The Gutsy Undercover Cop Who Took Down Chicago P.D.’s Most Crooked Crew
A Black sergeant was the only one willing to take on a risky FBI mission targeting drug-dealer-extorting cops. He reveals how he did it—and why it was shut down before he got to the white guys.
When I first heard about this investigation a few years ago, I was immediately blown away: A cop going undercover to investigate his own colleagues? It was like some kind of cross between Serpico and Donnie Brasco. And when I learned the particulars of the case, it was every bit as daring and cinematic as I had anticipated. I knew I had to find a way to tell the story.
Standing in the bathroom of the 15th District precinct, Silky pulled off his shirt and dropped his pants as the cop stood in front of him, watching closely. Silky was anxious, of course, and worried: Getting dragged into the police station — especially this police station — was plenty dangerous. At least he wasn’t wearing a wire, which was what the cops were looking for.
But mostly, it was just surreal. He’d heard of or seen dirty cops do just about everything: steal, lie, plant drugs on people, pummel them. But a strip search? That was new.
Silky focused on staying cool as he pulled down his underwear and bent over so that Cornelius “Peanut” Tripp, a member of the Chicago Police Department’s elite plainclothes tactical unit, could finish his inspection. He had nothing to hide — at least not where the cop was looking.
Officer Tripp ordered him to put his clothes back on. But Silky knew that the encounter was far from over.
Hanging out at the McDonald’s on Madison and Kildare earlier that evening — May 2, 1996 — he’d been expecting the cops to come for him. Word had gotten around that Silky was a new player in West Side Chicago’s crime-infested Austin neighborhood, having recently expanded his turf from the South Side. People on the street were talking about how he was a high-level cocaine supplier who traveled with lots of cash. Around here, that kind of reputation made a guy a target. He’d already been rolled by the cops in Austin several weeks earlier — they had taken $4,000 off him before uncuffing him and cutting him loose.
In particular, Silky had been expecting a visit from the cop working as Tripp’s partner that night — Edward Lee “Pacman” Jackson. Both Pacman and Tripp were part of a unit created to squeeze drugs out of the city’s neighborhoods, but they seemed more interested in squeezing cash out of the drug dealers. Pacman, in particular, was known as a guy who treated the streets like his personal ATM machine. Silky had heard that if Pacman, 26, pulled over someone who possessed something he wanted — money or information or just about anything else he deemed desirable — he was used to getting his way. If his target refused, he would dangle a packet of cocaine and threaten an arrest: Either I get that, or you get this. Shorten “packet” to pack, and that’s where the nickname came from. He was Pacman.
Pacman and Tripp had cuffed Silky at the McDonald’s, mashed him into their ratty unmarked car, and driven him to the 15th District — which in itself was a surprise, because Silky had figured they would simply take his money and move on. Inside the precinct, they’d linked Silky’s cuffs to a wall, then Pacman explained the situation: He would plant drugs and a gun on Silky, which would bring heavy felony charges. It didn’t matter that Silky only had a scale and empty wrappers in his car. He was on parole and carrying $10,000 in cash. Pacman pointed out that, in the course of fighting such extensive charges, Silky would inevitably spend 15 or 20 grand in attorney fees. Fortunately, there was an alternative: Silky could just hand over the $10,000 he was carrying and walk out the door.
For a while, Silky stood firm: “You’re not gonna take all my money, man,” he said. “I’m just not gonna let you do that.”
But eventually he agreed to give up the cash — and that’s when Pacman and Tripp decided they’d better cover themselves. After the strip search, Tripp brought Silky back into the interrogation room, where Pacman now moved in close and asked a pointed question: “Man, are you a fed?”
There wasn’t anything particular about Silky that suggested he might be associated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). It was just that in that part of town, rumors of the feds sniffing around the activities of the Chicago Police Department (CPD) were as common and predictable as lake-effect snow in February.
Silky looked him in the eyes. “Fuck you and the feds, man,” he said. “I’ve been to the penitentiary — the feds put a case on me before. I hate the feds more than I hate you.”
They went back and forth on Silky’s history for a while, until Pacman let him walk. His pockets were noticeably lighter, but they even let him carry his scale out of the building.
It was true, Silky wasn’t in the FBI. But he wasn’t who he said he was either. His real identity was even more unfathomable — and the corrupt cops who had just shaken him down had no idea what was coming for them.