Death for ‘Little Lenny’
On February 10, 1985, Leonard M. Yaras, age 44, left his office inside A-1 Industrial Uniforms Co., located at 4224 West Division Street on Chicago’s Near Northwest Side. He walked over to his car, parked next to the curb out front. He was at ease as he slid into the front seat behind the steering wheel.
That’s when his world went topsy-turvy. A car pulled up next to his, two masked gunmen jumped out, and he was killed in a hail of bullets. Shot a total of eleven times, four of the slugs hit his face, head, and neck.
The killers jumped into a stolen car driven by a getaway driver and fled. The car was found torched in an alley a little less than two miles west of the murder scene.
Lenny Yaras was closely allied to Joseph “Caesar” DiVarco, boss of the Rush Street crew. However, the previous day, DiVarco was convicted in a federal gambling case. Law enforcement sources believed Yaras had taken over some of DiVarco’s duties in the gambling business in light of his mounting legal troubles.
Rumor was that the Outfit blamed Yaras for DiVarco’s conviction.
Yaras’ services in the mob went back at least 20 years.
He was a member of an Outfit crew based out of the Rogers Park neighborhood on Chicago’s Far North Side. The Rogers Park crew was led by notorious Jewish gangster Leonard (Lenny) Patrick, who was 71 years old at the time of his underling’s untimely demise. This close association inevitably led other mobsters to refer to Yaras as “Little Lenny,” in an effort to distinguish him from his same-name superior.
Lenny Patrick had known Lenny Yaras since the younger hood was a little kid. He met him through his father, David (Davey) Yaras.
Davey Yaras had been Patrick’s crime partner going back to the early 1940s. The pair committed a handful of mob hits together in the 1940s and ’50s before Yaras moved to Miami and became the Outfit’s point man there.
When the elder Yaras died in 1974, the FBI was notified by way of informants that his son inherited his business holdings, including his interests at A-1 Industrial Uniforms. Lenny Yaras had served as president of A-1 since the mid-1960s. Despite a change in ownership, he still allegedly held an interest in that business.
By the early 1980s, Yaras had risen up the ranks under Patrick’s tutelage. He functioned as Patrick’s number-two man. He ran a lucrative bookmaking network out of Rogers Park. People in the know began to recognize him as an Outfit player. He had finally stepped out of his father’s shadow.
In addition to his duties for Patrick, Yaras was in charge of collecting street taxes from Jewish bookmakers on Chicago’s North Side and in the northern suburbs. He was acting in this capacity on behalf of Vincent “Vince Innocence” Solano Sr., the Outfit’s North Side boss, and Caesar DiVarco, who ran the Rush Street crew for Solano.
Although Lenny Patrick and his crew worked closely with North Side boss Vince Solano, they officially answered to the Outfit’s chief political fixer, Gus “Slim” Alex, whose operations were based out of the downtown Loop.
Patrick had been put “with” Alex back in the mid-1950s by none other than Outfit powerhouse Momo Salvatore “Sam” Giancana, the Outfit’s top boss from 1957 to 1966. From that point on, Patrick reported to Alex for more than 30 years, until the end of their underworld careers.
The relationship between Lenny Patrick and Gus Alex ended in the early 1990s. Charged in a racketeering case with Alex, the once-loyal Patrick, who’d previously tape-recorded a conversation with Alex about extortion payments for government agents, signed on as a star cooperating witness and testified against Alex at his 1992 trial.
Now, back to Lenny Yaras’ murder.
The reason some felt he was hit over Caesar DiVarco’s downfall was due to the fact that DiVarco’s gambling case started after the Chicago Police Department’s Vice Control Division trailed him to a golf outing with two of DiVarco’s bookmaking chiefs: Marshall “Mendy” Portnoy and Warren Winkler.
Continued surveillance on Portnoy literally led right to DiVarco’s doorstep. Federal agents observed Portnoy arrive every week during football season at DiVarco’s home with gambling records under his arm to watch Monday Night Football on ABC. This led to raids, indictments, and convictions.
Later that year, David M. “Red” O’Malley, an ex-cop turn mobster charged with the murder of Yaras, was acquitted at a bench trial. Thomas Maloney, the jurist presiding over the murder case, issued his verdict on November 25, 1985. He found O’Malley’s identification by witnesses “unconvincing” and acquitted him.
(It’s worth nothing that Maloney, since deceased, was convicted of fixing three murder trials in 1993 and sent to federal prison. Most trial lawyers also recommend jury trials over bench trials since it is easier to convince one of twelve people of innocence or reasonable doubt rather than just one judge.)
At the time of his acquittal, Red O’Malley had just begun serving 10 years in federal prison. He’d been convicted months earlier on racketeering and extortion charges in a case involving members of the Cicero crew, namely Robert M. (Bobby) Salerno, John “Johnny the Bookie” Manzella, and Mario Garelli.
Despite the rumors, investigators denied that Yaras was hit for providing information leading to Caesar DiVarco’s downfall. They believed it was just a coincidence that he was killed a day after DiVarco was taken off the street for good.
Other rumors and theories persisted.
One had it that Grand Avenue crew boss Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo sent two of his enforcers to take over Yaras’ lucrative bookmaking operations. After he resisted the takeover, the contract was issued.
That scenario seems unlikely.
Joey Lombardo was then serving time in federal prison and facing another federal racketeering trial. It’s hard to fathom that he would have been trying to take over Yaras’ bookmaking operation while stewing in a cell in federal prison with more legal troubles.
More than that, however, is the fact that there was virtually no way Lombardo would have been allowed by the other Outfit bosses to order members of his West Side-based crew to take over gambling turf in Vince Solano’s territory on the North Side.
Law enforcement sources believed Lombardo was still calling some of the shots in his crew through an acting crew leader. Had he issued an order to invade another crew’s territory, he would have almost certainly been demoted and stripped of his crew.
That never happened.
Another had it that rising Outfit power Joseph “Joe Nick” Ferriola, the head of Outfit operations in Cicero who served as the Outfit’s top boss from 1986 to 1989, requested and ordered the murder.
The reason: Yaras was allegedly skimming from gambling collections.
In support of the Ferriola angle, note the following:
:: Yaras was associated in the bookmaking business with gambling bosses Donald J. “The Wizard of Odds” Angelini and Dominic “Large” Cortina, top members of Ferriola’s crew.
:: Yaras was reportedly bickering with another bookmaking operation headed by brothers Joseph and Larry Pettit, also part of Ferriola’s extended gambling network. Investigators learned Joseph Pettit actually took over Yaras’ bookmaking action upon his death.
:: Red O’Malley, one of Yaras’ alleged but acquitted killers, was hooked up with the Cicero crew.
Who for sure was responsible for rubbing out Yaras, and why?
The short answer: Only the Outfit knows.
Copyright © 2010, 2011 | J.P. Rich Off The Cuff. All rights reserved.
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