Tribune staff reports, August 23, 2002

Bringing to a dramatic conclusion an epic case of official fraud, a federal jury today found Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese and six co-defendants guilty of looting the west suburb of $12 million through a bogus insurance scheme.

Convicted along with Loren-Maltese was Michael Spano Sr., the purported boss of organized crime in Cicero. The jurors found them and four other defendants guilty of racketeering conspiracy.

Also convicted were former town official Emil Schullo; Spano�s son Michael Jr.; John LaGiglio, and attorney Charles Schneider. LaGiglio�s wife, Bonnie, was convicted of tax fraud.

Former Town Treasurer Joseph DeChicio was acquitted of all counts.

The verdicts were handed down in the Dirksen Federal Building courtroom of U.S. District Senior Judge John Grady. They came on the 11th day of jury deliberations. The asset forfeiture phase of the trial is to begin Monday before the same jury.

The defendants remained calm as the verdicts were returned but Loren-Maltese was plainly glum and declined to comment as she left the court.

“It�s a big shock and she�s reeling from it,” defense attorney Terence P. Gillespie told reporters. He said she would “continue to fight, she hasn�t given up. We intend to stay with this and fight as hard as we can.”

U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said only: “We are gratified by that verdict — we respect it.” He declined to say more, reminding reporters that more proceedings are coming up in the case.

DeChicio�s attorney, Thomas Durkin, told the Associated Press his client was only indicted �so the other defendants couldn�t sit there and point at an empty chair,” meaning they would have blamed him for the scheme.

In closing arguments, federal prosecutors said Loren-Maltese took no action when auditors, outside bankers and town financial employees warned insurance costs were out of control in the mid-1990s and urged her to remove the company administering insurance claims.

Prosecutors alleged Loren-Maltese, Schullo and DeChicio let Michael Spano Sr. and his business partner John LaGiglio take over the town�s health insurance business, jack up charges tenfold and steal millions.

At least $4.1 million in stolen Cicero funds went to buy and renovate a Wisconsin golf course. Also, according to prosecutors, nearly $2 million in loans were handed out to family and friends, $600,000 went to lease cars for friends, LaGiglio spent $100,000 on an Indiana horse farm and the Spanos built a $340,000 vacation home in Wisconsin.

In his closing arguments, Gillespie ripped the government case against her as weak and said prosecutors failed to prove she profited in any meaningful way from allegedly letting $12 million be looted from the town.

Gillespie emphasized the government was unable to show his client pocketed any money as part of the alleged insurance scam in the mid-1990s.

Tribune staff reporter Matt O�Connor and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright � 2002, Chicago Tribune