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United States v. Braasch

decided: October 23, 1974.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division; No. 72 CR 979; William J. Bauer, Judge.

Clark, Associate Justice,*fn* Fairchild and Stevens, Circuit Judges.

Author: Clark

CLARK, Associate Justice.

This prosecution, brought under the extortion statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1951,*fn1 depicts a betrayal of public trust of the most alarming type to a free society: the corruption of the entire vice squad of the 18th Police District of Chicago over a period of many years.

The indictment covers the period from 1966 to 1970 during the tenure of Captain Clarence E. Braasch as Commander of the 18th Police District and names as coconspirators more than two dozen police officers who were attached to the 18th District during all or part of that period, including Braasch and three vice coordinators, Sergeants Fischer, Barry and Geraghty. The facts are "stranger than fiction",*fn2 revealing a brazen extortion scheme involving a shakedown of some 53 bars, taverns and other business establishments serving alcoholic beverages and located within the District. Initially, four police officers on the vice squad -- two during daylight hours and two at night -- collected $100 to $150 per month from each of such establishments and divided this money, known as the "package", among the members of the vice squad. The quid pro quo on the part of the police officers was that they would "protect" the victims of the scheme -- known as the "vice club" or "little club" -- from enforcement of various regulatory laws and from loss of business revocation of licenses and other disturbances, some of which were caused by manufactured police harassment.

In the regular operation of the "little club", a vice coordinator would obtain from the police officers of the vice squad a monthly list of the establishments that might be included in the club's collections and present this list to Captain Braasch who would then strike from it the names of those establishments that he decided should be excluded for various reasons. The resulting list contained the names of the club "members" until the next month's list was approved.

From the testimony, it appears that a similar "club" existed in the district at least as far back as 1961, but abruptly ceased operations in the middle of 1966 when Captain James Holzman was appointed District Commander. The rapid change of command from Holzman to Captain Braasch in August 1966 marked the beginning of the conspiracy at bar.

Braasch brought with him Sergeant Robert Fischer to be his new Vice Coordinator. Soon after Braasch and Fischer began their new assignments, one Bill Gold, representing certain nightclub and gambling interests in the 18th Police District, telephoned Fischer that he wanted to see him about some business that might be of interest to him and his boss, Captain Braasch, and left his telephone number. Fischer reported the call to Braasch, who told him to see Gold. At lunch the next day, Gold told Fischer that he would pay Captain Braasch $3,600 per month to protect gambling operations in the 18th District from police harassments and arrests, and, in addition, he would pay $1,500 per month for Braasch to protect ten specific night spots also in the 18th District.

Fischer reported to Braasch, who promptly accepted the offer. This arrangement, known as the "big ten" or the "big club", started in operation in October, 1966, and continued at least during Braasch's tenure as Commander of the 18th District which ended in 1970. For some 27 months during the operation, Fischer acted as "bagman" for Braasch. The money was collected first from Gold and, after his death, from one Glitta, and ran as high as $6,810 a month. Initially, some of the money was passed on to key police officers, such as Braasch's friend, Barry, a group of Captains and Lieutenants, and two vice squad officers, Cello and Rifkin. The latter two were included because as Fischer testified, "the only two vice men . . . we would have to worry about would be Rifkin and Cello because they were assigned to work gambling on day . . . ."*fn3 Fischer was succeeded by Barry as "bagman" for the "big club", but the record does not show the take during that period.

In November of 1966, some of the members of the Vice Squad approached Fischer with regard to their resumption of the pre-Holzman practice of collecting monies from retail liquor establishments in the District. The word about the "big club" had gone the rounds of the Vice Squad and its members were anxious to share in the proceeds. When Fischer made it clear that Braasch would not be sharing the payoffs from the "big club"; it was suggested that the Vice Squad police officers organize their own "club" among the remaining bars and taverns in the District. Fischer then took this matter up with Braasch who agreed to the proposal. According to Fischer's testimony, when Braasch was apprised of the proposed "club", he commented: "I guess it is not a bad idea if these guys want to make a buck for themselves. We got our own thing going, haven't we?" Braasch's primary concern was that he have a veto power over which establishments would be included.

Braasch was interested not only in making sure that none of the nightclubs in his own "big ten" were being shaken down by the Vice Squad, but also in keeping off the list any "trouble spots" -- establishments that catered to prostitutes, operated after hours, or served minors -- which might prove embarrassing if the public insisted on police action. Pragmatically, Braasch and Fischer decided not to share in the proceeds of the "little club" for reasons related by Fischer in his testimony. According to Fischer, he told Braasch, when they were privately discussing the "little club" arrangement:

If there is any complaints on these places and there has to be an arrest made, why, if we weren't taking money from it, why we could tell them to go out and make the arrest. But if we were taking money from the thing, we would be in kind of an awkward situation. * * * So, I suggested that we don't participate, partake in any money in this and besides, "We got our own thing going and let's not get hungry."

Braasch agreed.

The original collectors for the "little club" were Cello, Rifkin, Mascolino and Napier, all of whom were Vice Squad officers, and who subsequently testified as witnesses for the Government. Toward the end of 1966 or early 1967, the members of the 18th District Vice Squad held a meeting in the 18th District station house to discuss the functioning of the extortion "club". At that meeting, the officers discussed the procedures to be followed in protecting their "club" members; they discussed the amount of money that would be paid to each vice officer as more bars were recruited; and they discussed which officers would be responsible for collecting the money on each shift.

While Fischer and Barry were Vice Coordinators, Officers Cello, Rifkin, Mascolino, and Napier distributed the money they collected from the bars among the members of the Vice Squad. Cello, Mascolino, Rifkin, and Napier each received approximately $300 and later $500 per month; the other vice men received $150 and later $250 per month as their share of the "package".

Witness Cello testified in the Government's case-in-chief that the conditions for membership were as follows:

The conditions were that they would pay $100 a month to the vice officer that would be collecting. In return, there would be no harassment by members of the vice squad. Under harassment, it would be classified as premise checks, I.D. checks of individuals in the bars. If it was a gay bar, you would not go in there with flashlights and harass the patrons of the bar. You would assist them in any trouble that they have. If you were assigned to make a follow-up report, in your follow-up report you would try to make it or slant it in any way or form that would help the tavern owners.

If you received knowledge that there was -- any knowledge or any information that VCD was going to come into the district to make a raid on these taverns, you would forewarn them. Also that none of the vice -- there would be no individual shakedowns by any individual vice officer on these taverns if a check had to be made on a tavern, it would be checked out first with one of us.

As the years from 1966 to 1970 went on, other Vice Squad officers assisted in the collection tasks for the "little club". In February, 1967, Fischer was promoted and transferred to other duties outside the 18th District, and Barry succeeded him as Vice-Coordinator. Barry took over the duties of intermediary between the "little club" and Braasch, but he received no money from the "little club" operation, his take being the $1,000 heretofore mentioned from the "big club". As indicated above, however, Fischer continued as "bagman" for the "big club" through January, 1969. In 1970, Sergeant Geraghty succeeded Barry as Vice-Coordinator and continued to perform the same services as the latter, except that Geraghty assumed the monthly responsibility of personally receiving the "package" collected from the "little club" and distributing it among the members of the Vice Squad.

A. The Indictment and Trial :

On December 29, 1972, a sixteen-count indictment was returned against twenty-four Chicago police officers, charging in the first count that they participated in a conspiracy to commit extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951 by extracting money under color of official right from the proprietors of the fifty-three liquor establishments comprising the "little club". The remaining fifteen counts of the indictment charged separate violations of 18 U.S.C. § 1623.*fn4 Each count separately charged one of those named in Count One with making false material declarations to the Grand Jury by appearing before the Grand Jury and falsely denying his participation in the "little club" extortion scheme.*fn5

At the trial before Judge William J. Bauer which began on August 13, 1973, the Government presented the testimony of seven police officers who had formerly been assigned to the 18th Police District. Five of them -- Fischer, Cello, Rifkin, Mascolino and DuShane -- testified under immunity granted pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 6002; the sixth, Anthony Corsentino, testified without immunity; and the seventh, Lowell Napier, one of those originally indicted, pled guilty before trial and testified. These officers testified to their own complicity in the "little club" and to the involvement of those on trial. In addition, 48 witnesses were produced by the Government who were owners or employees of the liquor establishments in the "little club"; who testified under a blanket immunity grant, and who asserted that they had personally made payments to the police officers who were collecting extortion money for the Vice Squad. The trial was concluded on October 3rd, and the jury found nineteen defendants involved in the instant appeal guilty, and found four others -- Demke, Lazar, Pierson and Troche -- not guilty on all charges.

We have read the 6,836-page record and find that it reveals a carefully organized and skillfully operated extortion machine of massive proportions in both membership as well as monetary "take"; which operated over several years and corrupted the entire Vice Squad of the 18th Police District, including its top officials. The testimony of the 48 proprietors and employees of the participating "little club" members established that the extortion payments were made. The testimony of the bagmen Cello, Rifkin, Mascolino and Napier confirmed that they had received the payments and disbursed them to police officers of the Vice Squad as well as to themselves. The testimony of DuShane, who was the police officer assigned to clerical work in the Vice Squad, detailed fiscal arrangements. And the testimony of Fischer explained the organization of the "little club"; why certain officers, such as Cello and Rifkin, were included in the payoff of both the "little" and "big" ...

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