Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Convicted Mob Bookie, Carl Dote, Obtains Liquor License for His Restaurants Despite Felony Record

When convicted mob bookmaker Carl Dote was interviewed on the popular WTTW-Channel 11 show "Check, Please!" about Danny's, the restaurant he runs in Melrose Park, there were a few things he made clear:

  • The Italian food there -- with specialties like neckbones and tripe and fried meatball sandwiches -- is delicious.
  • The price is right.
  • And Dote owns the place.

"I'm the owner," Dote said in the unedited version of the interview, adding that his wife, Paula, was the co-owner.

Then, when he and his wife opened a second Italian restaurant, called Cuzzin's, in Des Plaines, city officials welcomed the Dotes, calling them "co-owners." But when it came to the forms needed to get a liquor license, Dote -- a twice-convicted felon for illegal gambling -- isn't listed as owner. In fact, his name is nowhere to be found.

Felons typically can't obtain a liquor license. But officials in Melrose Park and in Des Plaines, which hopes to be home to a new casino, don't appear to be overly troubled.

"Quite honestly, if you're asking me if it bothers me, it doesn't," says Melrose Park Mayor Ron Serpico.

It does bother James Wagner, a retired FBI supervisor who's an authority on organized crime.

"I cannot believe they are giving these people liquor licenses," says Wagner, who was the case agent overseeing a 1994 case involving Dote, his brother Anthony, Elmwood Park crew leader Marco Damico and the crew's multimillion-dollar gambling operation.

The Illinois Liquor Control Commission, when informed of the "Check, Please!" interview, said it would open an investigation.

The issue of who can get a liquor license in Illinois is expected to be in the forefront in coming months, as state regulators craft rules on now-legalized video poker. Establishments with liquor licenses are eligible for the lucrative machines. Law enforcement officials say the state needs to hire enough investigators to look into whether what the paperwork says is actually true.

Dote, 61, shakes his head when asked about the possibility of video poker machines at the two restaurants. "No, no, no," he says.

Dote says he has nothing to do any more with bookmaking or any sort of gambling, much less with organized crime, after being convicted in a 2000 bookmaking case and sentenced to more than two years in prison. Dote was a fairly low-level player in both federal cases he was charged in, records show.

"That was the end of my career," Dote says of his 2000 arrest. "When people try to bring up my past, I resent it."

As for the restaurants, he says, "I am perceived as the owner of both of the restaurants. I know I am."

But he says he's not, that he's just the guy who promotes the business, buys the food and chats up the customers.

Restaurant owner? "I can't even scramble eggs," says Dote, who leaves the cooking to his wife, whose work at Danny's prompted Chicago Sun-Times restaurant critic Pat Bruno to rave in a 2008 review: "If I could, I would eat at Danny's . . . four times a week."

So if he's not the owner, how come he went on TV and said he is?

Dote says he might say he's the owner because "it's easier" when he's promoting the place.

"People don't want to deal with managers," he says. "They want to deal with the owner."

In Melrose Park, the name on the liquor license for the restaurant is Linda Scavo, who's married to the suburb's retired police chief, Vito Scavo. Last month, Vito Scavo was sentenced to six years in prison for muscling local businesses, including the now-closed Kiddieland, to hire his private security business.

Dote says it's actually the Scavos who own the place, even though Dote said in the "Check, Please!" interview with his wife: "You know, we decided, when we bought Danny's a couple years ago, that we were going to keep prices very reasonable."

In Des Plaines, the name on the liquor license is that of Dote's wife, Paula. He says she's the sole owner.

Dote acknowledges he signed the lease for Cuzzin's and also a personal guaranty on the place. But he says he did so at the request of the building's owner.

Des Plaines Mayor Marty Moylan says "proper procedures" were followed in granting the liquor license. But the city forwarded a recent citizen's complaint about the process to the Illinois attorney general's office, Moylan says.

In Melrose Park, the mayor says Dote's name isn't on the liquor license, so there's no problem.

Besides, Serpico says, "If Jan Schakowsky's husband got a second chance, Carl Dote deserves a second chance," referring to the Evanston congresswoman whose husband, Robert Creamer, pleaded guilty in 2006 to check kiting.

"I guess, at the end of the day, Carl will be judged on how good his food is," says Serpico.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

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