Sunday, August 29, 2010

Witness to murder

BY J.P. RICH Off The Cuff/

Related Post: Did you know . . .

“If you bring a weapon to a fight, be prepared to kill the guy . . . if you don’t, you’ll have an enemy for the rest of your life.”

The above quote is attributed to Outfit gambling boss Ken Eto. It was something he told his son.

In spite of that, he wasn’t an exceedingly violent man, at least by Outfit standards.

He was no Angelo LaPietra. He wasn’t a sadistic killer who hung up his victims on meat hooks while he tortured them to death.

That didn’t mean he was a choir boy, either.

He had a temper. He was not a stranger to fights. At only 5-foot-5, perhaps he was stricken with a short man’s complex.

His temper got the best of him while taking care of some Outfit business in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in late Spring 1962. His wife tagged along for the trip. They stayed at the Caribe Hilton, one of Puerto Rico’s most luxurious resort hotels.

He woke up one evening and discovered his wife was not in their room. He made his way downstairs and spotted her talking to another man. He marched over to confront them.

There was a heated argument between the three of them. It ended when Eto started a fistfight with the man.

After the fight, he was confronted by the hotel staff. He told them to mind their own business, grabbed his wife, and led her back upstairs to their room.

But Ken Eto had darker secrets than quarreling with tourists in the Caribbean. He had the kind of secrets that made someone a trusted player in Outfit circles. Simply put, he had blood on his hands.

His life in the Outfit came to an end one night in 1983. He was shot three times in the back of the head in his own car and miraculously survived due to faulty weaponry.

He was confronted in his hospital room by FBI Special Agent William Brown and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeremy Margolis.

He knew what they wanted.

“I won’t [cooperate]. I’d rather they come and hit me again. You understand what I mean?”

“ . . . You owe them nothing now,” Brown countered.

“I realize that, but it is still against a principle of mine . . . ”

“Just give us the . . . name[s] . . . [of] the people you were with when you got shot . . . ”

“With immunity?” Eto asked.

“With immunity,” Margolis agreed. “ . . . [T]wo conditions: You tell the one-hundred-percent truth and you answer every question fully and completely.”

Soon, Edward Hegarty, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Chicago Office, was summoned to Eto’s room, where his frightened family was huddled. He’d already broken the news to them that he was going to cooperate.

“This is the only recourse that they have left me,” he said.

Eto was now a cooperating witness against the mob.

As his first matter of business as a cooperator, he made a detailed, tape-recorded statement about what happened to him that night. How he was set up and shot three times in the back of the head.

He would eventually confess to his part in four mob hits between 1958 and 1967. “I guess you could say I fingered them and set them up,” he later said.

All four slayings were connected to the Puerto Rican bolita racket he had been placed in charge of running for the Outfit in the late 1950s.

Victim No. 1 was killed in February 1958 during the mob’s initial drive to take over bolita.

Santiago Gonzalez ran bolita on Chicago’s Northwest Side. He didn’t want anything to do with the mob. He balked at the Outfit’s request to infiltrate his business. He told the Outfit to take a hike. He wasn’t going to cut them in on his action. He feared they would eventually take over all of his business.

Eto knew Gonzalez and tried to talk some sense into him at the man’s Northwest Side headquarters. Eto took along several other Outfit guys when he went to meet with Gonzalez.

When they arrived outside Gonzalez’s headquarters in a car, Puerto Rican gang members surrounded the car. One of them beat on the car with a metal pipe until Eto and the three men with him were forced to peel out down the street to safety.

For the Outfit, that was the last straw. A contract was issued on Gonzalez’s life. Vicious mob enforcer Angelo LaPietra, who was one of Eto’s earliest Outfit contacts, was tapped to take care of it.

Eto was ordered to set up Gonzalez, along with John Fecarotta, a LaPietra flunky known as “Big John.” (Fecarotta later admitted he had a 25-year business relationship with Eto between 1958 and 1983.)

Eto and Fecarotta lured the defiant bolita operator to a meeting in an industrial area. As soon as Gonzalez was within their grasp, Angelo LaPietra and his brother, James “Jimmy the Lapper” LaPietra, snatched him. He was brutally beaten, slashed, stabbed, and gutted so severely his intestines spilled out of his body.

The murder of Santiago Gonzalez would serve as an example to other bolita operators who didn’t want to play ball with the mob. His mutilated body was found in a parking lot on February 2, 1958.

Victim No. 2 was a man Eto only remembered later as “Padone.” He was a small-time North Side player. He made the mistake of trying to seduce the wife of Cruz Pinzon, one of Eto’s chief bolita operators. She turned down his advances, so he slapped her around.

Naturally, Pinzon was upset. He took his beef with Padone to Eto, who met with his benefactor: Ross Prio, the Outfit boss of Chicago’s North Side.

At the meeting, Eto told Prio what happened. Prio asked Eto for the address and telephone number of Padone. Eto provided it.

“I’ll get back to you,” Prio said.

But Prio never got back to Eto. He didn’t have to get back to him. Eto heard about Padone being shot to death. He knew exactly why he was killed.

Old-school gangster Ross Prio didn’t let anyone mess with business. No one interfered with the bottom line: the flow of money. Padone’s pathetic and unforgiving actions upset Pinzon — who was making a lot of money for Prio and the Outfit — so Padone had to go.

Victim No. 3 occurred in August 1962. Edward (Eddie) Robinson, an African-American bolita operator from the West Side, refused to go along with the program by either working with the mob or paying a street tax, so he was marked for death.

According to Eto, the killers of Eddie Robinson were Outfit members Vincent “Vinny the Saint” Inserro and Joseph “Joe Shine” Amabile. Eto was again tasked to set up the victim. He did just that.

On August 7, Robinson was shot to death and his body disposed of.

Days after he disappeared, Robinson’s family filed a missing-person report on him with the Chicago Police Department. An alert was issued for his car, which was found abandoned in North Lawndale. However, his body was never found.

Victim No. 4 was killed in November 1967.

Eugenio Lopez, alias James Crizell, was yet another bolita operator who got on the Outfit’s bad side. He rebelled against the Outfit’s control of bolita on the North Side.

His rebellion was short-lived.

Ross Prio wanted to nip this problem in the bud before it bloomed and other Puerto Rican bolita operators got the same idea as Lopez — that they could defy the mob and live.

Eto was ordered to lure Lopez to a building on the Near North Side.

Vinny Inserro was waiting for Eto and Lopez with two members of the Rush Street crew — the same crew Eto was a part of. The three men overpowered Lopez and strangled him to death.

Author’s Note: A search to identify the identity of “Padone” was exhausted.

Copyright © 2010, 2011 | J.P. Rich Off The Cuff. All rights reserved.

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