How one suburban bar is linked to two federal criminal cases

The would-be operators of what’s now DaVinci’s Gaming Bar couldn’t get licenses because of legal troubles. The feds investigating a failed Bridgeport bank are now looking at the bar.

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DaVinci’s Gaming Bar, 10721-23 S. Ridgeland Ave., Chicago Ridge.

DaVinci’s Gaming Bar in Chicago Ridge has links to two federal criminal cases.

Brian Ernst / Sun-Times

A former video store three blocks south of the Chicago Ridge police station, revived as a video gaming bar, has gotten caught up in two federal criminal investigations in the past three years.

As Terry Ferguson and his son Timothy Ferguson were working on converting the shuttered video store into a bar, he already was the target of a sting operation in which a federal agent bought guns from a food truck owned by Ferguson, who also had been peddling cocaine.

Ferguson’s arrest in October 2018 ultimately led to the end of his son’s dream of opening the bar.

It’s now in the hands of Rosemary Kowalski, an 80-year-old widow. She’s been the owner since December 2019 of what’s now called DaVinci’s Gaming Bar, which features six video gambling machines on which patrons can place legal bets.

Kowalski’s son and daughter are targets in another federal case. Robert M. Kowalski and Jan Kowalski have been charged with hiding more than $500,000 embezzled from a small bank in Bridgeport, Washington Federal Bank for Savings, that federal regulators shut down in late 2017 over a “massive fraud” scheme they said involved $82 million.

Shortly before the bank was closed, its president was found dead in the master bedroom of a bank customer’s Park Ridge mansion as a result of what the authorities labeled suicide, though his widow disputes that.

Federal authorities have said they’ve been trying to determine whether Rosemary Kowalski bought the bar with money they believe her son has been hiding from regulators trying to recover the bank’s missing millions.

When Rosemary Kowalski took over the bar, she agreed to pay nearly half of the $23,642 in rent that the Fergusons owed the bar’s landlord, according to an eviction lawsuit the landlord has filed to evict her over nearly $24,000 in unpaid rent.

The Kowalskis and the Fergusons aren’t talking.

“Mr. Ferguson has no comment other than to make clear that he never received any funds related to the bar from the Kowalskis,” according to Beau Brindley, Ferguson’s lawyer.

Robert M. Kowalski enters the Dirksen Federal Courthouse wearing a zipped up jacket over a flannel shirt.

Robert Kowalski entering the Dirksen Federal Courthouse on March 4.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

A few weeks ago, Brindley said in court that Robert Kowalski wanted to hire him to defend him against the bankruptcy fraud and embezzlement charges he faces over the collapse of Washington Federal, but they couldn’t agree on legal fees and how Kowalski would pay them.

Once home to a Hollywood Video store, the twin storefronts at 10721-23 S. Ridgeland Ave. in Chicago Ridge then sat vacant for years until March 28, 2018. That’s when Ferguson Entertainment LLC — which is in Timothy Ferguson’s name — signed a three-year lease with the landlord, Sona Chicago Ridge Realty Inc., which is owned by Nimesh Patel.

Chicago Ridge village officials issued business and liquor licenses to Ferguson’s company and building permits showing the father and son would do work including carpentry, painting and installing drywall for the business, which they planned to call the Gaming Spa.

Village officials apparently didn’t know Terry Ferguson was a convicted drug dealer who also had been under investigation by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives since November 2015 over the sale of cocaine and a couple of dozen guns — including a rifle with no serial number — that were transported in Ferguson’s food truck, which he operated as Chicago’s Finest Deli on Wheels LLC, court records show.

Terry Ferguson. | Chicago Police Department arrest photo.

Terry Ferguson. | Chicago Police Department arrest photo.

As the Fergusons were preparing to open, Ferguson Entertainment made a $1,000 campaign contribution on Sept. 25, 2018, to Chicago Ridge Mayor Chuck Tokar, who had approved the company’s liquor license months earlier. Tokar didn’t return calls seeking comment.

A month later, on Oct. 29, 2018, Terry Ferguson, 56, of Willowbrook, and two associates, Jesus Dominguez and William Walsh, were charged in the ATF sting.

And federal authorities subpoenaed Ferguson’s former business partner, who hasn’t been identified, to testify before a grand jury.

Days after getting the subpoena, the former business partner got a visit on Nov. 7, 2018, from Ferguson’s son Timothy Ferguson and two others, warning him not to testify in the case, authorities say. The Fergusons and another man subsequently were charged with attempting to intimidate a federal witness.

Timothy Ferguson, 35, of Chicago, pleaded guilty on April 18, 2019, to obstruction of court orders and later was sentenced to 30 days in jail to resolve his part in the case.

On Sept. 16, 2019, the Illinois Gaming Board rejected his bid to be licensed to operate video gambling machines, finding that he wasn’t a suitable gaming operator because of his arrest and his failure to obtain a liquor license from the state of Illinois.

“You attempted to persuade a witness not to cooperate with law enforcement officials and interfered with an ongoing narcotics and weapons investigation involving your father,” gaming board administrator Marcus Fruchter told Timothy Ferguson in a Sept. 17, 2019, letter.

That left him with no state licenses to sell drinks or take bets — and 21 months remaining on his lease for the storefronts he and his father invested money in remodeling.

Less than three months later, on Dec. 4, 2019, Rosemary Kowalski established a new company, called Nosy Rosie’s LLC, and signed a five-year lease to take over the bar — a deal contingent on “the successful termination” of Patel’s lease with “Ferguson Entertainment LLC along with Terry Ferguson and Timothy Ferguson,” according to the lease.

DaVinci’s Gaming Bar.

DaVinci’s Gaming Bar.

Brian Ernst / Sun-Times

Rosemary Kowalski also agreed to assume $11,643 of the $23,643 the Fergusons owed Patel’s company and to be responsible for any money the Fergusons owed the village, the lease says.

With help from her daughter Jan Kowalski, who is a lawyer, Rosemary Kowalski applied to the village and state for licenses to sell drinks and take bets at the bar that she renamed DaVinci’s Gaming Bar.

By that time, Jan Kowalski, who had unsuccessfully run in 2018 for Cook County clerk, had been charged with helping her brother hide $567,200 from his bankruptcy creditors, mainly the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which is trying to recover money to repay depositors of the failed Washington Federal Bank.

Authorities have said the bank lost more than $82 million in a “massive fraud” scheme led by bank president, CEO and major shareholder John Gembara, who was found dead, seated in a chair with a rope around his neck, inside the master bedroom of bank customer Marek Matczuk on Dec. 3, 2017. The bank was shut down 12 days later.

Click here to read the initial Sun-Times investigation of fraud-ridden Washington Federal Bank for Savings.

Click here to read the initial Sun-Times investigation of fraud-ridden Washington Federal Bank for Savings.

Robert Kowalski — a lawyer and developer who was a friend of Gembara — worked with bank officials to embezzle at least $29 million, according to a federal indictment. Kowalski has said he didn’t steal anything and that he was a victim of Gembara’s scheme.

DaVinci’s opened in early March 2020, as the Illinois Gaming Board was still considering Rosemary Kowalski’s application for a video gaming license. The bar closed because of the coronavirus pandemic but resumed selling liquor last summer, according to its Facebook page.

DaVinci’s drew the attention of Robert Kowalski’s ex-wife Martha Padilla, a former candidate for alderman in Chicago’s 25th Ward. Padilla got a Cook County judge to appoint an attorney, Neal Levin, last summer to determine whether her ex had any hidden assets that she could recover as part of their ongoing divorce case, which began seven years ago.

Levin got a court order and took temporary control of the bar and its contents, including boxes of documents stored in a backroom Jan Kowalski used as her law office. She has, at times, represented her brother in his divorce and bankruptcy cases.

Federal investigators obtained those boxes of records under a subpoena from the grand jury investigating the bank’s collapse. Prosecutors recently said in court they are copying the files in those “eight or nine boxes” and will then return them.

Robert Kowalski – who says he has no financial interest in his mother’s bar — has said that Levin shouldn’t have provided those records to investigators, saying they contained legal files that are protected by attorney-client privilege. He also argues the seized records include the computer thumb drive given to him by federal investigators who are legally required to share their evidence in the investigation of Washington Federal.

DaVinci’s Gaming Bar in Chicago Ridge has six video gaming machines that have taken in more than $435,000 in wagers from gamblers who won nearly $400,000, state records show. 

DaVinci’s Gaming Bar in Chicago Ridge has six video gaming machines that have taken in more than $435,000 in wagers from gamblers who won nearly $400,000, state records show.

Brian Ernst / Sun-Times

Meanwhile, the legal troubles continue for some of those currently and previously involved with the bar continue.

Patel is suing to evict Rosemary Kowalski and Nosy Rosie’s “because they haven’t paid me rent for several months.” In a lawsuit filed last Oct. 23, Patel said he was owed $23,925 in rent — a figure he now says is up to nearly $40,000.

And Terry Ferguson faces the possibility of 10 years in prison when he’s sentenced after pleading guilty March 12 in the ATF sting case, admitting he distributed 1.5 kilograms of cocaine in 2016 and 2018 and that he illegally possessed firearms that the federal agent bought from his food truck.

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