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Pols defend questionable gifts

Chicago Sun-Times  July 30, 2001

BY TIM NOVAK AND CHRIS FUSCO STAFF REPORTERS

The alleged mob-connected players cited by the Illinois Gaming Board when it scuttled a Rosemont casino have given nearly $150,000 to Gov. Ryan, House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, Rosemont Mayor Donald E. Stephens and other elected officials.

But many of those politicians, including Ryan, who appoints the gaming board, say there is no reason to return the money because there is no evidence the people mentioned by the gaming board have committed crimes.

"The governor fully supports what the gaming board is doing. They're a regulatory board. The [governor's] campaign committee is not,'' Ryan spokesman Dennis Culloton said, explaining why the governor will keep the money he got from people his gaming board says are linked to organized crime.

Nick Boscarino, whose wife, Sherri, is an investor in the stalled Rosemont casino, and his companies have donated $31,900 to the governor. And Ryan also has received $1,200 from casino investor Joseph Salamone and his brother Vito.

Sherri Boscarino and Joseph Salamone are "associated with persons who have been identified as members and associates of organized crime," the gaming board said, while Vito Salamone has "been identified as having connections with known members and associates of organized crime." Nick Boscarino, it added, "maintains personal relationships and business associations with certain individuals who have been identified as known associates of organized crime."

While Ryan is keeping the money from these people with reputed mob links, in April he told the Chicago Sun-Times he would give to charity the $40,000 he got from Thomas Matassa, identified as a mob associate by the Chicago Crime Commission. Culloton noted that the Boscarinos and Salamones are not on the commission's chart.

For Ryan to keep the money from the Boscarinos and Salamones "sort of goes beyond hypocrisy,'' said the Rev. Tom Grey, head of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.

Nick Boscarino and Joseph Salamone both refused to comment, but in the past they have denied any links to the mob.

Besides the Boscarinos and the Salamones, state casino regulators also singled out D&P Construction of Chicago, which hauled trash from the Rosemont casino site. D&P is owned by Josephine DiFronzo, a sister-in-law of Chicago's reputed mob boss John "No Nose'' DiFronzo, state casino regulators said.

D&P has given no money to Ryan's campaign fund, but the company has donated to several other politicians, including $1,875 to state Sen. James DeLeo (D-Chicago).

"What does that mean, 'mob associated?' In the year 2001, is there really a mob in Chicago?'' DeLeo said.

"Besides some hearsay, what has the gaming board said about these people? There's been nothing to substantiate. They haven't said anything bad about this company or this woman. I don't think I should hold sins of the family against an individual.''

Josephine DiFronzo also owns JKS Ventures Inc. Her two companies have donated $44,805 since 1994 to various officials, including $13,000 to Stephens. The Rosemont mayor says he has donated to charity the $8,000 he got from D&P.

"My ma's known Josephine for so many years. She's a wonderful lady,'' said state Rep. Angelo "Skip'' Saviano (R-Elmwood Park), who has gotten $8,750 from DiFronzo's companies.

State casino regulators "are making these people out like they're John Dillinger. That's just not the case,'' Saviano said. "Whatever their past is, it's the past. If they want to donate to myself and the Northwest Side mayors, we're confident they're a reputable company.

"The Italian Mafia is gone,'' Saviano said. "I don't see it happening around here.''

Josephine DiFronzo could not be reached for comment.

The Rosemont casino has been on hold since January, when the gaming board rejected Emerald Casino's plan to move from East Dubuque to the northwest suburb. Besides the alleged mob links, casino regulators said they had been given false and misleading statements by Emerald officials.

Emerald is appealing that decision, but the company's top shareholders also are negotiating to sell their 52.7 percent stake to MGM Mirage Inc. of Las Vegas.

Stephens long has sought a casino for Rosemont, but he has been under fire from the crime commission. The mayor has pointed out that D&P was only paid $13,000 to haul some waste from the casino site, where construction stopped last year. And he pointed out that D&P has done work for the City of Chicago.

D&P also works for the Village of Franklin Park. The village president, Daniel Pritchett, has collected $1,100 from the two companies owned by DiFronzo.

"They've been dealing with the village for 25 years, and they continue to do business with the village,'' Pritchett said.

Pritchett is among officials from the west and northwest suburbs and nearby Chicago neighborhoods who have received campaign donations from DiFronzo, Boscarino and the Salamones. Money also has been donated to some of the state's biggest powerbrokers, Madigan and the House Republican campaign fund controlled by House Minority Leader Lee Daniels (R-Elmhurst).

"If someone believes a legislator like Mike Madigan can be bought for an amount that doesn't even equal one-tenth of 1 percent of funds raised, then they are terribly naive,'' Madigan spokesman Steve Brown said.

Madigan has gotten $19,500 from Boscarino and $200 from D&P.

"If these people were truly guilty of crimes and offenses, the full force of the law would come into play,'' Brown said.

"If the gaming board has information about crimes that still fall within the statute of limitations, then they should turn that over to the appropriate federal prosecutor.''

Under state law, the casino regulators can deny a license to anyone they believe "would discredit or tend to discredit the Illinois gaming industry.'' The casino regulators do not have to prove the people are guilty of any crime.

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