DiForti takes trip, Salerno could be disbarred

Date: Friday, December 18, 1998�
Source: By James Hill, Tribune Staff Writer. Tribune staff writer John
O’Brien contributed to this report.�


�� An “elaborate fraud” involving an unauthorized spring trip to Las Vegas by
reputed mobster James DiForti–currently free on $500,000 bond while facing
murder charges–has deepened legal problems for DiForti and his lawyer.
�� Cook County Criminal Court Judge Stuart E. Palmer admonished DiForti and
his attorney, Alex Salerno, Thursday after granting a prosecutor’s motion to
increase DiForti’s bond because of the unauthorized trip.
�� Palmer also said he will file a complaint against Salerno with the
Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission for allegedly trying to
cover up the incident. That action could lead to disbarment for Salerno, who
had no comment Thursday.
�� Palmer ordered DiForti taken into custody and increased his bond to $2.5
million. The judge then recused himself from the case because he planned to
file the complaint against Salerno. DiForti is to appear before Presiding
Judge Thomas R. Fitzgerald on Friday to be assigned to a new judge.
�� Palmer also noted: “If (DiForti) ever makes the bond, he will be
transferred to post-trial services and be placed on home confinement.”
�� The incident stems from a trip to Las Vegas that DiForti took from June 15
through June 18. Before going to Las Vegas, Salerno had requested that his
client’s bond be expanded so he could travel to Indiana, Kentucky and Florida
to conduct matters involving his racehorse business. DiForti became involved
in the horse business after he had been removed from his job as
secretary/treasurer of Laborers International Union of North America Local 5
in Chicago Heights last year amid allegations of mob influence in the union.
�� After the Las Vegas trip was brought to the attention of the court by
prosecutors, who would not say how they knew of DiForti’s whereabouts, Palmer
asked for an explanation. What he got was lies, the judge said Thursday. “The
fact is that I was deceived,” Palmer said. “It’s really not the travel to
Nevada that is all that egregious. It’s what happened afterward.”
�� In an effort to explain the Las Vegas trip, on July 6, Palmer was
presented a letter by DiForti and Salerno allegedly signed by a Las Vegas car
dealer and racehorse owner saying that he had met with DiForti and planned to
hire the 53-year-old Westchester resident to help with the purchase of
racehorses, according to Assistant State’s Atty. Bill Dorner. Salerno also
had told the court he had personally spoken to the Las Vegas businessman and
vouched for DiForti and the letter, according to court transcripts.
�� That same Las Vegas businessman would later testify in Cook County Court
that he never wrote the letter, never spoke with Salerno and didn’t even know
DiForti, according to transcripts.
�� In addition, a phone number for the Las Vegas businessman that DiForti and
Salerno gave the court turned out to be the beeper number of an Illinois
fugitive, Dorner said. The fugitive worked as a car salesman in Las Vegas
with the businessman, who was unaware of his criminal background, Dorner
added. The fugitive also was a co-conspirator of a former client of Salerno.
�� “But the bottom line is it all stems from Mr. DiForti,” Palmer said.
DiForti had given all the false information to Salerno, who then passed it
along to the court.
�� DiForti currently is awaiting trial in connection with a 10-year-old
murder case. He is alleged to have killed William Benham, the owner of B&S
Pallet Co., in February 1988, after Benham refused to repay a $100,000 juice
loan. Benham also had threatened to tell federal agents about DiForti’s
alleged mob ties and loan-sharking activities, Dorner said.
�� The slaying was unsolved until the FBI received a tip while conducting an
unrelated investigation in 1995. DNA testing led to DiForti’s arrest in July
Chicago Tribune�1999