Prosecutor Wins Way Back to Right Side of Law
His life had been in limbo for 5 1/2 years, he had been shamed in the eyes of the law, but for William Hogan, redemption was just one phone call--and thousands of miles--away that night.
He stopped at a pay phone in the hills of Spain, at the foot of the Alhambra, the ancient Moorish palace he had toured that day. With his sunburned face and white hair long enough to tuck behind his ears, Hogan looked like the sailor he had become, not the hard-charging prosecutor he was--and wanted to be once more.
Hogan had made this call before, at every port in his travels. Bermuda. The Azores. Gibraltar.
But this time when he called his lawyer, there was an answer.
He had won.
He had beaten the Justice Department--the agency that had hired him, trumpeted his success, then dismissed him as a zealot who got too close to a brutal gang he was trying to destroy.
Hogan’s rise and fall were linked to the El Rukns, one of the most terrifying, sophisticated gangs in Chicago history. Over 25 years, they committed dozens of murders, peddled tens of millions of dollars in drugs, even bought a rocket launcher and conspired with representatives of the Libyan government, plotting to blow up buildings in the United States.
It was Hogan who got credit for smashing the El Rukns with a sweeping racketeering case that resulted in 56 convictions. And it was Hogan who was blamed when it began unraveling amid charges he had ignored drug use and other illicit behavior by gang members who had turned government informants.
Three judges found he had engaged in misconduct. They ordered new trials for 15 El Rukns. The Justice Department suspended him, then fired him.
But Hogan fought back.
He enlisted his law school buddy to represent him and threw himself into his defense: He hired an investigator, submitted more than 50,000 pages of documents and spent more than $200,000 to clear his name.
Along the way, for months at a time, he escaped to his other passion--sailing.
And there he was that summer night in Spain, having just delivered a 42-foot sailboat to Majorca, when he learned he had won his job back. After all those years, he had one thought:
William Hogan is a prosecutor again.
He returned to the U.S. attorney’s office in mid-September, nearly two months after an administrative law judge ruled, in a 196-page opinion, that the Justice Department failed to prove he was guilty of misconduct during the El Rukn case.
“The system does work,” the 47-year-old attorney says. “It just took five years. I was floating around the Atlantic Ocean waiting and waiting for this to happen.”
Not that he was silent during his exile. The story of an aggressive, sometimes abrasive prosecutor who took down a notorious gang, then found himself the accused was irresistible to reporters. When “60 Minutes” and “The New Yorker” came calling for interviews, he obliged.
“I wasn’t going quietly in the night, then or now,” he says. This wasn’t just one guy fighting the system, Hogan insists; there were all those cops and federal agents who put their lives on the line to build the case.
“To have the product of 10 years of incredible labor thrown down the toilet was an incredible injustice,” he says.
At first his work was rewarded. The veteran prosecutor, whose resume included victories against drug traffickers, environmental polluters and money launderers in Seattle and Chicago, became the go-to man for gangs.
Top Justice Department officials dispatched him to Los Angeles after the 1992 riots to coordinate an investigation of gangs.
But then, El Rukns began seeking new trials. Their attorneys claimed Hogan had concealed positive drug tests by two El Rukn informants in federal custody.
A second prosecutor claimed he told Hogan in 1989 about a prison memo detailing the test results. Hogan denied it.
Defense attorneys said they would have used this information to attack the informants’ credibility.
That was just the beginning.
Sordid stories spilled out in embarrassing hearings: Some informants testified they had drugs smuggled to them and engaged in sex while in federal custody and were allowed unlimited phone calls. A government paralegal had participated in sexually charged phone conversations with one El Rukn informant.
As a witness, Hogan could not present any defense.
Three judges declared it prosecutorial misconduct.
The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility then launched its own investigation.
And Hogan, who thrived on Marlboro Lights and 100-hour weeks--he took just two days off, including weekends, in a 16-month period working the El Rukn case--was suddenly out of a job.
He was also at the opposite end of the government microscope. Family, friends, women he had dated were interviewed. Questions were asked about his endurance, whether he had used drugs--which he had not.
Frustrated by the wait, Hogan, who is divorced, began taking jobs delivering boats up and down the Atlantic and into the Caribbean.
But physical distance never brought mental peace.
“Every minute, every day, it was never out of my mind,” he says.
After 2 1/2 years, the Justice Department found Hogan had exercised poor judgment and engaged in misconduct and mismanagement.
Hogan considered quitting, but he stubbornly pushed on.
“I have never lost a moment’s sleep in the last six years questioning my conduct or whether I did anything illegal, unethical or improper,” he says.
“You don’t prosecute 65 guys for 25 murders and 25 years of narcotics cases without having a very firm grasp of evidence and what reality is,” he adds. “You don’t convict that many people in that many separate trials unless you know exactly what you’re doing.”
In the ruling that reinstated Hogan, the judge said the Justice Department failed to prove he knew about the drug tests and said those results, even if introduced, wouldn’t have changed the outcome of the trials.
The judge, who heard testimony from 51 pro-Hogan witnesses, also rejected all other charges against him.
Hogan--who is owed more than $200,00 in back pay--says that ruling vindicates him as well as the U.S. attorney’s office, which declined comment.
“It removes a cloud and stain,” he says. “You could not read a newspaper article that didn’t say the ‘botched’ or ‘tainted’ El Rukn prosecution. These cases were never botched or tainted.”
He points out that every retried El Rukn was convicted.
But defense attorneys note another fact: After post-trial hearings, several gang members pleaded guilty to lesser charges that carried sharply reduced sentences.
And some disagree with Hogan’s assessment.
“It remains a fact and a judicial finding that the U.S. attorney’s office committed misconduct in the El Rukn case,” says Bob Loeb, a lawyer who represented one gang member. “Those [judges’] opinions still stand.”
William Hogan says he’s not a bitter man.
He say he has no qualms about appearing before judges who denounced him.
But with a little prodding, he admits being disillusioned by the long investigation he endured. “Some of it you can mark to bureaucracy, some to venality, some to stupidity,” he says.
Hogan says he loves being a prosecutor, but plans to keep sailing, too, and hopes to journey to New Zealand.
For now, he finds comfort telling friends who believed in him: “See, your faith wasn’t misplaced. You were right. I didn’t do anything wrong, like I’ve been saying all these years.”