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How a naming dispute over a small Chicago park led to an attempted bribery charge

Victor Cacciatore and Oscar D’Angelo were masters of clout. After they died, that caused a problem.

South Loop resident Janet Chung exercises her dog Ellie in Oscar D’Angelo Park. In the background with the rooftop water tower is the Hunter Building, the longtime headquarters of the Cacciatore family businesses.
South Loop resident Janet Chung exercises her dog Ellie in Oscar D’Angelo Park. In the background with the rooftop water tower is the Hunter Building, the longtime headquarters of the Cacciatore family businesses.
Mark Brown / Sun-Times

The upper floors of the Cacciatore family’s eight-story brick office building at Wells and Congress offer a perfect view of Oscar D’Angelo Park just across the street.

For some members of the Cacciatore family, that was a source of irritation: being stuck with a view of a park named for D’Angelo on what they considered their South Loop turf.

After nearly three decades of suffering, they asked the Chicago Park District to rename the park for their family patriarch.

Thus was borne one of the most unusual attempted bribery allegations in memory.

In a recent federal indictment, prosecutors accuse government affairs consultant Roberto Caldero of promising $50,000 in campaign contributions from the Cacciatores to then-Ald. Danny Solis (25th) in exchange for Solis arranging an honorary street name designation for one deceased Cacciatore family member and renaming the park for another.

To appreciate the irony, you need to know the background.

Victor Cacciatore and D’Angelo were titans of Chicago’s Italian American community and powerful political players with different bases of influence.

Victor Cacciatore Sr.
Victor Cacciatore Sr.
Sun-Times file

Both lawyers, each was most comfortable operating in the arena of clout.

From his headquarters in the Hunter Building, 527 S. Wells St., Cacciatore oversaw and expanded his father Joseph’s business empire with ventures in real estate, banking, insurance, parking and street-sweeping.

D’Angelo was the self-appointed “mayor of Little Italy,” a Taylor Street heavyweight whose influence at City Hall stretched across decades from Daley I to Daley II.

It was Mayor Richard M. Daley who named the patch of green space alongside the Wacker Drive exit for his friend D’Angelo in 1989.

About a decade ago, the park was expanded as part of the Wacker Drive reconstruction project with a larger deck over the Congress Parkway ramps.

Oscar D’Angelo in 1991.
Oscar D’Angelo in 1991.
Sun-Times file

The new park included a concrete wall along Wells Street, with the park’s only entrance on the west side, farthest from the Cacciatore building, almost as if the park itself is showing its back to the Cacciatores. Their building with its rooftop water tower that advertises Jos. Cacciatore & Co. Real Estate is a landmark to many commuters.

If enmity between the Cacciatores and Angelo extended beyond the park, I can’t say, though it wouldn’t be surprising given D’Angelo’s tendency to step on toes.

Former Ald. Ted Mazola (1st), a friend of D’Angelo, said he knew of no bad blood between the men.

Mazola said Daley named the park for D’Angelo because he took responsibility for keeping it clean. D’Angelo would stop by on Saturdays to pick up trash, and Daley spotted him there one weekend, Mazola said.

It was unusual to name a city park for a living person. The park district has a policy against that.

Cacciatore and D’Angelo were controversial figures, the result of mixing business with politics. Each was the subject of federal investigations but never charged, which, in Chicago, counts as no harm, no foul.

Cacciatore twice drew federal scrutiny for his cozy dealings with powerful former parks Supt. Ed Kelly, including a contract in the 1970s to promote rock concerts at Soldier Field.

The family’s Elgin Sweeping Co. long held a near-monopoly on street-sweeping services on Illinois roadways, and its real estate arm does lucrative business leasing office space to state government.

D’Angelo was disbarred in 1989 after the federal Operation Greylord investigation into corruption in the Cook County judiciary revealed he was providing judges and other officials with rental cars as gifts.

That never seemed to slow him down. In 2000, the Sun-Times reported D’Angelo received a $480,000 fee for brokering a deal that gave two close friends of Daley’s wife a piece of a lucrative newsstand contract at O’Hare Airport.

Victor Cacciatore died Dec. 30, 2013. D’Angelo died Aug. 7, 2016.

Around the time of D’Angelo’s death, Caldero approached Solis several times seeking his assistance to secure the honorary street designation for Victor Cacciatore and rename the park for Joseph Cacciatore, according to prosecutors.

By then, Solis was working undercover for the FBI, but he pushed the honorary street designation through the Chicago City Council. Signs honoring Victor J. Cacciatore Sr. now adorn the 500 block of South Wells Street. The park name change went nowhere.

The Chicago City Council designated the 500 block of South Wells Street as Honorary Victor J. Cacciatore Sr. Way in 2016.
The Chicago City Council designated the 500 block of South Wells Street as Honorary Victor J. Cacciatore Sr. Way in 2016.
Mark Brown / Sun-Times

Caldero has pleaded not guilty and denied wrongdoing. No Cacciatore family member has been charged nor made any comment.

Jesse Ruiz, a former park board president, recalls receiving a letter requesting the park name change but said it was dismissed for a simple reason:

The park district doesn’t own Oscar D’Angelo Park — which was built on city property.