Michael Corbitt, corrupt ex-cop sentenced to 20 years for role in a murder and 2 other charges, walks 2 years early

By Ray Gibson

Tribune Staff Writer

March 5, 1998

For decades, Michael Corbitt led a dual life, never being what he appeared to be.

From 1963 to the mid-1980s, while wearing the badge of a police officer, he befriended organized crime figures and presided over a riot of corruption that would "take your breath away," according to one federal prosecutor.

Corbitt, the former police chief of Willow Springs, was sentenced to a 20-year term on three different federal charges, including his part in the murder of Dianne Masters, a wealthy south suburban college trustee.

After he went to prison in 1987, Corbitt continued a secret life, this time working on the side of law and order. For at least five years, Corbitt has been cooperating with federal prosecutors from behind bars.

On Tuesday, Corbitt was rewarded for that role: He was quietly freed from prison about two years early. Under federal law, Corbitt would have been eligible for release in about the year 2000.

While his release by U.S. District Judge James Zagel in Chicago came at the urging of federal prosecutors and current and former FBI agents all over the country, others called his release a travesty.

"How can somebody just get out of jail? I think the justice system is handing out too many get-out-of-jail cards," said Randy Turner, the brother of Dianne Masters.

Former Assistant U.S. Atty. Thomas Scorza, who prosecuted Corbitt, said it was "astounding to me" that Corbitt was released. Scorza said it was rare that the authorities would release an inmate with a criminal history like Corbitt's, who had only about two years to serve on his sentence.

"Ordinarily a guy in his position could not be released unless he essentially coughed it all up," he said.

Corbitt was first sentenced to prison in 1987 for extorting bribes from an undercover federal agent, but he was subsequently convicted in the federal racketeering and conspiracy case involving the Masters murder.

While no one has been charged with her murder, federal prosecutors convicted her husband, corrupt lawyer Alan Masters, on conspiracy charges along with another Cook County sheriff's lieutenant. Corbitt was convicted of accepting $8,000 from Masters to dispose of her Cadillac where the body had been stuffed in the trunk after she was shot twice in the head.

Scorza believes Corbitt has manipulated the system. "I find it unconscionable that the government would reduce his sentence if" Corbitt didn't reveal details of the slaying of Masters, he said.

Federal agents, though, have downplayed his role in the murder of Dianne Masters and they have vouched for his credibility in letters to Zagel.

Those supporting Corbitt's early release have been impressed with the extent of his help in a variety of investigations.

Corbitt aided with the federal crackdown of a mob-influenced union, helped solve at least one homicide, prevented the murder of a prominent Florida public figure and provided information that prompted a federal probe of an international money-laundering operation involving mob-run casinos in Central America, authorities say.

Corbitt's role as a government informant surfaced in 1992 when it was revealed he was providing testimony in the scandal surrounding the federal prosecution of the El Rukn street gang.

And last year his testimony became public in the federal effort to wrest control of the union that represents 19,000 laborers. A federal judge in Chicago last month placed the Laborers International Union of North America under the control of trustees after finding that the union's leadership was closely linked to organized crime.

It was Corbitt, testifying from his Florida prison last August, who helped investigators make their case.

Corbitt testified that union leaders met with organized crime figures and others in restaurants and nightclubs, far away from union job sites.

"Corbitt's testimony detailed his associations with and activities of several individuals affiliated with the Chicago Outfit," wrote independent hearing officer Peter Vaira, who ruled that Corbitt's testimony was credible in a report on the union.

Corbitt testified he saw Bruno Caruso, who once headed the districtcouncil that represents 21 local unions, and his brother, Frank, dining at Counsellors Row with the late Pat Marcy, a 1st Ward power broker and crime figure. Corbitt testified that Caruso passed Marcy an envelope that investigators say contained payments to the mob.

In his testimony, Corbitt described Marcy as "the major fixer" and said he delivered garbage bags full of cash, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, to Marcy at the restaurant. The cash, Corbitt said, was street taxes collected by organized crime figures from illegal gambling clubs and other criminal enterprises.

"Pat Marcy . . . was getting a package (of money) every month, and I would be the guy who brought him this," Corbitt testified.

He also testified that on the day he was heading to prison, he delivered $35,000 in cash to Marcy from a Chicago man who ran the Chicago mob's gambling operation in Central America.

Federal agents in Salt Lake City are investigating how the mob funneled cash from its Central American gambling operations to Chicago.

"Mr. Corbitt has been cooperative with the Salt Lake City division," a Salt Lake City FBI agent wrote in 1996 on Corbitt's behalf to get a sentence reduction.

"Corbitt is currently providing the government with information relating to: murders committed in Illinois; the activities of criminal organizations in the United States and Central America . . .," according to filings in Corbitt's case several years ago.

The former police chief's entree to the mob came at an early age. At 18, he opened a gas station that was frequented by mob chieftains. Corbitt helped them store hijacked goods and trucks at the garage.

When the business shut down, the late mob boss Sam Giancana, sent him to the former mayor of Willow Springs for a job.

"I went out and had a meeting with him and was sworn in at his tavern that day as a police officer,"

Corbitt testified during the labor union hearings, adding that from his very first day on the job as a cop, he had been corrupt.

Return to Laborers.org

All original work Copyright Laborers.org 1998. All rights reserved.