Illinois Police & Sheriff's
Heroes of Law Enforcement
Pete Wacks, Retired
FBI Special Agent (Picture)
Chicago Office -- Mob/Labor Union Specialist
It was a reliable rule of thumb in years past, that the only way an FBI agent
gained information to build a successful criminal case was through the
cultivation of informants. To succeed in this most highly visible agency within
the federal law enforcement bureaucracy, FBI men observed a practiced
“Agents did not go undercover - they developed informants,”
recalls Peter Wacks who retired this past month after logging thirty years as a
specialist in organized crime’s penetration of labor unions.
still have to develop your sources but now you go undercover. That whole process
of working a case from the inside out began during the Vietnam era with a
minimal amount of guidelines and supervision coming from above.”
years ago when Special Agent Pete Wacks reported to the Chicago field office
after completing a tour of duty in Jacksonville, Florida where he investigated
bank robbery cases, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI was a different entity than today.
There was a lot less cooperation with local law enforcement, fewer women and
minorities, and drug trafficking had not yet come to the fore.
emphasis on organized crime became more focused in the 1960s, following the
remarkable showdown between the late Robert Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa, when the
powerful Teamster leader was interrogated at length by the Attorney General over
his union’s ties to organized crime. “This freed up some resources that allowed
us to investigate certain individuals right here in Chicago,” Wacks
“I got into the labor cases through assimilation and exposure,” he
adds, “and by virtue of Joey Lombardo and Allen Dorfman.”
Pete Wacks was
one of six Chicago-based agents assigned to the Pendorf (the codename for
“Penetrate Dorfman”) and Strawman investigations probing the links between the
Chicago and Kansas City mobs and the pillaging of the Teamsters Union Central
States Pension Fund.
Allen Dorfman, a natty dresser whose appearance
belied a stone-cold disposition, was an ally of the late Jimmy Hoffa. As a
personal favor to Paul Dorfman, Allen’s step-father was given control of the
gigantic Central Conference of Teamsters Welfare Fund Insurance by Jimmy Hoffa
in the 1950s. In return Paul Dorfman provided Hoffa with the necessary
introductions to key figures within the Chicago mob hierarchy.
money, drawn from the Teamsters pension fund, financed 85% of the casino hotels
that appeared on the Las Vegas Strip in 1978-1979, according to Wacks, had
worked the Chicago end of the case with Kenny Holt, Dick Houston, Doug
Ludvigsen, Art Pfizenmayer, and their supervisor Jim Wagner. Ludvigsen and
Wagner are the only members of the original team still active in the FBI.
The extensive use of FBI wiretaps helped send Joey Lombardo, Jackie
Cerone, and Joey Aiuppa, the elder statesmen of the Chicago outfit, to prison
for their part in the “skimming” of the mob-fronted casinos.
Dorfman was savagely gunned down outside the Lincolnwood Hyatt Hotel in the
presence of Irwin Weiner, another reputed organized crime figure who stood trial
with Dorfman in 1975 for defrauding the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.
Weiner barely flinched as two masked gunmen pumped six shots into Dorfman’s
The case is as fresh today as it was in January 1983 when Wacks
received notice that the bureau’s old adversary was dead. “The majority of my
responsibility these last twelve or so years has been tracking Pendorf-related
developments for prosecutors around the country. It still has life.”
“Strawman and Pendorf not only dealt a serious blow to the mob but they
really changed the focus of wiretaps,” Wacks adds. “In the early 1970s this kind
of surveillance was directed mostly against bookmakers. But then the interest in
gambling operations waned, and its usage was extended to mob figures in related
schemes, such as their activities in Las Vegas.”
FBI wiretaps probably
saved the life of former Teamsters President Frank E. Fitzsimmons, a bland and
unimaginative union boss who succeeded Hoffa in 1971. At one point the usually
cooperative Fitzsimmons was adjudged a “liability” by his organized crime
Pete Wacks was present for a meeting between Fitzsimmons, his
attorney, and FBI agents at a Washington D.C. law firm. “Frank was a good poker
player - he offered no running commentary when we advised him that his life was
in eminent danger. About three days later Fitz reported back to us that he had
looked into the matter and found that it was no longer a problem,” Wacks
relates. “We surmise that he had checked in with someone on the other side.”
Frank Fitzsimmons died of lung cancer in 1981.
Civil RICO prosecutions in
the late 1980s and early 1990s crippled the unions most often linked to
organized crime. The Hotel and Restaurant Employees International Union, the
Laborer’s International Union, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters
have operated under federally imposed consent decrees for much of the decade.
“Our investigations spun out of the President’s Commission on Organized Crime,”
he explains. “A consent decree is a contract. For that decree to have life or
value it has to be enforced in court.”
Between 1989 and 1996, 41
Chicago-area Teamster leaders including William Hogan, Jr. of Local 714, Donald
Peters of Local 743, and Dominick Senese of Local 703 were removed or suspended
from their posts. Officials from various other Teamster Locals including 777,
726, 705, 710, 738, 727 and 786 were ousted as a part of the nationwide clean-up
effort engineered by Teamsters International President Ron Carey, and the
federally appointed Independent Review Board.
There is still a long way
to go, Wacks concedes.
“The Teamsters have made progress since 1989 when
they settled a racketeering suit that paved the way for the consent decree, but
the problem today is the backfill - there are young guys coming up that we do
not have information on. The fact that the Office of Investigation is still in
business indicates a lingering problem.”
It is common practice for labor
officials with mob backgrounds to “flip” from the union under investigation to
another that may not be undergoing the same intensive federal
Apathy among the rank and file breeds complacency and invites
mob infiltration. “Let’s say you have a group of people working 40 or more hours
a week and the paycheck always arrives on time. They don’t care how that union
is being run just so long as they have their insurance and their benefits and a
yearly vacation. For them a union is just a vehicle to get and keep employment,”
“Union members can be very lethargic when it comes to
attending meetings and monitoring what is going on inside that Local. Very often
a meeting of the Local becomes just another drinking bout.”
pension funds remain vulnerable to organized crime plunder. “The money is in the
manipulation of these retirement funds,” Wacks said. “Money is leverage.” Pete
Wacks is one of the few remaining agents left in the Chicago office who is well
versed in labor racketeering. For the past five years he has been working on the
Laborer’s Union investigation.
The mandates filter down to the bureaus
from the U.S. Attorney General, and in light of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing,
the focus these days is geared more toward domestic and international terrorism.
That means that the priorities are constantly re-arranged by Washington. “When
you move down the list, a labor racketeering investigation ranks maybe six or
seven on a sliding scale,” he adds.
The ever changing face of Chicago
organized crime leaves local mob watchers puzzled and groping for answers to the
common question being asked these days: who’s really in charge? Death and prison
have depleted the Chicago outfit of its “old guard” leadership. Within the past
year Sam “Wings” Carlisi, Joey Aiuppa and Jackie Cerone cashed in their chips,
leaving behind a power vacuum within the hierarchy.
Almost everyone who
harbors a particular interest in the outfit it seems, has their own pet theory
concerning the struggle for succession. Names like Joey Lombardo, John “Apes”
Monteleone, and John “No Nose” DiFronzo (recently released from prison) bubble
to the top of the mob rumor mill. This wise guy is in, that wise guy is out. And
so it goes.
While there is still no convergence of opinion with respect
to the identity of Chicago’s “number one boss,” Pete Wacks and others in the
know share the belief that it is probably Joey Lombardo who has stayed well out
of sight since his release from a federal penitentiary in December 1992.
Lombardo served a portion of his concurrent 15 and 16-year sentences for
bribery, conspiracy, wire fraud, and conspiring to skim $2 million dollars from
Las Vegas casinos. Upon his release from prison, Joey served public notice in
the Chicago Tribune classified section that he was “crime free.” He disavowed
his mob connections and has kept a low public profile ever since.
never took a secret oath with guns and daggers, pricked my finger, drew blood or
burned paper to join a criminal organization,” the ad read, in part.
Maybe not, but Pete Wacks is convinced that the man the media dubbed
“the Clown” in the 1960s is still a major player in the nineties. “Joey was a
very funny man - he truly was, but he is also very crude and he often dresses
like a bum. Lombardo is not an educated person, but he is very cunning and
street smart,” Wacks recalls. “At some point during the trial in Chicago he lost
his sense of humor.”
Wacks’ dealings with the infamous Mr. Lombardo date
back to 1974 when Daniel Seifert, a government witness who owned a Bensenville
plastics firm, was gunned down in the presence of his wife by mob assassins.
Seifert was to have been a witness for the government in a case against
Lombardo, Anthony Spilotro, Irwin “Red” Weiner, Ronnie DeAngelis, Allen Dorfman,
and others in the opening rounds of the decade-long Central States Pension Fund
case. Reportedly, Seifert provided detailed information about “Milwaukee” Phil
Alderisio’s hidden ownership of International Fiber Glass Company in Elk Grove
Village. Alderisio, a feared mob assassin was an associate of Lombardo. The
fiber glass company was torched in February 1973.
testimony, the case against Lombardo and his associates weakened and eventually
all the defendants were acquitted. “Seifert possessed the necessary skills to
run a successful business. He set up the molds and was the kind of straight man
with the technical know how that mob figures cultivate when they infiltrate a
legitimate business.” Wacks relates. “But Lombardo was the silent partner. After
Seifert was killed there just wasn’t enough evidence to bring the case to the
grand jury stage.”
In retirement Pete Wacks will keep apprised of
breaking developments on the mob front. He plans to do some consulting work
within the labor field and will remain in the Chicago area - his home for the
last 30 years, though he was born in the Jackson Heights section of New York
Looking back on three decades, he praises Chicago’s veteran FBI
agents he had the privilege of working with. “We had some great guys,
knowledgeable street agents like Johnny Bassett, a former light heavyweight
champion; Kus Kempf who introduced me to Joey Lombardo. Gus was great at
cultivating informants. The late Frankie Ford comes to mind. He worked on
cartage theft which was a major source of mob revenue back in the 1960s and
1970s. Dennis Shanahan. Ralph Hill. Bill Roemer. Jim Wagner.”
I knew made this a wonderful job. “This was the greatest job in the world,” he
“I regret leaving the Bureau for these reasons. But I reached the
magic age and now it is time to go.”
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