Chicago Sun-Times

Confessions of `Bobby the Beak'

May 3, 1998


Copyright 1998, Chicago Sun-Times

During a lifetime as a professional crook, Robert G. Siegel has done it all.

Robbing jewelry stores, banks and armored cars was his specialty. Selling drugs, collecting juice loans and committing the occasional murder were part of the job. Hijacking and counterfeiting filled out the resume.

His street name, ``Bobby the Beak,'' befitted a guy who ran with the Chicago mob, even if it was a bit unflattering, like the nickname applied to the famed mobster once reputed to be his uncle, Benjamin ``Bugsy'' Siegel.

Until federal agents arrested him six years ago at a west suburban Geneva restaurant, Siegel earned a good living, never paid income taxes and rarely went to jail.

These days, Siegel, 62, is hidden away in the federal witness protection program after revealing information that helped spark the latest corruption investigation of the Chicago Police Department. Justice Department documents obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times show that Siegel has provided a wealth of details gleaned from his career of crime: unsolved mob murders, police officers on organized crime's payroll, former police officers who fenced jewels and ``mob-connected'' lawyers who allegedly paid bribes to judges to fix cases.

``I can do a lot of damage,'' Siegel told a Chicago FBI agent who traveled to Florida in late 1994 to assess his request for a deal that would reduce the 19-year federal prison sentence he is serving. ``I can give you what you want.''

The seeds of information planted by Siegel have sprouted into public view in recent weeks with revelations that federal officials are investigating the alleged involvement of current and former Chicago cops in a nationwide jewel theft and burglary ring.

Among those under investigation is William Hanhardt, a storied Chicago police detective with a reputation for both solving crimes and socializing with criminals. As part of the investigation, sources said, federal agents wiretapped the Deerfield telephone of Hanhardt, who at one time was a deputy superintendent in the Police Department. They also wiretapped the telephone at a close relative's home where Hanhardt spent time.

Indictments expected

Chicago Police Supt. Terry Hillard said Thursday he expects indictments in that investigation to be handed down within one month.

Sources have said they expect a sergeant and a detective to be implicated. The officers could be accused of supplying vehicle identification numbers to former colleagues and other outsiders. The ID numbers, in turn, were used to make duplicate keys to rob the cars of jewelry salesmen.

In addition, Carl Drammis, a deputy assistant superintendent, was questioned by federal investigators in the jewel theft probe. Drammis, 62, retired last week, but his attorney said retiring had nothing to do with the investigation and that his client ``hasn't done anything wrong.''

Siegel's exact role in the probe is still unclear. The heavily censored documents obtained by the Sun-Times make no mention of Hanhardt or any ongoing jewel theft activity known to Siegel.

Before federal authorities caught him, however, Siegel was the leader of one of the most successful and prolific jewelry theft rings ever organized, stealing $16 million in gems over six years.

And in late 1995, just before wiretaps started landing on the phones of those now caught up in the local probe, Siegel told members of a special FBI task force about at least five ``fences'' who purchased some of the gems stolen by his ring.

The fences named by Siegel included a former Elmwood Park policeman and a former Chicago policeman, the documents show.

Between 1984 and 1990, Siegel's gang committed 13 robberies from stores in California, Florida, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, according to court records. Siegel was one of the last of the group to get caught.

The brazen robberies were well-planned and executed, police said. The automatic weapon-toting robbers routinely wore Halloween masks, trench coats, bulletproof vests and cream-colored golf gloves as they hit stores during regular business hours, often getting in and out in under two minutes.

Ten men, including Siegel, pleaded guilty to being part of the theft ring. Three others were convicted at trial. Many were from Chicago. Two others were acquitted.

Siegel's arrest posed a particular problem for him. He was accused of firing 31 rounds from a MAC-11 machinegun into a police car driven by a Palm Beach, Fla., deputy in hot pursuit after the gang netted more than $6.5 million in jewels from a Boca Raton jewelry store in 1988.

That mistake originally earned Siegel a 45-year prison sentence, which was reduced to 19 years on appeal. Federal prosecutors in Chicago have promised to ask a Florida judge to reduce his sentence further if he ``cooperates truthfully and completely'' in probes here.

As part of his deal, Siegel told an FBI task force that a former Elmwood Park police officer fenced some of the $350,000 worth of jewelry taken in a 1990 California job. He said other jewelry taken in that robbery was fenced through a former Chicago cop who also is a reputed mob associate.

Siegel told authorities that a west suburban father-son team connected to the mob bought $60,000 worth of stolen jewelry from a heist in Tampa that netted $500,000 worth of merchandise. Siegel also gave up the name of a prominent national fence in New York.

Tales of murder

In addition to the crimes for which he was convicted, beginning with an armed robbery as a teenager, Siegel has promised to testify to his involvement in crimes for which he was never charged--including three murders, records show.

None of the murder victims was identified by name in documents obtained by the Sun-Times, but details of one crime fit the 1978 kidnapping and murder of Mel Young, a 41-year-old Elk Grove Village man who was found dead in the trunk of a car parked at O'Hare Airport on Sept. 8, 1978.

Young, a motorcycle enthusiast, was shot and stuffed in the trunk of his Lincoln Continental Mark V.

Authorities originally suspected the murder was related to chop-shop operations, but Siegel told federal agents that Young was kidnapped as retribution for failing to include another individual in some of Young's drug deals.

While Young was being held against his will, Siegel and his accomplices went to burglarize his home. When they returned, they decided to kill him. Siegel told authorities he followed the car containing the body to O'Hare, drove the person who disposed of the body back from the airport, then fenced the stolen goods.

Siegel also said he was the trigger man in the 1964 murder of a law-enforcement informant. The snitch was providing information about narcotics trafficking, Siegel said.

Siegel admitted he did the shooting after the victim was lured to an arranged location. He said the hit was ordered by superiors. During that period, Siegel has said he was on the payroll of the late Frank ``Calico Kid'' Teutonico, whose mob loan-sharking operation served as a front for his real pursuit--selling heroin.

In a third murder in 1977, Siegel said the murder weapon was a gun he had provided years earlier to the killer. After the murder, Siegel helped dispose of the getaway car, according to his confession.

Siegel was granted immunity from prosecution in all three murders.

Among the other never-solved crimes Siegel has admitted are: a 1983 armed robbery of an armored car delivery company in Chicago; an attempted armed robbery of a Wells Fargo armored car in Omaha, Neb., in 1987 in which a guard was shot in the hand; the armed robbery of a Naperville jewelry store in 1982; an attempted armed robbery of an Archer Avenue bank in 1988; the burglary of a jewelry store near Joliet in 1984, and an arson fire at a Polk Bros. furniture store set around 1975 in an attempt to muscle the store's owners into allowing its employees to join a labor union.

In addition, Siegel has fingered certain criminal defense attorneys he contends are ``employed by the Outfit,'' a reference to the Chicago organized crime syndicate. Siegel said he was told those attorneys used a portion of their fees to bribe judges, according to government documents.

Bribes also were paid to certain police officers by members of organized crime for protection, he said. When Siegel joinedup with a particular organized crime street crew, his supervisor told the cops he was now entitled to protection, too, he said.

After one arrest, cooperative police allowed Siegel to be processed without disclosing the contents of his pockets. On another occasion, Siegel asked the arresting officer to get rid of the weapon with which he had been caught. The officer refused, Siegel said, but promised to keep Siegel's name out of the newspaper. Siegel said he was contacted subsequently by an attorney who advised him that the favor would cost him $1,000.

Siegel also identified another Chicago cop who did favors for the Outfit, such as ``locating an individual'' whom mobsters wanted to track.

Helped solve bank heists

Siegel's cooperation already has led to the conviction of two west suburban men for bank heists in Saugatuck, Mich., and North Riverside. The robberies, which netted the unusually large sum of $421,000, had gone unsolved for five years. Siegel was part of the crew that pulled both jobs, the highlight of which was distracting the only Saugatuck patrol car with a false report of an auto accident on the other side of the Kalamazoo River just minutes before they hit the bank.

Although he has yet to be put to the test in a courtroom, Chicago prosecutors told their Florida counterparts last year that they believed Siegel had been ``complete and truthful'' with them.

He did tell a little lie to a probation officer filling out a pre-sentencing report, falsely claiming legitimate past employment as a car salesman and cabinetmaker, authorities admit. He's never filed an income tax return or paid any taxes, they say.

In making his pitch for a deal, Siegel told the FBI that other top Chicago area burglars and robbers are ``very worried'' about him cooperating. Authorities apparently believe him on that score, too, arranging for him to be held in a special federal facility for protected witnesses as a security measure while he awaits his sentence reduction.

They say Siegel is allowed to make telephone calls and occasionally receive supervised visits from his wife.

For a confessed lifelong criminal with a lengthy arrest record, Siegel has spent remarkably little time in prison.

An armed robbery at age 17 earned him a five-year probation sentence in 1952. Two years later, he pleaded guilty to burglary and got his first taste of prison, serving a little more than three years in Stateville.

Federal agents pinched Siegel in 1963 for allegedly operating a counterfeiting gang here. At the time, Chicago newspapers reported he had described himself as the nephew of the legendary Bugsy Siegel, who ran mob gambling operations in California and Nevada before being knocked off in 1947. Law enforcement sources said they don't believe the Beak is really related to Bugsy, but that he told people he was to appear more important.

Oak Park police arrested Siegel in 1971 on suspicion of murder, but a grand jury refused to indict him. At the time, Siegel, a father of five, was a resident of Oak Park.

Shortly thereafter, he served two years in a federal prison in Sandstone, Minn., for taking part in a hijacking.

Siegel grew up on Chicago's West Side, the son of a Checker Cab driver. He told authorities he dropped out of school in fifth grade.

Although never a member of the mob's inner circle, Siegel said his close association with organized crime grew out of a long relationship with Teutonico. From the late 1950s until Teutonico's conviction in 1971, Siegel said he was on Teutonico's payroll. For a while, he claims to have held the unusual distinction of being on a second mob payroll as well after being hired in 1967 at $600 a month to work in the street crew of mobster Angelo Fosco.

While in Fosco's employ, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Siegel said he was sent to Las Vegas to meet with Frank ``Lefty'' Rosenthal, then the Outfit's sin city representative, who needed help collecting on a bad gambling debt of $87,000. Siegel said he told the debtor he had 10 days to pay or he would be killed. The money was paid, and Siegel received a $7,000 bonus when he got back to Chicago.

At Teutonico's suggestion, Siegel said he got out of the ``juice'' business when his mentor went to prison.

For the next two decades, Siegel turned his talents to burglary and robbery, teaming up with other professional criminals ``strong'' enough to pursue their illicit activities without paying a percentage of their receipts in street tax to the mob.

In 1980, a Senate subcommittee identified Siegel as a member of the notorious armed robbery gang headed by Paul ``Peanuts'' Panczko. The gang was perhaps more dangerous than the mob, the subcommittee wrote, because its members frequently killed and tortured during robberies and home invasions.

Siegel never mentioned Panczko in documents obtained by the Sun-Times.

At least two other men in Siegel's jewel-heist crew cooperated with authorities, according to records obtained by the Sun-Times. They are Walter Frank Zischke, 53, formerly of Cicero, and Theodore Ristich, 52, formerly of Chicago, government records say.

Breaking the code

The accounts of Siegel's cooperation don't make clear what persuaded him to join the ever-growing list of criminals to forsake the mob's code of silence.

But a turning point appears to have taken place in early 1995 when Siegel received a visit at the Florida jail where he was being held from Francis ``Pat'' Mazza, an old mob friend who had helped him rob the Saugatuck bank.

Mazza, an alleged member of the street crew of current mob boss John ``No Nose'' DiFronzo, had caught wind of Siegel's initial overtures to federal agents, which had taken place just a few months earlier. He sought Siegel's assurance that word of his government cooperation was untrue.

Siegel, who was still wavering at the time, gave his assurance and Mazza subsequently tried to bribe a jail guard to ``take care of the old man,'' federal prosecutors alleged in court documents.

Spooked by the mob's strong interest in his situation, however, Siegel soon afterward was transferred to an Oklahoma prison and began turning over detailed information.

He also had Mazza stricken from his approved visitor list. Now Mazza has his own visitor list. He pleaded guilty last year to the Saugatuck bank robbery and is serving a 13-year prison term.

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