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New light shed on cop theft ring
Hanhardt awaits prison sentence


By Cam Simpson
Tribune staff reporter
Published April 29, 2002

On Monday, William Hanhardt's staggering fall from grace will be complete, as the legendary former top Chicago police official will be sentenced to federal prison for running what prosecutors say is one of the most sophisticated jewel-theft rings in history.

Though his name may not come up in the courtroom, the stamp of another man, James D'Antonio, will be everywhere, according to newly unsealed FBI files. D'Antonio, who died in 1993, was a key member of Hanhardt's crew, and the files show the theft ring was actually formed by D'Antonio in the 1970s.

Hanhardt's sentencing will cap a previously undisclosed and decades-old effort by federal authorities to topple the ring. The files show that while FBI agents were unsuccessfully pursuing D'Antonio for years, they were sharing details of their probe with the police units commanded or founded by Hanhardt.

It wouldn't be until years later that agents discovered the two men may have been in cahoots.

While there is no proof Hanhardt scuttled the investigation of D'Antonio, allegations emerged years later that Hanhardt had taken money from D'Antonio in the 1950s, during his earliest days on the police force.

D'Antonio--who started as a jewel and fur thief and ended up a top lieutenant to reputed mob boss Joseph Lombardo--was listed as a co-conspirator in the October 2000 indictment of Hanhardt. D'Antonio, of Skokie, was 65 when he died of injuries after he crashed into a bridge abutment on the Kennedy Expressway.

The scheme that Hanhardt pleaded guilty to running stretched at least from 1980 to 1996, prosecutors said. Hanhardt had risen to deputy superintendent and chief of detectives before retiring in 1986.

The racketeering conspiracy spanned at least seven states, targeted 100 jewelry salesmen and about $40 million in loot, authorities charged. Prosecutors will seek about a 20-year sentence for Hanhardt, 73, of Deerfield.

Hanhardt and his men pleaded guilty to spying on traveling jewelry salesmen, defeating their advanced security systems and scooping up thousands of pieces of jewelry. The FBI says the ring also got key intelligence on jewelers from Chicago police officers.

Origins of crime ring

The FBI files show D'Antonio started the ring as early as 1973, when he was a target of the FBI's "Top Thief Program" for heists he directed across the Midwest.

Sources said Joseph Basinski, who will be sentenced as Hanhardt's top thief, learned his trade from D'Antonio during that era.

Updates on the investigation, which was opened on Aug. 23, 1973, were wired straight to the FBI director.

Within weeks of opening the case, the agency enlisted help from field offices in 18 cities. Agents repeatedly tried to tail D'Antonio and his crew, even using helicopters. They pulled their phone records and checked D'Antonio's mail. They watched D'Antonio in his house, talking on the phone, reading the paper and smoking a cigar. They constantly quizzed informants for leads, the files show.

In a 1973 memo FBI supervisors said "close cooperation with appropriate branches of local law enforcement" was key to the D'Antonio investigation.

Less than one week after the case began, records show FBI agents phoned the burglary section of the Chicago Police Department seeking help. Though the names of police officials contacted are deleted throughout the files made public by the FBI, separate Chicago police records show the unit was then headed by Hanhardt.

It was a pattern that would continue throughout the investigation, with FBI agents repeatedly sharing information with burglary detectives or others in units Hanhardt had overseen.

In the 1960s Hanhardt had founded and commanded the Central Investigations Unit, drawing on the city's best detectives. Even the FBI heavily relied on the unit to make cases against top thieves. Hanhardt's personnel file contains several FBI letters, including one from Director J. Edgar Hoover praising him for the unit's help.

"James Joseph D'Antonio and his associates and their activities have been discussed in detail with the Central Investigations Unit, Chicago Police Department," said one 1975 report to Hoover in Washington. "This unit, which specializes in surveilling active criminal groups in the Chicago area, expressed a keen interest in `working' D'Antonio and contemplated doing so as soon as unit members are free from present assignments."

Links to the '50s

In 1980 the FBI learned that D'Antonio and Hanhardt allegedly were associates as early as the 1950s. That information came from Gerald Shallow.

By the time Shallow entered the federal witness protection program, he had been a Chicago police officer, a jewel thief, a hijacker and had pleaded guilty to being a mob hit man. He was fired by the Police Department in 1970.

Shallow told investigators that while he was a patrol officer in the 1950s he saw Hanhardt shaking down bookies, thieves and hoodlums for payoffs, according to unsealed records in the Hanhardt case. Records show Shallow named at least one man Hanhardt had taken money from: James D'Antonio.

Before pleading guilty last year to the jewel-theft charge, Hanhardt denied the allegations and said he didn't know D'Antonio.

FBI records show that a confidential informant told agents that Hanhardt, D'Antonio and Basinski used a calling card whenever they talked about heists. Hanhardt's home number and pager were dialed with the card, the FBI learned. So was Basinski's home. D'Antonio's house in Skokie also got calls billed through the card before and after his death, the FBI said. And there were calls to four fences, a lock company that gave keys to thieves and Hanhardt's condo in Pensacola, Fla.

Details on jewelers

The same informant also gave FBI agents "work sheets" that had allegedly been used by D'Antonio, Hanhardt and Basinski. The papers held detailed intelligence about jewelers targeted by the ring.

Although it's unknown whether Hanhardt helped D'Antonio elude federal investigators, one of D'Antonio's relatives aided agents in charging Hanhardt.

Just before Hanhardt's indictment, one of D'Antonio's nephews gave FBI agents 27 suitcases his uncle had kept in storage.

The FBI said they were filled with the Hanhardt crew's tools and intelligence files.

There were 3,000 pieces of paper detailing the identities and habits of jewelry salesmen, records show. The suitcases also held locksmith tools, smoke grenades, a tiny flash bulb device used to temporarily blind people, listening devices, car keys, garage door openers, hotel keys, keymaking machines, lock picks, cameras and bullet-proof vests.

Copyright 2002, Chicago Tribune

 

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