At the start of his opening statement on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Franzblau described for jurors a phone call between Chicago Police Sgt. Xavier Elizondo and Officer David Salgado.
The phone call, Franzblau said, was recorded by an FBI wiretap, and came just moments after Salgado had learned that the officers were being investigated by the Chicago Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs, and called his sergeant for advice.
“Just make sure whatever you have in your house isn’t there no more,” Elizondo said, according to Franzblau.
Then, Franzblau said, Salgado left work and went home to try and cover his tracks.
Elizondo and Salgado are accused of lying to get search warrants and then stealing from the subsequent seizures. Prosecutors claim the officers directed informants to tell half-truths or “complete fictions” to judges to obtain illegal search warrants, and then they would repay the informants with stolen drugs and money, while keeping some of the stolen property for themselves.
The conversation between Elizondo and Salgado came after an FBI sting operation in which the two officers allegedly stole $4,200 from a stash of money planted by federal agents.
Franzblau told the jury that the conversation between the two defendants, and the subsequent cover-up, proves that Elizondo and Salgado knew they were guilty.
“The defendants are corrupt Chicago police officers who betrayed their badges and used their police powers to lie, cheat and steal,” Franzblau said.
Elizondo and Salgado have pleaded not guilty, and in their opening statements, their attorneys said the government could not prove the officers’ had stolen anything.
Michael Clancy, who represents Elizondo, told the jury that the officers “never took a dime in a search warrant.”
Instead, he said, the government was criminalizing the kind of tough, messy police work necessary to go after gangs and drugs. And he criticized federal prosecutors for relying on convicted felons and known liars to make its case against two hard-working police officers.
Prosecutors plan to call former informants to testify about the lies they told for Elizondo and Salgado and the drugs and money they got in return.
Clancy told the jury that police need to rely on unnamed sources to get guns and drugs off the street, and that those informants only cooperate if they get something in return. He said Elizondo paid some of them with his own money, not money stolen during raids.
He said those informants were now lying for prosecutors because they were given money and promised immunity.
Salgado’s attorney, Michael Petro, called the potential government witnesses “drug abusers” and career criminals, and he said their criminal histories should factor into the jury’s decision of whether to believe them.
Franzblau acknowledged to the jury that some of their witnesses have a history of lying, have been convicted of felonies and have been granted immunity. But he said, everything they will testify to “is confirmed by independent evidence,” including audio and video recordings and text messages.
During opening statements, Petro also hinted at another possible defense for his client, who was an officer in a gang unit headed by Elizondo, a sergeant. Petro told the jury they “must be aware” of the “important fact” that the Chicago Police Department has a chain of command, and that officers are not allowed to disobey orders from higher-ranking officers.
Petro said police officers must “follow the orders or suffer the consequences.”
Patrick Smith is a reporter on WBEZ’s Criminal Justice Desk. Follow him @pksmid.