ILLINOIS Governor Rod Blagojevich was a mob-connected bookie in Chicago before he went into politics, according to former lawyer Robert Cooley, who worked undercover for the FBI in the 1980s and helped convict 24 crooked police, judges and politicians.
Mr Cooley, who spent years in a witness protection program, said he observed Mr Blagojevich running a sports gambling operation in Chicago and reported it to his FBI controllers. In an online interview reported by Chicago's ABC7 news, Mr Cooley said Mr Blagojevich was paying "street tax" to Robert "Bobby the Boxer" Abbinanti, an enforcer and gambling collector for West Side mob boss Marco D'Amico, a leading Chicago underworld figure. ...
The D'Amico Enterprise
... Marco D’Amico ran his Elmwood Park “Enterprise” quietly, but with ruthless efficiency.
D’Amico is a protégé and cohort of Joseph Andriacci and John “No Nose” DiFronzo, the interim bosses of the outfit and overseers of the Elmwood Park Crew while Joey Lombardo was “away” doing his time for hanky-panky with top Teamster union guys. Mob watchers have long been cognizant that Marco was an active player on the street - one of the top brass. His criminal record however, is sketchy. He was arrested for gambling in June 1958 when he was 21-years-old - Judge McNamara charged him $50.00 plus court costs, and again on January 10, 1976 for patronizing an illegal card game. Two years later he was busted for street fighting at Oak and Rush Street. D’Amico was arrested by the Cook County Sheriff’s Police in 1980 for aggravated battery. This case was S.O.L.’ed - “Stricken off with leave to reinstate.” Separate D.U.I. arrests of Marco D’Amico were made in 1983 and 1989. Government prosecutors alleged in court recently that “....D’Amico’s history and characteristics show the likely fixing of arrests.”
The Palatine Police charged him with battery and resisting arrest in 1983. D’Amico was sentenced to one year supervision for this incident. Several minor arrests. No convictions. No jail time. There existed no real pattern to draw an accurate intelligence profile of the man. He was a bricklayer some said.
Marco D’Amico and eight other associates comprised the echelon of his “Enterprise.” All were named in a 10-count federal indictment charging racketeering conspiracy, criminal contempt, attempted extortion, illegal gambling, and other crimes. Marco and his guys flourished in suburban Cook County municipalities where the local citizenry would not typically expect to find mob activity as a mainstay of the community’s good life.
Suburban police departments empowered to arrest the perpetrators of these criminal enterprises frequently are unaware of who the wise guys are and the presence of the all-powerful “outfit” goes undetected by the law. Such conditions exist because there exists no a coordinated organized crime task force to deal with the menace in the vast geographic areas comprising Cook and its collar counties. The average suburban street cop in most municipal police departments are confined geographically and lack experience and timing in dealing with organized crime. Most would not be able to spot a Mafia hood or have the street knowledge to know what to do once such an individual is pointed out to him, or in some unfortunate environs the leadership of police departments are in on the nefarious endeavor of mob operations. The recent adventures of the D’Amico crew running amuck in the suburbs offer further proof of the need for serious consideration to be given to metropolitan policing to safeguard the burgeoning populations of greater Cook, DuPage, Will, Lake, and McHenry Counties.
The D’Amico Enterprise operated their illegal book making business at separate locations in Elmwood Park, Arlington Heights, Franklin Park, River Grove, Niles, Forest Park, Harwood Heights, and in Chicago. The nature of their business is a travelling crime - both by area and telephone hookups.
The curious twists of fate that finally exposed the “Enterprise” to government heat began when the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the F.B.I., the I.R.S. and the Chicago Police Department became cognizant of a marijuana growing operation in Carol Stream - an upscale bedroom suburb that is not exactly considered your average hotbed of sin and sleaze.
In order to pay off a juice loan that had risen to $18,000 (with a weekly 5% interest rate tacked on), one Michael J. Coffey of Inverness agreed to turn the basement of his sprawling $650,000, 15-room colonial-style home into the largest indoor hydroponic marijuana factory found in the State of Illinois. Federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency stormed the mansion on March 20, 1992, seizing 1,600 marijuana plants, an elaborate irrigation control system, synthetic soil, and hydroponic growing lights essential to the operation. Coffey contended that there were as many as 10,000 plants grown at the Inverness address.
Confiscated documents tipped off authorities to the existence of an additional 2,200 plants stored in two of three padlocked tractor-trailers reserved for the purpose at a Carol Stream industrial park. The trailers were impounded from the warehouse three days later. Michael Coffey agreed to become a “gardener” for the mob in June 1989 after Joseph DiFronzo, brother of outfit big-wig John “No Nose” DiFronzo, suggested that this might be the easiest and most expeditious way for Coffey to pay off his juice loan. The Inverness man reluctantly agreed, but soon discovered that the care and feeding of a marijuana crop was a labor-intensive effort that required a working knowledge of horticulture.
What seemed like a good idea at first apparently wound up costing DiFronzo in excess of $90,000. The first batch of plants were of the male variety, and not nearly as potent as high-grade female marijuana plants. In his second attempt at harvesting the weed, Coffey’s plants turned moldy because of low humidity and poor lighting. In an effort to upgrade the product, extra bright lights were wired into the ceiling and the walls were covered with a reflective foil to direct the artificial lighting toward the plants nurturing and cultivation.
Impatient with the progress of the garden, Joe DiFronzo demanded swifter results. Coffey received an additional $10,000 from DiFronzo and then flew to Florida where he purchased additional supplies and marijuana cuttings after soliciting the advice of some friends who understood the overall business more fully. Beginning in April 1991, Coffey delivered the harvested marijuana crops to the Skokie residence of one Theodore Kotsovos who acted on behalf of DiFronzo in selling and distributing the mood-altering weed.
Kotsovos, who was named as a defendant in the indictment, challenged the government’s contention that he was a part of the web of conspiracy. He claimed that his only offense was selling 10 pounds of grass which had been purchased from Coffey in the parking lot of a suburban Palatine restaurant. “The agreed weight was always short and the product was always wet,” Kotsovos stated. “The dry weight was about half of the stated weight. In all I sold no more than 10 pounds or $25,000 of marijuana.” Coffey said that the exact amount peddled was closer to 77-97 pounds.
Joseph DiFronzo eventually removed himself from the sophisticated operation and remains a fugitive from justice at the present time. He is rumored to be hiding out somewhere in the western United States but one never knows where he could be - for he is a seasoned “wise guy.”
After DiFronzo evaporated, Coffey located seven other individuals to attend to the greenhouse, harvest the plants, and distribute the crop for re-sale. It turned out to be a 2 1/2-year operation.
Coffey was arrested along with 11 accomplices. Richard Gelsomino, who was one of the men charged in the case, received grand jury secrets from juror Robert Girardi, a Berwyn man and personal friend of the defendant who conferred with Gelsomino during a series of meetings in January 1993. Girardi offered to exchange information with an undercover F.B.I. agent in return for $2,500 to $3,000 a month. Gelsomino later turned over 39-pages of copious hand-written notes to the U.S. Attorney’s office. Robert Girardi’s attorneys argued entrapment, but their client was eventually convicted of bribery, obstruction of justice, and contempt of court.
Michael Coffey pled guilty to federal charges and agreed to cooperate with the government in a broad-based investigation that linked Marco D’Amico, reputed second-in-command of the Elmwood Park street crew behind area boss Joseph Andriacci, to the drug operation. Coffey’s criminal record showed two prior federal convictions. A third one would have put him away for life, so Coffey and three other defendants in the case entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors and agreed to tell what they knew as most of their ilk do when confronted with a no win situation - for them. .
As the marijuana case unfolded, the federal people learned of a murder plot against one Debbie Hickey and her jailed husband - key government witnesses living in Florida. Defendant Joseph Duenser was wearing a wire when he was told by co-defendant Tim Burns that he would pay $25,000 to have the couple eliminated on the eve of the trial in order to have a “bigger impact” on the other witnesses. Burns allegedly stated that he mistrusted the “outfit guys” because “they are not like us,” adding, that if the “outfit guys were anything, they should have killed Michael Coffey by now.” All defendants - Michael Fusco of Wheaton; Anthony Sanello, 44; Bruce Ventura, 46; David Wutzen, 33; Theodore Kotsovos; Joe Duenser; and Michael Coffey were eventually convicted on drug conspiracy and distribution charges following a one-month trial before U.S. District Judge Paul E. Plunkett.
Marco D’Amico’s personal interests in the marijuana-growing operation surfaced at a sentencing hearing for one of the men who worked as a juice loan collector and bookmaker for the seasoned D’Amico. The informant was Coffey’s connection to the “outfit” and was one of the men indicted in the marijuana scheme. Like so many others before him, the informant turned against his compatriots and showed willingness to spill mob secrets in hopes for a reduced prison sentence. Recently he appeared on the witness stand in the murder trial of Robert Faraci, accused of the decapitation murder of Dean Fawcett, a Northwest Suburban man.
The 42-year-old informant cut a deal with the government last May which reduced his 10-year sentence to five years in return for information about D’Amico linking him to four attempted murders, extensive bookmaking operations, and criminal assault. When D’Amico found out that the informant was a turncoat and squawking to the government, he ordered him measured for a coffin. The informant was in custody at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago but was transferred to a more secure location 30 minutes after the U.S. Attorney’s office became aware of the plot hatched against his life.
The information provided offers a fascinating glimpse into the inner workings of an outfit street crew, and it formed the basis of a 10-count federal indictment aimed against top guy D’Amico and eight other members of his “Enterprise” including Marco’s second in command, Anthony Dote, 43, of Elmwood Park; and veteran street men Carl R. Dote; Chicago residents Roland “Ricky” Borelli, 59; Frank “Frankenstein” Maranto, 61; Robert “Hippo” Scutkowski, 47; Frank “Gunner” Catapano, 58, of Schiller Park; William “Louie” Tenuta, 66, of Elmwood Park; and Robert Abbinanti, a 39-year-old truck driver for the ever famous “wise guy” employment agency - the City of Chicago Streets and Sanitation Department - who is related to Marco through marriage. His brother is wedded to Marco’s daughter.
Streets and San has been a tremendous source of patronage over the years for the First Ward pols who dole out no-show jobs to outfit “associates” as a reward for their criminal activity. Surprisingly, a major reason for employment with the city is a need for low-cost medical insurance. Once during her tenure, former Mayor Jane Byrne went to one of the city garages and discovered that there were 50 no-shows listed on the payroll. She did not do much about it at the time because the First Ward had enjoyed a powerful influence during her administration. The practice still goes on. In 1991, 37 employees listed assigned to the First Ward sanitation office were accused of bilking the city out of $500,000 by collecting salaries for gold bricking.
Some of the sanitation workers spent the day at the racetrack. Others worked outside jobs while on city time. In one instance a ghost payroller committed a robbery. Then within the last two years, a $30-dollar-an-hour sanitation worker falsified time sheets in order to collect overtime pay for the hours he spent chauffeuring reputed mob boss Joey “the Clown” Lombardo around town. It is one hell of a way to run a city, don’t you think? And it does not appear that the Daley administration is making efforts to bring it to a screeching halt.
Robert Abbinanti had served as a co-precinct captain for the 36th Ward Regular Democratic Organization on the Northwest Side back in 1983. The boundaries of the bungalow belt ward brush up against O’Hare Airport. Once the political fiefdom of Alderman Louis Farina until Farina was convicted on bribery charges in the early 1980s, it remains one of the strongest cogs in the old Democratic Machine of legend. It is presently controlled by Alderman William J.P. Banks, whose brother Ronald is judge in the 4th District. Voter turnout in the 36th Ward always runs proportionately higher than in other areas of the city, because of the well-oiled political apparatus. The precinct captain and his assistants gather at the polls on election day reminding the residents to vote - and to influence them on how to vote.
Abbinanti was also an amateur boxer at onetime - a body builder type who became very close to the rising star of Marco D’Amico. He managed Marco’s III, a hot-dog stand located at Fullerton & Austin that was once owned by D’Amico. As a helpful and dependable aide, he emerged as an extremely active participant in Marco’s street operations.
Roland Borelli is a former Chicago Police officer and long-time associate of Robert Cooley, the infamously corrupt Chicago attorney of “Operation Gambat” fame who bugged his criminal cohorts at the F.B.I.’s request for 3 1/2-years. Cooley’s role in exposing the “D’Amico Enterprise” was critical to the investigation - though he went about his work knowing the peril of his actions - he too, being a former city cop. Attorney Cooley was kept on permanent retainer by the “Enterprise” to represent friends and associates arrested for gambling offenses. On the other hand, Cooley was also required to pay D’Amico a $2,000 per month street tax while posing as a sports bookmaker, and was assessed a weekly 2% interest fee for “juice” loans made to him totaling $80,000.
This Cooley guy is something else again. It seems as if he hasn’t missed a crime syndicate scheme in the past decade or two, He was always at the center of the action - from Lake County to Cicero to First Ward headquarters and every hamlet in between where the “wise guys” filtered.
Attorney Cooley was useful to D’Amico in other important ways. In the summer of 1989, Cooley tipped D’Amico off to a high stakes card game to be played outside of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, where the “take” could reach as high as $1 million dollars. Marco D’Amico’s eyes lit up after hearing the mutuels. Robert Abbinanti, the Streets and San truck driver, was told to bring along shotguns and a .22 caliber handgun equipped with a silencer to the Wisconsin digs to make a score in hitting the card game. Cooley, as one of the participants in the “set up” game, would receive a 20% cut of the take when things successfully were to go down. As the plan unfolded, Cooley became apprehensive about the best laid plans of mice and men. D’Amico assured him that the three gunmen hand-picked for the job were “good people” and knew their business. “No, they don’t get nervous....they are professionals.” There would be no heroes when the time would come, D’Amico continued, not after they see the shotguns pointed in their face. Discretion assuredly would be the better part of valor in this caper.
The day the hold-up was to take place, Abbinanti phoned Cooley at the Abbey Resort Hotel in Lake Geneva to find out when he was leaving for the high-stakes card game. Abbinanti and D’Amico then drove to Wisconsin, but the operation was aborted when a lookout posted outside the gambling establishment waved them off. A local sheriff’s squad car had been cruising through the area, thus backing off the robbery team’s assault. It was a tough break for the federal investigators who were in the know on what was going down. They were inside the room and the heavily armed agents were preparing to arrest Abbinanti and blow the lid off of the “Enterprise.” A nice piece of law enforcement work went for naught.
As it turned out, the card game ruse was Cooley’s final adventure as an undercover government informant in the D’Amico investigation. Shortly afterward he entered the witness protection program and has been testifying against top level mob guys in one way or another ever since.
Bookmaking on sporting events and illegal card games staged at ten city and suburban locations were the lifeblood of the “D’Amico Enterprise.” Marco D’Amico made all of the important decisions and delegated responsibilities to his underlings. Anthony Dote functioned as the manager and supervisor responsible for day-to-day operations and directed the “muscle” against those who threatened the business. Independent bookmakers and the proprietors of illegal poker games operating outside the jurisdiction of the “Enterprise” were given three choices: become a partner of the “Enterprise,” pay the street tax, or get the hell out of business. Marco had established a reputation and it was believed for real.
Deadbeat gamblers and the recipients of “juice” loans who were unable to satisfy their debts risked physical retaliation or worse at the hands of the Spizzirri brothers (Richard and John), alleged “soldiers” in the D’Amico street crew and their controlled “muscle” - one Sean Sontheimer, a six-foot-seven-inch gorilla. The mere mention of his name inspired extreme terror in the hearts of the unfortunate. The Spizzirri brothers and Sontheimer pleaded guilty to extortion charges and participating in a fraudulent insurance scheme in 1992.
Every Thursday night, the juice “collectors” who were not in prison or otherwise inconvenienced by the feds, delivered the take from their weekly extortions to D’Amico and the other bosses who gathered at the Elmwood Park Social Club, 7520 W. Diversey Ave., where illegal bookmaking and card games were known to occur. The comings and goings at the clubhouse were routinely documented by the F.B.I. High-rollers, the neighborhood guys, and more than a few prominent figures in local commerce passed through the portals to partake in mob hospitality and machinations.
Gamblers who wagered on the outcome of sporting events were supplied with telephone numbers and secret codes in order to avoid detection when they called in their bets. Wagers taken over the phone or in the streets were recorded on water soluble paper so they could be easily destroyed in the likelihood of a raid. To avoid an audit trail, all transactions were made in cash. Then, to cover up the source of this illegal income, members of “Enterprise” filed Form 1040 with the I.R.S.
Marco D’Amico of Naperville, Illinois, was described as a “danger to society” by government prosecutors who feared that he might flee the area if he were allowed out on bond. U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning agreed, and denied his petition to be released on a $1 million dollar bond pending the outcome of the racketeering trial.
Those, like Marco D’Amico, who live by violence and the “wise guy” attitude constitute a real and present danger to whomever they encounter. The “crew” is in trouble - about half of its members are presently under indictment.
According to highly placed sources within law enforcement however, the government has not yet fully penetrated the “D’Amico Enterprise” to the fullest extent.
In 1986, members of the Chicago Police Department Organized Crime Division arrested six people involved in sports gambling who were in possession of 10 kilos of cocaine. Also recovered was $77,425.00 in cash, some handguns, and $455,000 in wagers. It marked the first time that illegal drugs were found in an outfit-owned sports wireroom.
The drugs were believed to be smuggled out of Columbia, through Florida, and into the Chicago area where they were purportedly distributed by D’Amico’s organized crime group. Such evidence dispels the long-standing beliefs expressed by some that the “Outfit” is not directly involved in the trafficking of hard narcotics. That is where the heavy money is and it’s naive to say Chicago’s mob guys steer clear of the booty.
The crew also reportedly is aligned to a vast overseas operation that manufactures and distributes video poker machines - the kind you often find on cruise ships, the backrooms of social clubs, and neighborhood taverns. By comparison to the revenue derived from video poker and gambling, the suburban pot-growing operation is nickel and dime stuff - a minor irritant to the wise guys.
The government has sent a clear and powerful message in this latest round of indictments that the war against “traditional” organized crime is not finished. Frustration begins to mount with the certain knowledge that there will always be another up and coming “wise guy” in line to move up to take Marco’s place. The Chicago “Outfit” has survived far worse.