Banker mute at casino hearings
Emerald investor declines to testify
By John Chase
Tribune staff reporter
Published June 7, 2005
The chairman of a local bank repeatedly declined to testify Monday about his role in secretly splitting up an investment in the now-defunct Emerald Casino with at least one man the FBI has claimed associated with members of organized crime.
For nearly 90 minutes, Rocco Suspenzi, chairman of Parkway Bank and Trust, exercised his 5th Amendment right during Illinois Gaming Board hearings at which gambling regulators are trying to strip the riverboat license from the bankrupt casino firm.
Gaming Board attorneys asked Suspenzi scores of questions about the agreement to divide up an investment in Emerald, all of which he declined to answer. At one point, he even would not say where he lived or confirm his job as head of Parkway Bank, based in Harwood Heights.
It is against Illinois law to have a hidden ownership in a casino, and revealing the secret deal is a significant part of the state's case that the Gaming Board was correct in 2001 when it blocked Emerald's efforts to build a casino in Rosemont. What's more, the deal--made public by the Tribune two years ago--also tries to link investors to Emerald and the mob.
Gaming Board attorneys have staked their case on tying elements of organized crime to some investors in Emerald, as well as proving allegations that casino officials misled gambling regulators years ago while the casino was trying to move its riverboat from the Galena area.
Attorneys for the state also are questioning how involved officials in Rosemont, including its longtime Mayor Donald Stephens, were in the efforts to move the riverboat license to the suburb and whether any of that involvement was improper. Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan has accused Stephens of once having extensive business and personal ties to mobsters, an accusation Stephens has denied.
Emerald attorney Robert Clifford, though, argues that it is wrong for the state to try to discredit Emerald by raising questions about Rosemont.
"This is not and should not be a hearing on the suitability of the Village of Rosemont," he said.
As part of the Gaming Board's case, Asst. Atty. Gen. Paul Gaynor presented the secret contract, signed in September 1999, in which named Emerald investor Joseph Salamone agreed to divide his $375,000 share in the casino with his brother Vito Salamone; Suspenzi; Suspenzi's son, Jeffrey; and Suspenzi Family Corp.
A preliminary FBI report presented earlier in the case stated that Vito Salamone has associated with members of the mob.
Gaming Board officials were unaware of the deal in 1999, and Gaynor at one point asked Rocco Suspenzi if Joseph Salamone was a "front" for the investment group. Suspenzi declined to answer. Copies of checks submitted into evidence showed three checks totaling $125,000 were written from accounts held by Rocco and Jeffrey Suspenzi, as well as the family corporation, to Vito Salamone, even though Joseph Salamone was the investor of record.
In trying to tie Parkway Bank to Rosemont and Stephens, Gaynor also asked Rocco Suspenzi about tens of thousands of dollars in contributions and loans made from the bank to several political funds controlled by Stephens and his relatives.
Afterwards, Abner Mikva, the former U.S. Court of Appeals chief judge and congressman overseeing the hearing, described the "non-testimony" of Rocco Suspenzi as "seriously damaging."
Vito and Joseph Salamone, as well as Jeffrey Suspenzi, were called to testify Monday, but they did not show up. If they don't attend again, the state could try to force them through a court order.
After Tuesday, however, hearings are expected to be on hold until mid-July to accommodate scheduling conflicts between the lawyers and Mikva. So the men are unlikely to be called until mid-July. Mikva wants to finish the proceedings by September.
Clifford unsuccessfully sought to end the hearing because he said the line of questioning was prejudicial and criticized it as doing nothing more than creating "sensationalistic news."
Though Clifford didn't dispute that the state seemed to have proven that a hidden ownership existed, he said the $375,000 investment accounted for only one-quarter of one share in Emerald. And he said Emerald officials would have had no way of knowing about the secret deal, especially since the Gaming Board didn't find out about it until 2003 when the information was part of a federal subpoena asking for any documents it had related to the deal.
"That was hidden ownership," Clifford said. "I don't have a quarrel with that. ... [But] you're telling me that the Emerald Casino people had the ability to go out and get that same document?
"The answer to that is a resounding, `No.'"
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