Restaurateur freed because his gunpoint extortion attempt failed

By Selim Algar

Note to shakedown artists: Extortion only counts if you get what you wanted.
A Staten Island restaurateur, who was convicted and sentenced to six years in federal prison for forcing a rival to drop his bid for a catering contract at gunpoint, is now free to resume his reality-show dreams thanks to a federal appeals court ruling that found he didn’t commit extortion because he wound up losing the bid.
Alleged Genovese crime family associate and aspiring TV star Frank DiMattina was convicted in 2012 of threatening a rival caterer at gunpoint not to bid on a lucrative high-school-lunch contract. He was sentenced to six years in prison for the crime, but remained out on $1 million bail pending his appeal.
But attorney Marc Fernich argued in his appeal that the charged crime didn’t qualify as extortion because DiMattina never gained anything from the crime. DiMattina should have been charged with simple coercion, which is neither a state nor federal offense, the attorney argued that.
He bolstered his argument by referring to a 2013 Supreme Court decision that reiterated the differences between the two crimes in a separate case.
“The government indicted and prosecuted DiMattina on a flimsy extortion theory that the US Supreme Court subsequently rejected,” Fernich told The Post. “We’re glad that the government and the appeals court, after reading our brief, agreed that the conviction was legally infirm and had to be thrown out.”
Fernich added that a state case against his client was unlikely because the victim in the case sputtered on the stand during post-trial appearances and was no longer credible.
DiMattina told The Post Tuesday that he was pleased to have skirted a lengthy prison term but said the trial and accusations of mob ties damaged his reputation. The feds claimed he had links to Genovese soldier John “Johnny Sausage” Barbato and former Genovese underboss Venero “Benny Eggs” Mangano.
A Brooklyn federal court spokesman declined to comment on the case.

Ex-Bonanno capo whose ‘extraordinary’ cooperation helped nab two dozen mobster gets time served after serving eight years for six gangland murders

Frank Lino, 76, appeared in Brooklyn Federal Court Friday where Judge Nicholas Garaufis resentenced him for his raft of crimes.

A former mob capo who traded membership in the Bonanno crime family for God and the government skated on six gangland murders Friday.
Frank Lino, 76, served more than eight years in prison after his 2003 arrest but was sentenced to time served in Brooklyn Federal Court as a reward for helping the feds.
Looking tanned, and wearing black-framed eyeglasses and a double-breasted suit, Lino sheepishly raised his hand when Judge Nicholas Garaufis glanced around the courtroom looking for him.
“Oh, in the business suit,” Garaufis observed.
Lino’s cooperation was “extraordinary” and helped to bring down some two dozen Bonannos including then-boss Joseph Massino, according to prosecutor Nicole Argentieri.
He also helped the feds recover the remains of three slain gangsters buried in mob graveyards.
“He has found God and with God’s good grace he’s where he should be, a grandfather of 15,” his lawyer, Barry Rhodes, said.
But Lino will spend the rest of his life looking over his shoulder in the Witness Protection Program, in danger of being killed for breaking the Mafia code of silence.
The mob rat even provided information to the feds about his son Joseph, a reputed Bonanno soldier, and cousin Eddie Lino, according to court papers.
Lino wiped away tears as he apologized to families of the victims — none of whom was present — and shook the judge’s hand on the way out of the courtroom.
“Good luck,” Garaufis said.
Lino’s most famous hit was the 1981 rubout of Dominick (Sonny Black) Napolitano who was marked for death as punishment for befriending undercover FBI agent Donnie Brasco (Joseph Pistone) who infiltrated the crime family.
Lino was also implicated in the 1962 murder of two cops by associates of his, but Lino was not charged in the killings because he had been severely beaten by detectives at a police stationhouse.
Decades later, after Lino flipped, there was an extraordinary scene right out of “The Godfather: Part II” when fictional mob canary Frank Pentangeli’s brother was brought by the Corleone family from Sicily to sit in the audience at a Senate hearing in order to silence the would-be informant.
During a 2003 hearing, Lino’s brother appeared in Brooklyn Federal Court, stood up in the front row and asked Garaufis if he could speak to Frank.
In Friday’s hearing, Rhodes reminded the judge of the cinematic moment in his courtroom, adding that Lino has “spurned that sick world he was once part of.”
Lino is a free man in the Witness Protection Program along with Massino, who became the highest-ranking New York City mob boss to become a turncoat after he was convicted of racketeering and murder, and Massino’s brother-in-law Salvatore Vitale, who also helped the feds dismantle the Bonannos
Salvatore Vitale, who also helped the feds dismantle the Bonannos.
Lino was a 10th-grade dropout who knocked around as a driver for a funeral home and a stockboy before he became involved with the Genovese and Colombo families.
He received his button from the Bonannos in 1977 and embarked on a lifetime of crime.
But Garaufis said Lino appeared to be truly remorseful for the acts of violence in his “past life.”

Heinous Boston mob killer became government informant, was one of first in witness protection: new book

Joe (the Animal) Barboza, who once tallied his violent crimes at 75 stabbings, 500 beatings and around 20 murders and was called ‘crazy’ by fellow mobsters for his love of violence, became a witness for the state and sent several high-ranking mobsters to prison. His story is told in a fascinating new book, ‘Boston Mob: The Rise and Fall of the New England Mob and its Most Notorious Killer,’ by Marc Songini.
Joe (the Animal) Barboza, a mob hit man so vicious he “made Caligula look like a saint,” once tallied his violent crimes at 75 stabbings, 500 beatings and around 20 murders.
Give or take a few gutted corpses.
His psychotic tale is told in the new book “Boston Mob: The Rise and Fall of the New England Mob and Its Most Notorious Killer,” by Marc Songini. It’s not a pretty story, but it is fascinating reading.
Barboza, who grew up dirt poor in New Bedford, Mass., had already spent years in prison when he decided in 1962 it was time to up his game. A small-time loan shark with psychopathic tendencies, he turned down $1,000 to execute a mob hit. Instead, he did it for free.
And with such class. He attacked a Greek baker — who was running for union office against the mob’s wishes — with two 20-pound sash weights, leaving the guy “a bloody heap in the middle of the street.”
The Animal wasn’t looking to become a made man. The son of Portuguese immigrants, he knew that wasn’t an option. His ambition was to become a Mafia associate always on call to kill for cash.
Raymond Patriarca, who had close ties with New York’s Genovese and Colombo crime families, ran the New England Mafia out of what was known as the Office in Providence, R.I. As he once pointed out, it was easier to corrupt a small state.
But Robert Kennedy, then U.S. attorney general, had him in his sights. The FBI was infiltrating his organization with informers, and their reports were going directly to J. Edgar Hoover. One day, Barboza would turn against Patriarca and become the FBI’s biggest asset.
Meanwhile, gangsters with mob ties killed one another in bloody vengeance on the streets of Boston. The Boston Irish Gang War, which lasted until the mid-1960s, was incredibly vicious. Nearly everyone involved ended up dead.
The mob’s stance was to step back and let the Irish fight it out. Barboza allied himself with the Winter Hill Gang, the ultimate victor. Later, the infamous Whitey Bulger — now serving two consecutive life terms — would emerge from Winter Hill’s ranks.
Until he turned, Barboza proved very useful in a terrifying kind of way.
“Joe was a car with one speed — he smashed, maimed or killed at will, and didn’t bother to hide the bodies,” writes Songini. “High on uppers, he became a paranoid megalomaniac . . .
“Indeed, he admitted that killing had a ‘very tranquilizing effect’ on him.”
In one incident, when an underboss forbade him from “putting hands on” an enemy, Barboza settled for ripping skin from his cheek with his teeth. In another, he invited a gangster to take a ride, shot him five times in the chest and then served as a pallbearer at his funeral.
He formed a close bond with Vincent (Jimmy the Bear) Flemmi, another psychotic killer who once boasted that, “All I want to do is kill people.” His full service included a promise to get rid of the corpses, likely in the furnaces of Boston’s South End projects.
Barboza was always good for a straight-on vicious beating or firing through the window of a car, but he started to unnerve even the mob bosses with his escalating viciousness. He told Patriarca that he wanted to take care of one target by pouring gasoline in the basement of the man’s townhouse and setting it on fire.
The man’s mother lived on the first floor. Even Patriarca was appalled. “He’s crazy. Someday we’ll have to whack him,” declared the head of the New England Mafia.
In an era when gangsters dressed up as priests and rabbis to kill, one even borrowing a policemen’s gun — leaving the cop worried the bullets would be traceable — to complete a job, decreeing Barboza “crazy” was saying something.
Barboza was finally nailed after he and his crew dealt with a guy who offended him at a nightclub by slitting him from belly to chest. He was arrested, soon out on bail, then rearrested. He spun through this cycle a number of times until he was facing multiple charges and a double-surety $200,000 bail. That meant he had to post $100,000 to make the street.
Two of his crew went into overdrive, even shaking down mobsters for the cash. The crew members showed up at a mob joint, the Nite Lite Cafe, with $70,000 on the promise from men connected to the Office that $30,000 would come from the Mafia in return for Barboza’s service through the years.
They were shot dead, their bodies stuffed in the back of a Cadillac, where a truck driver found them a few hours later. The $70,000 was with the Mafia.
When the police showed up at the Nite Lite in the early morning, they found the owner and Mafia soldier, Ralphie Chong, laying a new carpet. A search revealed an M-1 rifle and bloodstained pieces of the old rug. On orders, and in return for a payoff, Chong took the fall.
But when he showed up at Walpole prison, he found Barboza already ensconced and enjoying many privileges. In an almost friendly way, Barboza let Chong know that he’d been able to put hands on a “powerful, tasteless poison.”
Barboza also ran the prison kitchen. For days, Chong refused to eat — until the night he awoke to find Barboza in his cell.
“I’m going to kill you, but not now,” the Animal informed him.
Barboza decided to turn state’s witness and give up the Mafia hierarchy.
The U.S. marshal assigned to protect his family, John Partington, had had a conversation with Robert Kennedy on a previous visit about how to get gangsters to turn on their own kind, suggesting the government set up a special program to protect a witness and his family from retribution.
Partington was the first head of the federal witness protection program. He transported Barboza and his family to a small island off of Cape Ann, Mass.
“You got to be s------g me,” said an angry Barboza when he stepped out of the helicopter and saw the house and the terrain.
Sixteen marshals were stationed on the island to protect Barboza. When one brought him a rescue dog to keep the bored killer amused, he trained it to attack the marshals at his hand signal. The dog went back.
Mob killers tried to locate Barboza but failed. He testified repeatedly, sending Patriarca and other high-ranking mobsters to prison. Six were sentenced to death, later reduced to life sentences. In 2000, those charges were dismissed amid accusations of a government frame-up.
After the trials, the FBI first tried to relocate Barboza to Australia, but he refused because he couldn’t take his dogs. He ended up in Santa Rosa, Calif., where he continued to kill. Rumors placed the number as high as 10 men, but he was convicted of only one murder and served five years at Folsom prison.
When he was released in 1975, a government memo advised that “the word on the street in Boston is that the bad guys . . . plan on publicly executing him.”
On Feb. 11, 1976, Barboza, living under the name Joe Donati, left his San Francisco apartment and was hit by four shotgun blasts fired from a Ford van. The Animal was carrying a Colt .38, but never got the chance to use it.
His one-time lawyer, F. Lee Bailey, had the final word.
“With all due respect for my former client,” he said, “I don’t think society has suffered a great loss.”

Charges detail mob crew's brazenness

By Jason Meisner
Chicago Tribune

The Outfit-connected crew had planned the raid on the cartel stash house carefully, using a street gang member who tipped them to a 40-kilogram shipment of cocaine from Mexico that would be warehoused on Chicago's Southeast Side before being cut up for distribution on the street, authorities say.
But what crew leaders didn't know was that the nondescript gray frame house on the 13400 block of South Brandon Avenue was a setup. The cocaine had been planted by law enforcement officials, who wired the home with video and audio surveillance equipment before giving their informant the go-ahead to set the sting in motion.
As an FBI spy plane monitored the Hegewisch neighborhood from the air late July 16, a team of Chicago police and federal agents on the ground watched as reputed Outfit soldiers Robert Panozzo and Paul Koroluk, posing as law enforcement, kicked in the door and grabbed the stacks of narcotics. When agents swooped in and made the arrest, Koroluk still had a police star dangling from his neck, authorities said.
The dramatic sting was the culmination of a monthslong investigation and led to sweeping racketeering and drug charges unveiled in Cook County criminal court last week against Panozzo, Koroluk and three other alleged crew members. The charges alleged an array of crimes going back to at least 2007, from home invasions and armed robberies to burglaries, arson, insurance fraud and prostitution.
Authorities said the crew — which, according to previous court testimony, has ties to reputed Grand Avenue mob boss Albert "Little Guy" Vena — robbed cartel stash houses of drugs and cash with a remarkable mix of sophistication and brazen violence, tracking drug dealers with GPS devices and wearing stolen police badges and body armor during the raids.
They had Chicago gang members providing tips and acting as lookouts and used a battery service business in their Near West Side neighborhood as a meeting place to divide up the loot, according to the charges. When an associate was nabbed for a home invasion, the crew plotted to kill the key witness before he could testify and even put the Cook County judge overseeing the case under surveillance, according to authorities.
Authorities say Panozzo, 54, and Koroluk, 55, have also been prolific burglars, using country club membership lists, tips from insurance brokers and other intelligence to identify the high-end homes before they hit them, then fencing stolen merchandise through Wabash Avenue jewelers and other professionals on the take.
A search warrant affidavit filed in the case stated that the crew has "surreptitious and unauthorized links (with) certain employees of state and local government, as well as insurance agents, jewelers, currency exchanges, banks, and business owners."
Joseph Ways Sr., the former second-in-command at the Chicago division of the FBI who now is executive director of the Chicago Crime Commission, said the case shows the mob is still "alive and well" despite recent high-profile prosecutions that decimated much of the Outfit's key leadership.
Ways said that while the Panozzo-Koroluk crew allegedly used many traditional mob schemes, it is also accused of a particularly bold and risky tactic: stealing drugs that originate from powerful drug cartels.
"That's a new twist," Ways said. "To go in and rip off a stash house, depending on where it's at in the supply line … if you get too close and the wrong people find out, it could be very hazardous to your health."
Authorities said the investigation into the crew began in October, when the would-be hit man informed police of the plot to kill a state witness who was about to testify against Panozzo's associate.
While the charges identify the associate only as "Individual H," numerous sources have confirmed to the Tribune that he is Jeff Hollinghead, 48, a former union truck driver who spent several years running an auto glass store in Las Vegas. After returning to Chicago about six years ago, he teamed up with Panozzo, whose base of operation was in Hollinghead's old neighborhood.
In October 2009, Hollinghead and three others were charged with kidnapping a wheelchair-bound gang member from his South Side home and holding him for ransom. The man's family called police, who set up a sting with the ransom money, court records show. Hollinghead was arrested by Chicago police and FBI agents as he opened a garbage can in a Bridgeport alley that had been marked with an "X" and removed what he thought was the ransom payment.
When he was arrested, Hollinghead first told authorities he was just looking for a place to relieve himself. Later he told an elaborate story of how he was approached by a man on the street who ordered him at gunpoint to retrieve the bag for him or Hollinghead's wife would be killed, court records show.
According to the search warrant affidavit, police investigating the Panozzo-Koroluk crew got a huge break when Hollinghead began cooperating last November, shortly before he pleaded guilty to the kidnapping charges and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Hollinghead laid out the details of the crew's operation, including how Panozzo used connections with the Spanish Cobras and Latin Dragons street gangs for tips on drug suppliers and the location of stash houses, according to the charges. Police said Hollinghead told them that the crew's technical operations wizard, Maher "Max" Abuhabsah — who was also charged with racketeering — ordered GPS tracking devices from a Skokie surveillance store and put them on the cars of their targets so he could track their movements through his smartphone.
Hollinghead told police that while he was free on bond and awaiting trial, he and Panozzo had discussed arranging the murder of the victim in his case, but the victim had gone into hiding and no one could find him, according to the affidavit. Meanwhile, another informant said Abuhabsah had found the victim's brother's address through Internet research, the affidavit alleged.
Then, last July, Hollinghead's lawyer called him to a meeting at a Caribou Coffee on Maxwell and Halsted streets, according to the affidavit. At the meeting, the attorney slid a computerized printout of the victim's name and address across the table.
"Give this to Bob, he knows what to do with it," the attorney allegedly told Hollinghead, according to the court documents. "This is your only problem."
The charges refer to the attorney only as "Individual K," but court records show Hollinghead was represented at the time by longtime criminal defense attorney Joseph Lopez.
Lopez told the Tribune he did meet Hollinghead at the coffee shop but gave him only a copy of his investigator's report, which included a routine public records search that had only outdated addresses for the victim. Lopez said the meeting was part of the normal course of preparing for trial.
"We were trying to locate and interview the victim as part of trial preparations, just like we always do," Lopez said.
A review of court records in Hollinghead's case suggests that eliminating the victim would not have helped him beat the charges. The victim never identified Hollinghead in a lineup, and the main witnesses against him were FBI agents and Chicago police officers who were monitoring the ransom drop site and watched as Hollinghead reached into the garbage can and took the bag, records show.
Raised in the old Italian-American enclave known as "the Patch" on the Near West Side, Panozzo and Koroluk have criminal histories that stretch back decades, court records show.
In 2006 they were both sentenced to seven years in prison for a string of burglaries targeting tony north suburban homes that netted millions in jewelry and other luxury items. Police at the time described the burglars as some of the most sophisticated they'd run across, from the disabling of state-of-the-art alarm systems to the cutting of phone lines before entering the properties. It wasn't until Koroluk slipped up and left footprints in the snow leading to his car that police were able to crack the case.
According to court records, Panozzo got his start as a juice loan collector under former Grand Avenue boss Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, who was convicted in the landmark Family Secrets trial. Recently, Panozzo was operating a house of prostitution masquerading as a massage parlor in the 800 block of West Superior Street, according to the racketeering charges.
No one answered the door when a Tribune reporter visited the alleged brothel last week. Employees of the hair salon next door said they had been suspicious of the place for months, sometimes spotting beautiful young women dressed in skimpy lingerie escorting men into the building in broad daylight.
The racketeering charges also allege that Panozzo has a history of violence. According to the affidavit in the case, Panozzo has often bragged to associates that he threw an elderly woman down three flights of stairs to her death in 1987 after tricking her into signing over ownership rights to her three-flat in the 2300 block of West Ohio Street.
Public records show that the woman, Lydia Minneci, 77, signed a quitclaim deed to her home in October 1987 to a man named Steven Brantner, who at the time lived with Panozzo a few blocks away on West Erie Street. Minneci was killed shortly after she signed the papers, though no one was ever arrested, records show.
Four years later, Brantner was also killed, records show. According to the affidavit, Panozzo drove Brantner to the hospital, where he died of bullet wounds. No one was ever charged with his slaying.
As authorities were ramping up their investigation into Panozzo's crew earlier this year, his name surfaced in the sensational trial of former Chicago cop Steve Mandell, who was convicted in February of plotting to kidnap, murder and dismember a local businessman flush with cash.
According to trial testimony, Panozzo had introduced Mandell to real estate mogul George Michael during a July 2012 lunch at La Scarola restaurant on West Grand Avenue. At the table was Vena — the reputed Outfit boss who replaced Lombardo after he went to prison — and several other alleged mobsters, according to testimony. Michael, who unbeknownst to his dining companions was an FBI informant, recorded the meeting on a hidden wire, but the recording was never played at Mandell's trial.
Ways, of the Chicago Crime Commission, said it's difficult to tell whether the charges against the Panozzo-Koroluk crew signify a wider investigation of mob activity. With all the recent attention on Chicago's rampant gun violence, organized crime has faded from headlines. But that doesn't mean it's gone away, he said.
"That's the joy of law enforcement," Ways said. "Even if they decide to lay low for a while, you know they'll be back."
Twitter @jmetr22b

Canadian police ignored Interpol alert for alleged mob boss though they knew where in Canada

Adrian Humphreys TORONTO — An international alert accusing a man living north of Toronto of being a mob boss went ignored by Canadian police because Canada does not recognize the crime of Mafia association, the tool used by the Italian government to tackle powerful organized crime groups, an immigration hearing heard Wednesday.
A warrant was issued in Italy for the arrest of Carmelo Bruzzese and registered with Interpol, the international police agency, on April 30, 2012, but he was not arrested even though local police agencies knew where he was living in Canada with his Canadian wife. He had even had interaction with police.
Instead, 16 months later, he was finally arrested in his home in Vaughan, Ont., on Aug. 23, 2013, by an immigration task force — but he is not charged with any crime, nor is he facing extradition to his homeland.
Rather, he faces an admissibility hearing before Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board to determine if he should be deported from Canada as a foreign national engaged in organized crime. On Wednesday, Major Giuseppe De Felice, a commanding officer with Rome’s anti-Mafia police, testified that an international alert for Mr. Bruzzese’s arrest had been sent to the world’s police forces.
“Were Mr. Bruzzese stopped in any part of the world, an official document would attest to the fact that he is a fugitive,” said Maj. De Felice, through a translator.
Asked by Mr. Bruzzese’s lawyer, Barbara Jackman, why such a so-called “Red Notice” from Interpol would not be acted on by Canadian police, Maj. De Felice said it is likely because Canada does not consider Mafia association to be an extraditable offense.
Under Canada’s criminal code, people are extradited from Canada to another country to stand trial only if they are accused of something that is also considered a crime in Canada. While Canada has gangsterism charges, they are only laid when there is also evidence of other, overt criminal acts linked to organized crime. Mere membership or association is not a crime here.
It is not that the Red Notice was not known by Canadian authorities, Maj. De Felice said, but rather, “it’s a question of what can be done when they see it.”
Mr. Bruzzese, who turned 65 in prison last week, is accused by authorities of being the head of a clan of the ’Ndrangheta, the proper name of the Mafia formed in the Italian region of Calabria. Maj. De Felice said Mr. Bruzzese’s clan is based in Grotteria, just inland from the Ionic coast.
Wednesday’s hearing also heard arguments over whether an article in the National Post should be entered as evidence. The June 26 front-page article quoted Mr. Bruzzese disputing Maj. De Felice’s testimony during a break in the hearing.
“This man from Italy is a big liar, eh?” Mr. Bruzzese said. “This is a big lie. I don’t know how much they pay him.”
Andrej Rustja, acting on behalf of the Canada Border Services Agency, said Maj. DeFelice was outraged by the implication he was paid to give untruthful testimony.
Mr. Rustja said he intends to ask the Major to clarify whether he is being paid for his testimony.
Ms. Jackman objected to the article being entered as evidence, saying she was dismayed the major would be “so petty” and incapable of handling Mr. Bruzzese’s expression of frustration over his continued detention.
The IRB decision maker, Ama Beecham, determined the article would become part of the case’s records.
“Mr. Bruzzese may have lashed out because of his ill health or his frustration,” Ms. Beecham ruled. “You can ask him if he wants to clarify his statement.”
Mr. Bruzzese, however, did not seem prepared to recant. During a break in proceedings he told the Post he stood by the statement that Maj. De Felice lied.

“It’s true,” he said with a grin and a shrug.

Judge rules investigators can see Mafia boss’s jailhouse emails

By Selim Algar

A Mafia boss can’t expect his jailhouse emails to be protected from the prying eyes of authorities — even if the communiques are to and from his lawyer, a Brooklyn federal judge has ruled.
Reputed Bonanno crime family boss Thomas “Tommy D” DiFiore and his lawyer, Steve Zissou, had argued that the monitoring of their Web-based conversations violated his right to counsel — even though jailhouse rules clearly spell out that inmates’ emails are subject to review.
Judge Allyne Ross had temporarily blocked federal investigators from checking DiFiore’s emails while she considered the argument, but ruled in favor of the government last week.
Ross found that DiFiore had other opportunities to privately communicate with his attorney and that the email snooping did not “unreasonably interfere” with his ability to defend himself in court.
She said that inmates know that they are waiving their confidentiality when using the prison email function.
Ross did concede in her decision that the federal Bureau of Prisons should consider some form of protected email forum for inmates and their attorneys to facilitate communication.
“Certainly, it would be a welcome development for BOP to improve TRULINCS (the jail computer system) so that attorney-client communications could be easily separated from other emails and subject to protection,” the judge wrote.

DiFiore is charged with participating in an extortion scheme with co-defendant Vincent Asaro, the infamous Bonanno capo charged with the 1978 Lufthansa Airlines heist depicted in the film “Goodfellas.”

Two purported mobsters, employee of Joe Berrios snared in a racketeering investigation

Two convicted burglars with reputed mob ties and an employee of Cook County Assessor Joe Berrios have been snared in a racketeering investigation that found members of their crew engaged in murder and posed as cops to rip off drug dealers, prosecutors said Saturday.
Paul Koroluk, 55, his wife Maria Koroluk, 53, and Robert Panozzo, 54, are among five defendants charged in the case brought by Cook County prosecutors. Also charged were Maher Abuhabsah, 33, and Panozzo’s son, Robert Jr., 22.
Authorities said they launched “Operation Crew Cut” in October after Robert Panozzo Sr. and others tried to have a state witness killed. The witness was preparing to testify against members of the crew in a kidnapping and home invasion case, prosecutors said.
The investigation revealed evidence that the crew engaged in murder, home invasion, drug trafficking, burglary and weapons offenses, prosecutors said.
According to prosecutors, the crew routinely received information from gang members about the location and contents of drug cartel stash houses. They allegedly used GPS trackers and other equipment on drug dealers’ cars, then would enter the houses posing as police officers and steal the drugs inside.
During one home invasion and kidnapping in 2013, Panozzo allegedly sliced off the ear of a victim after he heard him speaking English. Panozzo was angry because the man said he only spoke Spanish, prosecutors said.
Panozzo stole more than 25 kilograms of cocaine and two cars in that home invasion, prosecutors said.
Paul Koroluk, Robert Panozzo, Panozzo’s son and Abuhabsah were ordered held without bail Saturday.
Paul Koroluk, Panozzo Sr. and Abuhabsah are charged with racketeering and drug conspiracy. Panozzo Jr. is charged with drug conspiracy.
Maria Koroluk, who was charged with possession with intent to deliver a Super Class X amount of cocaine, was ordered held in lieu of $100,000 bail.
Maria Koroluk works for Berrios as director of technical review with a salary of $97,304 a year, according to a Berrios spokesman, who was unaware of her arrest.
A task force composed of the Chicago Police, the Cook County Sheriff’s office, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI arrested Paul Koroluk, the Panozzos and Abuhabsah on Wednesday at a home in the Hegewisch neighborhood on the Southeast Side, officials said.
Authorities received court approval to rig the house with surveillance equipment and the men attempted to steal 44 kilograms of cocaine in the sting operation, prosecutors said.
Police also raided the Koroluks’ home in the 2100 block of West Race where they arrested Maria Koroluk, sources said.
Sources said police recovered weapons and large quantities of drugs in the raids.
On Saturday, Paul Koroluk’s attorney Joseph Lopez said, “There’s no questions it’s an FBI set-up. The FBI had the house wired up. The FBI had all kinds of electronic surveillance in this case. The FBI had wire taps.”
That may help his case, Lopez said, contending “Obviously a lot of people when they think about the [commitment] of crimes, they think about not the FBI setting it up. They think about people actually committing crimes ... The videotape shows that they engaged in this conduct at the behest of the FBI informant. . . .It shows the FBI set it up.”
Operation Crew Cut is the second racketeering case Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez has brought under a new state statute. Last year, she charged leaders of a West Side street gang with violating the statute. It’s modeled after the 1970 federal racketeering statute that was used to target the Mafia.
“This case involves extremely serious allegations of dangerous criminal conduct,” Alvarez said at a press conference Saturday. “It is yet another example of the vital importance that our Illinois RICO law plays in our ability to combat violent organized crime here in the state of Illinois and demonstrates why it is an indispensable tool for law enforcement here ... This is a perfect example of the type of case that we were looking to be able to handle under this new law. It is so important that we as prosecutors have these tools.”
Paul Koroluk and Panozzo — convicted burglars — have been in the headlines for years for their reputed ties to the Chicago Outfit.
Eight years ago, they were convicted for their involvement in a crew suspected of stealing everything from jewelry to Lladros porcelain figurines from wealthy victims they allegedly targeted through limo drivers’ tips and yacht club listings, officials say.
Panozzo’s name surfaced recently in the trial of former Chicago Police Officer Steve Mandell, who was convicted in February of plotting to kidnap, kill and dismember a suburban businessman.
The star witness, former North Shore banker George Michael, said Panozzo introduced him to Mandell over lunch at La Scarola restaurant on West Grand Avenue. The FBI recorded the meeting.
Sources said Paul Koroluk and Panozzo are tied to the Chicago Outfit and the C-Notes street gang located in “The Patch” along Grand Avenue just west of the Loop.
The neighborhood has been home to some of the city’s most infamous mobsters.
Despite his criminal record, Koroluk once served as a local school council member in the neighborhood.
In 2006, Koroluk and Panozzo were both sentenced to seven years in prison in for burglary and possession of burglary tools. The crew was accused of breaking into north suburban homes and stealing jewelry.
Officers cracked the case when they tracked footprints in the snow from a burglarized Niles home to Koroluk’s car, in which they found two pillowcases filled with jewelry and cash, police said.
And in 1986, he was caught with thousands of videos that were allegedly stolen from stores on the West and Northwest Sides. At the time, he was running a video store near Chicago and Damen. Koroluk was convicted of burglary and sentenced to probation.
In the past, Koroluk and his associates were suspected of paying a Secretary of State’s employee $50 bribes to get personal information on victims. No one was charged in connection with that allegation. Sources said police are investigating whether the current case against the Koroluks and Panozzo also involves public corruption.

Jailed mobsters given communion after Pope's 'excommunication': priest

 (Reuters) - A Roman Catholic priest said he was continuing to give Holy Communion to mafia bosses at a high-security prison in Italy, even after Pope Francis said members of organized crime groups were "excommunicated".
During a trip to one of Italy's most mafia-infested regions last month, Francis for the first time described mafiosi as "excommunicated" - totally cut off from the Church - because "their lives follow this path of evil".
After the pope's comments, "some prisoners came to me and asked me if they should consider themselves excommunicated, saying that if they could no longer take the sacrament, they would stop coming to Mass," prison chaplain Marco Colonna told la Repubblica newspaper in an article published on Monday.
"I tried to explain to them that the Church doesn't kick anyone out, and after a few days of reflection, I told them that they would continue to receive the sacrament," said Colonna, who works at the prison in the southern town of Larino.
"I continued to give communion to bosses ... I cannot avoid it," the priest added.
The Vatican has said the pope's use of the word "excommunication" last month had not amounted to a formal decree under church law.
Instead, a Vatican spokesman said, the pope had meant to tell the criminals they had effectively excommunicated themselves and could not participate in Church sacraments because they had distanced themselves from God.
High-ranking Church officials also quoted in the Italian media on Monday said the pope's words meant mafia bosses should not be allowed to take communion, but added that did not mean they were shut out forever.
"Someone who is excommunicated cannot take communion and is excluded from the sacraments, but he can listen to the word of God," Nunzio Galantino, secretary general of the Italian Bishop's conference whose diocese the pope was visiting when he spoke out against the mob, told Corriere della Sera newspaper.
In some areas, like the one Galantino comes from, the Church has taken a strong stand against organized crime.
But many members of organized crime groups in Italy see themselves as part of a religious, cult-like group and regularly take part in sacraments.
On Wednesday, during a religious procession of a statue of Saint Mary in the southern Italian town of Oppido Mamertina, parishioners paused before the home of the town's elderly mafia boss as a sign of respect, triggering an impassioned debate in the Italian media.
(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Tocco, believed to be longest-serving U.S. mob boss, dead

By Brendan O’Brien

(Reuters) – Jack Tocco, believed to be the longest-serving mob boss in the United States and the last living person with first-hand knowledge of the circumstances surrounding the death of Jimmy Hoffa, has died aged 87.
Tocco, who died on Monday, was the godfather in Detroit for 35 years, longer than any current godfather in the country, according to Scott Burnstein, an author and expert on organized crime in the city.
“He is one of the last, if not the last, link to the golden era of the American Mafia,” he said.
Since the 1930s, when Jack Tocco’s father and uncle founded the Mafia in Detroit, a Tocco has led the mob in the city, Burnstein said.
With his passing, the leadership shifts from a boardroom, white collar gangster to blue collar leadership. “It’s a huge changing of the guard,” he said.
Tocco, known as “Black Jack,” owned a race track and a business that provided linen to local hotels. He was convicted of federal racketeering in 1998 and sentenced to two years in prison, according to Burnstein.
Burnstein said Tocco had probably been the last person alive with first-hand knowledge of what happened to former Teamster President Jimmy Hoffa, whose disappearance has remained unsolved since he was last seen in 1975.
“With Tocco dying, any first-hand knowledge of that infamous crime goes to the grave,” he said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alan Raybould)