Earlier this week, we announced the upcoming release of a book about the bribery trial that led to the 1993 conviction of former Heights mayor Charles "Chuck" Panici.
The author, Michael Volpe, touted the book as presenting "the rest of the story, so people can form their opinions on the basis of all the available facts."
Since then, Panici has spoken out against the book, saying he wants all potential readers to be aware that the book is unauthorized and could contain false information. Panici went on to note plans to release his own book about the trial.
See what else the former mayor had to say about Volpe and the book.
Despite the former mayor's objections, Volpe has agreed to release an extended excerpt from the book for Heights residents to review.
As promised, the following is the first chapter of Prosecutors Gone Wild: The Inside Story of the Trial of Chuck Panici, John Gliottoni, and Louise Marshall. The book is available to purchase on Amazon.
Chapter 1: Introduction
Right after she was sentenced to four years in a federal prison for a number of corruption related charges, Louise Marshall looked at the judge in her case, Federal Judge James Zagel, and at Chris Gair, the federal prosecutor who had just finished prosecuting her. She said, “Your honor, I would like to say that I would pray for you, Mr. Gair, and your children and your wife. I will pray for Mr. O’Malley (an FBI agent involved in her case). I don’t have any hate. I have no envy. You know yourself that I was treated wrong. You know that everything was turned around that was handled. But I wish you well and I hope that your children grow up to be the finest people in the world.”
Louise Marshall had been Water Commissioner for sixteen years in the previously very successful administration of Mayor Chuck Panici in the City of Chicago Heights from 1975-1991. She had been used as a pawn by prosecutors looking to accomplish bigger things, convicting Panici himself.
After she refused to cooperate with them and finger her boss, Chuck Panici, in a number of bribes, prosecutors charged her along with Panici and prosecuted them in the same trial. That trial also included a third defendant, John Gliottoni.
In her seventies when she began her sentence, Marshall would die only a few years after being released from federal prison. While she privately maintained her innocence, she never once made an issue of it publicly.
Sister Timothy Kirby was a nun that worked for years for the College of St. Scholastica near Minneapolis, Minnesota. In the mid 1990’s, as part of her duties, Sister Timothy made regular trips on Wednesdays and Sundays to visit the inmates that were housed at the Federal Penitentiary in Duluth, Minnesota. One inmate she met with regularly was Chuck Panici.
This was the same Chuck Panici who had once been the very powerful mayor of Chicago Heights. For sixteen years, 1975-1991, he was the enormously popular mayor of the City of Chicago Heights. During that time, as the Bloom Township Republican Committeemen from 1978-1992, he also built one of the biggest vote getting organizations in the State of Illinois. All of it tumbled down in 1992. That year, Chuck Panici was indicted for his alleged role in numerous bribes related to contracts between a number of vendors and the City of Chicago Heights. Convicted of thirteen corruption related charges in 1993, Chuck Panici was in Duluth serving out his sentence when he met Sister Timothy.
For months, Panici would painstakingly and meticulously show her hundreds of documents that led on a maze that proved his innocence. It was a maze so involved and complicated that even his lawyers couldn’t make sense of the evidence when they defended him at trial. One day Sister Timothy looked up at him after taking a look at some of these documents and said, “Charlie, you need to forgive the people that did this to you and move on.”
He looked back at Sister Timothy and said, “Sister Timothy, you’re a better person than I am. I can’t forgive and I can’t move on.”
In some ways, that’s why this eBook is out. Chuck Panici, along with his two co-defendants: Louise Marshall and John Gliottoni, were all innocent, and Chuck Panici couldn’t let it go until the whole story was told.
In this eBook, it will be proved that Chuck Panici was the target of a grand, intricate, and sweeping conspiracy in which federal prosecutors got together with desperate criminals all to manufacture evidence against Panici, where none existed before. Meanwhile, both Gliottoni and Marshall were used as little more than pawns by federal prosecutors. Federal authorities had about as much evidence against Marshall and Gliottoni as they had against Panici himself.
Beyond that this is a story of an individual from humble beginnings who rose to the top of the business, political and even sports world.
Chuck Panici’s father landed on Ellis Island with his own family literally “fresh off the boat from Italy.” They settled in the working class city of Chicago Heights. Chicago Heights is about twenty five miles south of Chicago, Illinois.
It’s located in an area referred to as the Southland, or a group of mostly working class suburbs directly south of Chicago. Panici grew up in a neighborhood called Hungry Hill. When he was born on December 26, 1930, the neighborhood was about eighty percent Italian Americans like him. It looked a lot like Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets transported from New York to the Midwest. Scorsese is of course the legendary director of such film classics like GoodFellas, Raging Bull, The Departed, and Taxi Driver.
Mean Streets was one of the first movies he’d made and largely based on its own success Scorsese was able to finance many of the early classics that would launch his career. It’s a gritty story based on a story that actually happened in the Little Italy neighborhood of New York he had grown up in. Scorsese, along with his co-writer on the screenplay Mardik Martin, drove into Little Italy and parked somewhere before commencing to write the screenplay each day.
The atmosphere in Hungry Hill, when Panici was growing up, also had many of the same clichés of the working class neighborhood presented in Mean Streets: the Mafioso, blue collar workers, brazen language, neighborhood girls, and other assorted clichés of a working class neighborhood. In fact, Volpe’s, the bar inhabited the crew of friends at the center of Mean Streets, was very similar in terms of layout, atmosphere, and crowd to Three Star, the bar owned and operated by Panici’s family.
Panici grew up in a house connected to this bar, Three Star Liquor, which his parents owned. Opened in 1932, Three Star Liquor continues to be a staple in the neighborhood to present day. (Though now under new ownership) An anchor is a term used in municipal economics. In local or neighborhood economies, an anchor is a business whose success drives the success of everything around it.
Anchors come in all shapes and sizes and have all sorts of varying effects. For instance, any professional ballpark has a monumental effect on its neighborhood. The neighborhood that surrounds Wrigley Field, for instance, is filled with an endless stream of bars catering to the needs of Cub fans coming back or going to the game.
In Hungry Hill, the anchor was Three Star Liquor. It was a gathering place for all of the neighborhoods residents. It thrived only when the neighborhood around it thrived, and vice versa.
At the time Panici was growing up, Three Star Liquors was especially well known for the Bocce court out back. Bocce is a very popular sport back in Italy, but it’s rarely played in America. Bocce is a combination of horseshoes, bags, and other such games. It’s played with a rather heavy ball and hard ball.
That Bocce Court, the only one of its kind for hundreds of miles, became a hit in the largely Italian-American neighborhood of Hungry Hill. In fact, Panici remembers hustling grocery money in Bocce when he first got married.
Interestingly enough, Hungry Hill also had another even more happening bar. It was called Svoboda’s, started by Al Svoboda in 1907. It was known for an instrument the Chicago Tribune once referred to as a Nickelodeon. Chuck Panici and his lifelong friends all went to Svoboda’s regularly. They called that same instrument a Zingaboom. That Zingaboom created a unique sound that gave it an upbeat feel. It had elements of an accordion, a keyboard, as well as a guitar. The instrument was invented by the owner of Svoboda’s himself. The bar was perfect for a night that involved plenty of drinking, dancing, and mingling with the opposite sex.
Chuck Panici’s long-time friend, Amedio Macetti, worked at Svoboda’s for years. He’s known as “Rackets” to his friends. Macetti said that some garages of homes in Hungry Hill also served as a shipping point for bootlegged liquor that would ultimately line the pockets of one Alphonse Capone.
Al Capone also just happened to be a regular at Svoboda’s. Macetti is in his nineties now. Even so, Capone’s time was before his time. Friends of Chuck Panici said that while the original proprietor, Al Svoboda, was a great owner, the bar fell apart when his kids took it over. It closed in 1987.
When Chuck Panici was growing up, Chicago Heights was also going through a renaissance. By WWII, Chicago Heights was in the Guinness Book of World Records because it had the most factories, nearly ninety, per capita. That means that it had the most factories per city resident in the world.
One such factory was located across the street from where Panici grew up. The beauty of Chicago Heights is that it’s both perfectly unique and perfectly clichéd all at once. For instance, the Heights, as the residents refer to it, has train tracks that separate the East from the West side of town. As such, someone from Chicago Heights could literally be “from the wrong side of the tracks.”
One important difference between a working class neighborhood and a wealthier neighborhood is that it’s the working class neighborhood where people build roots. That’s why Chuck Panici will live his entire life (except for about eight years when he was a guest of the Federal government) in Chicago Heights. Chicago Heights is the sort of place where people build roots and stay a while.
This means that he’s known dozens of people most of their lives. In Three Star, there still sits an amazing photo. It’s a photo of Chuck Panici and twenty eight of his friends, in front of the Bocce court at Three Star. The photo was taken in the 1950’s. It’s amazing because he could tell stories for hours about each and every person in the photo. Those stories could be the subject of their own book. Nearly all in the photo remained lifelong friends with each other.
The beauty of Chicago Heights is that it’s both perfectly clichéd and perfectly unique all at once. Panici seemed destined for a typical working class life. Only that’s also what makes Chicago Heights unique. He lived on a block on 22nd Street. His block housed about ten homes. It could be argued that he became one of the most successful politicians of all time.
In fact, an argument could be made that Chuck Panici was the single greatest RETAIL politician in the history of the United States of America. Retail politics is a form politics in which most vote getting is done face-to-face. Retail politics dominates local politics like mayoral elections.
Panici didn’t only get elected to four terms as Mayor of the City of Chicago Heights. As Bloom Township Republican Committeeman, he also backed dozens of other local candidates all throughout the Southland. None of the candidates he backed ever lost. That’s a perfect record and a very strong argument in his favor.
Meanwhile, only three doors down from where Panici was raised lived Jerry Colangelo, currently one of the most successful business people of all time. Colangelo owns most of Phoenix including at different times most of its sports teams. He owned both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Phoenix Suns at one point, and he owned smaller sports franchises like the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena Football League.
According to Chuck Panici, most recently, one investment that Colangelo has been making is a series of Bocce courts in Phoenix.
Most recently, he became the Chairman of USA Basketball. This allowed Colangelo the opportunity to recruit nearly all of the best basketball players in the world to represent the United States of America in the Olympics. Since he took over the reins, USA basketball has never lost a game including the most recent gold medal in the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
Colangelo is almost ten years younger than is Chuck Panici. As such, the first time Panici heard of Colangelo, Colangelo was “a kid from the neighborhood.” The street that Colangelo and Panici grew up on is now called Jerry Colangelo Way, and Colangelo’s boyhood home was dedicated as a city monument on June 3, 1998.
A future federal judge also lived on that same street. Two blocks from where Chuck Panici grew up, Albert Tocco also grew up. Tocco would eventually rise to be Outfit Boss (the Mafia) for areas that included Chicago Heights. Tocco would grow up to be one of the most notorious and significant criminal in the Chicago land area not named Al Capone.
What connected these four men was ambition. The ambition that drove each of these four was formed in no small way from their upbringing in Hungry Hill. Hungry Hill is a lot of things but prim and proper is not one of them. The people of Hungry Hill probably swear a bit too much. In fact, Chuck Panici said that he had some trouble getting along with Illinois Governor Jim Edgar exactly because Edgar felt that Panici swore a bit too much. Edgar served as Governor of Illinois from 1991-199. Panici described Edgar as a religious and puritanical individual that was viscerally offended by his swearing.
The men of Hungry Hill probably cheat on their wives a bit too much, drink too much, and get into too many fights. There’s also something about growing up in a working class environment that can spark some people to dream of something more, much more. It gives an individual an edge that someone that grows up in the lap of luxury doesn’t have. All four were driven in a unique way and that drive was formed in large part because they grew up in this tough working class neighborhood known as Hungry Hill.
Panici was a four term mayor, winning once 75% to 25%. He built and led one of the most powerful political organizations in the United States, the Bloom Township Republican Party.
He also successfully founded and grew a number of small businesses using new and innovative marketing techniques. Yet, he still had time to become one of four founders of Small Fry Basketball, the international basketball phenomenon that ESPN recently credited with guiding the careers of basketball powers like Isiah Thomas and Derrick Rose.
If his life had ended there, it would still be epic. Only, his life took on a whole new course starting in 1992. That year he was indicted on a number of bribery, racketeering and corruption charges. All those words are of course part of the famous federal law known as the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations or RICO Act.
In 1993, he, along with his co-defendants Louise Marshall and John Gliottoni, were falsely convicted of all these charges by federal prosecutors in the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago. Dirksen is the same place as where former Illinois governors Rod Blagojevich and George Ryan were also convicted.
So, this successful businessman, politician, and sports organizer became something no one ever wants to become, a victim. It is this conspiracy, perpetrated by federal prosecutors in cahoots with number of criminals, which is at the heart of Chuck Panici’s story.
If you look at any publicly available record, you’re likely to view Panici as a ruthless politician blood thirsty not only for power, but for money, ill begotten. Don’t believe everything you read. The real story of Chuck Panici has never been told.
It should be noted again that Chuck Panici was not found guilty alone. Along with him, his two commissioners, John Gliottoni and Louise Marshall, were also found guilty of a number of corruption related charges and both spent years in prison. The evidence against both Gliottoni and Marshall was as thin as it was against Chuck Panici, and that will be proven in this eBook.
Panici has repeatedly pointed out that he thinks that John Gliottoni is even more innocent than he.
“If it’s possible, Johnny G (Gliottoni) is even more innocent than me,” Panici has said repeatedly.
To understand the trial of Chuck Panici, John Gliottoni, and Louise Marshall one first needs to understand a quote written by self-help luminary Napoleon Hill, author of the mega best seller Think and Grow Rich. Hill once opined that our society has a poor habit of jumping to conclusions.
"No one has the right to have an opinion on any subject unless he or she has arrived at that opinion by a process of reasoning based on all the available facts connected with that subject.”
Said Hill, “Despite this fact, however, nearly everyone has opinions on nearly every subject, whether they are familiar with these subjects or have any facts connected with them or not."
The problem with the trial is that everyone was given partial information. It was as though media, the jury, and other observers, were given a puzzle to solve and only given half the pieces. The rest of the story was buried deep in all corners of the world. It never came out until now because it was locked away in a story so complicated, that critical facts were easy to miss.
Then armed with half the puzzle, each was tasked with making the judgments. The jury was tasked with deciding innocence even though they didn’t get all the pertinent information. The media was tasked with defining Panici’s public legacy and they too didn’t have all the information.
The problem of course is that perception is reality. In that courtroom, the jury perceived something quite different than what really happened, and an innocent man was found guilty. He was then portrayed as such by the media.
Tom McNamee, an editor for the Chicago Sun Times, was an example of just such a media person. He met Panici at a Dunkin’ Donuts a few years after Panici’s release from prison in 2000.
Panici offered to show McNamee all the documents that he’d gathered that he believed pointed to his innocence. McNamee refused to look at the documents he had, and instead wrote a column on April 5, 2004, based on impressions McNamee had of Panici.
“Too many witnesses said too many bad things. And he shaved so many ethical corners when he was the mayor, like taking the free cars and loading up the city payroll with pals. That stuff sinks your credibility. And when a guy makes a show of calling the shots, as Panici always did, it’s hard to believe that he had no part in the scummy dealings swirling all around him.”
In preparation for this eBook, more than one thousand documents were examined. Everything from FBI interviews, to grand jury testimony, to trial testimony, tapes, checks, other evidence, and post trials appeals.
McNamee refused to look at any of those documents, and instead made his determination based on his impressions of Chuck Panici. McNamee was not the only journalist who was offered all the evidence, refused to look at it, but still offered an opinion of Panici’s guilt. Another was Michael Drakulich, of the Southtown Star. The Southtown Star is owned by the Sun Times Inc., the same newspaper conglomerate that publishes the Chicago Sun Times.
The Southtown Star was created by the Sun Times to specifically serve the Southland. Drakulich was also offered by Panici the opportunity to view all the evidence. Drakulich declined the offer before writing an article shortly after Panici’s return from prison. Such was the general impression of all the media coverage. It assumed that Panici was guilty and was never very skeptical of the evidence against him.
The most thorough examination of this trial until now was probably done by Marge Seltzner. She wrote a five part article on the trial in 2000 for the Chicago Heights Star. In it she examined a lot of evidence that will be examined here: the check in the water pipeline deal and the gold in the landfill deal are two examples of evidence examined in that article. (Much more on both of those pieces of evidence in upcoming chapters) Still, even Seltzner stopped short of examining all the evidence. Worse yet, she was given all the pertinent documents related to the trial by Chuck Panici. Panici insisted to her that a thorough examination of all these documents would prove his innocence. Rather than examining the documents herself, Seltzner only made mention of them and suggested that Panici believed they exonerated him.
“Prior to the interview with the Star, Panici and his supporters supplied the newspaper with thousands of pages of documents they maintain would prove his innocence if only someone would take the time to read them and ask questions,” said Seltzner in that article.
If Napoleon Hill were alive today, he’d likely be scolding the Southland media for failing to practice accurate thinking. As it is, the residents of the Southland were treated to a steady diet of media coverage that assumed Panici guilty even as the media often refused to examine all the evidence before making these assertions.
The story of Chuck Panici’s trial first starts in the 1980’s when FBI agents centered on a Mafioso named Albert Tocco. Tocco allegedly ran things in and around Chicago Heights beginning in the early 1980’s. The fruits of a near decade investigation finally paid off when the feds flipped Tocco’s wife, Betty Tocco, and secured a conviction in 1990 that made sure Tocco would end up dying in a federal prison.
Federal authorities were only just beginning. As a result of that investigation, one by one the dominos from Panici’s own administration began to fall. The center of those dominos was Panici’s Finance Commissioner, Nick LoBue.
In 1990, LoBue, along with several business associates, was indicted by federal prosecutors from the US Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois. LoBue was facing a litany of federal charges including five charges that fell under Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and he was looking at the potential of the rest of his life in prison. The RICO Act is a federal law that gives federal authorities sweeping powers to arrest and prosecute members of Organized Crime.
The US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois at the time of LoBue’s indictment was Fred Foreman. Meanwhile, the Assistant US Attorney specifically assigned to LoBue’s case was Chris Gair. Both would be responsible for prosecuting LoBue. Both would also help to prosecute Panici, along with a second Assistant US Attorney named Marsha McClellan. McClellan served as the second chair prosecutor in Panici’s trial.
For ambitious prosecutors prosecuting LoBue posed a sort of professional problem. LoBue was a nobody, a wannabe, and everyone knew it. His conviction was quite warranted but would do no one much good in advancing their careers. Ending there was no ticket to advancement.
Meanwhile, criminals like LoBue wanted to avoid going to jail if at all possible. Nick LoBue wasn’t above lying to make this happen.
It’s very important to note that when LoBue was indicted Panici’s name wasn’t even mentioned in any part of that twenty five page indictment. Furthermore, accompanying the indictment was a legal document called a Santiago Proffer. A Santiago Proffer is a legal document that prosecutors sometimes submit along with an indictment to further explain an especially complicated case like this one.
That Santiago Proffer was similar in length to the indictment and Panici is again never mentioned.
By the 1992 indictment of Chuck Panici, Panici was now considered the mastermind on all the same crimes that LoBue was initially indicted for. Nick LoBue was now the government’s star witness against Chuck Panici. In exchange, most of the charges against LoBue were dropped.
How did prosecutors turn a story absent Panici to one with him at the center? It was through a conspiracy that involved corruption on a scale rarely seen. The prosecution allowed witnesses to blatantly lie. Often, prosecutors lied themselves. When they weren’t lying, prosecutors misconstrued or mischaracterized evidence. All of it left the jury with a distorted reality.
The following is just a small sample of the lies, mischaracterizations, and misleading statements of prosecutors and their witnesses during Panici’s trial. (Many names and other details will be added to all these throughout the book)
1) In the waterline bribe, the prosecution ignored a mountain of physical evidence against a number of witnesses that testified at Panici’s trial. Prosecutors ignored this evidence in order to secure their testimony against Chuck Panici and his co-defendants, John Gliottoni and Louise Marshall.
2) When testifying about the bribe associated with the cable deal, Nick LoBue repeated the phrase, “I don’t recall,” seventeen times in a row.
3) LoBue claimed that he received gold, cash, and bonds in the cable bribe only he couldn’t account for what happened to any of it.
4) In the bribe associated with the landfill deal, the prosecutors claimed there were fifty gold coins that were split up among the participants. Prosecutors still aren’t sure just how many of those coins Panici received. There was never any paper trail from those purported coins leading to Panici. Furthermore, a prosecution witness made gold coins “magically” appear in Panici’s hands.
5) In the liquor license bribe, prosecution witnesses gave varying accounts of who received what amount, how it was split up, who was approached first, and why they were approached first. As an example of the contradictions, one witness claimed the bribe was split $2,000, $1,000, and $1,000 among the three participants, while another claimed the same three participants went to Vegas one weekend and spent it all haphazardly there.
6) In an FBI interview, the FBI was caught lying when a tape recording revealed that the conversation on the recording was far different than FBI agents had claimed in their FBI 302 forms.
7) The FBI claimed that an elderly black lady walked into a Mobster’s office and demanded to be included in a bribe even though they had no evidence that she even knew this same mobster.
8) In one bribe, one participant claimed a money exchange occurred in a restaurant while another participant claimed the exact same exchange occurred in a truck.
9) In the water pipeline bribe, the individuals that admitted to paying the bribe said they only paid $55,000 in bribe money, while Nick LoBue, who claimed to receive the bribe, said he received $100,000 in bribe money.
10) Nick LoBue once claimed that Chuck Panici accompanied him when LoBue was visiting the former Mob Boss of Chicago Heights, Al Pilotto, in prison. He claimed the two of them, LoBue and Panici, went to Minnesota. When testifying, however, LoBue said he couldn’t remember what airline they took, what hotel they stayed at, nor could he provide receipts verifying the hotel and airline. Furthermore, he claimed that Panici stayed in the hotel when LoBue actually visited Pilotto. As such, Pilotto, by this story, wouldn’t have seen Panici.
11) When he was interviewed by the FBI, Ralph Galderio claimed that he once received some gold from Chuck Panici on Galderio’s birthday. When he testified at trial, he said he couldn’t recall when that same incident occurred.
12) Ralph Galderio would claim that he exchanged bribe money with Chuck Panici on a number of occasions at Panici’s trial, but in his initial FBI interview, Galderio said that Panici was “clean as a whistle”.
13) Months before claiming that he exchanged money with Chuck Panici ONE TIME, Donald Prisco wrote a letter to his brother-in-law from prison in which he suggested that federal prosecutors were threatening him with several more years in prison unless he served up Chuck Panici.
14) Nick LoBue replied “I don’t recall” more than eight hundred times during his testimony.
15) “I don’t recall” was repeated more than one thousand times by all the witnesses that testified for the prosecution.
While a close examination of the evidence can point this out, defense attorneys often missed these contradictions and didn’t point many of them out to the jury. More specifically, Panici’s attorney, John Armellino, only spent an hour for his closing argument. The trial itself went for three weeks.
Panici was convicted on thirteen counts and in each and every count there was corruption, however the corruption was not always easy to see. That’s one reason for the eBook, to point this out and correct the official record.
To top it off, prosecutors also had a habit of acting with duplicity. Chris Gair once said of his star witness, Nick LoBue, “he lied his entire adult life,” and called him, “strikingly corrupt.” Yet, Gair said LoBue was the primary witness against Panici and the center piece of the case.
Gair showed a stunning amount of chutzpah towards the idea of immunity. Immunity is the ability for a witness to admit to all sorts of wrongdoing without facing any punishment.
Along with his prosecution team, Gair gave nearly every single witness who testified at Panici’s trial some sort of a deal. Some he gave immunity, others were given a plea deal, and others were simply promised they wouldn’t be prosecuted.
Years after this trial, Gair became a defense attorney. He ended up defending a former Chicago City Treasurer named Miriam Santos in a high profile trial. For a story related to that trial, the Sun Times quoted Gair saying that those receiving immunity couldn’t be trusted.
“Gair said Henry got immunity for his testimony and can't be trusted," read the pertinent portion of the article.
Gair couldn’t corroborate anything that LoBue said because there was no paper trail that connecting Panici to any wrongdoing. After examining years of tax returns, bank statements, and other records, prosecutors had to admit that on paper, Chuck Panici was entirely clean. The same held true of Gliottoni and Marshall.
With no paper trail, federal authorities set out to compile an overwhelming amount of witnesses willing to claim that Panici masterminded the conspiracy of bribes and that each witness exchanged money with Panici on at least one occasion. Many of these same witnesses would also say that they occasionally exchanged money with John Gliottoni and Louise Marshall on some though not all the crime.
One curious pattern that formed was how often witnesses would come out of the wood work to claim they exchanged money with Panici on a bribe JUST ONE TIME.
Most of those approached by federal authorities, didn’t take the bait. They declined to help the feds because, after all, they never witnessed what the feds wanted them to witness. As the old saying goes, if you throw enough shit at the wall, some will stick.
After approaching as many as thirty people, the feds were able to recruit Nick LoBue, Ralph Galderio, and Donald Prisco, to take the stand and claim to exchanging money with Panici, and thus inserting Chuck Panici into these bribes. Ralph Galderio was Chuck Panici’s life-long friend and Donald Prisco was his political ally, and thus both became compelling witnesses. Federal prosecutors attempted to recruit both Marshall and Gliottoni only they refused to testify against Panici.
With people’s freedoms in their hands, the feds were in position to squeeze. There’s nothing more valuable in this world than your freedom and that’s what prosecutors offered almost everyone in exchange for testifying at Chuck Panici’s trial. Even so, most of those that testified at Panici’s trial didn’t implicate him in anything directly. Often, they were called only to establish certain elements of crimes prosecutors would claim in different parts of the trial that Chuck Panici was also involved in. Directly connecting Panici was left to Prisco, Galderio, and most of all, LoBue.
The stage was set for a carefully orchestrated farce. Built on a series of lies, the prosecution built a case that looked easy to believe. After all, why would three people say they exchanged bribe money or other valuables with Panici if it wasn’t true?
To an average outsider, it all made sense. Chicago Heights had a history of corruption almost as old as the name itself. Panici was an Italian-American all powerful politician, the poster child for political corruption. He admitted to not only knowing Mob boss Albert Tocco, but to Tocco’s company doing business with the city.
No one was going to believe he knew the mobster, and did business with him, but that everything was on the up and up.
The trial of Chuck Panici was a three dimensional puzzle but everyone was looking at it as though it was only two dimensional. As such, everyone missed the real story hidden in this very complicated story.
1) For instance, in the water line deal, the bribe went from $50,000 to $100,000 and back to $50,000, before all the witnesses were done telling their stories.
2) On a number of occasions, a witness would claim that Panici gave them money and/or gold, only no other witness was put forward to put said money and/or gold in Panici’s hands. It’s as though the money magically appeared in his hands, and subsequently disappeared when it was time to investigate a paper trail.
3) In more than one crime, prosecutors presented a complex conspiracy involving as many as five participants. Somehow, only LoBue, among all the conspirators, also knew that Chuck Panici was involved.
All of these contradictions and errors would be difficult to explain in any other case. In this case, they can easily be overlooked because this case is among the most complicated in the history of jurisprudence.
The jury, a collection of twelve people with no jury duty experience, could hardly be expected to notice subtle discrepancies in a story that threads twelve separate, though loosely related, crimes.
Of course, in some cases, the discrepancies weren’t so subtle. In one case, Nick LoBue claimed that a money exchange occurred in a truck while his counterpart in the exchange, his cousin Rod Costello, claimed the same event happened in a restaurant named Michael’s Restaurant. Are we to believe that anything besides blatantly lying could explain the discrepancy? Panici was found guilty nonetheless in relation to this particular crime. There will be much more on this in Chapter 7.
Panici’s conviction thoroughly damaged his legacy. He brought Chicago Heights Lake Michigan water. He annexed a Ford Motor on the outskirts of town. In so doing, Chicago Heights collects about in yearly in tax revenue from that plant. He’s the lifelong friend of entrepreneur Jerry Colangelo, but very few will remember that.
On September 22, 2010, The USA Today, following a six month investigation, wrote an above the fold front page feature for its weekend edition entitled Prosecutors’ Conduct Can Tip Scales of Justice. It investigated hundreds of cases similar to Panici’s where prosecutors recruited informants to testify in cases that had little evidence besides their testimony.
One of the cases featured shared an especially striking amount of similarities with that of Panici’s. It was a story about a Florida businessman named Nino Lyons where he owned clothing stores and nightclubs. He was charged with a number of drug trafficking related offenses in 2001. Prosecutors put on witness after witness to claim they made drug exchanges with Lyons. One even claimed that Lyons had asked him to kill to rival drug dealers. The prosecution could put on no physical evidence to tie Lyons to anything but the purported eye witnesses were overwhelming and he was convicted.
As it turned out, all the witnesses were given deals by prosecutors and each was making their testimony up in order to secure the deal. The story explained that prosecutors made sure that the jury didn’t hear all the facts, and that is misconduct led to Lyon’s false conviction.
“But the federal prosecutors handling the case did not let the jury hear all the facts.
“Instead, the prosecutors covered up evidence that could have discredited many of Lyons' accusers. They never revealed that a convict who claimed to have purchased hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Lyons struggled even to identify his photograph. And they hid the fact that prosecutors had promised to let others out of prison early in exchange for their cooperation.”
In that story, Lyon is quoted as telling the USA Today, “If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.” So is the case of Chuck Panici.