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What he quickly learned was that in the mids, Cook County criminal courtrooms were a cesspool of corruption. Goldberg says there are five things to look for in a man—shoes, haircut, pen, tie, and watch. Kevin Penczak As the Rolls glides north on the Dan Ryan Expressway, past some of the most impoverished neighborhoods in the city, Goldberg is still reveling in the improbable victory he orchestrated for Llewain.
I ask him whether he thinks Llewain will heed his advice now and stop selling drugs while his other case is pending. I think it's weakness, stupidity, and ignorance, and an easy way to make a living, and that's probably all he knows.
Unlike criminal justice reform crusaders, Goldberg isn't prone to holding forth about bias and racism in the system, or the way that people's entrapment in it is determined by race and socioeconomic status. He says he's always identified with black clients because he understands what it's like to be an outsider—he's been the only Jew in many a room.
But asked whether he thinks there's racial discrimination in the courts he seems to contemplate the notion as if he'd never before given it a thought. Goldberg says he loves cops and respects prosecutors even though his job puts him in direct opposition to them in the courtroom.
A self-identified Republican, he's pro-Second Amendment and disdains big government, and also thinks marijuana should be legalized. When he talks about his clients he's neither particularly sympathetic nor especially judgmental.
They roll them in on a stretcher, I don't ask was it the cop, the bank robber, or the teller that got shot, I just take the bullet out. He believes in the importance of personal choices, and in everyone's propensity to make bad ones.
Some of his clients are ordinary people who might get pulled over driving someone else's car in which the cops discover a gun. Many face low-level pot possession charges. But some of his clients appear, based on the charges against them, to be deeply connected with criminal enterprises. Goldberg considers the day's schedule and listens to some voice mails. The only way to reach him is by phone. He doesn't use e-mail because, he says, "e-mail is for pornographers. The Rolls is always showroom clean.
When excited young men run up to ask how much it costs, he likes to answer "a lot of not-guiltys. In the trunk he keeps only purple manila folders that hold his clients' files and an Alexander McQueen umbrella with a skull handle. There are also a couple of small trays for the times he and Matthew get Portillo's on the go; with around 50 cases each week scattered across the county, that's not unusual.
Kolby Craig, known to everyone as Big Mo, "has referred innumerable people to me. He had a kilo of cocaine in his lap.
In Marchyear-old Stephon Mack was indicted on one count of possession of a controlled substance, four counts of armed violence, and 24 counts of aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. Goldberg managed to get Stephon out on house arrest, but he still has to prove the guns and drugs can't be used as evidence against the teen. As he scans the police reports again, Goldberg is unequivocal.
Goldberg circa mids with a De Tomaso Pantera. Goldberg The moment in Stuart Goldberg's personal narrative in which it becomes hard to parse what's real and what's embellished is the mids. At that time judges in almost every division of the circuit court of Cook County were taking bribes to fix cases.
Traffic tickets, divorces, drug charges—all could go away at the right price. It's his dream to see it made into a movie. Sitting at the Greek Islands on Halsted Street—another restaurant where everyone knows his name—he frequently distinguishes between events happening "in real life" or "in The Snake Charmer.
What's more, the heavily Irish Catholic judiciary's anti-Semitic hostility toward him was palpable, he says. You had to give money to the clerk to get your cases called. If you weren't in the club of people paying off the sheriffs, the cops, the judges, it was very difficult to break in.
The clerk would open the drawer or the clerk would push the wastebasket out, and you dropped it in the basket or the drawer, and your case was called. Was he ever tempted to participate? Or is it extortion when you can't represent them unless you pay money? Sources close to the operation say that Goldberg wasn't involved with the federal efforts to bring down the judges, and no one I spoke with had heard of Goldberg being one of the corrupt lawyers who was targeted by the investigation.
Still, in his recollection he was close to the action in the Greylord years. Goldberg says that as his struggle to get his clients' cases called continued, he began to take notes in his agenda book.
Goldberg says his notekeeping, though, created an "unknown symbiotic relationship" between him and Hake: Despite the difficulties he faced being a clean lawyer in a dirty system, Goldberg's practice eventually flourished. He bought a Gold Coast condo and a Ferrari, and in married a beautiful blond woman ten years his junior after just three months of dating.
His daughter was born the next year, but he says it was an unhappy marriage. The goal, he believes, was to use his financial information for leverage in the divorce, which she filed for in Six weeks later, as he lay sleeping in his empty condo, Goldberg says he got a knock on the door. She had taken her fur coat.
She had taken everything. My mattress is on the floor," he recalls. Goldberg says they were all there to pressure him to testify against crooked judges after the IRS saw his notes on who was taking bribes. Through the late 80s and early 90s, even without Goldberg's testimony, more than judges, lawyers, and court staff were indicted and convicted on federal corruption charges resulting from Operation Greylord.
Goldberg Among people familiar with Chicago's criminal circles, Goldberg now enjoys a legendary reputation, not least because he's a self-made man.
Big Mo first met Goldberg in but had heard about him for many years before. It was clear to him, after reading what he refers to as the "mystical code" of the police reports, that the warrantless search and seizure was done illegally and the drugs and guns—a couple of Glocks and a small, ultralightweight rifle—couldn't be pinned on Stephon. Mo says there are plenty of lawyers who take your money but don't fight. There are also plenty who just don't have the necessary skill.
Compared to them, "Goldberg's just in another league. Mo says he believes that even if he were dead broke Goldberg would take his cases.
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He's been arrested for everything from weed possession to disorderly conduct to aggravated assault. Most of the time his charges were dropped or he'd plead guilty for a reduced sentence. But in Goldberg help him beat drug charges that could've landed him a year prison sentence. Should he ever face federal charges, Mo is certain Goldberg would come out of retirement for him. To him, Goldberg represents a chance "to beat the system for once.
On a small scale. Goldberg usually prefers to take a bench trial in which he prevails against prosecutors by arguing the law.
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The assistant state's attorneys used to have a "win board" in their office onto which they pinned the names and ties of prosecutors after their first jury trial victory. Avoid at all cost! If he loses the motion and Stephon's case goes to trial, Goldberg would opt for a jury because he thinks the only way he can lose is if judge Thomas V. Gainer is sympathetic to the officers whom he believes lied about where and how they found the guns.
He makes emphatic eye contact, holds the client's hand, explains his strategy in a way that's clear and comprehensible. He never looks worried or unsure. That's because, as Mo puts it, Goldberg's already got "the blueprint" for how everything will go figured out as soon as he reads a police report. As Goldberg puts it, "I try to imagine something I want in my mind and then create the circumstances.
His own biggest second chance came three and a half years ago when he met year-old Miranda Carranza, an aspiring model with dark, flowing hair who was wandering around River North looking for a Jimmy John's.
Goldberg was on his way to a steak dinner with clients. He had just self-published his first novel, The One and Only, about an antiques collector going after an impossible dream. I was the loneliest person in the world. I had everything I always wanted—but it wasn't enough. He asked about some words in Spanish on her shirt and then asked if she knew about the five things to look for in a man—shoes, haircut, pen, tie, watch.
She's from McHenry County and was on the verge of enlisting in the navy before moving to Chicago to pursue modeling instead. She says she was inexplicably drawn to Goldberg's energy. He invited her to dinner. They spent the entire evening engrossed in conversation, ignoring the clients.
She ate steak even though she was a vegan. In a few months' time they were married and had a son, Maximilian Pierceson Goldberg. Carranza says at first her parents were aghast at the May-December romance. But slowly she brought them around. By legal definition I'm an adult, and I'm in love with him and you're just gonna have to deal with that. His wife, their baby son, his nephew, and his nonagenarian mother were his social world. He spent any leftover time working out at the East Bank Club where he still entered 48 as his age on the elliptical.
He never talked about his daughter. Once, however, when discussing his own father he quoted from the Odyssey: Business was booming, with plenty of work coming from Mario Lloyd's organization and other referrals. With a sizable disposable income, he wasn't about to get hammered and hook up with strangers at Rush Street bars like a mere mortal.
Instead, he frequently hosted enormous themed parties in the nightclubs and hotel ballrooms of Lincoln Park. A article about three eligible local bachelors in the Chicago Tribune captured the atmosphere at one of these events at the Park West, which attracted some guests who paid admission: Amid a cloud of smoke and a faded white light, a string of elegantly clad models struck poses with their backs to the audience.
An Elvis look-alike modeled a rhinestone jacket just barely reaching his swiveling hips. In this fashion show, dance imitated life in the fast lane. An agile, blond male dressed like a penguin twirled, spun, jumped and did splits on roller skates to rock music.
For the finale, Goldberg himself, keeping perfect step to the music, gyrated in a glittery silver sequined hand-sewn top. Goldberg was losing clients and clients who'd become friends to street violence on a regular basis—his "record," he says, was 12 clients dead in as many months in the mids. By far the most painful loss was that of his law clerk Michael Nevels. He was a young black man Goldberg once defended on armed robbery charges.
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After winning the man's case, Goldberg found him waxing his car. Though Nevels didn't have any formal training in law, he offered insights from a lot of experiences as a defendant that Goldberg found useful. He saw Nevels the way he sees many of his clients, a perspective he would later summarize in The Snake Charmer: In the heart of the worst criminal, there's a secret garden that is within the grasp of the fresh start of a not guilty. But he never lost faith in the idea that he was doing good and necessary work.
He says he's not conflicted about defending his clients, that the rush of giving someone a second chance combined with the righteous feeling of protecting citizens from government overreach keeps him going. The Department of Justice at the time was aggressively pursuing such cases against many drug dealers' attorneys; the government viewed their work as aiding and abetting crime and it repurposed their assets to fund the war on drugs.
One of Lloyd's personal lawyers, the famed F. Goldberg Goldberg says the forfeiture attempt was just another one of the feds' tactics to get him to testify in Greylord cases, which were still being tried well into the 90s. Or perhaps to punish him for his resistance. In the course of the forfeiture case the prosecutors also tried to introduce evidence that Goldberg had bribed court clerks in the early 80s, but the judge denied the motion, saying these claims had nothing to do with the forfeiture case.
The feds never tried to bring these charges again in a separate case, as the judge advised. Convicted con artist and jailhouse snitch Tommy Dye also alleged that Goldberg had purchased cocaine from him and transported it in that car.
But their stories were full of inconsistencies, and Goldberg's lawyer Dennis Berkson eviscerated them during cross-examinations.
The jury acquitted Goldberg in As he was leaving the Dirksen federal courthouse, Goldberg recalls telling assistant U. His intention at first was to pass the California bar and continue practicing law. But he decided to live at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills, where he soon met plenty of people connected to the movie business who told him he should write screenplays instead.
Though he had no previous experience or interest in creative writing, over the next six years Goldberg poured himself into screenplays, mostly on the theme of criminal law in Chicago. He met Sylvester Stallone, Steven Seagal, and George Clooney, and says at one point or another each of them expressed interest in making a movie with him. He says that he was called in to read the script of The Fugitive based on his expertise as a Chicago lawyer.
He says he pitched Oliver Stone. But none of his projects ever got the green light, and he started to suspect people were just using him for his money.
Could you pay for the bill? He sold his car and gave up altogether, returning to Chicago. I wasn't broke—I owed money. After 18 years of practicing law and building up a formidable fortune, he'd thrown it all away on a dream. People immediately recognized him in the hallways. Or do you want to be a rich lawyer? Goldberg Goldberg had always avoided taking cases involving violence.
No murders, rapes, child abuse, or assaults. But for the first few years of his comeback he felt that he didn't have the luxury to be choosy. In the early s he represented a suburban mom who killed her adopted son and got a year sentence; a drug dealer who was accused of lies that put innocent people in prison but was acquitted; and a woman who killed an infant while driving high on PCP and ultimately was sentenced to six years in prison.
He is relieved he doesn't need to take such cases anymore. In order to be an effective advocate he needs to believe in the possibility that his clients are good people caught in a government trap; that gets harder when the alleged crimes are gruesome. Even after all these years he says, "I still believe the clients. We're gonna go after them. Going fast in a sports car no longer seemed worth it with a baby in the back seat.
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In he was photographed for a Tribune story on local lawyers using social media to promote themselves. The next year he helped former Bears receiver David Terrell beat drug and battery charges. As he approached his 70th birthday, he was working harder than ever and had settled into a fast-paced but comfortable rhythm both in court and at home.
When talking to Goldberg one often has the impression that he's exaggerating, mythologizing, writing his own legend. It's easy to become engrossed in his stories and then to be left questioning your own credulity. When he finds a phrase that works he tends to repeat it often: I'd lost touch with Goldberg for a few months. One day he texted to say that he was planning a launch party for the novel at the Tom Ford store on Oak Street. Then he disappeared from social media, the steady stream of victorious photos with his clients halting abruptly.
He no longer responded to phone calls and messages. Meanwhile, Carranza's Instagram account, on which she once proclaimed herself "Wifey to my SVG, Momma to my Maximilian," appeared with only the latter descriptor and her feed began to fill with photos and videos of the self-described homebody partying with friends.
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