'Large Guy' jury gets case; large job looms

ABC7 Photo: Michael Sarno

December 21, 2010 4:40:00 AM PST
It is one delivery that may not be made before Christmas -- the verdict in the federal racketeering case against Chicago mob boss Mike ''The Large Guy'' Sarno and four of his alleged Outfit elves.

Six weeks after the trial began, final closing arguments were finished on Monday and jurors received their instructions from the judge. During the lengthy reading of jury instructions by Judge Ronald Guzman, elderly defendant Samuel Volpendesto appeared to fall asleep in his wheelchair. Volpendesto, 86, is accused in the case along with his son Anthony.

The jury only deliberated for about an hour Monday afternoon before going home. They will return on Tuesday morning. Conventional court wisdom has it that juries usually deliberate one day for every week of trial testimony. If that rule of thumb held true in this case, it would mean that the jury would not have time to reach a verdict by Christmas and would have to return during the week of Dec. 27. Of course, predicting the timing of jury verdicts has the same degree of certainty as guessing the outcome of the deliberations themselves: none.

Sarno is charged with racketeering in connection with a 2003 bombing of a Berwyn company that allegedly belonged to a rival video poker operator. While finishing her closing argument Monday morning, the lawyer for Sarno co-defendant Casey Szaflarski said credibility was key in the case and one of the government's star witnesses "wouldn't know truth if it hit him over the head."

Catharine O'Daniel repeatedly told the jury that Szaflarski's video poker company Amusements, Inc. was legit. "The machines are legal" O'Daniel said. She claims Szaflarski never paid out any money but the tavern owners did. She described Szaflarski as a "hard-working family man" with "not a violent bone in his body."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu rebutted by saying, "Truth is not for sale."

Bhachu drove home the government's case that Michael Sarno was the boss of the enterprise. He showed several transcripts of secretly recorded FBI tapes to prove nothing was done without Sarno's permission. "Mr. Sarno is no dummy, he practices counter surveillance." In other words he speaks in code and uses four phones to hide from law enforcement.

Sarno smiled several times while Bhachu was talking. Mark Polchan looked angry and was seen shaking his head.

"Somebody that turns against the enterprise is a scumbag according to Mr. Polchan" Bhachu told the jury, "These people were involved in dozens and dozens of criminal acts."

Three jurors were dismissed throughout the trial. The first one was sick with a chronic illness that flared up. The second was dismissed because his mother went into a coma. And as the case went to the jury, a third juror was dismissed for having the flu. They were all replaced by alternate jurors who had attended throughout the trial. The dismissals leave just one alternate juror.


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