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
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
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.