Former prosecutor and FBI undercover agent discusses Greylord

  • Terrence Hake

    Terrence Hake Courtesy of the American Bar Association

Updated 4/7/2017 5:11 PM

"If you are crooked, the first person you destroy is yourself."

Palatine native and former Cook County prosecutor Terrence Hake wrote those words in his 2015 book "Operation Greylord: The True Story of an Untrained Undercover Agent and America's Biggest Corruption Bust."


Hake knows all about crooked. He experienced it firsthand for more than three years when he worked undercover for the FBI during Operation Greylord, the 1980s federal probe into corruption in the Cook County courts. His testimony helped convict 97 judges, attorneys, court clerks and law enforcement officers of bribery, case fixing and extortion in cases ranging from DUI and drugs to sexual assault and murder.

Hake reflected on his experience recently during a Northwest Suburban Bar Association lecture at the Rolling Meadows courthouse before an audience of prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges. Several of them started out as young attorneys at Chicago's criminal courts building at 26th Street and California Avenue, where the investigation unfolded.

Named after a racehorse, Greylord was one of the largest, most successful undercover operations of its kind. Hake's book, co-written with Wayne Klatt, is the subject of a new film, "Crook County," to be produced by Adam McKay ("The Big Short").

Hake said he suspected corruption early in his tenure as an assistant state's attorney.

"I never saw money change hands but I did lose a lot of cases for trivial reasons," he said.

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When a judge threw out charges against a school janitor charged with sexually assaulting a teenage girl with special needs, Hake's suspicions were confirmed.

"There was no doubt in my mind the case was fixed," he said.

Not long after, he agreed to work for the FBI, posing first as a corrupt prosecutor and later as a corrupt private attorney to catch judges and others.

He recounted for the audience how federal agents received permission to bug the chambers of Judge Wayne W. Olson, who told a defense attorney: "I love people who take dough, you know where you stand."

In one case, Olson -- who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for bribery -- couldn't remember whether he got a payoff to convict or acquit the defendant, Hake said.


Asked about protections put in place post-Greylord, Hake referred to more frequent transfers between felony and misdemeanor courtrooms for judges and clerks.

James P. Tatooles, former NWSBA president who worked as a defense attorney during the Greylord era, thanked Hake for his service.

"You made it a level playing field for honest defense attorneys," Tatooles said.

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