I-Team Report: The End of the Line

October 7, 2009 8:51:53 PM PDT
The I-Team has learned that the Chicago Police Department's renowned gambling unit has been disbanded. It's a decision that some call a bad bet. Here we are at the height of the football wagering season with the Bears on a roll and the Chicago Police Department has given up on its famed gambling unit.

The end of the line for the storied gambling squad came in a shake-up of the vice control unit six months ago. But only when the I-Team started asking questions was it revealed to the public.

Dial the number listed for the Chicago Police gambling squad and you get a recorded message saying the extension is not available.

"It was my decision," said Commander Ernie Brown, CPD Organized Crime Division.

Organized crime commander Ernie Brown says gone are the days of secret outfit wire rooms where sports bets were booked on banks of phones; mob bookies ran parlay cards for the weekend sports action; and customer records were kept on dissolving paper.

"That problem simply doesn't exist at the magnitude and at the level that requires a single purpose team for just gambling," said Brown.

Police say there is no longer a need for teams of specialty cops battering down doors and ending up on the front pages.

"I just can't figure it out because those people are out there and they're always going to be out there. There's money in that stuff, you know, lots of money," said Don Herion, retired gambling detective.

The celebrated gambling squad was best known for it's for decades of deployment out of the old Maxwell Street station on the West Side.

When retired Sgt. Don Herion worked it in the 60, 70's and 80's, the squad had 35 or 40 officers.

"How could you not work on the mob and gambling?" said Herion.

Herion spent four decades chasing mob bookmakers and their bosses for the Chicago police and the Cook County sheriff before retiring in 2000.

Herion says the mob will never retire its gambling operation and the Chicago police shouldn't have closed theirs.

"It seems to me that they almost just legalized it by having no one chase bookmakers. If you don't have anybody chasing a dog you're not going to catch a dog are you?" said Herion. Police say officers absorbed by the vice unit will still chase illegal gambling if they see it or receive a complaint.

"Basically what it was is I would like to refer to it as being hybridized," said Brown.

Former IRS criminal investigator Phil DiPasquale says the feds would frequently depend on Chicago police gambling intelligence and that you can't work gambling cases part-time.

"For three years I looked at a guy's phone records and knew he was doing it?most people don't want to spend three years going through phone records to catch somebody," said DiPasquale.

DiPasquale spent more than a year undercover working to nail south suburban outfit gambling boss Albert "Caesar" Tocco. DiPasquale says mob bosses like the late Caesar Tocco would love to know the CPD gambling unit has folded.

"He'd probably have a party," said DiPasquale.

Herion, who wrote a book about outfit gamblers and now consults on Hollywood crime movies, says bookies are more tech-savvy and it may be that they have just outsmarted Chicago police who last year made less than 100 gambling arrests.

"If they're going to wait for a phone call they may get one about three guys shooting dice in an alley or something but I can't see anything worthwhile Mob-wise," said Herion.

Police say they hope the new hybrid vice cops will be able to stop dogfight gambling and work illegal online betting cases.

"I just want the public to rest assured that we haven't abdicated or withdrawn ground on illicit gambling, what we've done is refocused our activities and allowed those officers who engaged in gambling enforcement to do other things along with enforcement of gambling laws," said Brown.

Illinois state police and Cook County haven't had a dedicated gambling unit for several years. The sheriff's vice unit focuses on internet sex crimes and human trafficking according to a spokesman. Now that Chicago is without one, only the FBI and IRS actually gather gambling intelligence here, usually in large organized crime cases. So with this weekend's kickoff a few days away illegal wagering may never have been easier.


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