Wednesday, September 21, 2005

FBI Says Mob Eyed Rosemont Casino

Friends of ours: James Marcello, Michael Marcello, Tony Spilotro, Michael Spilotro
Friends of mine: Don Stephens

The reputed head of the Chicago mob and his half-brother were caught more than two years ago on FBI surveillance videotape discussing organized crime's efforts to infiltrate a casino in Rosemont, the head of the FBI's organized crime unit in Chicago testified Tuesday.

A portion of the grainy and muffled videotape, recorded surreptitiously in the visiting room of the federal prison in Michigan where James Marcello was incarcerated at the time, was played openly for the first time. It was part of the Illinois Gaming Board's ongoing public hearing aimed at stripping the Emerald Casino once planned for Rosemont of its riverboat gambling license. But attorneys for Emerald attempted to cast serious doubt about the relevance of the tape and whether FBI Special Agent John Mallul's opinion of what Marcello, the reputed boss of the Chicago mob, and his half-brother Michael were discussing in the coded conversation was accurate.

Emerald attorney Robert Clifford also pointed out that the portion of the tape played was only a two-and-a-half minute piece of a five-hour conversation and that the testimony was part of the gaming board's effort to yank Emerald's license by sullying Rosemont's reputation. "Is this fair to produce this?" Clifford said. "I don't think so."

According to Mallul's testimony about the discussion, James Marcello asked Michael Marcello what influence and control organized crime would have in a Rosemont casino. They also discussed what role longtime Rosemont Mayor Donald Stephens would have in the casino deal.

"Are we gonna be in there at all?" James asks on the tape as he sits next to his half-brother in the crowded visiting room.

"I don't ... MGM or one of them companies will wind up with it," Michael responds. "I mean he ain't gonna get it like he wanted it before."

Mallul testified that the "he" Michael Marcello referred to was Stephens. In July Mallul testified that an informant had placed Stephens in a suburban restaurant meeting with several high-ranking members of organized crime to discuss what control the mob would have over contracts at the casino.

"It's my opinion based on this conversation, Donald Stephens had a special interest in having Emerald itself be a casino in Rosemont," Mallul testified.

When asked to describe "special," Mallul said he thought the mayor had an "extraordinary interest" in Emerald being selected as the casino in Rosemont as opposed to another casino firm, in part to have more control over the casino.

Rosemont attorney Robert Stephenson questioned Mallul's opinions about what the vague conversation between the brothers was actually about. "The guy is either a liar or incompetent," Stephenson said. "In either case, he should be immediately fired by the FBI."

In April federal prosecutors charged the Marcello brothers, along with more than a dozen other alleged members of organized crime, with an array of crimes. James Marcello is charged with the murders of Anthony and Michael Spilotro in 1986, and Michael is facing charges that include conducting an illegal gambling business.

The March 24, 2003, conversation between the two brothers also included a new allegation that former Chicago alderman and Cicero village attorney Edward Vrdolyak played a role in getting former Chicago Crime Commission investigator Wayne Johnson to settle a defamation lawsuit Stephens had filed. The two brothers implied that because of the settlement, Rosemont was allowed to continue to seek a casino.

The suit stemmed from comments Johnson made in 2001 about a "troubling ... litany of associations" between Stephens and six people the commission considered to have criminal or mob ties. The month after Johnson accepted the job of Cicero police chief in 2003, Johnson and Stephens privately settled the suit when Johnson said in a letter that he had "no personal knowledge about Mayor Donald E. Stephens' business dealings."

"The V guy put his arm around him," Michael Marcello said, referring to Vrdolyak, according to Mallul. "Put 'em over there in that town [Cicero]. He backed off the other guy [Stephens] out there."

Johnson and Vrdolyak both flatly denied the assertion, saying they never met each other until after Johnson became police chief, a job he left this year. "Ed Vrdolyak had nothing to do with that letter," Johnson said.

"It's absolute folly to say that anything like that ever went down," Vrdolyak said. "LSD must be coming back. It's nuts."

The testimony came on the second-to-last-day of testimony in the hearings. The administrative law judge overseeing the case, former federal judge Abner Mikva, is expected to rule no sooner than next month.

Thanks to John Chase and Brett McNeil

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