In his closing argument Monday, defense attorney Michael Clancy called his client, Chicago Police Sgt. Xavier Elizondo, “a hero” and “a fool.”
He is a hero, Clancy said, because Elizondo dedicated his life to “protecting the West Side of Chicago.” In doing that work Clancy said Elizondo used deception and even paid money out of his own pocket to informants to aid in his mission to get guns and drugs off the street.
But he is a fool, Clancy said, because Elizondo’s cunning as an officer and his willingness to spend “his family’s money” to fight crime is now being used against him in a federal corruption trial.
Elizondo, along with Officer David Salgado, is facing multiple federal counts based around an alleged scheme in which the officers bribed informants to lie for search warrants and then stole from the illegal seizures.
Clancy said the officers never stole anything, and there’s no rule against police paying informants.
Both men have pleaded not guilty.
Salgado worked on a West Side gang team headed by Elizondo. During the two-week trial, federal prosecutors called Chicago police officers, undercover informants and a Cook County judge to try and prove that the two officers lied to judges, pushed others to lie and repeatedly skimmed from money and drugs seized during Chicago police raids. Prosecutors say the officers shared some of the proceeds from the illegal raids with informants as rewards for lying and kept the rest for themselves.
“Because that’s what I was told to do”
One government witness who provided information to Elizondo and Salgado for search warrants, testified that the officers directed him to swear under oath to information that had actually come from someone else.
When asked why he lied to a judge on a search warrant, Antwan Davis answered, “Because that’s what I was told to do.”
Davis also testified that as payment for his continued cooperation, Salgado gave him about two dozen ecstasy pills, knowing that Davis would turn around and sell the pills.
But Davis appeared evasive during cross examination by Elizondo’s attorney Michael Clancy, repeatedly answering “I don’t recall” to straightforward questions like whether he remembered meeting with FBI agents before trial.
Another informant, Latonia Gipson, testified that Elizondo and Salgado told her to lie under oath about a supposed drug stash house on the South Side of Chicago.
Gipson said she was coached on her testimony by Salgado while he drove her to meet a judge to get a search warrant. Gipson said everything she told the judge was a blatant lie, because Gipson lives on the West Side and does not go to the South Side, something she said she repeatedly told the officers.
“It wasn’t true because I’ve never been there,” Gipson said. “I do not go out south.”
But Gipson had difficulty remembering how much Elizondo had allegedly given her in exchange for information, initially testifying she got about $1,500 from the sergeant and then later saying it was about $2,500, after prompting by a federal prosecutor.
Attorneys for the officers worked to undermine the credibility of the informants, pointing out that they were drug users with histories of lying under oath. They also pointed out that the former informants were now being paid to testify by the federal government. Prosecutors admitted some witnesses were paid for their testimony but told jurors it was a normal part of federal prosecutions.
In his closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ankur Srivastava acknowledged the deficiencies with the informant witnesses, but said they were backed up by independent evidence, including undercover recordings, text messages, phone records and video from FBI stings.
“They were sworn Chicago police officers who were supposed to be fighting crime, instead they became criminals,” Srivastava said. “And all the while they hid behind their badges and took advantage of that power to commit crimes.”
Srivastava said the officers had violated a “bedrock principle of a free society,” by lying to get search warrants, violating the Constitutional right to be free from illegal search and seizure.
“The defendants would …use their power as police officers to enter people’s homes. And what did they do when they entered those homes? They stole things,” Srivastava told the jury Monday.
In one FBI operation, agents set up Elizondo and Salgado to recover cash they believed belonged to a drug dealer but actually belonged to the FBI. Special Agent Robert Leary testified that $4,200 went missing after Elizondo found the planted money in the trunk of a car.
But Clancy made the case that the alleged theft was not shown on the video and investigators never found the missing money.
Clancy said there were two other officers who were alone with the FBI money before Elizondo was ever alone with the money, and there’s no evidence Elizondo was the one who took it. Beyond that he said, there was no evidence to prove there was any money missing at all beyond the testimony of FBI agents.
“Do you trust the FBI that much?” Clancy asked the jury, before telling them “don’t trust them for a second.”
In his closing argument, Clancy said Elizondo routinely used deception as part of his work to get guns and drugs off the streets on the West Side of Chicago. He called the charges “absolute nonsense” and said the government’s entire case was based on a fundamental misunderstanding of common tactics used by Chicago cops.
“The FBI isn’t running to a shooting on the West Side … They have no idea what it takes to police on the West Side of Chicago,” Clancy said. “You’ve gotta play games with people to get them to work with you.”
Elizondo testified in his own defense on Friday, one of a small number of defense witnesses. He told the jury that it was a common ruse of his to pretend to be a dirty cop, promising stolen riches to potential informants to try and get them to cooperate. He said he used “trickery” and lies to try and get illegal guns and drugs off the street.
Elizondo said there was no rule against paying informants, but whatever money he gave informants came out of his own pocket and he insisted he never stole from police evidence or directed anyone to lie.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Franzblau scoffed at the notion that Elizondo and Salgado were running an “independent charity fund for informants,” calling it “absolutely ridiculous.”
Salgado chose not to testify. In her closing argument, Salgado’s attorney Brooke Buican said there was no proof Salgado stole anything, or that he was part of any conspiracy with Elizondo.
Elizondo and Salgado are each facing five counts against them, including conspiracy, embezzlement and obstruction of justice. If convicted on all counts they could each be sentenced to more than 20 years in prison.