If further evidence were needed that demand for true-crime podcasts is booming, a lawsuit filed this week in Chicago’s federal court provides it.

“Serial” — the hit NPR podcast which re-examined the murder of Baltimore high school student Hae Min Lee in its first season and was downloaded more than 80 million times — has spawned a slew of copycats eager to get in on the action. The Onion recently consecrated the genre by launching a parody podcast with the spectacularly redundant title, “A Very Fatal Murder.”

Now USA Today owner Gannett is working on a podcast featuring Operation Silver Shovel, a major FBI sting that targeted political corruption in Chicago in the 1990s. A lawsuit filed against the FBI this week by Gannett accuses the feds of illegally refusing to turn over secretly recorded conversations in which officials solicited and accepted bribes from an undercover FBI agent and an undercover mole, career criminal John Christopher.

Among the six aldermen indicted under Silver Shovel was former Ald. Ambrosio Medrano, who has the unhappy distinction of being the first former Chicago City Council member to be convicted twice by the feds, in two separate stings.

Producer Robin Amer — a former deputy editor of the Chicago Reader — noted in court filings that the tapes she wants were all played in open court and that they were released to the news media at the time of the Silver Shovel trials.

The FBI declined to comment Thursday, but letters from the feds included in Gannett’s lawsuit show that the FBI complained there were more than 86,500 documents in the Silver Shovel file and that responding to the request would take too long.

Amer told Inc. that the Silver Shovel tapes, if she gets them, will form part of her “The City” series, which she said is a “long form narrative podcast about how cities work,” focusing on “how power works” in Chicago, and containing “a true-crime element.”

“We’ve been trying to get these tapes from the FBI for two years now,” Amer said. “It’s bewildering to us why the FBI wouldn’t release them.”

Silver Shovel isn’t the only retro federal probe getting media attention right now: Operation Greylord, a precursor investigation to Silver Shovel which uncovered corrupt Cook County judges, is the subject of a Hollywood movie, tentatively titled “Crook County,” that is in pre-production.


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