Billy Hanhardt’s Downfall
John William Tuohy
Hanhardt, William: Chicago Police Officer. "He was at the top ranks of the Chicago police department, which is a frightening prospect. Hanhardt's organization surpasses -- in duration and sophistication -- just about any other jewelry theft ring we've seen in federal law enforcement" U.S. Attorney Scott Lassar
Did boredom lead a Chicago super cop to a help organize a Mafia crew of jewel thieves? Or was he always just a dirty cop who finally got caught? Before he was jailed for masterminding a ring of Mafia thieves who stole $4.85 million in jewels across the nation, William Hanhardt had once been the chief of detectives of the Chicago police, chief of traffic, commander of the burglary section, deputy superintendent for inspectional services and a stationhouse commander.
Early in his career, Hanhardt was considered the best of a new breed of street cop coming of age in the 1950s and 1960s. Cops and prosecutors admired him for his leadership, his toughness and ability to close a case. He had real bravado. He once chased a vicious ring of home invaders down the street, guns blazing. He worked high-profile burglary cases through much of his career and had, or seemed to have had until his underworld links became known, a particular knack for turning informants which in turn contributed to his cracking some of the city's more celebrated criminal cases.
For five years Hanhardt headed the elite Criminal Investigations Unit (C.l.U) of the Chicago Police Department. Working side by side with Jack Hinchy, his partner of many years, and a team of hand-picked specialists drawn from the Chicago Police Department's elite burglary, robbery and homicide bureaus, Hanhardt's C.l.U. unit was regarded as the best on the street.
Hanhardt retired on March 26, 1986 after 33 years on the force and became a consultant to the film-noir TV series ”Crime Story," about an elite team of Chicago detectives that takes on the mob. The writers modeled the show's hero, Lt. Mike Torello after Hanhardt. Hanhardt, who advised the show on police procedures, even had a cameo in one episode, playing a retired Kansas City hit man who travels to Las Vegas to urge that peace be made with a transplanted Chicago mob boss. He was living out his retirement in an upper-income North Shore suburb. He had money, a good reputation, overall, so why did he continue the robberies?
There had always been questions about Hanhardt’s career.
He started his career in the 1950s and organized crime experts in Chicago could not explain how the cop was able to climb so high in the department without influence from politicians in Chicago's scandal-drenched 1st Ward Democratic Organization.
Bob Fuesel, a retired Internal Revenue Service agent who worked on organized crime cases during the 1960s and '70s, says he was told by members of the police intelligence unit "to stay away from that guy. ... He was bad news."
Fuesel said it was "common knowledge" among organized crime prosecutors decades ago that Hanhardt was associated with the mob. Informants told the feds he'd been on the underworld payroll for decades.
A corrupt ex-cop claimed Hanhardt had shaken down bookies and burglars in the 1950s and bank robber Robert "Bobby the Beak" Siegel said several years ago that in the late 1960s, the word on the grapevine was mobsters were paying the master detective $1,200 a month and sweetening the deal with a new car every two years.
There were also sealed court documents that claimed that in 1979, Hanhardt might have leaked details of a major FBI investigation into Las Vegas casino skimming, when he leaked information about a pending federal investigation of mobsters at the home of Anthony Chiavola, a Chicago police officer and nephew of Kansas City rackets boss Nick Civella.
According to testimony by a government witness in 1975, Hanhardt had delivered a $2,200 check to pay for surveillance equipment for Ronald DeAngeles, a mob wiretapper. The equipment was installed in the home of bail bondsman Irwin Weiner, a friend of Hanhardt's. Hanhardt defended the arrangement, telling prosecutors he asked Weiner to install the devices to keep track of his children.
Weiner, who has deep contacts to the mob, was one of the last people Jack Ruby spoke to by phone before he murdered Lee Harvey Oswald in 1963.
One cop questioned Hanhardt’s success. The rumors were, “How can a cop be so great unless he had the inside track at something? He would know who committed a score hours after it happened."
Hanhardt's name turned up in Asian gangsters Ken Eto's little black book of phone numbers and addresses. Eto was a mob linked gambler
More or less working under a hood named Vince Solano, a labor extortionist.
His name was also found in Allen Dorfman's little black book shortly after Dorfman was gunned down gangland style outside the Lincolnwood Hyatt Hotel on January 20, 1983 as he crossed an ice filled parking lot in Chicago. He was scheduled to testify before a grand jury investigating mob-Teamster connections in Las Vegas.
Dorfman was the owner of Amalgamated Insurance Agency, a firm handling millions of dollars of Teamster union money. At the time of his death, Dorfman was convicted for his role in the Central States Pension fund/casino "skimming" case and facing serious jail time.
Most appalling was that Hanhardt appeared as a friendly witness for Anthony "the Ant" Spilotro, the Chicago mob's enforcer and killer in Las Vegas while the Ant was on trial for running his "Hole-in-the-Wall" jewelry burglary ring out in Vegas.
Hanhardt took the stand to invalidate the testimony of mobster Frank Cullotta, who had agreed to become a Federal witness against Spilotro. Hanhardt's appearance on behalf of the vicious Spilotro
stunned many observers.
In the late 1960s and early 1970’s, it was Spilotro who had made Chicago the center for the Mafia's stolen jewels.
Hanhardt heard the whispers about his connections and replied that he was a victim of stories, police politics, remarks taken out of context, false innuendos from unnamed sources, and what he called a "smear."
But when the chief of detectives was making remarks like, “I knew Outfit characters that were better men than some of the police officers I had to work with”, eyebrows were raised.
Inside the police department, there was a clear divide down the middle between those officers who knew Hanhardt was just another common thief and those who assumed he truly was a super cop. The pathetic part was that those cops, and there were several hundred of them, who knew Hanhardt was a crook, never went public with their knowledge.
Reporters and prosecutors, not privy to talk inside the police stations, heard about Hanhardt’s criminal activities from the FBI who let it be known that “they were interested in taking him down and were looking for informants."
Although the whispers about Hanhardt’s underworld contacts never made it to the public, in 1986, the FBI decided there were enough rumors floating around to plant a bug in the cop’s house. There was also a wiretap on his phone for at least a year. The tapes revealed Hanhardt was calling police department contacts who did database searches on jewelers for him.
That led to surveillance which found Hanhardt and others attending a jewelry show in Tucson in 1996, using a false name to register and obtaining a safe deposit box at the hotel.
However, the end came in 1999 when an associate in the jewel theft ring got involved in a nasty divorce. An angry wife led police to a bank safe deposit box. It contained scores of uncut diamonds and jewels -- plus a phony ID her husband had used along with phone bugs and car tracing beepers.
An informant gave Federal agents copies of index cards with information on jewelers used by Hanhardt and others to conduct surveillance. The FBI found several of those people were, in fact, theft victims.
In the fall of 2000, the FBI moved in on the ring and shut it down.
In one day, Hanhardt and five others were charged with operating a nationwide theft ring that stalked jewelry salespeople and stole more than $5 million in gems and watches.
One heist occurred near the end of Hanhardt's career, the others after he retired.
Law enforcement officials say the first of the heists took place in Wisconsin in 1984, two years before Hanhardt retired from the force.
Many of the robberies were from parked cars, meaning the thieves knew what cars the salesmen were driving. During the wiretap, investigation, Hanhardt asked Chicago detectives for plate numbers and the make and model of jewelry salesmen’s’ car.
Federal prosecutors didn’t charge the detectives because they still didn't have evidence to prove they knew they were providing information being used in a criminal conspiracy.
The more the agents listened, the more they heard Hanhardt
Call active-duty Chicago Police to search departmental databases to gather information on potential victims. He even hired a private detective to get additional facts from credit bureaus to better plan his robberies.
In all the gang stalked more than 100 jewelry salespeople handling more than $40 million in merchandise over 15 years, targeting
victims in Dallas, Texas; Mankato, Minnesota; Phoenix, Arizona; Englewood, Ohio; Los Angeles, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; and various locations in Illinois and Indiana.
Members of the ring routinely followed the jewelry salesmen on their appointed rounds. Several times, while merely stalking the salesmen, opportunity raised its head and the salesmen would park their car and run into a coffee shop or restaurant for a quick bite. When they did, even though it wasn’t planned for that moment, the thief following the salesman would jimmy open the trunk and run off with the sample case.
In one theft that fell under that M.O, the gang got 180 Baume & Mercier watches from a location in Glendale, Wisconsin on October 8, 1984, that netted them an inventory of stolen goods valued at $310,000. In Monterey, California on October 13, 1986, a Rolex watch salesman lost approximately $500,000 of inventory
The gangs sometimes switched jeweler's cases with matching luggage so the victims wouldn't even be aware of the theft for some time.
But otherwise, Prosecutors said the gang's operations were among the most sophisticated they have ever encountered, with smoke grenades, fake beards and mustaches, listening devices and other high-tech paraphernalia and Hanhardt's know-how was critical to the ring's success. And they were successful. While the gang actually got more than $5 million worth of goods, they had targeted more than 100 jewelry salesmen and $40 million in jewelry, gems and watches, according to federal prosecutors.
Although most of the robberies were from locked cars, the biggest, a $1.5 million heist, came from safe-deposit boxes at the Columbus, Ohio, Hyatt Regency hotel.
The thieves' methods were elaborate. They used coded language, aliases and carried bulletproof vests and a fake mustache and beard. Their tools and equipment ranged from slim jims and lock picks to listening tools and a device with flash bulbs to temporarily blind victims.
They kept meticulous records on potential targets, obtaining their phone numbers (some unlisted), bank account information, frequent flyer numbers and travel itineraries.
They convinced auto manufacturers they were dealers to get access codes to cut new keys for cars. And they bought luggage that matched bags carried by their targets, so they could make a quick switch.
All the while, the feds tracked Hanhardt around the country and collected 3,000 pieces of the ring's incriminating writings.
Indicted with Hanhardt was James D'Antonio, a driver and top lieutenant for reputed mob boss Joseph Lombardo. D’Antonio was deceased by the time the indictment came around.
Another was Joseph Basinski, an alleged jewel thief who already was facing federal charges of trying to intimidate a witness in a post-midnight visit to his home. Basinski was arrested in March 1999 and accused of attempting to intimidate William Friedman, a witness in this case, in a post-midnight visit to the Friedman home.
Friedman had given the FBI Basinski's briefcase-full of personal information about dozens of traveling wholesale jewelry salesmen. Investigators opened the briefcase without a warrant, and a judge ordered the evidence suppressed, barring prosecutors from using its contents against Hanhardt and the others. Prosecutors asked the appeals court to reconsider its decision upholding the judge's ruling.
Originally, Basinski was released on bond, provided he wore an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle. However, he was brought back into court and accused of a possible bond violation after getting into a drunken brawl at a Chicago restaurant with a 38-year-old woman who described herself as his "trophy girlfriend" and sent him love poetry. He was ordered confined to his mother's home except for trips to court and for necessary medical treatment.
Basinski was Hanhardt's top aide in the operation.
Also indicted was Guy Altobello who worked at a suburban jewelry store, Altobello Jewelers, owned by his son, and provided one or more of the other defendants with information about jewelry salesmen to help plan heists. Altobello a reputed associate of former mob boss James "Turk" Torello.
Also charged was Sam DeStefano, 46, of Downers Grove, whose deceased nephew was allegedly the reputed mobster, the much-feared "Mad Sam" DeStefano who was murdered inside the family garage on mob orders. One of the shotgun killers was believed to have been Mad Sam's protégé, Nicky "The Ant" Spilotro.
DeStefano's role in the theft ring came to light in part because of a bitter divorce in DuPage County Circuit Court. During one court hearing, DeStefano and his wife argued about hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry kept in the couple's safety deposit box.
Paul Schiro worked the jewelry trade shows, store owners and salesmen. He was also a suspected Mafia murderer. James D'Antonio, maintained the inventory of burglary tools, and Robert Paul conducted surveillance of jewelry stores out in the desert, both died before the case went before a judge.
In searching D’Antonio’s belongings, his collection of hardware tools included lock picks, "slim jims", smoke grenades, disguises, cutting dies, wrenches, taser, bullet proof vests, key code books, listening devices, key blanks, hotel keys, and handy instruction manuals. Detailed notebooks containing information about the salesmen including their family members and private residences were maintained with meticulous accuracy.
A week before Hanhardt was to appear in court, he opted for the coward’s way out, overdose. He was rushed to a hospital unconscious where Doctors determined that he had taken an overdose of a powerful pain killer in a suicide attempt. He was arrested and placed in the psychiatric unit at Bethany Hospital in Chicago. Since then, he has been moved to the government's Metropolitan Correctional Center.
On October 26, 2001, Hanhardt stood before Judge Charles Norgle, Sr. wearing the bright orange jumpsuit of a federal prisoner, and pleaded guilty to masterminding $5 million in jewelry thefts.
"Are you pleading guilty because you are, in fact, guilty?" the judge asked.
"Yes, sir, I am," he said.
Hanhardt agreed to pay $4,845,000 in restitution for stolen jewelry, gems and watches and faces as much as a dozen years in prison.