Teamsters boss bragged ‘you can cut my fingers off, I wouldn’t talk’ years before deal with feds
It’s yet another made-for-Hollywood scene out of real-life Chicago corruption, according to an FBI affidavit obtained by the Sun-Times. It happened more than two years before John Coli struck a deal and admitted he’d taken $325,000 in cash payments from Cinespace Chicago Film Studios .
A few days before Christmas 2016, Cinespace Chicago Film Studios president Alex Pissios asked Teamsters boss John T. Coli whether he’d let slip that he had been collecting hundreds of thousands of dollars in secret payments from the studio head.
“Give me a f---king break, now I’m worried about you,” Coli allegedly replied. “Are you crazy? There is nobody. Never. My kids. My wife. Nobody. Ever.”
He added, “You can cut my fingers off, I wouldn’t talk.”
It’s yet another made-for-Hollywood scene straight out of real-life Chicago corruption, according to an FBI affidavit recently obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times. And it happened more than two years before Coli — despite his tough talk — struck a deal with the feds and admitted he’d taken $325,000 in cash payments from Cinespace between 2014 and 2017.
Recent headlines have focused on former Ald. Danny Solis (25th) — described by a prosecutor last week as one of Chicago’s “most significant cooperators in the last several decades.” But the recently obtained affidavit sheds new light on a pair of informants who have also played crucial roles in recent federal investigations — Coli and Pissios.
In fact, it says Pissios began to feed law enforcement information about Coli in June 2016. That’s around the time Solis began cooperating, too, which led to the indictments of Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) and ex-Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Coli pleaded guilty in an extortion case in July 2019. He then helped prosecutors secure the guilty plea of former state Sen. Thomas Cullerton, who admitted in March he embezzled more than $240,000 from the Teamsters.
Coli has not been sentenced. The former labor leader has a court hearing scheduled next month. Cullerton’s sentencing is set for June 21.
The Sun-Times previously reported that Pissios signed a “non-prosecution agreement” that let him off the hook for failing to tell a bankruptcy judge about a $100,000 bank account he used to support his family and pay gambling debts. In addition to the case against Coli, Pissios has ties to at least two other big federal investigations.
When Pissios filed for bankruptcy in 2011, he owed millions of dollars to Washington Federal Bank for Savings, the Bridgeport bank shut down in December 2017. An investigation into fraud there has so far led to charges against 15 people, including the now-convicted former Ald. Patrick Daley Thompson (11th).
Pissios also owed money to Vincent “Uncle Mick” DelGiudice, who is set to begin an 18-month prison sentence next month for running what’s been described as the largest criminal gambling ring ever prosecuted in Chicago’s federal court.
The newly obtained affidavit was originally filed ahead of Coli’s April 4, 2017, arrest, when investigators anticipated Coli would collect another payment from Pissios. The studio head told the feds he’d begun making quarterly payments of $25,000 in 2014 that were drawn from a petty cash account, according to the document.
Pissios told authorities the deal began years ago under his late uncle, Nick Mirkopoulos, the Sun-Times has reported.
Pissios’ defense attorney declined to comment. Coli’s did not respond to messages. The affidavit does not name Pissios, but the details make his identity clear.
The feds wound up watching and recording as Pissios paid Coli in July and October 2016 at the Greek Islands restaurant in the 200 block of South Halsted. Investigators saw Pissios and Coli leave the restaurant on July 7, 2016, and they watched as Pissios handed a FedEx envelope containing $25,000 to Coli outside its entrance, the affidavit said.
“This is for the contract,” Pissios allegedly told Coli, using “contract” as a code word.
During the second meeting, on Oct. 4, 2016, Pissios allegedly told Coli that an executive had questioned Pissios about the petty cash withdrawals. That story was a ruse suggested by investigators, but Pissios asked Coli what to do, the affidavit said.
Coli said, “Fire him.”
“No matter how you try to put him in a corner, right, he’ll always be a problem,” Coli allegedly added. “Once somebody’s a problem like that, even if you think you can out-leverage him and get him in a corner, you’ll always have one eye f---ing open looking at him … He’s a rat.”
Pissios allegedly later put a FedEx envelope containing $15,000 in Coli’s vehicle. Afterward, Coli complained in a phone call with Pissios that “some of the documents were missing out of what I was supposed to look at today.” The feds say Coli was using coded language to point out that $10,000 had been missing.
Pissios wound up explaining it was because of the issue with the executive.
Nine days later, Coli made the threat that would be disclosed in the Teamster boss’ plea agreement: That he would call a strike and shut Cinespace down if he didn’t get his money.
“We’ll shut it down tomorrow,” Coli said. “We’ll shut it down within an hour. … I will f---ing have a picket line up here, and everything will stop.”
Coli added, “There’s gonna be time-to-time unique things that are gonna come up that you’re gonna have to deal with … you can’t have a f---ing rat in a wood pile. You can’t have a whistleblower here.”
He collected the missing $10,000 from Pissios on Nov. 29, 2016, according to the affidavit.
The document said Pissios made another $25,000 payment to Coli at Pissios’ office on Dec. 22, 2016 — the day Coli said, “You can cut my fingers off, I wouldn’t talk.”
When Pissios handed Coli the envelope that time, the feds say he explained because the payment was made using $50 bills, “it feels like it’s one hundred thousand.”
Coli allegedly replied, “I wish it was.”
Contributing: Tim Novak