Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Timeline: key figures, dates in 2000 Winnebago County jail lawsuit

The following are key events in the ongoing alleged jail overcrowding lawsuit in Winnebago County:

1976

* Winnebago County jail on State Street opens with 394 beds.

1989

* Timothy Chatmon imprisoned on alleged murder charges that were ultimately dropped years later. He currently awaits pardon from governor on the charge.

1993

* Voters reject proposed property tax increase to pay for 300-bed addition to existing jail.

1994

* Chatmon said attorney John F. Heckinger Jr. approached him to be a plaintiff in an alleged jail overcrowding lawsuit with inmate James Thomas.

* Heckinger files a similar lawsuit in nearby Stephenson County.

1995

* State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34, Rockford) sponsors a bill that would allow certain counties to impose a sales tax for “public safety purposes.” In effect, the bill would switch funding sources for changes to the jail from property taxes to sales taxes.

* Winnebago County Board Chairman Gene Quinn (R) testifies in Springfield in support of Syverson’s bill.

* Chatmon is released from jail in February on appeals bond, only to be re-imprisoned about four months later by local officials on disputed drug and weapon charges.

1996

* Syverson’s bill becomes Illinois law.

1997

* Winnebao County agrees to settle first jail lawsuit, which includes a three-year moratorium on jail lawsuits. Chatmon said he received nothing from the settlement.

2000

* Jail lawsuit moratorium expires, and soon after a new jail lawsuit is filed in March.

* Chatmon said Heckinger asked him in March to be a plaintiff in a second alleged jail overcrowding lawsuit. Chatmon said the lawsuit was supposed to be about unsanitary conditions in the jail, but it devolved into a lawsuit about building a large, new jail.

* Chatmon earns parole, and is released from prison in December. He and his wife move to Texas after his release about one year later.

2001

* Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli chooses private practice attorney Paul R. Cicero to represent the county’s interests in the jail lawsuit.

* Chatmon’s son, Timothy C. Chatmon Jr., is jailed on robbery and weapons charges.

* Chatmon’s son is added as a plaintiff to the jail lawsuit because “there was a threat that the suit would be thrown out because I was out of jail,” Chatmon said.

2002

* Voters approve referendum for county-wide, one percentage-point, sales tax increase to be used for “public safety purposes.” The referendum campaign capitalized on citizen fears of criminals being released into the community, due to lack of jail beds.

2003

* Heckinger is charged by the state with unauthorized use of his clients’ money “for his own business or personal purposes,” and commingling one of his client’s funds.

* Winnebago County sales tax increases from 6.25 to 7.25 percent to pay for new jail and other public safety programs.

County agrees in federal court to build new jail.

* Winnebago County Board approves paying Chatmon’s attorneys $152,707.

2004

* Chatmon files a motion to “nullify” the agreement that stipulated building the jail. He begins search for new legal representation. Chatmon said he was not aware and did not approve of the agreement to build the new jail.

* Chatmon’s motion is denied by Federal District Court Judge Philip G. Reinhard on grounds his petition was untimely.

Heckinger has his law license suspended for 60 days.

* Chatmon received a letter from Heckinger that said the issue of compensation “will be” addressed “in 2007 or later.”

* County begins buying property and destroying structures to make way for the 80-foot high, 588,000 square-foot facility.

* Construction work begins to build the 1,212-bed jail.

2006

*Chatmon’s attorneys file a motion to drop his personal claims, but want to continue to represent the “classes” in the lawsuit. The court grants Heckinger’s request to drop Chatmon’s personal claims from the lawsuit in early 2007.

2007

* New jail opens

* Heckinger and his lawsuit partner, Attorney Thomas E. Greenwald, seek an additional $185,711 to the $152,707 they have already been paid from Winnebago County taxpayers for a total of $343, 418.

* Meanwhile, Cicero’s private law firm Cicero and France, P. C., have already been paid $356,865 from 2001 to 2007 for their legal services.

* Chatmon continues his quest for compensation for his personal claims in court. However, he is forced into representing himself without an attorney, and prospects for compensation appear dim.

Thanks to Jeff Havens. Mr Havens is a former staff writer and award-winning reporter for The Rock River Times, a weekly newspaper in Rockford, Ill.

Chicago-Style Clout in Winnebago County?

Attorneys representing Winnebago County’s interests in the nearly concluded federal jail lawsuit have already been paid $356,865 for legal services by the county from 2001 to 2007.

Attorney Paul R. Cicero of Cicero and France, P.C., also represented the county during Winnebago County’s first jail lawsuit, which spanned from 1994 to 1997. Figures regarding how much the firm was paid for the first jail lawsuit were not available at time of publication.

According to a source familiar with the selection process, Cicero was chosen to represent the county in the current jail lawsuit because of their “expertise,” and due to a lack of adequate staffing, time and resources in the county’s civil litigation division. The source wished to remain anonymous, due to their present occupation.

The source also said no county officials examined Cicero and France’s invoices before payment was made to verify the accuracy of the billings.

Clout counts?

In addition to expertise and lack of staff, clout may have also been a factor in the selection of Cicero as the county’s attorney in the two jail lawsuits.

According to the FBI file for Mob advisor Joseph Zito, Zito likely had interests in restaurant and bar known as the Playroom Lounge at 206 N. Church St. Cicero’s father, Mathew P. Cicero, who was also an attorney, was vice president and secretary of YDZ Corporation, which operated the Play Room.

Zito died in 1981. His funeral was attended by Chicago Mob boss Joseph Aiuppa, who died in 1997.

A July 17, 1969 article in the Rockford Morning Star indicated, Mat Cicero represented Anthony F. Calcione “in legal battles to keep the Play Room open after [former Rockford Mayor Benjamin] Schleicher refused to re-issue the lounge’s city license...until it obtain[ed] a state license.” The article indicated that YDZ’s corporation office was listed as Mat Cicero’s law office.

A different source familiar with the Rockford Mob structure alleged Calcione was a Mob associate who once operated two brothels in the Rockford area in the 1940s. Calcione died March 8, 1993 at age 79. A news article from the June 11, 1949 Rockford Register Republic regarding one of the brothels supports the sources’ assertion.

Paul Cicero did not respond to a question left at his office with his receptionist regarding why he believed the county chose him as their attorney. The receptionist said jail lawsuit questions are normally answered by the Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s office.

Thanks to Jeff Havens. Mr. Havens is a former staff writer and award-winning reporter for The Rock River Times, a weekly newspaper in Rockford, Ill.

Jail Lawsuit Attorney Submits Suspect Invoice

Rockford, Ill. attorney bills taxpayers for call that never occurred—others impossible to independently verify

By Jeff Havens

As the nearly eight-year federal jail lawsuit comes to a close, scrutiny of attorney invoices raises serious questions for which taxpayers and government officials may want answers.

Specifically, one bill, on line 10 of invoice 4813, may be a window into questionable billing practices by attorney John F. Heckinger Jr.—lead attorney in the 2000 jail lawsuit, which resulted in a significant local sales tax hike and construction of a new $160 million jail.

As the nearly eight-year federal jail lawsuit comes to a close, scrutiny of attorney invoices raises serious questions for which taxpayers and government officials may want answers.

Specifically, one bill, on line 10 of invoice 4813, may be a window into questionable billing practices by attorney John F. Heckinger Jr.—lead attorney in the 2000 jail lawsuit, which resulted in a significant local sales tax hike and construction of a new $160 million jail.

Heckinger and his lawsuit partner, attorney Thomas E. Greenwald, seek an additional $185,711 to the $152,707 they have already been paid by Winnebago County. If granted by the federal court, Heckinger and Greenwald will have received at least $343,418 for this second of two jail lawsuits in the past 13 years (see timeline online at www.rockrivertimes.com).

Mysterious 36 minutes

The bill in question for 36 minutes in legal services regards an alleged Nov. 14, 2005, telephone call from The Rock River Times. Heckinger claimed the call concerned the Winnebago County Jail and other undisclosed issues. For that time, Heckinger has asked to be paid $90.

However, a thorough examination of files and interviews with this newspaper’s staff indicates no such call or contact was ever made on that date or dates soon after or before the alleged call.

Two days after the alleged call, The Rock River Times published an article Nov. 16, 2005, in which Heckinger’s name was mentioned. However, Heckinger’s comment was not needed for the article, since the story was about how county officials prioritized spending jail tax money.

Had Heckinger’s comment been needed, the newspaper would have documented the date the call was made, whether there was an interview, or whether a message was left requesting comment. But no such documentation exists with The Rock River Times.

In addition, the Nov. 16, 2005, article titled “Jail tax spending priorities questioned” would have indicated whether Heckinger’s comment was sought for the article, regardless of whether he was available for an interview.

Heckinger avoids interview

Up until Oct. 29, 2007, Heckinger had never returned messages left at his office for comment about articles published during the past several years. Heckinger continued that trend for this article.

Despite numerous phone calls to Heckinger’s office and his receptionist’s indication that Heckinger wanted to interview, he was never available and never returned messages.

Lawsuit partner: 'I'm not going to comment'

When asked whether he examined all the invoices submitted in court, Greenwald responded that he had, and that he “totaled them up.”

However, he had no comment regarding invoices Heckinger submitted for payment. “I’m not going to comment on any invoices [submitted by] attorney Heckinger,” Greenwald said. “You would have to speak with him regarding that. ... I’m not going to comment on anything on his bills.”

Vague billing

When compared to Greenwald’s description of billings, Heckinger’s invoices are non-descript and impossible to verify without directly contacting Heckinger.

For example, for Nov. 1, 2005, Heckinger wrote: “Prep for settlement confer re. jail population issues.”

For the same day, Greenwald wrote: “Settlement conference; preparation for settlement conference, including review of jail population reports; conference with J.F. Heckinger.”

In another example, for Nov. 9, 2005, Heckinger wrote: “Letter from media and inmates re. overcrowding.”

There is no indication as to what news organization or inmates supposedly sent the letter.

In a similar bill regarding a letter, Greenwald wrote for March 15, 2004: “Review letter of Paul Cicero regarding accelerated program; memo to file.”

Plaintiff outraged

In addition to Heckinger submitting a bill allegedly regarding The Rock River Times, Greenwald, too, is seeking a similar payment for reading an article published earlier this year.

Greenwald is billing taxpayers $141 for the one hour he read an article Feb. 7, 2007, concerning Timothy Chatmon—lead plaintiff in the class-action lawsuit. The article, “Jail lawsuit plaintiff likely to receive nothing,” was published the same day Greenwald billed taxpayers.

Chatmon expressed outrage at the prospect of Heckinger and Greenwald receiving more money in a recent court filing. In the 12-page motion filed Oct. 19, Chatmon accused the court of abandoning its responsibility in the matter, racism, and for the federal court in Rockford to “recuse itself” from approving further payments to attorneys connected to the lawsuit.

Chatmon said the lawsuit was never about alleged jail overcrowding, as his attorneys asserted. Chatmon said the primary purpose of the lawsuit was to address adverse public health conditions in the facility—something he said could have, and should have, been easily addressed without constructing a new jail.

According to Chatmon, the primary issue he wished to address in the lawsuit included multiple use of shaving razors and toothbrushes by different inmates. The razors and toothbrushes were allegedly provided by jail staff.

If this were a routine practice, as Chatmon stated in his June 17, 2002, court deposition, the action could have transmitted disease-causing viruses and bacteria from one infected inmate to non-infected inmates—diseases such as hepatitis C, which Chatmon believes he contracted in jail. Chatmon’s alleged acquisition of hepatitis C while in jail is the basis for his personal claim that was once part of the lawsuit. But Chatmon’s personal claim was dropped from the lawsuit earlier this year. This comes in spite of promises made by Heckinger in a 2004 letter in which Heckinger said the issue of compensation would be addressed after the case concluded “in 2007 or later.”

Chatmon said in 2004 he wasn’t aware, and would have never approved of the 2003 agreement that called for building the new 588,000-square-foot jail. Chatmon described the lawsuit as fraudulent and deceptive.

Law license suspended

Questionable law practices are not new to Heckinger. Some of those practices led to Heckinger’s law license suspension for 60 days in 2004.

Heckinger was charged by the state in 2003 with “unauthorized” use of his clients’ money “for his own business or personal purposes,” and commingling one of his clients’ funds.

The Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) charged Heckinger with five counts of alleged unauthorized use of his clients’ funds totaling $12,634.92 from 1996 to 1999.

Heckinger was also charged with one count of failure to separate his money from his clients’ funds, which totaled $199,044. ARDC’s complaint also alleged Heckinger “used the [$199,044] funds...for personal and business purposes which were both related and unrelated to Respondent’s practice of law.”

Link to Mob-connected business

Like Heckinger’s invoices and handling of clients’ money, similar questions can also be asked about two of Heckinger’s real estate transactions. In 2003, Heckinger purchased two properties from Buckley Partners, LLC. The properties housed state offices for the Illinois attorney general and University of Illinois.

Specifically, the Illinois attorney general’s office leased office space from Buckley that in 1999 listed an alleged Mob soldier as one of its three “members.”

Buckley leased the property at 7230 Argus Drive on Rockford’s east side to the state’s top law enforcement agency beginning in 1999. Buckley also leased property at 417 Ware Ave., to one of the state’s top education institutions, the University of Illinois, starting in 1998.

Both properties were owned by Buckley from at least 1999 to November 2003, when they were sold to Heckinger for $4.35 million.

According to a disclosure statement Buckley filed with the state in 1999, one of the “members” of Buckley Partners was Salvatore “Sam” G. Galluzzo, who was identified in 1984 as a “mob soldier” in a Rockford Register Star article. Galluzzo’s name and photo were also the subject of exhibits in the recent “Operation Family Secrets” Mafia trial in Chicago (see “Former Rockford Cop Testified at ‘Family Secrets’ Mob Trial”).

Thanks to Jeff Havens. Mr. Havens is a former staff writer and award-winning reporter for The Rock River Times, a weekly newspaper in Rockford, Ill.

No Visits from Wife Can't Stop Mafia Boss from Fathering Child While in Jail

A notorious Italian mafioso has fathered a child from behind bars despite being denied private visits from his wife.

Raffaele Cutolo's daughter was born after he won a legal battle to become a father through artificial insemination.

He married his wife, Immacolata, in jail in 1983. The couple never consummated their marriage.

Cutolo, a former head of Naples' Camorra Mafia, is serving several life sentences for multiple murders. In an interview with La Repubblica newspaper last year, the 64-year-old mafioso said: "I'll die in prison. My last wish is to give my wife a child."

Cutolo's lawyers spent six years arguing with the justice ministry for his right to have access to artificial insemination techniques.

His baby daughter was born on Tuesday at a hospital in Naples.

Cutolo's wife, 43, told La Repubblica she would keep her child away from the Camorra. "I want her to never even hear that word pronounced, because it is synonymous with pain for everybody," she said.

Cutolo's son from a previous marriage was shot dead, aged 25, in gang violence.

Thanks to BBC

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A Mafia Mistress' Tale Tales

Linda Schiro, the key prosecution witness in the startling murder trial of former FBI agent R. Lindley DeVecchio, took the stand Monday, and it was hard not to find her deadly story convincing.

In a soft voice and a strong South Brooklyn accent, Schiro, 62, nervously but soberly laid out how Lin DeVecchio had regularly visited the homes she shared in Bensonhurst with the love of her life, a swaggering Mafia soldier and secret government informant named Greg Scarpa Sr. On four of those visits, Schiro said, DeVecchio had provided Scarpa with the lethal information that her gangster lover then used to murder four people.

To hear Schiro tell it, there wasn’t much difference between the gangster and the FBI agent. “You know, you have to take care of this, she’s going to be a problem,” she quoted DeVecchio as saying prior to the 1984 murder of a beautiful girlfriend of a high-level member of Scarpa’s Colombo crime family who was allegedly talking to law enforcement.

She had the agent, a smirk on his face, talking the same way in 1987 about a drug-addled member of Scarpa’s crew. “You know,” Schiro said DeVecchio told Scarpa, “we gotta take care of this guy before he starts talking.” The crew member was soon dead as well.
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When Supreme Court Justice Gustin Reichbach called the first break of the day, reporters polled one another as to whether this crucial witness was believable. “If I was him,” said one old hand, pointing at the defendant, “I’d be getting on the A train right now, headed for JFK and a plane someplace far away. He’s dead.” A veteran reporter sitting next to him nodded in agreement.

The first time I heard Linda Schiro, she also sounded convincing.

That was 10 years ago, when Schiro sat down to talk with me and Jerry Capeci, then and now the city’s most knowledgeable organized-crime reporter. But the story she told us then is dramatically different from the one she has now sworn to as the truth.

Which puts us in no small bind.

The ground rules when we spoke to Schiro in 1997 were that the information she provided would only be used in a book—not in news articles. She also exacted a pledge that we would not attribute information directly to her. And in a cautious but not unreasonable demand for a woman who spent her life married to the mob, she required a promise—however difficult to enforce—that we not cooperate in any law-enforcement inquiries stemming from said book’s publication.

Sadly, no book ever emerged. The law-enforcement inquiries, however, did. They have taken on a life of their own, and it is Schiro, having shed her former concerns about confidentiality, who has now become the cooperator.

In the eight days of testimony before Schiro took the stand, a parade of mob cooperators and investigators testified about their suspicions concerning DeVecchio’s and Scarpa’s relationship. A trio of FBI agents said they believed that their colleague had steadily tilted in Scarpa’s favor, possibly passing crucial information to him. But suspicion is all anyone offered. Not a single witness, prior to Schiro, was able to put the former agent in any of the four murders for which he was indicted more than a year ago. That’s Schiro’s task. The D.A.’s case appears to rest on her.

If convicted, DeVecchio, 67, faces life in prison.

Those are the kind of high stakes that take precedence over contracts and vows of confidence, no matter how important they may be to the business of reporting, and regardless of how distasteful it may be to violate them. The threat of a life sentence trumps a promise.

Lin DeVecchio may be guilty, or he may be innocent. But one thing is clear: What Linda Schiro is saying on the witness stand now is not how she told the story 10 years ago concerning three of the four murder counts now at issue.

Schiro told us then, as she did the court this week, that Scarpa hid nothing from her, letting her share in both his Mafia secrets and his precarious position as an FBI informant. In the 1984 murder of Mary Bari, the glamorous young woman who was dating a Colombo crime family figure, Schiro told how Scarpa and his gang had lured her to a mob social club and then shot her in the face. She told the ghoulish story—one she later learned was apocryphal—about how a pet boxer had sniffed out an ear from the victim that, unbeknownst to her killers, had been shot away during the grisly murder. But Schiro said she knew little as to the why of the slaying.

“All I know is they had word she was turning; she was gonna let information out,” Schiro told us then. Back then, she made no mention of DeVecchio at all in connection with the slaying. But in court this week, she said the one who claimed that Mary Bari was an informant was DeVecchio, describing her as “a problem” to be “taken care of.” After the murder, she testified, DeVecchio had returned to the home she then shared with Scarpa on Avenue J and joked about the way Bari’s body had been dumped just a couple of blocks away.

“Why didn’t you just bring the body right in front of the house?” she said DeVecchio laughed to Scarpa.

Schiro said in our interviews that, as far as she knew, DeVecchio had nothing to do with the 1987 murder of a longtime Scarpa pal, a Colombo soldier named Joe DeDomenico, who went by the nickname of “Joe Brewster.”

Scarpa, she said, was so close to DeDomenico that he had been the best man at DeDomenico’s wedding and had stood as godfather to his friend’s son. But by 1987, Schiro told us, “Joe Brewster had started getting a little stupid.” She recalled a visit by DeDomenico to the couple’s home. “He was kind of drooling,” she said. “He was starting to use coke.” Schiro told us that Scarpa was also disturbed because he had asked his friend to “do something”—an unspecified crime—and been refused by DeDomenico, who said he was becoming a born-again Christian, an awkward creed for a mobster.

“Yeah, Greg had him killed,” Schiro said, naming Scarpa’s son Gregory Jr. and two of Scarpa’s crew members as the assassins. “They told him he had to go someplace, and they got all dressed up and they killed him.”

That interview took place on March 1, 1997, the day after agent DeVecchio had himself been forced to take the witness stand in Brooklyn federal court, where he was grilled by attorneys for a pair of Colombo crime family members seeking to have their convictions overturned. Their claim was that they were the victims of the FBI’s misbehavior with Scarpa, its prized informant.
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Brewster’s name had been raised by one of the defense attorneys, who asked DeVecchio if he’d ever given Scarpa information about him. DeVecchio angrily denied it.

Having heard that exchange, we asked Schiro whether Lin DeVecchio had had anything to do with the death of Joe Brewster. She seemed briefly confused by the question. “No,” she said. “He never met Joe Brewster.”

Schiro said then that she had been puzzled, along with members of Scarpa’s crew, at Scarpa’s insistence that his old friend had to go. “I liked Joe Brewster too. I couldn’t understand. Bobby and Carmine couldn’t understand,” she said, referring to a pair of Scarpa’s cronies, one of whom, Carmine Sessa, testified last week in DeVecchio’s trial.

Most of our conversations with Schiro were tape-recorded. Some tapes have long since gone missing. Audibility is a problem in others. But the conversation about the murder of Joe Brewster has survived. So has Schiro’s story about another killing, that of Lorenzo Lampasi, a Colombo soldier gunned down by Scarpa and his gang during the crime family’s bloody civil war in the early 1990s.

Lampasi was murdered at 4 a.m. on May 22, 1992, just as he was leaving his Brooklyn home to go to work at the school bus company he operated with another Colombo wiseguy. The D.A. has charged DeVecchio with tipping Scarpa to Lampasi’s schedule and whereabouts.

On the witness stand Monday, Schiro said that was exactly what had happened. She said that Scarpa had been furious about a note Lampasi had sent him, one that said “there was talk on the street” that Scarpa was an informant. “This fucking Larry Lampasi,” she quoted Scarpa as telling DeVecchio, “he started rumors I am an informer, that I’m a rat.”

She said Scarpa asked DeVecchio to find out “exactly where Lampasi lives and what time he leaves in the morning.” A few days later, she testified, the agent returned with the information. “I was in the kitchen, and Lin gave him the address and told him he leaves the house at 4 a.m.” The agent had also filled in the gangster, she testified, about a balky gate that Lampasi had to open and close.

After Lampasi’s murder, she testified, DeVecchio had returned to the house, that same smirk on his face. “That was good information,” she said Scarpa told his FBI handler.

In 1997, however, Schiro repeatedly insisted to us that DeVecchio had nothing at all to do with the Lampasi homicide. Schiro raised the subject herself back then. “There’s another thing too, with Larry Lampasi,” she told us. “See, when Lin is right, I give him right. He didn’t tell Greg about Larry Lampasi.”

What had happened, she explained, was that she and Scarpa had been at a family dinner in New Jersey in late 1991. “I think it was around Thanksgiving,” she said. Whenever the date, the dinner was hosted by Scarpa’s sister. At the table, Scarpa’s niece Rosemarie, a school bus driver, had complained to her powerful uncle that Lampasi was treating her badly.

“And I remember we were there, and she was crying to Greg they are giving her these crazy routes in bad neighborhoods,” Schiro told us. Lampasi wouldn’t let the niece, who lived on Staten Island, take her bus home with her, she said. “And she told Greg the times he gets in, the times he leaves. And Greg said, ‘I’ll take care of it for you.’ ”

As Schiro put it, Scarpa later “did what he did.” With Lampasi out of the picture, the new manager of the bus company gave the mobster’s niece what she wanted, Schiro said. “She does the best neighborhood in Staten Island. And she takes the bus home. So that Lin didn’t do,” Schiro told us. She added: “I know that for a fact.”

So this man died because of a fight over a job assignment? Schiro said that was beside the point. At the time, Scarpa was suffering from AIDS, which he contracted after receiving tainted blood in a transfusion. “Greg’s attitude at this time,” she told us, “was he was going to fuck everybody. He don’t give a fuck who he kills.”

But DeVecchio had nothing to do with it, she insisted. “We were sitting there when she told Greg all about Larry Lampasi,” she said. “Lin did not tell.”

A week later, we raised the Lampasi murder again after his name came up in a court hearing. Had she ever heard anything about a note that Lampasi had supposedly sent Scarpa, one that accused Scarpa of being a rat? “No,” she said. “I told you about Greg’s niece.”

It’s possible, as prosecutors have suggested, that Linda Schiro previously hid her knowledge of DeVecchio’s role in these murders simply because she was frightened of him. The agent is a big man who served 33 years with the bureau, where he made powerful friends. Moreover, DeVecchio had already escaped punishment after an internal Justice Department probe of his handling of Scarpa. But if she was scared of him—and she never said so on the stand Monday—Schiro showed no sign of it in 1997. When she talked with us about the FBI agent, she sounded unconcerned. “I was friendly with Lin,” she said at one point. She even put him in lesser crimes, claiming that Scarpa had sometimes passed cash to DeVecchio and, on one occasion, gave the agent a couple of baubles from a jewelry heist. And if fear made her hide the agent’s role in the murders of Bari, DeDomenico, and Lampasi, it seems strange that she didn’t hesitate at the time to put DeVecchio directly into another murder, that of Patrick Porco, the teenager who had been her son Joey’s best friend until Greg Scarpa decided he was a threat who needed to stop breathing.

On the witness stand Monday, Schiro said she has told the sad story of Porco’s murder—and DeVecchio’s role—to several writers. “It’s because I love Patrick,” she said. “He was like a son to me.”

Porco was just 18 when he was shot to death on May 27, 1990. His mistake had been to spend the previous Halloween cruising the Bensonhurst streets in a white stretch limo with Joey Schiro and two other pals. Along the way, they’d been pelted with eggs by a rival gang of kids. The teens decided to imitate their adult role models. They returned with a shotgun and blew away a 17-year-old standing on the steps of Our Lady of Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church.

Greg initially ordered Joey and his friend to get out of town, sending them to a New Jersey farm owned by relatives. Bored, the boys returned to Brooklyn. Police soon brought Porco in for questioning about the homicide.

Last week, at the DeVecchio trial, a prosecution witness named Rey Aviles, who was present at the Halloween shooting, testified that it was Porco himself who told Joey Schiro and his old man about his encounter with the cops. But Linda Schiro told us in 1997—and testified on the stand this week—that the information came from DeVecchio. “Lin called, he said the kid was going to tell the detectives what happened,” Schiro told us. She remembered that the agent was unusually secretive. Usually, she said, DeVecchio was willing to chat on the home phone with his informant. This time, Schiro said, he insisted that Scarpa call him back from an outside line. “I drove him to the pay phone,” Schiro said. They used what she said was a special, untraceable number to call DeVecchio. “Greg got back in the car and told me that this kid Patrick was going to rat on Joey,” said Schiro.

Scarpa initially wanted one of his crew members, a man named Joe “Fish” Marra, to do the job on his son’s friend. But Joe Fish’s car broke down, and Schiro said Scarpa didn’t want to waste any time. He ordered Joey, along with Schiro’s cousin, John Sinagra, to do it themselves.

Schiro said Joey pleaded with his father. “Joey was saying, ‘Dad, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Patrick wouldn’t do that.’ ”Schiro said Scarpa refused to listen. She said Scarpa slammed his hand on the table. “Joey, listen what I’m telling you,” she quoted Scarpa as saying.

When her son came back home after the murder, she said, he told his father that he’d pulled the trigger. “But I don’t know if Joey had it in him to do that,” she said. “They left his body by the Belt Parkway.”

After the slaying, Schiro said, her son stayed in his room, refusing to go to the wake. “Joey was sick about it,” said Schiro. “He loved the kid.” Scarpa, however, ordered Linda to go. “I says, ‘I have to go to the wake?’ Here I am, sitting in the funeral parlor, and the mother comes out—she knows how close [her son] was to Joey—and she’s hysterical, crying. I get the chills just thinking about it.”

On the witness stand, Schiro added a chilling coda to the story when she testified that DeVecchio had later brushed off Scarpa’s lament that his son was inconsolable over his friend’s murder. “Better he cries now than he goes to jail,” Schiro said the agent replied. Despite our questioning, she somehow never mentioned that memorable comment to us.

Greg Scarpa Sr. died in prison in 1994, jailed for his participation in multiple murders during the Colombo civil war. Ravaged by AIDS, the body that federal prison authorities sent home to Schiro weighed just 56 pounds.

Nine months later, her Joey was dead as well, murdered in a drug deal gone wrong.

According to the D.A.’s office, it was the cop who solved that case, Detective Tommy Dades, who eventually convinced Linda Schiro to finally tell about how the FBI agent who was supposed to be harvesting secrets from his top informant traded back murderous secrets of his own.

At the trial’s opening, DeVecchio’s defense attorneys, Doug Grover and Mark Bederow, offered their own explanation for Schiro’s decision to talk. They said she’s trying to sell a book.

Thanks to Tom Robbins

How to Love a Mobster

Nobody had a ready explanation for the origin of “moll,” the slang term applied to women of the Mafia. In a courtroom filled with marquee crime writers, men identifying themselves as interested parties from Bensonhurst, retired federal agents and at least one éminence grise of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, the best etymology offered was: “It goes back to the ’20s.”

SwissOutpost.com Discount CodesStill, the morning’s tabloid newspapers had promised a legendary moll in Brooklyn Supreme Court yesterday, and Linda Schiro did not disappoint. As the star witness in the murder case against a onetime Federal Bureau of Investigation supervisor, she entered the courtroom from the back, shielded from the gang of cameramen and photographers staked out in the hall.

Her testimony was billed as the pillar of a sensational trial. The defendant, R. Lindley DeVecchio, has been charged with helping a prized informant commit four killings in the 1980s and early 1990s by revealing confidential information.

The accusations had lain dormant for more than a decade, ever since an internal federal investigation failed to turn up sufficient evidence. Ms. Schiro’s newfound willingness to testify gave state prosecutors the means to secure an indictment.

After two weeks of testimony meant to establish her credibility, Ms. Schiro was finally summoned to the stand yesterday, a sunken beauty in a plain suit and a gold pendant, thinning hair draped to the jaw.

Right away, she began to recount famed passages of Mafia lore from the moll’s vantage. She told of life with Gregory Scarpa, a notorious Colombo crime family capo known as the Grim Reaper, beginning with a trip to Mississippi in the 1960s.

There, she said, Mr. Scarpa began his work for the F.B.I., threatening a member of the Ku Klux Klan with a gun and learning the whereabouts of three slain civil rights workers. Though the tale had made the rounds in published accounts for years, it sounded fresh coming from Ms. Schiro in open court.

After that dizzying start, a prosecutor, Michael F. Vecchione, slowed Ms. Schiro down. Under his questioning, she recounted her path to Mafia association: As a teenager living with her parents, she married a man named Charlie Schiro. “I wanted children, and Greg was married, so I married Charlie,” Ms. Schiro said, adding, “to have Greg’s kids.”

Giving birth out of wedlock, she explained, was considered unacceptable at the time. The marriage ended when Mr. Schiro learned its full dimensions. Ms. Schiro later moved in with Mr. Scarpa, who by all accounts tolerated her affairs, including one with a grocery worker. “I just told Greg there was this really nice delivery boy, and you know.” Ms. Schiro said, her voice trailing off for a second. “We had this relationship where whatever made me happy. ...”

Mr. Scarpa, she said, spoke openly of crimes including murder, loan-sharking and bank robbery, and let her attend meetings with Mr. DeVecchio.

The judge overseeing the case, Gustin L. Reichbach, questioned that account. “What was your initial reaction, having grown up in this environment, when he told you he was an informer for the F.B.I.?” Justice Reichbach asked.

Ms. Schiro replied: “He didn’t say he was an informer. He said he worked for the F.B.I. I said, ‘What, do you mean you’re a rat?’ He said, ‘I just work for them.’ So I was surprised at first.”

She told of cash payments to Mr. DeVecchio, supplemented by gifts of wine, jewelry, a Cabbage Patch doll (this was the 1980s) and meals. To prepare for his visits, she said, she would draw the blinds and lock the doors.

In 1984, she said, Mr. DeVecchio identified a woman who had been dating a member of the Colombo family as an informer, prompting Mr. Scarpa to kill the woman. In 1986, she said, Mr. DeVecchio raised concerns about one of Mr. Scarpa’s closest friends, a Mafia associate who had become a born-again Christian. “Lin said, you know, ‘We can’t keep a guy around like this,’” Ms. Schiro said, “‘because he’s going to end up to start talking.’”

After a failed effort to “smarten him up,” Ms. Schiro said, Mr. Scarpa killed that man, too. A similar end befell the best friend of one of Mr. Scarpa’s sons, she said.

During the war for control of the crime family in 1992, Ms. Schiro said, Mr. DeVecchio provided the address of a rival, whom Mr. Scarpa also killed. Mr. Scarpa himself died in 1994 after contracting H.I.V. from a blood transfusion.

In the intervening years, Ms. Schiro passed up several opportunities to recount her knowledge of the killings. Several writers interviewed her for book proposals, and federal investigators questioned her during their unsuccessful inquiry. Until now, Ms. Schiro said, she had kept silent about Mr. DeVecchio.

“If I had a problem, I could always call Lin,” she said, “because he was my friend.”

Thanks to Michael Brick

Crimes are Organized, But are They Organized Crime?

All across the Calumet Region, shadowy men take cuts of profits from illegal gambling, drugs are imported from faraway lands and peddled on the streets, and bands of thieves cross state lines to ply their trades. It sounds like the heyday of organized crime, but investigators, prosecutors and people near the action say it's been a long time since Chicago Outfit mobsters controlled the region's criminal underworld.

Gangsters like Dominick "Tootsie" Palermo and Albert Tocco may have died in prison. But traditional organized crimes such as drug dealing, illegal gambling, prostitution and union corruption remain problems in Northwest Indiana and the rest of the country, despite efforts like last summer's Family Secrets trial that targeted some of the traditional mob organizations.

The crimes have just taken on a new face and structure, local experts say.

"When I was a kid, organized crime meant the mob. It doesn't mean the mob anymore," said Mark Becker, head of the FBI's region anti-gang task force and the Merrillville bureau's top official on organized crime. "Now organized crime does not necessarily mean Italian links. It can be Mexican cartels or street gangs like the Gangster Disciples."

Anthony Murphy, who is police chief in Chicago Heights -- the city from which the region's mob Outfit gangsters once hailed -- said he believes the FBI has "pretty much killed what was here in our city at one time" in terms of traditional organized crime.

David Capp, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana, said cases including Family Secrets and the Taste of Italy prosecution in Northwest Indiana in the early 1990s helped to break the back of the traditional mob. In the trials, prosecutors alleged wide patterns of extortion and violence by Outfit associates.

A few Chicagoans aren't so optimistic. Former Chicago cop and organized crime expert John Flood said he believes the Chicago Outfit continues to control some criminal activity, such as the flow of drugs in the area from Milwaukee to South Bend.

James Wagner, director of the Chicago Crime Commission, said organized crime still thrives and could be more dangerous than ever because of the threat of international terrorism.

Gangs including the Latin Kings are selling sophisticated fake passports to buyers in Europe, and union longshoremen at some of the nation's largest East Coast ports stand accused of letting New York crime families run their organizations, he said.

Betting on crime

Gambling always has attracted organized criminals in the Calumet Region and elsewhere.

Experts say efforts to drive out organized crime by making gambling legal may have stopped some of the traditional ways the mob made its money. But new methods have developed. "There's so many different schemes, but they all center around checks, debit cards and credit cards," said Gary Scott, an Indiana State Police master trooper who spent nine years investigating fraud at Northwest Indiana's gambling boats. "It is organized crime to a certain extent."

Within two hours of stealing someone's wallet at a bar, the thieves can arrive at a casino cage with a newly minted fake ID to make a cash withdrawal on a credit card, Scott said.

Or take the case of James Hunt, who is charged in Hammond federal court with leading a group that would write large checks on bogus bank accounts and then withdraw the money at Northwest Indiana casinos before the banks realized what had happened.

Scott said groups of thieves from Nigeria and China and Chicago street gangs have perpetrated large credit fraud and identity theft schemes at Northwest Indiana casinos. Some have recruited white drug addicts, who can withdraw the cash with less suspicions and will accept narcotics as payment, he said.

"We've been doing dozens of check fraud cases over here on the casinos. It's nonstop," Capp said.

Illegal gambling in Northwest Indiana also persists.

Larry Rollins, director of the new Indiana Gaming Control Division, said illegal gambling still flourishes in Indiana bars, and some tavern owners continue to pay out on "entertainment only" video machines.

The bar owner typically takes a 50 percent cut of the profits on those machines, with the other half going to the "distributor," who regularly comes around to collect, experts have said.

Coca plants and poppies are not grown in Northwest Indiana, yet cocaine and heroin still make it to the streets of Lake and Porter counties. But if mob outfits aren't orchestrating the smuggling as they once did, how are the drugs getting here? Experts say local gang figures have been working directly with Mexican drug cartels and other illegal drug providers.

"We know of several (cartels), and almost all of them have ties either to Chicago or down in the Southwest border," said Dennis Wichern, agent in charge of Indiana for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. "All roads lead back to the Southwest border."

And in recent years, federal drug agents have traced a circuitous route of drugs smuggled across the Mexican border to suspected narcotics warehousing operations in Merrillville.

In addition to that, more than two dozen members and associates of Gary's Renegades street gang have been convicted of buying and selling cocaine throughout the Midwest, federal authorities said. Among those convicted were boxing phenom Charles "Duke" Tanner and Mexican cartel member Arnulfo Castellanos.

Narcotics long have been tied to gangs, guns and the street violence that follows. The substances also have been tied to spikes in burglaries, robberies and other property crimes as addicts steal to feed their habits.

Some federal and region law enforcement officials said the narcotics pipeline from Mexico to Merrillville, Chicago and elsewhere in the Midwest continues to perpetuate the crime for which millions of dollars are spent each year to battle.

Other crimes once associated with the mob also continue to flourish in the shadows of the Calumet Region, including prostitution. In some cases, the crime has taken on an international look.

Hammond Police Chief Brian Miller said the Mafia appears to have lost its grip on local prostitution rings, but the practice still persists on an independent basis.

Federal authorities recently broke up four so-called massage parlors in Dyer and Highland, claiming the business owners were harboring women imported from Korea who lived on site and worked as prostitutes.

From his vantage point at the Chicago Crime Commission, Wagner doesn't see organized crime fading with the mob.

"I've been telling everyone that I can talk to that (organized crime) is still a factor -- and is always going to be a factor -- as long as there is money to be made and there is power," Wagner said. "You're always going to find the younger generation willing to take the risks of prosecution in order to make that money and have that power."

Thanks to Joe Carlson

La Cosa No More?

In early 2004, mob veteran Vincent Basciano took over as head of the Bonanno crime family. The reign of the preening, pompadoured Mafioso known as Vinny Gorgeous lasted only slightly longer than a coloring dye job from his Bronx hair salon.

Within a year, the ex-beauty shop owner with the hair-trigger temper was behind bars betrayed by his predecessor, a stand-up guy now sitting down with the FBI.
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It was a huge blow to Basciano and the once-mighty Bonannos, and similar scenarios are playing out from coast to coast. The Mafia, memorably described as "bigger than U.S. Steel" by mob financier Meyer Lansky, is more of an illicit mom-and-pop operation in the new millennium.

The mob's frailties were evident in recent months in Chicago, where three senior-citizen mobsters were locked up for murders committed a generation ago; in Florida, where a 97-year-old Mafioso with a rap sheet dating to the days of Lucky Luciano was imprisoned for racketeering; and in New York, where 80-something boss Matty "The Horse" Ianniello pleaded to charges linked to the garbage industry and union corruption.

Things are so bad that mob scion John A. "Junior" Gotti chose to quit the mob while serving five years in prison rather than return to his spot atop the Gambino family.

At the mob's peak in the late 1950s, more than two dozen families operated nationwide. Disputes were settled by the Commission, a sort of gangland Supreme Court. Corporate change came in a spray of gunfire. This was the mob of "The Godfather" celebrated in pop culture.

Today, Mafia families in former strongholds like Cleveland, Los Angeles and Tampa are gone. La Cosa Nostra our thing, as its initiates called the mob is in serious decline everywhere but New York City. And even there, things aren't so great: Two of New York's five crime families are run in absentia by bosses behind bars.

Mob executions are also a blast from the past. The last boss whacked was the Gambinos' "Big Paul" Castellano in 1985. New York's last mob shooting war occurred in 1991. And in Chicago, home to the 1929 St. Valentine's Day massacre, the last hit linked to the "Outfit" went down in the mid-1990s.

The Mafia's ruling Commission has not met in years. Membership in key cities is dwindling, while the number of mob turncoats is soaring.

"You arrest 10 people," says one New York FBI agent, "and you have eight of them almost immediately knocking on your door: `OK, I wanna cut a deal.'"

The oath of omerta silence has become a joke. Ditto for the old world "Family" values honor, loyalty, integrity that served as cornerstones for an organization brought to America by Italian immigrants during the era of Prohibition. "It's been several generations since they left Sicily," says Dave Shafer, head of the FBI organized crime division in New York. "It's all about money."

Which doesn't mean the Mafia is dead. But organized crime experts say the Italian mob is seriously wounded: shot in the foot by its own loudmouth members, bloodied by scores of convictions, and crippled by a loss of veteran leaders and a dearth of capable replacements.

The Bonannos, along with New York's four other borgatas (or families), emerged from a bloody mob war that ended in 1931. The Mafia then became one of the nation's biggest growth industries, extending its reach into legitimate businesses like concrete and garbage carting and illegal pursuits like gambling and loan-sharking. The mob always operated in the black.

Things began to change in the mid-1980s, when the Mafia was caught in a crossfire of RICO, rats and recorded conversations. The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act handed mob prosecutors an unprecedented tool, making even minor crimes eligible for stiff prison terms.

The 20-year sentences gave authorities new leverage, and mobsters who once served four-year terms without flinching were soon helping prosecutors.

"A good RICO is virtually impossible to defend," insists Notre Dame law professor G. Robert Blakey, who drafted the law while serving as counsel to Sen. John McClellan in 1970. The results proved him right.

The first major RICO indictment came in 1985, with the heads of three New York families and five other top level Mafiosi eventually convicted. It took nearly two decades, but the heads of all five New York families were jailed simultaneously in 2003.

Authorities around the country were soon using Blakey's statute and informants against Italian organized crime in their cities.

In Philadelphia, where the mob was so widespread that Bruce Springsteen immortalized the 1981 killing of Philip "Chicken Man" Testa in his song "Atlantic City," one mob expert estimates the Mafia presence is down to about a dozen hardcore "made" men. Their number was once about 80.

The New England mob claims barely two dozen remaining made members about half the number involved 25 years ago. The Boston underboss awaits trial.

In Chicago, home of Al Capone, the head of the local FBI office believes fewer than 30 made men remain. That figure stood at more than 100 in 1990. The city's biggest mob trial in decades ended recently with the convictions of three old-timers for murders from the 1970s and '80s.

In Los Angeles, there's still a Mafia problem "La Eme," the Mexican Mafia. An aging leadership in the Italian mob, along with successful prosecutions, left most of the local "gangsters" hanging out on movie sets.

The Florida family dominated by Santos Trafficante, the powerful boss linked to assassination plots targeting President John F. Kennedy and Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is gone. The beachfront Mafia of the 21st century is mostly transplanted New Yorkers, and money generated by the local rackets isn't kicked up the chain of command as in the past.

"You have guys running around doing their own thing," says Joe Cicini, supervisor of the FBI's South Florida mob investigations. "They don't have the work ethic or the discipline that the older generation had."

The decline of "Family values" is nothing new. Back in January 1990, a government bug caught no less an expert than Gambino boss John Gotti wondering if the next generation of mobsters was equal to their forebears. "Where are we gonna find them, these kind of guys?" Gotti asked. "I'm not being a pessimist. It's getting tougher, not easier!"

During the same conversation, Gotti questioned the resumes of a half-dozen candidates for made man: "I want guys that done more than killing."

Even harder, it would turn out, was finding guys who could keep their mouths shut.

"Mob informant" was once an oxymoron, but today the number of rats is enormous and growing with each indictment. And the mob's storied ability to exact retribution on informants is virtually nonexistent.

"There is no more secret society," says Matthew Heron, the FBI's Organized Crime Section Chief in Washington.

"In the past, you'd start out with the lowest level and try to work your way up," Heron continues. Now "it's like playing leapfrog. You go right over everybody else to the promised land."

Basciano, 48, the one-time owner of the "Hello Gorgeous" beauty parlor, faces an upcoming trial for plotting to kill a federal prosecutor. The case was brought after his old boss, "Big Joey" Massino, wore a wire into a jailhouse meeting where the alleged hit was discussed.

By the time Massino went public with his plea deal in June 2005, another 50 Bonanno associates had been convicted in three years. The number of colleagues who testified against them, going right up to Massino, was in double digits. Basciano now faces the rest of his life in prison.

The Bonanno family is now led by the inexperienced "Sal The Ironworker" Montagna, just 35 years old, according to the FBI. Montagna shares one trait with his family's founder: He, too, is a Sicilian immigrant.

The mob of the 21st century still makes money the old-fashioned way: gambling, loan-sharking, shakedowns. Three Genovese family associates were busted this month for extorting or robbing businessmen in New York and New Jersey, making off with $1 million.

There are other, more modern scams: The Gambino family collected $230 million in fraudulent credit card fees linked to pornographic Web sites. Another crooked plan grossed more than $420 million when calls made to "free" phone services triggered unauthorized monthly fees on victims' phone bills.

After getting busted, mobsters are quick to offer advice to the FBI about allocating the agency's investigative resources.

"I can't tell you how many times we've gone to arrest people, and the first thing a wiseguy says is, `You should be going after the terrorists," said Seamus McElearney, head of the FBI's Colombo crime family squad in New York. "They say it all the time: `You should be doing that.'

"And leaving them alone."

Thanks to Larry McShane

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Earlier Attempts to Report Lin DeVecchio's Alleged Crimes

Posting an email that we received from former FAA agent, Rodney Stich. Mr. Stich was an air safety inspector-investigator with the FAA and is now an author and activist against corruption in government.

To Chicago Syndicate:

In 2002, Gregory Scarpa Jr signed a book contract with former federal agent Rodney Stich, after which Scarpa provided Stich with information about the murders perpetrated by FBI supervisory agent DeVecchio. Also providing Stich with information about DeVecchio was former FBI agent and highly decorated Vietnam War veteran Richard Taus who worked under DeVecchio and who discovered corruption associated with the White House, the arming and funding of Iraq during the 1980s, and the involvement of a CIA proprietary in the New York Area.

About this time, the House judiciary committee was conducting hearings into the murders involving FBI agents in the Boston office involving Whitey Bulger. Having this information, I contacted members of the congressional committee investigating the FBI conduct, informing them that I was a former federal agent and that I was in contact with a former Mafia member and a former FBI agent and had insider information about murders involving an FBI agent in the New York office, and if they would contact me I would put them in contact with these sources.

Despite the gravity of these matters, not a single recipient of those letters contacted me. Several years later, a Brooklyn district attorney filed murder charges against DeVecchio that could have been filed years earlier if members of Congress had not covered up.

In an attempt to circumvent the cover-ups on this matter, I published a non-profit book called FBI, CIA, the Mob, and Treachery.

Among the internet sites that address this matter are the following examples:

* www.defraudingamerica.com/FBI_murderous_culture.html
* www.defraudingamerica.com/fallen_heroes.html
* www.defraudingamerica.com/fbi_justice_department_corruption.html

Of possible interest to you were my letters in 2002 to members of the House Judiciary Committee trying to put them in contact with my two sources, the former FBI agent who worked under DeVecchio, and Gregory Scarpa, Jr., who send me letters describing the murders in which he and his father were involved with DeVecchio. The letters are located at the following web site: www.defraudingamerica.com/letter_list_congress.html.

At that site, look at the letters in 2002 and 2003, for the people to whom I sent letters offering to provide the names of my two contacts.

Although this indifference, or aiding in cover-ups of criminal activities, is serious, it is only one instance where over a period of many years, starting while I was a key federal aviation safety agent, I sought to report hardcore corruption that was causing or enabling a steady series of air tragedies and other tragedies to occur. I learned about these matters either from my official duties, or from the dozens of insiders who came to me over a period of years after reading my books or hearing me on radio and TV.

We have a culture where no one does a damn thing unless it personally affects them.


Rodney Stich

Giuliani Jokes About Mob Hit Talk

Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani joked Thursday about reports that New York's five Mafia families discussed, but decided against, killing him in 1986 when he was a mob-busting federal prosecutor.

"That was one vote I won, I guess," Giuliani said Thursday on Mike Gallagher's syndicated radio show.

Giuliani said there have been other contracts for his life, including an $800,000 hit when he was first U.S. attorney. "After 5 1/2 years of being U.S. attorney, they put out another contract to kill me, another group, for only $400,000," Giuliani said. "So I thought, my goodness, my value. If I were a company, my market cap would have been cut in half."

Giuliani told reporters later in Washington he didn't worry much about contracts on his life. "I don't know, go ask the mob, how do I know if the mob really tried to whack me?" Giuliani said, laughing. He added that he knew of two or three plots to kill him but didn't remember the one that emerged this week.

"So there was more than one, but the FBI did a really good job of getting them resolved," he said. "I always felt it was my obligation to kind of put that out of my mind and just do my job."

Before Giuliani became New York mayor, he had a track record of high-profile mob prosecutions. In 1986, Giuliani indicted the heads of the five families. The mobsters purportedly discussed the hit that year.

The details about the plot which never took shape were given to ex-FBI agent Roy Lindley DeVecchio by the late Gregory Scarpa Sr., a capo-turned-informant, according to the testimony of FBI agent William Bolinder during a murder trial in New York.

In testimony Wednesday, Bolinder said that DeVecchio's 1987 debriefing report stated Scarpa told him the late Gambino crime boss John Gotti was for ordering the hit, and had the support of the leader of the Colombo crime family.

However, Bolinder said, the heads of the Bonanno, Lucchese and Genovese groups were against the idea, and it never materialized.

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Sweet Deals, Chicago Style

I wish I had somebody like Bridgeport developers Thomas DiPiazza and Richard Ferro to advise me on real estate matters. Then again, maybe I need the person who advises them.

DiPiazza and Ferro are the guys who paid $50,000 for a heavily polluted, essentially vacant parcel of land along the Chicago River in 1998 -- at almost exactly the same time that somebody at City Hall came to the conclusion the site would make a swell location for a city park.

Immediately thereafter, the city began taking steps to acquire the property, never quite getting the job done until six years later, when it paid the two men $1.2 million to take this same heavily polluted, vacant parcel off their hands.

I don't know about you, but I never do as well with my real estate investments.
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My wife and I always joke that we buy high and sell low, which isn't entirely true, but our timing does tend to be a little off. We'll see an opportunity, but we don't take the chance until the price is out of reach, or we'll sell a house just before the market shoots sky high.

That's why I'm in awe of guys like DiPiazza and Ferro, who could do their own infomercials if they weren't camera shy, as Bridgeport businessmen tend to be.
Insider deal?

DiPiazza is definitely an interesting character. He used to be a city sewer department worker before he got in a jam in the late 1980s for being at the racetrack on city time. He seems to have quite an interest in racehorses. Until just a few years ago, he owned a horse named Medlin Road in partnership with Nick "The Stick" LoCoco, the mob bookie who ran the city's Hired Truck program in the Department of Transportation before he was charged in the federal probe.

As most of you recall, LoCoco never stood trial because he tragically died in December 2004 when, as fate would have it, he fell off a horse in what authorities said was a riding accident.

DiPiazza and Ferro may have known a little bit about the Hired Truck program themselves, as some of the trucking companies in the program rented space from them to park their trucks. But mostly, they have proved their expertise in real estate, becoming prominent players in Bridgeport during Mayor Daley's nearly two decades in office.

Their influence was perhaps not widely known, however, until another developer, Thomas Snitzer, filed a lawsuit earlier this year alleging that Tim Degnan, Daley's former patronage chief and longtime friend, tried to force Snitzer to take on his pal DiPiazza as a partner -- as the price of doing business in Bridgeport. Instead, Snitzer gave DiPiazza a $1.3 million consulting contract.

It was in that same suit that Snitzer alleged DiPiazza was acting on inside information in 1998 when he and Ferro bought the land at the mouth of Bubbly Creek, which the city later purchased from them. Coincidence?

City officials scoff at the suggestion of insider dealings, noting that the decision to locate a park at the site -- actually an expansion of the new Canal Origins Park on the other side of Bubbly Creek -- grew out of a public planning process for the Chicago River undertaken in late 1997 and published in April 1998.

I don't see the one ruling out the other, and if I had subpoena power, I'd want to call in some people to answer questions.

One of the things to focus on is how the city decided to pay so much for a property for which it originally received an appraisal of $220,000 in 1998.

Even four years later, city planning officials thought they would obtain the land at the relative bargain of $520,000 because of the pollution problems.

As Planning's Kathleen Dickhut wrote in a Dec. 12, 2002, letter to the state Department of Natural Resources (which committed $385,900 to the project):

"Due to the condition of the property, we are optimistic that the owners will be willing to sell the property without the need for condemnation. A private entity purchasing the property will not have the advantage of working with Peoples Gas on the cleanup and therefore not likely be in a position to offer the owners fair market value for their properties."

Instead, the city arranged to force Peoples Gas to clean up the site, then paid DiPiazza and Ferro a higher value of $1.2 million as if the land was already suitable for residential development.

If they do get DiPiazza under oath, I wonder if the feds could ask him a question for me: What does he think about real estate values in the U.P.? Or would that be outside his area of expertise?

Thanks to Mark Brown

The Chumbolone Casino

So as I took last week off -- with some readers fearing I'd been chained in a City Hall dungeon for writing the words "Mayor Chucky" -- an amazing thing happened. (I took the week off after Kass did, which is why you are going to get a slew of articles today.)

Mayor Richard Daley agreed he'd like City Hall to own a gigantic casino, with all the contracts to be overseen by a special city gaming board hand-picked by the mayor himself. Please don't call it the City Hall Casino or the Daley Casino. That's rude. Call it the Chumbolone Casino.

A casino with all the contracts and jobs and deals hidden from public view should be named for all of us chumbolones who believe taxes will decrease if the casino is built.

So I'm calling on you, the readers of this column, to help the mayor by coming up with recommendations for the posts of Chumbolone Casino boss and on the Chumbolone Casino board.

The mayor has been under great stress, and nobody wants him to get angry and transform into the Mayor Chucky persona, which would terrify the Olympic selection committee. Let's help the mayor instead.

Send your Chumbolone Casino recommendations to me, and we'll present them to the mayor in a special ceremony to be held either at the Polish sausage stand on 31st Street, or at Tavern on Rush, whichever he prefers.

"Who'll handle the patronage at the mayor's casino?" asked a loyal reader who calls himself Leprechaun. "There will be jobs there, right?"

Robert Sorich. Who else?

Sorich, the mayor's former patronage boss, was convicted in federal court as part of a scheme that rigged city job applications to illegally build massive patronage armies for the mayor, in direct violation of a federal court order. Sorich is appealing his conviction on mail fraud, not racketeering, as I'd reported recently.

But who'll run the gambling? I've got just the guy behind the guy:

Rayjo.

Rayjo -- known formally as Raymond John Tominello -- comes from the mayor's neighborhood. Nobody calls him Raymond, or Ray. They call him Rayjo.

I have a suspicion that the mayor may know Rayjo, but I've been waiting for those tough TV reporters who like spanking the Urkel out of the hapless Todd Stroger to ask Daley if he knows Rayjo, or not.

Rayjo is eminently qualified. Consider his background.

Rayjo tutored under the famous Don "The Wizard of Odds" Angelini and Dominic Cortina, the Chicago Outfit's top bookies back in the 1980s, and he pleaded guilty to being one of their top lieutenants and went to prison for his crimes.

Before and after his release, Rayjo was in the real estate business with the mayor's second favorite developer, Thomas DiPiazza, on several deals in Bridgeport, and the sale of land to the Chicago Board of Education for almost a million dollars.

See? Rayjo and Tommy D. care about the school children.

And a few months ago, Rayjo was also mentioned in federal testimony in the Family Secrets trial. Chicago Outfit hit man-turned-government witness Nick Calabrese testified about a meeting to establish the pecking order in a Bridgeport gambling operation.

Calabrese said he met with several tough guys, including Outfit loan shark and former Chicago Police Officer Anthony "Twan" Doyle. Twan was convicted in Family Secrets for passing key information on an Outfit murder to Calabrese's brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., while the FBI was recording their conversations.

(Ironically, Twan invented the term "chumbolone," which he insisted means stupid idiot.)

At that meeting were Frank Sr., the late Outfit enforcer Ronnie Jarrett and Outfit figure Mario Dispensia. Oh, and one other guy.

Rayjo.

How's that for qualifications?

Like his buddy Tommy D., Rayjo also worked for the city, so he has a public service background too.

So Rayjo it is, for chief operating officer of the Chumbolone Casino.

Yet there are other important casino jobs, from scooping up the quarters in the slot machines, to running the VIP bottle service for high-rollers, even building the casino itself, and securing City Hall occupancy permits. And don't forget the Chumbolone Casino board. I'm sure you'll find responsible people. But don't ask Jim Wagner, president of the Chicago Crime Commission. He argues that, given City Hall's habit of playing footsie with the Outfit for the last century, a casino won't save taxpayers money.

"You'll end up having to pay a tax for all the corruption that will be brought into play, with the contracts, with the sweetheart deals, with the ghost employees and, history has shown, with the corruption of government and law enforcement," Wagner said.

Wagner spent decades with the FBI, hunting the Chicago Outfit. So, naturally, City Hall sniffs at his concerns.

So who will we put on the board? And who'll scoop up the quarters?

Please help the mayor help you.

Your baby needs a new pair of shoes.

Thanks to John Kass

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Mob Hit on Rudy Giulani Discussed

The bosses of New York's five Cosa Nostra families discussed killing then-federal prosecutor Rudy Giuliani Mob Hit on Rudy Giulani Discussedin 1986, an informant told the FBI, according to testimony Wednesday in Brooklyn state court. But while the late Gambino crime boss John Gotti pushed the idea, he only had the support of Carmine Persico, the leader of the Colombo crime family, according to the testimony.

"The Bosses of the Luchese, Bonanno and Genovese families rejected the idea, despite strong efforts to convince them otherwise by Gotti and Persico," said an FBI report of the information given by informant Gregory Scarpa Sr.

Information about the purported murder plot was given to the FBI in 1987 by Scarpa, a Colombo captain, according to the testimony of FBI agent William Bolinder in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn.

Bolinder was testifying as a prosecution witness in the murder trial of ex-FBI agent Roy Lindley DeVecchio, who handled the now deceased Scarpa for years while the mobster was a key informant. Prosecutors contend that DeVecchio passed information to Scarpa that the mobster used in killings.

In his testimony, Bolinder described the contents of a voluminous FBI file on Scarpa, who died of AIDS in 1994.

In September 1987, DeVecchio reported that Scarpa told him that the five mob families talked about killing Giuliani approximately a year earlier, said Bolinder. It was in September 1986 that Giuliani's staff at the Manhattan U.S. attorney's office prosecuted bosses of La Cosa Nostra families in the so-called "Commission" case.

The Commission trial, a springboard for Giuliani's reputation as a crime buster, resulted in the conviction in October 1986 of Colombo boss Carmine Persico, Lucchese boss Anthony Corallo and Genovese street boss Anthony Salerno. Gambino boss Paul Castellano was assassinated in December 1985 and the case against Bonanno boss Philip Rastelli was dropped.

The purported discussion about murdering Giuliani wasn't the first time he was targeted. In an interview in 1985 Giuliani stated that Albanian drug dealers plotted to kill him and two other officials. A murder contract price of $400,000 was allegedly offered by convicted heroin dealer Zhevedet Lika for the deaths of prosecutor Alan Cohen and DEA agent Jack Delmore, said Giuliani. Neither Cohen nor Delmore were harmed.

Other tidbits offered by Scarpa to DeVecchio involved an allegation of law enforcement corruption within the Brooklyn district attorney's office, said Bolinder. In 1983, stated Bolinder, Scarpa reported that an NYPD detective assigned to the Brooklyn district attorney's office (then led by Elizabeth Holtzman) had been taking money to leak information to the Gambino and Colombo families. A spokesman for current Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes said no investigation was ever done about the allegation.

Scarpa also reported to DeVecchio that top Colombo crime bosses suspected the Casa Storta restaurant in Brooklyn was bugged because FBI agents never surveilled the mobsters when they met there. The restaurant was in fact bugged, government records showed.

Thanks to Anthony M. Destefano

3balls Golf

How the CIA Enlisted the Chicago Mob to Put a Hit on Castro

The Fixer couldn't sleep. But in that shadow hour when his wife still slumbered and the 101 Strings murmured over his rec room speakers and his swimming pool lights threw green wavy diamonds into the muggy Virginia night, he knew that sleep was not what he needed. What he needed was to think. To weigh. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Could he do it? Should he? The questions had gnawed at him ever since the proposition had been made earlier that evening.

The setting had been his recreation room, the comfortable redoubt where he often took visitors to discuss potential assignments from his most reliable client: the Central Intelligence Agency. On this occasion, the visit was from James O'Connell—"Big Jim" to his friends—and Sheffield Edwards, two operatives in the highest reaches of The Company, as the CIA was known. They had an assignment for him, they said, one so top secret that even the president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, had been kept in the dark. Chicago Magazine

The Fixer was no stranger to intrigue. As a former FBI agent turned private eye, he had built his career on operating in the shadows. His fledgling detective agency had a standing arrangement with the CIA: For $500 a month, he would perform various "cut-out" operations—missions ordered by the CIA, but with which the agency could deny official involvement. One such assignment, for example, required him to procure "feminine companionship" for Indonesia's President Sukarno during a state visit to New York, with the understanding that the woman would use her wiles to gather information from the leader. In another, he helped queer a deal that would have given Aristotle Onassis, already one of the richest men in the world, control over nearly all of the oil exports coming out of Saudi Arabia.

The Fixer served other clients, too, including one almost as secretive as the CIA. Howard Hughes—the "phantom billionaire"—may have been the most paranoid, reclusive public figure in the country at the time, but he trusted The Fixer with his most sacred secrets.

Still, for all his covert, high-level adventuring, even The Fixer found the operation the two CIA agents were now describing hard to believe. The subject was Cuba. The target was Fidel Castro. The mission was assassination. And The Fixer's role was to recruit the killer.

This was August 1960, about a year and a half after Fidel Castro had led the revolution that overthrew Cuba's longtime strongman, Fulgencio Batista. At first, much of the West celebrated the young revolutionary's success. But quickly, Castro's leanings toward Communism became evident. He began cozying up to the Soviet Union. Among the disturbing implications of this partnership was the potential for a missile base 90 miles from U.S. shores—a base from which Moscow could launch nuclear weapons at virtually any part of America.

That must not happen, Edwards and O'Connell said. Castro and his regime needed to be dealt with—"neutralized." Which was where The Fixer came in. After taking power, Castro had kicked out all the CIA agents. As a result, the best contacts left in Cuba belonged to the Mafia, which, with the blessing of Batista, had largely run the island's hugely profitable casinos. Castro had effectively robbed the Mafia of those profits by closing the casinos—first temporarily, then permanently.

If he agreed to help, The Fixer would use his contacts in the underworld to recruit someone who could get close enough to Castro to carry out the assassination. The hit would be timed to coincide with the Bay of Pigs invasion, loosely planned for some eight months from then. Killing the leaders, the reasoning went, would improve the odds for the military operation. The assignment obviously was considered "super eyes-only"—perhaps only half a dozen CIA agents knew of it. Would The Fixer do it?

He was speechless. The CIA. In bed with the mob. With him as the matchmaker? It was . . . crazy. How could an arm of the federal government team with Murder, Inc.?

The two men acknowledged his discomfort, shared it, even. In a perfect world, they would never have asked this of him or any citizen. But in this case, the interests of national security justified it. Think of Hitler, the lives that could have been saved had he been taken out before the launch of World War II, they said.

The analogy pricked The Fixer's conscience. Still, he said, "I have to think about it, think very deeply. I'll give you my answer tomorrow." That night, he recalls, "I told my wife I wouldn't be coming to bed. I went down to the recreation room and locked myself in. I realized that if anything went wrong, I was the fall guy. My family could be hurt. My friends could be hurt. I could be hurt. Furthermore, I considered myself a reasonably good Catholic, and I did not like the idea of getting involved with murdering anybody. I put on some music and began to do some soul searching."

He reached his decision at dawn. As morally questionable as the plan was, he agreed with the agents. Killing Castro would serve a greater good. That day, The Fixer called with his answer: He was in.

The old man who putters around the corner with a cup of coffee and a plate of fresh-baked blueberry muffins hardly seems the cloak-and-dagger operative at the nexus of what may have been the strangest covert undertaking in U.S. history. More like a kindly grandfather delighted by the chance to chat with a visitor. The trim form Robert A. Maheu once enjoyed as an FBI agent has yielded to the comfortable stoutness of old age. A palm-treed Hawaiian shirt and black slacks with the waist pulled high have replaced the standard issue white shirt and tie.

He is 90 now, with eyes that show a pleasant, kind twinkle, but you'd be mistaken to underrate Robert A. Maheu's toughness. He seizes your hand with a clamplike grip and rattles off an impressive list of ventures with which he's still involved. Among them is the intelligence firm he helped build with his son, a group with 160 investigators in Nevada and operatives in more than 80 countries.

As for his mental acuity, ask him about his involvement in the Cuba Project: His memories come as fast and fresh as his morning muffins.

That project—the CIA's targeting of Fidel Castro, and its willingness to rely on the Mafia to achieve that end—has resonated with intrigue, drama, and mystery ever since details of it began to surface in newspaper columns during the early 1970s. The five-year program of propaganda, sabotage, and murderous intent has been linked to everything from Richard Nixon's Watergate downfall (some of the Watergate burglars, including E. Howard Hunt, were major players in the Castro plots) to the hit on the Chicago godfather Sam "Mooney" Giancana. Many think the answer to who killed JFK lies buried beneath the layers of plots and subplots in the efforts to assassinate Castro—specifically, that the project may have resulted in a counterplot by Castro to kill Kennedy.

Today, the tale has taken on fresh relevancy, thrust back into the nation's consciousness by questions over intelligence activities—the Bush administration's domestic spying program, for example, and the CIA's "rendering" of terrorist suspects to countries where torture is believed to occur.

Still, until June of this year, the CIA had failed to acknowledge publicly that its plots to murder Castro even existed. Books had been written, congressional testimony given, and newspaper columnists had uncovered detailed evidence. But an official admission to citizens of the United States and the world, no.

That changed with the release of what The Company called its Family Jewels—693 pages of declassified top-secret memos confirming some of the CIA's most infamous and illegal past activities. The Jewels grew out of the anger of CIA director James Schlesinger, who had learned through the press that his agency had provided support to two ex-CIA agents arrested in the Watergate break-in (E. Howard Hunt and James McCord). In May 1973, Schlesinger ordered "all senior operating officials of this agency to report to me immediately on any activities now going on, or that have gone on in the past, which might be construed to be outside the legislative charter of this agency."

That charter barred the CIA from spying inside the United States, but did not expressly forbid assassination plots against foreign leaders. Instead, the vaguely worded National Security Act of 1947 permitted the CIA to collect and analyze intelligence and perform "other functions and duties related to intelligence affecting the national security."

"It is through the loophole of those [last] vague 11 words that hundreds of major covert actions were undertaken, including efforts to assassinate foreign leaders like Fidel Castro," says Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, a private research group in Washington, D.C. (The group was instrumental in getting the Jewels declassified, having filed Freedom of Information Act requests some 15 years ago.)

The violations revealed in the Jewels are "unflattering," admitted the current CIA director, Michael Hayden, in a public statement after release of the documents. Not to mention embarrassing. The documents, in fact, confirm plots against Castro that are so absurd, so harebrained, they seem more like fantasies dreamed up by drunken frat boys than the product of the best and brightest minds in the intelligence community. Exploding cigars, poisoned wetsuits, chemicals to make Castro's beard fall out—even a phony Second Coming—all were brainstorms of The Company's masterminds. The plots do indeed "go beyond James Bond," says Don Bohning, author of The Castro Obsession: U.S. Covert Operations Against Cuba. "They are really screwy."

Which raises the question: How did such schemes come to dominate the plotting? "You have to realize the enormous pressure the intelligence community was under to do something about Castro," says Bohning. "The people above them were willing to consider about anything."

As it happens, almost all of the masterminds have died, as have the people tapped to carry out their plots. Old age has claimed some; causes suspicious and violent, others. Robert Maheu may be the last living major player, the sole survivor who can bear witness to this bizarre intelligence undertaking.

Which is how I find myself at a dining-room table in Las Vegas with a plate of homemade blueberry muffins in front of me, listening to the voice of Patsy Cline drift down from ceiling speakers, while the grandfatherly spymaster across the table from me—The Fixer, Bob Maheu—unravels the tale of how he presided over the star-crossed marriage of the Chicago mob to the feds.

Though much of the thinking surrounding the Cuba Project seems bafflingly, almost comically flawed, the decision to tap Maheu as the intermediary between the CIA and the Mafia made sense. Born in Waterville, Maine, a small mill town best known as home of the Hathaway shirt, Bob Maheu stumbled into intelligence work. In search of a little extra money while in college, he applied to be a translator for the FBI. Desperate to get men into the field, the FBI hired him as an agent.

After working under cover during World War II, he quit the bureau at the end of the war to open his own intelligence gathering firm. His first clients were old FBI friends who had gone to work for the CIA. Howard Hughes heard about his success and put him to work handling minor blackmail cases from starlets Hughes had bedded. Eventually, Maheu became Hughes's most trusted adviser. Among the perks of the $500,000-a-year job were mansions to call home, access to Hughes's fleet of limos and private jets, and an introduction to a glittering Hollywood life in which he gained a first-name acquaintance with stars such as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore.

One assignment required Maheu to serve a subpoena on the elusive owner of a prominent Las Vegas hotel. Maheu asked his friend the lawyer Edward Bennett Williams, who had represented mobsters, to pull some strings. The man who ended up obliging Maheu was a fast-talking, sharply dressed, silver-haired Mafioso named Johnny Roselli.

Many months later, with the CIA's Castro assignment in hand, Maheu turned to Roselli again. Tall and hawk-nosed, Roselli had been born Filippo Sacco in Esperia, Italy, on July 4, 1905, and had immigrated with his mother to America in 1911. After settling for a time in a Boston suburb, Roselli fled to Chicago in 1922 in the wake of a murder. He changed his name to Roselli in honor of an Italian Renaissance sculptor, Domenico Rosselli, and promptly began to work his way up the ranks of the Chicago Outfit under Al Capone. By the time he met Maheu, he was the Chicago mob's representative in Los Angeles, where he was married for a time to a movie actress, June Lang. Eventually, he took over the ice concessions for the Mafia in Las Vegas.

Maheu and Roselli became fast friends. In fact, Roselli even spent a Thanksgiving at Maheu's house, where he was referred to by Maheu's children as "Uncle Johnny."

On an afternoon in late August 1960, Maheu watched Roselli swagger toward his booth at The Brown Derby in Beverly Hills. The gangster's shoes, as always, gleamed with polish. His cuticles suggested a fresh manicure. This wasn't the Uncle Johnny that visited on Thanksgiving, but "Handsome Johnny," the mob capo.

Maheu waited until coffee was served to drop the bombshell. The mobster, Maheu recalls, laughed. "Me? You want me to get involved with Uncle Sam?" Roselli said, according to Maheu's 1992 autobiography, Next to Hughes. "The feds are tailing me wherever I go. They go to my shirt maker to see if I'm buying things with cash. . . . They're always trying to get something on me. Bob, are you sure you're talking to the right guy?"

Yes, Maheu said. He was serious. The fee would be $150,000. Roselli could pick whomever he wanted to execute the hit. The only condition, Maheu said, was that "Uncle Sam isn't involved. If anyone connects you with the U.S. government I will deny it. If you say Bob Maheu brought you into this, that I was your contact man, I'll say you're off your rocker, you're lying, you're trying to save your hide. I'll swear by everything holy that I don't know what in the hell you're talking about."

Roselli gazed steadily at him. He tapped his fingers on the table. "I would have to be satisfied that this is a government project," he said. Maheu assured him, "It comes from high level sources." After a long pause, Roselli nodded. He would do it. But he, too, had a condition: The CIA could keep its money. Assassinating Castro, he claimed, would be his patriotic duty. Whether Roselli was simply trying to curry favor with the feds in case he needed it later, Maheu didn't care. The plot was in motion.

Unknown to either man, the CIA already had spent months brainstorming and discarding ways to get Castro, schemes ranging "from the cockamamie to sinister," says Kornbluh, with the National Security Archive. The initial plots were aimed at merely discrediting the Cuban leader. One scheme called for treating a box of cigars with a chemical, possibly LSD. "The thought was to somehow contrive to have Castro smoke one before making a speech and then to make a public spectacle of himself," according to a declassified 1967 CIA inspector general's report. Exploding cigars and cigars laced with poison were also considered. Another scheme called for agents to flood the radio studio where Castro broadcast his speeches with LSD gas so that he would ramble incoherently on the air.

One plot (the account of which some officials have claimed is apocryphal) was dubbed "Elimination by illumination." This scheme turned on spreading the word that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent. Because Castro opposed Christianity, the reasoning went, his people would turn against him. To add a bit of Hollywood flair, a U.S. submarine stationed just over the horizon would hurl star shells into the night. The glow "would be the manifestation of the Second Coming and Castro would be overthrown," explained a 1975 Senate Intelligence Committee probe of assassination attempts against foreign leaders, soon after the assassination of Chile's President Salvador Allende.

On another front, agents thought they could diminish Castro's charisma—not to mention subvert his nickname, "The Beard"—by dusting his boots with thallium salts, a powerful depilatory. Without his whiskers, the agents argued, Castro would lose the manly authority that had helped him overthrow the Batista government.

Kornbluh points out that the far-fetched schemes underscore the intense, almost hysterical paranoia that marked the cold war in those days. "The bottom line is that the agency, feeling pressure from the White House for . . . a 'creative solution' to the Castro problem, wanted to 'neutralize' the Cuban leader any way it could. Poison pens and pills, exploding conch shells, sniper rifles—whatever would possibly work."

The difference between the "screwy" plots and those involving the Mafia, says author Don Bohning, "was that the others were just crazy schemes that were come up with under pressure. The Mafia plots were much more serious. They were meant to do something."

By September 1960, the project was proceeding apace. Roselli would report directly to Maheu. The first step was a meeting in New York. There, at the Plaza Hotel, Maheu introduced Roselli to O'Connell. The agent wanted to cover up the participation of the CIA, so he pretended to be a man named Jim Olds who represented a group of wealthy industrialists eager to get rid of Castro so they could get back in business.

"We may know some people," Roselli said. Several weeks later, they all met at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. For years, the luxurious facility had served as the unofficial headquarters for Mafioso leaders seeking a base close to their gambling interests in Cuba. Now, it would be the staging area for the assassination plots.

At a meeting in one of the suites, Roselli introduced Maheu to two men: Sam Gold and a man Roselli referred to as Joe, who could serve as a courier to Cuba. By this time, Roselli was on to O'Connell. "I'm not kidding," Roselli told the agent one day. "I know who you work for. But I'm not going to ask you to confirm it."

Roselli may have figured out that he was dealing with the CIA, but neither Maheu nor O'Connell realized the rank of mobsters with whom they were dealing. That changed when Maheu picked up a copy of the Sunday newspaper supplement Parade, which carried an article laying out the FBI's ten most wanted criminals. Leading the list was Sam Giancana, a.k.a. "Mooney," a.k.a. "Momo," a.k.a. "Sam the Cigar," a Chicago godfather who was one of the most feared dons in the country—and the man who called himself Sam Gold. "Joe" was also on the list. His real name, however, was Santos Trafficante—the outfit's Florida and Cuba chieftain. Chicago Magazine

Maheu alerted O'Connell. "My God, look what we're involved with," Maheu said. O'Connell told his superiors. Questioned later before the 1975 U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (later nicknamed the Church Committee after its chairman, Frank Church, the Democratic senator from Idaho), O'Connell was asked whether there had ever been any discussion about asking two men on the FBI's most wanted list to carry out a hit on a foreign leader.

"Not with me there wasn't," O'Connell answered.

"And obviously no one said stop—and you went ahead."

"Yes."

"Did it bother you at all?"

"No," O'Connell answered, "it didn't."

For his part, Maheu was impressed with Giancana. "He didn't come off as thuggish," Maheu recalls. "You could tell, he wanted attention and he got it. When he walked down the hallway, you could just sense his power. He didn't have to say a word. It was just how he carried himself. But I never heard him use foul language. He was always very well dressed and in very good shape."

The mobster could be sentimental. In his autobiography, Maheu recalls Giancana getting "tears in his eyes whenever he heard the song 'You're Nobody 'Till Somebody Loves You.' . . . He said, 'Someday I'll explain it to you.' But he never did." He could also be menacing. In the book, Maheu recalls a young man going up to Giancana at the pool and talking tough. "Without even looking at the punk, Giancana grabbed his necktie and yanked him close," Maheu writes. "Sam stared right into the kid's eyes and said, 'I eat little boys like you for breakfast. Get your ass out of here before I get hungry.'"

Born to Sicilian immigrants in a section of Chicago's Little Italy called "The Patch," Sam Giancana had forged a reputation as a crack getaway driver, a high earner, and a vicious killer. Lean and banty, he could be charming or monstrous. In his CIA-Mafia book, The Fish Is Red: The Story of the Secret War Against Castro, the author Warren Hinckle describes Giancana as "a trampy little man with hairless legs who wore baggy white socks and generally walked around looking as glum as an unpaid undertaker." Giancana's daughter, Antoinette, who lives in Elmwood Park, paints a more flattering portrait: "Sam worked at looking young," she writes in Mafia Princess Growing Up in Sam Giancana's Family. "And except for his balding head and graying hairline, he usually succeeded. . . . I can't think of anyone who looked less like the public's conception of a Mafia boss than my father in May of 1961."

Maheu forged a friendship with Giancana, meeting him every day, sounding the gangster out on his views toward Castro. Maheu quickly realized that Giancana needed little persuading to go after the Cuban leader. Not only had Castro robbed him of his casino income; Giancana had lost out on a shrimp boat operation he was trying to build, as well as on a plan to offer gambling on tourist boats traveling from Miami to Cuba. "He had all these wonderful things going for him," Antoinette Giancana told me. "As an heir to [Giancana's] estate, I can say that we lost everything to Fidel Castro. He took everything away from us." The mere mention of Castro's name in the Giancana house, the daughter recalls, "would make him flip his lid."

Accordingly, the conversations between O'Connell, Maheu, Roselli, and Giancana focused on how, not whether, to kill the Cuban leader. The CIA initially suggested a gangland-style hit, with Castro going down in a hail of bullets. Giancana balked. Too risky. It would be a suicide mission. After considering and discarding different tactics, the two sides settled on deploying what they called a Mickey Finn—a poison pill that would be slipped into Castro's food or drink.

To create the lethal capsule, the CIA turned to its "Office of Medical Services" and Dr. Edward Gunn, the CIA's equivalent of the fictional "Q," who provided James Bond with his shooting cigarettes and exploding alarm clocks. Gunn devised a pill containing botulinum, a powerful nerve toxin, but capsules didn't dissolve in water. A second batch did dissolve, but when tested on guinea pigs, they weren't lethal. It turned out that guinea pigs had a high resistance to botulinum. They tried the pills on monkeys. Success.

The pills were delivered to Giancana and Trafficante in March 1961 at the Fontainebleau. The timing was auspicious—and provided the perfect cover. The city brimmed with gangsters in town for the third heavyweight championship fight between Floyd Patterson and Ingemar Johansson. Thus, while crowds packed the hotel's Boom Boom Room to see the two fighters knock each other around, Trafficante knocked on the door of Giancana's suite without raising the least suspicion.

Waiting inside were Giancana, Roselli, Maheu, and Juan Orta, a disaffected Cuban official. Orta was angry at Castro for shuttering the gambling casinos and thereby ending his lucrative kickbacks. As payback, Orta had offered to help kill Castro, relying on the services of a chef at a restaurant frequented by Castro. The chef could put the botulinum pills in Castro's food, Orta claimed.

Testifying before the Church Committee 14 years later, Roselli recounted what happened next. Maheu "opened the briefcase and dumped a whole lot of money on [Orta's] lap," Roselli recalled. Maheu "also came up with the [poison] capsules and he explained how they were going to be used. As far as I remember, they couldn't be used in boiling soups and things like that, but they could be used in water or otherwise. . . ." (Maheu disputes the money-dumping story and says he simply passed the pills to Roselli, who gave them to Orta.) But then something went awry. The mobsters later claimed that Orta got cold feet, a view shared today by Maheu. "It's not like delivering a case of booze," he says. The more likely explanation is that Orta, who had lost his position in Castro's government, no longer had the means to pass the pills to his contact. Either way, Orta returned the poison. And Giancana and Trafficante had to find another killer.

Meanwhile, another crisis had surfaced. Giancana had fallen for Phyllis McGuire, the beautiful lead singer of the McGuire Sisters. The two had been seeing each other for several months before Giancana was approached about the Castro operation. As the plotting unfolded, Giancana, who was living at the Fontainebleau, began hearing rumors that McGuire was having an affair with the comedian Dan Rowan while the two were performing in Las Vegas.

Unhinged by jealousy, Giancana threatened to leave Miami to confront the pair. "Well, we didn't want him to leave," recalls Maheu. "We were right in the thick of things." To ease Giancana's mind, Maheu arranged for Rowan to be followed. Maheu called upon a Miami private eye he knew, Ed DuBois, to carry out the surveillance. DuBois, in turn, farmed the job out to another private investigator, Arthur J. Balletti.

What followed was a series of blunders O'Connell would later liken to the Keystone Kops. Balletti tapped the phone in Rowan's hotel room. "That was the first mistake," Maheu says. "Guys don't make phone calls when they're making love." The more serious—and ridiculous—mistake came after Rowan left his room to play golf. Balletti, apparently wanting to see McGuire's act, left his bugging equipment out—in plain view and running—in his own room, where a maid discovered it.

Had evidence of an affair been uncovered, Maheu believes Giancana would have dropped everything and gone to Las Vegas to confront McGuire. "We could not have kept him in Miami," Maheu says. "You have to remember, these two people were really in love."

As it happened, the sheriff's office was called, then the FBI. A chagrined Maheu called O'Connell. "Well, the damned fools got themselves caught," he said. Suddenly, Maheu found himself hauled before federal agents. Charges were eventually dropped against him and the detectives he hired, but not before the FBI had discovered the Castro assassination plots and Sheffield Edwards had been summoned before attorney general Robert F. Kennedy to explain why the CIA—without his knowledge—was using two men on the ten most wanted list to kill Castro. Kennedy was furious, though not enough to nix the plan. He allowed the operation to continue with the stipulation that he must be kept informed.

The assassination plot resumed its footing with word that Trafficante had turned to another contact in Cuba to carry out the hit. Tony Varona had been prime minister of Cuba in the late 1940s and early 1950s under President Carlos Prío and now wanted to finance the overthrow of Castro. Already, according to FBI reports, Trafficante had given money to Varona for the effort, hoping to secure gambling and dope monopolies in the event Varona was successful. Now, Varona identified a contact who could poison Castro's food. Jim O'Connell took a new set of pills from a safe and delivered them—along with between $20,000 and $25,000 in cash for expenses—to Roselli, who passed the poison and the cash to Varona.

This was it. All that was needed, Maheu believed, was the "go" signal from the CIA, so that the assassination would coincide with the invasion. He waited. As did Varona. But, as Maheu would later testify, "the go signal never came."

Hinckle, author of The Fish Is Red, offers an explanation. According to his theory, at the very moment Varona was supposed to give the signal, he was being sequestered by another group of CIA agents unaware of Varona's crucial role in the hit. That group had planned to install Varona, along with several other Cuban exiles, as the provisional government to take over Cuba once the counterrevolution dispatched Castro. But fearing Varona might gab and spill the Bay of Pigs plan, the agents kept Varona locked up until the invasion was over. As a result, Varona could not get word to his contact at the restaurant.

On April 15, 1961, the drone of U.S. bombers disguised as Cuban revolutionary planes sounded over the three major airfields in Cuba, signaling the launch of the Bay of Pigs. Ill conceived, tragically executed, the invasion sent a ragtag invasion force of American-trained and -funded Cuban exiles into a Custer-style ambush. Dozens of exiles were killed and more than 1,000 taken prisoner.

For a time, that squashed the assasination project. But the CIA had not given up on killing Castro. By late 1961, the agency had turned the operation over to William K. Harvey. Squat, bald, profane, with a headlong stride that gave him the appearance of a charging bull, Harvey was considered something of a legend within The Company. And indeed, he seized control of the Castro assassination mission with the kind of slash-and-burn aggressiveness that had gilded his reputation.

Among the casualties of the new leadership were Giancana and Maheu. Harvey "told me he wanted me to have nothing to do with [them]," Roselli told the Church Committee. Roselli still had the contacts, so he stayed with it. Giancana and Maheu were dumped. Maheu says it was just as well. "To tell you the truth, I'd had it up to my bald head with the whole operation after the way the whole invasion thing was handled," Maheu told me. "I was so pissed that we allowed these kids to land there and not furnish them with the proper air cover. We put 'em in the ring; we led them there to die." Over the months of plotting, Maheu and Giancana had become friends. After the final failed attempt, however, The Fixer never saw Giancana again.

When the operation resumed under Harvey, the schemes were as absurd as ever. One idea, for instance, based on Castro's avid interest in scuba diving, involved booby-trapping a conch shell with explosives so that it would detonate when Castro picked it up off the ocean floor. (An operative "bought two books on Caribbean Mollusca," according to the inspector general's report. But "none of the shells that might conceivably be found in the Caribbean area was both spectacular enough to be sure of attracting attention and large enough to hold the needed volume of explosive.") The agency also considered arranging a gift for Castro, a scuba diving suit coated inside with a fungus that would produce Madura foot, a disabling and chronic skin disease. As it happened, someone had just given Castro a diving suit and the plan was abandoned.

One of the most curious occurrences, at least in terms of timing, came with the final unsuccessful plot. The CIA had been cultivating a dissident named Rolando Cubela since the early days of the assassination discussions. In November 1963, the same Dr. Gunn who had created the poison pills came up with a new device: a Paper Mate ballpoint pen rigged as a hypodermic syringe. Filled with Black Leaf 40, a lethal mixture of nicotine and insecticide, the pen's "needle was so fine that the victim would hardly feel it when it was inserted," according to the 1967 inspector general's report.

On the afternoon of November 22, 1963, a CIA operative met with Cubela in Paris to give him the pen. As the men were coming out of the meeting, they were given terrible news: President Kennedy had been assassinated. Conspiracy theorists have noted the timing, but nothing substantial has ever linked the CIA's plotting against Castro to the Kennedy assassination. "How could it be anything other than a coincidence?" says Kornbluh. "For it to be otherwise would mean that a whole crew of people somehow knew [Lee Harvey] Oswald would shoot Kennedy on that day."

The years following the Cuba Project were not kind to the major players. Giancana, hounded to tell Congress about the CIA-Mafia connection, fled to Mexico. Maheu's relationship with Hughes fell apart in a flurry of bitter accusations on both sides. Roselli landed in the Los Angeles County Jail for a gambling scam at the Friars Club in Los Angeles, where he had helped card cheats fleece Hollywood celebrity players. He was also nailed for having failed to register as an alien. (When Roselli's lawyer asked Maheu to confirm for the court Roselli's involvement with the CIA plot, Maheu told him, "I don't know what you're talking about." Roselli "wasn't very pleased with that, as you might imagine," Maheu says.)

Eventually, though, word of the CIA's ties to the Mafia was leaked to the press. In a front-page story on August 16, 1963, the Chicago Sun-Times' Sandy Smith reported that the CIA had been dealing with Giancana for years. (The paper did not make the connection between Giancana and the Castro assassination attempts.) In early 1971, Jack Anderson wrote a column for The Washington Post detailing the operation, naming Maheu, Roselli, Jim O'Connell, and William Harvey. Maheu thinks Roselli leaked the information to Anderson to help with his own legal troubles.

Four years later, Roselli testified before the Church Committee about his CIA work. Shortly after, his decomposing body was found in Miami in a 55-gallon steel fuel drum. He had been strangled and stabbed and his legs were sawed off. Many attribute the death to a hit put out by Trafficante, payback for Roselli's having broken the mob's omertà (code of silence).

Giancana never had the chance to testify. By 1975, the godfather had moved back to Chicago—actually, to Oak Park. Already, he'd spent a year in jail for having refused to talk to Congress. Now, he was facing another congressional subpoena. Just before he was to appear, a gunman shot the 67-year-old mobster seven times in his basement while he was frying Italian sausage and spinach, his favorite snack. The weapon, a .22 Duramatic automatic pistol, was found in brush along the Des Plaines River. The crime was never solved.

Maheu assumes the mob was behind the hit. "They didn't want to take the chance that rather than to go to jail again he might talk," Maheu says. Antoinette Giancana suspects the CIA killed her father. "The government didn't like my father and my father didn't like the government," she says.

Whoever killed the Chicago Mafia don, his daughter insists that her father had the last laugh. "Sam, in his heart of hearts, had absolutely no intention to kill Castro," she told me. "None at all. He used to chuckle, periodically, and say . . . he was never going to take Castro out. It was all a game to Sam. He was milking the government for all he could get and chuckling on the side."

"That's not true," Maheu fires back. "Why the hell would he spend all that time and have these meetings and so forth? All he had to say is 'I'm not interested.' He may have said that to her, but it just doesn't fly."

Maheu also got hauled before the Church Committee in 1975. "I was pissed," he says—furious at both the Bay of Pigs debacle and the congressional summons to reveal the plots. Maheu also feared Castro would have him killed. "He might have had a lot of friends that would want to avenge this plot," he says.

Maheu believes the congressional probe was a grandstanding effort by Senator Frank Church to gain publicity for a contemplated presidential run. Still, Maheu told the committee what he knew about the mob plot, repeating his comments afterwards to the more than 100 international press representatives who had gathered for a press conference. "I still feel we should have never disclosed the mission," he says today. "I'm very bitter. When your country pledges you into secrecy . . . and 16 years later they decide to throw you in front of a bus. I had held up my part of the bargain. That was hard to swallow."

The final irony for Maheu is that the plots revealed by him and other CIA agents helped create overwhelming pressure for President Gerald Ford to do something to ban future schemes like the one Maheu fought so hard to keep secret. The year after Maheu's testimony, Ford issued Executive Order 11905: "No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination."

Every U.S. president since then has reissued the ban on assassinations. Peter Kornbluh, of the National Security Archive, argues, however, that the zealous adherence to the law has faded in recent decades. The Reagan Administration "ignored it in its work with the [Nicaraguan] Contras and in efforts to assassinate [Libyan strongman Muammar] Qaddafi in Libya," he says. "Clinton decided to let the CIA go after bin Laden," and Kornbluh maintains that George W. Bush has tacitly endorsed the targeting of suspected terrorists.

The Fixer is stirred up. Having cleared away the muffin plates, he pours us both a last cup of coffee. It's morning in Las Vegas, nearly 50 years removed from his role in the twisted tale of the Cosa Nostra and The Company. His wife died many years ago. His four children are all grown. The jets and limos and mansions he once enjoyed as alter ego to Howard Hughes are all gone, having vanished from his life like desert mirages. He lives now in a comfortable ranch-style house, with sliding glass doors that look out onto the Las Vegas National Golf Course. Next door sits the home used in Martin Scorsese's mob flick Casino. Losing the fast-lane lifestyle doesn't bother him. "I'm right back where I should be," he says. "Living a modest life." He pauses. "It's been a helluva ride."

In his book, he wrote that if given the chance for a do-over he would never have become involved in the Cuba Project. But sometimes, late at night, The Fixer still turns the thing over in his mind. Right, wrong. Good, bad. "I guess the best way to say it," he concludes, "is if I were called upon tomorrow again, and I thought it would save one American life, I think I'd be tempted." The thought intrigues. Old spies, after all, don't die; they just fade back into shadow. But the thoughts don't keep him up at night. These days, in the twilight of his extraordinary life, The Fixer can sleep.

Thanks to Bryan Smith

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