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