When juries rule the way we would have, they’re wise. When they don’t, they’re crazy. Last week one Chicago jury declared 15th Ward alderman Virgil Jones guilty of accepting $7,000 in bribes from a government mole, finding it unlikely that Jones would accept thousands of dollars in legitimate campaign contributions inside a rolled-up newspaper. Another jury acquitted former state senator Miguel Santiago of being a ghost payroller in the county treasurer’s office, finding it believable that Santiago could monitor relevant state legislation for the treasurer for four and a half years without jotting down a single note. As one juror told reporters afterward, “We agree that he did little or no work, but again we feel he did what he was told to do and he thought that was his job.” Is the jury still out on juries? Compare the two cases, and you be the judge.
ALDERMAN VIRGIL JONES FORMER STATE SENATOR MIGUEL SANTIAGO
$7,000 in bribes from government mole John Christopher to let Christopher run a rock-crushing operation in Jones’s ward.
$148,000 in salary and benefits from the Cook County treasurer’s office between 1991 and 1995.
Christopher put $4,000 in small bills inside a rolled-up newspaper and left it on the seat next to Jones at a south-side IHOP. Jones took the newspaper to the bathroom and emerged without it. At a later restaurant meeting Christopher handed Jones $3,000 in small bills inside a brown paper bag. None of the money was recorded in Jones’s campaign records or tax statements, and Jones admitted in court that he never accepted cash campaign contributions from anyone else.
Everyone from former county treasurer Edward Rosewell’s office who testified, including his personal secretary, said they never saw Santiago at the treasurer’s office before his investigation became public. Rosewell’s personal daybooks mention nothing about Santiago, except the dates of several fund-raising dinners for the senator. The chief legal counsel for the treasurer’s office testified that his staff already monitored Springfield legislation and that he talked to Santiago only once, after news of the investigation broke. At that point, Rosewell sent Santiago to a satellite Maywood office, but two employees there testified that even at the busiest time of the year, when taxpayers were waiting in lines for up to an hour, Santiago doodled, read the newspaper, and did crossword puzzles at his desk. Santiago admitted he never documented any of his four and a half years of work.
Jones’s lawyer said Jones let Christopher operate the noxious rock-crushing operation to create jobs for residents. The $7,000 was for campaign fund-raising tickets and suchlike. Jones said he wanted it in small bills to pay homeless people who worked in his office–of course you can’t pay homeless people with hundred-dollar bills. Jones also claimed the $7,000 went to his ward organization, but the ledger recording the payments was stolen in a 1993 burglary. (The ledger wasn’t reported missing at the time.)
Santiago says he talked only to Rosewell and sometimes his chief deputy, James Fuglsang. (Fuglsang pleaded guilty in a ghost-payrolling scheme last November and testified at Santiago’s trial that he never conferred with Santiago on legislation. Rosewell pleaded guilty too, but he’s so ill from liver disease that prosecutors didn’t call him to the stand–something the jurors never learned.) Santiago claimed that he tracked four and a half years of relevant state legislation entirely by memory, but under questioning by prosecutors he couldn’t remember anything specific that he’d done in 1993.
Assistant U.S. attorney Lori Lightfoot, on the missing ledger: “It’s pathetic. It’s like, ‘The cat ate my homework.'”
Santiago attorney Edward Genson, on the fact that prosecutors didn’t call Rosewell to testify: “They would have brought him in on a stretcher if they thought he would have helped them.”
Less than two hours.
Almost two days.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration by Archer Prewitt.