Friday, January 29, 2010

Rudy Fratto Says that Not Paying Taxes for 7 Years Was Just a Mistake

Rudy Fratto, reputed top lieutenant in the Chicago Outfit, proudly told me just before his sentencing on Wednesday that he'd never before been convicted of a crime.

Given all the attention the FBI has paid to him over the years—plus the fear he inspires in wiseguys when they spot him in their rear-view mirrors and the silence at the mention of his name—that's surprising.

"Before this, no convictions. Not federal. Not state," said Fratto, 66, whose lucky streak ended when he pleaded guilty to evading federal income tax payments for seven years. "They make me out to be some bad guy. But really, John, I'm not that bad. I'm just a good guy who made a mistake."

Fratto's "mistake" was avoiding federal income taxes by funneling cash into a defunct trucking company until he got caught.

He didn't dress like some flashy HBO gangster. He wore a beige suit, dark tie, gray hair combed forward, glasses. He looked like a tired clerk.

Fratto's attorney, the esteemed criminal defense counsel Art Nasser, looked more the part. Art's big head of gleaming gray hair, the sharp blue suit, the tan, the white teeth, the sarcasm in the eyes. Nasser could wear a camel-hair coat draped over his shoulders, without putting his arms through, and get away with it.

In court, U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly sat through the tears and the familial pleas for mercy. He saw the truly heartbreaking sight of Fratto's sobbing teen-age sons begging to keep their dad out of prison. The boys, one in high school, one in college, used their neckties to dry their tears.

Then Fratto's wife, Kim, dressed in black, slowly hobbled up to the bench, gripping a walker. She sobbed that if Rudy went away, she'd lose the house and they'd be destitute. "And I've got two broken feet, judge, and now I'm going blind!" cried Kim, startling everyone in the courtroom.

Then Fratto spoke to the judge, admitted his crime, asked for mercy, and said, yes, indeed, his wife was going blind. "Yes, your honor, she told the doctor that she wanted to see the ocean, and he said she probably wouldn't see the ocean, or the beach, or whatever," Fratto said.

Kennelly announced he was forced to impose a prison sentence, rather than send a bad message to faithful taxpayers. "A year and a day," Kennelly said.

"A year and a day?" asked Nasser, who tried to stop a smile, but then his lips broke free of his teeth and there it was. "A year and a day, judge, means he'll be able to get to a halfway house in a few …"

Kennelly cut him off. "I'm not interested in that," the judge said brusquely. "That's up for the Bureau of Prisons to decide."

In federal court, a sentence of one year would have been worse than a year and a day. That's because federal sentencing guidelines mandate that if a sentence is one year or less, the defendant must serve every day of the time. But anything over a year and the defendant serves about 85 percent. But not all of it in prison. Fratto will do a few months, perhaps at the Club Fed in Oxford, Wis., where corrupt politicians will know who he is.

Chances are they've even nodded at him, respectfully, from across some steakhouse floor.

After a few months, Fratto will be moved to a federal halfway house in Chicago, sleeping there at night, spending his day working or whatever. Currently, Fratto is employed as a "technical consultant for the electronic entertainment industry," Nasser said.

Don't you love it? It sounds like a great trade once legalized video poker comes to Rush Street.

Not a word was mentioned in court about Fratto's reputed ties to organized crime, or his relationship with restaurant and nightclub owners. But some close to Fratto worry about other criminal investigations.

Before entering court, Fratto confronted Joe Fosco, a blogger son of a late Teamsters union official who has filed a civil suit against Fratto alleging that he'd been threatened. In the hallway, Fosco said Fratto had taken him for a ride through Melrose Park, and pointed at a sign for D&P Construction—controlled by the brother of Outfit boss John "No Nose" DiFronzo—while implying that DiFronzo wasn't happy with Fosco.

"It's all lies!" Fratto said, rounding on Fosco. "Get out of here, liar! You pervert! I'm not going into court if he's going in."

After the sentencing, the Fratto women, their tears dried by the court's mercy, confronted Fosco in the hallway. One of the women who'd just finished pleading for compassion and forgiveness showered Fosco with earthy insults.

"This is all a (expletive) joke," Rudy Fratto said, walking away.

That may be. He insists he's just a good guy who made one mistake, even if it happened seven years in a row.

Still, there's no mistaking the notion that federal investigators aren't finished with Fratto.

Thanks to John Kass

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