Skip to comments.Chicago Heights mob boss Albert Tocco dies in prison
Posted on 09/25/2005 3:25:15 PM PDT by Chi-townChief
The way Albert Caesar Tocco was tried and convicted of racketeering and extortion the way his jurors remained nameless for safety's sake and the way his wife sang her heart out from the witness stand were the stuff of Chicago mafia legend.
His motto should have read "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's," because this ferocious south suburban mob boss demanded a cut from every vice operator south of 95th Street. His Chicago Heights-based empire shaking down gambling and prostitution houses and chop shops stretched from Calumet City south to Kankakee, from Joliet over the Indiana border to Valparaiso.
Tocco died Wednesday morning in prison at age 77.
His iron-fisted reign and fierce reputation for showing no mercy throughout the Southland mimicked Caesar's. He was the kingpin who needed to be taken first before a cleanup of Chicago Heights crime and politics could follow, said those who followed his infamous career.
"Just the way he looked at you, just the way he talked to you was scary," said retired FBI agent Bob Pecoraro.
Pecoraro's colleague Wayne Zydron added, "Once he was put away, the element of fear was gone, and we had a lot of people cooperate with us."
And so Tocco fell.
As part of a 1980s federal roundup of Southland mobsters, Tocco was arrested in Greece and convicted in a downtown Chicago federal courtroom.
The longtime chief of the Chicago Heights street crew died a natural death Sept. 21 in a Terra Haute, Ind., prison, 15 years into his 200-year sentence. He suffered a stroke.
Some said he never afforded the luxury of a peaceful death to his adversaries. While never convicted of murder, Tocco was linked to several brutal killings.
His wife, Betty, testified that in 1986 she picked him up at the Indiana burial site of the Spilotro brothers after three accused codefendants split, leaving him without a getaway car.
He also was tied to the shootings of a Will County hitman and wife, Billy and Charlotte Dauber; "scofflaws" Dino Valente and August Maniaci, mob enforcer Sam Annerino, and two competing salvage yard owners, Steve Ostrowski and Richard Ferraro.
A generous guy
But that was business. Tocco also paid the boy who cut his grass $50 and donated generously to churches and charities, said Marge Seltzner, Star newspaper managing editor, who has written a book about covering organized crime in Chicago Heights.
One day, he donned a Groucho Marx-style nose and glasses and cooked sausages in the plate-glass window of a local lunch joint he bought into, she said. People lined up outside the door, funeral-style, to watch the charade and eat, while the FBI shot photos from across the street, Seltzner said.
"To his friends, and as long as you didn't cross him, he was a nice guy," said retired IRS special agent Phil DiPasquale, who worked undercover in Tocco's operations for two years as a gambler.
Outside a tight circle of childhood friends and associates, Tocco couldn't be sure who to trust.
"A couple of times, he bought me breakfast; other times he looked at me cold," said DiPasquale, who would run into Tocco at the old Over Easy restaurant.
He trusted his wife enough to telephone her "hysterical," spilling details about his role in the Spilotro murders. He would lavish her with furs and clothes, and emptied out several bank accounts for her and their son before skipping town.
But Betty Tocco flipped on her husband anyway and told the feds all about his business before entering federal witness protection.
"She became my confidential source," Pecoraro said. "She was terrified of him. He threatened her all the time." Tocco allegedly told his wife if she divorced him, she'd never live to talk about it, Pecoraro said. Others claimed she wanted the millions he had stashed away and needed him out of the way to access the money.
Regardless, the testimony worked in putting her husband away for 200 years. He already had beat a gambling case, in which DiPasquale said his gang took the fall for him.
Tocco was born Aug. 9, 1929, in the part of Chicago Heights' south side known as Hungry Hill. The poor Italian immigrants there were known as "the hungries" as they trudged off to work towing meager lunches in boxes.
Tocco attended local Bloom Township schools, but by age 11, he was skipping school to swipe goodies from dime stores. He grabbed the attention of the local crime syndicate while still a young man. Starting as a sports bookie, he worked his way up over 30 years, first to become crown prince, and then to succeed his elderly mentor, Al Pilotto, as the south region's boss. He would make a home at 2314 W. 207th St.
A waste disposal business in town provided ample cover, and hefty bribes kept many city politicos looking the other way when Tocco collected his $500 "street taxes" from gambling and prostitution dens, and the chop shops.
The feds busted Tocco in Greece in 1988 a week before his 48-count indictment was announced. Federal agents, who knew he left the country under his own name, trailed his then-7-year-old son, Michael, through Florida, and nabbed the father in the Athens airport. His sleek dark hair had been dyed red.
"The trickster has been tricked," Tocco reportedly said, tossing a wad of Greek currency into the air. A three-month-long global manhunt was over, said Pecoraro, who was on the plane home.
Tocco was especially chatty during the ride, Pecoraro said.
Later that night he'd tell an agent in the car, "If you guys want to get the criminals, go to Chicago Heights City Hall."
Once the mobsters were rounded up, the feds would do just that. Political convictions followed in a matter of time.
The mafia hold seemed to ebb after Tocco's prosecution and sentencing. Dominick "Tootsie" Palermo briefly filled in as boss, but quickly was indicted and sentenced to 32 years in prison. He also died behind bars.
"They haven't had anybody take (Tocco's) place since he went away," Pecoraro said.
Or maybe the spotlight Tocco attracted onto the underworld pushed it far underground, Seltzner said.
"Tocco brought the mob profile really high, and the oldtime mobsters didn't like it," she said.
Tocco had served some time in California, Oklahoma and Kansas, where he received medical treatment. He had been in Terra Haute since February, Bureau of Prisons spokesman Mike Truman said.
That's where Tocco died at 9:50 a.m. Wednesday. Natural causes did him in; he had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke, Vigo County coroner Dr. Roland Kohr said.
"May he rest in peace," said Angelo Ciambrone, who took over as Chicago Heights' mayor after most of the political smoke cleared.
Ciambrone would only wax poetic that death knows no boss.
"You can be the most powerful person in the world, the toughest of the tough, but when it comes, it comes," he said.
Funeral arrangements by Panozzo Brothers in Chicago Heights, (708) 481-9230, are still pending.
Please, he should have been executed, and the wife too.
They don't make 'em like they used to.
That's why they call it Divorce Italian Style.
Hey Tomkow hear of this dude
It's kind of funny that, in this situation, Mayor Ciambrone doesn't realize that the less said, the better.
He was a short stocky tough guy with a big mouth, IMO.
I grew up in South Chicago Heights but heard about Tocco.
(how could you not?) My town was full of some interesting charcters also. I heard a few years after I had moved out of S. Heights that the Mayor and the majority of the police force were arrested for racketeering.
I will say it was pretty interesting growing up during that time.
Yeah - for years after high school, we'd always have reunions (those of us of Italian extraction, anyhow) the Friday night after Thanksgiving at Kilo's Three Star on E. 22nd on The Hill. One time, I think it was '74 or '75, Panici comes in, buys us all drinks, and says he's running for mayor. So, like idiots, we all vote for him. Live and learn, I guess. I still have some friends who live in South Heights and Steger, by the way.
Now don't you go disrespecting the ping!
Te mob is alive and well, that is a fact!
Perhaps we should only speak good of the dead.
Albert Tocco is dead. Good.
Yup. As this shows when the government set about to take down the mob, the mob simply took over the government.
albert tacco was a good man and he was love and respected by many people, he help anyone that ask for his help,some of the same people he helped are the ones that crusiffied him and convicted him on false allegations, the real criminals are the corupt FBI wich is used by the corupt politicians to do their durty work, special the ones from steger ill. led by police chief porky. albert was my friend may god keep him. from louie the greek and the little derby
“...albert was my friend may god keep him...”
Well louie, i had to look back at this thread, not sure why I was so mean to your friend (and his rat wife).
But, he was your friend, and anyone can have a friend, so RIP Albert and best wishes to you, louie.
Still not cool with the wife, however.
So he murdered people. Big deal.
Right about now Satan is opening up his soul with a rusty pair of pliers and I find that fact comforting somehow.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.