On Friday, November 10, guest speaker Mr. Terrence Hake visited History of Chicago classes to speak about his involvement in Operation Greylord, the famed 1980s investigation that exposed the corruption of the Cook County Court system. The investigation would become the biggest public corruption case in Illinois to date and remains an important historical and ethical lesson for students.
“Reading about history is one thing,” says Owen Baker ’18, “but having someone like Mr. Hake come in and tell us firsthand about his experience is hard to beat.”
After graduating from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 1977, Hake began a career as a prosecutor in the Cook County State's Attorney’s Office. Not long after, he began to observe questionable behavior, such as judges holding private meetings in their chambers with lawyers and inexplicable court rulings. Especially troubling was the severity of the cases in question—including murders, rapes and molestations. Trusting his intuition, Hake filed a complaint that made its way to the FBI’s Chicago Field Office. He was asked by the FBI to participate in Operation Greylord, an undercover investigation of the Cook County Courts.
From 1980 to 1983, Hake posed as a corrupt prosecutor accepting bribes from criminal defense attorneys, and, later, as a corrupt defense attorney in private practice making payoffs to judges for the dismissal of cases. “It was an adventure for me,” Hake told the class. “It was very exciting and fast-paced.” In 1983, while still working undercover, Hake was sworn in as an FBI Special Agent—an unprecedented appointment of which Hake stands as the only example.
The investigation resulted in bribery and tax charges brought against 103 judges, lawyers and other court personnel and is one of the FBI’s most successful undercover investigations. For his undercover work as a prosecutor, Hake received the Louis E. Peters Award from the FBI and Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI in 1989.
In 2015, telling the story from an insider’s perspective, Hake published Operation Greylord: The True Story of an Untrained Undercover Agent and America’s Biggest Corruption Bust. A forthcoming movie is in the works.
Hake retired from the United States Department of Justice Office of Inspector General after serving 23 years in federal law enforcement. He eventually returned to the practice of law as an assistant state’s attorney in Cook County, from which he retired in 2016. He has lectured extensively concerning the ethical lessons learned from Greylord and has spoken at such institutions as the University of Chicago, Loyola University Chicago, Harvard University, Boston College, Yale University and Georgetown University.