FBI

Whose Side Are You On?


The history of the Progressive Miners Union in Illinois during the Great Depression reveals collusion by the FBI, Peabody Coal and the UMW to bring down the radical union. 

by C.D. Stelzer

first published in Illinois Times, June 20, 2007.

Bill Warner never knew how close he came to dying. After clocking out at the Mount Olive, Ill., waterworks around midnight, he decided to walk home by way of the Union Miners Cemetery. Entering the graveyard, he ambled past the tombstones, pausing to gaze from afar at the silhouette of a shrouded monument. He then strode to within a couple of feet of the cloaked obelisk and again stopped in his tracks. Warner had no idea that every move he made was being watched by eight men, each aiming a shotgun in his direction, finger on the trigger.

Nor would the former coal miner ever learn that his near-death experience would become part of the region’s storied labor history. Decades later, after Warner had died of natural causes, Joseph Ozanic Sr. recounted the incident from the perspective of one of the gunmen lurking in the shadows. Unbeknownst to Warner on that long-ago night in the autumn of 1936, he had walked into a trap set by members of Local 728 of the Progressive Miners of America, the owner of the cemetery.

Mary Harris Jones, aka, Mother Jones.

“The good Lord must have been with him,” recalled Ozanic, former PMA state president. “Had his curiosity got the best of him to the extent that he might have tried to raise the veil up to see that marble, eight shotguns would have hit him from eight directions.”

Warner had likely made his nocturnal pilgrimage to pay an advance tribute to the woman for whom the monument would be publicly dedicated less than a week later. On Oct. 11, 1936, an estimated 50,000 people jammed the cemetery to honor legendary labor organizer Mary Harris Jones, better known as Mother Jones. Ozanic and his comrades had staked out the cemetery for several nights before the ceremony because they had heard rumors that the rival United Mine Workers union, under the autocratic rule of John L. Lewis, planned to blow up the monument.

Their vigilance was warranted.

Bombings, shootings, and other violence were common during the labor strife of the 1930s, when the two unions battled for supremacy in the central-Illinois coalfields. The tale of graveyard guard duty is buried among thousands of pages of transcribed interviews conducted by the Office of Oral History at Sangamon State University (which has since become the University of Illinois at Springfield) in the 1970s and 1980s, now available online. The recollections of the miners and their family members provide an invaluable historical context for understanding the struggles they endured.
 This weekend the town of Mount Olive will hold its third annual Mother Jones Festival to honor the area’s labor heritage. The festivities will include a homecoming parade, carnival rides, and an arts-and-crafts show. A memorial service at the Mother Jones monument is also scheduled. Those who attend may also pay their respects to Ozanic, who died in 1978 and is buried nearby.

As evidenced by his anecdote, the Mother Jones monument not only symbolizes labor’s struggles but actually became a part of them. Before her death in 1930, at the age of 100, Jones — an avowed foe of Lewis — had requested that her remains be buried in the Union Miners Cemetery with the martyrs of the Virden massacre, who died in 1898 during an earlier strike against Illinois coal operators. When the PMA decided to rebury Jones’ body in front of the monument, the UMW sued to stop the exhumation of her unmarked grave.

UMW President John L. Lewis

Six years after she died, Mother Jones still commanded the attention and respect of organized labor. Lewis — fearing the labor matriarch’s iconic influence — had UMW attorneys file a restraining order that painted the PMA members more or less as ghouls. “He sought to make it appear that we were going to unearth graves and scatter bones of the dead in our cemetery,” recalled Ozanic. “Of course, we countered in court and proved that he was a damn liar. . . . And then we proceeded. We raised the funds and everything was set up, and oh, Jesus, what a deal it was! It really shook him and rocked old John L. and his corrupt outfit like nothing else.”

The PMA and its women’s auxiliary had somehow managed to raise more than $16,000 in the middle of the Great Depression to build the 20-foot-tall granite shaft, which bears a bas-relief of Jones and is flanked by bronze statutes of two coal miners. The outlay represented a lofty sum for the cash-strapped union, most of whose members had been on strike since the PMA had organized itself, in 1932, to oppose Lewis’ despotic control over the UMW. Through the monument, the PMA and its supporters had won a major publicity coup by attaching their democratic labor movement to the memory of Mother Jones.

But the victory was short lived.

Within two months of the monument’s unveiling, a federal grand jury in Springfield charged 41 PMA members with conspiracy to disrupt interstate commerce and impede mail delivery in connection with 23 bombings and six attempted bombings of railroad property between December 1932 and August 1935. The trial, which took place a year later, lasted more than a month and featured 388 witnesses. With each passing day’s testimony, tensions welled higher. The judge, at one point, threatened to clear the courtroom because of outbursts by PMA supporters.

The Progressive Miners of America were targeted by the FBI, UMW and Peabody Coal.

In another instance, a defense attorney tussled with a Springfield police detective in the third-floor corridor of the courthouse. The courtroom drama garnered front-page headlines in both of Springfield’s daily newspapers for weeks. Lengthy accounts detailed legal strategies, summarized testimonies, and noted the many prosecutorial objections sustained by the bench.

Outside the courtroom, however, larger forces played a critical role in the fate of the defendants. Lewis began his career in the Illinois coalfields, but by the 1930s he was vying for national power. With the UMW as his base, he bolted from the American Federation of Labor to head the Congress of Industrial Organizations, which was then organizing millions of American factory workers. To secure future influence in labor matters, the UMW also contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the presidential campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The UMW’s generosity may partly explain the Roosevelt administration’s interest in the case. After a year-long FBI investigation, the Justice Department dispatched U.S. Assistant Attorney General Welly K. Hopkins to Springfield. He used the newly enacted federal anti-racketeering law for the first time to try the case.

Ultimately three defendants received early acquittals from the judge. The court released another individual for lack of evidence and excused yet another because of poor health. Despite the vast amount of evidence and the overall complexity of the case, the jury deliberated for just over three hours before delivering the verdict on the remaining 36 defendants.

All were found guilty as charged and sentenced to federal prison. The guilty verdicts, delivered in December 1937, presaged the gradual decline of the PMA. A few years later, Roosevelt pardoned all of the convicted miners, but not before they had served their prison sentences.

By then the PMA had suffered more setbacks in its efforts to negotiate contracts with coal operators in Illinois and elsewhere. In each case, federal labor rulings always favored the UMW over the PMA. With its membership rolls dwindling, the upstart union no longer could challenge Lewis’ omnipotence.

On its face, justice appeared to have been served.

The violence alleged to have been perpetrated by the PMA had been punished by the rule of law. A photograph in the Illinois State Journal, which appeared the day after the verdict, shows the prosecution team smiling, as they read all about their victory in an extra edition of the same newspaper. In the photo, lead prosecutor Hopkins is resting his arm on the shoulder of George A. Stevens, the FBI agent who investigated the case.

To Springfield labor historian Carl Oblinger, the outcome of the trial was as staged as the photograph. “It was a charade,” he says. “There was nothing connecting the PMA guys to conspiracy.” On the contrary, Oblinger says, a conspiracy was perpetrated against the PMA. The historian bases his opinion on FBI memos sent to the attorney general prior to the grand-jury investigation in the fall of 1936. He discovered the documents recently while conducting research at the National Archives, in College Park, Md.

Oblinger, who headed the oral-history project at Sangamon State 20 years ago, is the author of the 1991 book Divided Kingdom: Work, Community, and the Mining Wars in the Central Illinois Coal Fields During the Great Depression, reissued by the Illinois Historical Society three years ago. Since then Oblinger has continued to sift through historical records to better understand the events that culminated in the trial.

“The United Mine Workers, Peabody Coal, and the federal government — through the FBI — had this already taken care of before the trial began,” Oblinger says. “The most obvious collusion was allowing the UMW goons into the grand-jury room. . . . The witnesses were specifically picked by the UMW and brought to the grand-jury room for dramatic but not substantive value. They were actors.”

If the story of the Illinois mining wars ever hit the big screen, the opening scenes might take place in the Taylorville law office of Reese & Reese, where Daniel G. Reese, the firm’s senior partner, shares cramped quarters with son Lindsey.

One afternoon last month, the 79-year-old former mayor of the town sat behind his cluttered desk and reminisced about one of his earliest childhood memories: the repeated bombing of his parents’ home in 1933.

“Oh yeah, I remember all of it,” Reese says. “I was about 5 years old. In fact, I was in the house when they bombed it both times. They bombed the garage and blew up the car. They also bombed the front porch. . . . ” Reese recalls talking to the National Guardsmen who patrolled around his house after the explosions occurred. He also remembers seeing the roadblocks set up by the state militia on the edge of town. He recalls listening to radio broadcasts that reported shootings on the streets of Taylorville related to the labor conflict. Reese remembers the taunts of schoolmates, too.

More than 70 years later, the elderly attorney still isn’t sure whom to blame for the bombings that rocked his childhood residence at 120 N. Madison St., but he is quite clear about who wasn’t responsible.

“Obviously they didn’t represent the Progressive Mine workers,” he says. It’s a reasonable deduction. His father, Leal Reese, also an attorney, represented the PMA in 1933.

Reese downplays the bombings, saying that he believes that they were only meant to send his father a message, not to kill or maim. He tends to blame the violence of the era more on human nature than on anything else. In hindsight, Reese says, the idea of two labor unions’ fighting each other makes no more sense than religious warfare. Besides, it all happened so long ago. The rancor of those bygone days has vanished and been forgotten, Reese says. Those who were involved are all dead. It is as if time has served as an anodyne. And then a name pops into the conservation that jars his memory.

“That’s it — Argust! Everybody has always told me that if it hadn’t had been for Argust we wouldn’t have had this darn fight,” Reese says. “Everybody says he was at fault.” He is referring to the late Ward C. Argust, Peabody Coal’s division superintendent in Taylorville. From 1922 to 1937, Argust oversaw the coal company’s Midland tract, which included four mines in Christian County. The mine superintendent also took part in the contentious contract negotiations with the UMW in 1932. Illinois miners went on strike April 1 of that year over wage and manpower issues. The union wanted a reduction in weekly work hours to stave off job losses resulting from mechanization. The coal operators rejected that proposal and additionally sought to slash wages from $6.10 to $5 a day, though the miners had accepted a substantial wage cut two years earlier.

With the bargaining at an impasse, UMW District 12 leadership reluctantly requested that Lewis intercede. Asking for his help was an extraordinary concession in itself because union miners in Illinois had long valued their autonomy and resented the international president’s heavy-handedness. In July, Lewis pushed for acceptance of the coal operators’ latest proposal, which varied little from the original offer. Illinois miners again turned down the contract.

Lewis immediately called for another vote on what was essentially the same package in early August — but before the ballots could be tallied they were stolen off the street in Springfield. Lewis then declared an emergency and signed the contested contract without the consent of the rank and file.

All hell broke loose.

Union miners rebelled. Mass demonstrations erupted in mining towns throughout central and southern Illinois. In late August, thousands of unarmed miners set out from Gillespie to rally support in Southern Illinois. Their caravan was ambushed near Mulkeytown, in Franklin County. Several miners were wounded by sniper fire.

Rather than quell the dissent, the surprise attack spurred further militancy. On Sept. 1, 1932, 272 delegates — representing more than 30,000 miners in the state — convened at the Colonial Theater in Gillespie and voted to break with the UMW and form the Progressive Miners of America.

In Taylorville, Argust watched the unrest escalate, and 12,000 striking miners converged on the city on Aug. 18. To his chagrin, the mass picketing temporarily shut down production in Peabody’s profitable Midland tract, including Mine No. 58.

In his later testimony, Argust identified several of the defendants in the PMA bombing trial as leaders of the protest that continued for days: “They blocked all the roads. I saw the mob that marched in. I saw the picket lines. I saw men in the park, on the public square in Kincaid, and along the highways and roads leading to the mine properties. On many occasions, men were around my house yelling.” Argust’s hired thugs would soon strike back with more than words.

Today the land above the abandoned Mine No. 58, on the outskirts of Taylorville, is the site of Midwest Recycling, a scrap yard that harbors everything from an airplane fuselage to mangled bicycle frames and trashed computer monitors. The tipple is long gone, the mine shaft covered over. Vestiges of the old railroad tracks are barely visible in a path now traveled by salvagers driving pickup trucks and tractors. A junkyard dog eyes visitors warily as they walk by a couple of old brick buildings that were part of the original mining operation.

Inside one of the structures is a tag board that hundreds of coal miners once used to keep track of who was working underground. The boards doubled as places for miners to keep their pistols during working hours. The sidearms that coal miners toted around for self-protection back in those days, however, were peashooters compared to the arsenal that Argust kept in the supervisors’ washhouse at Mine No. 58.

Vernon Vickery worked at the washhouse from November 1932 until April 1935, according to testimony he gave on behalf of the defense in the bombing trial. Under questioning by chief defense counsel A.M. Fitzgerald, Vickery explained that he took orders directly from Argust.

“We used the washhouse to store dynamite, arms, ammunition, and machine guns,” Vickery told the court. The witness said that he and the mine superintendent had exclusive access to the weapons cache and that he was instructed by Argust to distribute the dynamite “only to those that I knew as okay, which consisted of his regular bomb squad.”

Like Vickery, the “bomb squad” members were ex-convicts who had in many cases gained early release from prison through the intervention of Peabody officials. Vickery further testified that Peabody employed out-of-state strikebreakers, paid informants to spy on PMA activities, and bankrolled armed goons, including himself, to beat up striking miners.

Vickery also said that Argust took over the Christian County Sheriff’s Department, hiring and deputizing between 100 to 150 men, who were paid for their services by Peabody Coal. Vickery claimed that Argust ordered the bomb squad to target private residences, a Baptist church, and Tango Joe’s, a Taylorville saloon frequented by strikers.

He cited other instances in which the bomb squad intentionally destroyed company property to give the appearance that the acts of violence were carried out by the PMA. He indicated, for example, that the bombings of the Daily Breeze newspaper office and UMW office in Taylorville on Sept. 18, 1932, were carried out under Argust’s direction to force the Illinois governor to call out the National Guard to help break the strike. Vickery identified the bomber of the newspaper and union headquarters as Merle Cottom.

In prior testimony, Argust had denied many of these same accusations — but he did admit under oath to employing as many as eight “undercover men,” including Cottom.

Two of Argust’s paid informants ended up defendants in the bombing trial. One of them, John “Jack” Stanley, the president of the PMA’s Taylorville local, had his own house bombed twice. Vickery testified that on July 23, 1933, he distributed dynamite to four members of the bomb squad. One bomb exploded later that night at Peabody Mine No. 7, near Kincaid, he said. Another explosion, on the same night, damaged the Stanley residence in Taylorville.

Stanley’s bodyguard sustained gunshot wounds in the attack. Stanley and his bodyguard sued Peabody Coal and two of the bomb-squad thugs. Stanley testified that he and his bodyguard received out-of-court settlements from the company after discussions with Argust.

The defense established that the Christian County state’s attorney and his law partner, who represented Peabody, negotiated the settlement. Outstanding criminal charges against the alleged bombers were then reduced to misdemeanors, and one of the men was later issued a UMW union card and given a job at a Peabody mine in the area.

To refute Vickery’s testimony, the prosecution called on his parents, who described their son as delusional and untrustworthy. Nonetheless, the prosecution never charged him with perjury.

As for Argust, he fell ill shortly after appearing as a prosecution witness, which prevented the defense from recalling him. He died in a Chicago hospital on the last day of the trial.

In the final weeks of the trial, one defendant after another took the stand and denied the charges.

One of the accused, Edris Mabie, couldn’t speak for himself because he had been shot and killed in front of the PMA union hall in downtown Springfield on Easter Sunday 1935. Springfield police arrested UMW district president Ray Edmundson and Fred Thomasson, a former member of Charlie Birger’s gang, for the murder — but the case was dropped for unknown reasons.

Throughout the trial, Fitzgerald, the chief defense attorney, charged that his clients were the victims of a frame-up. In his closing arguments, he questioned at length the relationship among Stevens, the FBI’s lead investigator, and members of the UMW in putting together the case that led to the indictments. The questions he raised are the same as those asked now by Oblinger, the labor historian.

“If you put all of this together, including court transcriptions and the depositions, the FBI reports . . . the archive materials that are connected to this stuff — this [becomes] a larger conspiracy,” Oblinger says. “It’s not a conspiracy, really, of backroom secret deals. This is pretty public stuff. A lot of people knew this. They’re all dead now.”

One of those people, says Oblinger, was his father, Walter L. Oblinger, who served as an FBI agent in Springfield in the 1940s. Shortly before he died, the former G-man made a confession to his son. The labor historian says his father told him this:

“There was collusion in this case, beginning in 1933, between the owners, John L. [Lewis] and the federal government. The mine owners and the UMW were fighting an economic battle with the PMA in Illinois to determine who would control the pace of mechanization, the means of production, and representation of the miners. That’s where we [the FBI] came in. In 1935, ’36, and ’37, we sabotaged the PMA with UMW money and muscle, a fixed jury, and a trial based on perjured testimony, stool pigeons, and intimidation. They [the PMA] didn’t have a chance. . . . ”

On two flanks of the Mother Jones monument in Mount Olive are bronze plaques listing the names of 21 PMA members who died during the mining wars. PMA attorney Fitzgerald asked that those names be read into the court record on the first day of defense testimony.

Among the martyrs was Fred D. Gramlich, who was shot with a high-powered rifle through the window of his Springfield tavern on the night of May 27, 1936. His son Arthur “Art” Gramlich, who was wounded a year earlier in the Easter Sunday shooting, was named lead defendant in the bombing trial.

Art Gramlich (courtesy of the Sangamon County Historical Society.

Acy)

In 1972, the younger Gramlich, by then 68 years old, agreed to be interviewed as a part of the oral-history project at Sangamon State. The interview took place at his daughter’s dining-room table. Kitchen clatter can be heard in the background. Gramlich displayed tattoos on both arms and on the knuckles of his gnarled hands. He had only partial use of his left forearm as a result of a gunshot wound he sustained decades earlier.

According to the handwritten notes of the interviewer, Gramlich wanted immediate assurance from him that he wasn’t an FBI agent. After being convinced, Gramlich chained-smoked for nearly two hours as he recounted his life. Toward the end of the interview, Gramlich said that in late 1936 — only months after his father’s violent death — an FBI agent offered him a $10,000 bribe to implicate his fellow PMA members in the bombing campaign.

“I couldn’t have hated him any worse right then,” said Gramlich. “I said, ‘You goddamn son of a bitch, why don’t you go look and try to find who blowed my old man’s heart out? He’s dead, but your goddamn stinking railroads and your mail ain’t dead. I don’t know nothing about it and you ain’t going to find anything about it.”

According to Gramlich, the agent replied:  “‘Well, just the same, we’ll have your ass before it’s over.’ ”

Two Blind Mice

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters who nailed County Exec Steve Stenger turned a blind eye to the historic influence of organized crime that presaged their reportage.

St Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Jeremy Kohler and Jacob Barker’s extensive coverage of political corruption involving St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger helped send the politician to federal prison last year. But the two journalists failed to fully report the criminal background of Sorkis Webbe Jr., a crime figure who played a key role in the affair.

In 2014, Webbe introduced then-County Executive Stenger to John Rallo, who started his business career in his family’s construction company, which allegedly had ties to Chicago organized crime, according to FBI records.  Rallo, a co-defendant who was also found guilty in the Stenger case, benefited from contracts funneled through the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership then headed by Sheila Sweeney, an associate of Webbe. Sweeney received probation. Webbe, was not charged.

The money was siphoned from the $5 million in annual rent payments made to the St. Louis County Port Authority by the River City Casino, which is owned by Penn National, a Pennsylvania-based gaming corporation.

This was not Webbe’s first rodeo. The former city alderman had been convicted of voter fraud and obstruction of justice in 1985. His bust followed the conviction of his father for income tax evasion in Nevada in 1983. The IRS case against Sorkis Webbe Sr. related to his interests in the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas, which was then controlled by the Detroit Mafia.

Documents released by the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act in October 2020 show Webbe Jr. and his late father were embroiled in a power struggle with St. Louis Mafia leader Matthew Trupiano and the Detroit Mafia in 1982. The conflict developed because the Detroit mobsters and Trupiano were leaning on Webbe Sr. to cut them in on the skim from a casino in the Bahamas, according to the FBI. The Detroit Mafia believed that Webbe Sr. had ripped them off in the Aladdin casino deal in Las Vegas and wanted to be repaid through sharing in the ill-gotten gains from the Bahamanian gambling operation, according to the FBI.

Though the FBI records were released only last month, details of the rift between the Webbes and Trupiano had already been reported decades ago by the Post-Dispatch — but that background information was inexplicably omitted from the newspaper’s coverage of Webbe Jr.’s part in the Stenger affair.

July 10, 1985 dual byline by St. Louis Post-Dispatch reporters Ronald J. Lawrence and William C. Lhotka

In the July 10 and July 11, 1985 editions of the Post-Dispatch, staff reporters  Ronald J. Lawrence and William C. Lhotka revealed the details of the Webbes’ conflict with Trupiano and his allies in Detroit.

The two stories reported that in the early 1980s, Webbe Jr. acted as an envoy for his father in negotiations with Trupiano, the St. Louis mafia leader, who was related to members of the Detroit Mafia through his uncle, the late Anthony “Tony G” Giordano, the prior boss of the St. Louis Mafia.  After Webbe Sr. and Trupiano failed to reach an agreement on sharing the estimated $100,000 per month skim from the Bahamian casino, the Webbes sought protection from St. Louis Syrian crime boss Paul J. Leisure.

July 11, 1985 St. Louis Post-Dispatch story by Ronald J. Lawrence.

The Leisure family was then in a gang war with loyalists of  the late Southside Syrian syndicate boss  Jimmy Michaels, who had been murdered in a car bombing on Interstate 55 in South St. Louis County by the Leisure gang in September 1980. The unrest in the St. Louis underworld had been spurred by the earlier, natural death of Giorando, who had forged a pact with both Michaels and East Side rackets boss Art Berne, who represented the interests of the Chicago outfit.

During this period, Paul J. Leisure reached out for support from the Kansas City Mafia then headed by the Civella crime family. The Civellas refused to intervene in the dispute with Trupiano, according to FBI sources cited by the Post-Dispatch in 1985. The Detroit Mafia also declined to declare war on the Leisures, thereby averting further violence

Paul J. Leisure lost his legs in a retaliatory car bombing carried out by the Michaels gang in August 1981. He was sentenced to 55 years in prison in 1985 for the car-bombing death of Michaels and died at the federal prison hospital in Springfield, Mo. in 2000.

Suspect No. 11

Newly released FBI records name the late Anthony F. Sansone Sr. as a suspect in the 1981 car bombing of Paul Leisure.

The FBI listed prominent St. Louis real estate developer Anthony F. Sansone Sr. as a suspect in the 1981 car bombing of underworld figure Paul John Leisure, according to bureau records released in August 2020 under the Freedom of Information Act.

Sansone is listed in the FBI report as Suspect No. 11.

Leisure, leader of a  faction of the St. Louis Syrian mob, lost both legs in the Aug. 11, 1981 bombing. The bomb exploded after Leisure got behind the wheel of his 1979 Cadillac near his residence on Nottingham Avenue in South St. Louis.

“The bombing of Leisure was apparently in retaliation for the bombing death of James Anthony Michaels Sr. in September 1980,” according to the FBI report.

Sansone was Michaels’s son-in-law.

Michaels, who was 75 years of age at the time of his death, oversaw organized crime in South St. Louis for decades. He began his criminal career during the Prohibition Era, and later forged an alliance with Italian Mafia boss Anthony “Tony G.” Giordano. After Giordano’s death from cancer in 1980, a violent power struggle developed between the Michaels and Leisure clans.

Michaels gang member George M. Faheen — Suspect No. 10 — was murdered by the Leisure faction in a retaliatory  car bombing less two months after the Leisure bombing. Jack Issa another suspect in the Leisure case died later of natural causes in Arkansas without being apprehended. Both Faheen and Issa were suspected of taking an active role in the Leisure bombing, and were known criminals. Sansone, on the other hand, had no criminal record, but was, nevertheless, listed with them and others.  All other suspects listed in the report have had their names redacted by the FBI, including Suspect No. 7, who the report says was fingerprinted by the Department of Defense for a top-secret security clearance.

Scene of the crime: Mansion House Apartments parking garage in downtown St. Louis, where Suspect No. 10 —  George M. Faheen — died, Oct. 17, 1981.

Under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI released only the names of individuals known to be deceased.

Sansone’s alleged organized crime ties first made national headlines in a 1970 Life magazine story by Denny Walsh, which claimed Sansone was an intermediary between Michaels and Giordano’s organized crime interests and then-St. Louis Mayor A.J. Cervantes. Sansone’s was the mayor’s former business business partner and campaign manager. Sansone denied the allegations.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch and St. Louis Globe-Democrat sided with Sansone and Cervantes, and condemned Walsh’s story, who was a former Globe-Democrat reporter.  Cervantes filed a $12 million libel suit against Life and Walsh, but it was dismissed in federal court, and the U.S. Supreme Court later refused to hear the case.

But in the local court of public opinion, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch opined that Walsh’s story was false and that it had smeared the entire city. The newspaper editorialized that “… visible evidence of everyday affairs in St. Louis does not support the correlative accusation of Life that organized crime flourishes here. On the contrary the city appears to be unusually free from the usual symptoms of such crime.”

Anthony F. Sansone Sr.

The car bombings a decade later proved the Post’s characterization false. But the initial push back served its intended effect. After the Post downplayed the Life story, Delugach quit the newspaper in protest. Despite winning the Pulitzer Prize with Walsh in 1969 for their reporting on labor racketeering inside Steamfitter’s Local 562, both reporters had been turned into pariahs and essentially banished from St. Louis.

The denial by the Post’s editorial page combined with the defensive posturing of the political and business establishments made it impossible for Delugach to remain in St. Louis. Before leaving town for a job at the Los Angles Times, he gave an interview to Post reporter Roy Malone, which was featured in the first edition of the St. Louis Journalism Review. In the interview, Delugach voiced bitterness over the biased coverage of Walsh and the Life magazine piece. When re-interviewed by Journalism Review in 2008, his opinion had not changed.

Although Walsh’s Life magazine story was trashed by the Post’s editorial page, another Post reporter, Edward H. Thornton, continued to shed light on Sansone’s alleged organized crime ties in the early 1970s through his reporting on a federal racketeering trial in Los Angeles. Giordano and the five other Mafia defendants were convicted along with Emprise Corp. in April 1972 of conspiring to conceal ownership of the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas in 1966 and 1967. Following its conviction, Emprise, a mobbed-up sports concessionaire, changed its name to Delaware North.

Sansone testified at the Los Angeles trial that he delivered $150,000 to the managing director of the Frontier Hotel and Casino, but denied traveling to Las Vegas with Giordano.  During the trial, federal prosecutor Thomas E. Kotoske alleged that Sansone was Giordano’s “front man.”  A federal grand jury in Los Angeles convened in 1973 to examine the veracity of Sansone’s testimony, but did not indict him for perjury.

The Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.

In a prelude to the troubles in St. Louis, a car bomb exploded in the parking lot of the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix on June 2, 1976, killing Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles. By the time of his death, Bolles had been investigating Emprise for years. His dying words implicated both the Mafia and Emprise for his murder. Bolles had earlier warned Congress of Emprise’s mob connections. On May 16, 1972, he testified before the House Crime Committee that Emprise had engaged “in a continual association with organized crime figures over a 35-year period.”

Citing FBI records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Post-Dispatch reporters Curt Matthews and Robert Adams in 1977 revealed that during the 1960s the bureau provided information on the New Left to Walsh in its efforts to discredit civil rights activists and members of the anti-Vietnam war movement.  When asked, Walsh admitted he had FBI sources when he was at the Globe, and confirmed that Globe publisher Richard H. Amberg had a cordial relationship with the bureau. Federal law enforcement sources were also known to have provided Walsh with information on Cervantes and the Steamfitters.

Al Delugach won the Pulitzer Prize for reporting in 1969.

By the late 1970s, however, Walsh’s glory days in St. Louis were long gone. Like his reporting partner, he had moved to the West Coast, where he joined the staff of the Sacramento Bee. The war in Vietnam had ended, too, and with it a change in political climate. St. Louis organized crime was also in transition. Giordano’s death in 1980, touched off a violent turf war. By then, however, the reporting of Denny Walsh and Al Delugach had already been dismissed or forgotten.

When 93-year-old  Anthony F. Sansone Sr. died in April 2020, his alleged ties to organized crime were omitted from the Post-Dispatch obituary, and history had effectively been revised.

The FBI Turned a Blind Eye to Rallo Mob Ties for Decades

A long-buried FBI report raises questions as to why the FBI and U.S. Justice Department ignored damning allegations by a now-very dead informant. 

 

The FBI knew that the Rallo Construction Co. had alleged ties to the Chicago Mafia for decades. In indictments filed by the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri against St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger on April 25, 2019, John “Johnny Roller” Rallo was named as a participant in a pay-to-play scheme. He is scheduled to be arraigned May 10. 

 

The FBI knew about an alleged connection between the Chicago Mafia and Rallo Construction Co. of St. Louis as early as 1991, according to a classified FBI report released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Jesse Stoneking, the unnamed informant cited by the FBI in the report, died of a gunshot wound to the head in Arizona in 2003. Arizona law enforcement authorities ruled his death a suicide. Stoneking had been a top lieutenant of East St. Louis racketeer Art Berne in the 1980s, when he was working undercover for the FBI.  After he testified against Berne and other St. Louis area organized crime figures in federal court, the Chicago Mafia allegedly put out a $100,000 contract on his life.

Case Closed: Crime scene photo of the interior of the 1995 Ford Crown Victoria occupied by Jesse Stoneking on Jan. 19, 2003. The St. Louis mobster and federal informant died from a gunshot wound to the head. Arizona authorities ruled it a suicide.

Last month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in St. Louis  issued a three-count indictment against St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger for his role in steering lucrative contracts and property deals in return for campaign contributions from John G. Rallo, a former shareholder in one of the family-owned construction companies — CMR Construction Inc. CMR was formed 1989 by Charles N. Rallo and Michael J. Rallo, grandsons of the of founder of C. Rallo Contracting Co., which was incorporated in 1947.

John G. Rallo, also known as “Johnny Roller” for his long hours spent at the crap tables in Las Vegas, and fellow accomplice Sheila Sweeney were charged one week after Stenger  pleaded guilty. He is awaiting sentencing before Judge Catherine D. Perry in August. Until January, Sweeney headed the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership, a county agency that was used to dole out the contracts to Rallo and other political contributors to Stenger’s campaign coffers.

In May 1991, Stoneking informed the FBI that “Berne had told him that the Rallo Construction Company … belonged to the Chicago La Costa Nostra. …” The report goes on to say that “Berne told [Stoneking] that if Chicago wanted to buy property, businesses, get loans or some other such financial transaction it would be done through Rallo Construction Company in St. Louis.”

Stenger was introduced to Rallo by federal felon Sorkis Webbe Jr. in 2014, according to the federal indictment. Webbe, a former city alderman, was convicted of voter fraud and obstruction of justice in 1985.  Webbe’s father had been convicted of income tax evasion in Nevada in 1983 related to his interests in the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas, which was then controlled by the Detroit Mafia. The Detroit and St. Louis Mafia families are related.

Given this evidence and other indictors, it is unclear why federal prosecutors in St. Louis did not now pursue the Stenger case under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), which was crafted specifically to address such criminal enterprises. 

Hal Goldsmith, the prosecutor in the Stenger case, previously served as an Assistant U.S. attorney in East St. Louis in the 1990s, which was Berne’s territory. Goldsmith’s boss at that time was then-U.S. Attorney Charles Grace, who initiated wide-ranging probes of organized criminal enterprises during his tenure. When Berne died in 1996, he was a paid “security consultant” for Pipefitter’s Local 562, which Stoneking had also fingered as being connected to the Chicago Outfit. James O’Mara, the manager of Local 562, was the chairman of the St. Louis County Council at this time.

 

 

 

 

When Security Itself Becomes a Threat

Republic Services, owner of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake landfill,  employs a security guard service with historical ties to the CIA, DOE and State Department.  

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The motto emblazoned on its vehicles is “Securing Your World.”  But G4 Security Solutions’ job in Bridgeton, Mo. is a tad more parochial: It guards Republic Services’ polluted property.  The gig sounds like little more than a standard rent-a-cop deal. But there are reasons to suspect otherwise.

As the underground fire continues to burn unimpeded towards the radioactive waste at West Lake, things have heated up on the surface as well.

Vigilance became a corporate imperative following protests staged by the Earth Defense Coalition on March 31. In the wake of that demonstration, Republic, the owner of the radioactively-contaminated West Lake Landfill, pledged to prevent future disruptions of its business from occurring, and G4S Security Solutions is responsible for keeping that promise.

The protest shutdown Republic’s trash sorting operations at the location for 12 hours, after environmental activists blocked the entrance of the troubled landfill, demanding the EPA relinquish control of the site and handover the clean up duties to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The security company finds itself in the middle of a battle between private interests and public health. Despite its central role in the controversy,  G4S’s presence has garnered little attention until now.

Patrolling the perimeter of the West Lake Superfund site is the most obvious part of G4S’s job description.  Whether the security company has additional duties related to protecting Republic Services’ interests is unclear. But if the history of the security company’s operations are any indication, G4S’s role at West Lake may involve more than just manning the guardhouse at the front entrance.

That’s because the British corporation inherited the cloak and dagger reputation of Wackenhut Security, after merging with the notorious American espionage firm in the early 2000s.  The cost of that buyout was pegged at $500 million.

Besides offering guard services, Wackenhut specialized in intelligence gathering, and keeping tabs on millions of American citizens suspected of being left-wing subversives or communist sympathizers.

George Wackenhut, a former FBI agent, founded the company in the 1950s during the McCarthy era.  In the intervening years, Wackenhut Security grew in size and influence, scoring hundreds of millions of dollars in government contracts from federal agencies, including the Department of Energy and U.S. State Department. By the early 1990s, Wackenhut Security was known as the “shadow CIA,” because of the clandestine services it offered to the intelligence community both at home and abroad.

G4S, Wackenhut’s successor, was founded in 2004, when the British multinational security company Securicor merged with a Danish counterpart, Group 4 Falck.

Today, G4S Security Solutions is inextricably tethered to Wackenhut’s tainted legacy. Its British parent company boasts more than 60,000 employees in 125 nations, and is reputedly among the largest employers in Europe and Africa.  Closer to home, its American operation has the dubious distinction of being the employer of Omar Mateen, the mass murderer who killed 49 people and wounded 53 others at an Orlando nightclub last year.

Not surprisingly, G4S Security Solutions denies any culpability for that horrid act.  The Jupiter, Florida-based company, after all, can attribute the mass shooting by its longtime employee as being a random act of violence. It’s not quite as easy to deny the nefarious legacy of Wackenhut Security, however.

G4S now owns it.

By the mid-1960s, Wackenhut was known to be keeping dossiers on more than four million Americans, having acquired the files of a former staffer of the House Committee on Un-American activities. In response to congressional reforms in the post-Watergate era, Wackenhut donated its cache of blacklisted individuals to the virulent anti-communist Church League of America in Wheaton, Illinois, but didn’t give up access to the information. The league cooperated closely with the so-called “red squads” of big city police departments from coast to coast  that spied on suspected communist agitators.

By the early 1990s, Wackenhut was the largest provider of security services to U.S. embassies around the world, including U.S. State Department missions in Chile, Greece and El Salvador, where the CIA was known to have colluded with right-wing death squads.

Wackenhut also guarded nuclear sites in Hanford, Wash. and Savannah River, S.C.  and the Nevada nuclear test site for the Department Energy and its predecessor, the Atomic Energy Commission.

As the company gained more power, it recruited an influential board of directors that included former FBI director Clarence Kelley and Defense Secretary and CIA deputy director Frank Carlucci. William Casey, President Ronald Reagan’s CIA director, served as Wackenhut’s lawyer before joining the Reagan administration.

There is also evidence during the Iran-Contra era of the 1980s that Wackenhut worked for the CIA to supply the regime of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein with dual-use technology that could be utilized to make chemical and nuclear weapons.

It could be argued that G4S Security Solutions’ current services at West Lake are unrelated to its predecessor’s tainted past. But many of the residents of St. Louis whose lives have been impacted by Republic Services’ radioactively-contaminated landfill would likely not agree that history is inconsequential.

They already know better.

 

 

To Russia with Love

At the height of the Cold War, the St. Louis city streets director took a hiatus to help build a chemical plant in the Soviet Union for a subsidiary of Slay Transportation. Meanwhile back in the Gateway City, the same company was busy developing a process for disposing of contaminated waste in area landfills.

If this were part of the plot of a spy thriller, it would be hard to suspend disbelief. Midwest business and politics have never been a hotbed of international intrigue. Nevertheless, despite  the anti-communist fervor of the Cold War era,  then-St. Louis Mayor John H. Poelker — a former agent in J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI — granted a subordinate time off  to work in the Soviet Union.

In December 1975, William J. Wilson, then-director of the St. Louis Street Department, took a leave of absence to work on a chemical plant in the Soviet Union for Ecology Controls Inc., a subsidiary of Slay Transportation, a St. Louis-based company owned by Missouri Democratic powerbroker Eugene Slay. The local trucking magnate had no previous experience in international business, but his firm did transport materials for Monsanto and Mallinckrodt Chemical, two St. Louis companies that did.

Wilson, a Slay crony and a chemical engineer, was hired by the city in May 1973 by Mayor John H. Poelker — a former FBI agent. Prior to his work for the bureau, Poelker Poelker was employed by the DuPont Co. in St. Louis. He had hired Wilson at the urging of St. Louis Recorder of Deeds Francis R. Slay, Eugene Slay’s cousin. The late Francis R. Slay is the father of Francis G. Slay, the former mayor who left office earlier this month.

 

In 1979, Wilson’s close ties to Slay became the subject of  a federal grand jury impaneled to probe whether riverfront leases and mooring rights granted by the city to Slay Transportation received favored treatment.  By then, Wilson had quit his post as city streets director to become general manager of Bi-State Development Corp., St. Louis’ mass transit agency.

The Soviet chemical plant, which was located 800 miles southwest of Moscow, was built to produce synthetic parasecrol, a material used in rubber products. Ecology Controls Inc., the Slay subsidiary, was a subcontractor of Ste. Entrepose, a French corporation. Wilson was paid $30,000 by Ecology Controls for his work on the project. He spent approximately three weeks in the Soviet Union. Wilson did the remainder of his work from St. Louis, while continuing to work full-time as the city’s streets director.

At the same time, Ecology Controls was also pursuing other ventures, including a process for disposing of chemically-contaminated waste in area landfills without harming the environment. Collis C. Bryan, a former Monsanto chemical engineer and Parkway School District chemistry teacher, was involved in that project.

Ecology Controls Inc., which was incorporated in 1971, remained an active corporation in Missouri until April 2011, when it merged with J.S. Leasing Company Inc, another Slay-owned company.

Phoenix Rising

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Thirty-eight years after a car bomb killed journalist Don Bolles, doubts remain as to who was responsible for the murder

 BY C.D. STELZER

first published in the Riverfront Times (St. Louis), June 11, 1997

By 11:30 a.m., as Don Bolles walked across the parking lot of the Clarendon Hotel in Phoenix, the temperature had already begun to climb to a high of 101 degrees that Tuesday — June 2, 1976.

Bolles, who had lived in the desert city for 14 years, was also accustomed to another kind of heat. As a journalist for the Arizona Republic , his reporting on local corruption had won him not only accolades but death threats. When he began backing his Datsun out of its parking space, six sticks of dynamite exploded directly below the driver’s seat. Bolles died 11 days later.

Witnesses at the bomb scene told police Bolles had remained conscious long enough to say: “They finally got me. The Mafia. Emprise. Find John (Harvey) Adamson.”

Ultimately, Adamson confessed to the murder. The former race dog breeder admitted luring the 47-year-old Bolles to the hotel under a pretense and then canceling the meeting. But the other two parties implicated by Bolles’ dying words were never thoroughly investigated by the Phoenix police even though the reporter was known to have provided congressional testimony in 1972 linking organized crime to Emprise, the Buffalo, N.Y. sports concessions conglomerate.

After more than 20 years, doubts still remain as to who instigated Bolles’ assassination. There is one certainty: the murder created a patron saint for a generation of otherwise iconoclastic investigative reporters. Martyrdom is not, however, the most lasting legacy that Bolles left. His work remains a guide into the unchartered underworld, a compass pointing beyond Phoenix to other cities, including St. Louis and Detroit.

Following Bolles’ death, more than 30 journalists from the then-newly formed Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) group arrived in Phoenix to carry out their late colleague’s work. The IRE will reconvene in Phoenix this week for the organization’s 20th annual conference. Among those expected to attend is retired Pulitzer-prize-winning reporter Bob Greene of Newsday , leader of the 1976 IRE team .

On their first visit, Greene and the other reporters spent a total of six months focusing their attention on corruption in Arizona. Their cumulative work resulted in a 23-part series — 100,000 words in length — which began running in newspapers nationwide on March 13, 1977.

“I still feel very proud to have been part of it, because I don’t think it is something that will ever be done again. says Jerry Uhrammer, who took a leave from the Eugene (Ore.) Guardian-Register to participate in the effort. “It was unique. We were all working with a common purpose,” says the recently retired 64-year-old reporter.

Members of the Arizona Project, as IRE dubbed it, agreed not to investigate the Bolles murder itself in deference to the ongoing police inquiry. Instead, the team chose to expose the kinds of corruption that garnered Bolles’ interest before his death. The laundry list included: land fraud, gambling, extortion, drug trafficking, prostitution and the exploitation of illegal aliens.

From the beginning, the project had critics. The New York Times and Washington Post opposed the idea, citing among other things a hesitancy to engage in “pool journalism.” Sen. Barry Goldwater, a target of the IRE team, likened the reporters to outside agitators and refused to be interviewed. Inside IRE itself, dissension centered on the team’s cooperative relationship with law enforcement agencies, including trading information with the FBI and the police.

Don Devereux, another Arizona Project reporter, feels the IRE team may have trusted the authorities too much. “We accepted very uncritically their scenario. In retrospect, we were very naive to get lead around. It really isn’t something that we should be running around congratulating ourselves about,” says Devereux of the IRE investigation.

Devereux, who still lives in Phoenix, joined the IRE team as a stringer for an alternative weekly in New Mexico. After the Arizona Project folded, he spent most of the next decade digging deeper into the Bolles case as a reporter for the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Progress. By 1980, his reporting helped spur the Arizona Supreme Court to reverse the original convictions of two of the men found guilty of the murder. In a subsequent retrial, one defendant was acquitted and the other sentenced again.

“My feeling is that both of those men were patsies in this case,” says the 63-year-old Devereux . “One guy is still in prison for the Bolles’ homicide, who I believed was framed. It perturbs some of us out here that that kind of miscarriage of justice can continue.

“The biggest disservice we did to Bolles was not paying more attention to him,” says Devereux. “His dying words were words we should have glommed onto a little more seriously, because when he was lying on the pavement he said: `Adamson, Emprise, Mafia. … Emprise was almost Bolles’ white whale. He was obsessed by them. …”

Emprise was, indeed, a big fish, with 162 subsidiaries in the United States and abroad, employing more than 70,000 people. Formed in 1915 by the Jacobs brothers of Buffalo, the concessions firm had expanded from selling peanuts at baseball games to an ownership role in professional sports. Some of Emprise’s partners in these far-flung ventures had long criminal records. In Detroit, for example, Emprise held a stake in the Hazel Park race track with known Mafia figures.

Bolles’ first brush with the Buffalo-based corporation came in 1969, after a group of independent Arizona race-dog breeders filed suit against Funk’s Greyhound Racing Circuit, alleging that the track operators were trying to put them out of business. The Funk family shared ownership in Arizona’s six dog tracks with Emprise and were indebted to their out-of-town partner.

Bolles found the Funks were influencing the Arizona Racing Commission. After exposing this in a series of stories, three racing commissioners were forced to resign. The Funks hired a private investigator to tap Bolles’ telephone, and obtain other confidential information. Both sides filed law suits: the Funks suing the Arizona Republic and Bolles for libel, and Bolles suing them for invasion of privacy. Despite the litigation, Bolles continued to speak out.

By the time he testified before the House Select Committee on Crime on May 16,1972, Bolles had been researching Emprise for three years. Asked by a congressman what he had discovered, Bolles answered:”We found there was a continual association with organized crime figures over a 35 year period.”

In late April 1972. only a few weeks before Bolles’ congressional appearance, a federal jury in Los Angeles had convicted Emprise and fined it $10,000 for concealing the Mafia’s ownership of the Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Mafia figures convicted along with the concessions firm included the late Anthony Giordano of St. Louis, and Anthony J. Zerilli of Detroit.

Although the case dates back a quarter of a century, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Detroit last year charged Zerilli and other surviving Detroit mobsters with a multi-count racketeering indictment that includes their illegal ownership of the Frontier and other casinos in Las Vegas.

The 1972 Emprise conviction led several states to initiate their own inquiries. In Illinois, the racing board subpoenaed financial records of Sportservice Inc., an Emprise subsidiary that operated concessions at Cahokia Downs race track. In Missouri, the state liquor-control supervisor examined Sportservice’s operations in St. Louis and Kansas City. But Emprise attorneys successfully defended the company against these charges except in Oregon, where the firm lost its liquor license.

Following its federal conviction, Emprise Corp. dissolved, and its many subsidiaries were placed under Delaware North Cos. Inc. The paper transfer, however, kept the assets of the privately-held corporation in the hands of Jeremy Jacobs, a son of one of the founders. During his reign, Jacobs has guarded the company’s reputation by suing detractors and hiring a former FBI agent as security director. The unrelenting litigious assault against former Rep. Sam Steiger of Arizona, the most outspoken of Emprise’s critics, eventually resulted in the congressman publicly expressing confidence in the concessions firm.

Delaware North continues to dominate sports concessions in several major league cities and owns numerous parimutuel horse and dog racing tracks. In Bolles’ home state, the company currently operates dog racing tracks under the name of Arizona Greyhound Racing Inc. It also holds the concession rights for the Phoenix Suns basketball team through Arizona Sportservice Inc. The corporation’s other interests range from ownership of the Boston Bruins hockey team to a lucrative concessions contract with the National Parks Service.

In St. Louis, Sportservice still holds the concessions contract at Busch Memorial Stadium, home of the baseball Cardinals. During this year’s Missouri legislative session, the Cardinals owners lobbied successfully for the creation of a sports authority that will examine the possibility of allowing the baseball club and Sportservice to divert millions of dollars in taxes into a special fund to pay for stadium upkeep. The sports authority is also expected to look into the potential for using the same tax abatement method as a financing mechanism for building a new ballpark sometime in the future.

This is not the first time Sportservice’s name has been mentioned in regard to the stadium or other professional sports facilities in St. Louis. The week before the Crime Committee heard Bolles’ testimony in 1972, it listened to Capt. Earl T. Halveland, then the commander of the intelligence unit of the St. Louis Police Department. Halveland told how the Emprise subsidiary originally helped finance Busch Memorial Stadium.

“Sportservice Inc. purchased the concession equipment that was installed in the stadium. This was reported to be a million dollars worth of equipment for the concession stands,” said Halveland. ” (In return,) they (Sportservice) received a 30-year contract for the concessions and guaranteed … Civic Center Redevelopment Corp. — which developed the stadium project — $400,000 (per year).” It doesn’t take a fiduciary to ascertain that the 30-year, $12 million guarantee provided a footing for the stadium’s financial structure.

One beneficiary of the Sportservice contract with Civic Center was Giordano, the St. Louis Mafia boss, who owned Automatic Cigarette Sales Co. Sportservice and its sister company, Missouri Sportservice, granted Automatic Cigarette Sales the rights to place cigarette vending machines not only at the stadium but at the municipally-owned Kiel Auditorium and the Arena, then home of the St. Louis Blues hockey team.

In 1967, Emprise lent Sid Salomon Jr., then the owner of the Arena and the Blues, $1.5 million, after Sportservice landed a 10-year concessions contract at the facility. When that contract expired, Sportservice played a hand in the complicated 1977 sale of the Arena to Ralston Purina Co., which had bought the Blues earlier that year. As a part of the $8.8 million Arena deal, Ralston paid off the mortgage holder and a partnership that included Sportservice. After Ralston acquired the Arena, it leased the building back to Dome Associates Inc., another company linked to the Buffalo-based sports concessions firm.

By 1977, Bolles was dead, but Sportservice’s liaisons in St. Louis and elsewhere still seemed to mimic the patterns he explained to the Crime Committee five years earlier. Bolles then recounted how he had traveled around the country rummaging through newspaper morgues in an effort to understand the scope of the Emprise empire. He described how Emprise loans locked professional sports franchises into unbreakable long-term contracts. He outlined how the Cleveland mob borrowed money from Sportservice dating back to 1937. He explained how Moe Dalitz, a leader of the Cleveland crime organization, reciprocated, lending Emprise $250,000 in 1958.

Bolles cautioned “that Emprise has … had a gradual shift from a concession to an ownership position in the tracks and elsewhere through the use of high-interest loans. … If they are in ownership positions, they … are in a position to effect the outcome of the contests. I just feel that it is absolutely essential, with millions of dollars changing hands on private bets and otherwise on every major sports contest in this nation, that we be absolutely assured of the fact that we have clean, honest sports.”

The reporter’s caveat dovetailed with Halveland’s testimony. The intelligence unit commander told the panel that St. Louis bookmakers — who were close associates of Giordano — received their daily sports betting line from Las Vegas “at one location formerly owned by Missouri Sportservice Inc.”

More important perhaps is Halveland’s theory on how Giordano bankrolled his own move into the Las Vegas gambling scene:

“A substantial sum of money was received by Giordano … in 1965 through the sale of property at 508 Market St., St. Louis, Mo.,” said Halveland. “This building formerly housed a B-girl-type juice joint tavern. This property was sold to the Civic Center Redevelopment Corp., which subsequently constructed the St. Louis baseball stadium in this area. … He (Giordano) is then known to have made visits to Las Vegas, Nev., and the Frontier Hotel incident began developing just after this time.”

Halveland’s testimony — which went virtually unreported at the time — indicates that an illegal St. Louis gambling wire service operated at a site previously owned by an Emprise subsidiary. In addition, the St. Louis police officer testified that Giordano may have received some of the money he secretly invested in the Frontier by selling property to Civic Center, the stadium developer. Emprise, who held the concessions contract with the stadium, was convicted of shielding Giordano’s and the Detroit Mafia’s joint ownership of the casino.

The St. Louis Mafia leader and heroin trafficker known used legitimate businessmen to further his casino interests. Halveland told the Crime Committee that “Giordano secured a loan from a St. Louis area restaurant operator.”

Actually, Frank Cusumano, the St. Louis restauranteur, made three unsecured loans to Giordano totaling $50,000 between 1964 and 1968, according to Cusumano’s testimony at the 1972 federal trial in Los Angeles. He wasn’t the only St. Louisan that provided backing for Giordano, however.

Real estate tycoon Anthony Sansone Jr. testified he had withdrawn a $150,000 investment in the Frontier, after being notified he would be required to apply for a Nevada gaming license. Federal prosecutors alleged Sansone, a business partner of former St. Louis Mayor Alfonso J. Cervantes, traveled to Las Vegas with Giordano to make the investment. Sansone is the son-in-law of the late James Michaels Sr., then the Syrian crime boss of St. Louis’ and a close ally of Giordano.

That Emprise was convicted with Mafiosa from both St. Louis and Detroit is probably not a coincidence. Three of Giordano’s sisters married Detroit Mafia members, according to Halveland’s testimony. But organized crime ties linking the two cities with Arizona date back even further.

During Prohibition, Peter and Thomas (Yonnie) Licavoli, Joseph Bommarito and other St. Louis gangsters migrated to Detroit to act as gunmen for the Purple Gang, a group of notorious Jewish bootleggers. Later, Peter Licavoli moved to Tucson in 1944 at the request of mobsters Bugsy Siegel and Moe Dalitz. At the time of Bolles’ death, Peter Licavoli Sr. shared power in Arizona with Joe Bonanno, the exiled boss of one of New York’s ruling Mafia families.

This is the milieu Bolles inhabited by the mid-1970s.

Profits from illicit alcohol sales during Prohibition helped establish a new multi-ethnic criminal cartel in the U.S. After repeal in 1933, the same crime groups began financing the nascent casino industry in Las Vegas, and dominating other rackets throughout the Southwest, often with the paid cooperation of local politicians and law enforcement authorities.

Beginning in 1946, Licavoli, the Arizona mob boss, operated an illegal gambling wire service with Kemper Marley Sr., the wealthiest liquor distributor in the state. Later, Marley’s United Liquor Co. supplied Emprise dog tracks with 10 percent of their alcoholic beverages. During the 1974 Arizona gubernatorial race, Marley was the biggest contributor to Gov. Raul Castro’s campaign. After the election, the Castro administration appointed Marley to the state racing commission, but he was forced to resign because of adverse publicity from stories written by Bolles.

The Phoenix police theorized that Marley wanting revenge enlisted the help of local contractor Max Dunlap. Dunlap then allegedly hired Adamson to carry out the bombing. Adamson claimed that plumber James Robison assisted him.

Over the years, Dunlap and Robison have maintained their innocence. Dunlap remains incarcerated. Although, Robison gained acquittal in a retrial, he is still awaiting release from prison on a related charge. Meanwhile, the state paroled Adamson last year, and he disappeared into the federal witness protection program.

he Phoenix police never even arrested Marley, who died in 1990.
Devereux, the Scottsdale Progress reporter who covered the case, believes Adamson falsely implicated Dunlap and Robison as a part of a plea bargain to lessen his own sentence. The police hastily granted Adamson associate Neal Roberts, an attorney, immunity in the case for his cooperation. Roberts promulgated the theory that Marley, a friend of Dunlap’s, was behind the murder. During the trial, Dunlap testified that he had unwittingly delivered $5,800 to Adamson at the request of Roberts. The Arizona Supreme Court overturned the original trial court’s convictions because defense attorneys weren’t allowed to cross-exam Adamson, denying the defendants their constitutional right to confront their accuser.

In short, the police investigation and the state’s prosecution both missed the mark. “I don’t think it was incompetence,” says Devereux. “I think this was a deliberately misdirected investigation and prosecution. And I think the press … bought into it. Not out of any corruption on their part, just out of naivete.” The state’s case was handled by the office of then Arizona Attorney General Bruce Babbitt, who would later ascend to the governorship and is now the Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton administration.

“We made assumptions that Bruce Babbitt and the leadership of the Phoenix police department were in fact honest people,” says Devereux. “I think we were mistaken.”

Devereux places the blame for the murder on the late Bradley Funk, a close friend of Roberts, the immunized attorney. Funk was one of the local partners in Emprise’s Arizona dog track operations. “Bolles was using Bradley Funk’s ex-wife as one of his key information sources on the dog tracks,” says Devereux. “As a consequence of the divorce from Bradley, she was going to court every two years to adjust child support payments. … Bolles would give her lists of things that he wanted to get in the ways of documents, and she would add them to her (legal) motions. … I think Bradley got tired of his ex-wife and Bolles playing this game with him.”

No one really knows for sure what transpired excect perhaps Adamson, the only person who ever admitted having anything to do with Bolles’ murder. The reporter’s confessed killer lives somewhere now under a new identity with federal protection. More than likely he is far from dry winds that descend from the Superstition Mountains across the parking lots of Phoenix and all those glinting windshields and scorching vinyl seats.