The Chicago Syndicate: Mob figure dies, taking 'a lot of secrets' with him!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Mob figure dies, taking 'a lot of secrets' with him!

Friends of ours: Chris Petti, Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, Frank "The Bomp" Bompensiero, Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno, Bonanno Crime Family

San Diego mob figure Chris Petti, whose attempts to earn money for the Chicago mob ultimately led to convictions of several underworld bosses as well as financier Richard Silberman, has died, the FBI confirmed yesterday. A close associate of slain Las Vegas rackets boss Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, Petti had lived in Chula Vista and reportedly had been in poor health.

Born Christopher George Poulos in Cicero, Ill., Petti died on New Year's Eve, according to an obituary notice published Friday. He was 78. Petti was long regarded as a low-level hood - a law enforcement official once suggested his lack of respect made him the Rodney Dangerfield of the mob - but his expletive-laced phone conversations, picked up in FBI recordings, led to major federal convictions here.

According to the FBI, Petti sought to fill the void created by the 1986 murder of Spilotro, who was beaten to death, along with younger brother, Michael, and buried in an Indiana cornfield. Petti was in frequent contact with Spilotro's bosses in Chicago and was directed to collect money still on Spilotro's books and to scout out earning opportunities.

According to court records, his extortions included threats to chop off one man's legs; in another, he told a victim that he owed the mob $87,000 and needed to come under Petti's wing. "When you eat alone, sometimes you choke," Petti threateningly told the man, according to court records.

One potentially major venture caught his bosses' attention: a scheme to infiltrate a casino planned in North County by the Rincon tribe.

During that late 1980s investigation, Silberman unexpectedly showed up in FBI surveillance, plotting with Petti and an undercover FBI agent to launder hundreds of thousands of dollars. Silberman had been a top aide to former Gov. Edmund G. "Jerry" Brown Jr. and was married to then-county Supervisor Susan Golding. Silberman was convicted in 1990 and sent to prison. He and Golding divorced, and she went on to serve two terms as San Diego mayor.

With the Silberman trial out of the way, federal prosecutors returned to the Rincon case. Top leaders of the Chicago mob were indicted in 1992; two were convicted the next year and sentenced to three years in prison. Petti pleaded guilty that year in a deal calling for 9½ years in prison but no requirement to testify against his bosses. When U.S. District Judge William B. Enright asked if Petti was indeed guilty, he at first replied: "I guess so." Petti gave a firmer answer when pressed by the judge. He also served a concurrent term in prison for a Las Vegas federal drug offense.

Petti's lawyer in the San Diego case was famed criminal-defense attorney Oscar Goodman, known for his defense of mobsters such as Spilotro. Today, he is mayor of Las Vegas. The prosecutor was Carol Lam, now U.S. attorney for San Diego and Imperial counties.

Retired FBI agent Charlie Walker, who had tracked Petti for years, said the Rincon case revealed Petti's ambitions. "A lot of law enforcement thought he was a two-bit punk, that he didn't have any connections, but he did," Walker said yesterday. Walker said he gained "a bit of grudging respect" for Petti for his refusal to turn informant. "You hate to say you respect anyone (in the mob)," said Walker, "but the one thing about Chris . . . when we arrested him, he had plenty of opportunities to cooperate, if he wanted to, but he steadfastly refused. "He went to his grave with a lot of secrets. I would have loved to have talked to him," said Walker, now assistant federal security director for the San Diego branch of the Transportation Security Administration. No doubt it would have been an interesting story.

Petti was listed in Nevada's "black book" of people - many of them mob figures - banned from Silver State casinos. In a confidential, 1975 intelligence report, the California Department of Justice listed Petti as a "close associate" of San Diego mob boss Frank "The Bomp" Bompensiero, who would be gunned down, gangland-style, in 1977 while walking to his home in Pacific Beach from a nearby pay phone. It was later learned that Bompensiero had been an FBI informant.

Infamous mob turncoat Aladena "Jimmy the Weasel" Fratianno claimed during San Diego federal court testimony in 1982 that Petti and Spilotro had plotted to kill him. Fratianno, who collaborated on an autobiography titled, "The Last Mafioso," went on to earn millions of dollars testifying against Mafia figures. He died in 1993.

Petti co-founded P&T Construction in the 1970s; at one time the company was believed to be involved in aluminum-siding schemes involving Bonanno crime-family figures. He had multiple arrests - for theft, extortion, gambling and other crimes - but few convictions. Among them: a 1970s conviction for a baseball-bat assault in La Jolla.

Thanks to Philip J. LaVelle

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