Susan Dineff, a brown-haired woman of 28, was changing her son’s diaper when the doorbell rang at her split-level house in Hickory Hills. It was about 4 PM on a Wednesday in June of 1987, and Susie wasn’t expecting a caller. Full diaper in hand, she trooped to the door and opened it, and found a strange man standing on the far side of the screen. A companion was a step back. The man in front identified himself as Douglas W. Lenhart, an agent of the FBI, and he proceeded to do most of the talking. He was excessively polite.
Is your husband home? Lenhart asked Susie. No, she said; David Dineff, an attorney, happened to be on a one-day gambling trip to Atlantic City with his accountant. My God, Susie thought, should I tell them that? Then the two dogs began to bark. Lenhart pressed his foot against the base of the screen door to prevent Lady, the German shepherd mix, from charging out, a move that struck Susie Dineff as a little dramatic.
She invited the two men in for a cup of coffee. No, said Lenhart through the screen door, just tell your husband to contact me when he gets back. She cracked open the screen and he handed Susie a card with his name and downtown address.
In the beginning, Dave Dineff didn’t worry. It was his brother Louis Dineff, an attorney and Democratic party figure, who had come under scrutiny in the Operation Greylord investigation, the exhaustive federal probe of corruption in the Cook County courts. They’re trying to indict Lou, James Montana, the prominent defense attorney Louis Dineff had hired, told Dave, and the only reason they are interested in you is that you’re Lou’s brother. Dave says he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.
But in late November Assistant U.S. Attorney Sheldon Zenner, who was working up bribery and racketeering charges against judges and lawyers operating in the courts of the Fifth Municipal District, asked both Dineff brothers to waive the five-year statute of limitations. Zenner wanted everyone named in the alleged conspiracy to be indicted at once. The Dineffs refused. On the afternoon of November 24, 1987, Lou Dineff called Dave in his office in southwest suburban Justice and told his brother that Zenner was in the process of presenting evidence against them to a federal grand jury. Dave tuned his office radio to all-news WBBM AM, and a while later heard a radio headline trumpeting the indictment of “two attorney brothers.” Dave knew immediately whom that meant.
“I thought to myself, what the fuck? Now I knew beforehand I was a target, but I didn’t think that I’d ever be indicted,” he says today. “You can imagine that this was a real shock to the system.”
Dave went home early and found Susie cooking dinner. He grabbed her by the arms. “We were indicted today,” he told his wife. That night James Montana called to say it would be improper for him to represent both brothers, and he suggested a couple of other lawyers. Dave went in to see one of them, Michael Monico, and he liked what he saw in both the man and the track record: Monico, a former assistant U.S. attorney, took tough cases, including that of convicted spy William Kampiles, a Croatian terrorist who had occupied the West German consulate in 1979, and of Bernard Sandow, president of the collection firm that had employed FBI informant Michael Raymond in Chicago’s Operation Incubator scam. Dave hired him.
In early December Dave Dineff was arraigned on charges of bribing former Circuit Court judge Roger Seaman. Dineff pleaded not guilty before U.S. District Court Judge Charles Norgle, was fingerprinted and photographed, and was released on his own recognizance.
On December 9, the grand jury that had charged the Dineffs now indicted five other private attorneys and a sitting judge, Daniel Glecier. All the accused allegedly were bound into an elaborate web of corruption infesting the Fifth District, which encompasses courts in 27 suburbs such as Summit, Bedford Park, Oak Lawn, Western Springs, and Countryside. Dave Dineff supposedly had schemed to bribe judges, including both Seaman and Glecier, and to buy off certain unnamed police officers. In March, yet another indictment brought judge Francis Maher into the conspiracy.
Genial Dave Dineff was 39 years old. He had Susie, two kids, and a law practice that he was successfully rebuilding after an auto accident that nearly cost him his life. Federal officials considered him a small fish in the murky seas of Greylord; Dave Dineff considered himself unlucky beyond words.
For now he found himself threatened with up to 20 years in prison and a $25,000 fine. According to the Chicago Tribune, just one of some 75 Greylord defendants whose cases had been resolved wound up acquitted at trial–Circuit Court Judge John Laurie back in 1984. All the others, the other 98.7 percent, were found, or pleaded, guilty.
“The seriousness of this kind of thing sinks in real fast,” says Dave Dineff.
But he figured he had certain advantages. One, he insists, was that he hadn’t bribed anybody. The second was a sharp attorney. The third–his secret weapon–was his dogged wife Susie. “I knew Dave was innocent, and I wanted to throw that in the faces of the prosecutors,” Susie explains today. “I tend to go crazy; I tend to go nuts.”
Dave Dineff was one of five children of a Greek immigrant who came to America at age 13 to join his grandfather, a political rebel who had fled Greece with a price on his head. “My dad got to Chicago with nothing but a Hershey bar,” says Dave. By trade Christ Dineff was a butcher, but he founded a real estate firm and an insurance business, and in 1948 he established the Argo Federal Savings & Loan Association, named for their neighborhood in Summit, on $1,200 in deposits. (Argo Savings nearly went under in the early 80s and is no longer under the Dineff family’s control.)
“My father thought a legal education was the most important thing for his children,” says Dave. “He didn’t care if any of us practiced law. His philosophy was this–become a lawyer and then you can do anything you want. People will treat you differently, with more respect.”
All the Dineff kids became lawyers. After completing Argo Community High School and Northwestern University, Dave went to law school at DePaul. Later he worked at the family insurance agency, now operated by Dave’s aunt and uncle in Argo. Lou Dineff ran his attorney’s practice from the office, but Dave didn’t, at least not at first. “Dave was the office gofer,” Susie explains. Then he, too, edged into law. In 1975 he took a part-time job as village prosecutor in Willow Springs.
The next year Dave Dineff made a run for state representative. “My dad wanted me to,” says Dave, “and you have to understand that in my family the sun rose and set with my father.” Already Lou Dineff was Lyons Township Democratic committeeman, a post he held until March of 1978 when Morgan Finley, the Cook County clerk looking for a power base in the suburbs, muscled Lou aside. In the race for his heavily Republican district’s guaranteed Democratic seat (at the time each district sent three representatives to Springfield), Dave outspent his opponent two to one. But she was the incumbent, and Dineff lost.
In 1979, shortly after his father died, Dave moved out of the family bastion and hung out his shingle in nearby Argo Savings. “I could offer legal help to customers,” says Dave, “and Argo Savings felt good in having a Dineff on the premises.” Susie Raetz, a bubbly woman of 20, became Dave’s secretary. In 1984, Dave bought a Justice warehouse that used to hold vibrating pillows, fixed it up, and moved his expanding practice there.
His practice started out simply enough. “I got friends that I went to school with who would come to me on traffic tickets or ’cause they were closing on a home,” says Dave. He did wills, leases, some marital work. Now and then he’d draft a will or examine a lease in exchange for some pastries or vegetables. “It’s the old way,” laughs Dave, “a will for a chicken.”
Representing people charged with misdemeanors, with minor assaults, and with driving under the influence took Dave through the courtrooms of the Fifth District. That’s how he liked it. “I’d rather be in a courtroom any day than sit behind a desk. I need contact with other people. I like people and the chance to do things for them. The lonely life behind a desk is not for me.” And one day a week he was a village attorney, over the years acting as prosecutor not only for Willow Springs but for Summit and Justice as well.
Dave Dineff had cases before judges Seaman, Maher, and Glecier, and an array of other judges who rode the Fifth District circuit. He remembers Roger Seaman as sour and severe; he was a judge, Dave insists, that he did his best to avoid.
Christ Dineff, a chummy man, had been well known in the southwest suburbs, and Lou Dineff achieved his own prominence as first a Democratic committeeman and then a trustee of Summit. But Lou ran into problems; in the early 80s he was indicted on federal bank fraud charges in connection with his role as secretary-treasurer of Argo Savings. Lou was acquitted at trial, however, and easygoing Dave, in any event, remained someone of sound reputation. “Dave was a nice guy,” one of the other lawyers charged with him would testify at Dave’s trial, “and he’s still a nice guy.”
The nice guy fell in love with his secretary at Argo Savings. Dave’s five-year marriage to his high school sweetheart was unraveling, and Susie was breaking up with her fiance. “She was safe,” Dave remembers, “and we started going out to dinner.” Susie’s roots were Polish, German, Irish, and Lithuanian (“She calls herself a Heinz 57,” says Dave); her father had been a milkman. She had a high school diploma and she had taken some courses at Moser business college. What impressed Dave was Susie’s quick wits and her perseverance. Early in their courtship Dave went to see Susie play 16-inch softball. She had broken a finger, yet she was out there pitching. “Her finger looked like a sausage,” Dave still marvels. “It will give you an idea of how competitive Susie is.”
On August 10, 1981, minutes before midnight, Dave was returning from a fishing trip when he fell asleep at the wheel of his Buick Riviera. The car flew over a median strip at the corner of Roberts Road and Archer Avenue in Bridgeview, cleared two lanes of traffic, crashed into a banquet hall, and bounced back onto Archer; parts of the car would be found on the roof of the two-and-a-half-story banquet hall. Dave probably survived because the Bedford Park fire station is located at the intersection, and the impact woke up the paramedics inside.
Susie and Dave were living together at the time in Willow Springs: Susie says she bolted from sleep with a premonition of something horrible and for a reason she can’t explain got in her car and drove toward Bedford Park. She arrived at Archer and Roberts moments after the crash.
Every one of Dave Dineff’s ribs was broken, one lung had collapsed, and both hips were fractured. His right leg had snapped above the ankle, his left hand was broken, and his jaw was cracked. His left kneecap had actually been flipped upside down without breaking the skin. The orbit of one eye was fractured. Two teeth were gone. His face looked like a tomato. Dave was taken to La Grange Memorial Hospital in a coma. “It was baseball season the last I remembered,” he says. “When I woke up, the Bears were two weeks into their season.” He was treated both at La Grange and at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s Medical Center, where he claims his jaw was faultily rewired–requiring it to be rebroken and triggering a still-pending malpractice suit. Susie rarely left Dave’s side; the nurses at La Grange nicknamed her “Mama Tiger.” Susie brought Dave home as a six-foot one-inch skeleton whose normal weight of 190 pounds had plunged to 98. She ministered to him as he lay on a hospital bed in the living room. At Thanksgiving, since Dave could not stomach solid food, she liquefied his turkey and gravy (he greatly appreciated the smell). “She became my full-time nurse and physical therapist,” says Dave, “and she also kept my office functioning.”
Gradually Dave recovered sufficiently to resume his practice (though for a year he walked with a cane), and in July of 1982 he and Susie married. Invitations to their reception at Nikos’ Restaurant in Bridgeview were distributed at police stations and town halls and throughout the Fifth District courts–to judges, clerks, public defenders, and state’s attorneys. When the number of guests reached 719 the restaurant stopped counting; the Dineffs estimate as many as 1,200 showed up. One who came was Judge Roger Seaman.
“Then our business resumed its normal activity,” says Dave. “Susie got pregnant, had our daughter Christi, and came back to work part-time. We made an offer on the building we’re in in October of ’83, and we moved in February.” Dave hired two associates, one of them to handle the criminal work that Dave found unappetizing. A second child was born, a son called David Laz, nicknamed Davie. Nearly two years later there was the indictment.
“Usually when a husband is indicted,” says Mike Monico, “there isn’t really that much a wife can do–or should do. The only thing I usually tell the wife is to relax.”
But Susie Dineff had a role to play. She was intimately acquainted with Dave’s clients, his cases, and the Fifth District mechanics; in addition, there was no one more convinced of Dave’s purity or more willing to prove it.
The accusations swirling through the Fifth District had been developed by the U.S. attorney’s office through a Greylord investigation that began in 1987. At that time an attorney named Joseph McDermott had testified against Circuit Court Judge John H. McCollom, in the process spewing out the names of 30 or so other judges he allegedly had bribed; some had toiled in the Fifth District. FBI mole Terry Hake had already provided tapes of rampant briber James Costello, another lawyer active in the district; so now the U.S. attorney’s office launched a full-bore Fifth District probe. The investigation produced “thousands and thousands of documents,” according to Monico, and last spring Monico set Susie to work on them.
Each weekday from mid-March to midApril, after her children were settled with a sitter, Susie drove downtown. She holed up at 9:30 in a small, stuffy documents room in a building at Congress and Clark, and left at three or later. The room was stacked with Greylord-related papers and Susie pressed through them; she scoured the box of court files on Dave, and the other box on Lou. She brought in a small photocopier to make duplicates of key documents. She never took a lunch break, taxing the limits of both FBI agents who had been assigned to supervise her. Whenever Susie went to the bathroom, the agent on duty would sigh in relief and sneak something to eat. Susie developed tentative relationships with the soldierly agents; when one man mentioned that he and his wife were going to have a baby, Susie brought him a book on pregnancy.
In April Susie moved her operations to a room on the ninth floor of the Dirksen Federal Building, where other Greylord evidence was stored. Every Wednesday–a secretary could be spared just one day a week to watch her–Susie listened to the hours of Costello-Hake conversations on her daughter’s little pink tape recorder and dug through the boxes of files on other indicted Fifth District lawyers. The tapes fascinated and sickened her (“Costello was always making himself out to be a big man, talking about all the women he was going to bed with”), but she kept at it, against the remote prospect that her husband’s name would be mentioned.
From the indictment, the boxes of material, and things Monico was learning and passing on to her, what Susie ultimately pieced together were the specifics of the case against her husband involving Judge Roger Seaman.
An unrepresented defendant would come before the judge, who would refer the misdemeanor case to one of a coterie of attorneys with whom he had an arrangement. If the lawyer wasn’t in court when the referral was made, a phone call from Seaman’s bailiff fetched him in. The attorney would then successfully argue the case before the judge.
What about payment? The defendant, who had generally posted a $100 bond, would sign over the $100–less $ 10 in court costs–to the lawyer, a common practice. And the lawyer, upon receiving the cash bond refund (or CBR) some weeks later, would kick back a portion to Judge Seaman in gratitude for the referral. One of those grateful lawyers, the government was alleging, was Dave Dineff.
Susie established that during the years covered by the indictment Dave had handled only ten cases before Seaman for which he received CBRs in payment. These cases had to do with such charges as driving under the influence, driving with a suspended license, gun possession, and fleeing a police officer. She was able to show that in at least eight of the ten instances Dave had brought his own CBR case before Seaman or had been in Seaman’s court on a separate matter when he picked up the CBR work; in other words, it was highly unlikely that he had been summoned by the bailiff. Susie boiled the ten cases down to a one-page chart and gave it to Monico.
Not until late in the summer did Monico learn a former Bedford Park police officer named Robert Vanerka was alleging that sometime in the late 70s or early 80s Dave Dineff had paid the cop $100 to influence his testimony in a drunk-driving case.
It wasn’t the thought of going to prison that disturbed Dineff (“I can adjust to anything,” he swears), but rather the prospect of abandoning his young family for a substantial period of time. He faced the loss of his reputation. If convicted he would surely lose his license, on which nine employees, including his wife and father-in-law, had come to depend. “I don’t really know how to be anything else but a lawyer,” Dave says. “I saw the real possibility that I’d have to start over from scratch, at 40 years old, and that scared the hell out of me.
“I was starting to lose my sense of humor,” he says, “and my attention span was getting less and less. I was having a hard time keeping my mind on my work.” Business was off; many clients stuck by Dave but some did not, and there were days when Dave had no reason to go to court. “But David didn’t want to go anyway,” says Susie, “’cause he thought people were looking at him.” Dave woke up, troubled, at four or five every morning, and was still up watching television late every night. He had headaches all day long.
“I could feel the turmoil underneath Dave’s skin,” says Susie, “and I talked to him about it. He’d listen and say everything was going to be fine. He told me ‘You couldn’t pay for the kind of free advertising it’s going to be when I’m found not guilty.'” But Susie wasn’t comforted: “You can’t have much joy until you can see what the future will bring.”
Each holiday and the kids’ birthdays were filled with tension. “Every time the conversation had a way of turning to the indictment,” reports Dave, “and that always had a dampening effect on things.” On August 10 Dave turned 40. Susie had wanted to throw him a big party, but Dave said no.
Other defendants in the Fifth District began turning state’s evidence. Judge Seaman pleaded guilty to two counts of mail fraud and one count of tax fraud, and most of the lawyers charged made their own deals. “Everyone was dropping,” says Dave Dineff, who was getting hints that if he cooperated he might escape with a light sentence. As last August ended, the only fish left to fry were Judge Glecier, former judge Maher, a lawyer in his mid-30s named Blair Braverman, and Dave and Lou Dineff. And then Lou Dineff’s day in court was put off at the last minute because he was suffering from a detached retina. Dave would go to trial without his brother.
On Labor Day weekend, Monico asked Dave Dineff to consider pleading guilty to a lesser charge–a felony tax count–and taking a sentence of six months in jail, six months’ work release. We face tremendous odds in winning a Greylord case, Monico reminded Dave and Susie. “Are you saying David is guilty?” Susie asked. “I’m not,” Monico replied. “I’m just telling you this as your attorney.”
The weekend passed heavily. “Sure I thought about my options,” Dave recalls. “I knew the chances, but I had a hard time pleading guilty to something I didn’t do.” Dave told Monico no.
The trial of Glecier, Maher, Braverman, and David Dineff began last September 7 in the wood-paneled courtroom of Judge Charles Norgle on the 17th floor of the Dirksen Building. Short, sandy-haired Sheldon Zenner, 35, led for the prosecution. A man of some refinement (he used to be a judge for the Joseph Jefferson theater awards), Zenner is also very tough. He has spent five years on Greylord, and his work has resulted in the convictions of five judges and 30 lawyers. Zenner was assisted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Jones. Both prosecutors were joined at their table in the courtroom by Doug Lenhart, the FBI agent.
The various defenses occupied three tables. Dave sat with Michael Monico. A fastidious man, Monico is quite a natty dresser, but he wears sober (though well-cut) suits to court. Dave, on the other hand, normally favors sport coats in what he calls “happy colors.” He is also a freak for Walt Disney films and memorabilia (“I’m one of those kids that never grew up”), and he prizes his Mickey Mouse watch. Get rid of the watch, Monico instructed Dave before court, and look conservative. That first day Monico appeared in a gray suit. Dave had a gold watch around his wrist, but his idea of conservative was a lavender jacket with a black-and-lavender tie–not exactly an outfit that sends the message, “This is an honest lawyer.” Monico told Dave to do better, and he went out and bought a dark blue suit and some red ties at the Chicago Ridge Mall.
Throughout the trial Dave carried a religious medal in his shirt pocket. Given to him by a family baby-sitter, the medal bears an image of Jesus and the inscription “Pray for us.”
Ten minutes before the selection of a jury began, Zenner summoned Monico and Dave into a witness room and made an offer: plead guilty to some part in the bribe conspiracy, and we’ll recommend a prison sentence of no more than three years. “A lot of things went through my mind,” Dave remembers, “because if I accepted the offer I’d be minimizing the sentence. But what it came down to, again, was that I couldn’t plead guilty to something I couldn’t do.” Monico said nothing. “I’m a gambler,” Dave told the prosecutor. “Let’s pick a jury.”
In his opening argument Zenner described Maher and Glecier as “fellow judges, coconspirators with a common goal to continue corruption of the court system.” Braverman and Dineff were limned as defense attorneys willing to pay for friendly rulings. The defense lawyers gave their first arguments, and then the parade of state witnesses began: fallen attorneys Cary Polikoff, Joe McDermott, James Costello, and William Kampenga; the mole Terry Hake; Judge Seaman . . .
The experience overwhelmed Braverman. The prosecution’s opening argument, in particular, seemed to eat him up inside. Three days into the proceedings, Braverman cracked, pleading guilty to one count of conspiracy in exchange for receiving a year-and-a-day prison term. “I did what was best for myself and my family,” he told Dave.
The prosecution witnesses that stained Dineff were Seaman, Seaman’s bailiff Gary Somerville, and former officer Robert Vanerka.
Seaman, a graduate of John Marshall Law School, began his career as an assistant state’s attorney. He shifted to the Chicago corporation counsel’s office, then to the Metropolitan Sanitary District, where he was an assistant to the president. In 1973 he was appointed to the Illinois Pollution Control Board. Six years later he was named an associate judge, holding that position four years, until he was voted out of office after the Chicago Bar Association recommended that he not be retained. Seaman once described himself as “the toughest judge in the Fifth District. I sentenced more people to jail for drunken driving and fined them more, and defense attorneys don’t like that. But I did what I thought was right.”
Now Seaman had a different story to tell. When he went out to the Fifth District in 1979, Seaman testified, a judge named Robert Downey advised the neophyte to take money on CBR cases only from regular attorneys, from people that he knew. This Seaman said he did. Seaman admitted steering unrepresented defendants to a group of nine lawyers–“our friends,” he called them–by various devices. Either the friendly lawyer was already in court when a lawyerless defendant materialized, or he was out in the hallway waiting to be summoned. Or he was in his own office, in which case, bailiff Somerville testified, on Seaman’s say-so he would call the man from a phone book he kept–a book that was now presented as evidence. The names in the phone book, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, were those of John Brady, Blair Braverman, William Kampenga, a friend of the bailiff named Vince O’Grady, the late chief judge of the Fifth District, Irving Eiserman, and Lou and Dave Dineff.
Bob Vanerka, 53, who now was running a Westmont copy shop, had been a Bedford Park police officer for 17 years. In 1980 or ’81, he testified, he skewed his testimony in a drunk-driving case in Dineff’s favor. And late one afternoon, he went by Dave’s law office at Argo Savings and collected a payoff of $50 or $100.
When Monico cross-examined Gary Somerville, the bailiff explained that the usual way Dave was referred CBR cases had to do with Lou Dineff. Several times, Somerville said, he called Lou’s office and when Lou was not in left a message for Dave, who would subsequently show up in court. “I believed that Dave was just doing a favor for his brother,” said Somerville, who added that he assumed Lou and Dave officed together. That was an easy enough mistake to make: the brothers’ office phone numbers were one digit apart, and they shared an answering service.
Vanerka conceded under cross-examination that during the period when he supposedly accepted his payoff from Dave he was downing a six-pack of beer every day. But he had no doubt about collecting the money from Dave at Argo Savings. He came in the evening, when it was dark out, he was now sure.
When Monico cross-examined Seaman, a short, stocky man of 62, the former judge reiterated his account of Judge Downey (who is now dead) luring him into a life of sin. “I succumbed to temptation and fell,” Seaman told Monico. Why did he do it? “Greed,” the ex-judge confessed. “Ego. I wanted to be accepted by . . . the lawyers.”
Seaman had said on direct examination that he had attended Dave and Susie’s wedding, an affair he now recalled as attracting “a moderately sized group.” He maintained that Dave had kicked back CBR money to him, but he was fuzzy on the details. Normally, he insisted, payments were made in his chambers; but he couldn’t say how many there’d been. Was Dave called directly? “I don’t believe so,” Seaman responded.
The air-conditioning was off in the federal building as Seaman testified, and the ex-judge, a 62-year-old diabetic, wilted as the afternoon went on. Despite Judge Norgle’s requests that he conclude, Monico kept hammering at the witness.
Monico: “Tell me one case that Dave Dineff paid you a cent on.”
Seaman: “I don’t recall.”
Monico: “Tell me one case that you referred to him.”
Seaman: “I don’t recall.”
Monico: “Tell me one case that you made a disposition in his favor that was what you call favorable.”
Seaman: “I don’t recall.”
Monico: “Tell me one case that you tried that Dave Dineff was the trial lawyer.”
Seaman: “I don’t recall.”
Monico: “Was there ever one?”
Seaman: “I believe so.”
Seaman: “I don’t recall.”
The next morning Seaman was back, but he did little to improve his credibility. Under Monico’s grilling, Seaman said Dave paid him in cash, but the exact amount escaped him. Did Dave pay you $100? Monico wanted to know. $10? $200? “I can’t recall that,” was all Seaman could say.
Monico had witnesses of his own. The records clerk at the Bedford Park Police Department, having searched city files as well as subpoenaed court files, could find no mention of Dave Dineff representing a defendant in an alcohol- or drug-related case in ’80 or ’81. Judge Seaman’s court clerk testified that she had never seen Dave ducking into chambers with her boss. Dave’s sister Beverly said that during the period when Somerville was allegedly calling either Lou or Dave from his phone book, she–not Dave–was the other half of Lou’s law firm.
Hit or Miss was the store where Susie Dineff purchased the dark blue suit she wore to the stand. She testified to the information she had gleaned from her investigation of Dave’s CBRs. Eight of the ten cases she could account for. Of the other two–both heard before Seaman on May 16, 1980, in Chicago Ridge–she vaguely remembered Lou’s secretary calling to say she’d gotten some kind of message about them but thought they actually belonged to Dave.
Susie testified twice more, first in her capacity as Dave’s legal secretary and then as the office bookkeeper. And her other role, skillfully conveyed through all her appearances, was that of a devoted wife and champion.
Monico told Susie not to let Zenner rattle her on cross-examination, and she tried her best. So did Zenner. “He wasn’t real nice,” Susie says in retrospect. “He hit me all these curveballs and cheap shots.” The other way to look at it is that Zenner was exceedingly skilled. “He did a remarkable job of investigating my client and his wife,” Monico concedes.
He drummed it home to the jury that during high school Susie had worked for Alan Masters under an internship. Masters, an attorney who had been named as an unindicted coconspirator in this case, was a shadow across the trial; in June he had been charged with plotting to murder his wife Dianne, a Moraine Valley Community College trustee, back in 1982.
The IRS had previously done an audit on Dave Dineff, and the auditor had testified in this trial that Dave said then he never took in cash; now Susie was forced to admit that, yes, sometimes she and Dave did. Her acknowledgment that Dave had filed a malpractice suit against Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke’s could only have unsettled the nurse on the jury.
Dave was the only defendant to testify in his own defense. Monico is of two minds about putting a client on the stand. It’s true that a defendant can get tripped up by a smart, hard-driving prosecutor, which Zenner surely was. Yet juries like to see and hear from the accused; they like to sniff the air around him. With Dave Dineff, “I felt confident that what he was saying was truthful and the government couldn’t disprove it,” says Monico. Besides, Dave wanted to go for it.
Even so, says Monico, before he testified “Dave was scared to death.”
The direct examination went well enough. Dave denied that he had ever made payoffs to Seaman and described the judge as a cuss. “He’s the meanest guy I ever met,” Dave said. “He would ridicule you in front of your client. He would make you look like a fool in court, and I think he enjoyed doing it to people.” He admitted that Seaman may have asked him to talk to a defendant (“There’s nothing wrong with talking to someone”), but Dave denied ever taking work by way of some kind of prior arrangement with the judge. And he denied taking money from Vanerka.
Then Zenner took his shot. He brought up the income tax audit, the malpractice suit, Dave’s divorce from his first wife, and Alan Masters. It turned out that when Susie was working for Masters in high school Dave was located in the family office six doors away, and he would stop by to mooch coffee; Masters’s place is where Dave first met his future wife. “I tried not to let Zenner upset me,” says Dave. “After I got off I had no idea how I had done, but I could tell the jury was listening, and that made me happy.”
The night before Monico’s closing argument, he was to be sworn in as an officer of the Justinian Society of Lawyers, Chicago’s Italian legal fraternity. Court adjourned at 6 PM, and then Monico and Dave and Susie Dineff repaired to the attorney’s LaSalle Street office. Monico dictated some notes for his close before changing into a tuxedo and slipping away to the Palmer House, and after dinner he returned to his office to dictate some more. When he was done it was close to midnight, and Susie stayed up at home until 5 AM typing the notes. Dave got up at seven o’clock and took them downtown to Monico.
Sharon Jones gave the prosecution’s first summation. “The choice was whether to uphold the integrity of the court system . . .” she said of all the accused, Dineff included, “or sell yourself and the justice system of Cook County.”
The defense lawyers responded in turn. Sam Adam, for Maher, was very funny, making light of the idea that the judge had ever accepted payoffs. Monico, coming next, was sober and impassioned.
“This is a case between a lawyer who takes pride in being a lawyer,” he told the jury, “and a man who somehow became a judge and took pride in hurting people.” Yet Seaman could remember not one thing about Dineff’s bribes, Monico observed. Did Somerville call Dave from his phone book? There were other names in the book that Somerville had denied summoning for the judge; perhaps Dave was one of those. Vanerka’s testimony “was completely false,” filled with discrepancies–notably his evening visit to a savings and loan that closed at five–and delivered by a former alcoholic now under government pressure to produce. The government hadn’t pinpointed the CBR cases before Seaman that supposedly involved payoffs. “I knew they didn’t have the evidence,” Monico said later. “I was confident because Susie was confident and because David was confident they had no evidence.”
“It’s ironic,” Monico told the jury in conclusion. “The government has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, but we’ve shown innocence beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In his wrap-up for the government, Zenner conceded that the evidence against Dineff was not as strong as the evidence against Maher or Glecier. But he stuck by his witnesses. “Why would [Seaman] make himself out to be a worse guy?” he wondered. “It doesn’t help a person at sentencing to say [they] were more corrupt.”
The jury began its deliberating at 4 PM on Friday, September 30, and broke at 5:30 for the weekend. Monico told Dave and Susie not to worry, that they had a shot at it; and the Dineffs went home to their children.
Not surprisingly, the Dineffs’ home life had been disrupted by the year’s events. Susie tried to make sure she had breakfast with Christi and Davie, but otherwise there were no guarantees. “Me hate downtown” were some of the first words out of Davie’s mouth. Eventually the kids slept in their parents’ bed. “At least that way when we woke up we could have a little time together,” Susie explains.
Susie cried a great deal in private, and this required her to lay things out, as best she could, for her five-year-old daughter. “I talked to Christi,” says Susie, “and I told her that some people were saying bad things about Daddy. I told her that sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can never hurt you. We have to prove that Daddy is a good guy, is also what I said.”
The weekend passed in an atmosphere of stress and resignation. “At that point,” says Dave, “I figured that you can’t do anything one way or the other. You’re in the hands of the jury.” On Saturday he kept appointments at his law office, and on Sunday he watched the Bears game on television. Susie and the kids went to church across the street from home “and we said some extra prayers,” she reports. Susie did not sleep.
On Monday the couple went downtown and camped out on the benches in front of Norgle’s courtroom. Susie’s sister and parents joined them; Dave’s brother Alan stopped by. Glecier and Maher were somewhere else, and the Dineffs could have waited at home or in Monico’s office. “But I wanted to be in the building when that jury came back,” says Dave. “Being somewhere else when your mind is on that courtroom would have accomplished nothing.”
At 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon word came that the jury had reached its verdicts. Oh God, Susie thought to herself, I don’t want to hear this. There was an hour’s wait as Maher drove downtown from his home in Palos Heights, and by the time he arrived the courtroom was packed.
The jury filed in, and the foreman, Richard Valesh, passed some pieces of paper to a federal marshal. The marshal passed them to Judge Norgle, who read each one. Norgle’s face was unexpressive. When he was finished, the judge passed the papers back to the marshal, who passed them back to the foreman. Then Norgle asked the foreman to read the verdicts. The process took about five minutes, and for that time “you could have cut the air with a knife,” remembers Susie. Dave’s hands began to shake.
The finding on Dave Dineff came first. “We, the jury,” said Richard Valesh, “find the defendant David Dineff”–he paused “not guilty.” The courtroom filled with the kind of “ah” that you hear when a particularly breathtaking skyrocket goes up on the Fourth of July. Dave jumped out of his chair and hugged Monico. Susie grasped her parents. “Thank God,” she gasped.
Judge Glecier was found guilty and Judge Maher was acquitted, confounding most observers, who felt those verdicts would go the other way around. Maher and Dave Dineff were asked to approach the bench. Dave recalls that he was “shaking like a leaf” and that he suppressed an urge to bolt. He forced himself to stand there and listen to Norgle say it was all right to leave.
In the back of the court Susie and Dave both embraced Monico; Susie was crying on the attorney’s face and mussing his hair. Suddenly she noticed Mrs. Glecier, whom she had come to know and be fond of during the trial. Are you OK? Susie asked the woman. “I’ll be fine,” replied Mrs. Glecier tersely. Glecier sat stunned with his attorney.
Outside in the hallway, the Maher family was delirious. Maher, 73, kissed Susie so hard that his lips began to bleed. Dave made his way to a bank of phones, competing with the press to get a free line, and then called his 74-year-old mother Dora to let her know the good news; the line was busy, and when he finally got through, his crying mother told Dave she already knew. Hanging up, Dave went downstairs with Monico to face the TV cameras.
Two jurors who spoke for the record, Helen Maluga and Debra Ascencio, said the jury based its verdict on Dave’s own testimony and on Susie’s presentation of her findings on the CBR cases. “Monico did his homework,” Maluga added.
It was time to celebrate. Monico’s wife came downtown and everyone went over to Gene & Georgetti’s. During the trial, Dave, Susie, and Monico had lunched on turkey sandwiches (Monico’s preference); now they ate steak.
At 9:30 Susie fell into bed 3 exhausted. Dave stayed up to watch the news on Channel Seven, where he thought reporter Jim Gibbons had done an especially fair job covering the trial. “After the news I just sat there in front of the TV, unwinding,” he says.
“I think I did a good job,” says Mike Monico. He credits Zenner with “a masterful job in putting this case together,” but Vanerka and Seaman remained weak witnesses for the state. Monico also gained from the absence of Lou Dineff. Dave could escape being tarred by association with his brother, who faced more serious charges, while benefiting from the impression that the missing Lou was responsible for his kid brother’s predicament. Somerville, the bailiff, was calling for Lou, not Dave. And there was Dave’s sincerity on the stand, and there was Susie, her husband’s multipurpose assault vehicle. “She was absolutely remarkable,” Monico reflects. “She came to the case with a lot of information, and being intelligent she was able to make sense out of the new facts she was given. She was a wife and an expert witness, all wrapped up as one.”
Susie blames the U.S. attorney’s office for her family’s ordeal. “It’s like the government got too cocky,” says Susie. “It was like somebody said something bad about somebody, and so the government says ‘Let’s indict that second somebody.'”
Dave is more sanguine. “I’m relieved,” he says. “My faith in the jury system has been restored. I support the system we have; I wouldn’t trade it for any other. And it works. My own disappointment is that the government did not do the investigating it should have before bringing this indictment.” In a recent phone conversation, Dave was insistent: “There’s an old saying that you’re asked to the dance, you end up paying the fiddler. I wasn’t asked to the dance. I didn’t really know these guys. I want you to know I didn’t do any of this.”
Dave thinks Judge Seaman tarred him “because I was a familiar face to him, since almost all my business is in the Fifth District. What he did was to give the feds the names of the attorneys that appeared in front of him, hoping to make his own punishment less severe.” How Dave’s name landed in Somerville’s phone book confounds him. Maybe, Dave speculates, it had to do with a car repossession business the bailiff operated on the side. Somerville called him once about that, Dave remembers, thinking the lawyer might exercise some influence at Argo Savings. Dave thinks Vanerka fingered him to make the government happy.
The Dineffs were gratified after the trial when a local newspaper, the Desplaines Valley News, editorialized in their favor. Editor and publisher John C. Noonan wrote that “the result in the David Dineff case, in which a legal secretary was more thorough in preparing and presenting a case for the defense than prosecutors were in prosecuting the case, would seem to reflect something about the U.S. Attorney’s Office that warrants more than a few red faces among its staff.”
Dave says of Zenner, “He’s an excellent lawyer. I may not agree with his means and methods, but he’s an excellent trial lawyer. I don’t like what he did to me personally, but his legal ability is there. He had a job to do, and he did it. Still, I don’t think we’ll ever have lunch.”
Zenner won’t discuss the case.
The Dineffs, who paid Monico $40,000 and sustained a 40 percent slump in Dave’s legal business, say their savings are gone. They have had to sell property and borrow about $5,000 from Dave’s mother. But they hope to get back on their feet. Dave thinks his acquittal should improve Lou’s chances in his trial, which has not been scheduled. “I love my brother,” Dave says.
Dave surprised Susie on her birthday November 5 with a trip to Las Vegas. “Susie worked her tail off for me, and I wanted to do something for her,” he says. This month Dave and Susie are taking the kids to Disney World. They can’t wait.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bruce Powell.