It began as a routine drug investigation, but authorities soon realized they were onto something "much more sinister."
That's how the arrests of three Schaumburg cops were characterized Thursday as they were charged with running a criminal drug enterprise.
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The officers -- John Cichy, Matthew Hudak and Terrance O'Brien -- are accused of peddling marijuana and cocaine in DuPage County for at least six months. Prosecutors said they skimmed from police drug seizures and used a former informant to unload the product.
"This is not a good day for the good guys," Jack Riley, special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration in the Midwest, said at a news conference announcing the charges.
The probe began Jan. 2 when police found about nine ounces of cocaine inside a Carol Stream storage shed. That bust led to a former police informant who told detectives he had been dealing drugs with three Schaumburg cops who had arrested him on an earlier occasion.
DuPage State's Attorney Bob Berlin said surveillance efforts in the last two weeks captured the officers as they discussed "ripping off" dealers and as they delivered drugs or money to the informant -- sometimes while driving police vehicles.
They also were caught on video Jan. 12 breaking into a storage shed in Roselle to steal $20,000 in cash and a stash of drugs, Assistant State's Attorney Audrey Anderson said.
On Wednesday, authorities executed 20 search warrants for the officers' homes, vehicles, work lockers and other areas of the Schaumburg Police Department. Investigators recovered $20,000 and obtained incriminating statements from each defendant, Anderson said.
"(O'Brien) said he did all this just for the thrill of it," she said.
Also charged was Nicole Brehm, 44, of Hoffman Estates, who was identified as O'Brien's mistress. She's accused of using her home as a "stash house," where police found six pounds of marijuana.
All four of the defendants are charged with calculated criminal drug conspiracy, an enhanced felony punishable by nine to 40 years in prison. The officers also face charges of unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, armed violence, theft, official misconduct and burglary.
Berlin said the investigation is ongoing but no other police officers are suspected. He could not elaborate on the total amount of drugs and money involved.
The officers thought the plan would work because they believed the drug dealers they stole from wouldn't tell anyone, he said.
"The officers had actually discussed how they would rip drug dealers off and put only a small amount of drugs into evidence, then charge the drug dealers with less than they possessed, knowing full well that any drug dealer would never complain," Berlin said.
Judge Elizabeth Sexton set bail at $750,000 for each officer and $150,000 for Brehm. The officers must post the full cash amount and prove the money comes from legitimate sources to get out of jail. Brehm would have to post $15,000.
"I believe these guys have nothing to lose," said Sexton, siding with prosecutors who argued the suspects were flight risks.
Authorities said O'Brien, 46, has been a police officer for roughly 20 years, while Cichy, 30, and Hudak, 29, had five and eight years on the force, respectively. Authorities are not releasing their addresses or hometowns because they are police officers.
Hudak's defense attorney, Thomas Glasgow, stressed that dealing with drug dealers is "part and parcel" of his client's job.
"You've got what appears to be a snitch turning around and making accusations against the officers who arrested him," Glasgow told reporters.
Defense attorney Jay Fuller, who represents Cichy, said his client appeared to be "the least involved in the situation." Cichy's mother, aunt and girlfriend attended court but declined to comment. During his appearance, Cichy at times buried his head in his hands.
"These are serious allegations," Fuller said. "We look forward to getting all the facts. (Cichy's) family is very much behind him."
O'Brien attorney Robert Irsuto said his client, a married father of four, also is the "least implicated" in the state's allegations.
Neighbors in Hudak's quiet McHenry County neighborhood are reeling after learning of his arrest.
Gina Kalamaris, who lives across the street from Hudak, his wife and their two kids, said she has been crying all day thinking about what this means for their family.
"I don't believe for one second that Matt did this," Kalamaris said.
Kalamaris said the 29-year-old police officer is a great person, always helping out his neighbors. The families regularly spend time at each other's house and baby-sit each other's children. She said Hudak put himself on the line for his job, at times working in undercover situations.
"I'm sure an informant is trying to get out of trouble," Kalamaris said.
Hudak's family was home Thursday but declined to comment on the charges, directing media inquiries to his attorney.
The case began with a single drug bust and "evolved into something much more sinister," Berlin said.
He stressed that the allegations "should not diminish the confidence that the people have in the police."
"The reality is that when law enforcement became aware that this was going on, we moved swiftly to get these officers off the street and gather evidence that resulted in today's charges," he said. "It's certainly disheartening. But I want to stress to the public that 99.9 percent of the police officers we deal with are professionals. They're dedicated officers who live up to their oaths to serve and protect us every day."
Riley, the DEA agent, said he was saddened by the arrests, but they were the "right thing to do."
"Quite frankly, it makes me sick to my stomach," he said. "From my point of view, I'm battling the Mexican cartels (and) 100,000 street gang members in Chicago -- and now I've got to worry about this."
Brehm's next court date is Jan. 29 in front of Judge Daniel Guerin. The officers, who were placed on leave by Schaumburg after their arrests Wednesday, are scheduled to appear Jan. 31 before Judge Blanche Hill Fawell.