Good Ship Lollipop: Part 1
In Part One of an Exclusive Report, The Illinois Police and Sheriff’s News Takes a Closer Look At…
Murder & Intrigue on the Good Ship Lollipop
A recent Gallup poll indicates that more than 20% of all Americans place illegal bets on sporting events each year. Since 1974, legalized gambling in the U.S. has spread across the country at an astounding rate of 1,700%, as one state after another seeks to cash in on a jackpot formerly reserved for the sachems of organized crime. The rush toward legalized gambling is akin to a prairie fire out of control.
Common sense dictates that with all the casino boats “putt-putting” up and down our waterways, the nation awash in legal lotteries from Maine to California, that local political manipulators have finally decided to get a piece of organized crime’s most important and enduring source of illegal income. And a piece of the action is all they are getting. The outfit continues to rake in billions of dollars each year, and the revenue pie is getting bigger for “the boys” all the time.
Law enforcement no longer has the resources—and probably not even the motivation—to enforce the city’s antiquated anti-gambling statutes when the blue lines are drawn thin by spiraling gang violence and unprecedented street crime. Where is the incentive? In fact, a Justice Department study shows that only 40% of those individuals arrested and convicted of a gambling offense in 1988 served any prison time. It is only when the outfit gets tough with its deadbeat clients, and bodies begin turning up in the trunks of cars, that any remedial police action of substance is launched.
In Part One of our exclusive report on mob gambling, the Illinois Police and Sheriff’s News examines the mercenary tactics used by one Chicago “street crew” to wipe out independent book making operations in Cook and its collar counties of Lake, McHenry, DuPage and Will. To these ends, the activities of the Joseph Ferriola-Rocky Infelise crew was code-named “The Good Ship Lollipop,” according to statements given by informant William “B.J.” Jahoda in federal court.
Part Two – Paying the Price
“Nobody wants to die, so nobody talks.” The words of a police investigator echoed the fear and anxiety that many independent bookies were feeling in the summer of 1984 after syndicate “enforcers” battered down the doors of several Lake and Cook County independent wire rooms, demolishing telephone lines and furniture. The word was put out that the “street tax”—the money paid to the syndicate for the privilege of making book while remaining in a health state—was about to go up to $5,000 a month, from $2,000. The real purpose of the tax increase was not just the added revenue, but a concerted drive to put the independents out of business, thereby building upon the outfit’s existing customer base.
This was not the first time the mob had targeted small-time bookies who balked at paying the tribute. In the early 1970s, a dozen or so independents were murdered in a bloody 27-month period after refusing to pay a similar street tax extortion. One of the victims whose body was found stuffed in the back seat of a car was identified as William “Butch” Petrocelli. Investigators believe Petrocelli was one of the hit men doing a number on the independent bookies, but became a victim of mob vengeance himself because he couldn’t resist the temptation to skim some of the street taxes he collected. Greed tends to corrupt the credo of “honor among thieves.” Strong enforcement with fear as the common denominator is the real commodity that keeps the easy money troops in line.
Subterfuge and Death on Board the “Good Ship Lollipop”
Murder. Extortion. Loan Sharking. It was all a part of doing business on the “Good Ship Lollipop,” the nickname given to a multi-million-dollar gambling enterprise overseen by the recently departed Joe Ferriola and the other members of his street crew. It was Ferriola who spear-headed what the mob considered a timely and violent drive against the independents; ordering the executions of bookies who had refused the demand to pay added street taxes (the mob dictated).
Details of the inner workings of the Ferriola crew, and fresh information about a series of mob hits fell into the government’s lap in April 1989, when William “B.J.” Jahoda, an Irish-Bohemian bookmaker from the Town of Cicero, and a linchpin in the sports gambling operations in suburban Lake and Cook County, agreed to wear a “wire” for the criminal division of the IRS and inform on his underworld pals. The vicious murders of two bookies—gangland executions which he unwittingly helped engineer—were grating on his conscience. The sounds of death were a permanent part of his mind. More than anything, Jahoda wanted to come clean and just get the hell out. In return for his much needed cooperation, the government promised to recommend a “downward departure” in the normal sentencing guidelines that could have sent Jahoda to prison for 12 – 19 years on racketeering and tax evasion charges. The nervous bookmaker-lieutenant, whose well-founded fear of being thrown off the ledge of a high-rise building by his betrayal of associates lingered in his thoughts at every step as he secretly recorded the first “bugged” conversation in May 1989. In the weeks that followed, he led the government investigators down a trail of mobster duplicity, and tales of murder.
Acting through his underboss, Rocco Ernest Infelise, head of one of the largest “street crews” in Chicago, Ferriola directed Jahoda to lure 51-year-old Robert Heyden Plummer to the outfit’s elegantly appointed “Murder Mansion” in northern Libertyville Township. The secluded Lake County mansion in the woods once belonged to a local millionaire, Bruce Rouse, and his wife, Darlene, until they were brutally murdered in 1980. Their case was never solved. The mob bought up acreage and spent $50,000 converting the former residence into a high stakes casino that employed eighteen full-time people to accommodate the gambling high rollers and fun- loving clientele who parked their cars in the rear. Reportedly, the outfit raked in $400,000 for just fifteen nights of casino gambling. According to Jahoda, political protection was supplied by former Lake County Sheriff Tom Brown, whose elected term spanned 1978 – 1982.
The Murder Mansion was an appropriate setting for what Rocky Infelise had in mind. He told the skittish Jahoda a few short hours before a well-planned murder to lead the unsuspecting Bobby Plummer up the flight of stairs to the second-floor casino and “just keep going.” Plummer was a “revenue collector” for Ferriola, and a gambler of long standing in the northern suburbs. He also operated the Front Runner Messenger Service, a horse-betting parlor in Highwood belonging to Michael Posner, a protégé of Ferriola and a kingpin in Lake County mob vice operations. Plummer, of north suburban Lake Forest, was attacked on the stairway and savagely beaten to death. His body was found in the trunk of his wife’s Lincoln Continental in a Mundelein Holiday Inn parking lot. Jahoda still cannot forget the horrible death cries of Plummer as he was dispatched from this world.
Another well-known bookmaker and gambler, Hal C. Smith, lived like a rich and famous dude in his palatial Prospect Heights home, a modest bedroom suburb not known as a “millionaires’ subdivision,” as, say, Kenilworth, but nice. The father of four, Smith carried large rolls of money around with him as he made book in the north and northwest suburbs and sheltered even more in his Schoenbeck Road house. Hal Smith flaunted the trappings of his success, and the mob took note. He oversaw nearly a dozen wire rooms that grossed up to $400,000 a night. Toward the end of his days, Smith’s estimated earnings ran in the neighborhood of $2.8 to $4.2 million, or two to three percent of the gross revenue from his independent bookmaking operation.
The IRS, like the mob, was cognizant of Hal Smith’s flourishing operation. They raided his home and highly publicized the taking away of $606,000 in cash, stuffed inside a gym bag in the attached garage. Smith’s Cadillac and his house were both seized under a federal law that allows the government to confiscate assets derived from illegal enterprises. Smith was able to recover the Cadillac, a tragic irony one would think, given the fact that the automobile would soon become his temporary coffin, and he, the “trunk music” of some of B. J. Jahoda’s nightmares.
The mob’s decision to put the arm on Smith’s gambling operation began in earnest when Rocky Infelise and Louis Marino enlisted the help of underling Jahoda in locating the Smith residence in Prospect Heights. Hal Smith was put under constant surveillance for a period of three months or so, before being positively I.D.ed by Jahoda, who pointed out the gambler to Bobby Bellavia at a north suburban golf course.
Trunk Music: The Second Refrain
The underboss of the Rocky Infelise street crew was Salvatore DeLaurentis, an Inverness “businessman” who owned a liquor store and pizza restaurant in the Lake County Village of Island Lake. “Solly D” oversaw a massive gambling operation in Lake County involving rigged “video poker” machines installed in twenty-two area taverns. The electronic table games were a rip-off to the public, but the mob enjoyed a 50-50 split of the proceeds, which sometimes ran as high as $1,200 a week.
DeLaurentis had more on his mind, however, than video poker operations. Bringing the recalcitrant Smith, who had insulted Infelise by failing to show up for a meeting to discuss the payment of street taxes into line was top priority. Meeting personally with Smith, Solly “D” warned that unless he agreed to pay $6,000 in street taxes, there would be “consequences.” Smith balked…he said he could pay $3,000, then $3,500. The shouting grew louder. Then DeLaurentis foretold the future and advised: “You are trunk music, my friend.”
The matter was not being resolved to everyone’s satisfaction, and Infelise told Jahoda to “stay with” Smith, and remain on good terms. Establish a rapport.
Smith boldly continued to defy the intentions of the “wise guys” and, by now, Infelise’s patience had just about run out. Jahoda was told to arrange a meeting with Hal Smith at the Village Tavern in the prestigious environs of Long Grove, not far from B.J.’s domicile at the time. The meeting took place on February 7, 1985, the day before Jahoda was prepared to leave the country on a vacation. The hit was scheduled to go down at Jahoda’s house, where Lou Marine, Salerno, Infelise and Bobby Bellavia were lying in the weeds. Infelise had instructed Jahoda to bring Smith back to the house in Smith’s Cadillac, if at all possible.
The murder of Hal C. Smith, high stakes gambler and man-about-town, went down much like the child’s nursery rhyme; the one where the spider draws the fly into the web and devours him. In this scenario, Smith was easily overpowered and dragged into the kitchen. There, he was restrained, brutally tortured, beaten and strangled before he became the “trunk music” as Solly D. had prophesied. At the time of his death, Hal Smith was cooperating with a government probe into the mob rackets. Smith’s body was pulled out of his Cadillac in the parking lot of the Arlington Park Hilton and Bill Jahoda was commended for his fine work in the deadly caper by Joseph Ferriola himself.
How the Infelise Crew Made Book and Collected Bad Debts
Jimmy Nicholas agreed to become a “50/50” bookmaker for Rocky Infelise’s street crew in a meeting with Jahoda and Louie Marino at the Arlington Heights Hilton. He provided the “business” with players and agents, and shared equally in the profits and losses with the mob hierarchy. Nicholas became a “25% agent” of the crew in 1985, meaning that he was required to absorb 25% of the net losses of his own customers at the end of the betting season. The “business” assessed the bettors a 10% fee – or juice – on all losing wagers. Jim Nicholas’ accounts were settled directly with Jahoda, Solly “D” and William DiDomenico. Money to pay off winning bets came from these “bosses,” and street revenues from losing wagers were handed in at the appropriate time.
Each day, Nicholas called in to the wirerooms operated by the crew to check to see whether his bettors had won or lost. At the end of the week, he settled up with his customers and the “business.” Bettors who welched on their losses became Nicholas’ personal responsibility. An inveterate losing gambler had to pay Nicholas without delay or excuse. The outfit never believed in issuing long-term revolving credit when it came to gambling debts.
In late October 1985, one of Jimmy Nicholas’ clients fell behind in his payments to the tune of $32,800. In a Melrose Park bar, the customer, Tony Belville, asked Nicholas and Solly “D” for an extension. Nicholas said that just wasn’t good enough, and the money had to be paid now. Belville was repeatedly contacted by phone and threatened with physical violence. In a final effort to collect on the gambling debt, Belville was reached by phone at a funeral home, where he was attending his mother-in-law’s wake. The voice on the other end of the line told him that someone was coming over there right now to collect the money and if he didn’t have it, at least he was “in the right place at the right time.” Two days later, Belville handed over to Nicholas a paper sack containing $32,800 in cash at a Lombard restaurant.
The crew had their own unique ways of dealing with dead-beat gamblers. The funeral home tactic was just one method. In the case of Steve Hospodar, a diminutive, 65-year-old gambler who fell seriously behind in his payments, Solly DeLaurentis and his partner and fellow underboss, Lou Marino of Palos Heights, decided to really put the fear of God into him.
What follows is a portion of a tape-recorded conversation at a south suburban restaurant between Lou Marino and the indebted Hospodar concerning the monies due the outfit. One can readily see that Marino is not a Shakespearean scholar – but is a man that can emphatically make his point. The transcript of the following conversation was introduced into evidence at the Infelise racketeering and extortion trial in a federal court.
Marino: You will find some fuckin’ money.
Hospodar: I’m gonna try. I…
Marino: You will find some fuckin’ money…
Hospodar: Like I say, I’m gonna try.
Marino: You motherfucker.
Hospodar: I’m gonna try.
Marino: You will find money.
Hospodar: Well, we’ll see what happens. I, I’ll make every…
Marino: Hey, I ain’t seein’…
Hospodar: Every effort…
Marino: what happens!
Hospodar: I’ll make every effort!
Marino: I ain’t seein’ what happens, you make a date you motherfucker, you cannot fulfill, you can’t live with it. You will fuckin’ get me money today.
Hospodar: All right.
Marino: I give a fuck where you get it.
Hospodar: All right.
Marino: You get me money. Go steal the motherfucker!
Hospodar: I’ll have to.
Marino: You, I don’t give a fuck! If I was in that spot that’s what the fuck I’d be doin’! You just go fuck and do it, Steve, the, the game’s over, Steve. I’ll tell ya’.
Hospodar: All right.
Marino: Right now.
Hospodar: All right.
Marino: You’ll fuckin’ be here tonight. Here what I’m tellin’ you, Steve?
Marino: You fuckin’ be here. What time?
Hospodar: You said between six, six-thirty.
Marino: All right. I wanna make it a right fuckin’ time. I don’t be…
Hospodar: All right.
Marino: fuckin’ sitting in this joint.
According to the testimony given by a 38-year-old government informant, one Sam Joseph Malatia, at the racketeering trial, DeLaurentis then led Hospodar into the men’s room and “messed him up a little.” Solly “D” was suspicious that Hospodar was wearing a wire. He was, as it turned out, but they didn’t find it. “When he came out, his (Steve’s) wig was wet. Sol had thrown the wig into the toilet and put it back on his head.” Lou Marino and Solly “D” were good at their jobs and so was the entire street crew, as we shall see.
Reprinted from the Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News
Betting on the Odds
While he may not rank right up there with Samuel Morse, Thomas Edison or Alexander Graham Bell as individuals whose inventions altered the course of history, in his own quiet way, Charles K. McNeil revolutionized the bookmaking industry by inventing the modern “point handicapping system” for betting on athletic contests. McNeil, whose name is all but forgotten today, earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago, and upon completion of his studies, taught math at the Riverdale School in New York. John F. Kennedy was one of his pupils.
McNeil occasionally placed small bets with New York bookies. His winnings, though not significant in terms of dollars and cents, were consistent enough for the bookmakers to sit up and take notice. McNeil told them that he based his selections on a point spread that translated into a favorable odds system.
The system was simple and effective. You take two football teams, for example. Team “A” is a powerhouse and the favorite by ten points. Instead of saying the stronger club is a 3-1 favorite, calculate the line in terms of points. You bet on Team “A” to win and ten points extra (Team “A” plus ten), meaning that you believe Team “A” will win by more than ten. If that happens, you win. If the final point spread is exactly ten, even though your team won, you lose. If you gamble on the upset and take Team “B,” then you get “B minus ten.”
The odds are calculated by the bookie, subject to “negotiation” with the bettor. Most bookies receive odds from a telephone “line” operated at legal sports “books” in Las Vegas. Some bookies, like Hal Smith, simply changed their point spreads and gambling lines to suit their own purposes.
A successful bookmaker will record an equal number of pro and con bets on a sporting event. If the ledger doesn’t balance at the end of the week, the bookie very often has to bet on the outcome of a game to correct the imbalance. Sometimes the bookie will compare and exchange imbalances with another bookmaker. Failing in this effort, the bookie often has no other recourse than to try to unload his book imbalance with a larger bookmaker – the outfit, usually. To prevent this from occurring, the bookie will raise the spread on certain heavy favorites like the San Francisco 49’ers or Buffalo Bills, thus discouraging a run on one single team, and a potential book imbalance.
If Mr. McNeil, a pioneer in his own right, were around today and could witness the $60-$200 billion in football wagering that changes hands annually, he might want to quote Samuel Morse and say: “What hath God wrought?”