The Chicago Syndicate: Family Secrets Mob Prosecutor, John J. Sully, Now Serves on the Bench
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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Family Secrets Mob Prosecutor, John J. Sully, Now Serves on the Bench

For John J. Scully, who closed out his 25 years of fighting organized crime as a federal prosecutor in Chicago with the Operation Family Secrets trial before ascending to the bench last year as an associate judge in Lake County, some boasting may be in order. But Scully — a retired U.S. Navy captain who served on a destroyer off the coast of Vietnam in combat operations and later as an intelligence officer in the Navy Reserve — isn't one to toot his own horn, according to his current and former colleagues.

"He's accomplished a lot in his lifetime, and you wouldn't know it. … He's very humble," said fellow Lake County Associate Judge Jorge L. Ortiz.

Some highlights of Scully's career in the U.S. Department of Justice include the investigation and prosecution of former Chicago Police chief of detectives William Hanhardt, who pleaded guilty to running a Chicago Outfit interstate jewelry theft crew, and the prosecution of the On Leong gambling ring based in South Side Chinatown, a complex case that exposed payoffs to the mob, Chicago police and a Cook County judge.

His achievements were recognized by the U.S. attorney general in 2008, when Scully, along with two fellow prosecutors, was honored with a top national award, the DOJ's John Marshall Award, for his work in the Family Secrets case. The case targeted members of the Chicago Outfit and resulted in convictions involving 18 unsolved organized crime murders dating to 1970.

"He didn't even tell any of his friends about it [the top national award]. I found out about it by reading about it in the newspaper," Ortiz said. "That's just how he is."

Aside from practicing as an in-house attorney for Illinois Bell for three years in the late 1970s and early '80s, Scully, 62, has spent his professional life in public service.

His judicial service began in February 2009, when he was appointed to an associate judgeship in the 19th Judicial Circuit. He started out in the traffic division at Lake County's Park City branch court and is carrying out an assignment in misdemeanor court in the county's main courthouse in Waukegan.

"He's taken an amazing path to get to where he is," said Lake County Associate Judge Michael J. Fusz, a longtime friend. "It's incredible firepower on the bench, having somebody with his experience."

That path was carved out from Chicago's South Side, where Scully grew up in an Irish household as the eldest of seven children. The son of a World War II Navy veteran who worked as a steel estimator in Chicago factories, Scully attended De La Salle High School and became the first member of his family to attend college when he was admitted to the U.S. Naval Academy.

"I always assumed, when I was in high school, that I would, one way or another, be in the service. It's something that one should do if you can — serve your country," Scully said.

If the military or college weren't an option, Scully said, he had thought that "maybe I'd be a police officer or a firefighter."

"I figured I was going to go into the service and try to get an education," he said.

After graduating from the academy in 1969, he married his high school prom date, Pat, whom he had met when the two were teenagers working at a National Tea grocery store on the city's Southwest Side. He was a stock boy; she was a cashier.

As a newly commissioned naval officer, Scully asked to be assigned to a destroyer out of San Diego. He served on the USS Hull, off the coast of Vietnam from May 1970 to August 1971, providing assistance to carriers in the South China Sea, and providing naval gunfire support in close proximity to the shore, assisting either Army or Marine Corps spotters.

After his Western Pacific deployment, he headed for law school at the University of San Diego School of Law.

"I had always been the kind that read the paper, front page to the last page, and realized that so much of what was part of American life dealt in one way or another with the law," Scully said.

After nine years of active duty, which included prosecuting and defending sailors and Marines as an officer in the JAG Corps, Scully served an additional 20 years in the Navy Reserve, most of that time as an intelligence officer. He was ultimately in charge of about 170 intelligence officers and specialists in the Midwest.

Scully's career as a civilian prosecutor began in Lake County, as an assistant state's attorney prosecuting felonies for 14 months in the early 1980s. By 1982, he joined the Department of Justice as a special attorney with the U.S. Organized Crime Strike Force, which merged with the U.S. Attorney's Office in 1990.

"Growing up in Chicago, I think I had a fair sense of how much influence the Chicago Outfit had on various aspects of life in and around Chicago, and I felt I wanted to assist in investigating and prosecuting," Scully said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Markus Funk worked alongside Scully as part of the three-prosecutor trial team in the Family Secrets case.

Funk described his former colleague as "unflappable," and "comfortable in his own skin," with a strong sense of empathy and a knack for gaining the trust of people from all walks of life — from the victims of violent crimes to a "murdering mobster."

"I've never seen him come unraveled, never seen him lose his cool," Funk said.

"He's not a guy who needs to talk tough or get accolades from other people," Funk said. "He's not a political being; he doesn't strive for some sort of public acclaim. He just wants to do the right thing. That seems to be what has been guiding him, and that's a great thing for a judge."

Criminal defense attorney Edward M. Genson opposed Scully in numerous cases during the judge's years with the DOJ.

"He was an extraordinarily good lawyer, an extraordinarily principled lawyer," Genson said. "His word was his bond.

"A fair prosecutor is going to be a fair judge," he said. "I'm sure he'll be fair."

Scully's colleagues on the bench say the judge's life experience, coupled with his personality traits, make for an "ideal" judge.

"He's a person of compassion, humility, industriousness, patience. And he is a grinder, someone who just keeps working at it," Ortiz said. "I think he's a perfect combination for a judge."

After 25 years of making the long commute from his home in Lake County to the federal courthouse in Chicago, Scully retired from the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2007.

"I had done most aspects of what I set out to do — to combat the Chicago Outfit," he said.

Around Christmas 2008, he submitted his bid for a judgeship.

"I've always enjoyed being in court, and I missed being in court from '07," Scully said.

For Scully, a father of four grown children and the grandfather of four whose name has followed the titles of captain, assistant U.S. attorney and now judge, "I'm a husband, dad and a grandpa first."

Looking back on the path that led him to the bench, Scully is quick to mention his high school sweetheart and wife of 40 years.

"I've had experiences that a lot of other people are not able to have, and that's mainly been made as a result of going to the Naval Academy. A lot of it flowed from there," Scully said. "But so much of it is as a result of having a wife who was supportive."

Thanks to Maria Kantzavelos

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