The first public officials will go before a federal grand jury today in an unfolding Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service investigation of possible organized crime links to judges and politicians in Chicago's downtown First Ward, where much of the city's reputation for crime, commerce and corruption is rooted.
The investigation appears to represent one of the government's deepest penetrations into the well-guarded political back rooms of some of Chicago's legendary power brokers. Bribery in the fixing of court and zoning cases, extortion and tax fraud are among the crimes reportedly being probed.
"This could very well be the biggest thing we'll see to come down the pike in regard to the First Ward and organized crime," said John J. Jemilo, executive director of the Chicago Crime Commission and former Chicago deputy police superintendent.
One of Chicago's 50 City Council districts, the First Ward is host to diverse institutions ranging from City Hall and the Sears Tower to Chinatown and Soldier Field, home turf of the Chicago Bears. The Loop business district is in the First Ward and so too is the financial district. Prohibition era gangster Al Capone had his headquarters in the ward, which was once a center for gambling houses and brothels.
"The perception is that there is a tie between some politicians and organized crime members," said Jemilo, "and the perception is even more so when one talks about the First Ward."
Like many of the Justice Department's elaborate undercover investigations of corruption in government and the commodities industry here, this probe is populated by colorful characters and cloaked with intrigue. There are double agents, hidden cameras and concealed microphones.
Among those subpoenaed to appear today are Fred Roti, an affable Peter Lorre look-alike who represents the First Ward on the City Council, and Pat Marcy, an insurance agency owner and chief aide to Democratic Committee member and ward boss John D'Arco. The grand jury's first round of subpoenas also asked for records of cases heard by at least five judges and two former judges.
D'Arco, a one-time vegetable vendor, is the former First Ward city councilman who abruptly retired from the City Council 27 years ago after an unfortunate encounter with an FBI agent. D'Arco was in a restaurant with the late Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana when the agent walked by, stuck out his hand and said, "Good afternoon to you, John," raising the impression that D'Arco might be a government contact. According to author Ovid Demaris, D'Arco, unable to control a politician's instincts, reached out and shook the agent's hand. He checked into a hospital the next day, reportedly for his own safety, and quit the City Council the next week.
The current councilman, Roti, is the son of Bruno (The Bomber) Roti, who columnist Mike Royko reports was the leader of the so-called "Black Hand" organization. Royko describes the group as "sort of a collection agency. Either they collected or you blew up."
Marcy, a downtown political power for decades although he has not held public office, is generally believed to be the person in charge of the First Ward. He changed his name from Pasqualino Marchone after he served a prison term for robbery in the 1930s.
Much of the initial evidence was gathered by lawyer Robert Cooley, who for three years simultaneously worked openly for First Ward politicians and surreptitiously for the federal government's Organized Crime Strike Force.
Cooley, described as a fast talking gambler with an uncanny ability to win difficult court cases, is the son of a repeatedly decorated Chicago policeman and the brother of a Roman Catholic priest. For years he reportedly carried out a variety of tasks for local politicians before turning government informant and agreeing to wear a hidden tape recorder.
He reportedly told his family of his role in the case on Thanksgiving and vanished last week as word of the spreading investigation became public. The Chicago Tribune Tuesday reported that Cooley called friends this week to tell them they would never see him again and to say goodby.
The first hint that a major investigation was under way came last July, when a restaurant worker accidentally discovered a video camera hidden in the hollow back of a booth in Counsellors Row across the street from City Hall. The hidden camera was aimed at booth one, routinely reserved for First Ward politicians and their friends. Wires from the camera and from hidden microphones were traced to office space upstairs of the restaurant. The FBI retrieved the camera, claiming it was government equipment.
Cooley reportedly supplied the government with sufficient information to allow them to get court approval for the surreptitious video taping and recording.