Rodriguez Resignation Spurred by Mob Linked Murders and Mob Pal (97-11-16_

Rodriguez Resignation Spurred by
Mob Linked Murders and Felon Pal

Breaking News Story, Nov. 16, 1997

Police Supt. Matt Rodriguez resigned following revelations that one of his closest friends is a convicted felon and tax cheat. But the real pressure came from undisclosed facts linking Rodriguez’s pal, convicted felon and tax cheat Frank Milito, to Pierre Zonis, a mob connected Chicago cop whose four year career was under the Superintendent’s umbrella of protection.

The IPSN reported exclusively Oct. 20 that Zonis, a Chicago Police officer since 1994 who was named by the Chicago Crime Commission only days before as having crime syndicate ties, had been questioned in the investigations of the three prominent slayings having mob overtones.

At least two of the victims allegedly had dealings not only with Zonis but also ties to Milito.

Our sources allege that Milito may have used his friendship with Rodriguez to get the Superintendent to overlook Zonis’ past, and to block the recommendations of the Chicago Police Department’s elite Internal Affairs Division unit, members of which recommended that Zonis be terminated from employment.

Rodriguez had been named Police Superintendent in 1992. Zonis had been hired in 1994.

The three murders involve: The March 1982 assassination of Richard Campbell, found shot to death at an Amoco station in Des Plaines; the March 1986 murder of mob bookmaker Giuseppe Cocozzo, whose body was found in his car on a street in Evanston; and the November 1987 murder of prominent Amoco Oil Executive Charles E. Merriam, who had been shot after he had answered the door of his Prospect Heights home.

The Cocozzo, Campbell and Merriam murders all had the telltale signs of mob hits and the street cops have been amazed that they had remained unsolved after all these years and despite strong evidence linking them to several suspects.

Milito plead guilty in November 1986 to two felony counts of mail fraud and one count of failing to pay income taxes. He spent nine months in jail and paid $250,000 in restitution. He spent nine months in jail and paid $250,000 in restitution. Merriam has assisted and testified in the case against Milito, and, according to sources, the two men exchanged angry words during the trial and only months before Merriam was found shot to death in the foyer of his Mt. Prospect home.

Campbell was dating a woman related to Milito, sources said, also just before his assassination. Cocozzo was a mob bookie with ties to several known mob racketeers operating in Chicago. Investigations found links to Zonis in all three murders and a gas stations owned by him.

Both Rodriguez and Mayor Daley, despite their denials, were personally informed of the details surrounding Zonis and Milito both by officials of the IAD and also by members of the Chicago Crime Commission.

The IAD recommendation to fire Zonis was either dismissed or ignored by Rodriguez. And some observers believe it is hard to believe that Rodriguez would not have shared these concerns with Daley.

The fact is that Chicago Police Officers have been chafing about the dubious Zonis- Rodriguez-Milito ties for several years. Political and Police Department clout could well be the major reasons why the three prominent mob related murders that have been persistently followed by the honest street cops remain unsolved for the these many years.

“The CPD has not been embroiled in this kind of disgrace in over 35 years, since the Summerdale Scandal of 1960,” said John J. Flood, publisher of the Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News.

“There is no doubt that evidence exists to give due consideration to the convening of a Federal Grand Jury probe. The subpoena and immunity power here, using RICO statutes might bring all this sordidness and the solving of three murders to light.”

The Background

The lid blew off the kettle in October when the Chicago Crime Commission released its report on organized crime, identifying CPD Patrol Officer Pierre Zonis as an “associate” of organized crime figures involved in gambling and juice loan activities. He’s a player and the street people all knew It – but then again so did 11th & State.

The Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News reported on Oct. 20 that Zonis’ name surfaced in all three murder investigations. Despite knowledge by the Superintendent of his suspected involvement, Zonis remained on the department, assigned to the Town Hall 23rd Police District on Chicago’s North Side.

Sources said that Zonis was reassigned from street duty to desk duty after information about his possible links to the three murders was published in the Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News.

Although Rodriguez has maintained a high profile friendship with Milito, it wasn’t until the Chicago Tribune, following up on the Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News stories, disclosed that the two had shared a trip to israel together, violating an obscure Police Rule 47 which prohibits employees from fraternizing with convicted felons.

But Rodriguez can’t leave office fast enough to duck the serious questions that remain.

Mysterious quirks have hampered the Merriam investigations. All of the computer telephone records and computer floppy disks related to the Merriam murder are either conveniently misfiled and have been lost, removed from the Cook County Sheriff’s Police Department.

Milito and Merriam were familiar with each other. Merriam, a top honcho with the Amoco Corporation was investigating alleged abuses by gasoline stations under his wing. Merriam was in the process of converting full service gas stations into “mini-marts” much to the anger of many gas station owners, some of whom allegedly had what is commonly known as “connections” of the “outfit” variety.

Of Milito’s many business ventures there existed several gas stations, and a car wash located at 1106 W. Fullerton Ave., which happens to be one of 17 car washes contracted by the Chicago Police Department to wash police patrol cars. It’s a lucrative, guaranteed business for Milito, thanks to the Superintendent or is it just another city contract?

Milito also operates a Fullerton Avenue travel agency, through which he reportedly won tickets to Israel in 1993, and he decide to travel and invited his friend Superintendent Rodriguez. Milito also owned several franchised Amoco gas stations on Chicago’s North Side.

But, Frank J. Milito is best known to the glitteratti as the gregarious operator of Orso’s restaurant on North Wells Street, where top cops like Rodriguez and other deputies and assistants go to wine, dine and plot careers.

The Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News called Zonis, Milito and Rodriguez seeking their comments, but the calls were unreturned.

The Pierre Zonis Story

Sources alleged that Rodriguez knew about the fact that investigators in the Merriam, Cocozzo and Campbell murders had run across Zonis’ name on numerous instances. Supt. Rodriguez had the authority to bring Zonis law enforcement career to an abrupt halt and he could have certainly prevented Zonis from graduating from the Chicago Police Academy in 1994
because of the information that he had received from the FBI and also from his own Internal Affairs Division – but then if you bring the guy on the job your not going to knock him off..so to speak.

Zonis had been arrested for several gambling gambits. Later, he had the arrest records legally and wisely expunged.

Reportedly, the FBI had approached Rodriguez to discuss Milito and Zonis as a part of an investigation our sources said included the three murders.

Sources further allege that Rodriguez personally intervened, possibly disrupting the investigation of Zonis by the Chicago Police Department’s Office of Internal Affairs Unit. Officers at the 23rd District Station say Zonis was reassigned from street duty to a desk job.

The Chicago Crime Commission’s report, entitled “The New Faces of Organized Crime ” 1997,” lists Pierre Zonis under the category of “Additional Members and Associates” of Chicago’s burgeoning Organized Crime family, headed by Joey Lombardo and John “No Nose” DiFronzo. Zonis is listed under the category of “gambling,” which includes Donald Angelini and Dominic Barrbaro, both on parole and members of the same North Side Crew as Zonis, operating under the direction of North Side Organized Crime Area Boss Joe Andriacchi.

Beneath the surface swirls even more evidence of organized crime.

Cocozzo, for example, was allegedly paying money to notorious Chicago juice loan mobster Mario Rainone, Lenny Patrick’s guy, who sources said took the money at a regular pickup stop for him – Pierre Zonis’ gas station. Rainone was convicted with major mob probe that brought down several of the “wiseguys” on a variety of charges including extortion, arson and other violent acts to numerous to mention.

Merriam’s attracted particular attention because he was the nephew of a prominent former Chicago alderman, mayoral candidate, Robert E. Merriam who had also served on the staff of President Dwight d. Eisenhower.

Minutes prior to the Merriam murder, investigators linked a telephone call made to his home to a pay telephone located at a gas station that Zonis had owned at Albion and Sheridan Road.

In the Cocozzo killing, repair work had been done on Cocozzo’s car at Zonis’ gas station in the weeks prior to the murder. Cocozzo, like Zonis, is linked to organized crime figures.

Campbell, hours before his murder, had been traced to Zonis’ gas station. Zonis reportedly was the last person to see Campbell alive.

And, like Zonis, Milito’s name has also surfaced in the investigation of Merriam’s death. In fact, our sources said police investigators are still probing the Merriam murder case and see Milito and Zonis on a high priority list of suspects.

Reportedly, Merriam, then a ranking Amoco Company executive, played a part in the overall matters relating to Milito.

In a 15-count indictment against Milito, prosecutors alleged that Milito failed to report the sale of 6 million gallons of gasoline, failing to pay nearly $300,000 in taxes.

Milito was allegedly involved in recruiting Judge David J. Shields to pass on a bribe to another judge in the Chancery Division who was hearing a case of interest to Milito. Shields was convicted in September 1991 on federal bribery charges.

Is it surprising that a guy like Milito also turned up as holding a Cook County Sheriff’s Police badge and gun? As a part of his guilty plea, Milito had to turn in his Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy Badge, and he also resigned his other public employee job as an inspector with the City Council’s Committee on Traffic and Public Safety.

Investigators in the Merriam case have not ruled out the belief that the killers may have worn a police uniform when they knocked on his door, screamed obscenities and then open fire.

Milito had prominently displays the photographs of many of these important friends, including several of Police Supt. Matt Rodriguez, and one that is there for all to see, signed “Frank ” you have bridged that gap between friend and brother. Matt.” They were being taken down shortly after the Superintendent announced his retirement.

Imagine, being able to be in a position to influence not just any police officer, but Chicago’s “top cop” ” the Superintendent of Police who has a direct line to City Hall’s 5th Floor, the Mayor’s Office.

Why didn’t Mayor Daley take immediate action when the Chicago Crime Commission brought this issue to him when they first released their 1997 Organized Crime Report and this newspaper aired the ties of Zonis to three murders? His position on this one will be interesting.

Concluded Flood, “Thereis no doubt in my mind that Mayor Richard M. Daley was aware of these facts and chose not to act until his hand was forced. Rich Daley knew!”

Read the related story on Pierre Zonis from Oct. 20, 1997

Return to the Breaking News Web page