Tuesday's arrests were the result of an elaborate sting operation initiated by the FBI.
Most of the suspects are either police officers or Cook County sheriff's employees. And that accusation is very disturbing to the man who announced the charges, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.
In August of last year, the FBI began that elaborate sting operation that would last roughly a year.
"An undercover FBI agent was able to deal with not one, not two, but 15 different law enforcement officers who sold out their badge and agreed for money to help drug dealers do their business," said Fitzgerald.
Prosecutors say the ring of allegedly crooked lawmen involves 10 Cook County sheriff's employees, most of them correctional officers, four Harvey police officers and one Chicago cop.
Three of the Harvey officers were arrested Tuesday morning. One of those three was on duty when the FBI took him into custody. The fourth Harvey cop, Archie Stallworth, was arrested earlier last month. He was at home Tuesday morning, but he had little to say.
The indictment alleges that the lawmen, while off duty, provided armed security for what they thought were cocaine and heroin transactions. They also allegedly guarded transfers of cash, protected a high-stakes poker game, and two of them are additionally charged with selling cocaine.
"It is, however, very troubling that so many sworn law enforcement officers were so eager to sell both their badge and their honor," said Rob Grant, FBI.
One of the alleged ring leaders of the group s currently stationed in Afghanistan with the Illinois Army National Guard, along with fellow correctional officer Jermaine Bell. The military is scheduled to send them home shortly.
"Very, very frustrating to us because, for about a year now, we knew these people were involved with criminal activity, and they were bad people. And yet, so that the investigation did not get compromised, we had to leave them where they were at. We couldn't even transfer them," said Cook Co. Sheriff Tom Dart.
The Harvey Police Department was raided by investigators with the state and county, looking into an extraordinary number of unsolved murders along with allegations of misplaced and mishandled forensic evidence. If that wide-ranging corruption investigation had any bearing on the year-long FBI sting, the feds aren't saying.
Most of the arrested officers appeared in court Tuesday afternoon and will be released on bond. The various departments are in the early stages of beginning termination hearings.
Archie Stallworth, the Harvey cop who was arrested last month by the FBI, also happens to be a conductor for the Metra Electric Line. Stallworth was the man who first discovered two years ago in September the body of Metra policeman Thomas Cook. The murder of Thomas Cook remains unsolved. Asked today if that particular incident is on the feds' radar screen, prosecutors said only that they're sticking to what's in Tuesday's indictment.