CHICAGO — Nearly two decades after he absconded on the eve of trial, former Chicago police Sgt. Eddie Hicks was sentenced Thursday to 13 years in federal prison for running a rogue crew of cops who robbed drug dealers and stash houses and resold stolen narcotics on the street.
In handing down the sentence, U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow told Eddie Hicks that he had “dishonored the badge” and should stand as an example to current members of the force that corruption will not be tolerated.
“There are other officers out there who also have the opportunity to do what you did, and they need to get the message that the punishment will follow the conduct,” Lefkow said.
The judge also noted that Hicks has “never really taken any responsibility.”
Before the judge imposed the sentence, Hicks, 71, decried the fact that prosecutors were asking for 20 years behind bars, saying he was an otherwise law-abiding citizen and “not an individual who is out there looking any kind of crime at this point.”
He added, “For anyone to even suggest that I would able to make a 20-year sentence … is a little bit beyond the realm of reality.”
The sentence brought to an end a nearly 20-year path to justice for Hicks, who was arrested in 2017 living in Detroit under a stolen identity. A jury deliberated just two hours before convicting him in March 2019 of eight counts, including drug trafficking conspiracy, using a gun in furtherance of a drug crime, theft of government funds and bail jumping.
In asking for a 20-year prison sentence, prosecutors cited the value that society places on the integrity of police officers and the devastating consequences that result when it is lost.
“Not only did Hicks fail to arrest drug dealers, he became a drug dealer himself, robbing drug dealers and turning around and selling the drugs for profit,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Morris Pasqual wrote in a recent court filing. “Hicks made a mockery of his badge. His betrayal of the public trust was staggering.”
Hicks’ attorney, John Beal, asked for the mandatory-minimum sentence of 10 years, citing Hicks’ advanced age and medical conditions that place him at elevated risk for COVID-19 while behind bars.
Beal also argued that Hicks’ crimes occurred far in the past, and, even though his flight from prosecution caused the delay in justice, he spent his time on the run living “a very isolated life.”
“It is not as if he was living a high life in a country without an extradition treaty,” Beal wrote. “And when the offense took place and in the interim period, the Black Lives Matter movement has brought to the fore that a great deal of atrocious law enforcement conduct was occurring for which no one was paying any price.”
The 2001 indictment accused the veteran narcotics officer of running a rogue crew of cops who robbed drug dealers of thousands of dollars in cash and resold dozens of kilograms of stolen narcotics in a series of off-the-books raids from 1993 to 2001.
In Hicks’ 2019 trial, prosecutors told the jury at trial that Hicks thought robbing drug dealers was the perfect crime. The only witnesses were criminals who weren’t about to call the “honest police,” Pasqual said. Hicks had informants who tipped him off to stash house locations, a Police Department mechanic who had access to the keys to unmarked squad cars and a designated crew member who typed up phony search warrants in the car on an old manual typewriter.
If they encountered any law enforcement, the crew simply flashed their badges and got a pass, Pasqual said. And when a raid was done, there were never any arrests or paperwork — all that was left to do was go back to a crew member’s house, put the cash and drugs on a dining room table and divide up the loot.
“They used the power of the badge and the power of the gun to do their searches and street stops,” Pasqual said. “Any money they found was theirs. It went into their pockets.”
Hicks’ attorneys, meanwhile, argued much of the government’s case relied on the testimony of Larry Knitter, the former police mechanic who cut a deal with prosecutors to lower his own sentence.
Among the damning evidence presented by prosecutors, however, were secret video and audio recordings made during two FBI stings in late 2000 and early 2001 at South Side apartments that were set up to look like drug stash houses in order to catch Hicks’ crew in the act.
After one of the raids turned up only $1,500 in cash and no drugs, Hicks could be heard telling his longtime tipster, drug dealer and trucking firm owner Arthur “Pete” Veal, that he was “kinda looking forward to a better hit than this,” according to one recording played in court. In another recorded conversation, Hicks told Veal he was concerned that the target could be “a fed guy,” meaning he might be cooperating with federal authorities.
In reality, it was Veal who was cooperating with the FBI at the time, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said that Hicks liquidated several insurance policies and annuities worth tens of thousands of dollars in the weeks leading up to his scheduled trial in June 2003. By the time he made a final court appearance just days before jury selection was to begin, he’d withdrawn almost $40,000 in cash from his bank account. A warrant for his arrest was issued on June 9, 2003 — the day he failed to appear for his trial.
It wasn’t until 15 years after he’d vanished that Hicks’ time on the run ended in Detroit after authorities found him in September 2017 living under the name David Rose.
At trial, prosecutors displayed the driver’s license in Rose’s name that Hicks had on him at the time of his arrest, as well as a photo taken by law enforcement that day showing Hicks in a Detroit Tigers baseball cap and T-shirt emblazoned with the word, “Bermuda.”
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