Thomas Sullivan: Operation Greylord

Remember Operation Greylord? Sure you do. The FBI corruption investigation into Cook County’s judiciary leading to 92 indictments. The first investigation to legally allowed wiretaps into a judges chambers. The investigation named after the curly wigs worn by British Judges.  Yes, it was a corrupt and forgettable time for the Cook County legal community and attorney Thomas Sullivan brought the bribery and corruption out into the light.

After being approached by a former states attorney regarding potential corruption in the courts in Chicago, U.S. Attorney Thomas Sullivan and the FBI made the decision to launch a full investigation into judges, lawyers, and other government officials throughout Cook County.  As the investigation progressed, criminal defense attorney Terry Hake was chosen to be the main mole for the Bureau.  By getting into the chambers and physically passing bribes to corrupt officials, Hake gave Sullivan and the Justice Department exactly what they needed to hand out 92 indictments and receive eventual convictions of 15 prominent Chicago judges.

Almost 30 years later, Sullivan recalls in this interview the permutations and challenges of the unique investigation.  I was a relatively new lawyer when the indictments came down.  Contrary to Mr. Sullivan’s humble musings whether the operation had any effect on corruption, I can recall partners’ ashen faces, hushed voices, and office doors closing in a ripple of horror down long hallways of law firms like dominoes of arrogance falling.  This was a huge blow to our profession, and we are better off for the courageous work of Mr. Sullivan, Terry Hake, and the entire team.

Unfortunately, there is still work to be done.  Shameful examples of judges flouting the law they are sworn to uphold still rock many jurisdictions across the nation, including here in Illinois.  Thus, it is important to reflect on lessons learned—and perhaps forgotten—from the infamous investigation known as Operation Greylord.

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