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The Rockford mob’s takeover of the Negro Policy Racket

By Gangsters Inc. Editors

The “Negro Policy Racket” in the 1940s-1960s in Rockford was not unlike the one in Chicago, only on a smaller scale. The policy racket gave some hope to poor blacks at the time that they would “hit it big” if they bet as little as a penny on this gambling operation. But odds were always in favor of the “house.”

There were policy writers that would take the bettor’s information and money then deliver it to the operation’s owners. By 1959 word had most likely gotten back to the Rockford La Cosa Nostra family that the Negro policy racket had grown quite sizable. On September 1st of that year a $60,000 to $70,000 policy racket was broken up when sheriff’s deputies raided a headquarters in the Washington Park area of Rockford and arrested the two operators and six writers. John Head, 43, and Lee Walker, 42, who ran the 620 Club from 620 Lexington Avenue drew $500 fines. Walker was sentenced to one year on 18 counts of tax evasion in Chicago and Head drew two years on a similar charge in San Francisco. The policy writers drew $100 fines- James Collins, 72, Curtis Ivey, 68, James Higginbothom, 56, Wilbur Jones, 41, Amos Hearns, 61 and Anne Mae Raye, 50.

When this story made the newspaper, it probably caused Rockford mob boss Joe Zammuto to take notice of the dollar amount. Zammuto knew exactly who he should tap to attempt to take over this operation: Charles Vince (photo right). Vince had been a fixture in the Rockford Italian underworld since the 1930s and had charges ranging from larceny, robbery, assault and gambling. In 1949 Vince’s star was really on the rise when he married Marie LaRocca of Springfield, Illinois. Marie was the daughter of Giuseppe LaRocca and Giuseppa Giganti - two families connected to the Zito crime family of Springfield. When this marriage occurred it was rocky from the beginning as an informant later stated that Vince was “inclined to run around a lot.”

On June 3, 1954 Vince and Marie divorced and soon after the May 9, 1954 death of Rockford mob associate Frank Giardono, Vince moved in with his widow and the following year in November 1955 Vince married her. Apparently this caused Charles Vince to fall out of favor with then-Rockford boss Tony Musso and Vince was kicked out of Rockford. In 1956 Vince and his new bride moved to Streator, Illinois and he was not seen around Rockford during that time. In May 1958 Tony Musso died of cancer and Joe Zammuto was named as successor. Later, FBI files from the 1960s detailed an informant’s information, “He said that when MUSSO died VINCE immediately returned to Rockford and has been highly thought of by JOE ZAMMUTO, JOE ZITO and FRANK BUSCEMI, who are running the gang in Rockford now.”

At any rate, Charles Vince being an expert in the field of gambling was used as the spearhead to move in on the Negro policy racket. By September 1959 Lee Walker and John Head also were operating Mid-States Vending which serviced vending machines in the black community in Rockford. The bad luck on their part was that Frank Buscemi had just moved to Rockford from Chicago and after a heinous gangland double murder in Rockford in May 1959, Buscemi was immediately “made” into the Rockford family. Buscemi’s sister had also married Joe Zammuto’s son, so that familial angle helped his star rise as well.

FBI files outlined how after moving to Rockford, Zammuto set up Buscemi in the vending business. Buscemi started the company Stateline Vending and its office was inside the Aragona Club at 320 Kent Street, which the FBI also stated was the headquarters for the Rockford Mafia. Buscemi set out to force all Rockford area vending owners to either cut the Rockford mob in on their business or buy Stateline Vending products and services and this included Head and Walker’s business. On the other end, Vince was making the necessary steps to bring the Negro policy racket into the Rockford mob’s fold.

Not only was Vince trying to rein in the policy operations but he was also looking to get a cut of all the illegal gambling and liquor operations in the black community. Many potential African American liquor businesses were unable to get a liquor license at the time and this caused “underground” drinking establishments to crop up, usually outside the Rockford city limits within Winnebago County. This was fortunate for the Rockford mob because according to a May 17, 1966 FBI report, an informant had stated “that [REDACTED] who is not a member of the Rockford family, is the individual who handles the payoffs to the Winnebago County Sheriff’s office. He said that the outfit in Rockford has had Sheriff KIRK KING in their pocket since the 1940s and payments to KING are made through [REDACTED].”

With Sheriff Kirk King, the Rockford mob could have all illegal gambling and liquor establishments not under their control, raided by deputies and shut down. Raids like this were common in the 1960s, and by 1965 it seemed that the Rockford mob’s influence was complete. A very interesting FBI entry from April 30, 1965 detailed this influence. It reads in full: “Information developed subject (Charles Vince) booking horses by telephone at his residence, Apartment 5, 1904 Auburn Street, Rockford, Illinois. Subject allegedly collecting $2,000 to $3,000 per month from Negro operators of illegal liquor and gambling establishments, Rockford. Informant said that he had learned that [REDACTED] recently told [REDACTED] that he had decided not to pay VINCE any more money and declined to make one payment. Shortly thereafter [REDACTED] was called down to the Sheriff’s Office by Deputy [REDACTED]. Winnebago County Deputy [REDACTED] speaking for Sheriff KIRK KING, allegedly told one [REDACTED] to “get back in line,” if [REDACTED] wished to stay open, after [REDACTED] had refused his weekly payment to CHARLES VINCE. VINCE allegedly splits take with leaders of Rockford Italian Underworld at Aragona Club at Rockford each Tuesday. VINCE SHOULD BE CONSIDERED ARMED AND DANGEROUS.” Also included in this part of Charles Vince’s FBI file was a very long list of those Negro establishments that were engaged in illegal gambling and liquor and that were making payoffs to the Rockford mob to operate. In fact, a comprehensive organized crime study done in 1971 by the Illinois Institute of Technology working with the Chicago Crime Commission stated that “there was more than one report that policy wheels exist in the Black community of Rockford, operated by local Blacks, with payoffs to the white outfit.”

A November 9, 1965, Rockford Morning Star article stated that the Quality Club at 1100 S. Pierpont Avenue, which was an unlicensed African American bar and gambling business had been closed down. The club was shut down after a Sheriff’s raid on the establishment on November 6th for selling alcohol without a license.

The newspaper stated, “At the Quality Club…, law enforcement officers from both the city and county have been called to the scene repeatedly to quell outbreaks of violence and general disturbances that have broken out long past normal tavern closing hours. In the past, Sheriff King has shown marked reluctance to close down the Quality Club despite the series of disturbances that threatened to get out of hand.”

One of the six directors of the Quality Club was Homer B. Moore, who was described as one of two Negro deputies assigned to police the neighborhood near the club. Another board member who was also an original incorporator of the club was John Turner, who had numerous gambling arrests going back to the 1950s. In August 1964, the owner of the property according to a deed filed in the County’s offices was Rockford attorney John R. Snively, who was deeded the property by John and Shirley Turner on May 1, 1964. Listed as original directors of the club besides Homer B. Moore were Hosea Tisdale and Henry Webb. Turner and Webb were among the incorporators of the Cotton Club in South Beloit, which was raided August 1, 1964 by deputies who confiscated gambling equipment and liquor they charged was being sold without a license.

Apparently an unnamed person would leave the Quality Club at 1100 South Pierpont Avenue on Monday evenings and meet with Vince at the mob-connected Southside Sportsmen’s Club on South Main Street to deliver the weekly payment, to which Vince then would take that money to the Aragona club on Tuesdays to be split up with the Rockford mob. It was also alleged that Vince was collecting payments from white men operating illegally as well and this was evidenced by someone making pickups for Vince at Flo’s Inn on Blackhawk Island. The unnamed person was making pickups on Vince’s behalf because Vince wasn’t welcome at Flo’s Inn for some reason. The listed owner of Flo’s Inn at the time was Bruno J. Garshva.

It could be surmised that perhaps John Turner was the one who refused to pay Charles Vince “protection” money to stay open and that Homer Moore or the other African-American deputy was the one who told him to “get back in line.” At any rate, in either late 1965 or early 1966, Lorenzo Buttice retired his position as capo of the Rockford family and boss Joe Zammuto had promoted Charles Vince to that spot, increasing his power and influence. It wasn’t so much that the Rockford mob used their soldiers to enforce their rule with African Americans during this time, rather it was the fear of law enforcement that was their dog that bit.

As for the policy racket, by 1965 that was also firmly under the Rockford mob’s control. Acting on information, federal agents raided a policy wheel operation on January 21, 1966, while it was in progress at 905 Newport Avenue on the outskirts of Rockford. Though it couldn’t be proven, the FBI learned this enterprise was under the control of boss Joe Zammuto, Charles Vince and consigliere Joe Zito. Those that took arrests in this case were William “Pork Chops” Sherod, 50, David Lane, 46, Jim Rollins, 65, Samuel Wilkins, 43, Lee King, 51, Robert Gilbert, 75, Philip Jackson, 67, Dave Flowers, 43, and Andrew “Do-Do” Morey, 65. Newspapers reported that this operation generated more than $25,000 a month and was named the Globe-Post Policy Wheel.

Not to be deterred, Zito had made plans to keep the policy racket rolling. A source had indicated to the FBI that on June 13, 1966, Joe Zito had met in the office of a Rockford bank with his brother Frank Zito (photo right), mob boss of Springfield and Charles Vince, to discuss the installation of an automated policy wheel. Frank Zito had indicated he could obtain a state-of-the-art policy wheel from a contact in St. Louis, Tony Giordano, who was a made member of the local mob there. An 1968 FBI report detailed information from a Chicago informant who stated, “CG T-3 advised that when [REDACTED] was arrested by federal authorities several years ago during the operation of his policy wheel, VINCE squeezed [REDACTED] for some money and was going to squeeze him for some more, but was stopped by JOE ZAMMUTO, boss of the Rockford LCN family, because he felt this would possibly stir up some trouble which was not warranted by the amount of money involved.”

In 1974 the Sheriff’s Department was under investigation for possible corruption relating to the arrest of Rockford mob-connected gambler Ted Bacino who shot and killed a Deputy during a bank robbery. It was discovered that in Bacino’s possession was the unlisted number of Sheriff’s Department Captain Michael Iasparro and Rockford mob member Phil “The Tailor” Emordeno. This hastened Iasparro’s retirement when he admitted that he often gambled with Bacino. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Office was being probed for the preferential treatment to an incarcerated Chicago Outfit associate that same year. One of those witnesses scheduled to testify in the grand jury investigation into the sheriff’s department was John Turner who was involved in the policy rackets. Turner had died before he could testify but investigators had interviewed him prior to his death. The substance of the interview was never disclosed but it was mentioned by various sources that he had been associated with present and former deputies in possible illegal gambling activities and payoffs. Turner’s record not only included numerous gambling arrests at his place of business, Que Billiards at 1010 S. Main Street, but he was also charged in 1964 for conspiring to defraud the U.S. government of taxes on a 100-gallon a day moonshine operation.

Indications were that the Rockford Outfit was still involved with African American gambling into the 1980s when on June 17, 1982 authorities raided four area locations and arrested 53 people in relation to an illegal numbers operation that was based on the winning numbers in the Illinois State Lottery drawing. This operation was centered in the Rockford area but branched out into Beloit, Wisconsin and even into Grand Rapids, Michigan. The four African American men running this operation in the Rockford area were Sidney “Bird Leg” Banks, Willie Ray Bryant and Bobby Mitchell of Rockford and George Morgan of South Beloit and it catered to the African American population in those cities. Rockford Police, the Winnebago County Sheriff’s Department and the IRS raided 20 locations in Rockford and Beloit police raided four suspected gambling sites there.

Money from the gambling operations in Winnebago County and Beloit may have passed into the hands of organized-crime elements in Michigan said Vincent Piersante, chief of the Michigan attorney general’s OC Division and this was later confirmed by Winnebago County Sheriff’s Detective Paul Shimaitis, who specialized in organized crime cases. Though it was never revealed who headed the gambling operation on the Michigan end, it could be assumed it was through Dominic “Fats” Corrado who was capo of the Detroit mafia at the time. Dominic’s father was Pietro “Machine Gun Pete” Corrado who had led the takeover of the black policy rackets in the Detroit area in the 1940s.

Rockford Police Chief Delbert Peterson said the operation cleared $3 million annually and $13,000 in cash representing one day’s revenues was confiscated in the raids. Detective Paul Shimaitis stated that the operation grossed $15 million a year. Local prosecutors and police said those arrested refused to implicate a Stateline area man police suspected was the next link up in the operation’s chain of command and reputed to be “in charge of numbers” for the Rockford-Beloit area. Though this person was never arrested or even named, indications were that it was Charles Vince, who had collected money from the black policy operations since the 1960s in the Rockford area. It is also interesting to note that according to police affidavits, Sidney Banks was the previous operator of the Night and Day Disco. The Night and Day Disco was owned by Rockford mob member Salvatore Galluzzo and was located at 1049 West State Street. When Galluzzo had to close the troubled nightspot, the license was transferred to Frank A. Buscemi, son of Rockford underboss Frank Buscemi (photo right). This puts Sidney Banks in an interesting position and begs the question; did Frank Buscemi and Charles Vince have a hand in this multi-state gambling operation along with Banks and the cooperation of Detroit organized crime?

As the 1980s began, the Rockford La Cosa Nostra family involved itself in the distribution and sales of narcotics primarily through cooperation with other La Cosa Nostra families and distanced itself from African American gambling and extortion when the profits of drugs became great. At the local level, the Rockford Outfit used the various street gangs for the distribution of these drugs and FBI files detailed their cooperation with the crime families in Buffalo, Boston, and even Sicily.

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