December 6, 2008 08:20 AM
Rosemont mayor returns mob-linked funds
By Chris Fusco/Chicago Sun-Times with the BGA
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CHICAGO — The mayor of Rosemont, whose suburb is among three finalists vying to land a casino, is giving back a campaign contribution from an allegedly mob-linked company.
Mayor Bradley Stephens' action follows an inquiry by the Chicago Sun-Times and the Better Government Association.
The company -- D&P Construction -- gave $400 to the Regular Republican Voters League of Leyden Township, headed by Stephens, on Nov. 8, 2007.
In 2001, the Illinois Gaming Board linked the company to "individuals who have been identified as known members of organized crime."
Stephens said the group's treasurer mistakenly deposited D&P's check, which was among hundreds to come in after a fund-raiser.
"She was almost in tears when I questioned her, 'How did this get through the cracks?' " he said.
The contribution -- along with others examined as part of a Sun-Times/BGA analysis -- is prompting new questions about an old subject: whether Rosemont is a suitable home for the state's last-available casino license.
In 2004, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan documented ties between Bradley Stephens' father, then-Rosemont Mayor Donald E. Stephens, and allegedly mob-linked individuals.
D&P -- whose owner, Josephine DiFronzo, did not respond to requests for comment -- was a focus of a Gaming Board disciplinary case that stopped Emerald Casino Inc. from building a floating gambling barge in Rosemont in 2001.
The board eventually revoked Emerald's gaming license, setting the stage for it to be re-bid this year.
Last week, the Chicago Crime Commission encouraged the Gaming Board to remove Rosemont from the casino race.
"In our view, the inability of the Illinois Gaming Board to address the concerns about alleged mob ties is enough to disqualify their application," said J.R. Davis, the commission's president.
The board's five members plan to award the license to one of three bidders by year's end. Trilliant Gaming, which wants to build in Rosemont, is widely seen as the leading contender. Its $435 million bid is more than double what others are offering to put the casino in Waukegan or Des Plaines.
Jim Wagner -- formerly a top Chicago FBI mob investigator and Gaming Board investigations chief -- said the $400 from D&P to the Stephens-run political group raises new concerns about Rosemont.
"D&P is, to me, a company that has been so often in the news that there should be every attempt to disassociate themselves from that company," said Wagner, who recently stepped down as the Chicago Crime Commission's chief. "The problems that are in Rosemont should be enough to disqualify putting the casino in that environment."
Stephens, who became mayor after his father's death last year, said any mob taint his community might had is a thing of the past. And he scoffed at the idea he'd risk a lucrative casino project for a $400 political contribution. He also said he has adopted his father's policy of rejecting campaign contributions from anyone whose integrity has been questioned by the Gaming Board.
"To keep throwing this stuff up is ridiculous," Stephens said.
The Sun-Times and the BGA examined campaign contributions from people and companies involved in the Gaming Board's disciplinary complaint against Emerald.
In that 2001 document, the Gaming Board said: "The owner of D&P, Josephine DiFronzo, is married to Peter DiFronzo and is the sister-in law of John DiFronzo, individuals who have been identified as known members of organized crime. Emerald's failure to exercise appropriate supervision resulted in work being performed at the site by D&P."
D&P also had done waste-hauling work in Rosemont, but Don Stephens severed ties with the company after the Gaming Board's case was made public.
He also donated to charity thousands of dollars in campaign cash he'd received from the company.
Besides its 2007 contribution to to the Regular Republican Voters League of Leyden Township, D&P gave $1,350 to the Rosemont Voters League on Jan. 17, 2000, and another $1,150, on Jan. 19, 2001.
The Voters League has supported the campaigns of several Rosemont village trustees, including Bradley Stephens before he became mayor; park district commissioners; and school-board members.
Rosemont officials said they believe the Voters League donated the D&P contributions to charity but don't have records to show that.
D&P's contribution troubles Jay Stewart, the BGA's executive director.
"Maybe Mayor Stephens' pledge to not take money from D&P is as sincere as the day is long," Stewart said. "But if this got through the cracks, what else might?"