In a stunning reversal, DuPage County prosecutors on Tuesday cited "insufficient admissible evidence to proceed" and dropped all charges against a former Schaumburg cop accused of running a drug-dealing operation with two fellow officers.
Former tactical officer John Cichy, now 35, was arrested in January 2013 along with fellow former officers Matthew Hudak, now 34, and Terrance O'Brien, now 51, and accused of forcing an informant to sell narcotics the officers had confiscated. Both the other officers pleaded guilty and are serving prison sentences of 26 and 24 years respectively.
Cichy's trial, on charges that could have landed him in prison for between 15 and 36 years, was scheduled to begin Tuesday afternoon in a packed courtroom in Wheaton filled with Cichy's friends, family and members of his church.
Instead, DuPage State's Attorney Robert Berlin announced he would not pursue the prosecution after consulting with top members of his staff.
"The evidence against Mr. Cichy is different than his co-defendants, and recent developments in this 5-year-old case led me to this decision," Berlin said. "The developments in Mr. Cichy's case will have no impact whatsoever in the pleas and sentences involving Mr. Hudak and Mr. O'Brien."
Above all else, Berlin said, "my office has a continuing moral, ethical and legal obligation to ensure the credibility of a prosecution. Cases evolve from the date of the arrest to the trial date. If at any point during this time the evolution of a case is such that the facts and circumstances will no longer result in a successful prosecution, the law demands that the prosecution cease.
"This is what has occurred in this case and, as state's attorney, it is my duty not to pursue a prosecution that cannot meet the burden of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
Cichy's attorney, Jay Fuller, called the decision "one of the most incredible situations" he has ever seen.
"At different points in this investigation, I was told by the state's attorney's office that because of the black mark on law enforcement, this was one of the most important cases they have in their caseload," Fuller said, "Now for them to dismiss it is certainly an incredible situation."
Fuller said he was informed Sunday morning that the charges would be dropped, which led to a "tearful" phone call to Cichy. The complete basis for the dismissal, however, remains a mystery to him and attorneys representing O'Brien and Hudak, who also were in court Tuesday.
"The only basis I know is that there was a problem with their informant and that is the reason why they were not proceeding forward today," Fuller said. "We were prepared and we were ready to cross-examine that informant about his dealings and the fact that he, while acting as an informant in this case, was a career drug dealer who cooperated with police and informed on other people selling and transporting drugs in order to keep himself out of prison and to keep himself in the business of selling drugs.
"Quite frankly, when you base a prosecution on that kind of witness, things like this happen where, five years down the road, the state is forced to dismiss a case, apparently because of some misdeed or bad action on his part," Fuller said outside the courthouse.
Fuller said he's aware of the possibility that future charges could be lodged against Cichy, but he said it's unlikely.
"I did tell John that the one word I was not going to use was 'vindication.' This is not that situation," Fuller said. "This is a situation where the state has a burden of proof, (and) they felt they couldn't ethically meet that burden of proof based upon information that is still yet to be disclosed."
Fuller has argued all along that Cichy was not involved to the level or degree in the crimes that the state had alleged.
"My client was insistent that what they were charging him with was not what he participated in, and that is why we continued to pursue a trial in this case," Fuller said. "They wanted to hold him responsible for things he was not involved with. And John decided he wanted to fight those charges and all of the other ones."
Schaumburg officials said they were caught off-guard by the decision not to prosecute Cichy.
"While we don't know the basis for the decision, nor were we involved in the process, the village does look forward to final closure of this unfortunate chapter," officials said in a statement released by Communications Manager Allison Albrecht. "Our focus is on continuing the exemplary work being performed on a daily basis by the women and men who work to keep our community safe."
As to whether Cichy could get his job back as a Schaumburg police officer, Schaumburg Village Manager Brian Townsend said Cichy voluntarily resigned before an internal investigation was completed. That investigation was dropped. While Schaumburg has a policy allowing police officers who voluntarily resign to be reinstated, that provision expires three years after the resignation, Townsend said. So Cichy would have to apply for a job with the village as if he were a first-time applicant, he said.
In March 2014, O'Brien pleaded guilty to unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, official misconduct, burglary and armed violence. The unlawful delivery and misconduct sentences will run concurrently with the burglary and armed violence sentences. He is serving a 24-year sentence but could be released after 12 years.
Hudak pleaded guilty to identical charges in April 2014 and is serving a 26-year sentence. He could be released after 13 years.
Hudak's attorney, Thomas Glasgow, said the dismissal "presents more questions than answers" and he has begun looking into whether it could affect Hudak's guilty plea and sentencing.
Fuller said Cichy, who has been serving as a youth minister at a church while awaiting trial, likely will issue an approved video statement sometime Wednesday. "He's a YouTube guy," Fuller said.
The investigation began on Jan. 2, 2013, when police found about 9 ounces of cocaine in a Carol Stream storage unit. The search led to a former police informant who said he'd been helping three Schaumburg officers deal marijuana and cocaine skimmed from busted drug dealers.
During the next two weeks, prosecutors said, investigators captured the officers on video and audio surveillance as they made plans and carried out drug deals, often in police vehicles and while wearing their service weapons. Prosecutors had said the officers then split the cash from the drug sales.