updated 2/14/2006 9:34:24 PM ET 2006-02-15T02:34:24

A jail guard was charged Tuesday with seven felony counts in connection with a planned escape from the Cook County Jail during which six inmates bolted over the weekend, a state's attorney's spokesman said.

Darin Gater, 36, of Chicago was charged with two counts of aggravated battery to a correctional officer, aggravated arson, escape, possession of contraband in a penal institution, bringing contraband into a penal institution and official misconduct, according to Cook County state's attorney's office spokesman John Gorman.

Gorman said the first contraband charge involved a shank, or homemade knife, while the second contraband charge involved a cell phone.

Gater had told investigators he aided in the escape to influence the upcoming sheriff's election by embarrassing outgoing Cook County Sheriff Michael Sheahan, a law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told The Associated Press earlier Tuesday.

The guard originally said he was overpowered by an inmate but has since changed his story, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation. The alleged admission was first reported by the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times.

Political motive?
The guard said he was trying to embarrass Sheahan and his chief of staff, Tom Dart, who is running for sheriff, the law enforcement official said.

Also Tuesday, the Police Department said its officers received a tip about an escape plot at the jail hours before the breakout.

Authorities got word that someone involved in that case “had knowledge ... of what was going to occur,” police spokeswoman Monique Bond said. Officers followed proper procedure and reported the tip to sheriff’s office, she said.

“What was done with that information is a subject of our internal affairs investigation,” said sheriff’s department spokesman Bill Cunningham.

He said six jail officers, including Gater, were suspended with pay while the investigation continue.

Richard Remus, who is running for the Democratic nomination for sheriff, said he doubts reports that the guard was trying to help his campaign.

‘Cook County politics at its finest’
“An officer is going to sacrifice his life or family for political gain for somebody else? It’s beyond my understanding of human nature — I can’t see it,” Remus said. “This sounds like Cook County politics at its finest.”

Remus said he once was the guard’s supervisor at the jail but is not the man’s friend.

The jailbreak was the third at the Cook County Jail in the past 10 months. No inmates had escaped from there in the previous decade.

It was at least the second time in recent months that the question of staff complicity has been raised. During the summer, an inmate donned a guard’s uniform, walked out of jail and allegedly went on a bank-robbing spree. He later turned himself in to authorities in Ohio, saying he had escaped with the help of a guard he had bribed. The sheriff’s department is investigating that claim.

Last month, a jail guard was convicted of trying to smuggle a gun into the jail in 2003.

An attorney with the correctional officers union questioned how the suspended guards were being treated. Steven Calcaterra said it took repeated attempts for the union to provide counsel to several of the officers.

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