Cicero trial hears from widow tied to the mob (Torello)

Cicero trial hears from widow tied to the mob

By Matt O’Connor
Tribune staff reporter
Published July 24, 2002

The widow of a reputed Outfit enforcer testified Tuesday at the Cicero corruption trial that she was cheated out of tens of thousands of dollars by alleged Cicero mob boss Michael Spano Sr., who used the money for a golf course project that went bust.

When Lila Torello pressed Spano for the money in the mid-1990s, she said, “Mike would say, `Allstate. Don’t worry about a thing. Allstate.'” He would cup his hands in what Torello said she took as a reference to Allstate’s long-running advertising campaign, “You’re in good hands.”

But Torello, the widow of James “Turk” Torello, reputed head of the mob’s gambling and loan-sharking operations in the west suburbs before his death from cancer in 1978, alleged that Spano and business partner John LaGiglio hid from her that the money was invested in the renovation of a golf course in northern Wisconsin.

Spano, LaGiglio, Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese and five others are being tried on charges of looting more than $10 million from the town.

More than $4 million went toward improvements to the Four Seasons golf course and clubhouse near Pembine, Wis., according to testimony Tuesday.

An IRS revenue agent testified that Loren-Maltese, who invested $300,000 in the golf course project, was repaid $150,000 in early 1996 with funds possibly stolen from the town by Specialty Risk Consultants, the town’s health insurance administrator that was secretly owned by Spano and LaGiglio.

Michael Welch, the IRS revenue agent, said that on the same day the town wire-transferred $400,000 to Specialty Risk Consultants, the company wrote the $150,000 check to Loren-Maltese.

The wire-transfers were supposed to pay the town’s insurance expenses, but much of the money was stolen as part of the massive fraud scheme, prosecutors allege.

While the looting was taking place in the mid-1990s, Specialty Risk Consultants also made political contributions totaling $14,250 to Loren-Maltese, Welch said.

Under cross-examination by Loren-Maltese’s lawyer, Welch acknowledged that Special Risk Consultants made political contributions to other politicians at that time.

Lila Torello contended she has lost more than $400,000 in investments with Spano and LaGiglio.

LaGiglio’s lawyer, Allan Ackerman, maintained Torello had been repaid in full.

Testifying under a grant of immunity from prosecution, Torello described Spano as a trusted friend she had known since the early 1970s when her husband leased trucks to his trucking business.

Her voice cracked with emotion when she gave the date of her husband’s death.

U.S. District Senior Judge John Grady, presiding over the jury trial, has barred testimony about any reputed mob connections.

On six separate occasions between 1993 and 1995, Torello testified, she lent Spano and LaGiglio a combined $460,000 with assurances she would receive at least 10 percent interest. Neither ever told her what they intended to do with the money, she said.

She said she would have never lent the money if she knew it was going for the renovation of the golf course.

After she began pressing for her money, LaGiglio came to her house in August 1997 and threw a check for $175,000 on her kitchen table, Torello said. On the check was written “paid in full,” but Torello insisted she is still owed more than $400,000.

Under questioning by LaGiglio’s lawyer, Torello claimed she had lent Spano and LaGiglio about $700,000, well above the $460,000 shown in documents.

She also admitted that she didn’t keep track of repayments from Spano and LaGiglio in 1993 or 1994.

But she scoffed at Ackerman’s claim that she had been repaid $543,000, saying, “Did they pay me that kind of money? I wish they had. I wouldn’t be here.”

Copyright � 2002, Chicago Tribune