Posted on Feb 23, 2007
Jury awards $9.75 million in corruption suit against city
CHICAGO - A jury awarded a husband and wife $9.75 million in damages Thursday for a smear and terror campaign aimed at them after they accused a police officer of corruption while working as federal agents.
Diane Klipfel and Michael Casali hugged and kissed their friends and their attorney after the jury delivered its verdict in the civil trial.
"I'm relieved that the ordeal is finally over and justice is served," Casali, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told reporters.
City Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said officials were disappointed and were reviewing appeals options.
The verdict ended a five-week trial focusing on Joseph Miedzianowski, sometimes described as Chicago's most corrupt police officer.
Miedzianowski was convicted in April 2001 of masterminding a Chicago-to-Miami cocaine pipeline and supplying guns and ammunition to the very street gangs he was supposed to be investigating. He is serving a life sentence at a federal prison in California.
Klipfel is a retired ATF agent and Casali still is an agent. They say Miedzianowski smeared them with misconduct allegations and terrified them with threats after they leveled corruption charges against him in 1992 while working in the Chicago ATF office. They say they were so frightened, their children slept in a closet in the interior of the house in case shots were fired through the walls.
Jurors leaving the court scoffed at city officials' claim that they conducted an 18-month investigation of Miedzianowski but never interviewed Klipfel and Casali, and were unable to uncover evidence of corruption at the time.
"You run an investigation and never interview the main person who made the complaint?" juror Joe Karl said. He and other jurors also said they gave greater credence to testimony that Miedzianowski frightened people after seeing a tape of a deposition at his California prison.
"Joe Miedzianowski is a scary, scary guy, a frightening guy with a winning personality," said Sally H. Saltzberg, the lead attorney for Klipfel and Casali. She said he was able to use his personality to manipulate public officials and get away with corruption for 14 years.
Witnesses who testified during the trial included Chicago police Superintendent Phil Cline, who was once Miedzianowski's supervisor, and other police officials.
Cline testified that he suspected Miedzianowski of stealing police documents twice in the early 1990s. He said evidence of the second instance became part of the federal indictment against the officer.
"Joe Miedzianowski was an aberration in this department and a disgrace to his star," Cline testified.
The jury awarded Klipfel $7.75 million for violation of her rights by both Miedzianowski and the city. It awarded her $1 million for defamation of character by Miedzianowski while acting in his role as a city employee.
It also awarded Casali $1 million for Miedzianowski's violation of his rights while acting as a city employee.
Saltzberg said the city would have to pay the entire $9.75 million because Miedzianowski is believed to have no money. She said the couple's attorneys would ask the court to award them fees in the $1 million range.