Sunday, September 16, 2007

Connectiing the Dots with Chicago Clout

In 1999, Mayor Richard Daley met with close advisers at City Hall to discuss a favorite project, a plan to build dozens upon dozens of expensive single-family homes along the Chicago River in his ancestral 11th Ward, in what is now the troubled Bridgeport Village development.

Also at the meeting were mayoral strategist Tim Degnan, considered the fifth Daley brother, and Degnan business associate and 11th Ward developer Thomas DiPiazza, according to court documents and Tribune reports. But before and after that meeting with the mayor, according to public records in Illinois and Florida, DiPiazza was also engaged in a series of other, separate real estate transactions with a Bridgeport fixture known as Rayjo.

That's what he's called in Bridgeport, in Chinatown, on Rush Street and at the federal building, by prosecutors and the FBI. He's well known in these circles.

His formal name is Raymond John Tominello.

Tominello, 67, is considered a mathematical genius. He was convicted in 1989 of running the Chicago Outfit's illegal sports book operation under the supervision of the legendary Donald "The Wizard of Odds" Angelini and Dominic Cortina.

In 1989, Angelini, Cortina and Tominello all pleaded guilty, a week after their indictment on federal racketeering charges. Tominello served less than a year in federal prison. Angelini and Cortina have since died. But Rayjo still thrives, at least in real estate.

What does this tell us? That DiPiazza, who gets into meetings with the mayor about one of the most important developments in Bridgeport in years, has a mobbed-up business associate.

Of course the mayor will say he didn't know about it. And that may be true. He might not have ever heard the name Rayjo in his entire life, even though they're about the same age and grew up in the same neighborhood. Can't coincidences happen in Chicago?

DiPiazza's attorney Mark Kralovec said last week that Tominello had worked for DiPiazza years ago, but that Tominello no longer works with DiPiazza's business.

Conrad Duncker, real estate attorney in Tominello's deals with DiPiazza and DiPiazza's partner, Richard Ferro, declined to comment.

"I really can't answer any questions. Have a good day sir," said Duncker, before hanging up the phone. Tominello did not respond to repeated attempts to contact him, through his attorneys and at his homes. That's too bad. It would have been nice to hear how he transformed his life, from Outfit bookie to Mr. Real Estate with Tommy D.

Investing in real estate with guys who know Mayor Daley isn't a crime, not even for a bookie. Understanding Chicago doesn't come by reading official press releases, but by reading the tracks of exotic creatures in public records.

"Rayjo was an integral part of the Cortina/Angelini combine," Chicago Crime Commission President James Wagner, the former longtime FBI supervisor, told me last week. "He hasn't been convicted of anything lately, but back then, Rayjo was considered to be one of them, not a lowly worker, but a manager, with talent and some ambition to move up. You're talking about a lot of money."

Just weeks before Tominello was indicted, he, Ferro and DiPiazza were listed on a commercial loan filing statement with the Illinois secretary of state's office for a continuation of an undetermined business loan. And a couple of years after Tominello's prison stint, in 1992, records show that a trust all three were involved in sold a large tract of commercial/industrial property at 300 W. 83rd Street, to the Chicago Board of Education for nearly $900,000. A portion of that property now serves as open space across the street from Simeon Career Academy.

In 1998 -- a year before DiPiazza met with Daley about Bridgeport Village -- DiPiazza's company sold a house to Tominello at 2806 S. Shields Ave., down the street from the neighborhood social center, the Italian American Club.

Next door to Tominello, DiPiazza deeded a lot to the family of Joseph "Shorty" LaMantia, county records show. LaMantia was assuming control of the Chicago Outfit's Chinatown Crew that runs Bridgeport. And for the next five years, according to tax records, tax bills for the Tominello house on Shields were addressed to Ferro-DiPiazza, but with a catch. They were mailed to Tominello's home. But Rayjo's home isn't officially the Ferro-DiPiazza offices. That office is at 3611 S. Normal Ave. Perhaps Tominello forgot to put his name on his taxes.

A similar thing happened on a Tominello investment property on Archer Avenue purchased in 1997. On the deed, the mailing address was listed at Ferro-DiPiazza. City building inspectors in 2000 found several code violations. The violation notices were sent to Ferro-DiPiazza on Normal, not to Tominello's home on Shields.

In 2003, DiPiazza sold a home on Marco Island, Fla., to Tominello for $300,000, not counting sunscreen.

Rayjo isn't the only smart guy DiPiazza knows. DiPiazza and another friend of Degnan's, the mayoral fashionista/waste-hauling king Fred Bruno Barbara, are also investors in the pricey real estate that houses the famous Tavern on Rush restaurant in the city's historic Viagra Triangle at Bellevue and Rush.

Degnan is close to both men.

Decades ago, in a Tribune story, Degnan publicly admitted to a serious gambling problem, saying in 1969 he owed $82,000 in gambling debts. In today's dollars, that comes to $459,000, a huge chunk for a young man back then. I haven't heard about Degnan gambling a dime lately, unless you count his wife getting magically clouted in as an investor in that Rosemont casino deal.

There's nothing illegal in all this real estate investing, as far as I can tell. These are puzzle pieces, coming together, revealing a little known feature of City Hall's infrastructure.

I asked Jim Wagner if he was surprised that DiPiazza, with his City Hall clout, meeting with the mayor and so on, would be involved in deals with Rayjo.

"No," Wagner said.

Of course not. This is Chicago.

Thanks to John Kass

CharlesKeath.com

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