggests’ cooperation—and a plea for help.”
Joan Safford stood up, pushed her chair back and leaned over the table. “The only plea I’m interested in is a guilty plea from your client.”
I motioned to the chair and said, “Please sit down. There’s something you may not have considered.”
She stood there a moment longer, staring me down, then slowly sat back down.
“We have a common interest and common problem. We both want Nick in a cage, but if I prove people found apartments, he’ll walk. Neither of us want that.
“But what if this afternoon you will be able to state that I have agreed to plead guilty to one count of fraud. I heard on the radio that Nick Sure has been apprehended. All I’m asking for is a way we both win. What if you were able to state to Nick that one of the ten conspirators had admitted his guilt and it is your intention upon conviction that all the fine money collected would be disbursed as restitution to the victims? It would be good for you. Think about it. The other nine defendants will think I’ve made a deal and they’ll fall all over themselves turning on each other. They’ll rush to bargain with you, which will lead to more convictions, which leads to your stack of evidence against Nick. Certainly you’ll be able punish him accordingly.”
“So you’ll plead guilty to all twenty-one counts?” Safford asked. “No. you drop twenty counts and I’ll plead guilty to one. you supply a written suggestion to the judge that I be sentenced to probation with strict sobriety guidelines and verified attendance at AA meetings. If I drink or break any of the probation rules, I do the full five years without a whimper. There’s your deal. It’s good for you, it’s good for me. everyone wins.”
“And you will give us information on the other wrong- doing?”
“No, that’s not my way. Trust me—they’ll each point to one another. you’ll get what you need.”
She sat back in her chair and thought for a few seconds. “The new U.S. Attorney will have to approve the sentencing recommendation, but for now, we can agree in principle.”
On the ride down the elevator in the Dirksen Building, I asked Richard what he thought.
“She’s tough.”
“Let’s stall and wait for Reagan to approve the new guy. Hope- fully, it won’t be her.” Richard chuckled.
“She doesn’t have any files, just complaints. you’re the one with the files documenting the people who received apartments. That’s your chip out of this.”
Over the next several months, I was questioned continuously about the rental scheme. I gave handwriting samples and was picked out of line-ups. As the days wore on, Joan Safford became more insistent about seeing my files. When I resisted, she threatened me with a seven-year jail term. I held fast and continued to insist that I was willing to take my chances with a trial because, after all, we had records showing that people did find apartments.
In the meantime, her case held in the wind because I would be able to balance out her claim of fraud and prove Nick Sure innocent as well. Her dislike for crooks was pretty apparent, and rightly so; we thought she was going for the maximum prison term. In that, she seemed to have full support from Acting U.S. Attorney Gregory Jones. [After Thomas Sullivan resigned, the appointment of his successor was held up by President Reagan for several months because the logical candidate had successfully prosecuted some high-ranking Republicans.] I was waiting for yet another interview when Joan Safford walked through the waiting room.
“Do you know what I’m hearing from the others?” she asked. “They’re saying that it was your plan, that from the day you walked in the office, it was a high-wire act. They’re also saying that almost $150,000 was stolen from them. It was in a back office safe and that you stole it.”
I looked at her and laughed.
“And you believe them? They’re cons! They’re doing what they do best!”
She nodded and said, “exactly. I believe this is an elaborate scheme by you from front to back and that as soon as it’s over, you’ll disappear with the money you stole from Nick Sure.”
“I’m not that good, Ms. Safford,” I exploded.
She dismissed my remark with a wave of her hand. “you’re not fooling me.”
I dismissed her right back.
“We’re through playing games, Ms. Safford. I’m going to trial with the others and I’m going to beat you because I can. See you in court.”
I brushed by her and walked out.

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