The Chicago Syndicate: Mark Polchan
Showing posts with label Mark Polchan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mark Polchan. Show all posts

Monday, December 05, 2016

Former Boss of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club forsees Hells Angels Takeover of Chicago

“God Forgives, Outlaws Don’t.”

That’s the menacing motto of the Outlaws motorcycle club, formed in the Chicago area in 1935, now with chapters and thousands of members around the world. But in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, a former Outlaws leader says the group isn’t nearly as fearsome or dominant as it used to be in Illinois. “The times have changed,” says Peter “Big Pete” James, 62, who lives in the west suburbs. “Somehow, there’s no testosterone out there.”

James hung up his Outlaws vest — black leather with a skull and crossed pistons patch — last year amid an internal dispute with other local leaders and his own ongoing fight with cancer.

Contrary to the biker rumor mill, James isn’t returning to the fray, he told the Sun-Times. His wide-ranging interview was unusual because so-called “1-percenter” bikers generally are loath to talk publicly about their business.

Watching from the sidelines, James says that maybe the biggest indication his old club is slipping involves the rise of the rival Hells Angels motorcycle club, which he believes is poised to overtake the Outlaws as the big-dog biker group in the Chicago area — an unthinkable development not long ago.

He predicts — but insists he isn’t advocating — renewed conflict between the two groups resulting from the shifting dynamic.

An attorney for the Outlaws responds only, “There wouldn’t be any comment at this time.” The Hells Angels didn’t respond to inquiries.

Back in the 1990s, the Outlaws and Hells Angels — both which have weathered intense federal prosecutions and allegations they’re nothing more than gangs on wheels involved in drug dealing and mayhem — were locked in “war” in Chicago, as the Hells Angels made a foray into the region, the Outlaws’ long-established turf.

After a series of bombings, shootings and stabbings, the rival clubs formed a fragile truce. The Hells Angels, formed in 1948 in California, gave up their attempt to put a clubhouse within the Chicago city limits and, instead, planted a flag in Harvey, remaining there today.

Since then, the Outlaws have maintained a stronghold in Chicago, with a South Side clubhouse at 25th and Rockwell and a North Side clubhouse on Division Street. It also has several other chapters in northern Illinois.

As regional vice president, James had domain over all of them and also was president of the North Siders. In all, he says there were maybe 100 hard-core members in northern Illinois. But James says smart moves by the Hells Angels — plus waves of prosecutions, poor leadership by some current Outlaws and changing times and attitudes — have changed things.

For one, James says local Outlaws are less willing to take orders from the top. “It used to be the boss’ word was law,” he says. “He says, ‘Ride off the cliff,’ and guys would ride off a cliff. The quality of the members has gone down.”

Fear of prison has also had an impact on some local club leaders, according to James, who’s critical of his old group for not being “entrepreneurial.”

Unlike the Outlaws, Hells Angels members are Internet-savvy, with the group’s local Facebook page accumulating more than 29,000 “likes” and the club selling T-shirts and other merchandise on its website. The Hells Angels also have made money by holding parties at its Harvey clubhouse and at bars in the Chicago area, according to James, who says the club welcomes “civilians” and members of smaller biker clubs to their parties.

“The Outlaws are losing out on the party money,” he says, along with the chance to market themselves and gain supporters.

Chicago-area law enforcement officials periodically have cracked down on both clubs. They say they’ve been preoccupied with other groups in recent years — especially the African-American gang factions behind Chicago’s staggering 50 percent rise in murders this year.

It was more than a decade ago when federal authorities charged Melvin Chancey, the former president of the Chicago-area Hells Angels, with racketeering and drug trafficking.

The last major Chicago law-enforcement crackdown of the Outlaws was more than five years ago. Chicago Outlaws member Mark Polchan was convicted of orchestrating a 2003 bombing outside C & S Coin Operated Amusements, a video-poker business in Berwyn that reputed mob boss Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno wanted to destroy to protect his own gambling interests. The pipe bomb blew out windows and damaged the building.

Polchan, who also was accused of fencing stolen jewelry for the mob at his Cicero pawnshop, was sentenced in 2011 to 60 years in federal prison.

James describes Polchan as his one-time “confidant” and says, “I love him.”

He says he has continued to receive occasional visits from federal agents looking for information on the biker world that he says he’s unwilling to give. “I try to be polite, to a point,” he says.

He figures his former club isn’t engaged in criminal activity at the same level as in the old days. Drug dealing, he says, worries graying members who don’t want to face a prison stretch lasting decades.

Even if things seem more low-key, though, “It doesn’t mean there’s not violence,” James says. “It’s just not as flagrant.” But there have been reports of Outlaws roughing up members of weaker Hispanic biker clubs in the Chicago area since James left. The apparent aim: to force them to ally more closely with the Outlaws, which has long enjoyed a “support system” from other clubs.

James says there’s nothing wrong with building alliances, but it’s stupid to enlist “Neanderthal” methods, adding, “They’re not thinking it through.”

James says that when he was in charge, he created a confederation of dozens of biker clubs, part of an effort “to change the stereotype.”

He says the TV show “Sons of Anarchy,” which aired on FX from 2008 to 2014, popularized but also caused headaches for “1-percenter” biker clubs — so-called for representing the 1 percent of bikers supposedly involved in crime.

“I watched the show,” he says, laughing. “It was like an Outfit guy watching ‘The Sopranos.’ Kind of a joke.”

Fans of the show about a criminal biker group in California formed their own clubs and made pilgrimages to the Outlaws clubhouse on Division Street to ask James to “sanction” them. James says he refused to avoid giving the feds a reason to charge him with racketeering.

He says those newbies might dress the part and ride around on Harleys but don’t share 1-percenters’ “toughness.”

Jay Dobyns got a firsthand look at the 1-percenter lifestyle when he infiltrated the Hells Angels in Arizona as an undercover ATF agent in the early 2000s. No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels.

“These guys are not book smart but have their Ph.Ds in violence and intimidation,” says Dobyns, now retired and living in Arizona. “I think the term ‘brotherhood’ is very easily thrown around in today’s society. We hear it and use it a lot. They take it to a life-and-death level. When I was with the club, there were guys who would have stepped in front of a bullet for me. Now, they want to put a bullet in me.”

Dobyns says he crossed paths with Chancey — “one of the true believers that the elimination of the enemy was a critical part of the mission, the survival of their own club. In that area, the enemy was the Outlaws.”

The continued animosity between the Hells Angels and Outlaws makes James’ recent friendship with George Christie an unlikely one. Christie is a former high-ranking Hells Angels leader who left the group in 2011 and was “excommunicated.”

Christie and James both have appeared on CNN to offer their expertise on biker life and both wrote books on the subject — James’ memoir is expected to be released next year.

James says the main reason he wrote the book was to show how far things have slipped in what he regards as a once-noble brotherhood and to spur change in leadership and attitudes among the Outlaws in Illinois.

“It used to be guys banded together who believed in something, and they had fun,” James says. “There’s no brotherhood left in the Outlaws any more.”

He says the Outlaws in Chicago have a choice to make as their rival grows and encroaches. “The choice is fight or flight,” he says. “They know the Angels will push them out of town. Who’s going to light the match?”

James says he won’t be on the front lines if that happens. Last year, he had his “God Forgives, Outlaws Don’t” tattoo covered up with a new design. “I’m borderline ashamed already to say I was once one,” he says.

Thanks to Robert Herguth and Frank Main.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Flashback: Prison Release of Betty Loren-Maltese Awakens Organized Crime Mystique of Cicero

Prohibition was the law of the land when Al Capone took over Cicero in 1924, muscling his way in with gun-toting hoodlums on Election Day. And many residents were happy to hear his beer wagons rumbling through the streets en route to speakeasies.

More than 80 years later, this sleepy-looking suburb of blue-collar bungalows and strip malls a few miles west of Chicago still hasn't shaken its reputation for mob influence, political scandal and corruption, even as leaders insist they've put it behind them.

"The organized crime mystique _ that's the reason for our image," says town spokesman Ray Hanania, insisting President Larry Dominick has "taken politics out of town government" since taking office in 2005. The story of Cicero and the mob, he said, is "a great story and it's easy to write but it's unfair."

Critics, though, say corruption still hangs thick in the air.

About a week ago, former town President Betty Loren-Maltese returned to Chicago after 6 1/2 years in prison for fleecing taxpayers of more than $12 million in a mob-related insurance scam. The money paid for an island golf course in Wisconsin, a horse farm and a summer home for reputed mob boss Mike Spano, who went to prison along with Loren-Maltese.

Loren-Maltese was boosted into politics by her late husband, former Cicero town assessor Frank "Baldy" Maltese, who was indicted on corruption charges in the early 1990s along with Rocco Infelice, reputed one-time boss of the Cicero mob. Maltese pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 1993 but died of cancer before going to prison. Infelice died behind bars.

No sooner had the once-jovial Loren-Maltese _ sporting her trademark flamboyant hairdo but grim and silent behind large dark glasses _ arrived Monday to start a four-month term in a halfway house, than news surfaced that she and her elderly mother were receiving health insurance benefits from the very town fund that Loren-Maltese was convicted of looting.

Hanania said Loren-Maltese received the benefits under a law she "rammed through" while still in office that provides coverage to all Cicero elected officials for life, and her mother got insurance for serving on the police and fire commission for 10 years.

By Tuesday, officials in the town of about 85,000 decided her mother wasn't entitled to the coverage because she never held elective office, and terminated it. But that wasn't the only problem, critics say. Dominick, a hefty ex-cop who served on the Cicero force for years, also has found jobs for a number of his relatives on the town payroll, including a son who works as the human resources director.

"I think they haven't really changed since the Al Capone era in their approach to government and politics and civic decency," says Andy Shaw, head of Chicago's Better Government Association. "This is the town that time forgot."

Not that some things haven't changed.

Scantily clad prostitutes no longer saunter in the neon haze outside the mob-connected strip joints that flourished along Cicero Avenue in the 1950s and 1960s. Gone are the no-name prize fighters who once slugged it out in a little arena in a cloud of colored smoke and flickering strobe lights.

"The place was crawling with vice and gambling," said John Binder, author of "The Chicago Outfit," a history of the city's organized crime family. "It was the same story in some other little suburbs where the mob could get its hooks in, but Cicero was sort of the crown jewel, maybe because of its location close to Chicago and because Capone pushed his way in there."

Now it all seems comparatively tame. Almost.

In February 2003, a massive pipe bomb erupted on a quiet street in Berwyn, a neighboring suburb. The explosion blew away the front of a company that distributed the video poker machines that federal prosecutors say were used for illegal gambling throughout Chicago and its suburbs.

Prosecutors said it was organized crime's way of delivering the message that horning in on its monopoly on video poker machines was dangerous _ and at the time, the biggest distributor of the machines in the western suburbs was based in Cicero.

It was owned by Michael Marcello, whose brother, James Marcello, went to prison for life following the 2007 Operation Family Secrets trial, the biggest mob case in Chicago in decades. Michael Marcello also went to prison after pleading guilty to racketeering and other offenses for running a gambling business and paying the government's star witness in the Family Secrets case, Nicholas Calabrese, to keep mum.

Then in 2008, Cicero jewelry store owner Mark Polchan and Samuel Volpendesto, a tiny, white-bearded, 86-year-old former manager of a Cicero strip joint, were indicted on charges of blowing up the Berwyn video poker company.

Last year, the charges against the two men became part of a larger, racketeering indictment that added five other defendants, including a Cicero police officer. All have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in September.

Originally reported by Mike Robinson on 2/21/10.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

James Formato Sentenced to 4 Years Prison for Role in Mob Ring

A former crooked Berwyn cop was sentenced Tuesday to nearly four years in prison.

James Formato admitted he couriered mob cash and provided inside law enforcement information to members of the Chicago Outfit while he was still a patrolman for the Berwyn Police Department.

After his arrest, Formato cooperated with the FBI and agreed to secretly record conversations with mobsters and Outlaw biker Mark Polchan. He testified at the trial, providing information that helped convict Polchan, mob boss Michael "the Large Guy" Sarno and three other associates who were involved in bombing a rival video poker business, committing home invasions and jewelry heists netting nearly $2 million.

During his sentencing hearing, Formato told U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman, "I need to apologize to the people I took an oath to protect. I made a very bad decision." He went on to say he owes the biggest apology to his teenage son, "I let him down as a father."

Formato's attorney Terry Campbell said Formato became involved with the crime ring after his marriage fell apart and he began abusing alcohol.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tinos Diamantatos acknowledged how helpful Formato's cooperation was to the government's case but said because of the severity of the crimes he committed, "Mr. Formato will deserve each and every day he spends in prison."

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Mark Polchan Sentenced to 60 Years in Prison

Mark Polchan — a high-ranking member of the Outlaws motorcycle club who was also the righthand man to a Chicago mob boss — was sentenced Friday to 60 years in prison for helping run a group of criminals who robbed jewelry stores and bombed a business in Berwyn.

Polchan, 43, looked at one of his attorneys, his eyes wide, after U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman handed down the prison sentence. “Every dollar he made had a victim,” Guzman said of Polchan, who ran a pawn shop in Cicero that the judge said was “the epicenter” of the organized criminal enterprise.

Polchan was a career criminal who treated his family well but was in the business of “terrorizing the rest of us,” the judge said.

Polchan oversaw a group of men who robbed jewelry stores and also arranged for the bombing of a Berwyn storefront that was competing with a video-poker business run by reputed Cicero mob boss Michael Sarno, who is to be sentenced next month.

Polchan’s attorneys argued that he wasn’t a leader of the organization and that much of the testimony against him at trial was from unreliable informants — arguments the judge rejected.

Polchan declined to make a statement. “Your honor, I was gonna say some things, but I’m kind of overwhelmed by some of the things I heard,” Polchan said, after a description of his wrongdoing by federal prosecutor Amarjeet S. Bhachu. “I can’t do it.”

In handing down the sentence, Guzman said, “the public needs to be protected from Mr. Polchan and the idea that organized criminal activity might be worth something, might be worth doing.” The case was investigated by the ATF, the FBI and the IRS.

Polchan will likely spend more time in prison than his boss, Sarno, given the way the men were charged. When Sarno is sentenced Nov. 18, he can face a maximum prison sentence of 25 years, much less than Polchan.

Polchan was charged first in the case, and by the time the federal investigation was wrapped up against Sarno, the statute of limitations for the Berwyn bombing had expired, so Sarno couldn’t be charged with that crime. Polchan’s conviction on the bombing charge alone guaranteed him a minimum prison sentence of 30 years, a fate Sarno will not face.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Jeff Pesek, President of Morton High School District, Linked to Mob Bombing Associate

A local school board president in Cicero has ties to a notorious large-scale drug dealer as well as a ranking member of a motorcycle gang who is a trusted associate of the Chicago mob, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Jeff Pesek, 38, president of the Morton High School District 201 board, which oversees several thousand students from Cicero, Berwyn and other suburbs, has been partners in business with admitted wholesale cocaine dealer Enrique “Henry” Rendon, according to court testimony and documents.

Pesek and his younger brother Craig, 34 — who sits on the town’s library board — were also caught on an FBI listening device in July 2007 discussing the mob-ordered bombing of a Berwyn business in 2003 with the man later convicted of the crime, Mark Polchan. Polchan was the treasurer of the Outlaw motorcycle gang and a key associate of mobster Michael Sarno. The FBI says Sarno ran the Cicero mob crew.

Polchan is heard predicting to the brothers — about a year before he was arrested — that he will be charged in the bombing and asks them if they will post his bond, according to a previously sealed court document obtained by the Sun-Times.

The three men discussed an individual named Kyle Knight, who had already been charged in the bombing. “Specifically, the three individuals talked about the fact that Knight was already incarcerated for another federal offense . . . and that the ‘feds’ had made Knight an offer for a cooperation deal, however Knight had declined,” according to the court document.

Polchan expressed confusion over why federal agents would arrest Knight but not him. “They know me absolutely,” Polchan told the Pesek brothers, according to an excerpt of the conversation. “I, I, I just, I cannot believe they indicted the guy and not f------ drag me into it.

“Let’s have a party right now,” Polchan told the brothers.

After his arrest, Polchan never got bond. A federal judge determined he was a danger to the community and a flight risk.

The Peseks’ relationships with the two criminals came to light during testimony at Polchan’s bombing trial late last year, as well as from a once-sealed court document from the investigation. Polchan was convicted at trial and faces a minimum sentence of 30 years in prison.

Neither Pesek has been charged with any crime, nor did either respond to a request for comment.

Polchan, who has been arrested more than a dozen times, worked for several years in security for the Peseks at their popular downtown Chicago nightclub called Ontourage.

Craig Pesek is listed as the sole owner of the nightclub on its liquor license, while Jeff Pesek has helped run it, records show. But Craig Pesek had other investors he never told the city about, according to court testimony.

Rendon testified under oath that he was a silent partner in Ontourage as well as a liquor store and bar in Cicero that Jeff Pesek bought called Austin Liquors.

At Polchan’s trial, Rendon explained how he and Jeff Pesek started Ontourage. “Jeff and I basically got Ontourage with basically no money down. We got investors. We built the club,” Rendon testified.

Later, a defense attorney asked Rendon, “And you said, correct me if I’m wrong, that Mr. Pesek put up the money for Austin Liquors?”

“Yes, he did,” Rendon confirmed.

Rendon said he put up no money in the Austin Liquors deal but gave Pesek $500 a week in rent. Rendon testified that he put several mob-owned video gaming devices in the bar.

Jeff Pesek also testified at the trial of Polchan, who was once a close childhood friend. Pesek testified under a grant of immunity from prosecution.

While not discussing it in detail, Jeff Pesek acknowledged in his testimony there were other investors in Ontourage besides his brother Craig. “My brother is the owner,” the school board president testified. “There was other individuals who helped him out in the beginning, yes.”

“Were they not declared as investors in filings with the City of Chicago?” asked federal prosecutor Amarjeet Bhachu.
“No, there were no other declarations, no,” Jeff Pesek said.

Rendon, who estimated in his testimony that he sold roughly 200 kilos of cocaine, two tons of marijuana and 7 kilos of heroin in his decades-long career as a drug dealer, had high praise for Jeff Pesek. “He is a good guy,” Rendon testified.

Rendon said it was no secret among people who knew him that he was a drug dealer. “Everyone knew I did,” Rendon testified.

Rendon was charged in 2009 in federal court for providing drugs to a middleman who in turned sold it to street gangs. He pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to distribute cocaine, marijuana and heroin and faces 10 to 13 years in prison. In 1996, he was sentenced to six years in state prison after pleading guilty to another drug crime. And in 1999, he was sentenced to three years behind bars for kicking and hitting an off-duty Chicago cop in the face during a fight in the Gold Coast neighborhood.

Rendon and Jeff Pesek have been portrayed in unrelated civil lawsuits as partners in other business ventures as well. Rendon also was listed in court records as one of the people signing a lease for an oil-change shop with Craig Pesek.

Jeff Pesek also testified that he bought between eight and 10 televisions from Polchan, who routinely sold stolen merchandise at his Cicero pawn shop.

Pesek did not address in his testimony whether any of the televisions, for which he paid cash, were stolen, but he indicated that Polchan at one point couldn’t sell him a television after Pesek had come over to buy one. “He just said the guy that was bringing them got busted,” Pesek testified.

In addition to their businesses, the Peseks have been key players in Cicero politics. The brothers, their family and their companies have contributed or loaned about $100,000 to help elect Cicero Town President Larry Dominick, who campaigned on a reform platform and a promise to end cronyism in town government.

After Dominick was elected in 2005, the brothers were eventually hired as town consultants, earning about $850,000 in fees, according to town rec­ords.

Dominick is “very satisfied” with the work that the Peseks have done and believes they are “professionals and dedicated to their work performance,” according to town spokesman Ray Hana­nia.

Hanania noted that neither Pesek has been accused of wrongdoing, and the information that came to light at trial would have no effect on their employment with the town.

Craig Pesek, a high school graduate who had previously worked at his family’s hot dog restaurant, was hired soon after Dominick was elected to be a project manager at $6,000 a month.

His responsibilities and fees grew as his consulting company was hired to oversee the construction of municipal buildings as well as economic development in the town.

Jeff Pesek went from suing the town in a major lawsuit under the past administration to working for it when Dominick took over as town president.

In 2004, before Dominick was elected, Jeff Pesek filed a lawsuit against the town, contending it was trying to muscle him out of a piece of property in Cicero that he had an interest in.

After Dominick won the town president’s job, the town settled the lawsuit with Jeff Pesek for $1 million, a deal approved in federal court.

Jeff Pesek described his motivation in helping Dominick in a deposition from his 2004 lawsuit against the town. “I thought I would do anything and everything humanly possible for me and that I would get any and all resources I could to help him win because that’s what I could do for the town of Cicero,” Pesek said. “That’s what I was going to do to win my lawsuit — not to win my lawsuit, but to — because of my lawsuit,” Pesek said.

Jeff Pesek was hired in October 2008 to be the town’s director of services and recreation as well as Cicero’s safety director at an annual salary of $94,322, according to town records.

The Peseks’ mother, Elaine, was appointed to Dominick’s town literacy office starting in 2006 and has earned more than $38,000 for her service.

Elaine Pesek, a former teacher, helps promote literacy in town. In 2009, Craig Pesek won a seat on the Cicero library board. He is also a state Republican central committeeman. Even though he is a consultant and not a town employee, he has received town health insurance since 2007 because Pesek sits on a town committee.

In a September 2006 interview published in the Town of Cicero newsletter, Craig Pesek expressed appreciation for his job with the town. “I am grateful to be a part of an administration that truly cares so much about its residents and takes such pride in our town,” Pesek was quoted as saying.

When asked if there was something most people don’t know about him, Craig Pesek said, “If most people don’t know, it’s probably because I want it that way, so let’s keep it that way!”

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Michael "The Large Guy" Sarno Found Guilty of Racketeering Conspiracy

Reputed Cicero mob boss Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno took a big fall Wednesday after he was convicted in federal court of a racketeering conspiracy charge that could put him behind bars for 25 years.

“God!” Sarno’s wife, Nicole, yelled out in the courtroom as a federal judge agreed to a prosecutor’s request that the mobster, out on bond, should be taken into custody immediately, just three days before Christmas. His daughter, Angelica, a college student who attended many days of the trial, broke down, sobbing loudly.

Sarno, 52, was convicted along with his friend, Outlaw motorcycle gang member Mark Polchan, 43, as well as the video poker king of the Chicago area, Casey Szaflarski, 52, mob bomber Sam Volpendesto, 86, and his son, Anthony, 48, a prolific thief.

The centerpiece of the case was the bombing in 2003 of a storefront in Berwyn, targeting a businessman competing with Sarno in the video poker business. No one was hurt in the pipe bomb blast, but it gutted the building.

Authorities say the case showed the Chicago Outfit outsourcing some of its dirty work — the bombing of a competitor and the later intimidation of a witness — to a motorcycle gang during a time when the Outfit was under keen pressure from the historic Family Secrets mob investigation.

Over a six-week trial, federal prosecutors Amarjeet Bhachu, Tinos Diamantatos and Michael Donovan called more than 80 witnesses, played more than 70 audio or video recordings and entered more than 300 exhibits into evidence to show a wide-ranging conspiracy, that included a slew of home robberies and jewelry store burglaries, that was investigated by the FBI, ATF and IRS.

The jury’s decision marks the third conviction for Sarno in an organized crime case. Sarno started his career in organized crime at 17 as an enforcer. Working his way up the ranks, Sarno — about 6-foot-3 and topping 300 pounds at his heaviest — has never been known as the brains of the mob but rather as a tough guy willing to inspire fear and snatch someone else’s profitable scheme. While Sarno oversaw the criminal group, he likely won’t face the most time in prison when the men are sentenced in May.

Polchan and Sam Volpendesto were convicted with taking part in the bombing of the Berwyn business and face mandatory minimum sentences of 30 years behind bars for that crime alone. Each man could be sentenced to more than 50 years behind bars — a death sentence for Sam Volpendesto.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Ex-Berwyn Patrolman James Formato Testifies about His Role in a Mob-connected Burglary Ring

A one-time crooked cop swore to tell the truth in federal court Thursday. Ex-Berwyn Patrolman James Formato testified about his role in a mob-connected burglary ring.

The golden rule of the Chicago Outfit is that you do unto others before the police can undo you, and having the police in your back pocket had been the most efficient way mob bosses have accomplished that for almost a century.

Formato was paid to serve and protect the 54,000 residents of west suburban Berwyn. Unknown to them, Formato was also being paid to protect a multi-million dollar Outfit burglary crew.

Even while in uniform, Formato couriered mob cash. He has told federal authorities that he faked police reports and provided inside law enforcement information to west suburban rackets boss Michael "the Large Guy" Sarno, who is currently on trial in federal court with four accused associates.

Formato, no longer a Berwyn policeman, has pleaded guilty in the case and could face almost four years in prison as part of his deal with prosecutors.

During Thursday's testimony, ex-officer Formato provided a play-by-play of his moonlighting for the mob, a crew that is accused of bombing of a rival video poker business, committing home invasions and jewelry heists netting nearly $2 million.

In 2007, after Formato began cooperating with the FBI, he secretly recorded conversations with members of the gang, including Outlaw biker Mark Polchan, who is on trial.

The former Berwyn policeman will be back on the stand Friday. The government is close to wrapping up its case.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Large Guy Trial Starts

An unusual organized crime case began Wednesday in Chicago federal court. Prosecutors say there was an alliance between the Outfit and the Outlaws. In this Intelligence Report: Why is this considered a "large" case for the government?

The Chicago Outfit has always been an insular organization, top hoodlums usually unwilling to welcome other criminal groups to the fold. So this alliance that federal prosecutors say was forged between the Outfit and the Outlaws motorcycle gang is considered unique in all of mobdom.

The largest part of this five-defendant case walked into the Dirksen Federal Building Wednesday predicting victory. Michael Sarno, 52, known in mob circles as "the Large Guy," is a convicted west suburban rackets boss now on trial for allegedly ordering the 2003 firebombing of a Berwyn business that was competing against the mob's illegal video poker trade.

Standing trial with Sarno are 86-year-old Samuel Volpendesto, his son, Anthony, Mark Polchan, an admitted member of the Outlaws biker gang, and Casey Szaflarski, who allegedly ran illegal gambling operations.

According to the indictment, Sarno oversaw the Outfit-Outlaw joint venture and received a cut of the illegal wagering profits.

"I think that case provides a perfect illustration of why the Outfit is still dangerous and shouldn't be counted out," said T. Marcus Funk, former federal prosecutor. "Forming an alliance like that, being adaptable, being able to change with the circumstances, and also using being able to use violence when necessary. It may not be something done on a daily basis like it was in the 50s, but violence is still a tool for the Outfit."

The case took shape in 2008 when FBI agents raided several Outlaws clubhouses, seizing weapons, bulletproof vests and police badges-- at the same time executing search warrants on Sarno's suburban home.

As a budding hoodlum, Sarno once tipped the scales at about 400 pounds, and at that time went by the nickname "Fat Boy."

Even though he appears to have dropped a few pounds, by whatever mob moniker Wednesday, the issue of nicknames was a factor in jury selection. Several prospective jurors were dismissed after saying mob nicknames might cause them to be prejudiced against the defendants.

Several casino employees were also dismissed. Six jurors were seated to hear the case.

The mob trial will be off Thursday for federal Veterans Day and jury selection resumes on Friday morning. It is expected to last about three weeks.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Ann Pistone

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Peeking Inside Chicago's Modern Day Mob

The trial of a reputed mob boss known for his wide girth and alleged penchant for violence will offer a peek into the inner workings of Chicago-area organized crime, laid low by prosecutions that sent older mobsters to prison for life.

Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno, whose racketeering trial starts Wednesday in Chicago, is considered — at the relatively young age of 52 — a different breed of mobster, someone whose talents as an enforcer normally would not have translated into a top mob job.

“I would say he is the perfect example of the new face of the mob,” said Art Bilek, a one-time mob investigator at the Cook County State’s attorney’s office. “He has street smarts — he’s not a dope. What he simply doesn’t have is the intelligence some of the earlier guys had.”

That goes to show how far the mob has fallen, he and other law enforcement experts said.

The 2007 Family Secrets trial, the biggest such trial in Chicago in decades, was a body blow to the Chicago-area mob, also known as the Chicago Outfit. It ended in life sentences for reputed bosses James Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr. and Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo.

With aging kingpins behind bars and others dying, a weakened Outfit has scaled back a network that in its heyday, around 1970, encompassed operations ranging from prostitution and drugs to multimillion-dollar scams involving corrupt unions or Las Vegas casinos. But racketeering laws designed to target organized crime, aggressive federal prosecutors and competition from big-city street gangs or biker syndicates have severely cut into mob-associated operations. Not surprisingly, mobster numbers are down.

There are now fewer than 100 people formally initiated into the Chicago-area mob compared with more than 200 ‘made men’ around 1970, estimated Scott Burnstein, co-author of a book on the Family Secrets trial.

In Chicago, the mob now focuses more heavily on running illegal video gaming, with approximately 25,000 machines in bars and restaurants, generating millions of dollars in revenue, according to some estimates.

It’s leaders allegedly include Sarno, who weighed as much as 300 pounds and was known for using his bulk to collect mob gambling debts as an enforcer. Bilek says he suspects Sarno may have taken over operations in the city’s western suburbs from one of the imprisoned bosses.

Sarno’s defense attorney, Michael Gillespie, said allegations his client is linked to the mob are “fanciful.”

“The associations he has are with his family — his mom and dad,” Gillespie said Tuesday.

Whatever the case, it is impossible to know just where Sarno would fit in. That’s partly because the mob’s old pyramid structure is coming undone and true leaders are eager to maintain a low profile, even endeavoring to keep violence at a minimum, Bilek said.

Burnstein said there are reasons to question what would be the extent of Sarno’s power. For one, mob bosses want to see crime organizations they built up over decades continue after their deaths, so it’s likely more savvy mobsters also are being promoted. “I don’t think it’s quite fair to say Sarno’s the new face of the mob, therefore the mob is dead because he’s an idiot,” Burnstein said. “If he is the new power, I agree it wouldn’t bode well. But I’m sure there are other competent mobsters who aren’t just thugs.”

Sarno is accused of ordering co-defendants Mark Polchan and Sam Volpendesto to set off a bomb that wrecked the offices of a gaming company in Berwyn, C&S Coin Amusements. The aim, say prosecutors, was to send a message: Stop horning in on a profitable mob business.

The indictment alleges the enterprise Sarno was a part of also was responsible for burglaries and jewel thefts. The armed robbery of the Marry Me Jewelry Store in LaGrange Park netted nearly $650,000-worth of jewelry and other valuables, according to the indictment.

Sarno, Volpendesto and Polchan all have pleaded not guilty to racketeering and other related charges.

Polchan’s attorney, Damon Cheronis, would only say Tuesday that trial observers will see “a different picture painted than the one painted by the government.” Volpendesto’s lawyer, Michael Mann, declined to comment.

Thanks to LCN

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ex-Cop, James Formato, Pleads Guilty in Mob Case

A former suburban police officer admitted that he took part in a mob-related ring of criminals responsible for robberies, burglaries and setting off a giant pipe bomb that blew apart the offices of a video gaming company.

James Formato, 43, a husky, bearded former member of the Berwyn police department, appeared before U.S. District Judge Ronald A. Guzman and pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Formato also gave federal prosecutors a potential witness with inside knowledge of the alleged crime ring, pledging to cooperate with the government's seven-year investigation in exchange for leniency when he is sentenced.

Seven other defendants, including reputed mob boss Michael Sarno, have pleaded not guilty to charges in the indictment.

The investigation began in February 2003 after a giant pipe bomb ripped through the Berwyn offices of a video gaming company. Prosecutors say it was a message from the mob to stop horning in on its highly lucrative video gaming monopoly in the western suburbs.

Formato admitted in his signed plea agreement that as a Berwyn officer he found out that federal agents were interested in a brown van that had been seen in the vicinity of the blast. He said that through a go-between he sent the information to Mark Polchan, a Cicero jewelry store owner and member of the Outlaws motorcycle club who is among those charged. Polchan has pleaded not guilty.

Formato also admitted that in the fall of 2002 he was paid $3,000 for transporting $150,000, some of it the proceeds of a burglary, across state lines to his father in Florida.

Formato also said he served as a lookout outside a west suburban residence while two men were inside burglarizing it. He said he warned one of the burglars later that police had an artist's sketch of him. He also said he took part in at least two other home burglaries.

The maximum sentence for each of the two charges to which Formato pleaded guilty is 20 years in prison and the maximum fine is $250,000. But under his plea agreement, his cooperation with the government could earn him a sentence of 60 percent of the low end of the sentencing range under federal guidelines -- 78 to 97 months by preliminary calculations.

Thanks to CBS2Chicago

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Casey "Whole Nervous System's Shot" Szaflarski Remains Behind Bars

The new alleged king of video gambling for the Chicago mob told a federal judge Tuesday that his "whole nervous system's shot" -- but it wasn't because the feds had just arrested him.

Casey Szaflarski told the judge at his initial court hearing that he had just had spinal cord surgery.

"I take a lot of medicine, your honor," Szaflarski said. "My whole nervous system's shot."

Despite his medical conditions, Szaflarski, 52, who lives in the Bridgeport neighborhood, will be held behind bars at least until his bond hearing Friday, after federal prosecutor T. Markus Funk said he could pose a danger to the community or might flee before trial.

Szaflarski was charged as part of the criminal case against alleged Cicero mob boss Michael "The Large Guy" Sarno, reputed high-ranking Outlaw motorcycle gang member Mark Polchan and five other men.

As one possible indication of how lucrative the video gambling business can be, federal prosecutors are seeking $3.6 million in illegal gambling proceeds from Szaflarski, Sarno and Polchan as part of the criminal case against the men, according to a new forfeiture allegation added to the case.

Szaflarski also is charged with failing to report more than $255,000 in income on tax returns from 2004 to 2006.

Szaflarski apparently took over the video gambling business run by the onetime head of the Chicago mob, James Marcello, and his half-brother, Michael. Szaflarski allegedly told a government informant that he learned the video poker business from Michael Marcello.

Szaflarski is accused of sharing proceeds of his gambling business with Sarno, a reputed mob leader who's also been dubbed "Big Mike" and "Fat Ass," according to court documents filed in the case.

Sarno, in turn, is charged with ordering the pipe bombing of a Berwyn video and vending machine business in 2003 that was competing with Szaflarski's business.

Investigators from the FBI, IRS and ATF gathered evidence against Szaflarski when they raided more than 20 bars and restaurants in Chicago and the suburbs last year with illegal video gambling machines. They seized thousands of dollars in illegal gambling proceeds and stripped the video poker machines of their circuit boards.

State lawmakers recently legalized video gambling, but bars and restaurants can't legally operate the devices until state regulators fashion rules overseeing what will be the largest expansion of gambling in Illinois history and distribute licenses.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Berwyn Businessman Casey Szaflarski Arrested on Federal Illegal Gambling and Tax Fraud Charges; Added as Eighth Defendant in New Indictment

A Chicago man who allegedly helped a criminal organization run its illegal gambling activities was arrested today on federal gambling and tax fraud charges, federal law enforcement officials announced. The defendant, Casey Szaflarski, acting through his Berwyn business, Amusements, Inc., was charged with conducting an illegal gambling business since 2002, along with two other men—among seven total—who were charged previously. The gambling and tax charges against Szaflarski were brought in a superseding indictment that was returned by a federal grand jury last week and unsealed today following his arrest. The charges allege that Szaflarski failed to report more than $255,000 of business income between 2004 and 2006, and that he failed to file a federal income tax return for 2007.

Szaflarski, 52, was scheduled to be arraigned at 2:30 p.m. today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan in Federal Court in Chicago. He was charged with one count of conducting an illegal gambling business, three counts of filing a false federal income tax return, and one count of failing to file a federal income tax return, for a total of five counts in the 16-count superseding indictment.

The new indictment was announced by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Alvin Patton, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago; Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Andrew L. Traver, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Federal officials commended the assistance of the Berwyn Police Department and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

The charges against Szaflarski were brought in a superseding indictment in United States v. Polchan, et al., 08 CR 115, in which seven other defendants were indicted in May 2009 on racketeering conspiracy charges alleging eight years of criminal activity, including armed robberies and thefts, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, and arson, including the pipe-bombing of a competing Berwyn video and vending machine business in 2003. Szaflasrki was not charged in the racketeering conspiracy or arson counts. He was charged with conducting an illegal gambling business, ongoing since at least 2002, with co-defendants Michael Sarno and Mark Polchan.

Today’s indictment adds a new forfeiture allegation seeking at least $3,607,201 from Szaflarski, Sarno, and Polchan as proceeds of the alleged illegal gambling activity. The indictment results, in part, from federal search warrants that were executed at more than two dozen suburban locations, including bars and restaurants, on May 27, 2009.

The three counts of filing false federal income tax returns allege that Szaflarski failed to report the following income from his closely-held business, Amusements, Inc.:

* at least $78,417 for 2004 when he reported total income of $373,736;
* at least $82,355 for 2005 when he reported total income of $262,842;
* at least $94,593 for 2006 when he reported total income of $286,071.

The indictment further alleges that Szaflarski failed to file a federal income tax return for 2007 when he received gross income of at least $95,911.

The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys T. Markus Funk and Amarjeet S. Bhachu.

The counts against Szaflarski alone carry the following maximum terms of incarceration: operating an illegal gambling business—five years; filing false federal income tax returns—three years; and failing to file a federal income tax return—one year. In addition, each count carries a maximum fine of $250,000, except the failing to file count, which is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum fine of $100,000. Defendants convicted of tax offenses must be assessed mandatory costs of prosecution and remain liable for any back taxes, interest, and penalties owed. If convicted, the Court must determine a reasonable sentence under the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.

The public is reminded that an indictment contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. Szaflarski and the defendants charged previously are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Is Casey Szaflarski the King of Mob-Controlled Video Poker Throughout Chicagoland?

Casey Szaflarski allegedly runs a multimillion-dollar video poker business for the Chicago mob. But he's the first to tell you he has a fuzzy memory.

When lawyers in a civil case tried to figure out how much he was worth, he forgot to bring any financial documents -- even though he had been ordered to do so.

"An oversight," Szaflarski said.

He also told lawyers he doesn't own the Bridgeport home he lives in -- and isn't sure who does. He transferred his interest in the home to a trust, but wasn't sure how or when. And although federal court records suggest he's the new king of mob-controlled video poker in the Chicago area, he says he doesn't know how much he owns of Amusements Inc., a Berwyn company that distributes video gambling machines.

"Yeah, I have a bad memory," Szaflarski, 52, said at the time.

Szaflarski's bad memory got him sanctioned by the Cook County judge overseeing Szaflarski's civil case a few years ago. But that could just be the start of his problems.

Newly unsealed court documents show Szaflarski is a target of an ongoing federal investigation of mob-controlled video poker machines across the Chicago area. The investigation comes as the state has recently legalized video gaming in an effort to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into its coffers. But bars can't legally have the machines pay out until a state agency sets rules to regulate the machines and distributes licenses. Top mobsters, meanwhile, have been caught on secret FBI recordings welcoming the legalization of video poker machines, a business they have dominated over the years.

Last May, agents from the FBI, IRS and ATF simultaneously hit more than 20 Chicago and suburban bars, in one of the largest raids of its kind. Law-enforcement officials stripped the video gambling machines of their computer circuit boards, collected thousands of dollars in illegal gambling proceeds and took gambling records, according to court documents from the investigation overseen by prosecutors T. Markus Funk and Amarjeet S. Bhachu.

During the raids the afternoon of May 27, Szaflarski was stopped in his black H3 Hummer. He had $6,214 in cash on him. Szaflarski is accused in court documents of driving in his Hummer and making the rounds of bars where his video poker machines were located, then splitting the proceeds 50-50 with the bar owners.

The investigation of Szaflarski is part of a larger probe that has already resulted in charges against the reputed mob boss of Cicero, Michael "Fat Ass" Sarno, and an allegedly high-ranking member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, Mark Polchan.

Sarno is charged with ordering a pipe-bombing in 2003 of a Berwyn video poker business that was competing with Szaflarski's company, court records show. Polchan allegedly organized the bombing and also worked to put Szaflarski's video poker machines in Outlaw clubhouses throughout the Chicago area.

To track the FBI investigation, Polchan allegedly received help from crooked suburban cops, whom he paid off with free sexual favors from prostitutes, court records show.

Szaflarski appears to have taken over the multimillion-dollar video poker distribution business of Chicago mob boss James Marcello and his half-brother Michael, court records show. James Marcello was convicted of racketeering and other crimes in 2007 in the historic Family Secrets mob trial, and his half-brother pleaded guilty to racketeering. Both are in prison.

Szaflarski told a government informant that he learned the video poker business from Michael Marcello, court records show.

Szaflarski has allegedly contributed money from the video poker business to Sarno, who is also known as "Big Mike" and "The Large Guy," according to a federal search warrant affidavit. Sarno recently made headlines when he received permission from a federal magistrate judge to get out of house arrest so he could have Christmas Eve dinner at Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab in downtown Chicago.

More indictments are expected in the Sarno case, but Szaflarski has not been charged with any crime.

Szaflarski could not be reached for comment, but an attorney who has represented many well-known Chicago mobsters, Joe "The Shark" Lopez, said Friday he was stunned by the allegations. "He's a businessman with a good reputation," said Lopez, who said he knows Szaflarski but does not represent him. "He's just a normal, everyday, Joe Citizen. I'm shocked to hear these allegations."

While operating a video gambling distribution business for at least 10 years, Szaflarski has managed to stay under the radar.

His wife, Denise, however, made the news during the city's Hired Truck scandal when the Chicago Sun-Times revealed she was one of the owners of a trucking firm that received more than $400,000 under the program.

Denise Szaflarski is the daughter of the late mobster Joseph "Shorty" LaMantia, who was a well-known Outfit burglar. Her brother, Rocco "Rocky" LaMantia, set up the trucking company, called Dialex Trucking. Rocky LaMantia is now in state prison, serving a six-year sentence for robbing a pawn shop.

Casey Szaflarski appears to have been making a profitable living from his business. From 2003 to 2005, he made an average of $142,000 in salary and other compensation from Amusements Inc., according to his tax records cited in a judicial order.

Szaflarski has a long history of legal battles. He was behind an unsuccessful lawsuit to throw out an Elmwood Park ban on video poker machines in town. And he's been involved in a series of lawsuits over legal bills stemming from that original case and a related one.

One of the attorneys who represented Szaflarski in the legal bill cases was Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica.

Peraica, who is also a private attorney, said Friday he represented Szaflarski because he knew him from living in Bridgeport and from attending the same church, St. Jerome.

Peraica said he had "no idea" Szaflarski had possible connections to organized crime and has not represented him in any criminal cases.

While his client has made a good living off video poker, Peraica himself has been one of the most vocal opponents of allowing video gambling into unincorporated Cook County.

Last year, the County Board voted to ban such devices after state lawmakers decided to legalize them to fill Illinois' depleted coffers.

Szaflarski's business donated $500 in 2008 and another $500 in 2009 to Peraica's political campaign fund. Peraica said he saw no conflict in accepting the contributions. Szaflarski never mentioned the video poker ban to him, and Peraica, in fact, voted for the ban, he noted.

"This is all rather remarkable," Peraica said, pledging to return the contributions if Szaflarski is indicted.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Not Guilty Pleas in Chicago Mob, Motorcycle Club Racketeering Case

Two men have pleaded not guilty to federal racketeering charges linked to organized crime in Chicago.

Forty-one-year-old Mark Polchan and 85-year-old Samuel Volpendesto have been in federal custody for more than a year. They appeared Tuesday before Magistrate Judge Sidney Schenkier.

Both men are accused of touching off a February 2003 bomb blast in Berwyn that wrecked the offices of a suburban Chicago video gaming company.

Prosecutors say it was a message from the mob warning the company to stop horning in on the video gaming business.

The two were among seven men recently charged in a sweeping racketeering indictment that outlines a wave of robberies, burglaries, arsons and other crimes.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Top Outfit Member and Current Cicero Police Officer Face Racketeering Indictment

Racketeering indictments have been handed up against a top Outfit member and a current Cicero police officer on charges that include armed robbery, arson and illegal gambling.

The case grew from a 2003 bombing of a gaming house in Berwyn that was allegedly ordered by the mob and carried out by members of a violent motorcycle gang.

The lead defendant is Mike Sarno, a career hoodlum who as a rising mob figure was known as "Fat Boy" due to his bulging, 350 pound waistline. Now, as a 51-year old boss Sarno is known in Outfit circles as "The Large Guy."

Sarno's home was among six locations that were the subject of search warrants last summer.

Sarno has already served time in prison for his involvement in organized crime.

The word "mob" is no where to be seen in Thursday's rackets indictments and federal prosecutors declined to speak the words "outfit" or "underworld." But they didn't have to.

Mike Sarno, the lead man charged, is already a convicted mob boss who investigators say has worked his way up through syndicate ranks during the past three decades.

When the I-Team last saw Mike Sarno, it was outside his home in suburban Westchester. On Thursday night, eight months later, Mr. Sarno was named in a federal grand jury indictment.

Sarno is charged with leading an eight year crime spree that featured lucrative jewel heists and forging an alliance with the outlaws motorcycle gang. Their partnership punctuated by a bombing in west suburban Berwyn, intended to take down a video poker machine company that was competing with the mob's own illegal gambling business.

"Our allegations in the indictment are that people broke the law; and that they broke it in a number of ways. Some having to do with illegal gambling, some having to do with robbery and theft and arson," said Patrick Fitzgerald, United States attorney.

Sarno, newly charged on Thursday, aka Big Mike, Mikey, Large and the Large Guy, allegedly oversaw enterprise gambling and that bomb attack.

From the time Sarno was known as "Fat Boy" and went to prison as a mob soldier 15 years ago, Outfit experts say he was destined to lead a street crew. That is just what he did with the Enterprise, according to authorities who say the headquarters was a jewelry store in Cicero used to fence stolen goods.

The store, owned by outlaw biker Mark Polchan who was previously charged along with 85-year-old Samuel Volpendesto of Oak Brook and Kyle Knight who has pleaded guilty and is cooperating.

Four other men are charged with the robberies and jewel thefts including Volpendesto's son as well as James Formato, a former Berwyn policeman, and Dino Vitalo, an 18-year Cicero policeman who is still on the job. "He was sent home on administrative pay leave. That's where he is now. He is off the streets. Town president immediately indicated that if these charges prove to be true they are sickening and there is no room in the Cicero Police Department," said Elio Montenegro, Cicero spokesman

There are no court dates yet in this case.

Cicero officials say at some point Officer Vitalo will be placed on unpaid leave.

Feds are allowing him to turn himself in at the time of arraignment; same for the ex-Berwyn cop. And, curiously, the same consideration is being given to Mike Sarno, the ex-con crime syndicate boss. Sarno was not one of those arrested on Thursday. The U.S. attorney offered little explanation except to suggest that they do things for a reason.

Here are details provided by the United States Attorney in Chicago:

Five new defendants, together with two others who were initially charged last year with using a pipe bomb to damage a Berwyn video and vending machine business in 2003, were indicted on sweeping racketeering conspiracy charges alleging eight years of criminal activity, federal law enforcement officials announced today. The charges encompass at least nine armed robberies and thefts, arson, illegal gambling and obstruction justice, including by current and former suburban police officers who are among the seven defendants. New defendant, Michael Sarno, allegedly oversaw, directed and guided certain of the group's illegal activities, including causing previously-charged defendants Mark Polchan and Samuel Volpendesto, to bomb C & S Coin Operated Amusements, a video gaming device business in Berwyn, to eliminate competition and to protect and enhance the group's own business relationships, according to the indictment.

The indictment alleges that the seven defendants were associated in a criminal enterprise that existed since at least 2001 to generate income for its members through illegal activities, including: committing armed robberies and thefts from jewelry stores, businesses and private residences; transporting stolen goods across state lines; committing thefts and obtaining stolen items from interstate shipments of goods; purchasing, possessing and selling stolen goods; using threats, violence and intimidation to advance the enterprise's illegal activities; committing arson; operating and facilitating illegal gambling businesses, including the use of video gambling machines; obstructing justice and criminal investigations by tampering with and intimidating witnesses; obstructing justice and criminal investigations by gathering information about the existence and extent of ongoing federal criminal investigations from sources including corrupt local law enforcement officers and law enforcement databases; and traveling in interstate commerce to further the goals of the criminal enterprise.

The indictment seeks forfeiture of at least $1,878,172 from six of the seven defendants as proceeds of the alleged racketeering activity.

Law enforcement agents yesterday executed federal search warrants at more than two dozen suburban locations, including bars and restaurants, in connection with the ongoing investigation.

The 12-count superseding indictment was returned on May 21 and unsealed today, announced Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; Andrew L. Traver, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Alvin Patton, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division in Chicago.

All seven defendants, including four currently in custody, will be arraigned at later dates in U.S. District Court.

Sarno, 51, of Westchester, also known as "Big Mike," "Mikey," "Large," and "the Large Guy," allegedly oversaw the group's illegal gambling ventures and received a share of the illegal profits from Polchan, 41, formerly of Justice, who also occupied a leadership role. The indictment alleges that Polchan identified targets for robbery and used his business, a sole proprietorship operating under the names "M. Goldberg Jewelers," and "Goldberg Jewelers," located at 1203 South Cicero Ave., in Cicero, to conduct meetings with criminal associates, as well as to obtain, store, and sell stolen goods that were either transported across state lines, obtained through robbery or thefts from interstate shipments, or obtained through the fraudulent use of access devices, such as credit cards.

Polchan also used Goldberg Jewelers to plan the group's illegal gambling activities with Sarno, and to temporarily house video gambling devices prior to distributing them to various locations, including clubhouses operated by the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, of which Polchan was a member.

Polchan and Volpendesto, 85, of Oak Brook, remain in federal custody since they were arrested and charged last summer with participating in the bombing of C & S Coin Operated Amusements. On Feb. 25, 2003, a pipe bomb was detonated outside a building at 6508 West 16th St., in Berwyn, that housed several businesses, including C & S, which at the time leased coin-operated vending and video machines. The explosion outside the storefront entrance to C & S caused broken windows and damage to the interior ceiling and wood frame above the doorway to the business. No one was injured in the explosion, which occurred at night. The new indictment contains the same three counts  conspiracy to use, and actual use of, an explosive device to damage property, and use of a pipe bomb  that were pending against them previously. Polchan and Volpendesto have both pleaded not guilty to those charges.

Also indicted were:

James Formato, 42, a former Berwyn police officer who allegedly acted as an interstate courier for stolen money; conducted physical surveillance of potential targets of illegal activity under the guise of carrying out his duties as a police officer; participated in an attempted armed robbery; and provided information concerning ongoing law enforcement investigation into illegal enterprise activity, including the bombing of C & S Coin Operated Amusements;

Mark Hay, 52, who allegedly participated in robberies of jewelry stores; identified potential targets for robbery; participated in the surveillance of robbery targets; and acquired stolen vehicles for use in robberies;

Anthony Volpendesto, 46, Samuel Volpendesto's son, who also allegedly participated in robberies of jewelry stores; identified potential robbery targets; and participated in the interstate transportation of stolen goods; and

Dino Vitalo, 40, a Cicero police officer since 1991, who allegedly caused law enforcement databases to be used to provide information about potential targets of illegal activity and ongoing federal law enforcement investigations; provided advice on possible federal law enforcement activity; searched the area surrounding Goldberg Jewelers for electronic surveillance equipment used by federal law enforcement; and filed a false police report in order to provide a false alibi for other members of the conspiracy.

As part of the racketeering conspiracy, the indictment alleges that one or more of the defendants participated in robberies, some armed, of jewelry stores and commercial businesses in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin, and in some instances caused stolen jewelry to be transported across state lines. The robberies included the:

May 23, 2002, robbery of items valued at approximately $60,000 from Jacqueline's Jewelry in Valparaiso, Ind.;
June 6, 2002, robbery of items valued at approximately $48,000 from Husar's House of Fine Diamonds in West Bend, Wis.;
July 9, 2003, armed robbery of items valued at approximately $78,221 from Uffenbeck Jewelers in Fond du Lac, Wis.;
July 24, 2003, armed robbery of items valued at approximately $236,902 from LD Jewelers, in Hickory Hills, Ill.;
April 26, 2001, robbery of The Gold Mine Jewelry Store, in St. Charles, Illinois, the stolen items having a total value of approximately $29,780;
May 1, 2002, robbery of items valued at $239,752 from Lenna Jewelers in Hinsdale;
March 2003 attempted armed robbery of an individual who resided in Berwyn; and the
Aug. 25, 2003, armed robbery of items valued at approximately $645,517 from Marry Me Jewelry Store in LaGrange Park.

And one or more defendants allegedly participated in the 2002 residential burglary of a home on Rockwell Street in Chicago, stealing approximately $540,000, of which at least $150,000 was later transported to Florida.

In addition to the racketeering conspiracy against all seven defendants, Sarno and Polchan were charged with operating an illegal gambling business between 2002 and at least July 2008.

Formato alone was charged with one count of conspiracy to obstruct of justice, while Polchan and Vitalo were charged together in a separate count with conspiracy to obstruct justice. Polchan alone was also charged with one count of possession of stolen goods from interstate shipments; three counts of filing false individual federal income tax returns; and one count of failing to file a federal income tax return.

An earlier defendant in this investigation, Kyle C. Knight, 45, formerly of Merrillville, Ind., who was charged in 2007, has pleaded guilty to supplying explosives used in the C & S bombing and a series of robberies, and he is cooperating while awaiting sentencing.

Federal officials said the investigation is continuing, and they commended the assistance of the Berwyn Police Department. The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys T. Markus Funk and Amarjeet S. Bhachu.

If convicted, the charges in the indictment carry the following maximum terms of incarceration: racketeering conspiracy  20 years; conspiracy to use an explosive device to damage property and using an explosive device to damage property  a mandatory minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 20 years; using a pipe bomb  a mandatory consecutive sentence of at least 30 years and a maximum of life; obstruction of justice  20 years; operating an illegal gambling business  5 years; possession of goods stolen from interstate shipments  10 years; filing false tax returns  3 years; and failing to file a tax return  1 year. In addition, each count carries a maximum fine of $250,000, except the failing to file count, which is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum fine of $100,000. Defendants convicted of tax offenses must be assessed mandatory costs of prosecution and remain liable for any back taxes, interest and penalties owed. The Court, however, would determine the appropriate sentence to be imposed under the advisory United States Sentencing Guidelines.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Racketeering Indictment Nabs Reputed Mob Boss and Police Officer

A reputed mob boss, a police officer and five other men were charged Thursday in a sweeping racketeering indictment that alleges eight years of armed robberies, burglaries, jewel thefts and arson based in the western suburbs of Chicago.

Michael "The Large Guy" Sarno, 51, of Westchester allegedly masterminded much of the group's illegal activity, including a February 2003 pipe-bomb explosion that wrecked the storefront offices of a company distributing video poker machines.

Prosecutors say the bombing was a message from organized crime to stop intruding on its $13-million-a-year video poker gambling business.

Sarno, 51, went to prison in the early 1990s as a member of an organized crime family based in the western suburbs headed by Ernest Rocco Infelice.

Federal agents searched Sarno's home last July and also raided the headquarters and various hangouts of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club. An alliance has developed between the violence-prone club and the Chicago mob, prosecutors say.

Sarno's attorney, Terence P. Gillespie, did not return a message for comment. But he said in a previous interview with The Associated Press that Sarno was not a mob member and was "a legitimate businessman."

Attorneys for the other defendants were not reached immediately. Messages were left at the offices of four defense attorneys whose names were learned.

Two men arrested the day of the July 2008 searches and later indicted, Mark Polchan, 41, an acknowledged member of the Outlaws, and Samuel Volpendesto, 85, were also charged in the fresh indictment. They are accused of setting off the bomb that demolished C&S Coin Operated Amusements of Berwyn, a video poker device distributor. At the time, a video poker distributing company controlled by members and associates of the Chicago mob had a grip on the market for the devices, experts say.

Video poker devices are legal in Illinois if they are not used for gambling, but bartenders often pay winners under the table in many places and experts say the mob frequently takes a healthy cut of what the machines take in.

Gov. Pat Quinn is deciding whether to sign a bill to make video poker gambling legal to finance public works _ something good government forces deplore. They say the machines are addictive and some breadwinners have gambled away their paychecks.

Also charged in the indictment:

_James Formato, 42, a former Berwyn police officer accused of serving as a courier for stolen money, taking part in an attempted robbery and other crimes.

_Mark Hay, 52, described as taking part in the robbery of jewelry stores.

_Anthony Volpendesto, 46, son of Samuel Volpendesto, who also is alleged to have taken part in robbing jewelry stores.

_Dino Vitalo, 40, a Cicero police officer since 1991, accused of searching law enforcement data bases and using the information to tip off criminals and searching for electronic surveillance equipment around a jewelry store operated by Polchan. Cicero officials on Thursday placed Vitalo on administrative leave.

Prosecutors are asking the court to force the defendants if convicted to forfeit $1.8 million _ a possible measure of the amount taken in the robberies.

Thanks to Mike Robinson

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Did Cicero Police Officers Help the Mob Fight the FBI?

Federal authorities are investigating several Cicero police officers for allegedly trying to thwart FBI agents running surveillance on an Outfit associate and high-ranking member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang who ran a pawn shop in town, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Cicero police allegedly ran car license plates, pulled over cars they suspected were driven by federal agents and tried to find hidden surveillance cameras around the business of Mark Polchan, according to recently unsealed court records. Polchan is awaiting trial on charges he bombed a business for the Outfit.

Cicero officers and Polchan also are accused by prosecutors of engaging in sexual acts with prostitutes in Polchan's business, called Goldberg's, which was under video and audio surveillance by federal authorities. Prosecutors brought the matter up to counter Polchan's claim that he is a good family man.

The Cicero police officers under investigation are not named in the court documents.

In one secretly recorded conversation between Polchan and one of the officers in 2007, the officer is quoting telling him, "Alright, I got good news. We ran all the f - - - - - - plates on all the f - - - - - - cars over here. They all came back to f - - - - - - people," meaning not federal agents.

At a court hearing sealed to the public, Assistant U.S. Attorney Markus Funk called the police running the license plates to see if they were federal agents "extraordinary," according to a transcript. Prosecutors had no comment Tuesday.

Cicero Town spokesman Dan Proft said the police superintendent was unaware of the allegations against his officers. The town will review them and likely refer them to the police department's internal affairs division, Proft said.

FBI agents interviewed three Cicero police officers in late summer or early autumn last year to question them because they had known Polchan for years, Proft said, but agents told the police superintendent they were not targets. Polchan apparently has deep ties with the Cicero Police Department, where his father was an officer.

Federal authorities have said more people will be charged in the Polchan case. Prosecutors have alleged Polchan rang a burglary ring out of his shop and did frequent business with the Outfit, including overseeing a 2003 bombing of a Berwyn business that ran afoul of the mob.

Polchan's attorney could not be reached for comment. The documents came to light as Polchan appeals a judge's decision to have him held without bond.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Attorneys Disqualified from Organized Crime Bombing Case

A federal judge disqualified two lawyers Tuesday from representing a pair of defendants charged in a mob-related case with blowing up a coin-operated amusement company in suburban Berwyn.

Judge Ronald A. Guzman disqualified attorneys Alexander Salerno and Edmund Wanderling, saying they have "numerous and multifaceted" conflicts of interest.

Mark Polchan, 41, and Samuel Volpendesto, 84, are charged in the February 2003 bombing that ripped apart the Berwyn offices of C&S Coin Operated Amusements.

Prosecutors say the blast was a message from the mob to the company to quit horning in on its $13 million monopoly on gambling in Chicago's western suburbs.

The two men were arrested July 30 when federal agents fanned out across northern Illinois, raiding offices and hangouts of the Outlaws motorcycle gang. Polchan is a member of the Outlaws. The two have pleaded not guilty.

A call to Salerno and Wanderling at their offices late Tuesday was not immediately returned. A message was left with their answering service.

Salerno showed up at the home of an unnamed mob member who could become a defendant in the case when federal agents searched it on July 30, Guzman said. Wanderling apparently called Salerno and urged him to go to the home, he said.

Salerno also represented a key witness in the case and Wanderling had represented that witness's son, the judge said. He said Salerno previously served as an attorney for Volpendesto, who is now represented by Wanderling.

"These circumstances make it extremely difficult for the court even to admonish adequately Volpendesto or Polchan as to the many different ways that this prior relationship could result in prejudice to either during the course of these proceedings," Guzman said in a 15-page written opinion.

"Under these circumstances it is extremely difficult for the court to satisfy itself that either Volpendesto or Polchan understand fully the consequences of waiving their Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel," he said.

Thanks to Mike Robinson

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Kyle Knight, Explosives Supplier of Mob Pipe Bombings, Pleads Guilty

The man who supplied explosives in a mob- ordered pipe bombing of a Berwyn business pleaded guilty today and has agreed to testify against others in the case.

Kyle Knight of Merrillville, Indiana admitted transporting two bags of explosive powder to 84 year old Samuel Volpendesto, reputed to be a mob associate. Volpendesto, of Oak Brook and 41 year old Mark Polchan have been charged with the 2003 bombing of C&S Coin Operated Amusements, 6508 W. 16th St. in Berwyn, which leased vending and video machines and was targeted by the Chicago Outfit because it competed with the mob's $13 million illegal gambling operation. Polchan, also described by authorities as a mob associate and a member of the Outlaws motorcycle gang, and Volpendesto were charged last month with the 2003 bombing.

According to his indictment, Volpendesto talked on undercover tape about the bombings and connected an unnamed individual referred to only as the "Large Guy." The government refers to that man as Outfit Member A, who worked for Outfit boss Johnny "Apes" Monteleone.

In a report last month the ABC7 ITeam identified Outfit member A as Mike Sarno, formerly known as "Fat Boy." The Westchester home of the convicted gangster was raided by the FBI in connection with the bombing. Sarno, now known in mob circles as "the large guy," has not been charged in the case. He told the I-Team this summer that he would have nothing to say about the legal matter.

The Iteam report, Double-O Connection, focused on a criminal relationship between the Outfit and the Outlaws biker gang.

In court today, Knight also pleaded guilty to numerous robberies. He has agreed to cooperate with authorities in return for a sentence of 15 years in prison.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Ann Pistone

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Details Emerge of the Chicago Outfit Connection to the Outlaws Motorcyle Club

Just as the mob reflects only a sliver of Italian America, federal authorities say hardened criminals make up only a small portion of the Outlaws motorcycle club, an element known in biker circles as the "one percent." But it is those Outlaws and their associates in the Outfit that authorities say have built a "Double O Alliance."

Prosecutors alleged that in 2003, the Double O Alliance bombed a videogame company in west suburban Berwyn.

C&S Coin Operated Amusements had been cutting in on the mob's illegal video poker racket, according to federal agents who say the bombing was a message from the mob.

Last week, the feds raided several Outlaw clubhouses in metro Chicago, seizing numerous weapons including a live grenade, police badges, a bulletproof vest and a stun gun. And they made two arrests. One man was 41-year-old Chicago Outlaw Mike Polchan, whose arm tattoo stands for "God forgives, Outlaws don't." The other was 84-year-old Samuel Volpendesto from Oak Brook. According to prosecutors, Volpendesto ran Outfit strip clubs and a call girl business.

According to federal charges, both men carried out the 2003 bombing of C&S Amusements. On a secretly recorded FBI tape played in court Wednesday, prosecutors say Volpendesto was heard describing the bomb had one long wick and a back up as well.

"You light both of them. In the event one don't work, you got at least a chance the other one will work," the recording says.

Volpendesto's family and his lawyer didn't want to speak publicly Wednesday, and Polchan's attorney declined an interview.

Prosecutors say a suburban Outfit member nicknamed "The Large Guy" ordered the Outlaws to bomb C&S. That would be the Chicago mobster - according to federal sources - Mike Sarno, the hoodlum who used to be known as "fat boy" before going to prison for mob crimes. Now out and all grown up at age 50, Sarno lives in the suburbs with a wife and kids. He is known as "The Large Guy."

When FBI and ATF agents raided Sarno's home last week, they seized a large quantity of cash, but he was not arrested. "No comment means no comment," Sarno said in response to questions.

The Outfit-Outlaw search warrants, executed at the same time last week, were no coincidence "It's been an ongoing effort from, perhaps, the beginning, for both the Outfit and the motorcycle gangs," said James Wagner, Chicago Crime Commission.

Their roots are in the same era. The Outfit grew from Al Capone's violent mob in the 1930s, just as the Outlaws motorcycle club was born in west suburban McCook in 1935.

The Outlaws' Chicago South Side club headquarters, at the corner of 25th and Rockwell, is non-descript. The front door on the corner though is solid steel. And there is a small bulletproof window. And if that wouldn't be enough to stop an attack, there is a sliding steel plate that can be drawn in front of the main door with its own bulletproof glass right in the middle.

The FBI says there are more than 250 Outlaw chapters worldwide and 38 affiliated gangs in metro Chicago. "You are going to have a small percentage who have a willingness to do other things than just ride a bike, and the Outfit will use that," Wagner said.

In the Berwyn bombing case, that 84-year-old defendant wants out on bond. He says he's suffering from cancer, heart disease, bad hearing, two artificial knees, poor blood flow, high cholesterol, carotid artery problems, herniated disc, sleep apnea and is on oxygen. Prosecutors want him behind bars and say he's "a career criminal who has not been slowed by Father Time."

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