Chicago Feds Fast-Tracking Vena Probe, Sources Say, Westside Capo Could Be Charged By Christmas

The end of the line could be near for notorious reputed Chicago mob capo Albert (Albie the Falcon) Vena. Exclusive Gangster Report sources in Illinois law enforcement say a federal racketeering indictment naming him as head of the Outfit’s Westside crew is “eminent,” possibly landing before the conclusion of the calendar year or even sooner. As reported first here on the Gangster Report, Vena, 67, the alleged mafia overlord of the Windy City’s Westside and storied Grand Avenue regime and someone called by many the most dangerous man in Chicago, is under heavy investigation by multiple government agencies and has been for at least the last two years.

A number of Vena underlings are expected to be swept up in the bust, too, according to these sources. It’s not clear whether murder charges will be included in the pending racketeering conspiracy case. Vena has faced homicide charges in the past. He’s been a suspect in several other homicide investigations, per sources in the Cook County Sherriff’s Department.

One former CCSD organized crime unit official speaking on the promise of anonymity claims Vena became a priority for mob busters in Illinois in the aftermath of the Outfit’s acting boss Michael (Fat Mike) Sarno being convicted of extortion and jailed in December 2010. Around two and a half years ago, the joint inquiry between state and federal agencies into Vena and the Grand Avenue crew’s activities, “amped up” and became a “top priority,” the source says.

The dominoes started falling within months. Back in late 2013, Chicago mob associate and Westside crew lieutenant Jeff Hollingshead began playing ball with the government. His cooperation led to the July 2014 arrest of Robert (Bobby Pinocchio) Panozzo, a Westside soldier and the alleged crew’s No. 3 in charge, on home invasion, drug dealing, arson, pimping and attempted murder charges. In the months previous, cop-turned-Goodfella Steve Mandell, another Westside crew crony, was convicted of a kidnapping and murder plot in which federal authorities believe Mandell unsuccessfully sought permission from Albie the Falcon to torture and kill a pair of associates and their wives as a ploy to assume ownership of their respective businesses.

The diminutive, yet fearsome Vena will be next to be hauled in front of a judge, according to sources with knowledge of the current probe.

“It’s coming down and it’s coming down fast,” said the source of how pressing the forthcoming indictment is. “All they’re waiting for is the go-ahead from Washington.”

Vena reportedly runs his operations out of his favorite watering hole, Richard’s Bar and his favorite restaurant, La Scarola, a popular Italian eatery and longtime Westside crew hangout. Both establishments are located at the corner of Grand Avenue and Halsted Road at the edge of downtown Chicago. The No. 2 in command in Vena’s Grand Avenue regime is alleged to be Christopher (Christy the Nose) Spina, the onetime driver and protégé of legendary Westside capo Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo, the Outfit’s imprisoned 86-year old consigliere. Spina, 62, is first cousins with Jeff Hollingshead, whose incarceration in September of 2013 on a bond violation from a 2009 home invasion collar precipitated a chain reaction that first blew the lid on Panozzo’s rackets last year and might very well land Spina and Vena in handcuffs as well.

Hollingshead, 49, took refuge with the feds in the finals days of 2013, inking a cooperation deal on New Year’s Eve and going on to help them build a case against Panozzo and Panozzo’s right-hand man Paul (Big Paulie) Koroluk, while testifying in front of a grand jury in the summer of 2014, in the weeks leading up their bust. Panozzo tried to steal Hollingshead’s wife, Jillian, and he and Koroluk looted his home in suburban Wilmette in the hours following his being arrested, per Chicago mob insiders.

Sources close to Hollingshead say the government has been “leaning on and pressuring him for more information” and specifically information relating to his dealings with and knowledge of Albie Vena ever since Panozzo’s pinch. He and Panozzo, 56, are each staring at 40-year prison sentences.

Vena rose through the ranks of the Chicago mafia under the tutelage of Joey Lombardo, deceased Outfit administrator Gus (Slim) Alex and current Windy City mob elder statesman Joseph (Joe the Builder) Andriacchi, according to Illinois State Police records. He replaced Lombardo as crew chief on Grand Avenue, initially on an “acting” basis for Joseph (Joe Kong) Culotta, in 2006 upon Joey the Clown getting locked up, and then by late 2009 or early 2010, in an official capacity, assert sources on the street in Chicago. His police jacket features convictions for armed robbery, kidnapping and burglary.

In the spring of 1995, Vena was acquitted of first-degree murder charges in the 1992 gangland slaying of low-level Outfit associate Sam (Needles) Taglia, found stuffed in the trunk of his Buick in Melrose Park. Vena was the last person seen with Taglia in public before he was killed. Prosecutors argued Taglia, a known hoodlum, drug peddler and heroin addict, spurned Vena in a narcotics transaction. Taglia was shot twice in the back of the head and had his throat slit. When Cook County Sherriff’s Department personnel came to arrest Vena in December 1992 for Vena’s murder, he tried to run them over with his car.

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