Chicago’s Grand Avenue Crew has ‘juice’ again under Vena’s leadership
Some people call Chicago mafia capo Albert (Albie the Falcon) Vena the most-feared man in the Windy City, a new-and-improved version of Anthony (Tony the Ant) Spilotro, if you will. His emergence the past few years as a major player in the upper-echelon of the city’s mob landscape has reinvigorated his Grand Avenue-based crew, reinstalling a large chunk of the power and prestige it lost in the late 2000s courtesy of the epic Operation Family Secrets bust.
Like Spilotro, Albie Vena is tiny (just a smidge over five feet), but incredibly fearless and extremely deadly. However, unlike Spilotro, the Chicago crime family’s crew-leader in Las Vegas, killed alongside his brother in a grisly 1986 Outfit double-slaying depicted in the Martin Scorsese gangster film classic “Casino,” Vena, 66, knows how to make nice with his superiors in the mob and doesn’t let his ego get the best of him.
Vena’s name recently surfaced in the Chicago press due to him being mentioned at the trial of cop-turned-gangster Steve Mandell, convicted in February of attempting to kidnap, torture and murder an enemy and his wife in order to assume control of a Bridgeview strip club and another associate to seize his real estate assets.
Testimony at the trial revealed that FBI agents watched as Mandell lunched with Vena at La Scrola, the one-time favorite haunt of notorious Chicago mob capo and consigliere Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo, Vena’s former boss and mentor, who ruled the city’s Westside and was in charge of the notoriously-rugged Grand Avenue crew for over 30 years. Mandell was caught telling a wired-up associate that he’d gone to Vena for permission to kill an adversary and Vena, someone linked by the government to several underworld slayings, had failed to give him the go-ahead.
Lombardo was nailed in the Feds’ landmark Family Secrets case, convicted at the 2007 trial in the brutal 1974 murder of mafia associate Danny Siefert, a soon-to-be witness for the government against him and several mob cronies, and Vena was selected to replace Joey the Clown as the new “Godfather of Grand Avenue.”
Spilotro, another Lombardo protégé, is alleged to have been part of Lombardo’s hit squad that snuffed out Siefert in broad daylight and in front of his wife and son outside a suburban plastics factory days before a federal trial was set to begin in a Teamsters Union pension-fund fraud case he was slated to be the star witness in.
The double homicide of Spilotro and his brother was also included in the Family Secrets indictment, with Outfit street boss James (Jimmy the Man) Marcello convicted of delivering the siblings to their slaughter at the house of capo Louis (Louie the Mooch) Eboli in June 1986, where they were beaten and strangled to death by a cadre of hit men as revenge for Tony the Ant running amok in Las Vegas and bringing too much heat on the syndicate’s West Coast affairs.
The diminutive, yet dynamic Vena was groomed by a slew of Outfit big shots and reputedly taught to kill by one of the Chicago mafia’s most revered enforcers. Besides Lombardo, Albie the Falcon came up under Northside capos and lieutenants like Vincent (Innocent Vince) Solano, Joseph (Joe the Builder) Andriacchi, Gus Alex and Lenny Patrick. Early on in his underworld career, Vena was placed in Joey the Clown Lombardo’s enforcement wing and schooled by the Clown’s No. 1 strong arm and hit man, Frank (Frankie the German) Schweis, a renowned assassin.
Vena and Schweis are both considered suspects in the 1983 gangland murder of Teamsters official and high-level mob associate Allen Dorfman, a killing also depicted in the movie Casino.
Schweis was brought down with Lombardo in the Family Secrets case (dying before making it to trial though) and was fiery until his last breath – the German, while frail in appearance, still managed to repeatedly bark at reporters and prosecutors alike in court proceedings that directly preceded his passing.
In the fall of 1992, Vena was indicted on a state murder beef for the gruesome slaying of low-tier Windy City hoodlum, Sam Taglia, charges he was acquitted on at a 1993 trial. Taglia, on the outs with mob leaders over stolen money and scam drug deals, was found stuffed in the trunk of his car in Melrose Park, shot in the head, his throat slit ear-to-ear. He and Vena were seen together in the hours before his unsightly demise.
Showing his feistiness, Vena tried to run over the cops that came to arrest him for Taglia’s murder with his car. Cautious of recording devices, he’s rarely appeared on police wiretaps and is known to keep a relatively low profile around town, especially compared to his predecessor, Joey the Clown, notorious for his witty demeanor and flash-bulb friendly personality.
When Lombardo and Schweis got popped in 2005 in the Family Secrets bust – both going on the lam for almost a year trying to dodge arrest before finally being apprehended – Vena and Vincent (Jimmy Boy) Cozzo, Lombardo’s right-hand man, were running the Grand Avenue crew together, using Lombardo’s longtime driver Christopher (Christy the Nose) Spina as their messenger. After Cozzo died of natural causes in July 2007 and Joey the Clown was convicted three months later, Vena was officially upped to full-fledged capo by semi-retired Chicago Outfit boss John (Johnny No Nose) Di Fronzo.
“Albie Vena is a very serious individual,” retired FBI agent Jack O’Rourke said. “He has the reputation of being both treacherous and reliable. All the heavyweights in the Family trust him very much. In a lot of ways, he’s a throwback. He lives by the code of the old Outfit bosses. Most people see him being a big part of the future administration. The pedigree is there, he’s been around a long time.”