Cook County Record

Sunday, March 29, 2020

PI counter sues for $25M claiming defamation involving Alstory Simon, Northwestern University saga

By The Cook County Record | Jan 12, 2018

Northwestern arch
By Rdsmith4 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

CHICAGO – Nearly a year after his first attempt to sue was rejected by Chicago federal judge, private investigator Paul Ciolino has returned to court, this time in Cook County, claiming former Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez defamed him, partnered with others to ruin his career and set a murderer free to settle a score with Northwestern University. 

Ciolino sued Alvarez in Cook County Circuit Court on Jan. 2, seeking $25 million. 

His suit also names among the defendants former prisoner Alstory Simon, who for three years has pursued a wrongful conviction claim in Chicago federal court against Ciolino. Other defendants named in Ciolino's lawsuit include James Delorto, Terry Ekl, James Sotos, Martin Preib, William Crawford, and Andrew Hale, all of whom who helped Simon regain his freedom. 

Ciolino had earlier tried to sue the same defendants in Chicago federal court, also for $25 million. But the judge in that case tossed it in January 2017, saying the case would have bogged down Simon's lawsuit now pending against Northwestern University and others for allegedly framing him for a double murder he now denies. 

Simon filed suit in 2015, claiming he is owed $40 million because Northwestern journalism professor David Protess and Ciolino allegedly falsified evidence leading to his imprisonment.

Simon and Ciolino became entwined in the late 1990s when Simon allegedly confessed to the 1982 slayings of Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green on Chicago’s southeast side.

In 1983, another man, Anthony Porter, had been convicted of the killings. But in 1998, Protess and Ciolino, along with Protess’ students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, had moved to clear Porter’s name.

Protess and Ciolino had achieved fame in prior years by working to clear the names of others purportedly falsely convicted in other high-profile murder cases.

In his lawsuit, Simon alleged Protess and Ciolino fabricated “four pieces of false evidence,” including an allegedly coerced confession from Simon, which “dismantled the case against Porter and proved that Simon committed the murder.”

Simon has specifically alleged Ciolino had posed as a police officer and had illegally detained him, using “threats, fabricated evidence, false statements, promises, money and other illegal tactics” to wring a confession out of him that he had “shot Hillard in self-defense and Green by accident.”

Simon was convicted in 1998, but was released from prison in 2014, when Alvarez abandoned all charges against Simon after her office reinvestigated the Hillard/Green murders, finding his confession “was illegally coerced by fabricated evidence, threats of the death penalty, and promises of riches.”  

In Ciolino’s suit, attorney Jennifer Bonjean of Brooklyn, N.Y., who also is defending Ciolino against Simon’s lawsuit, alleges a conspiracy to pay back Northwestern for exposing wrongful convictions.  

Ciolino's lawsuit alleges Alvarez was known for her reluctance to acknowledge the problem of wrongful convictions and her unwillingness to hold police accountable.   

The lawsuit further alleges Alvarez despised Protess and the university’s Innocence Project, while allegedly believing Chicago media had a clear bias in favor of Northwestern and against her. 

“Alvarez ignored the mountain of evidence pointing to Simon’s guilt and the falsity of his claims, instead eagerly agreeing to release a man she knew was guilty, all in the name of paybacks and possible future campaign donations,” Ciolino's lawsuit said.

The complaint asserts Ciolino, who used to give about 25 lectures a year all over the world, gave up his detective license because he has no clients, and he earns virtually nothing. 

“He has not been asked to give a lecture in the past year,” the complaint said, and now earns virtually nothing.

The suit claims intentional affliction of emotional distress, as Ciolino allegedly receives regular hate mail and telephone messages. 

In 1999, Ciolino and Northwestern students obtained the confession from Simon, apparently absolving Porter.

Simon pleaded guilty.

“After roughly a year in the penitentiary, Simon decided he did not want to serve the remainder of his 37 year sentence after all,” the complaint said. 

Simon then found allies in Delorto and partner John Mazzola, who worked almost exclusively for lawyers Ekl and Sotos, according to the complaint.

“Delorto and Mazzola cared nothing of Simon’s plight but had an agenda that worked to Simon’s benefit,” Ciolino's lawsuit says.

The suit claims Delorto and Mazzola targeted Simon as an accomplice in their mission to discredit Protess and Ciolino. They allegedly fed him a false narrative that he falsely regurgitated, promising representation through Ekl and Sotos. 

In 2002, Ekl and Sotos formally undertook Simon’s representation, but were unsuccessful the following year in lobbying then state’s attorney Dick Devine for a hearing.  

Ciolino's lawsuit asserts Delorto, Elk, and Sotos knew Simon’s claim of coercion was allegedly bogus. 

The lawsuit asserts, in 2010, they “found a washed up journalist, defendant Crawford, to write their version of the Porter/Simon saga.” 

And although Crawford enjoyed some success with the Chicago Tribune, “alcohol abuse eventually sidelined his career leaving him bitter and irrational,” the lawsuit said.

“Even among his friends and allies, Crawford is seen as mentally unstable, illogical, and erratic,” Ciolino wrote in the complaint. “On numerous occasions, Crawford has threatened Protess and Ciolino, and others, in drunken stupors.” 

According to the lawsuit, defendants brainstormed how to sell a false narrative that Protess, Ciolino, and Northwestern framed Simon.

“Delorto and Mazzola harassed, threatened, pressured, and coerced witnesses into conforming their stories to the false narrative,” Ciolino asserted in his complaint.

The complaint accuses the men of using unethical tactics, while allegedly falsely accusing Protess and Ciolino of using unethical tactics.

In 2011, Alvarez moved a judge to rule that Protess waived a reporter’s privilege.

The judge ordered Northwestern and Protess to turn over every email, memo, record and document about investigations going back decades.

“With the war raging between Alvarez and Northwestern, defendants Sotos and Ekl saw an opportunity to form an alliance with Alvarez against Northwestern,” Ciolino's complaint alleges. 

According to the lawsuit, Alvarez promptly announced that her conviction integrity unit would investigate, but that Alvarez already knew what she would do.

“Alvarez knew she was going to release Simon, guilty or not, to settle the score with Protess and Northwestern,” Ciolino's lawsuit said. 

Defendant Hale and his company, Whole Truth Films, produced a documentary on Simon’s release. 

According to the lawsuit, it “depicts Ciolino essentially committing a home invasion, busting his way into Simon’s house and then using a weapon to threaten Simon.” 

The suit identifies defendant Preib as spokesman for the Fraternal Order of Police. 

The lawsuit asserts he has peddled a false narrative on his blog, “Crooked City.” 

She asked for an injunction against all false and defamatory statements. 

Six days after Bonjean filed Ciolino’s complaint, she represented him by telephone as defense counsel for a hearing in Simon’s suit in Chicago federal court.

The proceedings ran quietly and ended quickly. 

Magistrate Judge David Weisman continued three discovery motions after lawyers assured him they would meet and confer. 

He set a status conference March 12.    

Ciolino's lawsuit is docketed in Cook County Circuit Court as Case No. 2018-L-000044.    

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Organizations in this Story

Northwestern UniversitySotos Law FirmU.S. District Court for the Northern District of IllinoisCook County State's Attorney's Office