The Chicago Syndicate: Michael Sarno
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Showing posts with label Michael Sarno. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Sarno. 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.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Reputed mob debt collector Paul Carparelli's recordings read like low-grade gangster script

Paul Carparelli may have fancied himself a rising star in the Chicago Outfit, but by his own admission he made a pretty lousy firefighter.

In 2012, Carparelli, a reputed debt collector for the mob's Cicero faction, was caught on undercover federal recordings talking about his unsuccessful stint as a firefighter in sleepy west suburban Bloomingdale in the 1990s.

Among his gripes about the job: running into burning buildings for low pay, being forced to do menial tasks like washing firetrucks instead of his beloved Cadillac, and, heaven forbid, going on a late-night call to the nearby nursing home, where "them old (expletive) (expletive)ers are always croakin.'"

"It just wasn't the job for me, you know. You gotta help them (expletive) people," Carparelli told his top muscle guy, George Brown, in a profanity-laced tirade, according to a transcript in court records. "You gotta be a certain kind of person for that. George, I guess you gotta like people. My problem is I hate everybody."

Carparelli's day of reckoning comes Wednesday when he faces sentencing at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse for a series of extortion attempts involving deadbeat businessmen. Federal prosecutors are seeking about 11 years in prison.

At the center of the case are hundreds of hours of conversations between Carparelli and Brown, a 300-pound union bodyguard and mixed martial arts fighter who was secretly cooperating with the FBI. The recordings paint a colorful picture of Carparelli as a callous mid-level mob operative looking to make a name for himself after convictions had sent several Outfit bosses — including Cicero crew leader Mike "The Large Guy" Sarno — to prison.

"This position doesn't happen all the time, George," Carparelli told Brown in a recorded call from 2011. "This is like a once in a lifetime (expletive) thing, if this is what you want to do, if this is the way you want to live your life."

Carparelli's lawyers have asked U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman for as little as probation, saying in a recent court filing that the former pizzeria owner was "nothing but a blowhard" whose constant exaggerations of his mob ties "caused the government to believe he was a connected guy."

"Mr. Carparelli is clearly a 'wanna-be' who has watched 'The Sopranos' and 'Goodfellas' too many times," attorneys Ed Wanderling and Charles Nesbit wrote. He was simply playing a "role," they argued.

If it was just a role, it was one Carparelli, now 47, played to the hilt. Carparelli was caught on surveillance arranging for the beating of suburban car dealership owner R.J. Serpico — he wanted both his legs broken — for failing to pay back a $300,000 loan from Michael "Mickey" Davis. Davis was a longtime partner of reputed mob lieutenant Salvatore "Solly D" DeLaurentis and had Outfit connections that purportedly went all the way to acting boss John DiFronzo, according to testimony at Davis' recent trial.

"We definitely can't (expletive) around with these guys or we're gonna have a big (expletive) headache," Carparelli told Brown in one call that was played at Davis' trial.

Carparelli also played a behind-the-scenes role in a plot to confront a business owner in Appleton, Wis., about a $100,000 debt. In a backroom at a Fuddruckers restaurant, Brown and two other mob toughs threatened the owner, who had offered to hand over a special-edition Ford Mustang as partial payment.

Asked where the car could be found, the victim was "shaking and stuttering" so badly that one of the enforcers grabbed his driver's license and wrote the address down himself, prosecutors said. At a 2014 trial in Chicago, the victim had trouble reading the complaint he had filed with police, telling jurors he was still shaking when he filled it out and that his handwriting was almost illegible.

Carparelli's undercover conversations with Brown certainly seem ripped from the pages of a low-grade gangster script. In call after call, the two talked as casually as office cubicle mates about the depleted state of the mob, the difficult logistics of certain contract beatings and the pain they intended to inflict on those behind in payments.

In one phone call from February 2013, Carparelli was recorded telling Brown to go to the home of a victim to collect a $66,000 juice loan debt with a ridiculously high interest rate, according to Carparelli's plea agreement.

"(Expletive) ring the bell and crack that guy," Carparelli was quoted as telling Brown. "Don't even say nothing to him. ... Go over there, give him a (expletive) crack, and we'll get in contact with him."

And when Brown and Carparelli had a falling out — purportedly over Brown's inability to get certain beatings done on time — Carparelli patched things up by reciting a sort of mob creed.

"As long as you don't steal from me, (expletive) my wife or rat on me, you're my friend 1,000 percent," he was quoted as telling Brown in a transcript of the call. "The thing is, when we say we're gonna do something, we have to get it done 'cause we look like (expletive) idiots. And I'm not in a position to look like an idiot. Because there is a lot of (expletive) goin' on now."

Prosecutors alleged Carparelli's allegiance to the Outfit began at a young age. As a teen, he joined the 12th Street Players, a Cicero-based gang founded in the late 1960s and credited with being the first street gang in the west suburbs, where Carparelli grew up, records show.

He racked up numerous violent arrests in his teens and 20s for bar fights, street beatings and several incidents in which he allegedly pulled a gun during an altercation, according to court records. In 1995, Carparelli was arrested at a Chicago Blackhawks game after he allegedly punched a man in the face "without warning" during a conversation, records show.

After his brief employment as a firefighter, Carparelli went to work for a company owned by Bridgeport trucking boss Michael Tadin — a longtime friend of former Mayor Richard M. Daley — whose firm Marina Cartage was once the target of an Outfit-related bombing, records show.

At the same time, Carparelli was establishing himself as a cocaine dealer, a lucrative moneymaker for him for more than 20 years, according to prosecutors.

When Carparelli was arrested in July 2013 as he pulled into his driveway with his son in the car, agents found "distribution amounts of cocaine" on him, prosecutors said. The FBI also recovered two guns, $170,500 and nearly $200,000 in jewelry — including a gold bracelet with the name "Paulie" spelled in diamonds — in a safe hidden in his home's crawlspace, court records show.

While free on bond awaiting trial, Carparelli was accused of threatening the life of a witness against him outside a Chicago-area Wal-Mart, pulling up alongside an employee of the witness and saying, "Tell him he is a (expletive) rat. Tell him he knows what happens to rats," prosecutors said.

Even after Carparelli was jailed for the stunt, he continued to make threats from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a federal jail, prosecutors said. In intercepted emails and prison calls, Carparelli allegedly called his business partner a "fink" after he stopped returning calls and accused him of cooperating with the government, prosecutors said. He also claimed the man owed him money.

"Doesn't matter if I get six months or six years, when I'm done were gonna have a talk," Carparelli wrote in all capital letters in an email to the man. "So put your big boy pants on and get ready."

"The 1,500 means nothing," Carparelli wrote. "It's the point that matters!!!!!! ... See you when I get out!!!!!! Partner!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

In their court filing asking for probation, Carparelli's attorneys said he is the sole caretaker for his son, who suffers from Tourette syndrome. They also pointed to his work as a firefighter and that his felony extortion conviction prevents him from ever holding a civil service position again.

If the issue comes up in court on Wednesday, prosecutors could play the recording in which Carparelli talks about his firefighting experience, ripping everything from the "ex-military, straight-A guys" who worked with him at the station to the long 24-hour shifts.

He also complained about frequent medical calls to a local nursing home and recalled one early-morning trip there when a resident told him she had been having chest pains since 6:30 or 7 that night.

"I looked at her, I said, 'Lady, it's 2 in the morning. You wait until 2 in the morning and call us. Why didn't you call us at 7? You woke everybody up,'" he said. "She looked at me and got hot."

Thanks to Jason Meisner.

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

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mark Hay Gets Six Years in Prison

A burglar who was a key government informant against reputed Chicago mobsters has been sentenced to six years in prison for his crimes.

Prosecutors sought leniency for 56-year-old Mark Hay, noting that he'll likely be in the witness protection program for the rest of his life.

Hay was in a criminal group overseen by Michael "The Large Guy" Sarno, a mob boss recently sentenced to 25 years in prison for racketeering and other charges.

Hay wore a wire during meetings with group members and helped the government get others to become witnesses.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu says the so-called Chicago Outfit "does not look kindly on individuals who cooperate against it."

Hay allegedly continued to commit burglaries after promising the government he wouldn't commit crimes while cooperating.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Michael Sarno Gets 25 Years in Prison and $1.7 Million+ Fine

A reputed mob boss known for his wide girth and reputation for violence was sentenced to 25 years in prison Wednesday in a federal court in Chicago.

Michael "The Large Guy" Sarno also was ordered to pay nearly $1.8 million in restitution. A jury convicted Sarno, 54, and four co-defendants in 2010 of racketeering and other charges.

Just before U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman handed down the sentence, Sarno read from a statement in which he acknowledged "deep regrets." He asked his lawyers to read the rest after he choked up with emotion. Sarno's family sobbed as his attorney, Jeffrey Steinback, finished the statement, which referred lovingly to Sarno's children and wife.

Government attorneys say Sarno and his crew wanted to warn a game distributor not to encroach on their video-poker turf on Chicago's South Side and in the city's suburbs. To make this point, federal prosecutors say Sarno ordered C&S Coin Operated Amusements' Berwyn offices bombed in 2003.

Experts say Sarno's background as an enforcer wouldn't normally have translated into a top mob job. But with aging kingpins behind bars or dying, a weakened Chicago Outfit offered positions to men like Sarno.

His attorney said before sentencing that Sarno is in poor health, suffering from diabetes and high blood pressure, and is "not going to live 25 years."

The judge said he recognized the hardship on Sarno's family was real and "a tragedy." But he said he decided on the lengthy sentence to protect the public and send a message to others who might be tempted to "follow in (Sarno's) footsteps."

He added that Sarno's two prior felony convictions failed to deter him. "He appears single-mindedly determined to engage in criminal conduct of an organized nature," Guzman said.

Sarno's attorneys told the judge they intend to appeal.

Sarno, dressed in an orange jumpsuit, blew a kiss to his family as he was led out of the courtroom.

After the hearing, prosecutors praised the judge's decision and thanked investigators who helped build the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu said the sentence "sends a very powerful message that if you are intent upon using force or violence through your connection with organized crime, you're going to pay a heavy price to do that."

Thanks to Carla K. Johnson

Friday, November 18, 2011

Mike Sarno to be Sentenced 2/8/12

Chicago mob boss Mike ''The Large Guy'' Sarno will find out on February 8, 2012, how long he will spend behind bars.

Sarno was supposed to be sentenced Friday but one of his attorneys is dealing with a family emergency and asked for the hearing to be delayed. The sentencing has been put off a number of times already.

It's been almost a year since Sarno was convicted of running a racketeering enterprise in connection with a suburban gambling business. The six-week trial proved Sarno had carved an alliance between the Chicago Outfit and the Outlaws motorcycle gang.

Outlaw biker members Anthony and Samuel Volpendesto, Mark Polchan and Casey Szaflarski were also convicted in the case punctuated by the 2003 bombing attack of a Berwyn video poker machine company. The firm had been competing with Sarno's Outfit-run video poker business.

Federal prosecutors are asking that Sarno receive the maximum sentence. Last month, the government submitted to the court a 2003 I-Team report to support their argument that Sarno be sentenced to the longest possible term in prison.

ABC 7's broadcast in June 2003 focused on a restructuring of the Chicago mob ordered by imprisoned outfit leader James Marcello. "Little Jimmy," as he is still known, was doing time for racketeering, gambling violations and extortion, and still running the outfit's business from the barbed-wire Hilton.

Included in the June 3, 2003, I-Team report was this information about who had been tapped to oversee the Chicago outfit: "This mob heavyweight, 350-pound Michael 'Fat Boy' Sarno, whom Marcello has just installed, according to U.S. law enforcement source."

Based on his organized crime stature, the government will ask that Sarno's sentence be enhanced to 25 years.

Defense attorneys dispute the contention that Sarno is a crime boss. They have submitted 100 letters from Sarno's friends, neighbors and relatives that portray him as a good family man and a fine American. They also cite his numerous health problems that they say could be compromised by a lengthy stay in prison.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Barb Markoff

Saturday, October 29, 2011

ABC7 Chicago Investigative Report to Be Used by Feds in Michael Sarno Sentencing

Federal prosecutors are preparing to throw the book at Chicago mob boss Michael Sarno, using a page from an I-Team story.

In this Intelligence Report: Why the government's argument for a maximum sentence relies on something reported on ABC7.

Heading into Friday's sentencing, we have two very different portraits of Mike Sarno. He is either a good, family man and helpful member of the community, as his lawyers would have you believe, or he is a heavyweight mob boss with a ruthless management style as the government describes him.

Monday, U.S. prosecutors submitted to the court a 2003 I-Team report to support their argument that Sarno be sentenced to the longest possible term in prison.

ABC7's broadcast in June 2003 focused on a restructuring of the Chicago mob ordered by imprisoned outfit leader James Marcello. "Little Jimmy," as he is still known, was doing time for racketeering, gambling violations and extortion, and still running the outfit's business from the barbed-wire Hilton.

Included in the June 3, 2003, I-Team report was this information about who had been tapped to oversee the Chicago outfit: "This mob heavyweight, 350-pound Michael 'Fat Boy' Sarno, whom Marcello has just installed, according to U.S. law enforcement source."

Nine days later, 250 miles away, behind the walls of a penitentiary in Michigan, James Marcello and his brother Mickey discussed the I-Team's report.

JAMES MARCELLO: "How did they get a copy of the indictment? The motion?"

In recently released undercover FBI Marcello quizzes his brother on how the I-Team got its information.

MICHAEL MARCELLO: "Yea and ah, put together a new crew with the Trucker..."

A hand sign for a sizable waistline, according to prosecutors, is meant to indicate Michael Sarno, whose girth precedes him. Authorities say the gist of the jailhouse chatter: Sarno is connected to the top guy.

Based on his organized crime stature, this Friday, the government will ask that Sarno's sentence be enhanced to 25 years.

He was convicted last December with four other men of bombing a Berwyn video poker company that was competing with the mob. They were also found guilty in a string of outfit jewel heists.

In a separate filing Monday, defense attorneys dispute the contention that Sarno is a crime boss. They have submitted 100 letters from Sarno's friends, neighbors and relatives that portray him as a good family man and a fine American. They also cite his numerous health problems that they say could be compromised by a lengthy stay in prison.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Monday, October 24, 2011

Michael Sarno Could Face 25 Years in Prison

The Chicago mob’s “Large Guy” could take a big fall — if federal prosecutors get their way.

Prosecutors are providing a detailed look at reputed Cicero mob boss Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno’s ties to organized crime in a new court filing as they ask a federal judge to sentence Sarno to the maximum possible prison sentence — 25 years behind bars.

Sarno was convicted in December of racketeering conspiracy and illegal gambling and is set to be sentenced Friday in federal court in Chicago. The conviction is Sarno’s third for mob crimes — and one that could put him in prison until his 70s.

Federal prosecutor Amar-jeet S. Bhachu describes Sarno as a career criminal who began his Outfit work in 1975. Prosecutors write “it is obvious that he does not care about the law.

“His interest today still lies with taking what he wants for himself and other members of organized crime . . .”

Sarno was convicted at trial with four other men in which prosecutors described a slew of crimes, including a bombing of a Berwyn company in competition with the mob’s video poker business along with a burglary ring that targeted jewelry stores.

Sarno ordered the bombing of the Berwyn business and controlled the burglary ring, prosecutors said.

Sarno began running the Outfit’s Cicero crew after the disappearance of mobster Anthony Zizzo in 2006, who is presumed to have been murdered, although his body has never been found.

Sarno, who at his biggest has tipped the scales at more than 300 pounds, has several mob nicknames, including “Big Mike,” “Large” and “Fat Ass.” When he was a free man, Sarno often was seen with his close friend, Salvatore Cataudella, convicted in a juice loan case. The pair was dubbed “Mutt and Jeff.”

They were referred to by the nicknames in a secretly recorded conversation between Chicago mob boss James Marcello and his half-brother Michael Marcello in 2003.

An attorney for Sarno could not be reached Sunday, but a former lawyer for him has disputed the characterization of Sarno by federal prosecutors and the FBI’s informants.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dino Vitalo Pleads Guilty in Mob Racketeering Case

A longtime Cicero Police officer was sentenced to federal prison Tuesday for his role in a mob racketeering crew.

In this Intelligence Report: Two sharply different portraits of former officer Dino Vitalo were presented in court.

This is the epitome of good cop, bad cop, all within one cop. Forty-two-year-old Dino Vitalo was variously described Tuesday at his federal sentencing hearing as either the world's greatest policeman or the world's worst.

Vitalo was sentenced to two years in prison. He had pleaded guilty to providing police information to top members of the Chicago Outfit, most notably Mike "The Large Guy" Sarno. It was Sarno who led a mob racketeering crew and was convicted of blowing up a Berwyn video gaming company that was in competition with organized crime.

In court Tuesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu said that Vitalo's moonlighting with the mob -- and leaking sensitive information -- had a negative impact on the government's ability to investigate organized crime. In 18 years with Cicero Police, Bhachu said, Vitalo had "a pattern of not following the rules, "does not care about the rules," and "followed the rules he wanted to follow."

The Town of Cicero has long been dogged by organized crime connections, going back to Prohibition, when Al Capone established his gangland headquarters there. But, in court Tuesday, Dino Vitalo's lawyer suggested it was unfair to paint him "with a broad brush of a corrupt officer." Attorney Todd Pugh said he hoped that "a man's life isn't judged by his mistakes."

Pugh offered several letters applauding Vitalo, including one written by Cicero Police Commander Raul Perez, who praised Vitalo's years of dedication and service.

The prosecutor responded to those letters of support for ex-Cicero Patrolman Vitalo and said that "you have to have a screw loose in your head to think he is a top shelf officer."

Raul Perez himself is no stranger to discipline. He was suspended for misconduct while working as state police bodyguard to Governor Rod Blagojevich.

In handing down Tuesday's sentence, Judge Ronald Guzman observed that Vitalo was "very much at home with these people," members of the outfit, and that he was in cahoots with other cops.

One of the other outfit-connected cops, James Formato from Berwyn, was to be sentenced Tuesday but it was put off until late November.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

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, January 27, 2011

Convicted Reputed Mob Boss Won $250,000 Worker's Comp Claim

An alleged Illinois mob boss convicted of racketeering once filed a worker's compensation claim and was awarded $250,000, testimony in his trial revealed.

Prosecutors say reputed Cicero mob boss Michael Sarno, 52, while running his criminal operations, presented himself in the claim as a trade show carpenter injured while working at Chicago's McCormick Place convention center, Chicago's SouthtownStar newspaper reported Tuesday.

The injury claim was mentioned in Sarno's December trial where he was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and faces 25 years in prison.

"He was certainly mobile enough to threaten people and conduct his mob-related business with considerable vigor," former federal prosecutor T. Markus Funk, who investigated Sarno, said.

"While having two jobs is, of course, not unheard of, it would not be unfair to raise a skeptic's eyebrow about a claim that Sarno, on the one hand, worked as a brutal mob boss running a multifaceted criminal enterprise, and at the same time punched his union carpenter ticket, banging in nails and whittling wood," Funk said.

"Not to be uncharitable, but that, frankly, is a level of multi-tasking few on the street would -- for a variety of reasons -- credit him with possessing."

Thanks to UPI

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

Friday, December 03, 2010

Defense Cross-Examination of Key Witness at Sarno Trial

Defense lawyers began cross-examining a key government witness in the federal racketeering case against Chicago Outfit boss Michael "The Large Guy" Sarno.

In New York and in the movies, the code of silence is called "omerta." In the Chicago Outfit, wiseguys play by their own rules, and they don't have a fancy Italian nickname for keeping quiet. They're just supposed to do it.

For suburban mob boss Mike Sarno, the top defendant in the current Outfit prosecution, it is clear that the code of silence is sometimes tough to enforce.

When the I-Team showed up at Sarno's Westchester home a few years ago, he had no problem clamming up in front of the camera. But about that same time, the FBI was listening in on Sarno's phone calls, as agents investigated the mob bombing of a Berwyn video poker company and links between the Outfit and the Outlaws biker gang.

In one secretly recorded phone call with a longtime family friend, Sarno could almost be heard cringing.

KANTOWSKI : Mike, how are you doing?
SARNO: How you doin', buddy?
KANTOWSKI: Good, I'm sitting here with, ah, Frank Caruso, um,
Dominick Montagna and Frank Depollo.
SARNO: Oooh, oh you, oh boy.
KANTOWSKI: Trying to work this out.
SARNO: Alright.
KANTOWSKI: Uh oh, I'm in trouble.
SARNO: Talk to you later.

Caruso, a South Side Outfit boss, and the other names were unwelcome subjects of that phone call between Mike Sarno and his friend David Kantowski, who says he was a 25-year friend of Sarno's. An hour later, they talked again.

SARNO: Ok, well, listen, I, I, I just got to, I want to tell you something. I appreciate everything you are doing for me, buddy, but please stop with the names on my phone. Please.
SARNO: I know I'm paranoid, but I got good reason to be.
KANTOWSKI: I wasn't even thinking, Mike I, I apologize, I wasn't even thinking about that, God d------t.
SARNO: Well, listen ...
KANTOWSKI: Sorry buddy.
SARNO: I'll do the thinking for us with that stuff because, ah ... Believe me, it's a shame we got to be like that, but we do.

Kantowski is a Chicago real estate agent and is related to two of the defendants in the case, Sam and Anthony Volpendesto.

Mr. Kantowski told the I-Team late Thursday that he may be called as a rebuttal witness during the trial.

All day Thursday, prime government witness Kyle Knight was on the stand. He provided the bomb components for that Berwyn attack.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sketch Artist Forbidden From Drawing Co-Defendant at Mob Bombing Trial

In federal court Tuesday, the mob racketeering trial of Michael "the Large Guy" Sarno and four alleged accomplices was abruptly halted when a witness was asked about Sarno's mob connections.

In this intelligence report: Why that wasn't the only unusual event during the trial.

Mike Sarno, a convicted Outfit boss, is accused of ordering the bombing of a Berwyn video poker machine maker that was in competition with the Outfit.

For the past two days one of Sarno's co-defendant's in the case has been testifying. Mark Hay is a career burglar, and unbeknownst to his accused criminal colleagues, he was cooperating with the FBI.

Tuesday, as the free-on bond "Large Guy" walked into federal court for another day of trial, his attorney Terry Gillespie was able to cross-examine one of the government's prime witnesses. His name: 54-year-old Mark Hay.

In an extraordinary request, the past two days, Judge Ronald Guzman asked that our ABC7 courtroom sketch artist not draw Hay's face, even though he was sitting in full view in a public courtroom and is a named defendant.

It is thought that Hay will enter the federal witness protection program and be given a new identity once this case is done.

More unusual is that Hay's picture is readily available to anyone searching the Illinois Department of Corrections website. He has been serving a lengthy sentence at the Logan Correctional Center on numerous burglary convictions.

The past two days, not only has Hay's testimony been seen and heard, so have his undercover tapes.

On those tapes Hay expresses his surprise that Mike Sarno hadn't been indicted during the fed's Operation Family Secrets, the feds' much more expansive mob murders prosecution from a few years ago.

It is unclear why a news organization's sketch artist would be singled out and asked not to draw a picture of someone who is appearing in a public courtroom when that person's current prison photo is available for anyone to see on a government website.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reviewing the History Behind Famous Mob Nicknames

A colorful nickname comes with the job when you are a reputed Chicago crime boss, often whether you like it or not.

The trial of Michael "Big Mike" Sarno is getting underway in federal court in Chicago, with prosecutors arguing that the 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound Sarno wasn't just imposing because of his size, but because he was the big man behind a violent mob jewelry theft and illegal gambling ring.

Imposing aliases have captivated the public and aggravated mobsters since the days of Al "Scarface" Capone, a fact that apparently was too much for one prospective juror. The juror, a suburban businessman, told U.S. Judge Ronald Guzman he would be biased by the repeated use of nicknames during the trial. So Guzman sent him home.

Defense attorney Michael Gillespie said he's not worried about his large client's nickname, which is pretty mild for an alleged mobster. "There's nothing nefarious about that nickname," Gillespie said. "But I do think (federal prosecutors) put the nickname in there for a reason. They could've just charged him as 'Michael Sarno.'"

A big appetite is a more benign way to get a pet name than, say, Anthony "Joe Batters" Accardo, the former reputed mob kingpin who earned his sobriquet for beating people with baseball bats. The story goes that after hearing of one such beating, Capone himself said, "That guy, (Accardo), he's a real Joe Batters." Throughout his life, everyone called Accardo "Joe," said Gus Russo, author of "The Outfit."

"They started to call (Accardo) 'Big Tuna' in the press, but no one ever called him that," said Russo. Mobsters' nicknames often were generated by the press or FBI agents eager to antagonize their targets, a favorite tactic of longtime Chicago FBI chief William Roemer. "(Roemer) was the one that referred to (Outfit Vegas boss) Anthony Spilotro as 'The Ant,'" Russo said. "That was (Roemer's) way of infuriating these guys."

Attorney Joseph Lopez said the press hung the nickname "The Breeze" on his loan-sharking client Frank Calabrese Sr. "That's a media nickname. No one ever called him that. He was 'Cheech,'" said Lopez. "Cheech is 'Frank' in Italian. It's a neighborhood thing. These guys get their nicknames like anyone else, as young kids in the neighborhood."

Of course, former Lopez client Anthony "The Hatchet" Chiaramonti was known for attacking juice-loan delinquents with a hatchet, the attorney acknowledged. "Hatchet earned that nickname," said Lopez, noting that jurors heard Chiaramonti strangle an informant — who was wearing a wire at the time — during a trial in the 1990s. "I called him Tony."

When reputed mobsters deny, or take offense to, their nicknames, it may be because they haven't heard them until someone plays them tapes of a wiretap. Wiretaps in Sarno's case will show that some of his lieutenants often called their boss "Fat Ass" behind his back. Not a good career move in most jobs, and a potentially deadly one in The Outfit.

"These are not guys you might want to call by a nickname to their face," said Markus Funk, one of the lead prosecutors in the Family Secrets trial that featured defendants Frank "the German" Schweihs; Paul "the Indian" Schiro; and Joseph Lombardo, who was listed with three nicknames: "the Clown," "Lumbo" and "Lumpy."

U.S. attorney's office policy is to include nicknames in an indictment only when the monikers are used in wiretaps or correspondence, said former prosecutor Chris Gair. However, modern mobsters are so paranoid about wiretaps and FBI surveillance that they seldom even risk using a nickname, Gair said. Their coded euphemisms get so vague, often it's clear the mobsters can barely carry on a conversation.

"Instead of a name or a nickname, they'll say something like 'You know that guy down by Grand and Ogden (avenues)?' 'You mean the guy who stands outside the grocery?' And the circumlocutions are so obscure, it's obvious they don't know who the other guy's talking about," Gair said. "But they're so paranoid, they still won't use a name."

Gair, for the record, said he seldom used nicknames in cases he handled.

"I would almost never put (nicknames) in an indictment. FBI agents and IRS guys have a nickname for everybody," he said. "For most guys, they use nicknames the way you or I do among friends."

Thanks to Andy Grimm

More Mob Nicknames

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Opening Statements Made in Chicago Mob Bombing Trial

Federal prosecutors say an explosion at the building housing a video poker-machine distributor is at the heart of the trial of a reputed mob boss and his alleged cohorts.

In an opening statement Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Donovan says Michael "Big Mike" Sarno and his alleged crew wanted to send a message to C&S Coin Operated Amusements not to encroach on Sarno's turf.

Prosecutors say as a result of the 52-year-old Sarno 's orders to bomb the Berwyn offices of the video game distributor in 2003, the company's Berwyn offices were destroyed.

Sarno and four others have pleaded not guilty to federal racketeering charges.

Donovan says he will make the case against Sarno and his four co-defendants with evidence from witnesses, wiretaps and a bug planted in a Cicero pawn shop.

The defense will give opening statements Monday.

Thanks to KWQC

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Potential Juror Scared Off by Mob Nicknames

A potential juror has been dismissed in a reputed mobster's trial in Chicago after expressing unease at the defendants' nicknames.

Jury selection in the racketeering trial of Michael "The Large Guy" Sarno and four others began today with 60 would-be jurors packing a federal courtroom.

No one in court mentioned allegations of mob links. But the excused juror told U.S. District Judge Ronald Guzman he saw nicknames for some defendants on a document that flashed on a courtroom monitor.

The investment banker says the implications of the nicknames would influence his ability to be impartial. Guzman then dismissed him.

Picking 12 jurors and four alternates could take days. The trial is expected to last a month.

Thanks to WGN

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


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