Separate indictments, probes and lawsuits suggest connections to activities dating back to 1960s
Federal judge and former Winnebago County States Attorney Philip G. Reinhard said in an April 4, 1969, interview with the Rockford Morning Star that he believed Mob figures in Rockford were retired or inactive. Reinhard added he had seen no evidence or indication of Mafia-related activity in the Rockford area at that time.
Reinhards comments are in contrast with articles published in the past 15 months by The Rock River Times that detailed past Mob-related activity dating back to at least the 1970s.
Reinhard was Winnebago County assistant states attorney from 1964 to 1967, and Winnebago County states attorney from 1968 to 1976. He was nominated as federal judge for the Western Division of the U.S. District Court for Northern Illinois by President George H.W. Bush in 1991. Reinhard has been on the federal bench since Feb. 10, 1992.
During the 1969 interview, Reinhard reacted to a question about the extent of Mafia activity in Rockford by saying: There is a local structure, but if it has any ties with the national syndicate, they are very loose. There are individuals who, perhaps, made their money in syndicate-connected activities years ago and are now retired or inactive. In the short time that I have been states attorney, I have seen no evidence or indication that there is organized, syndicate activity here.
Reinhard did not respond for comment for this article, but did acknowledge during a February 2005 interview that he never knowingly prosecuted any Mob members during his tenure as states attorney.
Mob attorney turned informant
Reinhards 1969 perception of Mafia activity contrasts with comments by former Chicago Mafia attorney turned federal informant Robert Cooley. He said in a Nov. 24, 2004, article in The Rock River Times that the Chicago Mafia, which is known as The Outfit, had considerable interest in Rockford during the 1970s and 1980s.
Specifically, Cooley said: [Chicago Mob captain and member of the Elmwood Park/North side crew] Marco [DAmico], at the time when we were in power, Marco had a major crew working up there in the Rockford area. They had some illegal gambling interests up there.
According to the Chicago Crime Commissions 1997 publication The New Faces of Organized Crime, DAmico and eight others were indicted in 1994 for running an illegal sports bookmaking operation, using extortion to collect gambling debts, and juice loans and conspiring to commit racketeering.
Cooley described in his 2004 book, When Corruption Was King, how he assisted federal agents in setting up the illegal gambling sting that snagged DAmico in November 1989 in Lake Geneva, Wis., which resulted in the 1994 indictment.
Cooley turned from Mob attorney to federal informant in 1986 after the death of his father.
During the next 11 years, Cooleys efforts to expose public corruption resulted in bringing more than 30 lawyers, politicians and Mobsters to justice by secretly taping dozens of Mob meetings.
Whether the recent naming of 10 Rockford-area men in an illegal gambling ring was connected to DAmicos former crew is not known.
However, according to a separate, but likely related, indictment in April 2005 in Chicago, alleged Mob hit man from Rockford, Frank G. Saladino, was a member of the South Side/Chinatown crew at the time he committed crimes for the Chicago Mob sometime between the 1960s and 2005.
Cooley explained during an interview in April 2005 that Saladino may have been a member of both the North and South side crews at differing times during that period.
Saladino was named a co-conspirator in the Feb. 1 federal indictment, which alleged the sports betting operation accepted bets and wagers on the outcome of sports events, including football and basketball games from the early 1980s until about May 2002.
A former bookie familiar with the illegal sports gambling ring in the Rockford area alleged in 2004 one of the key organizers was a prominent business leader. That leader was not among the individuals indicted.
Saladino was found dead April 25, 2005the same day he was indicted on federal charges of murder and undisclosed criminal activities on behalf of the Chicago Mafia. The Kane County coroner ruled Saladinos death was due to natural causes in May 2005.
Specifically, the FBI-led probe named Operation Family Secrets, alleged the Chicago Mob was involved in 18 murders and racketeering conspiracy extending from the mid-1960s to 2005. The alleged racketeering involved sports betting, video gambling, loan sharking and collecting street tax from participants in illegal activities.
According to the 2005 indictment, Saladino was a member of the South Side/26th Street crew. Saladinos last-known Rockford address in 2004 was 1303 Montague Rd.
Probes and lawsuits
But illegal gambling charges and probes extend further back than the February 2006 indictment.
In December 1968, a federal grand jury in Freeport called at least eight people for questioning in connection with illegal gambling and other Mob-related activity in Rockford and northern Illinois.
Reinhard became Winnebago County states attorney in November 1968.
Among those subpoenaed before the Freeport grand jury were Rockford Mob boss Joseph Zammuto; adviser Joseph Zito; underboss Charles Vince; Zammutos successor, Frank J. Buscemi; Philip Priola; and Mob soldier Joseph J. Maggio.
Priola is a former AFL-CIO union official and one of the original members of a group that wanted to bring a casino boat to Rockford in the early 1990s. He was also one of the owners of U Grill It Inc., which did business in Machesney Park Mall several years ago as Texas Grill Steakhouse and Lounge.
Priola and others in his family were charged by federal officials July 29, 2003, for allegedly conspiring to defraud the IRS and U.S. Treasury Department.
In response to an Oct. 6, 2003, article in the Rockford Register Star, which detailed the case, Priola sued the Rockford Register Star, in 2004 alleging the article concerning U Grill It was libelous.
The case is still in the discovery phase, and is scheduled for an Oct. 25 status hearing with 17th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Janet Holmgren. The Register Star is seeking tax returns and other documents related to the litigation, which also involved Priolas son-in-law, Todd Gage.
When interviewed by The Rock River Times in 2004 about the lawsuit, Priola said he moved from Rockford to Las Vegas. He and other members of his family eventually pled guilty to the charges before a scheduled trial.
The indictment alleged that, from at least 1992 to 1998, Priola and others intentionally conspired to under-report gross receipts and net profits of LTs Bar. It also alleged a cash-skimming operation took place for the benefit of the named family members.
Included in the alleged skimming operation were proceeds from cigarette vending machines and coin-operated amusement machines.
Buscemi, a Chicago native, was owner of Stateline Vending Co., Inc., and Rondinella Foods Co., before his death in Rockford Dec. 7, 1987. Winnebago County court documents from 1988 indicate Saladino worked for Rondinella in the 1980s when Buscemi owned the business. The vending machine company was dissolved in 1988.
According to Buscemis FBI file, the Rockford Mob was alleged to control the vending machine business in Rockford during the 1980s, and used extortionate business practices.
Vince, another person in addition to Priola and Buscemi, who was called before the 1968 grand jury, was identified in a March 4, 1984, Rockford Register Star, article as residing in an apartment at 1904 Auburn St., in Rockford.
In July 1978, federal court documents show Vince, along with other members of the Rockford and Milwaukee Mafia, were alleged to have tried to extort money from a competing upstart vendin
g machine company owner. The owner of the company the Mob members tried to shake down was actually an undercover federal agent named Gail Cobb, who was masquerading as Tony Conte.
Cobb and legendary FBI agent Donnie Brasco, whose real name was Joseph P. Pistone, worked together at the behest of the Bonanno crime family in New York to forge an alliance between the Rockford, Milwaukee and Bonanno family.
Actor Johnny Depp portrayed Pistone in the 1997 movie Donnie Brasco, during the time in the late 1970s when Pistone infiltrated organized crime.
Jeff Havens is an award-winning, former reporter for The Rock River Times. Havens lived most of his life in the Rockford area, and wrote dozens of news articles about the Mob in Rockford and Chicago. Assistant Editor Brandon Reid contributed to this article.
From the Sept. 27-Oct.3, 2006, issue