Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

FBI informant testifies in Chicago kidnapping trial

Chicago real estate mogul George Michael was lunching with several reputed mobsters at a popular Near West Side restaurant in 2012 when he was introduced to a tall, well-dressed man who took an immediate liking to him, offering to help with the seemingly endless litigation involving a suburban strip club.

“He said he was my new doctor and he would take care of all my problems,” Michael testified Tuesday about that first encounter with Steve Mandell at La Scarola on Grand Avenue. “He was very excited.”

What Mandell – and undoubtedly the alleged mobsters at the table -- didn’t know was that Michael had been working with the FBI for more than three years.

Soon after the La Scarola meeting, Michael was wearing a wire on Mandell, a former death row inmate who had long been an elusive target for the FBI. Over the next two months, Michael recorded dozens of face-to-face meetings and phone conversations in which Mandell allegedly talked in detail about separate plots to kidnap, extort and kill a suburban businessman and murder an associate of a mob-connected Bridgeview strip club.

Michael’s long-awaited testimony is at the center of Mandell’s trial that got underway Tuesday at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse. Michael, a beefy ex-banker who runs a realty office on the Northwest Side, barely glanced at Mandell as he took the witness stand in the afternoon. For much of his testimony, Michael calmly kept his arms crossed in front of him as he listened to a question, then leaned forward into the microphone to answer in his baritone voice.

Mandell, dressed in a dark suit jacket and dress shirt, peered at Michael from the defense table, at times resting his cheek on his fist, his head cocked to one side.

In his opening statement earlier Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amar Bhachu painted Mandell – once known as Steve Manning -- as a sadistic, calculated killer who had outfitted a vacant Northwest Side storefront he jokingly referred to as “Club Med” with industrial sinks and other equipment needed to drain a body of blood and chop it into pieces.

The kidnapping target was identified for the first time in court Tuesday as Steve Campbell, a Riverside resident who owns numerous rental properties along Ogden Avenue, mostly in nearby Brookfield.

When agents raided Club Med on West Devon Avenue on the night Mandell was arrested, they found a meat cleaver, a .22-caliber pistol and Ambien sleeping pills that they were going to use to sedate Campbell, Bhachu said.

Mandell’s attorney, though, told jurors that Mandell will testify in his own defense that his allegedly lurid plots were “just talk.”

Spielfogel told jurors that Mandell was just “flinging BS” with Michael, trying to figure out a way to make Michael think he would help him move Polekatz strip club associates Anthony “Tony Q” Quaranta and Dimitri Stavropoulos out of the picture so Michael could collect in a pending civil suit.

“Is that noble? No. But does it make him a murderer? No, it does not,” Spielfogel said.

The undercover recordings capture a sometimes amusing glimpse of the city’s current criminal underworld. The code language Mandell used was straight out of mob movie central casting. He referred to Stavropoulos as “the guy from the Parthenon restaurant” because of his Greek heritage and used the fictitious names “Louis Linguini” and “Sammy Salami” to describe two mobsters.

In the several recordings played for jurors Tuesday, Michael and Mandell bantered about their connections to the Chicago Outfit, joking about “wannabe” gangsters who drive BMWs and drink designer coffees. They also griped about squeamish mob bosses worried about drawing the attention of law enforcement.

In one phone call from September 2012, Mandell told Michael he’d gone to reputed Outfit crew boss Albert Vena – one of those at La Scarola when Michael and Mandell were first introduced -- for a blessing to murder Stavropoulos, but Vena had balked at opening “a can of worms.”

“He (Vena) says, ohhh, you know. (Expletive) all over himself,” Mandell said, according to a transcript of the conversation. “...I don’t need that. If you’re gonna think that way, you’re never gonna get anything done.”


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