Inside a gambling ring: a convicted bookie and his squad of government workers
Besides Mettawa Mayor Casey Urlacher, brother of legendary Bear Brian Urlacher, those charged include a clerk in Cook County’s courts, a Chicago cop and a Wheeling maintenance worker.
Twenty-four years ago, Vincent DelGiudice pleaded guilty to running an illegal gambling operation — a criminal record he later tried but failed to erase.
Now, in a much higher-profile case, DelGiudice again is charged with running an illegal gambling operation, this time using the Internet to take sports bets from more than 1,000 gamblers.
Several of those charged with him have worked for government agencies.
Besides Mettawa Mayor Casey Urlacher, brother of legendary Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, the government employees include a clerk in the Cook County courts, a Chicago cop on disability leave and a maintenance worker for Wheeling.
Also charged: DelGiudice’s father, a Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago retiree who also pleaded guilty to illegal gambling in 1996, the year his son previously was arrested.
Since federal agents raided his Orland Park home last April, seizing more than $1 million in cash, silver, jewelry and gold, sources say DelGiudice has been assembling a high-profile legal team that could include former U.S. Attorney Dan K. Webb.
Webb, who charges more than $1,000 an hour, is the special prosecutor who filed charges against actor Jussie Smollett, accusing him of staging a supposed hate-crime attack. Webb also was the special prosecutor who got former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s nephew Richard “R.J.” Vanecko to plead guilty to involuntary manslaughter for killing David Koschman.
Webb has been consulted on the case but hasn’t notified the federal court that he represents DelGiudice.
Three other lawyers are expected to defend DelGiudice when he and most of his co-defendants appear in court Wednesday on charges of illegal gambling, money-laundering and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
DelGiudice and his co-defendants have been described as friends, though Urlacher has told the Chicago Sun-Times he doesn’t know him.
According to the indictment, DelGiudice recruited the others, who got a percentage of the losses wagered by gamblers they recruited.
Here’s a look at DelGiudice and his co-defendants based on public records and sources:
- Vincent DelGiudice. Described as a businessman, DelGiudice, 54, is well known in Orland Park, where he and his wife raised two daughters.
Former Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman called DelGiudice “a friend and neighbor. He attended fundraisers. Our kids grew up together.”
DelGiudice has contributed to the campaigns of a handful of elected officials. Gorman got the largest amount of money, $1,200.
DelGiudice and his wife were living in Palos Hills in October 1996 when Chicago police arrested him for keeping a gambling place. He pleaded guilty and got three months of court supervision.
In 2005, a Cook County judge rejected his petition to expunge the conviction, according to the court docket, which doesn’t explain why.
In 2009, National City Bank foreclosed on two loans DelGiudice and his wife Lisa had on a pair of three-flats in the 1600 block of West Montvale Avenue in Morgan Park, saying they owed more than $1.1 million in principal and interest. The properties were sold at a sheriff’s sale for less than $300,000.
By 2016, federal authorities say, DelGiudice had set up a website, giving gamblers logins and passwords to wager on sporting events using a program set up with a company in Costa Rica they say he paid $10,000 a month.
Authorities say DelGiudice sometimes directed gamblers to write cashier’s checks to cover the monthly fees and other times had gamblers write checks to cover college tuition for his daughters.
DelGiudice shut down the website after authorities raided his house April 15.
Besides the cash, gold, silver and jewelry taken in the raid, prosecutors are seeking to seize the DelGiudices’ home, a 2017 Lexus and $8 million.
- Eugene “Geno” DelGiudice. After working 44 years for the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, DelGiudice, 85, collects an $84,123 yearly pension, according to the Better Government Association.
Ten years before he retired, DelGiudice was arrested by the Cook County sheriff’s office on gambling charges Jan. 6, 1996. His son was arrested nine months later. The elder DelGiudice pleaded guilty and got two months of court supervision.
According to the indictment, the elder DelGiudice helped his son collect from gamblers and paid out winnings. On Feb. 7, 2019, the indictment says, Vincent DelGiudice called his father about gambling debts owed by people the father had recruited.
- Keith D. Benson. A former police officer for the Cook County Forest Preserve District for nearly 10 years, Benson owns Pro-Tech Security Group, a security company that has worked for several major companies in Chicago, according to his website.
The indictment says Benson and DelGiudice discussed gambling limits for an undisclosed gambler on Jan. 15, 2019. Six days later, “Benson asked DelGiudice to help him place a bet for a gambler who wanted to wager $5,000 on a sport event.”
Benson said he’s worried that the indictment will hurt his business.
“I’ve got a lot of high-profile clients,” Benson, 49, of Lemont, told the Sun-Times. “I’m definitely not a bookie. I bet on sports.”
Benson and his company have made a few political contributions, including $1,834 to Urlacher’s campaign in 2016. Others include $5,000 to the 33rd Ward Democratic Committee when it was run by former Ald. Dick Mell and $2,000 to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
Benson has hired attorney Donald Angelini Jr., whose late father was nicknamed “The Wizard of Odds” because he oversaw gambling operations for the Chicago mob.
- Todd Blanken. An 18-year employee of the Cook County courts, Blanken made $51,405 a year as a computer coordinator for the mandatory arbitration program.
Blanken “handled data entry, provided customer service at the front desk and ensured that the office had supplies for employees and computer/office equipment,” according to a spokesman for Chief Cook County Judge Timothy C. Evans.
Blanken, 43, of Cary, resigned last July — about three months after the DelGiudice raid — and appears to have moved to Arizona.
The indictment says Blanken had phone conversations with DelGiudice about collecting debts from gamblers. During a Jan. 6, 2019, call, DelGiudice revealed he “had 1,006 customers and had won $100,000.” Five days later, Blanken sent a gambler “multiple text messages,” trying to collect $1,500.
- Justin Hines. A maintenance manager for the Wheeling public works department, Hines is on paid leave from his $78,883-a-year job, according to village manager Jon Sfondilis, who said the village is “conducting an internal review of the matter.”
In a call Dec. 14, 2018, Hines, 40, of Algonquin, told DelGiudice “he had 10 ‘guys’ who lose $15,000 a year,” the indictment says. About two weeks later, Hines sent a text message telling a gambler he was “down 1450.”
- Matthew Knight. Known as “Sweaters” or “McDougal,” Knight, 46, of Mokena, has worked as a delivery driver. State records show he once ran M. Knight Builders from his Mokena home.
The indictment details a series of allegations against Knight, including collecting $500 from a gambler in Frankfort on Sept. 12, 2018. The following month, he allegedly sent a text to a gambler, saying, “Morning Bronco, going through figs, can you please tell Bronco 33 to pay or play, hasn’t played since February, down 938.”
- Matthew Namoff. The youngest defendant, Namoff, 23, lives in Midlothian, according to authorities but also has lived in Bloomington.
Considered a small player in the operation, he’s said to have called DelGiudice on Dec. 17, 2018, to talk about problems with the gambling website. A month later, during a discussion about collecting money from a gambler, the indictment says DelGiudice told Namoff to say he’s “with Mr. DelGiudice.”
- Vasilios Prassas. The general manager of Gibson’s Bar & Steakhouse in Oak Brook, Prassas, 37, of Chicago, gave DelGuidice an envelope of money from Urlacher, saying, “This is Casey’s.”
Prassas has acknowledged talking to federal agents and that he knows some of the people charged but said he had nothing to do with gambling.
- Nicholas Stella. An 18-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, Stella was stripped of his police powers May 13 related to a “confidential investigation.” The department says Stella went on disability leave, which runs out March 27. He previously spent more than three years on disability over an injury to his right elbow and shoulder during an arrest and was ordered back to work in November 2014.
The indictment describes three contacts between DelGiudice and Stella, including a text message from DelGiudice on Jan. 28, 2019, detailing money Stella’s gamblers owed from the previous week.
- Casey Urlacher. Raised in New Mexico, he moved to Chicago after his brother was drafted by the Bears. The brothers got involved in a few business deals, and Brian Urlacher has helped bankroll his brother’s campaigns: a failed attempt to become a state legislator and his election as mayor of Mettawa, a tiny Lake County suburb.
Then-Gov. Pat Quinn appointed Casey Urlacher to the Illinois Civil Service Commission, a five-member body that oversees the state’s personnel code. Urlacher resigned the $25,500-a-year post after his indictment.
Shortly before the indictment was made public, Urlacher told the Sun-Times he didn’t know DelGiudice and he had nothing to do with gambling.
The indictment says that on Dec. 16, 2018, Urlacher asked DelGiudice to create a log-in and password for a gambler to access the website and that DelGiudice called the Costa Rican company to create the account so the gambler could wager up to $3,000 a week.
Ten days later, Urlacher asked DelGiudice to shut down the account of a gambler who hadn’t paid his debts. The account was shut down that same day but reactivated after Urlacher texted DelGiudice that the gambler had wired Urlacher $3,000.