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Swainson's Accuser; The Life & Times Of John J. Whalen

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(Editor 's note: Earlier this month, Michigan Supreme Court Justice and former Governor John B. Swainson was Jorced to step down from the bench aftera sensational trial in U.S. District Court culminated in his conviction on fhree counts ofperjury. Swainson, a liberal with reported ambitions o f running for Congress, announced his intention to appeal, protesting that the counts were essentially unrelated to the central bribery charge of which the jury had found him innocent. He was convicted solely on the testimony of John J. Whalen, classic "loser" who claimed to have greased Swainson 's palm through bondsman Harvey Wish to gain an appeal bond from the Supreme Court. Many questions remain to be answered concerning the two-year investigation and subsequent conviction of Swainson. Why did the prosecution implicóte other justices without offering eridence r indictments? Why couldn 't the FBI restrain Whalen from continuing his criminal career while working as an informant? What a bout Swainson 's political ambitions? How will his ouster from the Supreme Court affect the makeup of the court and its future decisions? The answers liave not been forthcoming from the daily press, which quickly joined in the callfor Swainson 's resignation without stopping to ponder the political tmpticatiom of the case. Last week, a suit was filed to enjoin Governor Milliken from appointing a replacement for Swainson and to f orce a popular election to decide who the new justice will be. In this article, we examine the Ufe and times of John J. Whalen, the man who was able to remove a State Supreme Court justice from his seat and destroy his political career. ) There1 is a long list of people who would like to see John J. Whaien silenced. On November 6, the star witness in the bribery conspiracy trial of State Supreme Court Justice John B. Swainson was warned by his enemies when an explosión rocked his $40,000 St. Clair Shores home. Not only does Whalen work as an informant for pólice, but he does a little free lance burglary on the side. With his sad eyes and broken English, Whalen has sung some heavy numbers. First there was Christopher Glumb. Glumb, who is reported to have an I.Q. in the genius range, is now serving a 30-year stretch in a federal penitentiary, thanks to his former friend. Although he never testified agaiust Glumb, in 1971 Whalen gave information which led pólice to Glumb 's hideout in Texas. It took pólice more than a day to count some million and one-half dollars in counterfeit money on the premises. Even though Glumb is behind bars, Whalen's sleep is uneasy. Glumb has escaped from Lenawee County Jail and from maximum security in Detroit's own Wayne County Jail. Glumb was charged in an Adrián jewelry store burglary, on March 20, 1969, along with Whalen and Bucky Wolf. Glumb escaped; Bucky Wolf jumped bond; and Whalen was convicted on October2, 1970. Less than three weeks later, Whalen's attorney. Nick Arvan, vanished from his office. On October 27, Arvan 's body was found in a wooded field in northern Macomb County. Arvan had been bound, gagged, and shot behind the le'ft ear. His death still remains a mystery. A few weeks after Arvan 's death, Whalen began serving a se ven-toten year beef in Jackson Penitentiary. When it looked as if Whalen was going to spend a long time in jail, Bondsman Harvey Wish came through with an appeal bond and Whalen was back on the streets. Whalen and Glumb again teamed up. This time the pair began manufactu ring and passing "funny money." On December 9, 1971, Whalen was indicted by a federal grand jury for possession of counterfeit money. Rather than go back to jail, Whalen cooperated with the FBI and gave them the information they needed to nab Glumb. Whalen's old burglary conviction, however, was still plaguing him and his bondsman needed more and more cash for the alleged "bribe." The bearded canary began singing another tune. The self-proclaimed thief soon faced Wish and Swainson ín the hallowed U.S. District Court. continuad on page 24 Swainson Continued from page 3 A jury of seven women and five men found Swainson guilty of perjury. (On May 19, Swainson told a federal grand jury he hadn't received a televisión set from Wish. Swainson also denied calling Wish on October 6 and October 19, 1973. He later changed his story.) Wish, the accused perpetrator of the bribe, was found guilty of conspiracy. Wish performed a scam used by many bondsmen and lawyers to exploit their clients- the fix. Whether a fix is real doesn't matter to the desperate defendant. The fact is that a large sum of money is needed for a defendant to remain "on the streets." A youth from a poor family arrested by mistake might remain incarcerated for months before being found innocent. Yet a successful thief or killer can run on the streets freely because he has the means to obtain large sums of cash. Lawyers and bondsmen never ask how the money is obtained. In fact, they would rather not know. Whalen testified how he had committed burglaries in order to come up with money he needed to fix his deal. In fact, Whalen testified that he had even offered to sell counterfeit bonds and money to Wish to help pay off his debt. According to Whalen, he paid Wish $20,400 in fïve installments toward the bribe. Whalen was wired 27 times ■in the two years of investigation. But beca use of foulups, he was never wired when money changed hands. Even while the conspiracy case was under investigation, Whalen was cutting another deal. On March 10, Whalen and his sidekick, Roger Ribnicky, were arrested with two other men in a shopping center in Romulus. In order to keep himself out of jail, Whalen gave pólice information leading to the arrest on October 27 and 28 of twelve persons who allegedly fenced some $4.5 million worth of merchandise annuaJly. Although no promises were made to Whalen or Ribnicky, they cooperated extensively. They allowed themselves to be wired with a microphone and incrimínate the defendants, pólice said. For his cooperation with the FBI in the bribe conspiracy case, Whalen was promised help in relocating out of state under a new identity. However, should Whalen ever be jailed again for any of his criminal activity , he faces a difficult time in prison. Inmates take a dim view of a pólice informant. Robert Pieniak, a Detroit-based freelance writer, covered the Swainson trial for the SUN.