Chicago Tribune


By Robert Blau and John O`Brien.
Tribune reporter Ray Gibson contributed to this article.

September 7, 1990

Lucien Senese, carrying a briefcase at his side, left a girlfriend`s home in Chicago`s Little Italy on Thursday morning and walked to a white Buick parked in the driveway. He inserted a key into the car`s ignition and turned it, instantly setting off an explosion that nearly ripped off the back of the car, shattered windows up and down the 1000 block of South May Street and sent shrapnel flying across the street.

Senese, a large, bearded man, staggered from the car, his skin, clothing and hat on fire.

On Thursday night, Lucien Senese, 33, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local 703, was in critical condition in Cook County Hospital`s burn unit. A spokeswoman for County Hospital said he was later transferred to another hospital, but family members requested that the name of the hospital not be disclosed.

The explosion occurred one week after Senese`s father, Dominic Senese, 73, a victim of a 1988 shotgun attack near his west suburban Oak Brook home, was ordered to give up the presidency of the union local because of the father`s longstanding ties with organized-crime bosses.

The attempted assassination of Lucien Senese, who lived with his family in Elk Grove Village, is seen by investigators as part of an ongoing violent power struggle for control of the union local which, according to federal authorities, is controlled by organized crime. The attack was not believed to have stemmed from a personal vendetta, authorities said.

Dominic Senese was banished from the union by a federal judge, but his enemies within the local, some of whom federal authorities regarded as up-and- coming mob figures, saw business as usual with Lucien Senese. The younger Senese, who has been the local`s secretary-treasurer since 1983, was poised to take control and still take orders from his father, the enemies feared.

Local union records on file with the U.S. Department of Labor show that Lucien Senese, who was previously employed as a truck driver, was paid $100,515 a year in salary and expenses. He also was given the use of a 1989 Buick, in which the bomb was planted.

Within the union, he is known as a loudmouth bully who occasionally upset his father and a brother, Joseph, a $47,300-a-year organizer for the local. Indeed, police who investigated the shooting of Dominic Senese said they were told Lucien might have been involved in that attack and stood to benefit from it.

Shortly after Thursday`s explosion, the elder Senese rushed to County Hospital, where he instructed doctors not to allow his son to be interviewed, sources at the hospital said. The location of the assassination attempt was unusual, according to investigators, who said that the old Italian neighborhood on Chicago`s West Side has long been considered off limits for mob violence.

Investigators, including personnel from the FBI, Chicago police and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, acknowledged that they face a long and tedious job in trying to identify who planted the bomb and why. Detectives who canvassed the area said some neighborhood residents were reluctant to cooperate with police.

An examination of the demolished car indicated that the bomb was probably fashioned with a large amount of dynamite or a similar explosive substance. The bomb was placed in the rear of the driver`s side. It was apparently detonated when Senese, who had just left his girlfriend`s house, started the engine, according to Chicago Police Deputy Supt. Edward Wodnicki. The car`s gas tank did not explode. Nevertheless, the blast ignited a fire, which spread from a garage behind the car to the rear porch of a house. It also shot hundreds of metal fragments in all directions, some of which punctured doors and windows of cars parked on the street. One woman was grazed by flying debris, police said.

Investigators said they want to question Senese`s girlfriend, identified only as "Mimi," whom police were not able to locate, according to Chief of Detectives John Townsend. Fortunately, police said, the street that is near the heart of Chicago`s Little Italy was not bustling with people at the time of the explosion.

Several residents heard the blast and rushed to the scene in time to see Senese running from his car, his clothes singed off and his body badly burned. "I didn`t know what happened," said Frank DeSanti, who lives on the block. "I looked and I saw a car on fire and smoke coming out. The man was staggering down the street. He was on fire. I tried to help him. A pastor gave him a chair. A woman got him a blanket. "He was so shocked, he couldn`t say a word," DeSanti added.

Responding police found Senese being cared for by paramedics. "I asked him what his name was," said Sgt. Joseph Gawlik, of the Monroe police district. "He told me, `Lucien Senese.` I asked him what had happened. That question he would not respond to. He was moaning from the pain."

On Aug. 30, a federal judge in New York upheld an order ousting Dominic Senese from the presidency of Local 703 because of his association with Chicago mob figures.

Local 703 represents workers in Chicago`s wholesale produce market, which receives most of the meat, fruit and vegetable deliveries that enter the city. Non-Teamster drivers making pickups at the market have long complained of shakedowns by people working in the market. Dominic Senese, known in mob circles as the "big banana," according to FBI documents, narrowly survived a shotgun attack that tore away parts of his face and neck as he drove toward his home in an exclusive subdivision in Du Page County.

According to a federal court document written by FBI agent Peter J. Wacks, an organized-crime specialist, the FBI warned Dominic Senese in 1987 that his life was in danger. Wacks said Senese, whom he identified as a member of the Chicago mob, declined FBI protection. No one was charged with the attempted hit on the elder Senese. He underwent plastic surgery and returned to work at the local office, 300 S. Ashland Ave. Whatever the motive of the shooting, it did not stop Senese from gaining re-election as union president over challenger William Romondi, who was later stripped of all union power by Senese.

But in 1989, the national Teamsters union entered into a consent decree with federal authorities, a move that led to the appointment of three administrators who took control over many union affairs.

As a result, Dominic Senese and two other Chicago Teamster officials were permanently ousted from the union on July 13 by one of the appointed administrators.

The Lucien Senese car bombing came almost one year after Joseph Bova, secretary-treasurer of a Laborers union local in northwest Indiana, was killed when he started his pickup truck, detonating a bomb outside his home in Merrillville, Ind. That bombing is unsolved.

Copyright 1998, The Tribune Company.

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