The FBI believes imprisoned Chicago mob associate and former cop Steve Mandell is the No. 1 suspect in the unsolved 2012 murder and robbery of suburban restaurateur Giacomo Ruggirello, according to sources familiar with the investigation. This week, The Chicago Tribune reported that the FBI has video and audio tape of Mandell discussing the crime with a wired-up informant on the day it occurred.

The 61-year old Ruggirello, a native Sicilian, was found dead of smoke inhalation as his Highland Park, Illinois house burned to the ground on September 24, 2012, just hours after his Italian eatery Trattoria Giacomo in nearby Highwood, Illinois was robbed of its safe. Mandell, 66, is doing a life prison sentence for the attempted murder and extortion of two local businessmen, hoping to use a torture chamber he built that he referred to as “Club Med.” He was found guilty at a 2014 trial.

Per Chicago Crime Commission files, Mandell was a part of the Outfit’s Elmwood Park crew. Back in 1983, when he went by the name Steve Manning, he was kicked off the Chicago police force for an insurance-fraud and stolen car scam. In the years after being booted from the force, he was convicted of the 1990 gangland slaying of trucking company owner Jimmy Pellegrino and a separate kidnapping of a drug dealer in Missouri and placed on death row, however, would have the pair of convictions tossed on appeal and freed in 2005.

Steve Mandell

Just hours following Ruggirello’s death, Mandell was intercepted by a video wire installed in the office of Chicagoland real estate mogul George Michael (acting as an informant for the FBI in building a case against Mandell) bragging talking about the fire and bragging of his proficiency as a killer. Michael has reportedly told people, including the FBI and The Chicago Tribune, “Do you think they (the Outfit) respect my work now?”

Ruggirello had altered his will in the weeks preceding his passing. Besides the Jimmy Pellegrino hit, which occurred in the middle of a drug-deal gone wrong 27 years ago, Mandell is suspected of playing a role in a number of murders – one of those being the 1986 slaying of his own father.

FBI surveillance personnel witnessed both Mandell and Michael dining with reputed Chicago mob street boss Albert (Albie the Falcon) Vena, his top lieutenant Robert (Bobby Pinocchio) Panozzo and others at the near-Westside restaurant La Scrola in July 2012. Panozzo is behind bars awaiting trial in state court on racketeering.

Vena, 69, oversees day-to-day Outfit affairs, per sources, from his Westside base. He headquarters his activities out of La Scarola, a longtime Westside crew hangout, and Richard’s Bar next door. According to sources in law enforcement, Vena is the top target of an extensive multi-agency criminal probe and rejected Mandell’s requests for permission to torture and murder associates of his, specifically a Brookfield businessman and a Bridgeview strip club owner.

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