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Deputies at Odds

October 29, 2008 8:50:31 PM PDT
There are allegations that some Cook County sheriff's officers are gambling while on the job.The blue curtain that has been known to hide police misconduct is being drawn back by a cook county sheriff's officer.

He is blowing the whistle on some of his fellow county officers stationed at the courthouse in north suburban Skokie, charging that they have been involved in sports betting at the office, a case putting "deputies at odds."

"How can sworn law enforcement officers possibly be violating the law they are sworn to uphold?" said Wayne Oesterlin, deputy.

Career lawman Oesterlin says that question has haunted him for almost a year since becoming aware of what he calls an illegal sports gambling operation at the county courthouse in Skokie, gambling among some of the deputies he has worked with and the supervisors he has worked for.

"It was my duty as a law enforcement officer to come public," said Oesterlin.

In 2003, Oesterlin retired in good standing after 25 years as a Chicago police officer, according to the department. He joined the sheriff's office as a sworn deputy five years ago.

Sheriff Tom Dart declined to appear on camera. A spokesman said Monday that the I-Team "report is the first we're hearing of this. We've seen no records and have received no complaints or notifications of this problem, nor has our office of professional review."

"You have to make sure your own team does things by the book," said Jay Stewart, Better Government Association executive director.

Stewart runs Chicago's BGA, where Oesterlin first brought records, saying he didn't trust the sheriff's office to investigate itself, records that Oesterlin calls proof of a sophisticated weekly betting operation with payouts of up to $1,000 per NFL game during the 2007 season and this year's Super Bowl. He says it may still be underway.

"The docs are gambling paraphernalia: spreadsheets, grids with odds and indications of signatures, 34 names, that are mostly names of deputies at the facility," said Oesterlin.

Oesterlin says he called the FBI last spring to complain about gambling by sheriff's deputies and says an agent wrote up a report. But he never heard back. Last week, he and the BGA came to the FBI and turned over copies of the wagering records to federal authorities.

On Monday, a sheriff's spokesman said, "If true, it's unfortunate and we certainly don't condone it. If it had been brought to our attention, instead of turned over to the press, our office would have thoroughly investigated it...regardless, we plan to conduct an internal investigation and enact disciplinary action, if necessary."

On Wednesday, the sheriff says it is Oesterlin who is "under investigation, for violating the department's general orders" which required him to turn over evidence to them, not an outside agency. And they discredit him, saying that he is "a de-deputized deputy," reassigned last August to desk work pending a disciplinary hearing for misusing a computer.

None of that should matter, says the BGA, if deputies are gambling on the job.

"It's one thing when it [gambling] happens in an insurance office and its another thing when it happens in the sheriff's office," Stewart said.

Illegal gambling enforcement has been a well-publicized, high priority for Sheriff Tom Dart. When Dart's officers raided almost a dozen south suburban bars last December, seizing and destroying video gaming machines and confiscating football betting slips, he had the bust videotaped and passed it out to the media for coverage.

But that very week, according to the records Oesterlin turned over to the FBI, Dart's own officers were wagering as well.

"It sends a message that some types of gambling are tolerable, some kinds of illegal gambling we'll tolerate," Stewart said.

Oesterlin said he makes these allegation at some risk to himself and that he is concerned with possible repercussions.

Oesterlin says he has observed other misconduct by deputies and complained to his superiors, but nothing was ever done.

The gambling records are in the hands of the FBI's Public Corruption Squad. An FBI spokesperson says the bureau is currently assessing Oesterlin's information to determine if there have been violations of federal gambling laws warranting an investigation.


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