Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Winnebago County State’s Attorney the Office of Illinois Attorney General Fold on Card Game Robbery

Citing conflicts of interest, Winnebago County State’s Attorney Phil Nicolosi (R) and the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (D) have opted out of prosecuting a case stemming from an incident last month that led to the death by police shooting of 80-year-old Vaughn “Curly” Fitzgerald. The recusals mean the case will be handled by a special prosecutor.

Responding to a report of an armed robbery in progress the night of Oct. 16, officers witnessed masked gunmen fleeing the scene at 3307 Kishwaukee St. One suspect, Byron Starks, surrendered to police. As Starks lay prone before being taken into custody, officers say Fitzgerald shot him with a rifle. Fitzgerald, the hearing-impaired property owner, did not drop his gun when so ordered by police. When the barrel of his rifle reportedly swung toward officers, police opened fire, killing Fitzgerald.

Starks is charged with armed robbery and unlawful use of a weapon by a felon. A second suspect in the robbery, Dustin Frint, was later arrested and charged with armed robbery Oct. 26. Because the incident led to Fitzgerald’s death, charges could be upgraded to murder.

A grand jury ruled Oct. 31 officers acted appropriately in exercising deadly force. Although the grand jury case was presented by the state’s attorney’s office, Nicolosi has recused himself from prosecution of any crimes that may have taken place within the establishment at 3307 Kishwaukee St.

Nicolosi has indicated people attending the card game are clients of his former law firm, Nicolosi & Associates. Nicolosi practiced with the firm until his appointment to state’s attorney this summer.

“Just like a judge would do in any case where he felt inappropriate to hear a case, he would recuse himself,” Nicolosi said, “and I would do the same.”

Neither Nicolosi nor Police Chief Chet Epperson are willing to say who was at the card game, or who was running away when police arrived, citing an ongoing investigation, but Epperson indicated gambling charges are likely to be filed. Epperson reported the FBI was called to the scene in the early hours of Oct. 17 because some of the card game attendees were deemed people of interest.

Fitzgerald was known to frequently host card games. He was charged with keeping a place of gambling, but the case was dismissed in 2004 because police could not present video evidence, which was part of a separate ongoing joint investigation with the FBI. As a result of that investigation, nine local men were sentenced this year after entering guilty pleas to charges related to an illegal sports betting ring.

In the case against Fitzgerald, Rockford Police Detective Jeffrey Stovall’s sworn affidavit indicated the illegal card games were part of a gambling ring known as the “Soccer Club.”

Stovall’s report states his source identified brothers Salvatore “Sam” Galluzzo and Natale Galluzzo as the Soccer Club’s kingpins. The local daily identified Salvatore Galluzzo as an alleged Mob soldier in 1984. Surveillance photos of Galluzzo with “Fat Frank” G. “Gumba” Saladino were exhibits in this summer’s Family Secrets organized crime trial in Chicago. Prosecutors of that case say Saladino, who was found dead of natural causes in 2005, was involved in five of the 18 murders investigated in Operation Family Secrets. Saladino was also posthumously named a co-conspirator in the local sports betting operation.

Epperson would not say whether the Oct. 16 card game is believed to have been related to the Soccer Club.

Sources tell The Rock River Times a number of high-profile people, including law enforcement figures, were at the game. Epperson would not confirm or deny the allegation.

“All that information,” the chief said, “will become public, either with arrests or with our information going forward.”

Galluzzo is the father of attorney Gino Galluzzo, a partner at Nicolosi & Associates. The firm represents the municipalities of Loves Park and Rockton. Galluzzo and fellow partner Paul Nicolosi, brother of the state’s attorney, also sit atop The Buckley Companies, LLC’s hierarchy.

Jeff Havens reported in the Nov. 2-8, 2005, issue Paul Nicolosi is a past business associate of brothers Salvatore and Natale Galluzzo.

Before the state’s attorney had even received a list of who was at the game, Nicolosi told The Rock River Times he’d refer the case to the attorney general’s office if it turned out he had any association with persons present.

Robyn Zeigler, spokesman for the Illinois attorney general, told The Rock River Times Madigan’s office also has a conflict of interest because one of the people involved is a witness in an unrelated case her office is prosecuting.

The matter will now be in the hands of a special prosecutor from the Illinois Office of the State’s Attorneys Appellate Prosecutor. According to the agency’s Web site: “If a conflict of interest arises in a State’s Attorney’s office, and the State’s Attorney wants an independent, detached review and prosecution by an outside person, or if special assistance is needed due to the complexity of a case, the Agency makes the services of the Special Prosecution Unit available.”

Thanks to Stuart R. Wahlin

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