Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Chicago's Crooked Chief of Detectives

On a gloomy winter day in 1983, two gunmen ambushed a businessman named Allen Dorfman as he walked across a hotel parking lot in suburban Chicago.

The city's infamous Outfit mob might as well have left a calling card. The killers pumped seven shots into Dorfman's head. It was a classic gangland whacking.

Dorfman, 60, had been a lieutenant of International Brotherhood of Teamsters boss Jimmy Hoffa. He got rich as proprietor of the union's murky pension funds but had been convicted of bribery a month before his murder. Facing life in prison, he was rumored to be cutting a deal to implicate both Teamsters and gangsters.

Chicago gumshoes stifled a yawn over the rubout. It was an occupational hazard murder, like a drug deal gone bad. But one detail stopped cops cold. In Dorfman's little black book, investigators found the name of Bill Hanhardt, chief of detectives of the Chicago Police Department.

Hanhardt was a Windy City legend for his devilish ability to think like a criminal. He had collared dozens of hard-to-find perps, including several cop killers.

A Chicago cop since 1953, Hanhardt was seen as a bridge between old-school, sap-carrying policing and more enlightened modern methods. By reputation, he was as brainy as Inspector Morse, as leathery as Kojak, as passionate as Detective Sipowicz.

But was he honest?

Questions about mob connections had dogged Hanhardt for much of his career, even as he was being promoted to sensitive command positions.

In 1979, Hanhardt was booted down to the traffic squad after he was accused of playing footsy with mobsters who ruled the city's corrupt downtown ward.

Yet, just months later, he was promoted to being chief of detectives by Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek after the election of Mayor Jane Byrne.

Even after his name turned up in Dorfman's black book, Hanhardt was allowed to enjoy the twilight of his police career as a district commander.

In 1986, while still on the job, he acted as a defense witness in the Nevada conspiracy trial of Anthony Spilotro, the Chicago Outfit's man in Las Vegas. Hanhardt's testimony helped discredit one of the mobster's key accusers.

A few months later, he was feted by Byrne and hundreds of others at an elaborate retirement banquet. Hanhardt seemed to ride off into the sunset with a wink and a snicker. He was hired as a consultant to the TV drama "Crime Story."

In 1995, author Richard Lindberg asked him to ruminate on his career as a cop. His reply dripped with cynicism.

"You knew that you're going to get screwed over eventually, so you went into the game with that thought in mind," Hanhardt said. "You got a wife. You got kids. So you got to think about the future, right? But I never liked thinking about the future. I liked to live for the moment."

Hanhardt retired to a handsome home in the suburbs, but he stayed busy in his dotage.

In October 2000, he was indicted as the leader of a band of thieves who stole $5 million in jewelry over 12 years beginning in 1984, while he was still a top cop. Hanhardt fenced the goods through friends in the outfit.

His gang "surpasses in duration and sophistication just about any other jewelry theft ring we've seen," said prosecutor Scott Lassar.

It seemed Hanhardt was able to think like a criminal because he was one.

He used techniques he learned as commander of the police burglary squad to devise diabolically clever thefts.

He tapped active cop friends and private detectives for leads on potential victims, targeting gem salesmen traveling with valises of valuable samples.
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In some cases they simply tailed a salesman and broke into his vehicle: such jobs included a $300,000 gem theft in Wisconsin in 1984, $500,000 worth of Rolex watches in California in 1986, and jewelry thefts of $125,000 in Ohio in 1989, and $1 million in Michigan and $240,000 in Minnesota in 1993.

The gang sometimes used the old spy scam of swapping identical bags with a salesman - a trick that netted $1 million worth of diamonds in Dallas in 1992 from a representative of J. Schliff and Son, a W. 48th St. jeweler.

Hanhardt's biggest score came in 1994. For two months before a gem wholesalers show at a hotel in Columbus, Ohio, a gang member checked in under the name Sol Gold and asked to store valuables in the hotel's safe-deposit boxes, which were in a secure room behind the front desk.

He systematically copied the keys until Hanhardt was able to create a master passkey. One night during the gem show, a desk clerk allowed "Mrs. Sol Gold" unsupervised access to the room. The safe-deposit boxes of eight gem dealers were relieved of some $2 million in valuables.

The jig was up when the woman went from accomplice to spurned wife and informed on the gang to the FBI.

City officials stammered to explain how Hanhardt managed to prosper as a cop and crook.

"The only thing I ever heard about him was good things," ex-Mayor Byrne told reporters.

"I know that he had an illustrious career," said his ex-police boss Brzeczek. "A lot of people knew him. He knew a lot of people. But I don't have any evidence whatsoever of him being mob-connected."

But the federal government had plenty of evidence, including 1,307 incriminating phone calls collected during a yearlong wiretap on his home phone.

For two years, cops and mobsters wondered whether Hanhardt would go to trial and give a public airing to his double life. But he pleaded guilty in 2002. He was ordered to pay $5 million in restitution and packed away to a Minnesota prison for a 12-year sentence.

As they waved goodbye, Hanhardt's kin still viewed him as his good-cop mirage.

His son-in-law, Michael Kertez, called Hanhardt "probably the most wonderful detective in the history of Chicago."

Now 79, the disgraced top snoop faces a life behind bars until at least 2012

Thanks to David J. Krajicek

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