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Showing posts with label Lenny Patrick. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lenny Patrick. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Reports that John "No Nose" DiFronzo, AKA Johnny Bananas, Chicago's Top Mobster has Died

Days earlier a “message” had been sent by Chicago mobsters, federal agents believed, when a small bomb exploded outside the home of the daughter of Outfit turncoat Lenny Patrick.

John DiFronzo was just one of a group of alleged mobsters for whom the Feds wanted to send a message back, immediately.

There was no hurry in DiFronzo that day as he breezed north on Dearborn as if it was a noon-time walk, declining to answer any questions.

DiFronzo climbed the ladder of the Outfit ranks from burglar to boss. Reporters nicknamed him “No-Nose” after he was cut jumping through a window in a Michigan Avenue burglary in the 1940s. But to his fellow organized crime brothers he was known as “Bananas” due to his complexion.

In January 1992, DiFronzo was indicted in California in a scheme to run a casino at the Rincon Indian Preservation near San Diego. He and fellow Chicagoan Donald Angelini, were convicted of fraud and conspiracy, though the conviction was over turned and he was released from prison.

By day DiFronzo worked as a car salesman at an Irving Park dealership and often by 4:00 he could be seen entering an Elmwood Park restaurant for his afternoon vodka.

DiFronzo’s name surfaced in the Operation Family Secrets trial in which mob heavy weights Joey “the Clown” Lombardo, Frank Calabrese, Sr. and James Marcello were convicted of taking part in a series of mob hits, including the murders of Tony Spilotro and Michael Spilotro.

During the trial, federal prosecutors named DiFronzo as part of the crew that killed “Tony the Ant” and his brother and buried them in an Indiana farm field. When asked during the course of the trial how prosecutors could name—and not charge—DiFronzo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars’ only response was “good question.”

The Elmwood Park mobster had reportedly been ill for some time. Within hours of the announcement of his death at the age of 89 his Wikipedia page was updated to list his birth as December 13, 1928 and his death as May 27, 2018.

Thanks to Carol Marin and Don Moseley.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

FBI Reopens Cold Case with Mob Connections

Joni Merriam Simms was waiting for her father to take her to lunch 20 years ago.

"I was at work downtown, I waited and waited, and he didn't call," Simms told me the other day. "It wasn't like him, not calling."

Amoco Oil company executive Charles Merriam, from the prominent Republican political family that once tried to reform the city and fight the Chicago Democratic machine, had been murdered.

The night before -- at around 10:30 p.m. on Nov. 4, 1987 -- two men knocked on the door of his northwest suburban home. He was shot twice in the chest, once in the head.

You could say he was killed under the weight of the iron triangle that connects corrupt politicians, corrupt cops and the Chicago Outfit. The investigation was bungled by Cook County sheriff's police, with missing files and evidence, including a monogrammed glove from the scene that disappeared. But there is news. The FBI has reopened the unsolved murder. Investigators are using DNA techniques similar to those that helped the FBI break the Operation Family Secrets case of 18 other, previously unsolved Outfit homicides.

"We are investigating," FBI spokesman Ross Rice told me on Friday. "We are doing some advanced forensic testing that was not available at the time of the Merriam killing."

Unfortunately, the Merriam family has seen leads die before. They also read the fascinating Chicago Tribune series, "Forbidden Friendships Between Cops and Criminals," by investigative reporter David Jackson in 2000. It connected the dots of the Merriam murder, reaching into City Hall, the highest echelons of the Chicago Police Department and the Outfit.

Chicago met Jackson's series about police and the Outfit with a telling quiet. The series was dead on, but was officially met with silence. No blue-ribbon committees were formed, no politicians reacted with outrage at news conferences staged for TV, nothing. "That's why 20 years later, my family closely followed the Family Secrets trial," Simms said. "And we were glad that some members of the Outfit were found guilty of various crimes, yet extremely frustrated that my father's murder remains unsolved."

Charles Merriam was responsible for monitoring about 1,000 Amoco service stations in the Midwest. A few of those stations were owned by restaurateur Frank Milito, a twice-convicted felon and casino investor with ties to mobsters, top politicians and cops, including one of his best friends, former Police Supt. Matt Rodriguez.

It was Rodriguez's friendship with Milito that led to Rodriguez's highly publicized resignation in 1997.

When Milito was convicted of tax evasion involving his gas stations in 1986, Merriam moved to take the stations away from him. Angry words were exchanged in court. Milito was furious.

"We knew my father was doing something that nobody at Amoco wanted to do," Joni Simms said. "Weeks before he was killed, we were aware that he was going to be doing something pretty dangerous. He was threatened before he was killed."

One man interviewed in the case years ago was Pierre Zonis, Milito's brother-in-law and a gas station manager. Zonis was also questioned in two other Outfit-related homicides, the 1982 killing of auto mechanic Richard Campbell, and the 1986 hit on Giuseppe Cocozza, a bust-out gambler and gas station manager.

Zonis is a Chicago cop, though he's been listed by the Chicago Crime Commission as an Outfit associate. He'd seen both Cocozza and Campbell hours before their deaths. And a few hours before Merriam was killed, a call was placed to Merriam's unlisted phone number from a pay phone in a gas station run by Zonis.

"I'm supposed to be a mob hitman because a pay phone in my gas station was used?" Zonis told the Tribune years ago.

We tried to reach Zonis last week, and left a message at the 23d District where he works. If he calls, I'll let you know what he says.

I'd like to know about his relationship with Mario "I'm no Beefer" Rainone, an Outfit loan shark and godfather to one of Zonis' children; and Mario's little buddy, the perpetually quiet Albert Vena.

Rainone recently called me to proclaim he never ratted on any Outfit guys, even though he did help the FBI tape an incriminating conversation between himself and North Side gangster Lenny Patrick.

Now Rainone is out of prison, perhaps hanging around with his friend Vena, who twice beat murder charges against him. Neither Zonis, Rainone or Vena has been charged in connection with the Merriam killing.

Milito is in prison on yet another tax charge. Zonis remains a cop. City Hall keeps pushing for the mayor's big casino. And Joni Simms?

"I don't think people understand the impact the Outfit has," she said. "I don't think people realize how it impacts local politics and local police officers."

She understands the Chicago Way. I figure her dad, Charles Merriam, understood it, too, the moment he opened the door.

Thanks to John Kass

Friday, April 27, 2007

Beef from Mobster Who Says He is No Beefer

Friends of ours: Mario Rainone, Nick Calabrese, Gerald Scarpelli, Lenny Patrick, Gus Alex

It's so nice to talk to loyal readers, even an angry reader who's spent the last 15 years in federal prison for being a notorious juice loan collector for the Chicago Outfit. But I'd prefer not being hectored on an empty stomach. All those blunt Paulie Walnuts vowels make me hungry.

"I think you want to talk to this guy right away," said the young fellow who answers the phone around here. "He wants a correction. He keeps talking about beef."

5 Dollars a Steak SaleBeef?

"He insists that he's not a beefer and that you wrote in the column the other day that he's a beefer. 'Tell John I'm not a beefer,' he said. So I'm telling you."

What's his name? "Mario Rainone."

So I called him, out of respect for his ability to remain alive.

"I'm no beefer!" said Rainone, the Outfit tough guy who plead guilty to racketeering and extortion in 1992. "You keep saying I'm a beefer, and it's not true. You're ruining my life."

Ruining his life? What about mine? I was starving for the classic Chicago sammich, Italian beef with hot peppers on crusty bread. But he was using Chicago slang, employing the words "beef" and "beefer" to refer to a guy who complains about, then informs on, his associates.

"Enough is enough already!" he pleaded. "I got released 90 days ago. I don't know nothing."

Here's what Rainone was upset about. This week, I wrote a column about the upcoming "Operation Family Secrets" trial, involving top Chicago Outfit bosses and their hit men and 18 previously unsolved Mafia assassinations.

The case is largely built on the testimony of mobster Nick Calabrese, who beefed on his brother to the feds. But other mobsters have spilled their gravy on what they know, in other unrelated cases. And all these stories, cobbled together, have helped federal authorities develop extensive dossiers on the mob. Naturally, guys like Rainone are nervous.

"It's ridiculous," Rainone said. "I don't know nothing about 'Family Secrets.'
"

I never said you did.

"It's in the paper," he said.

Read it again. But he didn't, because he was upset, for good reason.

A few years ago, Outfit soldier Gerald Scarpelli told what he knew to the FBI. Later, Scarpelli strangled himself with plastic bags. In prison. So who wouldn't understand a man suffering from agita after beef?

Rainone's former supervisor, Lenny Patrick, another gangster, also beefed on his boss, Gus Alex, who years ago, according to news reports, put out a hit on my new friend Mario, who beefed on Patrick, which led to Alex.

It's confusing, but symmetrical, like that song, "Circle of Life," only think of it sung by Frank Sinatra instead of Elton John.

"I was locked up since 1990. I never testified," Rainone said. "Then you want to put my name in the papers with this. I never cooperated with the FBI. I have never been a witness. You know like I know, if a guy is going to beef, he is going to beef. But I didn't beef."

Yet according to news accounts, federal testimony, court documents and the FBI supervisor who worked on the Rainone case, Mario was a deluxe beefer with extra juice and peppers. "He's trying to rewrite history, and that's fascinating," said Jim Wagner, the FBI supervisor who interviewed Rainone and is now president of the Chicago Crime Commission. "He cooperated. Now he's putting out the word he never beefed? Obviously, he's feeling pressure."

After living a life collecting gambling debts the hard way, Rainone had an epiphany and decided to call the FBI. But instead of angels, he spotted two associates tailing him in another car. Outfit guys don't believe in coincidence. Rainone figured they weren't going to ask him for coffee and cake, not even poppy seed. He figured they were going to kill him.

So he flipped and told the FBI many things, and they put him on the phone with Lenny Patrick, and Patrick flipped on Alex. Then Rainone had another change of heart and tried to flip back again. He refused to testify in court. Yet by then, his beef was overcooked, and he did 15 years.

"In max penitentiaries," he said, "not those [easy] joints."

I asked about the two guys in the tail car, if their names were Rudy and Willie, and how he felt phoning Patrick with the FBI listening. "I've got no knowledge of that. It was all lies. I paid for my crimes, and I am not going to pay no more. I don't know those guys. I don't know none of them. This is ridiculous."

He also mentioned that it might have been a mistake to beef me on a column when I was hungry. "I shouldn't have called you. That's my mistake. Listen, I know that Friday's paper will be worse than Wednesday's," he said.

These days, Rainone said he's looking for a job, perhaps as a truck driver: "I'll take anything." But if he can't get a job driving trucks, perhaps he could ask a builder for meaningful, fulfilling work. Or you readers might know of something appropriate.

"All I want is to live a legitimate life," he said. And all I wanted was a legitimate lunch.

Thanks to John Kass

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A-List Could Testify about Mob Family Secrets

Friends of ours: James LaValley, Lenny Patrick, Frank "The German" Schweihs, Sal Romano, Frank Cullotta, Tony Spilotro

A former adult bookstore owner and an ex-juice loan enforcer who once threatened to cut off the remaining arm of an amputee are among the witnesses who could testify in the upcoming blockbuster Family Secrets mob trial in Chicago, the Sun-Times has learned.

Federal prosecutors are expected to put forward a parade of former wiseguys in the trial, beginning in May, that aims to solve 18 mob hits and puts some of the top reputed mobsters in Chicago on the hot seat.

Former enforcer James LaValley, who once belonged to the street crew of one-time top mobster Lenny Patrick, has cooperated with the government for more than 15 years after a career in which he specialized in so-called "hard-to-collect" debts.

LaValley, an intimidating, sizable man, testified in an earlier mob trial that he cut the hand of one deadbeat gambler and threatened to cut off the arm of a bookie who was an amputee.

Another potential witness in the Family Secrets case is former adult bookstore owner William "Red" Wemette, according to sources familiar with the matter. Wemette repeatedly helped record one defendant in the case, reputed mob killer Frank "The German" Schweihs, who was convicted of extorting Wemette during the 1980s.

Also on tap as potential witnesses are two former members of the burglary crew run by Anthony Spilotro, the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas. Both Sal Romano and Frank Cullotta have testified previously at mob trials.

It's unclear exactly what the witnesses would testify about at trial, but they could provide jurors with expansive views of their slice of mob life in Chicago.

Attorney Joseph Lopez, who represents reputed mob hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. in the Family Secrets case, said he had seen LaValley testify in another case years ago and did not share the government's estimation of him. LaValley is "a real character," Lopez said. LaValley "loves himself to death. If he could look at himself in the mirror all day, that's all he'd do."

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Saturday, October 22, 2005

American Justice: The Chicago Mob

Though they have been glorified to no end, Chicago gangsters have a violent and often unbelievable history. Theirs is a tale of power, wealth, and betrayal. A&E documents the many incarnations of this criminal clan in American Justice: The Chicago Mob.

Al Capone is the most famous of faces to inhabit the Windy City. His absolute control over the streets was typified by the St. Valentine's Day massacre and a seemingly impenetrable legal defense. Under him, Tony Accardo and Sam "Mooney" Giancana learned the ropes, eventually becoming dominant bosses themselves. Accardo earned the nickname "Joe Batters" because of his supposed skill with a baseball bat. At one time, Accardo ran over 10,000 gambling dens throughout the city. Using expert interviews and FBI accounts, A&E also pieces together the ups and downs of the lowly henchmen. Gus Alex, a wise guy serving under Giancana, was ratted out by fellow gangster Lenny Patrick in 1992. The trial caused a sensation because Patrick was the highest-ranking mobster to ever provide testimony for the government. The case also signaled the sputtering end of the golden days for the high-profile organization. ~ Sarah Ing, All Movie Guide

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Crackdown just latest hit on mob

Friends of ours: Anthony Chiaramonti, Al Capone, James Marcello, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Frank Calabrese Sr., Nick Calabrese, Michael Spano Sr., Gus Alex, Lenny Patrick, Sam Carlisi, Rocco Infelice, Marco D'Amico, John DiFronzo
Friends of mine: William Hanhardt

Among the 14 alleged mob bosses and associates indicted last week by a federal grand jury were three "made" members who enjoy lofty status in the organized crime underworld.

Prosecutors said the indictments were historic for Chicago because never before had so many high-ranking bosses of La Cosa Nostra been taken down in a single criminal case. The mob, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said, had taken a hit. But the truth is the Outfit has been wounded for some time.

A series of successful federal prosecutions over the years have put many bosses behind bars and have forced mobsters and their associates into much lower profiles. "Over the last 20 years, it's been one blow after another," said Lee Flosi, a former FBI agent who supervised the organized crime task force in the early 1990s.

The mob has downsized from six street crews to four. The number of organized crime associates--individuals the crews need for muscle, loan sharking, debt collecting and sports betting--also has dwindled.

"Made" members, who are typically of Italian descent and have committed one murder on behalf of the mob, have become an endangered species.

The last known induction into the mob took place in 1984 at the Como Inn, an Italian restaurant in Chicago, although there may have been other induction ceremonies since, according to former organized crime investigators.

The FBI estimates that Chicago now only has 25 "made" members and another 75 organized crime associates. Federal authorities said that 15 years ago the mob had 50 "made" members and as many as 400 associates.

Mob violence has dropped off, as well.

The last known successful mob hit occurred in Nov. 20, 2001. That's when Anthony "Tony the Hatch" Chiaramonti, a top figure in the Outfit's South Side rackets, was gunned down in the vestibule of a west suburban chicken restaurant. The 67-year-old Chiaramonti's murder remains unsolved.

The hit, or rub-out, was used to command loyalty, to take out rivals or to silence witnesses. According to the Chicago Crime Commission, 1,111 gangland slayings have been committed since 1919.

The latest arrests of alleged mobsters generated widespread media interest and calls from overseas talk show hosts who recall the St. Valentine's Day massacre of 1929, which led to the end of Prohibition, made Al Capone a household name and solidified Chicago as the gangster capital of the world. But the Chicago Police Department's definition of organized crime has shifted during recent decades from the Outfit to street gangs like the Latin Kings and the Black Gangster Disciples that control drug sales in the city.

"When you look at who's a bigger threat to the public, it's clear," said Cmdr. Steve Caluris, who runs the Deployment Operations Center, which coordinates all of the department's intelligence gathering. "These aren't just punks hanging out on street corners. It's organized crime." Chicago police statistics show that 1,276 murders were tied to street gangs from 2000 through 2004.

The 41-page racketeering indictment provided fresh insights into the mob's enterprise of illegal gambling, loan sharking and murder. Prosecutors charged that La Cosa Nostra bosses and "made" members were responsible for 18 gangland slayings from 1970 through 1986.

While the Outfit is still active in embezzling from union pension and benefit funds, illegal sports bookmaking, video poker machines and occasional violence, its heyday of influence passed long before Monday's indictments of James Marcello, the reputed boss of the mob; fugitive Joseph "the Clown" Lombardo; and 12 others.

Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr. and Nicholas Calabrese were the three "made" mob members indicted, according to court records.

"Once `made,' the individual was accorded greater status and respect in the enterprise," the indictment said. "An individual who was `made' or who committed a murder on behalf of the Outfit was obligated to the enterprise for life to perform criminal acts on behalf of the enterprise when called upon."

Prosecutors had begun weakening the Chicago Outfit with a series of successes, though few of the convictions have involved mob murders.

Among the more recent major cases have been that of William Hanhardt, a former Chicago police deputy superintendent, for running a mob-connected jewelry theft ring and reputed Cicero mob boss Michael Spano Sr. for looting $12 million from town coffers.

In the 1990s, convictions included mob leaders Gus Alex, chief political fixer for decades; Lenny Patrick, a gangster for 50 years who became the highest-ranking mobster to turn government informant; Sam Carlisi, former head of the mob's day-to-day operations; Ernest "Rocco" Infelice, convicted of murdering a bookmaker who refused demands to pay "street tax"; and Marco D'Amico, a top gambling boss.

With each aging mobster who dies or goes to prison, the Outfit has not been fully successful in recruiting leadership. Still, law enforcement officials and mob watchers caution that Monday's arrests do not mean the Chicago La Cosa Nostra is near death. La Cosa Nostra--"this thing of ours" or "our thing"--is used to refer to the American mafia.

The mob controls most of the illegal sports betting in the Chicago area, remains stubbornly entrenched in the Teamsters Union and remains disturbingly effective at collecting "street taxes" as a cost to operate businesses such as strip clubs.

While federal authorities, took down alleged members and associates from the Grand Avenue, the 26th Street and Melrose Park crews, the Elmwood Park street crew was untouched. That crew, perhaps the most powerful of the four mob crews in the Chicago area, reputedly is led by John "No Nose" DiFronzo. And even though they are imprisoned, mob bosses have remained adept at running their enterprise from their cells. "They still continue illegal activities through conversations with relatives and associates. It's not going to put them out of business," said James Wagner, a 30-year FBI veteran who retired in 2000.

Court records show that Frank Calabrese Sr., a leader with the mob's 26th Street crew, did just that. Two retired Chicago police officers allegedly delivered messages between Calabrese and mobsters on the outside, including messages to determine whether Calabrese's younger brother, Nicholas, had become an mob turncoat and was cooperating with government. Frank Calabrese Sr. was right to worry; his brother had become an informant, federal authorities said.

The indictment provided sketchy data about a sports bookmaking operation that allegedly was run between 1992 and 2001 by Frank Calabrese Sr. and Nicholas Ferriola. The indictments stated that it operated in northern Illinois and involved five or more people.

Thomas Kirkpatrick, president of the Chicago Crime Commission, said illegal gambling is the mother's milk of the mob.

Kirkpatrick said he had seen one estimate from several years ago that about $100 million was bet with the Chicago mob on the NFL's Super Bowl. "That's where the money is for the mob," Kirkpatrick said. "No one else has the ability to move the money, to cover the bets, to keep the records and to collect debts. That takes an organization."

And, the chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board last week raised concerns that the current board's low staffing of investigators could let organized crime sneak into the state's nine operating riverboat casinos. Gaming officials fear that mob figures would work the casinos in search of desperate gamblers and offer them "juice loans," lending money at rates that can reach 520 percent a year.

The Chicago mob allegedly has its tentacles deep into at least six Teamsters Union locals, according to a report prepared last year by the union's anti-corruption investigators. They turned up allegations of mob influence, kickback schemes and the secret shifting of union jobs to low-wage, non-union companies.

A copy of the report had been provided to the Justice Department after the investigators alleged that union leaders acting at the direction of the Chicago mob had blocked their probe into alleged wrongdoing. "The Chicago area, more than anywhere else where Teamster entities are concentrated, continues to furnish the conditions that historically have made the union vulnerable to organized crime infiltration and systemic corruption: an organized crime family that still has considerable strength, a corrupt business and political environment and resistance to anti-racketeering reform efforts by key Teamster leaders," the report said.

In fact, the FBI's organized crime unit already is investigating some of the allegations in the report.

Agents are looking into whether hundreds of thousands of dollars were siphoned from a Teamsters benefit plan that provides dental care to Chicago-area undertakers and valets, according to sources. "The mob is the same as it always has been," said FBI spokesman Ross Rice, "just on a smaller scale."

Thanks to Todd Lighty and Matt O'Connor

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