Saturday, July 28, 2007

Co-op Exec Said to Have Paid Mob to Avoid Union Trouble

Friends of ours: Tony Accardo, Frank Calabrese Sr., Nick Calabrese, Michael Spano, Rocky Infelice
Friends of mine: Michael Cagnoni

The head of a cooperative association specializing in shipping fruits and vegetables was also delivering a briefcase stuffed with cash to mob figures before his murder, a witness testified Thursday.

"Yes, I believe that was one of the gentlemen," security expert Fred Pavlich told the trial of five alleged mob members after studying an FBI surveillance photo of the late Chicago mob boss Tony Accardo.

Pavlich said he resigned as head of security for the shipping cooperative that Michael Cagnoni headed only weeks before a powerful bomb erupted under the driver's seat of Cagnoni's Mercedes on June 24, 1981. Pavlich said the night before he resigned, he got a threatening phone call that didn't mention Cagnoni by name but still persuaded him that it would be prudent to give up his post as the association's security director.

Federal prosecutors say convicted loan shark Frank Calabrese Sr. was responsible for the Cagnoni murder. Calabrese's brother, Nicholas, the government's star witness, described how a bomb was planted and detonated by an automatic radio-controlled device. An eyewitness, who was at one time a U.S. Marines explosives expert, testified Wednesday that the blast sent huge hunks of metal flying through the air, produced a giant cloud of smoke and tore Cagnoni's body in half.

Calabrese, 69, is among five men charged with taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included extortion of "street tax" from businesses as well as illegal gambling, loan sharking and 18 murders.

Pavlich testified Cagnoni was a brilliant shipping executive who figured out a way of setting up a cooperative association consisting of Chicago and New York grocers and California produce growers. He said thousands of trucks were going back and forth between Chicago and the West Coast every week aboard railroad cars with the association's shipments.

On arriving in the Chicago area, some trucks went to local grocers while others went on to New York to supply produce to supermarkets there. But every week Cagnoni also carried a briefcase stuffed with thousands of dollars in cash to Flash Trucking, a suburban Cicero company that made most of his Chicago-area deliveries, Pavlich testified.

Flash was owned by brothers, Michael and Paul Spano. Michael Spano is serving a 12-year prison sentence for his 2002 conviction for helping former Cicero town president Betty Loren-Maltese swindle the suburb -- long plagued by mob influence -- out of millions of dollars in insurance money.

Prosecutors say that when longtime Cicero mob boss Rocky Infelice was sent to prison in the early 1990s he dubbed Michael Spano his successor.

Pavlich said sometimes money was delivered to a meeting in a Rosemont hotel that Cagnoni and a number of other men attended.

"I of course kept my distance and went downstairs as I was told to do," Pavlich said. But he identified an FBI surveillance photograph of Accardo, who for decades was one of the most powerful mob bosses in the country, as that of one of the men on hand for at least one meeting. "I believe Rocky was there every time I was there," the former security director said, speaking of Infelice.

Calabrese attorney Joseph Lopez asked Pavlich whether he made the payments to avoid union problems. Pavlich said that as he understood it, that was one of the reasons.

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