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Stepsons of deceased mob-connected businessman charged with participating in a red-light camera kickback scheme – Chicago Tribune


The stepsons of a deceased mob-connected businessman have been charged with taking part in a red-light digicam kickback scheme that allegedly funneled 1000’s in money funds to the then-mayor of Oakbrook Terrace in alternate for a profitable reduce of ticket proceeds.

James Colucci, 52, of Lisle, and Joseph Colucci, 47, of Mokena, are the most recent to face federal costs stemming from a sweeping federal investigation into bribes and kickbacks involving red-light cameras put in by SafeSpeed LLC, which generates thousands and thousands of {dollars} in fines from motorists every year in practically two dozen Chicago suburbs.

An indictment made public Friday charged the Coluccis with 4 counts of wire fraud. Attorneys for every defendant couldn’t instantly be reached.

According to the fees, the Colucci brothers illegally benefited from a deal struck in 2012 by their late stepfather, Dennis Colucci, whose firm acted as a gross sales consultant for SafeSpeed because it sought to develop to new territory.

The settlement with then-Oakbrook Terrace Mayor Tony Ragucci referred to as for Dennis Colucci’s firm, DSC Enterprises, to obtain a whopping 14% of the income that SafeSpeed generated from its settlement with Oakbrook Terrace, in keeping with the indictment.

It’s unclear from the fees how a lot cash finally flowed to DSC Enterprises, however in keeping with out there knowledge, Oakbrook Terrace’s red-light cameras generated practically $17 million in income from 2017 to April 2021. Based on the quantity of that cash that went to SafeSpeed, the reduce for DSC would have been about $900,000.

After the cash began flowing, Dennis Colucci — a onetime affiliate of infamous Outfit hit man Harry Aleman — agreed to pay $3,500 a month in money bribes in return for the mayor’s continued help of SafeSpeed-operated cameras in his city, the indictment alleged.

Before he died in January 2018 on the age of 78, Dennis Colucci met with Ragucci and his stepsons to debate the association, telling the brothers to “continue making monthly payments to Ragucci” after his demise, in keeping with the indictment.

Ragucci, in the meantime, was additionally soliciting money funds from SafeSpeed co-founder and government Omar Maani in alternate for renewing the corporate’s annual contract with the city, the indictment alleged.

The Colucci brothers allegedly continued to pay the mayor every month till September 2019, when the investigation went public with a sequence of FBI raids.

Unbeknownst to Ragucci and the Coluccis, Maani had began secretly cooperating with federal investigators shortly earlier than Dennis Colucci’s demise, in keeping with the indictment.

Sources advised the Tribune that Maani made quite a few recordings of conversations with Ragucci and the Colucci brothers.

Ragucci, 66, was charged final month in a felony data with one depend every of sincere companies wire fraud and submitting a false tax return. He faces as much as 20 years in jail if convicted, however sources have mentioned he’s cooperating with investigators and is anticipated to plead responsible at a later date.

Maani struck a deferred prosecution settlement with the U.S. lawyer’s workplace that would see bribery conspiracy costs in opposition to him dismissed after his cooperation is full.

SafeSpeed and its CEO, Nikki Zollar, have denied any wrongdoing, saying that any bribes supplied by Maani occurred with out the corporate’s information.

In an announcement to the Tribune on Friday, an organization spokeswoman mentioned “all outside sales consultants were associates of (Maani) and were retained based on his recommendation.”

“Their actions were clearly in their own self-interest and done without SafeSpeed’s knowledge and undercut the important work SafeSpeed does,” the corporate has beforehand mentioned. “The criminal activity of a few individuals does not and should not reflect the values and integrity of SafeSpeed, its employees, and its clients.”

The allegations in opposition to the Coluccis added new intrigue into what has already been a sprawling case, ensnaring then-state Sen. Martin Sandoval, the then-powerful head of the Senate Transportation Committee, Crestwood Mayor Louis Presta, and a number of other longtime Democratic political operatives.

News studies and sources point out Dennis Colucci’s ties to Outfit figures went again a long time, although he by no means was charged with any mob-related exercise.

Neither of the elder Colucci’s stepsons are alleged to have any mob ties. Joseph Colucci is an actual property and mortgage dealer who additionally owns a bar in Tinley Park that was just lately granted an utility for a video playing license with the Illinois Gaming Board, information present.

James Colucci additionally labored within the mortgage lending enterprise. His LinkedIn profile lists him as a supervisor at a Chicago-based well being care consulting agency.

In May 1977, Dennis Colucci was considered one of 4 alibi witnesses who testified on behalf of Aleman, one of many Outfit’s most feared killers who was on trial for the 1972 slaying of William Logan, a truck dispatcher and Teamsters union member.

According to a Tribune report of the trial, Colucci, then a dock employee at McCormick Place, testified he was with Aleman hitting golf balls at a Melrose Park driving vary on the evening Logan was gunned down outdoors his West Side dwelling.

Backing up that story was Aleman’s spouse, Ruth, who mentioned she’d dropped Aleman off round 7 p.m. and returned to the vary about 4 hours later, the place the boys have been nonetheless hitting golf balls. “We sat around the table and talked,” she mentioned. “We left either shortly before or after midnight.”

Cook County Circuit Judge Frank Wilson acquitted Aleman of the fees. But years later, Robert Cooley, a former mob lawyer who turned a federal informant, revealed he had personally bribed the decide.

Aleman was retried and convicted of Logan’s homicide in 1997 — the primary defendant ever within the U.S. to be discovered responsible of homicide after beforehand being acquitted in the identical killing. His protection workforce within the second trial had once more raised the golf vary alibi, however Colucci was not among the many witnesses who testified, information present.

In 2019, the Tribune first revealed that the Colucci household was underneath federal scrutiny within the red-light digicam probe in a narrative about an unrelated 2016 actual property deal involving a Florida condominium owned by then-state Sen. Terry Link.

Link, who was underneath federal investigation on the time for tax points, had bought the condominium to Joseph Colucci’s mother-in-law, Catherine Lofrano, for $150,000, however by no means reported the revenue on his state ethics type as required the Tribune reported.

Link had already been recognized by the Tribune because the unnamed senator who wore a wire on then-state Rep. Luis Arroyo of Chicago as a part of an FBI sting — a case that led to Arroyo’s resignation and conviction on bribery costs.

In an interview with the Tribune, Link mentioned then that the condominium sale to Colucci’s mother-in-law was merely a coincidence. He mentioned he doesn’t know the Coluccis, and that Lofrano purchased the condominium after assembly Link’s spouse by the condominium complicated’s pool whereas the girl and her husband have been vacationing there as renters.

Given the connection to a different department of the investigation, Link mentioned, “I could see where you would look at that, but I don’t know them.”

State marketing campaign information present that within the years Dennis Colucci was working as a SafeSpeed gross sales rep, he and his firm have been spreading marketing campaign donations round to politicians in lots of areas the place the corporate was in search of to put in cameras, together with Oakbrook Terrace, Stone Park, Melrose Park and Berwyn.

In 2017, DSC Enterprises additionally made two donations totaling $500 to the Westchester First Party, which was supporting a slate of candidates for village trustee and different political positions in suburban Westchester, information present.

Then-Westchester police Chief Steven Stelter continues to be featured on SafeSpeed’s web site extolling the effectiveness of red-light cameras in decreasing automobile accidents.

On Thursday, the day the federal grand jury returned the indictment in opposition to the Coluccis, the Tribune reported that the state had revoked the working allow for Oakbrook Terrace’s cameras, at Illinois Highway 83 and twenty second Street.

The Illinois Department of Transportation mentioned the suburb hadn’t adopted state necessities on submitting periodic studies documenting that the cameras had improved security — necessities that the Tribune beforehand discovered IDOT had lengthy didn’t implement.

Ragucci, earlier than his indictment, argued the cameras have been about security. And the brand new mayor, Paul Esposito, mentioned the identical factor in a information launch Thursday. An intersection that sees practically 200,000 autos go a yr, he mentioned, had 33 crashes in 2017, 39 in 2018, 31 in 2019 and 17 in 2020, a yr during which the pandemic lessened commuting.

Esposito argued that Oak Brook has been against the cameras as a result of it feared the cameras scared away clients to its close by mall, what Esposito referred to as a “tragic example of the profits (for the mall) taking precedence over the safety of the motoring public.”

Oak Brook has maintained the cameras are literally about gouging drivers. And Oak Brook officers have been readying a lawsuit to attempt to pressure IDOT to take down the cameras, mentioned village trustee Michael Manzo, who’s helped lead the trouble.

Manzo advised the Tribune village officers beforehand pleaded with state lawmakers and IDOT officers to take the cameras down, citing the ever-widening federal corruption probe that tied in to these cameras.

“All the elected officials from Springfield just kept making excuses about how this can’t be done,” Manzo mentioned. “Only in Illinois can you uncover a corrupt scheme, and even after it’s uncovered, it’s allowed to continue.”

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

jmahr@chicagotribune.com



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