The Chicago Syndicate: Melrose Park Former Police Chief's Racketeering and Extortion Trial Begins

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Melrose Park Former Police Chief's Racketeering and Extortion Trial Begins

Former Melrose Park Police Chief Vito Scavo used "extortion and strong-arm tactics" to get local institutions—including bars and restaurants, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, Navistar and Kiddieland amusement park—to use guards from his security firm for protection, a federal prosecutor charged Tuesday. But an attorney for Scavo defended his client's law enforcement record.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Stephen Andersson told a federal jury in his opening arguments in Scavo's racketeering and extortion trial that Scavo ran his private security firm out of the Melrose Park police station. He often used on-duty village police officers who were paid twice, once by the village and once by the client, for their service, Andersson said.

"You don't say no to the police chief," Andersson said.

Andersson asserted that a waste disposal company that was paying another security firm $17 an hour for a security guard was pressured into paying $45 per guard from Scavo's firm.

Andersson said that Scavo used the ill-gotten gain to buy a Florida condominium, lease a $60,000 Cadillac Escalade and pay for an $11,000 big-screen television.

Thomas Breen, Scavo's defense attorney, countered in his opening argument by saying that "police officers aren't terribly well paid, and many have side jobs."

"Melrose Park—Vito Scavo—extortion, sounds scary," Breen said. "But Scavo is a copper's cop and a darn good cop for 30 years."

Breen compared the Melrose Park Police Department to a social club and likened the village to television's fictional small town of Mayberry.

Scavo is on trial with former Deputy Police Chief Gary Montino, 52, and a part-time officer, Michael Wynn, 55, who the government claims assisted Scavo in the fraudulent scheme. The trial, presided over by U.S. District Court Judge Joan Gottschall, is expected to last a month.

Scavo, police chief from 1996 to 2006, is charged with racketeering conspiracy, extortion, obstruction of justice, mail and wire fraud and filing false personal and corporate federal income tax returns. Montino is charged with racketeering and mail fraud, and Wynn is charged with mail fraud.

Thanks to Art Barnum

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