July 25, 2017

Hanhardt prosecutors turn up heat

By Matt O'Connor
Tribune staff reporter
Published May 1, 2002

In a secretly recorded tape played Tuesday in federal court by prosecutors, former Chicago Police Deputy Supt. William Hanhardt recalled in early 1996 how the last time he bought a Cadillac, "two weeks later I got a present." The "present," authorities alleged, was $750,000 worth of loose diamonds taken from a jewelry salesman during a robbery in a Wisconsin hotel room in August 1995. Records show that two weeks before the holdup, Hanhardt had indeed bought a Cadillac, FBI Special Agent Edward W. McNamara testified Tuesday in U.S. District Court during the second day of Hanhardt's sentencing hearing. Hanhardt faces more than 20 years in prison for his part in a ring authorities said was responsible for the theft of millions of dollars worth of jewels. Prosecutors Tuesday presented a web of circumstantial evidence in an attempt to link Hanhardt to the assault and robbery of Eshagh Kashimallak moments after he checked into a hotel in Brookfield, Wis., and entered his room. Among other evidence, McNamara said that on the day of the holdup, a telephone calling card regularly used by Joseph Basinski, the top thief in Hanhardt's jewelry theft ring, was used to make calls about a mile from the hotel. Lawyers for Hanhardt and Basinski have raised doubts that the robbery ever took place and contend that if it did, their clients weren't involved. Though Hanhardt pleaded guilty in October to pulling off numerous thefts of jewelry salesmen, his crew's method of operation didn't involve physical confrontation or assault, his lawyers noted. Instead, they used pinpoint timing and master keys to grab the diamonds when salesmen momentarily left their goods unattended. Three officers for the Brookfield (Wis.) Police Department who investigated the heist all concluded that Kashimallak had fabricated the robbery, according to their sworn depositions read into the record Tuesday. The stakes are high for Hanhardt, 73, a legendary former chief of detectives who is already facing as much as 12 1/2 years in prison. If U.S. District Judge Charles Norgle Sr. finds Hanhardt responsible for Kashimallak's robbery, he could be sentenced to as much as an additional 10 years in prison, his lawyers have said. Basinski's lawyer, Jeffrey Cole, clashed frequently with Norgle during the cross-examination of McNamara, who spent the entire day Tuesday on the witness stand. Cole attacked the government's circumstantial evidence of the involvement of Hanhardt's crew in the Kashimallak robbery. Asked if he knew what Hanhardt meant when he referred to the "present" in the 1996 tape recording, McNamara replied, "100 percent, no." McNamara also conceded that at least five other people had access to the Basinski calling card used on the day of the robbery. The government also presented new evidence illustrating the Hanhardt crew's sophistication and daring. A sworn statement from a locksmith hired by the Justice Department to review key-cutting equipment authorities seized from Hanhardt's ring concluded the ring had the expertise to make a master key for door locks like the ones at the Brookfield hotel where the robbery took place. Armed with such a key, the crew could have opened any room in the hotel in seconds, he said. Prosecutors also played an August 1993 tape of Basinski in a salesman's hotel room he had broken into. Rifling through the salesman's records, Basinski dictated into a mini-recorder the salesman's travel itinerary and the license plate numbers of other salesmen attending a jewelry show in the hotel. "He must not be feeling well, he's got a thermometer next to the bed," Basinski said in the recording, which was later recovered by authorities in briefcases that belonged to James D'Antonio, a member of Hanhardt's crew who died in 1993. In the briefcases, McNamara testified, authorities also recovered three firearms, a stun gun and smoke grenades. McNamara said Hanhardt's crew used clever means to gather information on theft targets. Posing as police officers from another state, they would contact a Chicago police communication center, falsely claim their computer was down and ask the center to run a license plate, he said. In that way, the ring obtained vehicle identification numbers, which helped it get duplicate keys made in order to steal jewels from salesmen's cars, McNamara said.