A Cicero Tale-Clean Up the Town? Clean Out the TOWN!

AnchorIllinois Police & Sheriff’s News
A Cicero Tale: 1995

From the I.P.S.N. Archives – 1995

Clean Up the Town? Clean Out the Town!

Betty Loren-Maltese’s reign as Town President is in full bloom and her campaign pledge to “Clean up Cicero” – her words, mind you – enters its third year. When this paper last checked in with the good “burghers” of the world renown town that Al Capone did not want shut down, the widow of Frankie Maltese – the late mob button man and Rocco Infelise’s point guy – was rolling the dice. She tossed her hat into the electoral ring and came up the winner in the tally for Cicero Town President.

The “Cicero Godmother” carries on the traditions of her predecessor, the late Henry Klosak, Town President and ex-state representative who would smile in approval knowing that an expensive new government public safety building is about to be christened in honor of his sidekick, Frankie Maltese, his closest political ally during the days he called the shots in Cicero. “They were like brothers,” Betty reminisced when, describing the relationship between her late husband and the wily Klosak.

Frankie Maltese was the former Town Assessor and a Cicero employee for 25 years who suffered the ignominy of a conviction on mob-related gambling charges.. Federal prosecutors proved that Maltese was a high-ranking member of a gambling operation that stretched from Chicago’s North Side up to the Wisconsin state line. Frank Maltese copped a plea to the federal conspiracy charges in October 1991 and was sentenced to nine months in the slammer after U.S. Judge Ann C. Williams took pity on him because of his having an advanced state of pancreatic cancer which ultimately removed Frank from life’s tally sheet.

As for Klosak, he forever altered the political landscape of Cicero by transferring power from the Town Clerk’s position where it had rested for decades – to the Town President’s office shortly after winning his first election for that top spot. John Francis Kimbark, the “grand old man” of Cicero politics, whose visage resembled a bantam rooster, had been the Town Clerk and Republican Township Committeeman. After Kimbark passed and went to the big “town hall in the sky” Klosak took the realm and was the lead politico until his death. He ruled with a firm but trembling hand for 12 years. Maltese was the “inside man” representing the interests of Joey Aiuppa and the “boys” who would take his place when “Mr. O’Brien” went to prison – where he languishes inside the walls till this day. Aiuppa’s criminal endeavors are too numerous to recount, but his Las Vegas skimming activities proved his present undoing.

Frank Maltese’s connections to the underworld minions of Chicago never seemed to bother his fellow office holders. He was a much adored figure in the Town if only for the simple reason that many residents disliked the federal government to such an extent that if “big brother” was out to get Frankie, then Frankie couldn’t be all that bad. A goodly portion of the town folk have never forgotten, nor will they ever forgive the meddling of the “G” into their fiefdom. Many old-time residents bitterly resent the open housing decrees force-fed on the municipality in the last 30 years.

Now enter Betty Maltese and her allies craving political office. They had little to fear from the Democrats or the reformers when the time came to stand for election. With such seasoned campaigners as Gerald Resnick the polite, low keyed, and canny Town Collector since 1970; Trustee John S. Kociolko a former Town Trustee, Illinois State Representative and Klosak ally who sought the key post of Town Assessor; and Supervisor Joseph DeCichio, rounding out the ticket the only unanswered electoral question in Cicero was how big the plurality this time? In the Spring ‘93 election, Resnick came in at 3-1. Betty rolled up a vote total of 8,521 compared to Interfaith candidate Tom Wicker’s 75 pitiful write-in votes, and the 3,679 that went to the Democrat, Tom Nichin. Quite a victory by anyone’s standards.

The Interfaith Leadership Council, a coalition of ecumenical leaders and good government types who have resisted one-party rule in Town the last few years, boiled over in anger. “The Interfaith Leadership Program’s goal is to seek justice,” wrote one supporter to the Cicero-Berwyn Life, a journalistic ally of the organization for many years. “That is not easy in a town that has officials who plead guilty to crime and remain in office long enough to reorganize the town government with relatives and close associates.” Nothing is easy in Cicero except the pickings. The Town, to put it bluntly, is controlled. “These people are so powerful,” nervously comments a local resident familiar with the lay of the land. “They have friends all over the place.” From the Illinois State House – to Washington – to Vatican City.

It is curious, often overlooked fact of political life that Republican Congressman Henry Hyde is a by-product of the John Kimbark machine, who owes his 20-year tour of duty inside the Beltway due to his loyalty to the strong backing of Kimbark and the Cicero political organization from way back when.

Bishop Paul Marcinkus controlled the Vatican Bank, and sat at the right hand of two Popes despite persistent allegations that this ex-Ciceronian masterminded the plot to purchase $1 million dollars in phony securities in a far-reaching monetary scandal that dovetailed into an international scandal back in the mid-1970s. Marcinkus was born and raised in Cicero. In the years following his ordination, his rising power and influence within Catholic Church circles was formidable. No-one could touch this former parish priest. After the allegations of financial impropriety surfaced, Bishop Marcinkus was promoted to Archbishop by Pope John Paul II. The Cicero way was adopted to the Vatican.

Meanwhile, back in the renowned town, “Frau” Betty fine tunes the well-oiled political apparatus. Insiders and those “in the know” still see that one man (in this case one woman) rule is alive and well. Betty Loren-Maltese calls all the shots. “People are afraid of her,” said one long-time observer under the condition of anonymity. “You screw up once and you’re out.” But one must realize Betty had a good teacher – her late soul mate Frankie. If you screwed up with some of Frank’s friends – you might be dead.

The “Godmother” as she is clandestinely referred to, is the liquor commissioner in charge of saloon licensing. It is a job with a dubious history in Cicero. She has delegated Police Chief Emil Schullo as her Deputy Liquor Commissioner. In Cicero, the Town President always serves as liquor commissioner. The number two person – in this case Schullo – is analogous to that of a first string quarterback who moves the ball down the field. It is an office with enormous potential for chicanery, as history shows.

Emil Schullo has also been elevated from Police Chief to the newly created (just for him) position of Cicero Public Safety Director. Schullo oversees the police, fire, and health departments and the police pension board. His office, his power and the title were created by Betty Loren-Maltese and passed into law by the cooperative Town Board in January 1993. Emil, as Director of Public Safety has the power to hire and fire non-sworn personnel in any way he pleases. Thus, Schullo has emerged as the number two power broker within the Republican Organization – the seeing eye dog of all that goes down in Cicero. He has been groomed for higher duties through his adult life and his capabilities do not go without some grudging admiration from town observers.

Because of adverse criticism, Schullo’s promotion to Police Chief was delayed. By de-fault, the job went to Albert Sykora who had already filed his retirement papers when he was tabbed by Klosak to replace Otto Svehla “who never bothered anyone” all the time he was Chief. Svehla took over for Art Lange, who tried to instill a military-discipline and new degrees of professionalism into a department that has traditionally been impervious to reform of any kind. Lange’s tenure was five years. “He was the best police chief Cicero ever had,” a veteran officer commented.

Before Lange there was Joseph Barloga. “He was another guy who never bothered anyone,” a veteran Cicero cop recalls. “Whenever there was a problem he was out of town. In those days the plain clothes detectives were the only ones allowed to go into the bars. If there was a problem or a violation observed at a tavern, the uniformed officers had to call a plain clothes man and they handled the action.”

Chief Barloga was the Police Chief who schemed with the town fathers to decrease the size of the police force. It was during Barloga’s term that the two “inside” men – Lieutenants Steve Bajovich and Robert L. Mengler (who doubled as deputy liquor commissioners) – were implicated in kickback scandals. Bajovich was sentenced to 10-years in prison for skimming fees from the Town. Mengler was forced to resign after pleading guilty to taking bribes for liquor licenses in the Town Hall. Once in office, the deputy commissioner is in a good position to skim licensing fees, as Lieutenant Bajovich did for so long a time.

Emil Schullo was elevated to Chief of Police in 1988 with a resounding endorsement coming from Klosak, and has been doing quite well ever since. The same can be said for Sergeant Chuck Hernandez, who, despite a nasty incident a few years back when Hernandez (by now, a lieutenant) and some of his liquored up house guests celebrated Super Bowl Sunday by using Chuck’s garage as a target range. Unfortunately one of the expended bullets discharged at a photograph of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein traveled wide of the mark and through the window of a dwelling across the alley. The bullet blew a hole through the right ear of one Loralee Vasquez as she sat down to dinner with her husband in their family room.

Hernandez tried to cool matters by blaming the shooting on gangbangers – always a convenient scapegoat in a Town strongly concerned about this quite real and bothersome threat. Before he was stepped up in rank, Hernandez was the department’s juvenile officer and was responsible for investigating gang activity. Charlie knew who was who in the zoo and he knew they could shoulder the blame for the stupidity of shooting a neighbor woman. Vasquez was dispatched to MacNeal Memorial Hospital for emergency medical treatment where she was met by plain clothes detectives who advised her after being touted by Charlie that the shooting was a gang-related “drive-by” and not to be overly concerned because she was probably not the intended target – which must have been comforting for her to hear as she lie there in agony.

Within 24-hours of the shooting the bullet-riddled garage was torn down. The lumber, shingles, and every last incriminating nail was removed by a haul-away service. When reporters came to investigate the scene, they were shocked to discover only the concrete flooring left in the backyard.

The Hernandez incident has been swept under the rug. The lieutenant received a departmental reprimand for this egregious incident – nothing more. In a town historically divided by the issues of race and ethnicity, the day may soon come when the Republican machine will be forced to recognize the growing importance of the Hispanic voters in more significant ways, and slate a candidate from their ranks who is “friendly” to the interests of the pols. Perhaps Chuck is the guy they will one day turn to.

As things stand in Cicero now, Emil Schullo is viewed as the second most powerful figure in Town. Wherever Betty Loren-Maltese goes, Emil is sure to be. Together, and in friendship they have launched a pat on the back civic crusade to drive the street gangs out of Cicero. It has become a pet obsession. But the mob – the “Men of 22nd Street” the – “wise guys” will always remain.

Betty Loren-Maltese vowed to take the “hard-line” against gangs and graffiti by restoring a “sense of civic pride” to a community metastasized by the loss of its working class industry, jobs, and of course has a skeptical eye toward public trust. Betty’s answer to the gang scourge took the form of punishing graffiti spray painters by outfitting them in pink aprons. A far cry from some known methods of Cicero punishment and one that might make her departed husband embarrassed.

The names of 57 individuals who solicited prostitutes along a narrow strip of Cicero Avenue between Roosevelt Road and 21st Street were published in the pages of the Cicero Observer to show, resolve and discourage patrons of the vice trade. But how effective could such publishing be as most of the men arrested reside in areas far removed from Cicero? “The joints are closed for building violations usually just before election day,” our sources tell us. “In a week they are re-opened and it is business as usual but the shut down looked good in the press. The residents don’t care about what goes on because it doesn’t affect them. Nothing much has been done when you get down to it. Cicero is still wide open and probably always will be.”

The Observer is a “hand-out” paper; a house organ published by the Republican Organization of Cicero. In a recent issue seven photos of Betty Loren-Maltese were counted within the 16-page edition.

In light of the publicity surrounding Betty’s anti-crime, pink apron vigil, it is rather ironic that she should sign off on a proposal to enact an ordinance to build a new Cicero Public Safety Building to house administrative offices on 34th Street, and christen it the “Frank Maltese Building” as a permanent shrine to the memory of her dear, departed but mobbed-up husband. But then again this is Cicero, and when the names of the “founding fathers” are evoked, they are not talking about Washington, Jefferson, or Franklin, but Al Capone, Joey Aiuppa, and Rocky Infelise. They are the entrepreneurs of a different frame of mind and of a jaundiced political bent. That is – fix what has to be fixed and leave the rest alone.

Since there is no statue in Las Vegas honoring “Bugsy” Siegel for turning a lonely desert outpost into a sprawling pleasure dome of gambling and glitz, it is fair to assume that the “Maltese Building” will stand alone as the only public shrine in America to memorialize a fallen gangster, that is, unless we also include the “Frank Maltese Italian-American Club on Roosevelt Road, which in former days was simply called the Italian-American Club of Cicero when it was still located on 14th Street.

The pols approve. Cicero has spoken. There exists no place in America quite like this place immediately to the west of the toddling town – Chicago.

Loren-Maltese says that public comment and critique is “encouraged” at Town Board government meetings to enliven democracy. Indeed, public comment is encouraged, just so long as those who are voicing the “comment” sing a chorus of praise to her and the Republican Organization. For the past two years Cicero officials who are scornful of the Freedom of Information Act, have limited public participation in the Board Room only to those individuals who submit their intentions in writing three business days prior to the meeting. Sometimes (quite conveniently) the letter never arrives, or it is as is said – “lost in the mail.” ‘Still want to beef to the board? “Shut up and sit down!” or some of Emil’s right hand men will remove you and possibly incarcerate you at the same time. Lessons have to be learned and an example set. This is the Cicero way.

The Town of Cicero covers less than six square miles of real estate. Much of the crumbling infrastructure is pockmarked by empty and abandoned factories, warehouses, and industrial yards nestled around an enclave of sturdy brick bungalows and three flats which in better days were mortgaged to generations of industrious Poles, Czechs, Italians, and Hispanics employed by the Western Electric Company, the giant Hawthorne Works telephone equipment company, Hotpoint, and other once solid, secure manufacturing companies. The blighted northeast section of the Town known as Grant Works is falling down. Rows of dilapidated frame houses, containing hazardous 1920s electrical wiring are in line for demolition.

Now all that remains are the empty promises of politicians who are the only ones who stand to profit from the euphemistic catch word “community re-development” which the town folk are hearing a lot of these days.

The lesson to be learned from the plant closings and massive factory shutdowns that sucked the life out of working class Cicero in the 1970s, is that their low paid jobs are not forever. For the man or woman who toiled on a Cicero assembly line eight hours a day building the hard goods that helped fuel the American economy, the only reward was a government assistance check and a cheerful “See ‘ya around!” Betty Loren-Maltese and her Town Board cronies plan to rebuild the old Hawthorne Works property with a retail complex containing a Target Store, a Sam’s Club, and other commercial properties. Trustees have earmarked $28 million toward the project. But who really stands to gain?

So far the only ones who have been cleaning up in Cicero are the always entrenched politicians who have taken care of their own by providing well paying political jobs for their children, brothers, sisters, moms and dads, cousins, aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces twice removed.

Presently high on the list are the Maltese’s and Schullos, the “first families” of the Town. According to the Treasurer’s Annual Report (re-printed in the Cicero-Berwyn Life Newspaper, June 29, 1994), which details cash receipts and disbursements for the fiscal year ending 1993, the Town paid $186,890.28 to the three Malteses’ which includes salaries (Betty earned $51,744.71, J. Maltese – $53,237.55, and Frank’s estate received $53,470.04) plus other unspecified payments.

Right behind the Maltese clan stand the Schullos in the pecking order of Cicero’s payroller importance. As the all encompassing director of public safety, Emil Schullo drew a $62,818.30 salary in fiscal 1993 according to the figures re-printed in the Life. His wife Sharon works in the human resources office and pulls down $30,955.82 according to the available figures. Several other family members are on the public payroll, and when you add together the combined salaries we arrive at a grand total of $174,825.62. Factoring in merit and cost of living increases this figure is likely to be higher in 1994.

Betty Maltese describes Cicero as a charming down-home “Mayberry R.F.D.” kind of place where friends and neighbors co-mingle on 22nd Street, and outsiders will always remain beyond the pale. One has to agree with Betty that this is the case – at least when it comes to looking out for number one. The “first families” of Cicero – Schullos and Malteses – pulled down an aggregate $361,715.90 in 1993. The fictional Sheriff Andy Taylor of Mayberry and his witless deputy Barney Fyfe should have been so lucky to work in a community that so richly rewards its highest appointed and elected officials.

Eddie Vrdolyak, the consummate politician, deal-maker, and born-again Republican-turned-radio-talk show gadfly, sauntered to Cicero and administered the oath of office to the “Godmother” when she took over the reins of government. Fast Eddie’s law firm has benefited well from long standing ties to Frankie Maltese developed back when Vrdolyak was the County-wide Republican Party chairman and Frank was the Cicero committeeman.

Fast Eddie received $379,894.54 from the Town for legal services rendered in 1993 as reported in the Life. The Vrdolyak firm defends the town in its litigation. Some sources believe the legal fees paid to Eddie’s firm in 1993 will likely double in 1994. These must be some busy, litigious times in Cicero. Either that – or Eddie is one hell of a highly-paid oath-giver and drum beater for Betty and the Town Board. Frank Maltese’s widow.

When mentioning the late mob boss Joseph Ferriola, who comes to mind in any discussions about Vrdolyak, one must mention that “Fast” Eddie did not like it one bit when the Chicago Sun-Times linked him to Ferriola, a leading outfit figure and a swaggering presence on 22nd Street until the Feds and a weak ticker finally caught up with him.

The Sun-Times put forth the word that Vrdolyak met with “wise-guy” Ferriola to plot campaign strategy Chicago-style to weaken the ill-fated Jane Byrne in her 1987 mayoral primary bid. Lawyer Vrdolyak filed a libel law suit against the newspaper which was later dropped because, as he claimed, the “burden” of proof imposed upon him as a public figure was just too great. You believe that and Eddie will tell you another one – perhaps on the radio show where he touts good government and handicaps the area players.

The Sun-Times obtained affidavits from three prominent Chicago Democrats and the deposition of Eddie’s bodyguard to support the allegation of the Ferriola sit down. Their sources appeared ironclad. Vrdolyak blamed it on second hand rumors emanating out of Cook County Assessor Tom Hynes office. The Vrdolyak law suit though politically necessary was deemed “unnecessary” litigation – the kind of nuisance case that clogs the Cook County courts every year and further delays the administration of justice. It was a blow to a quick moving politico whose only grave mistake was turning Republican in Chicago just before Harold Washington died.

Life goes on each day in Cicero and it is always interesting. The Schullos and Malteses get richer. Precinct captains are paid for meager performance just so long as the organization rolls up impressive vote totals on election day. The Public Works Department overseeing garbage pick-up receives its rewards from restaurants and funeral homes. Jobs and favors are dispersed to politically connected friends and the parking tickets get handled. Taking care of life’s little necessities. All in a day’s work. Cicero style.

Clean up the Town, Betty or clean it out? That is the question to be pondered.