Good Ship Lollipop: Part 2
Sucker’s Bets: Greasing the Axle
The profits derived from illegal gambling and sports betting in the United States are so enormous that they can evade the individual’s imagination. Last year, the State Lottery Office in Illinois conceded that $200 million is lost annually to criminal elements running illegal games. These figures stand at $5 billion nationally, and that does not take into account wagering on professional and amateur sports.
Business has never been better for the minions of organized crime, when you compare and contrast these figures to published data from thirty years ago. In that era, (then) U.S. Attorney General William G. Rogers pegged the total income from the rackets in America to be in the neighborhood of $20 billion per year, with half of that revenue derived from the illegal gambling feast. In 1992, the statistics say that Americans wagered between $60 and $200 billion on football alone. No small potatoes there.
Indictments handed down by outgoing U.S. Attorney Fred Foreman against the Sam Carlisi street crew this past winter allege that the Chicago mob leader took in $3.6 million in revenue, primarily in Chicago’s wealth suburban communities where the presence of law enforcement personnel, trained to investigate organized crime, is minimal to non- existent.
Sucker’s Bets: Greasing the Axle
Wanna bet? More and more Americans are doing just that. Lining up for a chance at easy street by all known indications.
It is a matter of simple economics. The outfit is an equal opportunity provider in this regard, and will eagerly set up the necessary apparatus for bankers, car mechanics and housewives. Race, creed, color and national origin are of no consideration and mob-controlled vice continues to flourish in metropolitan Chicago’s diversified ethnic communities where residents wager on games of chance that happen to be indigenous to certain locales.
We begin Part II of this special report on mob gambling with a closer look at sports betting – where the action is and who controls the game.
Wire Rooms and Card Games
Bookmaking on amateur and professional sports, particularly during the Fall and Winter seasons when football and basketball are at their peak, was and continues to be big business. Ask any knowledgeable gambler, and he will tell you. The Rocco Infelise street crew maintained offices, rented apartments and homes where wagers could be placed all over Lake, Du Page, Kane and Cook Counties; such notable municipalities as Libertyville, Inverness, Berwyn, Cicero, Wauconda, Wheeling, Palatine, Long Grove, Elmhurst, Oak Brook, Wood Dale, Lombard, Palatine and Island Lake, to name a few.
A year-long survey conducted by the Associated Press revealed that wagering on the National Football League ranks number one with both the “social gambler” who bets for the entertainment value of it and the compulsive personality who simply can’t help himself. Among men, 26% preferred N.F.L. games, 15% chose college football as a matter of routine, while the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and college basketball garnered 13% of the market. Professional hockey trails the pack, attracting only 4% of the betting public.
Meet one of the local “providers.”
In the south suburbs, 55-year-old Dominic Barbaro, identified as the present gambling boss of infamous Chicago Heights, oversaw a sports book in Downers Grove, Bolingbrook, Alsip, Mokena, Woodridge and Villa Park – all tiny communities with police departments almost totally oblivious to the presence of organized crime in their otherwise tranquil bailiwicks. Barbaro’s operation began in 1979 and continued right up to the moment he was indicted this past June, as a result of information supplied to the feds by “gambling” attorney-turned- federal-informant, Robert Cooley, of First Ward and judicial corruption fame. Cooley, incidentally, paid Barbaro $9,000 to satisfy his own gambling debts while working undercover for the “G.”
Dominic Barbaro entered a guilty plea to gambling charges last October, but managed to remain in business right up to the moment he was sentenced to serve twenty months in prison and fined $5,000. In an amazing show of “chutzpah,” Barbaro continued to run his affairs from a pay phone at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Illinois, Chicago campus, according to our sources.
In the past twenty years, the latest up-to-the-minute innovations in communications technology have aided and abetted illegal bookmaking operations like the one operated by Dominic Barbaro. Cellular phones and call forwarding have made it increasingly difficult to pinpoint the location of wire rooms – or the bettor who can place his wagers from the family car, a public toilet or while giving his confession. Call forwarding permits a bookie to “hop scotch” a bettor’s calls to various other numbers in both the city and suburbs before actually reaching the wire room. A cordless phone activated more than 1,000 feet from its base unit provides excellent cover for the bookie while helping to conceal the location of the wire room. Electronic beepers have likewise made it possible for a bettor to instantly connect with his bookie. The customer is assigned a code number known only to the bookmaker to identify himself during the page. Then, using a portable phone, the bookie can return the call from anywhere in the metropolitan region without being traced.
Parlay sheets and gambling records are kept (as has been the custom for years) on water- soluble rice paper, or instant-burning “flash paper,” so they can be dropped into a bucket and destroyed within seconds of an impending raid. If “business” is to be transacted out of a car, the bucket of water is strategically placed in the front seat.
Savvy bookmakers have equipped their wire rooms with electronic alarms. Doors and windows have been barricaded, which permits the bookmakers just enough time to destroy incriminating records. Without physical evidence, conviction on a Class 3 felony – holding five or more bets totaling $2,000 or more – is virtually impossible. Few people ever serve any serious time for bookmaking and that is historically the case, not only in Chicago, but throughout the nation. A multitudinous segment of the people want it.
Gambling is indeed big business, and the outfit makes sure it receives a cut from bookmaking, video poker machines (which happen to proliferate hundreds of Chicago neighborhood taverns and social clubs), or policy games – the old “numbers racket.” Even with the existence of the state-run Illinois Lottery, $200 million a year in revenue is still returned to organized crime from illegal policy games in Illinois. Nationally, the figures project out to $5 billion from the numbers game alone.
When a gambler runs out of money, the mob will provide a convenient line of credit. Juice, vigorish (“the vig”), or whatever one wants to call it, is readily available. If a gambler doesn’t pay quickly enough, he goes on “juice,” which costs from five-to-ten percent a week in usury. If the gambler falls behind in his payments, which many do, he eventually loses his business or ends up working for a crew as a bookmaker or collector. The alternative is lethal mob retribution.
With so much riding on the outcome of a sports event, it would not be uncommon for outfit guys to put in the “fix” on a high-stakes horse race, or to make an approach to the athletic contestants. It’s happened before and will likely continue. Very often, this involves eliciting inside information from trainers, jockeys, coaches, managers, players or even their wives and girlfriends. When all else fails, some amateur athletes can be induced to affect the point spread or even throw a game in return for cash, drugs or a new car. Morality is not a mob strong point.
Growth and profit projections are frequently discussed among the underbosses the way a LaSalle Street investment banker might speak of the next quarter’s earnings. In one tape- recorded conversation, government informant William Jahoda; Solly DeLaurentis, William DiDomenico and a Cicero bookie are reviewing the prospects for the coming “season,” which usually refers to post-season playoff games or big-time collegiate events like the NCAA Final Four Basketball Tournament that attracts heavier betting.
Jahoda: Boy, am I looking forward to this season.
DeLaurentis: I hope we can get it in with no…problems.
DiDomenico: I hope we can stay one step ahead.
Jahoda: Last time I talked to Rocky, he said we should be much bigger for two years.
The outfit has not forsaken the more traditional venues of gambling. There still exists “floating” blackjack games – “B.J.” Jahoda managed one such enterprise in various Chicago hotels from 1986 to 1988. The games were rigged through the use of professional card sharps who employ mirrored card shoes and other tricks of the trade in order to gain an unfair advantage. Jimmy Nicholas of Greektown was also involved and received 25% of his clients’ losses, in return for his bringing them to the table.
A United Nations of Bookmaking
Very often, the blackjack games were staged in Chicago’s north side Greektown along Lawrence Avenue and the western suburbs, where immigrant gamblers were robbed of their earnings.
In the heart of the 22nd Street Chinatown community, the magnificent terra-cotta-design On Leong Merchants Building towers over the street. Years ago, Chinese immigrants found temporary lodging here and were assisted by the On Leong organization, a Tong gang that slowly evolved into a fraternalistic body deeply rooted in the customs of imperial China.
More recently, the upper floors of this historic building were transformed into a gambling casino, sponsoring fan tan, bung-loo and other games that appealed to the Chinese residents of the community. The operation pulled in more than $11.5 million in revenue, which sent up a red flag to the syndicate. Frank “the German” Schweihs, enforcer, and an outfit heavyweight “consulted” with Yu Lip Moy, national president of the Merchants Association in 1984. The deal the Chinese gamblers arrived at with Schweihs and John LaRocca, the leader of the Pittsburgh mob, was a 75-25 split of the protection money the association was to pay to organized crime. Pittsburgh was to receive $1,500. Schweihs collected $4,000 a month for the outfit’s First Ward operation, headed by James “Jimmy L.” LaPietra.
Wilson Moy, described at various times as the “Mayor of Chinatown,” was one of eleven men indicted for overseeing this interstate gambling operation which allegedly was protected by several high-ranking Chicago police officers. During the 1991 trial, Yu Lip Moy testified in federal court that Chicago Police Officer Joseph Carone, considered to be an authority on Asian street crime, “stood guard” outside the Merchant’s Building at 2216 Wentworth while the games were in progress. Carone was later transferred to the Chicago Lawn District, and was never charged in connection with the On Leong cases.
The outfit is seemingly unfazed by the padlocking of the On Leong building. Under the direction of John “No Nose” DiFronzo, boss of the Elmwood Park crew, plans were undertaken in the Fall of 1989 to set up poker, blackjack games and a sports book for Asian gamblers in a private club setting in the suburbs. Help-wanted ads did not appear in the Tribune’s Sunday classifieds, but the word soon went out on the streets: “Asian front men wanted. Must be prepared to relocate at a moment’s notice.”
Corruption is the by-product of any illegal syndicate enterprise. Gambling could not flourish to the great extent that it already does, if not for the outfit’s ability to bribe and control the appointments of judges and elected officials and sworn officers of the law and, of course, the good church-going citizens’ participation. Operation “Gambat” (named for informant Robert Cooley, the Gambling Attorney) and Operation “Kaffeeklatsch” revealed a “moveable feast” of corruption within the darkly historic and notorious First Ward Democratic Organization.
The feast, literally and figuratively, was the “bug” placed inside Counselor’s Row restaurant on LaSalle Street, across the street from City Hall and the County Building, where the outfit guys and politicians exchanged useful gossip as they chomped away at their Caesar’s salads.
Rocky Infelise, for one, stated to Jahoda that he always kept his yap shut, and was not surprised to learn that the place contained a hidden microphone. “I used to tell Pat (the recently-deceased Pat Marcy, Secretary of the First Ward Democratic Organization, presumably) ‘Well, we don’t say anything, okay?’. When I used to come in there, I’d open the door and the side door and he’d see me and go, now we used to go into the boiler room, but we didn’t go, it was the janitor’s room. I thought that the boiler room was downstairs. So I never talked nothing serious anyway.”
At other times, Infelise bragged to a confidential informant about the bribery money paid to law enforcement. In a revealing passage, Infelise talked about how the price of doing business kept going up.
Infelise: “….I lay out $35,000 a month for guys that are away, (members of the crew in prison), and the coppers. That’s not counting the workers – that’s just the nut. It’s getting rough. Between you and I, ten goes to the Sheriff. Five goes to another guy.”
Informant: “What do you get for ten thousand a month?”
Infelise: “Sheriff never bothers us, then we got a guy (during the James O’Grady administration) at the State’s Attorney’s office. We got another guy downtown.”
Informant: “Thought you had somebody, you know, a low-level guy, in the Federal Building?”
Infelise: “We had a guy there — not no more — he wasn’t a low-level guy — was a supervisor. Got out of there by the skin of his teeth. He retired. I think they (law enforcement) were getting close to him – gave us a lot of information – we paid for it.”
William Jahoda said that the Federal Building mole went by the code name of “Whiskers,” but such a person was never identified, raising some doubts about the validity of Infelise’s claim. But if one was a betting man, he would put money on the fact that Rocco wasn’t bragging and had his connection.
Corruption greases the axle. According to retired FBI agent William Roemer, who testified before a Senate permanent subcommittee on investigations in 1983: “The umbrella which protects the Chicago mob and the linchpin which holds it all together, enabling it to function, is its alliance with politics.” That allegiance strongly exists, even now, as you read these pages. The good mayor relies on convictions only for his litmus test. Being that this is his outlook, he and the “Never-Convicted!” Tony Accardo should have met for tea. Alas, Tony is gone. Anyone else, “Not Convicted!” out there is invited to have a “tête-à-tête” with His Honor.