Feds Put Chicago Mafia’s Westside Crew Under The Microscope In Zizzo Hit Inquiry, Assert Sources

The unsolved disappearance and murder of former Chicago mob underboss Anthony (Little Tony) Zizzo nine years ago is one of the homicides federal and Illinois state authorities are probing for possible ties to the Outfit’s Westside crew in an expansive criminal investigation targeting the Windy City mob’s Grand Avenue regime and its leader, reputed 67-year old capo Albert (Albie the Falcon) Vena, according to exclusive Gangster Report sources familiar with the high-priority inquiry. The investigation has been on-going for two years, per these sources.

Team U.S.A struck pay dirt early on in its most-recent assault on organized crime on the Chicago mafia’s tradition-steeped Westside with the racketeering and attempted murder indictment of the crew’s reported No. 3 in charge, Robert (Bobby Pinocchio) Panozzo last year and the flipping of top crew lieutenant and Outfit associate, Jeff Hollingshead at the tail-end of 2013. Hollingshead is a first cousin to Christopher (Christy the Nose) Spina, the alleged second-in-command in the Grand Avenue hierarchy. Denied bond, Panozzo is behind bars awaiting trial.

The feds now have Vena, a man some on the street and in the local press have described as the most dangerous wiseguy operating in Chicago today, squarely in their crosshairs, per sources, and hope to slap him with RICO charges at some point in the not-so-distant future. Vena has successfully stayed out of handcuffs for the last 20 years.

Albie the Falcon, nicknamed for his predatory tactics on the street, but sometimes simply called “The Little Guy” because of his small size, beat murder charges in the 1990s. He is said to have been promoted to his captain’s post on Grand Avenue in the first month of 2006. That same year the also-diminutive Zizzo (pictured in this article’s feature image) vanished on his way to a meeting on Rush Street, the Windy City’s main downtown entertainment and nightclub district and territory that falls under Vena’s jurisdiction in the Outfit power structure.

Assumed dead, Little Tony’s remains have yet to be unearthed. Hailing from the Chicago mob’s equally-fearsome Cicero crew, Zizzo was in a heated feud with fellow Cicero-based Goodfella and imprisoned former Outfit acting boss, Michael (Fat Mike) Sarno when his was killed, a dispute, at least partially, over video-poker machine routes and proceeds.

Sarno is serving 25 years behind bars for extortion related to the “joker poker” racket. He was convicted at trial in December 2010. During the 2000s, Vena and Sarno were alleged to be business partners in a number of legal and illegal ventures, per Chicago Crime Commission documents, one of them being a glass-manufacturing and installation company in Las Vegas fronted by Hollingshead.

Sources in Illinois law enforcement tag Sarno the prime suspect in the Zizzo homicide investigation. These sources say authorities think that throughout the summer of 2006, Sarno “sought permission and then meticulously planned, while not physically helping carry out” the hit on Zizzo, the 71-year old pointman on the street for then-acting boss James (Jimmy the Man) Marcello, who was incarcerated and facing life-in-prison in the epic Family Secrets case, a punishment which he eventually received.

Frequent companions in their simultaneous rise through the ranks of the mob under the guidance of former Outfit boss Sam (Wings) Carlisi in the 1970s and 80s, Zizzo and Marcello were nailed together in a federal racketeering case from the early 1990s. Little Tony came out of prison in the fall of 2001, Jimmy the Man followed in 2003 and took his spot atop the throne as the syndicate’s day-to-day overseer.

Marcello’s rein was short. Swept up in the Family Secrets onslaught, he was locked back up again by the spring of 2005, leaving Zizzo, his underboss, to fend for himself with the pendulum of power swaying in the opposite direction of the Marcello faction and towards a younger, ambitious and aggressive clique, sprouting from the same Cicero swath of the Outfit and headed by Fat Mike Sarno and his right-hand man, Salvatore (Sally Cards) Cataudella.

Fat Mike Sarno

Fat Mike Sarno

The old-school Zizzo had trouble adjusting to the changing times, per sources connected to Little Tony’s family, and even though he remained the Outfit’s acting underboss in name, he felt his authority was being usurped by Sarno, on the verge of taking Marcello’s place as the syndicate’s acting boss, but officially still a capo. Zizzo reportedly bristled at the notion that he’d soon probably be taking orders from Sarno, not the other way around, as it had been the previous half-decade.

A brewing beef over joker-poker routes that continued to escalate boiled over in early June 2006, disrupting the fragile balance between the Marcello and Sarno factions and marking Little Tony for death, informants have told the FBI. The problem for Zizzo was Marcello stopped backing him in the squabble, according to sources, and after repeated urgings from his prison cell for Little Tony to “stand down,” he either explicitly or implicitly signed off on the murder contract placed on his buddy’s head.

Thereafter, Zizzo was “rocked to sleep” by Outfit administrators, told “he’d be taken care of,” per Chicago mob insiders, before being executed, called to what he believed was to be a sitdown with Sarno on Rush Street mediated by Illinois mafia elder statesman and semi-retired street boss-underboss Joseph (Joe the Builder) Andriacchi, but instead kidnapped and clipped. Andriacchi is a longtime fixture at many of the posh dining and nightclub establishments along trendy Rush Street, located at the southern tip of the city’s Northside.

Leaving his Westmont townhouse on the afternoon of August 31, 2006, Zizzo drove to a restaurant in Melrose Park and abandoned his silver-colored Jeep Grand Cherokee, presumably getting into another vehicle under the premise of being escorted to a sitdown that would never occur. The Jeep was found 48 hours after Zizzo’s wife filed a missing persons report.

Joe the Builder was the now-defunct Northside crew’s last reigning capo, replacing longtime crew chief Vincent (Innocent Vince) Solano. When he got upped into the syndicate’s administration in the 1990s, the Northside regime was rolled into Andriacchi’s cousin, Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo’s Westside crew, which he bequeathed to Albie Vena upon his imprisonment in the Family Secrets case. Vena worked as a collector on the Northside early in his underworld career for high-level Chitown mob advisor Gus (Slim) Alex before falling under the colorful Joey the Clown’s tutelage.

Lombardo served as Outfit consigliere under still-reigning, though semiretired Godfather John (Johnny No Nose) DiFronzo from 1992 until his arrest in the winter of 2006. At one point in time in the 1970s, Lombardo’s Grand Avenue crew was the Chicago mafia’s main enforcement branch, preceding Cicero’s more infamous “Wild Bunch” later in the decade. In 2007, Joey the Clown was convicted for the 1974 murder of his business partner and mob associate-turned-witness-for-the-government Danny Seifert. Vena, Bobby Panozzo, Christy Spina and Jeff Hollingshead were all mentored in the tricks of the Outfit trade by the eccentric and affable consigliere, currently ailing in a prison hospital at 86.

Even though combatants Little Tony Zizzo and Fat Mike Sarno (57) were Cicero guys and didn’t spawn from the Westside, historically it’s not unusual in the Outfit for crews looking to kill one of its own members to outsource wet work to other crews within the Borgata, claim sources with purported first-hand intelligence on Chicago mob murders. With Vena’s lethal reputation, his links to Sarno and the fact that Zizzo was headed towards Westside territory the afternoon he disappeared, naturally had federal authorities looking closely for any relationship between the Grand Avenue gang and the Zizzo hit.

One police surveillance log from the mid-2000s notes Zizzo eating dinner with Vena in the days leading up to his murder.Gangster Report sources place Vena in Florida in the months following Zizzo turning up missing in an effort to avoid heat from law enforcement. The sources that told Gangster Report about Vena’s multi-month trip to the Sunshine State didn’t know if Vena was actually involved in the Vena slaying or not.

Albie Vena

Albie Vena

The core of the Westside crew can usually be found most nights holding court at La Scarola, the cozy Italian eatery and Chicago wiseguy dining staple on Grand Avenue and Halsted Road. Vena is said to spend most of his afternoons conducting business at Richard’s Bar, just down the block from La Scarola on Grand.

A convicted kidnapper and extortionist, Albie Vena was acquitted the lone occasion he faced murder charges. He was found not guilty by a jury in 1995 of the gangland execution of Outfit drug dealer and enforcer Sam Taglia, discovered in the trunk of his car three years prior in a Melrose Park parking lot, shot twice in the back of the head, his throat slit.

Besides Vena, investigators have looked into notorious Outfit “heavy” Fred (Porky) Pordyla for a possible involvement in the Zizzo homicide as well, sources tell Gangster Report. Pordyla was groomed in the strong-arm game by Joey Lombardo’s ace legbreaker, Frank (The German) Schweis, who died under indictment in Family Secrets, and today  is said to report directly to Vena. The FBI is offering a $10,000 reward for information that leads to the cracking of the Zizzo case.

The Zizzo slaying didn’t necessarily cease the ill will and ingering tensions between the two Cicero factions. Less than three months later, in November 2006, 48-year old Park Ridge, Illinois resident Gerry Dahmer, was shotgunned to death outside his home in what some local mob watchers believe could have been a horrific case of mistaken identity. Dahmer lived at 632 Broadway in Park Ridge and Mike Sarno’s No. 2, Sally Cards Cataudella once lived just a few houses down the street at 623 Broadway, a house his son and daughter in law were living at when Dahmer was slain. Cataudella, alleged to be the Outfit’s current acting underboss, was interviewed by police and the FBI regarding the circumstances surrounding the murder with his attorney present.

On the heels of Hollingshead jumping ship and flipping in late 2013 after getting his bond in a kidnapping and robbery case pulled and Bobby Panozzo robbing his house and trying to steal his wife in the days following his being locked up, he may have testified in front of a grand jury about at least three additional Westside crew-related murders, per sources; two in the 1980s in which he claims Panozzo killed an elderly woman and a close friend of his after having them sign over assets to him and one in 2010 where reputed 31-year old mob associate and drug-pusher Norberto (The Bull) Velez wound up shot to death in his Wrigleyville neighborhood apartment building off Addison Street for allegedly failing to repay a juice loan.

 

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