The Chicago Syndicate

Monday, June 24, 2019

Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America’s Largest Criminal Court

Nicole Gonzalez Van Cleve’s "Crook County: Racism and Injustice in America's Largest Criminal Court" offers new insight into the processes of everyday “colorblind racism” within one of the largest court systems in the United States. This well-written and engaging book offers a remarkably relevant and important analysis of the U.S. criminal justice system by focusing on attorneys, judges, and the courtrooms in which they practice and adjudicate the law. While more attention has been focused on race and policing, criminal courts are a central actor in perpetuating the racialized outcomes evident in U.S. jails and prisons. Gonzalez Van Cleve documents and analyzes how powerful, disproportionately white male decisionmakers create and shape an extraordinarily corrupt and systemically racist system.

Crook County is based on over 1,000 hours of ethnographic observations of court proceedings, as well as interviews with judges and lawyers, giving the reader a truly original and path-breaking sense of how racism is embedded in the “inside” of the criminal justice system. The findings reveal a frankly heartbreaking account of a complicated habitus where race and class are continually reinforced in the negative assumptions about the poor and people of color that lawyers and judges make, and how the treatment of these accused individuals affirms “racialized rules” and color-blind racism.

What sets Gonzalez Van Cleve’s work apart from numerous accounts of racial inequality in arrests, sentencing, and treatment of the poor and people of color is her analysis of the everyday workings of the criminal justice system. Her research reveals everyday racial microaggressions articulated and practiced by lawyers and judges before a judgement is even rendered through racialized rules and scripts that routinely disorient and subjugate low-income people of color. Throughout the book, Gonzalez Van Cleve cracks open the door not only of courtrooms, but also of judge’s chambers and attorney’s offices, to show how prosecutors, judges, and public defendants regularly engage in racist practices that abuse both defendants and their families.

Beginning with her entrance into the Gang Crimes Unit where the white state attorneys bore such names as “Beast-Man Miller,” the author entered a world that denies the humanity of African American and Latinos through racialized cultural practices that demean the defendants and facilitate wrongful convictions. The ethnography provides numerous examples of how this system operates, such as when an elderly African American woman, leaning on her oxygen tank for support appeared before the judge to plead for her life saying she did not mean to kill her husband who had abused her for years. She was berated by the judge for being a “bad person” with little reference to the crime for which she was charged. Using Garfinkel’s work as a point of departure alongside of research on colorblind racism, Gonzalez Van Cleve argues this is but one example of racial degradation ceremonies pervasive in the courtroom that focus on judgments of immorality directed at defendants of color and the poor.

Such stories are analyzed in dialogue with relevant research but with a level of detail that is rarely found in other work on the topic and reflects the countless hours of ethnographic observation and interviews she and her research assistants undertook. Throughout this book, Gonzalez Van Cleve gives additional breadth and depth to Malcolm Feeley's notion that the “process is the punishment.” This book is impressive for the rigor of the data collection and analysis, poignancy of the narratives, and beautifully written observations that deepen our understanding of the ways in which racialized punishment operates in our legal system.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Robert Panozzo, Reputed Chicago Outfit Mob Soldier, Pleads Guilty to Extortion Conspiracy

Reputed Chicago Outfit Mob soldier Robert Panozzo pleaded guilty Wednesday to threatening and beating a suburban businessman he claimed owed him $100,000 and then hiring a goon to torch the debtor’s car and house when he wouldn’t pay.

“This is serious. I want my money,” Robert Panozzo Sr. allegedly told the victim in 2005 before embarking on a four-year effort to collect the juice-loan debt.

Panozzo, a reputed member of the Outfit’s Grand Avenue crew, entered his guilty plea to one count of extortion conspiracy in the federal courthouse in Rockford. His plea agreement calls for up to 14 years in prison, but Panozzo’s attorneys have disputed prosecutors’ calculation of the sentencing guidelines and are free to ask U.S. District Judge Philip Reinhard for a lesser sentence.

Whatever time Panozzo receives in the extortion case will be served concurrently with his 18-year prison term handed down earlier this year for his conviction in a sweeping racketeering conspiracy brought in Cook County court.

In that case, Panozzo and longtime associate Paul Koroluk admitted to heading a crew that participated in wide-ranging crimes, including home invasions, armed robberies, burglaries, insurance fraud and prostitution. Panozzo, Koroluk and several other members of the crew were arrested in 2014 during the attempted robbery of a drug stash house on Chicago’s Southeast Side. That turned out to be a law enforcement ruse, however.

Panozzo was a longtime soldier for Albert “Little Guy” Vena, the reputed Grand Avenue boss, according to prosecution testimony at a mob-related trial in 2014.

Panozzo’s 17-page plea agreement entered Wednesday does not call on him to cooperate in any other investigations.

According to the document, Panozzo loaned the McHenry County businessman — identified only as Victim 1 — $40,000 in 2005 and then followed up with “additional loans.”

At a meeting at a restaurant in Palatine in 2006, the businessman handed Panozzo an envelope with $25,000 in cash, according to the agreement. He believed that was his final payment, but Panozzo let him know he still owed $100,000 in interest on the loans.

That October, after the victim had not paid, Panozzo and his associate, Joseph Abbott, confronted the businessman at work and beat him, causing “injuries and contusions to Victim 1′s head,” the plea agreement said.

Panozzo was later sentenced to prison for a burglary conviction and couldn’t collect on the debt. Once he was released in 2008, though, Panozzo began calling Victim 1 demanding repayment, the plea agreement said.

In February 2009, Panozzo paid Abbott $1,000 to set fire to a Dodge Caravan that was parked in the victim’s driveway, according to the agreement. Two months later, Abbott “used an incendiary device” to set fire to the victim’s garage and several nearby trash cans, the plea said. Panozzo acknowledged in the plea agreement that he paid Abbott about $4,000 or $5,000 to “blow up” the victim’s residence.

Abbott has pleaded guilty to extortion and is awaiting sentencing, court records show.

Raised in the old Italian American enclave known as “the Patch” on the Near West Side, Panozzo and Koroluk have criminal histories that stretch back decades, court records show.

In 2006 they were both sentenced to seven years in prison for a string of burglaries targeting tony north suburban homes that netted millions of dollars in jewelry and other luxury items. Police at the time described the burglars as some of the most sophisticated they’d ever seen, from disabling state-of-the-art alarm systems to cutting phone lines.

Panozzo and Koroluk were arrested in a dramatic sting in 2014 after the two posed as cops to rob what they thought was a cartel stash house on the Southeast Side. They kicked in the door and grabbed stacks of drugs — only to be arrested by Chicago police and federal agents who had wired the house for audio and video surveillance and watched from above with an FBI spy plane. Koroluk wore a police star dangling from his neck, authorities said.

Prosecutors allege the crew participated in several other elaborate schemes targeting drug dealers, many of which involved tracking their targets with GPS to find where they stashed their narcotics.

Koroluk was also sentenced to 18 years in prison.

Thanks to Jason Meisner.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

In Keeping with a Presidential Executive Order by Donald Trump to #MAGA, the United States, Colombia and Mexico Strengthen Their Commitment to Dismantling Transnational Criminal Organizations

In Cartagena, Colombia, prosecutors from Colombia, Mexico, and the United States came together for the second Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCO) Working Group. The mission of the Working Group is to engage in specialized training and to develop joint strategies and best practices to dismantle the transnational criminal organizations that threaten the three nations.

During the Working Group, experienced prosecutors from the three nations benefited from trainings on international judicial cooperation and money laundering, and began developing a road map for the development or dissemination of best practices and effective strategies to dismantle these dangerous enterprises. This effort is all the more critical given the increasing interconnectedness between Mexican cartels and Colombian drug trafficking organizations, which collaborate to improve their profits and ability to traffic narcotics, humans, weapons and other contraband into the United States, threatening its national security.

The TCO Working Group is a direct outgrowth of Presidential Executive Order 13773 – Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking – which recognized the threat that transnational criminal organizations, including transnational drug cartels, pose to the national security of the United States. In the Executive Order, President Trump prioritized the need to increase cooperation and information sharing with foreign counterparts, and to enhance their operational capabilities via increased security sector assistance, all with the goal of dismantling TCO. Since the 2017 Executive Order was issued, the President has continually reiterated the need to immediately attack the ability of these organizations to traffic narcotics and other criminality into the United States.

The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training (OPDAT), which is housed under the Department’s Criminal Division, seized on the momentum from the Dec. 6 to 7, 2017 “Trilateral Summit Against Transnational Organized Crime,” to spearhead the TCO Working Group. The Attorneys General from the United States, Mexico and Colombia converged at the Trilateral Summit to strengthen their commitment to international judicial cooperation and to reinforce joint strategies to dismantle transnational organized crime, such as narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and public corruption. Via a Joint Declaration, the three Attorneys General called on their respective institutions to increase the exchange of best practices to effectively dismantle TCO and to develop joint capacity building and training programs for those charged with investigating and prosecuting TCO. With this clear mandate, OPDAT Colombia and OPDAT Mexico sponsored the first TCO Working Group in August 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico.

Participating in the TCO Working Group meeting was U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida; representatives of the Fiscalía General de la Nación (FGN) of Colombia including Claudia Carrasquilla, head of the National Organized Crime Unit and Ricardo Carriazo, head of the National Drug Trafficking Unit of FGN; representatives of the Fiscalía General de la República (FGR) of Mexico, OPDAT Resident Legal Advisors (RLAs) in Colombia and México and Assistant U.S. Attorneys from the federal districts of Arizona, Southern District of California, Middle District of Florida, Southern District of Florida, Northern District of Georgia, District of New Jersey, District of New Mexico, Eastern District of Texas, Southern District of Texas, Western District of Texas and District of Utah; trial attorneys from the Criminal Division’s Money Laundering and Asset Recovery Section and representatives from the Criminal Division’s International Criminal Investigative Training and Assistance Program (ICITAP); the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); U.S. Customs and Border Protection; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Colombian National Police.

“Global cooperation is the key to mitigating threats to our national security and thwarting borderless crimes,” said U.S. Attorney Maria Chapa Lopez for the Middle District of Florida. “The OPDAT Program continues to provide us, and our international partners, with the vital tools, information, and resolve necessary to defeat criminals, wherever they operate.”

"We held the trilateral meeting between the U.S., Colombian and Mexican prosecutors, where we've discussed issues of absolute importance for the dismantling of transnational criminal organizations that affect the national security of our countries,” said Ricardo Carriazo, Director of the Special Unit against Drug Trafficking for the Colombian Attorney General’s Office. “The results in this exchange of experiences and good practices will be seen soon in the development of international judicial operations. "

OPDAT spearheads and organizes this critical event in coordination with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL).

Monday, June 17, 2019

Donald Schupek, Former Village of Posen President, Pleads Guilty of Embezzlement to Gamble at Casinos #Corruption

The former president of the village of Posen pleaded guilty in federal court to charges he embezzled money from the south suburb and spent it at casinos.

DONALD W. SCHUPEK, 79, of Posen, pleaded guilty to one count of embezzlement. The conviction carries a maximum penalty of ten years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, plus mandatory restitution. U.S. District Judge Robert W. Gettleman set sentencing for Sept. 12, 2019, at 10:30 a.m.

The guilty plea was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Jeffrey S. Sallet, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the FBI.  The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Terry Kinney.

According to his plea agreement, Schupek, while serving as Posen president, directed the village bookkeeper to issue checks on the village’s checking account made payable to Schupek. From June 2014 to August 2016, Schupek directed the issuance of nine checks, totaling $27,000, the plea agreement states. At the time, Schupek did not inform the village treasurer nor the village board that he had issued these checks to himself.

Schupek admitted in the plea agreement that he converted the funds to his own use, including gambling expenses at two casinos in Joliet.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Coming in 2020 @EmpireOfSinGame ‏from the #Godfather of 1st Person Shooters, @Romero #EmpireofSin

Organized Crime Runs Rampant in 1920s Chicago with this Character-Driven Strategy Game

The wise guys at Paradox Interactive and Romero Games have made a big commotion today announcing the much anticipated strategy joint, Empire of Sin.

Set in the golden years (1920s Chicago), the game has players build their own ruthless criminal empire as one of 14 distinct bosses vying to run the seedy underworld of organized crime in the city. With randomly generated starting conditions, players will have to adapt to survive and do whatever it takes to outsmart, out-gun and outlast their opponents.

Empire of Sin will be coming to PC, Mac Switch, Xbox and PlayStation consoles in 2020.

Get in on the action with a cinematic trailer here:


It’s up to you to hustle, charm and intimidate your way to the top of the pile and do whatever it takes to stay there. This character-driven, noir-inspired game puts players smack dab in the glitz and glamor of roaring 20s all while working behind the scenes in the gritty underbelly of organized crime.

  • BUILD A CRIME EMPIRE: Raise your criminal empire from the ground up by selecting your racket of choice (be it speakeasies, union protection, or casinos) and building a team of loyal mobsters to make your mark on the streets. Once you make a name for yourself, expand your influence by taking over rival territory and adding more ventures to your repertoire.
  • DEFEND AND EXPAND TERRITORY: If it comes to blows, hypothetically of course, and your posse needs to send a message, face off in brutal turn-based combat. Recruit your goons strategically to build a strong chemistry within your crew to maximize combat damage and help secure your hold on the city.
  • EXPLORE A LIVING, BREATHING CITY: Explore the streets of vibrant 1920s Chicago and interact with a full cast of living, breathing characters each with lives of their own that inform how they react to what you do (or don’t do). Schmooze, coerce, seduce, threaten, or kill them to get your way.
  • WIELD YOUR INFLUENCE: Make and break alliances, bribe cops, and trade on the black market to gain an edge and expand the influence of your crime family. But always keep your enemies close and ensure you have a mole on the inside and eyes everywhere.
  • PURSUE MULTIPLE VICTORY STRATEGIES: Whether you make it to the top with violence, business smarts, or city-wide notoriety, there are a number of ways to become King or Queen of Chicago. With various starting conditions and constantly changing crew dynamics, no two playthroughs will ever be the same.

When You Get Serious About Tailgating

Crime Family Index