December 14, 2012 03:00 PM
Crawling In The Gutter
Thieves descend on suburbs to steal municipal sewer covers. How did they end up at a mob-linked scrap yard?
By BGA and FOX 32
For weeks, thieves have been making off with sewer covers from a slew of western suburbs – a likely by-product of a limp economy and relatively high resale prices for metal.
On Thursday, police revealed where at least some of those heavy grates ended up: in a Melrose Park scrap yard that’s been linked to reputed mob figures.
The yard on Lake Street is home to two sister companies: D&P Construction and JKS Ventures. Both are, on paper, run by Josephine DiFronzo, wife of Peter DiFronzo, who the FBI has identified as a "made" member of the Chicago mob.
But the FBI has long contended that Peter DiFronzo and his brother John "No Nose" DiFronzo, a reputed mob leader, are really in charge of the operation.
The complex pays money for scrap metal, and apparently had been buying the stolen municipal items from thieves – by one account for $6 each, by another for 10 cents a pound, authorities said.
Forest Park police said that over the weekend they arrested a man who was spotted stealing sewer caps and grates, which can weigh upwards of 50 or 60 pounds. Officers found a number of them in the back of his SUV, and he told police he was headed to the scrap yard to cash in, authorities said. The village ultimately recovered other stolen pieces from the scrap yard.
A few days ago, acting on a "tip," police from Westchester recovered more than 30 of their sewer caps and grates at JKS Ventures, each valued between $150 and $200 new.
Westchester Police Chief April Padalik said there was a large pile of stolen metal – perhaps 100 or more sewer caps and the like.
Other nearby towns that have suffered thefts include: Bellwood, Berkeley, Elmhurst, Hillside, Itasca, La Grange Park, Northlake, Western Springs and Wood Dale.
At least some of those communities, alerted to the find, have since visited the Melrose Park scrap yard looking for – and finding – their missing items.
A police investigation is ongoing, with more arrests possible, authorities said.
Whether the DiFronzo operation could face trouble for buying stolen gear – unwittingly or otherwise – is unclear.
Josephine DiFronzo was reached on the phone Thursday night, but after a reporter identified himself the phone went dead. She did not respond to subsequent inquiries.
Another woman in the D&P/JKS office told a FOX 32 reporter the company helped police by alerting authorities to a suspicious sales attempt. However, Padalik said that "help" came after police had found stolen items at the scrap yard.
Despite its reputed (and well-publicized) mob connections, D&P has secured an alarming amount of government-related business in recent years through its waste-hauling operation, as detailed in previous BGA and FOX 32 reports.
D&P was one of the sponsors of a village festival in Melrose Park just this past summer.
In 2007 testimony at the "Family Secrets" mob trial, John DiFronzo was implicated in the murders of mobster-brothers Anthony and Michael Spilotro, but he never was charged with their deaths.
In a rare interview several years ago, after cameras found John DiFronzo frequenting D&P/JKS offices in Melrose Park, he was asked about his role there.
"Nothing," he said.
This story was written and reported by the Better Government Association’s Katie Drews, Patrick Rehkamp and Robert Herguth, and FOX 32’s Dane Placko. To reach them, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (312) 821-9027.