Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Chicago-Style Clout in Winnebago County?

Attorneys representing Winnebago County’s interests in the nearly concluded federal jail lawsuit have already been paid $356,865 for legal services by the county from 2001 to 2007.

Attorney Paul R. Cicero of Cicero and France, P.C., also represented the county during Winnebago County’s first jail lawsuit, which spanned from 1994 to 1997. Figures regarding how much the firm was paid for the first jail lawsuit were not available at time of publication.

According to a source familiar with the selection process, Cicero was chosen to represent the county in the current jail lawsuit because of their “expertise,” and due to a lack of adequate staffing, time and resources in the county’s civil litigation division. The source wished to remain anonymous, due to their present occupation.

The source also said no county officials examined Cicero and France’s invoices before payment was made to verify the accuracy of the billings.

Clout counts?

In addition to expertise and lack of staff, clout may have also been a factor in the selection of Cicero as the county’s attorney in the two jail lawsuits.

According to the FBI file for Mob advisor Joseph Zito, Zito likely had interests in restaurant and bar known as the Playroom Lounge at 206 N. Church St. Cicero’s father, Mathew P. Cicero, who was also an attorney, was vice president and secretary of YDZ Corporation, which operated the Play Room.

Zito died in 1981. His funeral was attended by Chicago Mob boss Joseph Aiuppa, who died in 1997.

A July 17, 1969 article in the Rockford Morning Star indicated, Mat Cicero represented Anthony F. Calcione “in legal battles to keep the Play Room open after [former Rockford Mayor Benjamin] Schleicher refused to re-issue the lounge’s city license...until it obtain[ed] a state license.” The article indicated that YDZ’s corporation office was listed as Mat Cicero’s law office.

A different source familiar with the Rockford Mob structure alleged Calcione was a Mob associate who once operated two brothels in the Rockford area in the 1940s. Calcione died March 8, 1993 at age 79. A news article from the June 11, 1949 Rockford Register Republic regarding one of the brothels supports the sources’ assertion.

Paul Cicero did not respond to a question left at his office with his receptionist regarding why he believed the county chose him as their attorney. The receptionist said jail lawsuit questions are normally answered by the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s office.

Thanks to Jeff Havens. Mr. Havens is a former staff writer and award-winning reporter for The Rock River Times, a weekly newspaper in Rockford, Ill.

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