HAMMOND | The nearly two decades in prison given to a former Chicago police officer Friday is a "far cry" from the lifetime sentence he could have received, a Hammond federal court judge told the disgraced cop.
But it was still severe enough to send a message to anyone in law enforcement tempted to enrich themselves by aiding in criminal enterprises, U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano told former officer Alex Guerrero during Friday's sentencing hearing.
In front of a courtroom visitors' gallery filled with about 20 of Guerrero's family, children and other supporters, the former officer apologized to the court for his role in aiding what prosecutors contend was a Latin Kings street gang and drug enterprise in Northwest Indiana and Illinois.
Guerrero pleaded guilty in Hammond federal court last year to conspiring to participate in racketeering activity, conspiring to possess and distribute 5 kilograms or more of cocaine and 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, interfering with commerce by threats or violence and using or carrying a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and drug trafficking.
"I apologize to all my children, to my wife and both my parents ...," Guerrero said, breathing heavily and weeping.
Guerrero's wife and some of his children who were present also wept silently throughout the proceedings.
Prior to Friday's sentencing hearing, one of Guerrero's young daughters whispered, "Daddy," and tried to get her father's attention. But wearing an orange Porter County Jail jumpsuit, Guerrero continued to breathe heavily and kept his eyes trained on the defense table in front of him.
During his August plea hearing, he admitted to committing armed robberies in Illinois, Hammond and East Chicago for the Latin Kings street gang.
For that, Lozano said a message had to be sent.
"Was it all worth it?" Lozano asked Guerrero during the hearing.
"What you did was very stupid," Lozano said, noting Guerrero stood behind his police officer's gun, badge and body armor when he aided a drug-dealing street gang.
However, federal prosecutor David Nozick argued for less than the possible lifetime prison term Guerrero could have faced in the case, noting Guerrero was more of a follower than a leader of the criminal activity.
Another former Chicago police officer, Antonio Martinez, also has pleaded guilty in the case, which involves more than 20 other defendants. Nozick said Guerrero was less culpable in the case than Martinez, who is scheduled to be sentenced later this year.
"I believe a 19-year-sentence is a just one in this (Guerrero's) case," Nozick told the court.
Lozano pointed out that Guerrero would miss watching his children grow up as he serves out his sentence.