The Omaha Steaks God Bless America Memorial Day Special

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

John Matassa, Longtime Union Boss and Reputed Mob Figure Pleads Guilty to Embezzlement

A reputed Chicago mob figure and longtime union boss pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal felony charge of embezzlement in an alleged scheme to fraudulently qualify for early retirement benefits.

John Matassa Jr., 67, known by the nickname “Pudgy,” faces up to about 21 months in prison after entering his plea on the lone count before U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly, according to a plea agreement with prosecutors.

"The guy's hanging on to the carpet like a cat," one union member told the Tribune at the time. "He's just not cooperating at all. I just can't wait until he's gone."

Matassa’s name also surfaced during the 2009 trial of a deputy U.S. marshal who was convicted of leaking sensitive information to a family friend with alleged mob ties, knowing the details would end up in the Outfit's hands. Matassa allegedly acted as a go-between.

The leak involved the then-secret cooperation of Outfit turncoat Nicholas Calabrese, whose testimony led to the convictions of numerous mob figures — including Marcello — in the landmark Operation Family Secrets investigation.

Calabrese testified at the Family Secrets trial that Matassa was present in October 1983 when Calabrese was indoctrinated as a “made” member of the mob at a ceremony at a shuttered restaurant on Mannheim Road.

Matassa, the former secretary-treasurer of the Independent Union of Amalgamated Workers Local 711, was charged in a 10-count indictment in 2017 with putting his wife on the union’s payroll in a do-nothing job while lowering his own salary.

He then applied for early retirement benefits from the Social Security Administration's Old-Age Insurance program, listing his reduced salary to qualify for those benefits, the indictment alleged.

The charges also alleged that Matassa personally signed his wife's paychecks from the union over a four-year period and had them deposited into the couple's bank account.

According to Matassa’s 18-page plea agreement, preliminary sentencing calculations call for him to be given 15 to 21 months in prison, but Kennelly will make the final decision. Matassa must also pay a total of $66,500 in restitution to the union and Social Security Administration, according to the agreement.

Kennelly set sentencing for May 22.

Dressed in a purple checkered shirt, the husky Matassa, of Arlington Heights, leaned against a lectern and answered, “Yes, your honor” in a deep voice as Kennelly asked him if he understood the terms of his plea deal. About halfway thought the 40-minute hearing, Matassa accepted the judge’s offer and took a seat.

For years, Matassa has been associated with some of the Outfit’s most notorious figures, including former reputed boss James “Jimmy Light” Marcello.

In the late 1990s, Matassa was kicked out as president of the Laborers Union Chicago local over his alleged extensive ties to organized crime — a move Matassa fought for years.

"The guy's hanging on to the carpet like a cat," one union member told the Tribune at the time. "He's just not cooperating at all. I just can't wait until he's gone."

Matassa’s name also surfaced during the 2009 trial of a deputy U.S. marshal who was convicted of leaking sensitive information to a family friend with alleged mob ties, knowing the details would end up in the Outfit's hands. Matassa allegedly acted as a go-between.

The leak involved the then-secret cooperation of Outfit turncoat Nicholas Calabrese, whose testimony led to the convictions of numerous mob figures — including Marcello — in the landmark Operation Family Secrets investigation.

Calabrese testified at the Family Secrets trial that Matassa was present in October 1983 when Calabrese was indoctrinated as a “made” member of the mob at a ceremony at a shuttered restaurant on Mannheim Road.

Thanks to Jason Meisner.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Lawyer for Joseph Cammarano Jr, Reputed Acting Boss of Bonanno Crime Family: Looking like a mobster doesn't mean he's guilty!

An alleged mafia boss in New York City should not be convicted just because he looks like a mobster, his attorney has said.

Joseph Cammarano Jr, who is said to be acting boss of New York's Bonanno crime syndicate, faces up to 40 years in prison on racketeering charges.

Cammarano, 59, appeared in court with slicked-back hair, a spotted suit and a silver ring. But his lawyer, Jennifer Louis-Jeune, pleaded with jurors to ignore his 'central casting' appearance, the New York Post reported.

She told the federal court in Manhattan: 'Looking like you stepped out of a central casting in a mob movie doesn’t make you a part of one of these groups. 'Don’t be distracted. Don’t let what you have seen in movies or on TV or whatever you have heard about the mafia cloud your judgement.'

Asked if he looked like a gang boss, Cammarano joked: 'No, but I've got the map of Italy on my face'.

Prosecutors told the court in their opening statement that Cammarano had committed 'crime after crime'.

Another former Bonanno mafia member gave evidence for the prosecution, telling jurors about a meeting where Cammarano had been chosen as the new boss.

Cammarano was one of 10 people indicted last year for their alleged links to the New York crime syndicate, although many of them have since accepted plea deals.

The Bonanno ring is one of the so-called Five Families which dominate organized crime in the city.

The indictment also listed the gang's colorful nicknames including 'Joe C' for Cammarano and other members including 'Grumpy', 'Porky' and 'Joey Blue Eyes'.

Cammarano himself is accused of being the 'acting boss' of the Bonanno crime gang.

Thanks to Tim Stickings.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Untold Story of the Gangland Bloodbath That Brought Down Al Capone

Thanks to Art Bilek for sharing with us a deep account for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. It will make a nice addition to any Mobologist's library: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre: The Untold Story of the Gangland Bloodbath That Brought Down Al Capone.

During Prohibition, Chicago’s Beer Wars turned the city into a battleground, secured its reputation as gangster capital of the world, and laid the foundation for nationally organized crime. Bootlegger bloodshed was greater there than anywhere else.

The machine-gun murders of seven men on the morning of February 14, 1929, by killers dressed as cops became the gangland "crime of the century." Since then it has been featured in countless histories, biographies, movies, and television specials. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, however, is the first book-length treatment of the subject. Unlike other accounts, it challenges the commonly held assumption that Al Capone decreed the slayings to gain supremacy in the Chicago underworld. The authors assert the deed was a case of bad timing and poor judgment by a secret crew from St. Louis known to Capone’s mostly Italian mob as the "American boys."

The target of the murder squad was indeed Bugs Moran, but the "American boys," who were dressed as policemen and arrived in two bogus police cars, arrived early at the garage where the massacre took place. When no one in the garage would admit he was Bugs Moran, the bogus cops stupidly killed them all. Much of the evidence to this effect emerged shortly after the massacre but was deftly ignored by law enforcement officials. It began to resurface again in 1935 with a manuscript written by the widow of one of the gunmen and a lookout’s long-suppressed confession. Indeed, law enforcement tried very hard not to solve the crime, for under any rock the cops turned over there might be a politician, and under the St. Valentine’s Day rock they would have found several. In the end, the machine gun bullets heard ’round the world marked the beginning of the end for Al Capone.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Inner Workings of a El Chapo's $14 Billion Drug Empire

The trial of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, and his conviction Tuesday on drug-smuggling charges, brought to an end the decades long career of the notorious “El Chapo.” It also revealed in remarkable detail the inner workings of the criminal empire he built, one that rivaled governments and multinational companies in its power and sophistication.

After a three-month trial, the 61-year-old, who escaped twice from maximum-security prisons, was found guilty on 10 criminal counts by a federal jury in Brooklyn, N.Y. He is expected to spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison.

Trial testimony laid bare the secrets of the Sinaloa cartel’s organizational structure, including how cocaine and marijuana rumbled across the U.S. border in the walls of freight trains, how in-house tech experts built encrypted communications networks and how the cartel moved money around using debit cards, suitcases of cash and private planes. It even built its own rail spurs to unload shipments.

At times, the underlings of Mr. Guzmán who testified sounded as if they were describing corporate life. Former operations managers detailed infrastructure, accounting ledgers, supply-chain issues and the need to “protect the capital of the investors.” Mr. Guzmán often referred to the cartel as “la empresa,” or “the company.”

The cartel, of course, was no ordinary business. Prosecutors alleged Mr. Guzmán was involved in dozens of murders, and had ordered the burning of two cartel enemies after he had shot them in the head. Cartel leaders also allegedly paid millions in bribes to every level of Mexican law enforcement, which helped them to stay in operation for decades.

The U.S. has called the Sinaloa cartel Mr. Guzmán ran the largest drug-trafficking organization in the world. The murders and bribes facilitated its primary goal: maximizing the profits from smuggling illegal drugs into U.S. cities for sale to American users.

Mr. Guzmán’s lawyers said during the trial he wasn’t the real cartel leader and had no money. After the verdict, they said he didn’t get a fair trial and planned to appeal.

At the center of the action, as described by trial witnesses, was Mr. Guzmán, who evolved from an impoverished teenager growing poppies in front of his house in Sinaloa to a ruthless drug kingpin willing to kill anyone who disrespected him. He owned a private zoo, paid his workers in diamond watches and had girlfriends who helped him coordinate drug shipments. He reveled in his notoriety, even seeking to get a movie and book made about himself.

Mr. Guzmán was just a young smuggler in 1990 when he made a pitch to a Colombian cocaine supplier in a Mexico City hotel lobby. Pay me 40% of your drug shipment, he said, and I will get it across the U.S. border faster than anyone, the supplier recalled in court testimony. The price was higher than that of other Mexican traffickers, but Mr. Guzmán promised both speed and security, thanks to the stable of federal police he had bribed.

The Colombian, Juan Carlos Ramírez Abadía, flew his first drug shipment to Mr. Guzmán on five planes that landed at a clandestine airstrip in Sinaloa, Mexico. In less than a week, Mr. Guzmán smuggled more than 5,000 pounds of cocaine from Mexico into Los Angeles.

Their partnership lasted for almost two decades. Along the way, Mr. Guzmán escaped twice from maximum-security prisons in Mexico. Prosecutors say he made at least $14 billion in drug profits before his luck finally ran out when he was captured in 2016, and later extradited to New York.

The cartel was a collection of drug bosses who each controlled their own territory in Mexico, known as a “plaza.” The Sinaloa state, where Mr. Guzmán was born, was the most important plaza, partly because it had a long shoreline for receiving cocaine shipments.

Mr. Guzmán was one of the cartel’s four main early leaders, according to the testimony of Jesus Zambada García, who coordinated the cartel’s operations from 1992 until his arrest in 2008.

Underneath them were sub-leaders who managed the plazas and hundreds of other workers. Pilots and drivers ferried the drugs. Engineers set up secure communications. Security guards protected the drug loads and the cartel leaders. Hit men known as sicarios carried out beatings, kidnappings and murders of cartel enemies.

Most important, the cartel established a payroll for corrupt officials who escorted drug shipments and tipped off cartel members about law-enforcement operations. The salaries for corrupt officials exceeded $1 million a month, one witness testified.

Mr. Guzmán allegedly paid $100 million in 2012 to Mexico’s then-President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, according to the testimony of Mr. Guzmán’s former secretary. A spokesman for Mr. Peña Nieto has called the accusation “false, defamatory and absurd.”

In the mid-1990s, Mr. Guzmán and the other bosses began a profit-sharing model to protect against drug seizures by law enforcement. Under the model, each cartel investor shared the risk of lost or seized shipments and the upside for successful shipments. The new setup significantly strengthened the cartel.

The most secure way to get drugs across the U.S. border, witnesses said, was through tunnels. In the late 1980s, the cartel wheeled bricks of cocaine through an underground tunnel it dug from Agua Prieta, Mexico, to Douglas, Ariz. The Mexican entrance was covered by a pool table that lifted from the concrete floor with a hydraulic system. Law enforcement discovered the tunnel in 1990 after a cartel member forgot to lower the pool table.

Mr. Guzmán, one of his early friends testified, needed to quickly figure out a Plan B to move tons of cocaine inventory. Cartel members hatched a plan to smuggle cocaine across the Tijuana border to Los Angeles on large trucks inside jalapeño cans.

The cans were packaged in Mexican warehouses using labels that imitated those of a real chile-pepper company. Workers packed them with a special gravel that would mimic the sound and weight of water if they were shaken by inspectors.

When Colombian suppliers complained the packaging was damaging their product, Mr. Guzmán asked the suppliers to send cocaine in a cylindrical mold instead of the usual rectangular brick.

Mr. Guzmán also came up with a way to move the drugs by train. At the ends of each train car, Mr. Guzmán’s workers welded metal walls where vacuum-sealed bags of cocaine and marijuana were hidden. The bags were smeared with grease to ward off drug-sniffing dogs, and workers poured 2 inches of oil to the bottom of the train car to deter U.S. inspectors from stepping inside.

The cartel leased warehouses and train cars using front companies that looked like legitimate businesses importing cooking oil. Workers installed train spurs inside warehouses in cities such as Chicago and New York, where they could park the trains and sledgehammer the drugs out of the metal walls without arousing law-enforcement suspicion. The trains returned to Mexico carrying legitimate cargo.

Tirso Martínez Sanchez, who handled logistics for the train route, testified that the trains carried up to $800 million worth of drugs into the U.S. Law enforcement discovered the trains in 2002 and 2003. One amounted to the biggest drug seizure in New York City at the time.

Whenever the U.S. ramped up border security, the cartel would recruit people, including families with U.S. citizenship, to drive across legal ports of entry in cars with hidden compartments, stuffed with drugs and cash. In a single day, the cars could smuggle in more than 400 pounds of cocaine, one witness testified. After the drugs arrived in the U.S., they would leave the cartel’s warehouses in vans and trucks.

Mr. Guzmán welcomed international partners. The cartel worked with the Italian mafia to sell cocaine in Canada, one witness said. Dominicans helped distribute the cartel’s heroin and cocaine in New York City. Cartel lieutenants said they obtained methamphetamine from China and heroin from Thailand.

Laundering the millions of dollars in drug proceeds, typically denominated in small U.S. bills, was a separate challenge.

The drug money often came back to Mexico in cars. In 1989, Mr. Guzmán’s brother, Arturo, was stopped as he was driving across the Arizona border carrying more than $1.2 million in cash.

Mr. Guzmán purchased private jets to pick up the cash at the border and fly it back to Mexico City, where it would be wheeled in suitcases to be deposited at banks, according to the testimony of his former money manager Miguel Angel Martínez. Each jet would contain at least $8 million.

Architects built stash houses for Mr. Guzmán with beds that could lift above the ground, revealing passages to underground safes. Mr. Martínez said the largest amount stored in a single location was more than $20 million.

To move money from New York to Colombia and Ecuador to buy more cocaine, the cartel used debit cards that could be loaded up with as much as $9,900 per card. Unlike cash, which is made of linen that can absorb drug residue and attract drug-sniffing dogs, debit cards can be easily cleaned. After the cards arrived in South America, the cartel hired workers to withdraw the money from ATMs.

Mr. Guzmán invested in cutting-edge communications technology to avoid detection by authorities, hiring engineers to travel to the U.S. to buy the latest equipment. Early on, cartel members cloned other people’s phone numbers to make calls. Mr. Guzmán changed his cloned number every three or four days, one witness said.

Mr. Guzmán told his workers to communicate only via BlackBerry phones when crossing the U.S. border, thinking they were safer than radios.

In 2008, he hired as his top tech specialist a millennial college dropout with his own startup. Christian Rodriguez, a young cybersecurity expert, told Mr. Guzmán that BlackBerry messages weren’t safe. He testified he built an encrypted network that allowed Mr. Guzmán to securely call dozens of cartel members, and set up a cloud server in Canada because he had read about the country’s strong privacy laws.

Mr. Guzmán asked Mr. Rodriguez to install spy software that would let him track the locations of his associates’ phones and remotely turn on their microphones to eavesdrop on their conversations. He wanted to hear what his workers, including girlfriends, were saying behind his back.

The success of the Sinaloa cartel spawned deadly wars with rivals that were bad for business, former cartel workers said. Drug seizures ramped up, and American authorities slowly turned Mr. Guzmán’s close associates into cooperators.

Mr. Guzmán spent his last few years of freedom running from authorities, sometimes sleeping on the ground in the mountains and waking up every half-hour, according to his lieutenant at the time. Even so, Mr. Guzmán kept coordinating cocaine purchases from Ecuador for shipment to the U.S., the lieutenant said, protected by an army of bodyguards.

After his final arrest, a month before his extradition to the U.S., Mr. Guzmán was still planning another escape. The reason, said a federal prosecutor, was because “he never wanted to be in a position where he would have to answer for his crimes.”

Thanks to Nicole Hong.

Friday, February 08, 2019

The biggest pizza festival in Chicago is this Saturday! #NationalPizzaDay

Chicago Pizza Party, Chicago’s largest pizza festival, will be held on National Pizza Day, February 9th, 2019, at the Ravenswood Events Center. Chicago Pizza Party will feature two sessions, three floors, over 60 pizza styles from 20 restaurants, a rooftop dessert lounge, local beer from Half Acre Beer Company, wine, signature cocktails, top local DJs, fun games and special guests. Be sure to check out Lou Malnati's Chicago-style Deep Dish Pizzas.

Additional sponsors include Clyde Mays Whiskey and Tickets can be purchased at

  • What: Chicago Pizza Party 2019
  • When: February 9, 2019, two sessions 1-5 PM (all ages), 6-10 PM (ages 21+) 
  • Where: Ravenswood Events Center, 4021 N Ravenswood Ave, Chicago, IL 60613

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