Jewel thief pleads guilty

A man pleaded guilty Friday to stealing $5 million in jewelry, gems and watches as part of a theft ring allegedly masterminded by Chicago’s former chief of detectives, the Associated Press (AP) reported.

Sam DeStefano, 47, said he stole from jewelry salesmen, at times using information from police computers, under the direction of former top detective William Hanhardt, the AP reported. The thieves are accused of using fake mustaches, electronic eavesdropping equipment and computer savvy to commit crimes across the country for years.

Hanhardt and four co-defendants are scheduled to go on trial Sept. 4, charged with a racketeering conspiracy.

Hanhardt was known as a tough “cop’s cop” as he rose through the ranks of the police force in the 1950s despite whispers that he had connections to organized crime. Prosecutors say the thefts began while he was still a police official but that most took place after his 1986 retirement.

Court documents made public Friday said an FBI affidavit contends that Hanhardt was linked to the mob for several years. The affidavit remains under seal, but the documents released included prosecution and defense filings that refer to it.

The filings say that according to the affidavit, Ken Eto, an alleged mob associate turned government informant, told FBI agents in 1985 that he “personally paid Hanhardt money to ensure favorable treatment of Eto’s gambling business.”

Robert G. Siegel, a one-time member of a jewel-theft ring, was quoted as telling agents in 1995 that an organized crime figure told him in 1967 that Hanhardt was receiving “$1,200 a month and a new car every two years.”

In their court filings, Hanhardt’s attorneys said many of the witnesses were unreliable and some may have held grudges against Hanhardt because of his work, the AP reported.

In his plea agreement, DeStefano stopped short of agreeing to testify against Hanhardt and the co-defendants, but agreed to help the government recover stolen jewelry, the AP reported.

In his appearance before Norgle, DeStefano said he was “in the construction business.” But he admitted taking part in thefts from Ohio to California in the 1990s, the AP reported.

Hanhardt, 72, is scheduled for exploratory cancer surgery Tuesday. His attorneys are seeking a postponement of his trial because of his health problems. U.S. District Judge Charles R. Norgle scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to determine whether a postponement is warranted.