First reported 8/20/2009 5:57 p.m.

Saying an exemplary private life devoted to family and community service didn’t outweigh criminal conduct as a police officer, a federal judge on Aug. 20 sentenced former Trinity High School basketball coach and assistant athletic director Michael Ciancio to two years in prison.

Judge John W. Darrah, who said Ciancio had betrayed the trust that society placed in him, also fined him $5,000. He ordered the former Chicago police officer to surrender to the Federal Bureau of Prisons on Oct. 19. That delay will allow Ciancio, 57, to attend the September wedding of one of his daughters.

Ciancio, a resident of Chicago’s Galewood neighborhood, is one of three Chicago police officers caught up in a corruption investigation by the FBI, the Chicago Police Department and the Internal Revenue Service. In January, Ciancio pled guilty in federal court to one count of interference with commerce by threat or violence.

Darrah said he was impressed by the breadth and depth of support for Ciancio as reflected in many dozens of letters attesting to his character, including one from Trinity President Sister Michelle Germanson. But he characterized Ciancio’s extortion of Chicago tow truck drivers as something more than insidious.

Noting that dozens of letter writers all basically stated that they knew of no one who would speak badly of Ciancio, Darrah said, “I don’t know if (they) spoke to the tow truck drivers threatened with false arrest.”

The need for deterrence of such criminal conduct by police officers, Darrah said, demanded that Ciancio serve prison time. Darrah also dismissed the contention of Ciancio’s family and friends that his actions had been victimless crimes.

“I categorically reject that. Society certainly was a victim,” said Darrah, who pointedly condemned Ciancio’s apparent willingness to steal cash supposedly found in a crash victim’s vehicle by a tow truck driver. Prosecutors had presented video and audiotape evidence showing him taking $2,600 in cash from the second tow operator, money he believed was “his half” of cash found in a citizen’s wrecked car. The money was in fact part of a set up recorded by FBI investigators.

“This was money that belongs to a citizen, not someone ‘greasing the wheels,'” said Darrah.

Ciancio’s attorney, Joseph Roddy, also attempted to argue that Ciancio had only taken bribes during the period for which he was criminally charged. Prosecutors, however, brought in two tow truck operators who testified in detail how Ciancio took bribes of between $7,000 and $20,000 a year from the early 1990s through 2007.

Standing erect before the judge, Ciancio told him in a calm, clear voice, “There are no words I can come up with to say I’m sorry.”

Ciancio apologized to his family, friends and Trinity High School, saying he’d let them down. He also expressed concern that a prison sentence would punish his family more than him.

“Whatever happens to me, I can handle it. I know my family cannot,” he said.

He told the judge of a story his father had told him, when he passed on his gold watch. The watch, he said, represented his father’s reputation, which he proudly passed on to Ciancio. Someday, his father had said, he’d pass the watch, and his reputation, on to his son. The watch, his father had cautioned, could be replaced if lost, but a black mark on his reputation could never be erased.

“You know, I’ve got to throw it in the garbage, your honor,” Ciancio said of the watch.

If love of family is indeed central in Ciancio’s value system, he endured more punishment as he was forced to watch his youngest daughter break down sobbing in the witness chair as she begged the judge for leniency for her father, and again a short while later as it became apparent that Darrah was not going to allow Ciancio to avoid prison time.

Ciancio’s behavior, the judge concluded, “was not a momentary lapse in judgment.”

“I reject the characterization that this was an aberration,” he said. “I think the evidence is clear this has been going on for sometime.”

Darrah also made it clear his sentence was as much directed at police still tempted to violate the law and their oaths as it was at Ciancio’s admitted crimes.

“I’ve just heard testimony that there is still retaliation going on against tow truck drivers in the 16th district,” said Darrah.

As about 15 family members and friends watched, many sobbing audibly, Darrah told Ciancio, “You’ve lived a fine life in one regard. Professionally, your life was seriously marred.”

CONTACT: bdwyer@wjinc.com

Join the discussion on social media!