I can't say I was surprised when I saw that the Rockford Register Star endorsed Dick Meyers for Sheriff, but even though I expected it, I was disappointed. Having worked on a local paper for several years, I understand that local media fills a niche that nothing else can. Your local paper and TV stations bring you news of what is most likely to affect your life and your immediate future. The good people of Winnebago county have endured years of having the highest crime rate in the state of Illinois. I'm baffled when a paper like the RRStar goes 100 percent in the tank for the status quo. Something is really wrong in Rockford, and the Star is obviously not ready to be part of the solution.
I gotta hand it to the Rock River Times. Over the years, they have done some excellent reporting - some real digging and some brave exposés. They had the nerve to buck the Courthouse country club and not only endorsed Aaron Booker for Sheriff, but handed down a strong indictment of Meyers. They get it, at least on this race.
"Many people have really been waiting for a good candidate to run against Democrat Meyers. He is Don Gasparini’s heir. He has employed and promoted members of his family and friends, including the Gasparinis, for years. Yes, it’s called nepotism, and many people have come into the offices of this paper to complain about that, but they’d never go on the record. Fear of reprisals or loss of their jobs was very apparent.
"Many of those people were sheriff’s deputies. They have and continue to complain about low morale within the department. They say the majority of deputies support Booker and are excited about the possibility of Meyers’ defeat.
"Resentment over perceived preferential treatment and promotions are a large part of this problem. The allegations that Sheriff Meyers made sure his son, Deputy Chief Scott Meyers, had proper test scores on his lieutenant exam have been around for a long time. The problem was key witnesses would not go on the record with the allegations.
"There are other witnesses I am aware of who have made these allegations, but now former Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Kudzma has made the allegations on WNTA radio and in the local daily.
"Kudzma never spoke to this paper directly, but several of his fellow officers relayed the allegations he has now made public.
"You could say this is just a bunch of disgruntled employees who want to replace their boss with one of their own. However, after years and years of repeated complaints, I must say something is very wrong in the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department.
"The continual resurrection and delay of a full hearing on charges against Meyers’ opponent, Aaron Booker, is just par for the course. These tactics are so revelatory in themselves, voters should really want Meyers out. When a man prosecutes his opponent for an elected office and leaves the verdict hanging before the election, that is a lowly smear campaign.
Still, this has nothing to do with crime. Now you, dear Rockford friends, may not live in a high crime area and you may not think it affects you. If you read only the RRStar, you would believe that.
"Deceptive campaigns are nothing new to Meyers. The improper and deceitful push to build the taxpayer money pit known as the Winnebago County Justice Center has been well documented in this paper by our former reporter Jeff Havens. The “just 1-cent” public relations juggernaut everyone fell for was lead by the former Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli, the former Winnebago County Board Chairman Kristine Cohn and Meyers. Their scare tactics built Meyers an empire. He doesn’t want to give that power up, and he does not react well to any type of challenge of any kind. Look at his reaction to these latest charges.
"Meyers is used to having his way in his own little world, and he’ll cover for his own until everyone calls him on the carpet. Look at how he originally casually dismissed the sexual harassment charges about the computer porn that was passed around his office. Anyone who did that in any other office would get canned so quickly, they’d spin like a top out the door. Yet, in an office that supposedly enforces laws against such things, it’s a casual matter under Meyers."
The Times reported on a rather interesting gathering on Aug. 4, 2005. State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (who is being opposed by the most worthy Robert Brokish) called a meeting to discuss crime. This should get your attention:
Rockford's incarceration rate HIGHER THAN IN THE SOVIET UNION? Organized crime? Something is very wrong with this picture. Now your head should start to spin:
Winnebago County's incarceration rate tops former Soviet Union; organized crime not addressed
About 25 representatives from several government and non-government agencies met Aug. 4 in a 90-minute roundtable discussion about crime in the Rockford area. While the group, headed by State Rep. Chuck Jefferson (D-67), addressed issues relating to property, drug, sex and violent crimes, conspicuous by its absence was the lack of discussion about white-collar and organized crime.
Even though outgoing Rockford Police Chief Steve Pugh and the Rev. Perry Bennett of Macedonia Baptist Church said June 23 that "trust" in police and public officials was key to crime reduction, the group discussed conditions relating to blue-collar crime, such as installation of exterior video cameras throughout the city, probable cause for police searches of vehicles, concerns about racial profiling, sensitivity training for police, improved programs for former inmates on parole, and convicted sex offenders in the community and public housing.
Asked whether the committee would discuss white-collar and organized crime at their next meeting, given that trust in public officials is key to crime reduction, James Burns, legislative aide to Jefferson responded: "That's a very, very good point."
According to Wayne Johnson, former chief investigator for the Chicago Crime Commission, the most perilous aspect of organized crime is its potential to corrupt the legislative and judicial process through campaign contributions, and support of judges and key public officials.I'm Italian. Well, I'm half Italian and was raised by the Italian half of the family. I spent my formative years in Westchester and Hillside, Illinois, and spent part of my youth slinging plates and serving drinks in restaurants. That's where I learned that whenever you find a bunch of Italian names, be suspicious, or at least curious. I was a sharp and curious kid. I got to know some of the players in my hometown and how they operated. The ones I knew are long gone, so I can talk about it now. And before y'all go off on me for condemning all Italians, I'm not. Not all Italians are "connected," and not all "connected" are Italian. I can say that. I'm Italian. Connect the dots and do it carefully. Some family members are separated by generations and also by philosophy, and I'm not saying that the sins of the fathers should be borne upon the sons, but favors and favoritism often do cross generational lines.
Johnson fears that with focus on blue-collar crime, gangs and homeland security, "nobody" is monitoring organized crime members and associates.
His concerns appear to be supported by recent revelations exposed by The Rock River Times that Chicago Mafia associate Nick Boscariono purchased three properties in Winnebago County since 2004; indictment in April of former Rockford resident and alleged Mob hit man Frank G. Saladino; destruction of Mob intelligence files in the mid-1980s by unknown Rockford Police officials; leasing of office space by the former Illinois Attorney General's office from a business group that in 1999 listed an alleged Mafia soldier as one of its members; and imprisonment in January 2005 of Frank Saladino's cousin, Joseph W. Saladino, on federal weapons charges.
Joe Saladino was found in February 1997 with a machine gun, butcher knife, tree-trimming saw, pipe wrench, billy club, two bolt cutters, two face masks, two handguns, and two books on how to make gun silencers in the trunk of his car.
Something said about Meyers stuck in my mind from the endorsement: "He is Don Gasparini’s heir. He has employed and promoted members of his family and friends, including the Gasparinis, for years."
Besides being a writer, I'm also an amateur genealogist and historical researcher. I hit Google hard yesterday and learned a little history. Don Gasparini, Sr. was Meyer's predecessor, and his son, Don Jr., is a Chief Deputy. Don Jr. also is a trustee on the Harlem Township board. Before he was a sheriff, the elder Gasparini was an undertaker. The family business is still operating - The Gasparini and Oliveri Funeral Home.
Before we go any further, I suggest you read this page which gives you a pretty good history of Mob operations in Rockford and bios on the key players.
Like many other cities and especially Chicago, Rockford suddenly became active with bootleggers during the Prohibition era. Two gangsters on opposing sides of the fence would emerge on the scene at the same time and their war would bring about the Rockford crime family.Long story short, Musso became the Rockford boss in 1932. Here's where we make the Gasparini connection:
Paul Giovingo was considered the bootlegger's bootlegger. His rival was Antonio Musso, who had arrived from Madison, WI and had designs for controlling the stills and speakeasies surrounding Rockford. Italian gangsters from Chicago and Milwaukee were also in on the action.
An item of noteworthy (sic) regarding Musso was his ability to pave the way for relocating gangsters. One in particular was Sam Oliveri who was born in Palermo, Sicily in 1895. Oliveri had first relocated to Chicago and became involved with what was called the Calumet City Cheese War. On the lam and looking for a home Musso invited Oliveri to Rockford. When the gangster arrived he quickly decided he wanted to go into the funeral business and proceeded to pressure John Gasparini, a well known and establish(ed) funeral parlor operator. When he refused Musso intervened and Gasparini had a new partner. Oliveri would remain an active soldier until his death in 1969. The funeral home would often be used for a meeting spot to iron out differences. The funeral home is still in operation today.Poor John Gasparini. He was more a victim than anything else. But willing or not, he became part of the Rockford "family." I'm not sure of the relationship, but Don Gasparini, Sr. was an undertaker and worked at the funeral home which Don Jr.'s associates refer to as the family business even today. Just sayin'. There's a connection there.
There are plenty of other connections, too. Go back to this page and read about Frank Saladino and the brothers Salavatore "Sam" and Natale Galluzzo. You're smart - I don't have to spoon feed you. Go read it.
Chances are if you're arrested in Rockton or Loves Park, you'll be prosecuted by Paul Nicolosi, brother of Phil Nicolosi, who was appointed Winnebago State's Attorney a couple years ago when Paul Logli vacated the position, being appointed to a judgeship. (Isn't this already sounding a little crazy with all this "appointing" going on? I mean, aren't these supposed to be elected positions, with the "appointers" being We the People? )
Paul Nicolosi was disclosed as being a partner in a business venture called Buckley Partners, LLC. Along with Nicolosi, partners were Sam and Natale Galluzzo, and other members of the Nicolosi and Galluzzo families. In 1999, they owned property at the corner of Argus Drive and Perryville road, which they leased to Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. They also owned another property on Ware avenue which they leased to the University of Illinois. Madigan's office abruptly left the building in 2003, citing "building code violations" as the reason for the quick exit, but officials in Rockford are just scratching their heads. It should also be noted that Sam Galluzzo's son, Geraldo "Gino" Galluzzo, is an attorney and partner in Paul Nicolosi's law firm.
Enter Daniel Salafsky. Salafsky worked for Paul Logli while Logli was still the State's Attorney. His father, Dr. Bernard Salafsky, was the Dean of the University of Illinois' College of Medicine in Rockford who gained attention for retaliating against a whistleblower, one Dr. Joseph Levenstein. Dr. Levenstein became alarmed when he noticed that about $2 million were missing from the school's koffers. Lawsuits flew all over the place, tens of millions of dollars disappeared (that's taxpayer dollars). Daniel was a real character. At the time he was working as an assistant State's Attorney he didn't have a license to practice, having failed to take required fitness and character evaluations. My money says he would have failed those, too, having been convicted of bank fraud in 1996, and later of theft, official misconduct and impersonating an attorney in 1999. In 1998, he stole $70,000 from the evidence room at the Rockford Police Department.
Believe it or not, the Medical School scandal tied into the crazy courthouse construction cartel through a couple of builders and architects, notably Ringland-Johnson Construction, Inc. and the Scandroli Construction company (Oh, boy... there's an Italian name again!). This article tells it all. Read it. The end of the article ties all of this to Sheriff Dick Meyers and (gasp) the Gasparini family, and we come full circle:
In 1997, Meyers was appointed Winnebago County Sheriff after the retirement of Don Gasparini (D). The same year, the former sheriff's son, Marc Gasparini (R) was appointed to the county circuit clerk's position after Ron Kotche retired from that post.
Sources said Kotche left the position before his term was complete to enable Marc Gasparini to get the job and run with the power of an incumbent. Sources alledge that in return , Kotche was sold a piece of property on Fish Hatchery Road by the elder Gasparini. Denying those allegations, Don Gasparini and Kotche's supporters argue the two stepped down in 1997 to take advantage of early retirement packages.
Marc Gasparini is currently asking the Winnebago County Board to re-zone about 7.5 acres of property near Kotche's property from agriculture to residential even though it is not consistent with the county's wetland use plan.
Joe Scandroli Sr.'s construction company is a partner with Johnson for the jail construction manager position. Reportedly, the elder Gasparini's sister is married to Scandroli Sr. The Scandroli family has recently contributed cash to the campaigns of Marc Gasparini, Meyers and Cohn.
So, is it any surprise that when the Harlem Township board considered passing an anti-nepotism ordinance in January of this year, Don Gasparini, Jr. voted against it? He was joined in this vote by Doug Aurand (also a county board member), whose wife earns about $10,000 a year as a part-time janitor, a position she has held for about eight years.
“The board felt that there was no need for an anti-nepotism resolution because Harlem Township has always hired the most qualified candidates available,” Aurand said.
It's also interesting to note how much money it took Gasparini to run for that little township position. Just sayin'.
What's also interesting is that way back in 1969, then State's Attorney Philip Reinhard declared Rockford's little "family" as "retired or inactive," and later admitted that during his 11-year tenure as Winnebago county's top prosecutor, he never knowingly prosecuted a single Mob member.
Jeff Havens, the former Rock River Times reporter who broke most of this stuff, has a lot of information on the Chicago Syndicate blog. The blog is fully searchable and you can get the dirt... er... the "scoop" and background on a lot of Rockford political types there. Go and have fun.
So, what does this all mean to you? In my experience, towns which have a strong Mob presence learn to co-exist with the forces that they feel are unbeatable. They negotiate the level of crime that will be tolerated in the community and work hand-in-hand with bosses. You, the resident and taxpayer have to deal with the consequences. You have to know who you're voting for, and for your sake, you better choose the guys and gals with guts. Corruption affects you at every level, and God forbid you should ever wind up in a fracas with the law. Winnebago county officials have not done you justice, and you cannot often find justice in Winnebago county. We're notorious. Don't file bankruptcy if you live in Winnebago county!
Oh, remember that little meeting that State Rep. Chuck Jefferson held? Here's his conclusion:
Jefferson closed the meeting by saying he supported County Board members' efforts to spearhead neighborhood watch programs. He also encouraged sensitivity training for police officers.
WHO ARE YOU GOING TO VOTE FOR TOMORROW, ROCKFORD?
Just so we're clear - I'm not accusing anyone in this article of any crime, other than those who have already been identified as convicted of crimes or who exist on dossiers which are well-known. Being friends or family of criminals is not, in itself, criminal. I am, however, wary of those with criminal connections and the nepotism in Winnebago county is alarming.