The Chicago Syndicate: Courtroom Tapes of Mob Boss Claim Cook County Undersherriff Accepted Payoffs to Protect Chicago Outfit

Sunday, February 11, 1990

Courtroom Tapes of Mob Boss Claim Cook County Undersherriff Accepted Payoffs to Protect Chicago Outfit

Three years after Cook County Republicans were giddily riding an unprecedented wave of popularity and political opportunity generated by President Ronald Reagan and an ex-cop named James O`Grady, the whole movement has spectacularly collapsed.

The Cook County sheriff, once the toast of the White House, a popular politician who happily fended off talk of a future in the mayor`s office or the governor`s mansion, faces the growing likelihood that his political career might be near an end.

The latest and most significant blow came on Friday when federal prosecutors in a court hearing played a tape of a reputed Chicago mob leader`s allegations that O`Grady`s former undersheriff, James Dvorak, chairman of the Cook County GOP, was taking payoffs to protect organized crime activities from the law.

The allegations are the unsubstantiated talk of a crime syndicate figure, and political leaders quickly rallied in support of O`Grady. But they hit him at a time that his political star has already been tarnished by previous incidents that raised questions about corruption in his office and political meddling by Dvorak.

Republican leaders, including Gov. James Thompson and Secretary of State Jim Edgar, remained publicly loyal to O`Grady. They suggested that the allegations by reputed gambling boss Ernest Rocco Infelice weren`t true, but should be investigated.

Sources close to O`Grady said that the allegations haven`t shaken the sheriff`s resolve to seek re-election. O`Grady huddled with advisers Friday afternoon-Dvorak was noticeably absent-and the subject of stepping down reportedly never was broached. But O`Grady allies anticipate that the allegations might force the sheriff to finally cut his ties to Dvorak, a longtime friend and business partner. They anticipate that Dvorak, who resigned only recently as undersheriff, would have to step down as party chairman, at least while an investigation of the matter is pending.

Even at that, some of O`Grady`s friends despaired that the unconfirmed allegations have killed his political fortunes. ''This is the final nail in the coffin,'' one O`Grady loyalist said.

As recently as six months ago, O`Grady was still the brightest light in local GOP politics. Although his political apparatus, led by Dvorak, had suffered a string of campaign losses after O`Grady`s election in 1986, he was still considered a strong favorite to win a second term. But O`Grady has spent the last few months fending off charges of corruption and political interference in his office that many local Republicans say have undermined his popularity. For O`Grady, the deluge seemed to be over, and the time to start repairing the damage had arrived. Then came Rocco Infelice.

The recording of Infelice`s remarks was played by government prosecutors as they sought to convince a federal magistrate that their racketeering case against him and four others is so strong that they should not be freed on bond.

The five co-defendants are among 20 people who were indicted Wednesday on charges they used murder, extortion and bribery to build bookmaking and casino-style gambling operations in the Chicago area.

In the tape, Infelice told William Jahoda, a bookmaker working as a federal informant, that his organization paid $35,000-a-month to law enforcement officials and imprisoned mobsters.

''Between you and I, 10 goes to the sheriff,'' Infelice told Jahoda.

''Yeah, with the Bohemian?'' Jahoda replied, in what a federal agent testified was a reference to Dvorak.

''Yeah,'' Infelice responded, ''five goes to another guy.''

Later in the discussion, Jahoda said, ''I got no right to ask you the question, what . . . do you get for 10 thousand a month.''

Infelice replied: ''Sheriff never bothers us, then we got a guy at the state`s attorney`s office. We got another guy downtown.''

Later on the tape, Infelice suggested that Chicago Police Supt. LeRoy Martin would consider transferring officers out of the vice crimes unit at his request and that organized crime figures aided the mayoral campaign of Richard M. Daley by scuttling former Ald. Edward R. Vrdolyak`s mayoral campaign in 1989.

O`Grady, Daley, Dvorak and Martin each flatly denied that Infelice had any influence in their agencies. O`Grady called on Chief Judge Harry Comerford to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the charges. ''I am troubled and incensed by the allegations spread so broadly from the mayor`s office to the office of the superintendent of police and from the sheriff of Cook County to the state`s attorney of Cook County and all the way over to the federal building,'' O`Grady said. ''I take these allegations seriously because they definitely undermine the confidence of the people of this county and the confidence they should have and expect in their government officials.''

Dvorak, at a separate press conference, said: ''I have made countless arrests of major gambling operations, major call girl operations and prostitution and obscene matter investigations. There has never been a hint of impropriety in my 25-year work record as a Chicago police officer or as undersheriff.''

Gov. James Thompson, who launched his political career by investigating official corruption as U.S. attorney, also called for an investigation. ''To rock my faith in O`Grady`s office, it would have to also rock my faith in LeRoy Martin and Rich Daley, and I certainly don`t believe that about the three of them,'' Thompson said.

There has long been speculation about how pervasive the influence of organized crime is in the Democratic organization that has long ruled Chicago politics. Mayor Richard J. Daley, the present mayor`s father, once told reporters that his own telephones were tapped, although he suggested the eavesdroppers would only hear his conversations with his children and grandchildren.

And talk of the mob`s demise has surfaced almost routinely. It`s been nearly 20 years since Justice Department officials claimed that the mob had been nearly snuffed out in Chicago. And Richard J. Daley, as well, claimed the mob was dead, at least within the city limits. ''It isn`t here anymore,'' he said in 1976. ''It`s all out in the suburbs.''

Of course, it wasn`t gone from the city, and, in recent years, organized crime has publicly surfaced in political waters like the tell-tale fin of a predator.

The 1987 campaign for mayor was rocked by allegations that Vrdolyak had met with the late mob chief Joseph Ferriola, a charge that brought an angry denunciation from Vrdolyak.

In the tapes revealed Friday, Infelice says that Vrdolyak had ''good taste'' in his 1987 campaign, but when he ran again in 1989, Infelice boasted, the mob shut down his political fortunes by forcing a major contributor to abandon him.

For weeks, attention has been drawn to a federal investigation of corruption that has focused on several Democratic political figures, including Ald. Fred Roti (1st).

Ironically, after years of Democratic domination of Chicago politics-and corruption investigations spurred by Republican-appointed prosecutors-the most sensational charges are now leveled at two Republicans.

Although the Infelice tape also raises the names of Mayor Daley and Martin, suggesting that crime figures boosted Daley`s election chances and had a conduit to Martin, neither has been in the position of having to fend off such allegations in the past, as O`Grady has.

The immediate reaction from O`Grady`s political adversaries within his own party was that, at the least, Dvorak would have to resign. Some believe O`Grady, too, won`t survive until the November general election.

''The talk in the party right now is we need a couple of replacements,'' said Donald Totten, the former county GOP chairman who was ousted by Dvorak.

''The decision on a chairman is probably going to have to come from Jim Edgar.''

Edgar, a Republican candidate for governor, said through a spokesman that the allegations should ''be thoroughly investigated and resolved quickly, because there is nothing more important for a public official or party leader than to maintain their integrity and the public trust.''

Although O`Grady`s adversaries might consider pressing for him to step aside, the political reality is that the party almost certainly couldn`t elect anybody else as Cook County sheriff. O`Grady was the first Republican to win a countywide office in a decade, and he narrowly won in 1986 largely because Democratic Sheriff Richard Elrod was dogged by repeated instances of corruption in his department.

But several allies of O`Grady noted that his consultations with top aides Friday afternoon did not include Dvorak, and some speculated that the sheriff wants to put even more distance between himself and the party chairman, who has been the focus of charges that he has heavily politicized the sheriff`s office.

Republican leaders quickly floated three possible replacements for Dvorak as party chairman: Totten, 42nd Ward Committeeman Ron Gidwitz, and Northfield Township Committeeman Richard Siebel. But after the weeks of political battering that O`Grady and county Republicans have taken, culminating with the Infelice tapes, it`s not clear that anyone will be clamoring for the job.

Thanks to R. Bruce Dold.


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