The Chicago Outfit has always been an insular organization, top hoodlums usually unwilling to welcome other criminal groups to the fold. So this alliance that federal prosecutors say was forged between the Outfit and the Outlaws motorcycle gang is considered unique in all of mobdom.
The largest part of this five-defendant case walked into the Dirksen Federal Building Wednesday predicting victory. Michael Sarno, 52, known in mob circles as "the Large Guy," is a convicted west suburban rackets boss now on trial for allegedly ordering the 2003 firebombing of a Berwyn business that was competing against the mob's illegal video poker trade.
Standing trial with Sarno are 86-year-old Samuel Volpendesto, his son, Anthony, Mark Polchan, an admitted member of the Outlaws biker gang, and Casey Szaflarski, who allegedly ran illegal gambling operations.
According to the indictment, Sarno oversaw the Outfit-Outlaw joint venture and received a cut of the illegal wagering profits.
"I think that case provides a perfect illustration of why the Outfit is still dangerous and shouldn't be counted out," said T. Marcus Funk, former federal prosecutor. "Forming an alliance like that, being adaptable, being able to change with the circumstances, and also using being able to use violence when necessary. It may not be something done on a daily basis like it was in the 50s, but violence is still a tool for the Outfit."
The case took shape in 2008 when FBI agents raided several Outlaws clubhouses, seizing weapons, bulletproof vests and police badges-- at the same time executing search warrants on Sarno's suburban home.
As a budding hoodlum, Sarno once tipped the scales at about 400 pounds, and at that time went by the nickname "Fat Boy."
Even though he appears to have dropped a few pounds, by whatever mob moniker Wednesday, the issue of nicknames was a factor in jury selection. Several prospective jurors were dismissed after saying mob nicknames might cause them to be prejudiced against the defendants.
Several casino employees were also dismissed. Six jurors were seated to hear the case.
The mob trial will be off Thursday for federal Veterans Day and jury selection resumes on Friday morning. It is expected to last about three weeks.