One year ago, the governor of Illinois signed into law the SAFE-T Act, eliminating cash bail for all dangerous criminals in the state. And while the law has yet to go into effect amid suits from 65 counties, it will never apply to a former options trader who has spent the last six months in solitary confinement in a Cook County jail — over a divorce case.
Steve Fanady, 58, has been held on a $10 million bond for indirect civil contempt in a dispute over stock ownership, stemming from a 14-year-old divorce case, after a county judge ordered him jailed in June. He is the only long-term civil detainee in Cook County Jail.
Fanady’s octogenarian parents, Anthony and Soula, Greek citizens who fled Turkey during the Istanbul pogrom and immigrated to the US in 1960, are pleading for his life.
“America was our dream, and we became proud citizens of this country,” says Anthony Fanady, a retired small businessman. “We worked very hard to build a good life here, but our American dream has become a nightmare.”
According to the Fanadys, their son, who is handicapped due to two hip replacements, has been sleeping on a dining table alone in an isolated dormitory cell, infested with rats and roaches, hasn’t showered in 26 weeks, and has been denied basic medical and mental health care.
Last month, despite being in isolation, Fanady contracted COVID-19 and alleges he was abused by jail officials. “I begged for a COVID test for a week before I received one,” Fanady told The Post. “After I tested positive, I was brought to the medical wing of Cook County Jail. There, I was yanked from my wheelchair by four prison guards and thrown into a jail cell that didn’t even have a bed.”
“He’s being treated worse than mass murderers. They are torturing him,” Soula Fanady told The Post. “This can’t be America.”
Recently, private lawyers for Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart argued in court against allowing Fanady, who has never been convicted of any crime, out of jail on electronic monitoring.
This comes at a time when many SAFE-T Act provisions have already kicked in, allowing criminal inmates on electronic monitoring two days of unmonitored movement. A review of records from the Cook County Sheriff’s Office in November showed that criminal defendants were accused of “using the time to make repeated visits to casinos, shop at a gun store, commit retail theft and even attempt a kidnapping.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, whose office represents Dart, is facing mounting pressure over prosecutor resignations, some of whom have criticized her role in “pushing” through the SAFE-T Act and other changes to Illinois’ criminal justice system at a time when Chicago’s violent crime rate is skyrocketing. In fact, in her first three years in office, Foxx dismissed over 25,000 felony cases.
Yet there has been no attempt to reform Illinois’ civil detention system — which some have called a “debtor’s prison.”
To be released, a court ordered that Fanady must either pay $10 million in cash or transfer 120,000 shares of stock to his ex-wife Pamela Harnack. But Fanady says he is broke and that the stock was sold in 2011, more than six months prior to the marital judgment of dissolution. Fanady’s $10 million bond is based on the stock’s per-share price in 2020 — not 2011 — because he failed to transfer the stock to Harnack.
In 2011, 120,000 shares of CBOE stock would have been valued between $2.3 million and $2.5 million.
“I never had anywhere close to $10 million. The money I did have was spent on a decade of expensive divorce litigation and child support for my daughter, Sophia,” says Fanady, who has joint custody of his 10-year-old daughter with his second wife, Gina.
Fanady said he and Harnack met at a coffee shop in a suburb of Chicago and they got married in October 2003. In 2006, Fanady purchased a $1.2 million home with a mortgage in Northfield, Illinois. In March 2008, the couple filed for divorce and Harnack received the North Shore residence as part of the 2011 divorce judgment.
He says the reason his ex-wife has been able to sue him for more than a decade is that Harnack, 53, who grew up in Chicago’s affluent North Shore suburb of Winnetka, was the beneficiary of a trust and also inherited tens of millions from her father, a prominent corporate tax lawyer and partner in the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery.
But lawyers for Harnack say Fanady deserves what he gets, that he attempted to hide marital assets in Switzerland, and that he actively evaded law enforcement for over a year to avoid incarceration.
“Fanady has ten million reasons why he wants the Court to stop enforcing its prior order, because if the only thing that can possibly compel him to comply is ended, so is any chance that he will turn over anything to Pamela,” an attorney for Harnack said in response to Fanady’s motion to purge the contempt.
At issue is Fanady’s offshore blind trust, which was established prior to his marriage to Harnack and which held the proceeds of the stock sale.
Wealthy individuals, including former President Barack Obama and celebrity Emma Watson, have long used blind trusts to avoid conflicts of interest. However, because blind trusts don’t allow complete control of the assets, they can also lead to serious financial risk for the trustor — dramatically illustrated by Fanady’s case. Fanady’s blind trust closed, due to lack of funds, in early 2022.
Fanady, who was born in the US and has dual citizenship in Greece, said the idea that he was hiding money was ridiculous. “If private investigators can find a Russian oligarch’s yacht docked on some remote Pacific island, how can I hide anything?” he said.
However, a 2022 appellate court decision affirmed the judgment of the circuit court of Cook County holding Fanady in indirect civil contempt and said that, even though Harnack lied under oath that her ex had double the amount of stock he actually had, he must still comply with the 12-year-old judgment of dissolution.
Fanady says Harnack spent a decade pursuing an unsuccessful lawsuit and two appeals against his former partners, who had an ownership interest in the stock shares. It was not until she lost that suit that she came after him.
Harnack could not be reached for comment.
Fanady found a nonprofit lawyer to file a federal lawsuit against Dart over the rat- and vermin-infested conditions he said he is kept in at the Cook County Jail — but so far, no action has been taken by the judge. In response to the federal lawsuit, attorneys for the sheriff have denied Fanady’s allegations of abuse and mistreatment.
On Jan. 5, a Cook County judge will rule on Fanady’s claim that it is impossible for him to pay $10 million to his ex-wife and whether he should be purged of contempt. For Fanady, he says that decision will determine whether he lives or dies.
“I’m terrified of dying in prison over a 14-year-old divorce case,” explains Fanady, who said he has been housed in darkness and isolation at Cook County Jail for the last two weeks. “But I’m even more terrified for my daughter, my parents and what will become of them.”
When reached by The Post on Thursday evening, a representative for Dart’s office, which oversees the Cook County Department of Corrections, disputed that Fanady has been housed in total darkness for the last two weeks “as light from the dayroom illuminates the cell through the windows, natural light illuminates during the day from the cell’s exterior-facing window.”
Said Fanady in response, “My cell has no exterior-facing window.”