Enemies on the same side in Cicero trial

May 29, 2002


Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese and her seven co-defendants sat with their lawyers around two clusters of tables Tuesday in U.S. District Judge John Grady’s courtroom, their arm’s length proximity to each other belying their determined efforts to separate themselves from the joint accusations facing them.

At one of the head tables sat Loren-Maltese, directly across from her archenemy, former public safety director Emil Schullo. They are close enough to play footsie with each other under the table, although a kick is more likely.

Loren-Maltese’s lawyer, Terence Gillespie, who had pointed the finger at Schullo in pre-trial filings, previewed what was in store Tuesday with an understated prediction during his opening statement to the jury.

“You’ll learn that some of these co-defendants disagree with each other,” Gillespie said.

As if on cue, Schullo’s lawyer, Frank Lipuma, sent his fellow defense lawyers into a tizzy by blaming Loren-Maltese for the alleged insurance scam that cost the Town of Cicero more than $10 million, claiming his client was a whistleblower who passed information to the FBI.

This was after James Cutrone, lawyer for defendant Michael Spano Jr., had tried to put the blame for his client’s involvement on the failure of the town’s auditors, or in the alternative, on the two co-defendants turned government witnesses who advised him in his role as the accountant for Specialty Risk Consultants, the company that was used to drain the Cicero treasury for the alleged benefit of the mob.

Actually, organized crime isn’t outwardly on trial here, although Spano’s father and co-defendant, Michael Spano Sr., is the reputed boss of the Cicero mob. The prosecutors aren’t supposed to bring any of that up, nor is anybody supposed to bring to the jury’s attention the recent conviction of Spano Sr. and Schullo in another case.

But back to the blame game.

Also seated next to each other are husband and wife co-defendants John and Bonnie LaGiglio, who don’t appear to be getting along too well these days based on their lawyer’s comments.

Michael Nash, who represents Bonnie LaGiglio, said her husband was the real power behind any of the matters in which she was alleged to have been involved.

He even suggested that John LaGiglio was having “maybe a mid-life crisis” when he decided to plow some of the money allegedly stolen from Cicero into an Indiana horse farm.

Allan Ackerman, who represents John LaGiglio, acknowledged that his client has “got big problems” stemming from the case, but emphasized: “Imagine, if you will, what it’s been like living with Bonnie these last few years.”

“She blames him,” he said. “And I’m not sure she’s wrong.”

That wasn’t an admission of criminal guilt on the part of his client, just marital guilt.

Ackerman noted that he expects Gillespie, Loren-Maltese’s lawyer, to also try to make accusations against LaGiglio.

By the time Thomas A. Durkin, lawyer for Joseph DeChicio, got his turn to address the jury, the infighting was so obvious that he chose to address it head on.

“You’re in a courtroom where supposedly these people are against these people,” Durkin said, pointing first to the prosecution table and then the defense tables.

Instead, what the jury was seeing, he noted, was everybody saying, “It ain’t me, it’s somebody else.

“You must be sitting there going, ‘Where am I?’ Well, welcome to Cicero,” Durkin said.

Yes, welcome to Cicero, where you can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys, even if you buy the program, but can usually save yourself a lot of time if you just assume that there aren’t any good guys and wait for somebody to prove you wrong.

It’s worth noting that there was a time when all these folks were part of one big happy extended family, even Loren-Maltese and Schullo.

Schullo likes to tell people that it all started falling apart because Loren-Maltese developed a thing for him after the death of her husband, mob bookie and fixer Frank Maltese. His version is that she fired him in a jealous rage because he moved in with his then-girlfriend, whom he later married.

Hmmm. Maybe I should find a seat tomorrow where I can see what really is going on under that table.