The Chicago Syndicate: Chris Spina
Showing posts with label Chris Spina. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Chris Spina. Show all posts

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Jimmy DeLeo Era Begins

An important Illinois political story took place on Wednesday.

It didn't happen in Springfield or at Chicago's City Hall.

It took place on a quiet street in Oak Park. There were no TV cameras, no press aides. It was a somber ritual marking the transfer of power.

Sam Banks, the longtime political boss of the 36th Ward on the Northwest Side of Chicago, was laid to rest. He passed away after a long bout with cancer. The funeral was held at St. Giles Roman Catholic Church.

One of Sam's pallbearers was his former political apprentice, State Sen. James DeLeo, D-How You Doin'?

Sam was the guy for years. But there's a new guy now, reaching beyond the ward, from Rush Street to Rosemont and beyond:

Jimmy.

The night before, at Salerno's Galewood Chapels on North Harlem Avenue, thousands of clout-heavy people attended the wake in rooms crammed with flower arrangements.

Attendees included trucking barons, asphalt kings, Republican and Democratic officials from across the state, right down to Christy Spina, the former driver for imprisoned Outfit boss Joey "The Clown" Lombardo. And there were plenty of judges, who along with the lawyers, helped form Sam Banks' network.

Criminal defense lawyer Tom Breen delivered the eulogy in church.

"If I were writing a newspaper column about Sam Banks," said Breen, "my newspaper column would be about a man who worked hard all his life, who loved his family, his career. That's the Sam Banks I would write about.

"He was a good person, he was a generous person. And I think we will miss him terribly."

Banks did love his family, and Breen is a fine lawyer. But he's no newspaper columnist. You can't write a column about the 36th Ward without asking some FBI types about the Chicago Outfit.

Almost two decades ago now, the old mobbed-up 1st Ward was scattered to the winds by federal prosecutions. The late Ald. Fred Roti, 1st, was sent to prison. With City Hall's official position that there is no Outfit, the old 1st Ward boundaries were erased on the city political maps.

"Once Roti was out of business, they did have other people to assume the same power and control in the 36th Ward," said Jim Wagner, the former head of the Chicago Crime Commission and longtime chief of the FBI's organized-crime section.

"If you're in organized crime, you're not going to give up the position of influence and authority," Wagner said. "You're going to turn to a replacement. That's what they are thought to have done."

Banks was low-key. He wasn't a showoff, no spaccone, like some. Again, remember, despite federal theories, there have been no Outfit-related charges. Sam was never charged. It's not illegal to know guys who know guys.

"What does that mean, ‘mob-associated?'" said DeLeo years ago, when the Sun-Times asked about political contributions he received from businesses connected to reputed Outfit boss John DiFronzo.

"In the year 2001, is there really a mob in Chicago?" DeLeo asked then, perhaps rhetorically.

Jimmy can be amusing. He's a funny guy.

Shortly after that witty comment, Chicago was treated to the most significant Outfit investigation in history. The "Family Secrets" case led to what amounts to life prison terms for top mob bosses and hit men.

In the "Family Secrets" trial, DeLeo and Sam's son, zoning lawyer and banker James Banks, were named in testimony by Ann Spilotro, widow of slain gangster Michael Spilotro, as the buyers of a business she owned. In other testimony, Sam Banks was named by a convicted burglar as an alleged conduit for protection money to corrupt cops.

Then in 2008, pressure on the 36th Ward organization increased. The Chicago Tribune investigative series "Neighborhoods for Sale" documented how clout influenced the politics of zoning in Chicago. While Sam Banks was strong, the Banks family was the first family of zoning in the city.

His brother William Banks was the alderman. For decades, Billy was chairman of the powerful City Council Committee on Zoning. Back when I covered City Hall, every time James Banks appeared before Uncle Billy's committee with a zoning matter, Uncle Billy would stand up and loudly excuse himself, saying he wanted no conflict of interest.

Then Billy would walk into the back room, perhaps have a sandwich, and wait while the other aldermen approved his nephew's zoning request. They probably didn't want a conflict of interest with Sam.

Recently, things have changed. With the feds interested in the 36th Ward, Billy has retired from the City Council. Jimmy might let him keep the Democratic committeeman's job and play with the precinct captains and pretend he's got power, but that's about it.

In his eulogy Wednesday, Breen said that moments after the family asked him to speak in church, his phone rang. It was the guy. It was Jimmy.

"He (DeLeo) said, ‘Tom, you know there is a time limit and you know that it's in a church, right?'" Breen recalled, getting some laughs. "So the golf jokes were out the window. The dinner jokes were out the window."

Jimmy is now retiring from the state Senate. He'll become a lobbyist. He still has his title insurance company business partner, Senate President John Cullerton, D-DeLeo, running things in Springfield.

Like Sam before him, it's time for Jimmy to go low-key. After all, he's the guy.

Thanks to John Kass

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Joey's a load of laughs ... or buckshot

Friends of ours: Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Frank "the German" Schweihs, Paul Schiro
Friends of mine: William Hanhardt, Chris Spina

It must be difficult to tell jokes while you're wearing leg irons and an orange federal jumpsuit, facing the possibility you could spend the rest of your life sharing prison space with some Colombian drug dealer, a blue tattoo covering half his face. But Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, 77, couldn't help but be amusing in federal court Tuesday after spending nine months as a fugitive from the FBI until his arrest late last week.

He pleaded not-guilty to a charge of conspiring in the 1974 shotgun murder of government witness Daniel Seifert. Then U.S. District Judge James Zagel asked Lombardo if a doctor had examined him. "I didn't see my doctor since nine months ago," said Lombardo. "I was--what do they call it? I was unavailable."

That got laughs. Even Zagel smiled. The criminal defense lawyers representing other Outfit figures in the federal government's Operation Family Secrets prosecution laughed too. One of them slapped Lombardo hard on the back.

Though he's pushing 80, Lombardo's runty and bandy legged in his jumpsuit, suggesting he had an active youth. His pantlegs are short, the cuffs rolled up several times, and he leaned on one foot, then the other, the leg irons connecting his ankles. And though he was joking and polite and cast as a colorful rogue, you could see something in him still.

You could see it in his back and in the way he folded his fingers together and held the hands up to his face while the judge was speaking, how he rubbed his lips with his thumbs, listening, eyes moving quickly in his head. Here's what you could see: You could still see the ape in the man.

We asked Jack O'Rourke, a former FBI agent, what was so scary about the Clown. Jack was polite but sounded as if he thought it was a silly question. What was so scary about Lombardo? "Well, he had absolute power and he could get you killed, that's basically it," O'Rourke said.

I've heard that sometimes, if Lombardo's really in a clowning mood, he'll take a photograph of himself and cut his own head off, then stick his photograph head onto another picture, perhaps some gorgeous supermodel in a calendar or an athlete on a poster. That's funny, isn't it? Or he'll point to a fish on the wall, some bass that got caught and mounted, and he'll say, "Hey, he wouldn't get caught if he didn't open his mouth." That's funny too.

One of my favorite Lombardo jokes took place after he had served time in prison for conspiring to bribe U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.) and another conviction for plotting to skim $2 million from a Las Vegas casino. In 1992 he took an ad in the Tribune and other papers saying he wasn't a mobster anymore:"If anyone hears my name used in connection with criminal activity, please notify the FBI, local police, and my parole officer, Ron Kumke."

At that time, he was being driven around town on the taxpayer's dime by a $30 per hour city Streets and San foreman, Chris Spina. Chris, or Christy, had a trucking company, Spingee Trucking, and that firm received contracts in the mayor's Hired Truck program, and Spina's trucks may even have had engines. Former City Inspector General Alexander Vroustouris made all of this public in 1993 and tried to get Spina fired. But that's not the funny part.

The funny part is that after Vroustouris moved to fire him, and exposed the trucks and the Lombardo connection, the Illinois Appellate Court reinstated Spina and he got a raise, and Spina only recently retired with a full city pension. So Spina didn't get fired. It was Vroustouris who got fired later.

Then there was the time five years ago that I went looking for Lombardo at a nice little restaurant on Grand Avenue with my first legman, named Slim the Legman.

We were there to ask Lombardo about William Hanhardt, the former chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department, who was just indicted and who would later plead guilty to running an Outfit-sanctioned jewelry theft ring.

One of Hanhardt's partners in the ring, Paul Schiro, has been indicted in the Operation Family Secrets case that has also indicted Lombardo, reputed hit man Frank "The German" Schweihs and others.

Lombardo was in the restaurant, and he had a gold St. Christopher medallion around his neck.

Sitting with Slim, I took out my notebook and tape recorder, to let Lombardo know I was coming over. He snapped his fingers and bus boys ran over to shovel his food into takeout containers. Then he left.

I asked the manger why Lombardo left so quickly. The manager said it wasn't Lombardo.

"No. That was Mr. Irwin Goldman. I think it was, yeah, Mr. Goldman," he said.

Irwin Goldman wearing a St. Christopher medallion? Are you kidding?

"You're funny," the manager said. "That's funny."

But I'm not the funny one. I keep hearing how Lombardo is funny. I'm sure he's a riot.

I'm just wondering how funny he'd be with a shotgun in his hands.

Thanks to John Kass

Crime Family Index