Beware of anyone who promises to “fix” a case

This summer, I’ve been reading a couple of first hand accounts of the Greylord scandal (one by Assistant State’s Attorney Terrence Hake, the other by retired Judge Brockton Lockwood, both of whom went under undercover to expose court corruption).  So when I saw a story about a family that paid out $13,000 to a supposed fixer who was going to get their son’s two old DUI cases expunged and arrange for a 90 day sentence on his current case, I cringed.

(While I’m linking to books about the Greylord scandal, let me add a third book, by  reporters James Tuohy and Rob Warden.  All three of these books are worth reading, and since they each come at the same story from different angles, they are complementary to one another and can be read in tandem.).

According to the Daily Herald:

An elderly Glendale Heights couple is out $13,000 and their neighbor is behind bars, accused of deceiving them with promises of fixing a court case involving their son.

Joseph LaPuma, 66, of the 1000 block of Michael Court, is charged with theft by deception and is being held in DuPage County jail on $100,000 bail, according to court records.

LaPuma, the ex-husband of a DuPage County deputy clerk, said he could expunge previous DUI convictions of Joseph Ricchetti, 41, of Elmhurst and influence a pending aggravated DUI charge so that Ricchetti would serve 90 days in a rehabilitation facility, a substantially less severe punishment than he was facing…

LaPuma told the Ricchettis he had a connection through his ex-wife, whom he still lived with, to access the court documents…

Dewey Hartman, chief deputy circuit court clerk, said Wednesday neither LaPuma nor his ex-wife were capable of following through with LaPuma’s claims.

“The ex-wife does work for us, but she does not work in the criminal area of our office. She works in the civil division. As to him or her having access to any information that would provide (those services), the answer is no,” Hartman said. “Certainly he would not have had any access to anything. Nor would she. Our systems are very secure with the users and transactions capabilities that the individuals have on various case types. None of those things (promised by LaPuma) would have been possible.”

They had a term for the type of scam that LaPluma tried to pull off back in the Greylord days.  They called it “rainmaking.”  Rainmaking was when someone took money which was supposed to be used to bribe a Judge or a cop to fix a case but in fact the go- between had no intention of passing along the money, instead pocketing it for himself.  The rainmaker usually knew (or hoped) that the hoped for result was likely going to happen anyway, and took advantage of a defendant who was willing to pay for a “guaranteed result.”  If things didn’t work out as expected, the rainmaker could always explain it away, saying something like “the judge felt that there was too much attention being paid to this case” or give some other excuse.

Back before the Greylord scandal, corruption was endemic, particularly in Cook County. People did not have faith in the fairness of our legal system. Thanks to the efforts of people like ASA Hake and Judge Lockwood, the system has been cleaned up.  I began practicing law shortly after the Greylord reforms took place, and I am happy that I have never had to practice in such a system.  Thankfully, the system is such that this “fixer’s claims were bogus and just a scam.  The possibility that their son would get a multi-year prison sentence obviously upset these parents so much that they fell prey to a con artist.  I feel sympathy for their plight, but they were also breaking the law.  The last thing we need is to allow even the appearance of impropriety to cast any shadow over the integrity of our Clerks, Bailiffs, Police, Attorneys or Judges.

If anyone approaches you with such an offer, do not accept it.  Instead, report it!

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