The Chicago Syndicate: Dominick "Tootsie" Palermo, Reputed ex-Mob Leader for South Suburbs Dies
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Dominick "Tootsie" Palermo, Reputed ex-Mob Leader for South Suburbs Dies

Dominick "Tootsie" Palermo, the reputed organized crime boss of the south suburbs until his 1991 conviction for extorting protection money from northwest Indiana bookmakers, has died in a federal prison hospital. The former resident of South Holland and Orland Park was 88.

Palermo, who also was suspected of having a role in the 1986 murders of crime syndicate figure Anthony Spilotro and his brother, Michael Spilotro, died Friday in the Federal Prison Medical Center in Rochester, Minn., a spokesman said Tuesday. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Palermo and five members of his reputed crime family were convicted Aug. 16, 1991 by a federal jury in Hammond of racketeering charges arising from a scheme to extort protection money from vice and gambling operators in northwest Indiana. He was sentenced in 1992 to 32 years and 3 months in prison and fined $250,000. Palermo was due to be released from prison Aug. 10, the medical center spokesman said.

John Hoehner, the U.S. attorney in Hammond at the time, predicted Palermo's conviction would have "a substantial impact on organized crime in northwest Indiana."

In fact, syndicate crime has diminished considerably in the region south and southeast of Chicago, federal authorities and organized-crime observers said. But the reduction, they said, probably has more to do with changes in society than with the imprisonment of many people who had controlled vice in the area,

"The world has changed from the 1950s and 1960s when organized crime still thrived," said John Binder, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who wrote "The Chicago Outfit (IL) (Images of America)," a book detailing the history of the crime syndicate.

"Gambling, which was the lifeblood of the mob's operations in the south suburbs, has been legalized as a result of the riverboat casinos," Binder said. "Furthermore, people have become a lot more knowledgeable about organized crime. Consequently, they no longer put up with mobsters infiltrating local labor unions or operating in their communities the way they used to."

Not much was known publicly about Palermo's activities until his trial and sentencing. "The guys that controlled the south suburbs kept a low profile because they had everything locked up in their neck of the woods," Binder said.

Federal authorities said Palermo, who worked as a Laborers International Union field representative, became the reputed head of the south suburban mob after former rackets boss Albert Tocco, a one-time Chicago Heights sausage-maker, was convicted in 1989 of ruling a crime family through acts of murder and extortion.

Attorney Kevin Milner, who represented Palermo during his 1991 trial, remembered his client Tuesday as "a grandfatherly type of guy, soft-spoken and friendly." But prosecutors saw Palermo, then in his 70s, as something else, describing him as a "top mob capo" who, along with his underlings, employed terror tactics, including threats of bodily harm and arson, to collect "street taxes," or protection money, from vice and illegal gambling operators.

At Palermo's trial, 11 people testified that they paid the money rather than risk harm to themselves, their families or their businesses. And two FBI agents who developed evidence against Palermo's shakedown operation testified that they secretly recorded the group regularly counting extortion money in a Calumet City restaurant.

Among those convicted with Palermo in 1991 was Nick Guzzino of Chicago Heights, whom the FBI identified as Palermo's underboss in the south suburbs. Guzzino, who was 50 when he was convicted, was sentenced to 39 years and 6 months in prison and fined $185,000.

Guzzino, Palermo and Tocco, who is serving a 200-year prison term, were suspected of taking part in the Spilotro murders after Tocco's estranged wife, Betty, testified in 1989 that her husband told her that he and the other two were involved.

At the time of their deaths in 1986, Anthony Spilotro, 48, was the reputed overseer of the Chicago mob's Las Vegas gambling operations and was awaiting trial on racketeering charges in Nevada. His brother, Michael, 41, was under indictment in Chicago on federal extortion charges. Their bodies were unearthed in a Newton County, Ind., cornfield.

The murders remain unsolved.

Thanks to Stanley Ziemba


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