Chicago Sun Times August 10, 1997
BY ALEX RODRIGUEZ STAFF REPORTER
You could find them in a corner they'd stake out at Chinatown bars or nightspots like Faces on Rush Street. They never paid for their own drinks; if some unwitting patron sidled up too close, they stopped talking and glowered until the person walked away.
Appearing at a hearing last week on mob influence within the Chicago affiliate of the Laborers International Union, Robert Cooley recalled those nights and the boozy chats he had with the members of the 26th Street Crew.
Like the talk at the Redwood Inn in Chinatown he had with a crew member named ``Dirge.''The crew had just gunned down one of their own at a bingo parlor after sending him out on a hit, Dirge told him. The gun they gave him had a broken firing pin.
``He thought he was going out to whack somebody and he wound up being the whackee rather than the whackor,'' Cooley said.
Cooley--a mob turncoat who once helped convict three judges, an alderman and a state senator--is one of several witnesses Laborers International is relying on to show how corrupted by organized crime its Chicago affiliate, the Chicago District Council, has become.
With its own notorious history of organized crime influence reaching back as far as 90 years, Laborers International must begin reforming or face a takeover by the federal government.
The parent union could decide to put the Chicago affiliate in trusteeship and oust the council's four-man leadership. The hearing, which is closed to the public, began in July and is expected to continue through next week.
In a hearing transcript obtained by the Sun-Times, Cooley and others shed light on the links between Chicago organized crime and Laborers International while providing a rare glimpse into the bravado and power permeating the city's underworld.
For the 26th Street Crew, that influence reigned supreme in Fred Roti's old 1st Ward, a neighborhood so steeped in organized crime that residents would quickly get word to the crew whenever police officers known not to have any mob involvement poked around, mob turncoat Charles ``Guy'' Bills testified.
Heading up the crew in the 1960s and '70s was the late mob boss Frank ``Skids'' Caruso, whose two sons, Frank ``Toots'' Caruso Jr. and Bruno Caruso, and nephew Leo Caruso all have ties to Laborers International, according to testimony at the hearing.
Bruno Caruso makes $171,641 as president of the Chicago affiliate. Leo Caruso gets $8,000 as sergeant-at-arms and $33,000 more as president of Local 1006. Frank Caruso Jr. is the council's assistant director of pension investments.
Bills, who grew up with Frank Jr., said that during their teen years Frank Jr. never had to pay restaurant bills in Chinatown and was served at any bar he walked into even though he was underage. ``He was like a little prince in the neighborhood,'' Bills testified.
Leo Caruso had a job sweeping streets for the city, which he would do every day for about 15 minutes, Bills said. ``Then he was free for the rest of the day until he had to check it in. We went out and did anything we wanted to, played handball, went to the pool room.''
The sway the Carusos and other reputed 26th Street Crew members had over the old 1st Ward neighborhood was so overwhelming, even Cooley seemed at a loss to explain it as he testified at the hearing.
``In that neighborhood, you had a series of these organized crime people that were constantly driving back and forth, up and down the streets,'' Cooley told hearing officer Peter Vaira.
``They were always around ... day and night. The people seemed to love these people. I mean, most of the people that lived there. There were a lot of honest, legit people that lived there, too, but ... these people were like their heroes.''
Their influence was equaled only by their brazenness. In the 1970s, unfazed by the potential for wiretaps, Frank Jr. frequently used telephones at his house or at the Hungry Hound Restaurant on 26th Street to discuss juice loans, burglaries and other mob activities, according to an FBI affidavit read into the record at the hearing.
He made half-hearted attempts to disguise the topics, using the words ``Christmas present'' or ``birthday present'' to refer to burglary loot, the affidavit said. Often, his terminology so confused the person he was talking with that he abandoned the ploy and spoke plainly, according to the affidavit.
The crew is still in operation, though its hierarchy has changed, testified James O'Rourke, a former FBI agent. Its reputed boss, John Monteleone, meets ``fairly regularly'' with Bruno Caruso at the private offices of a car dealership in Tinley Park, O'Rourke said.
The district council is expected to put its own witnesses on the stand this week. Some labor observers, however, say the parent union has no choice but to purge the affiliate's leadership.
``To me the evidence is so overwhelming--it's obvious that organized
crime controls the hierarchy of the laborers union of the city
of Chicago,'' said James McGough, Midwest representative for a
dissident faction of the union, Laborers for Justice and Democracy.
``It's a common joke among the workers. It's as well known as
the fact that the Cubs aren't going to win the World Series.''