Williams and a wiseguy go from courtroom to classroom

1:39:27 PM CDT - Thursday, October 06, 2005

By Amy Geiszler-Jones

Their relationship has gone from the courtroom, when they were prosecutor and defendant, to the classroom, where they are professor and student.

Two years ago, Jackie Williams, a former U.S. attorney now teaching in WSU's criminal justice program, found a note under his Lindquist Hall office door.

It was from George Poulos, a self-proclaimed "Wichita wiseguy" whom Williams had sent to federal prison for arson in the 1980s.

Wichita Wiseguy
In one of life's odd twists, criminal justice faculty member Jackie Williams, right, and self-proclaimed "Wichita wiseguy" George Poulos have met again in the classroom, about two decades after Williams, a former U.S. attorney, prosecuted and won a conviction against Poulos.
"The note said 'There's good news and bad news,'" Williams recalled. "'The good news is I'm going to Wichita State, the bad news is I may be taking one of your classes. Call me.'

"I laughed. I thought it was classic George Poulos," said Williams, who spent 17 years as the assistant U.S. attorney and six as the U.S. attorney for Kansas before joining the WSU faculty in 2001.

Poulos had sent the note after spotting the familiar name on his course schedule, thinking Williams might not want a defendant he'd had in the courtroom to be in his classroom now.

That wasn't the case.

"I was pleased that George was in my classes," Williams said. "He added another dimension to my classes and could tell about himself and his life."

Poulos, who took three classes from Williams and later requested Williams as his mentor when he considered taking an independent study course, wasn't surprised at the former attorney's acceptance.

"Jackie Williams was a prosecutor, but he never was a persecutor. He had a job to do and I'd done what I'd done," Poulos said matter-of-factly. "I don't harbor any resentments."

The fact that the two have developed an amiable friendship is evident. On a recent morning visit, the two were sharing tales about different criminals and cases.

"Well, and another friend of ours ," Poulos said, as he lapsed into another story.

Williams quickly explained, "When George says a friend of ours, he's talking about people I prosecuted who he knew."

Poulos, now 80, became a notorious figure in the Wichita community with various escapades that netted him several arrests including one over the phone, he said and two convictions. He wrote about his life in his 2000 book, "George, You Rascal, You."

The case Williams won against Poulos netted him a 25-year conviction; he was paroled after serving 12 years. Williams recalls offering Poulos, known for his salty language, a plea bargain in the case for a five-year sentence.
"He said, 'Blankety, blank, let's just roll the dice,'" Williams said.

The case also brought Williams some recognition. There was no federal statute against arson, so Williams charged Poulos, who had been the middleman in the crime, under a statute dealing with explosives.

When the case was appealed to the 10th Circuit, the verdict was upheld, creating a precedent. Williams has often cited the case in his classes.

After a life of crime, Poulos, who ran for mayor of Wichita in the last city election, said he wanted to get an education and started taking classes at Butler Community College and Friends University. He's been taking classes at WSU since 2003, and is on track to earn an associate's degree in May. He plans to earn a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.

"I figure my name will look better with some letters after it, instead of numbers," Poulos joked.

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