Chicago Sun-Times
Inside the Family Secrets mob trial with Sun-Times reporter Steve Warmbir

January 2011 Archives

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At a recent organized crime trial in federal court, reputed Cicero mob boss Michael Sarno was depicted by federal prosecutors as a busy guy -- threatening a competitor and later ordering the man's business bombed, while keeping up with day-to-day Outfit business.

Around the same time, though, Sarno presented himself in a worker's compensation claim and a lawsuit as quite a different man -- one seriously injured in an accident while working as a trade show carpenter at McCormick Place -- an injury that resulted in settlements for Sarno of more than $250,000.

Sarno, 52, was convicted in December of racketeering conspiracy and faces 25 years in prison. His injury claim was briefly mentioned at trial.

"He was certainly mobile enough to threaten people and conduct his mob-related business with considerable vigor," said former federal Chicago mob prosecutor T. Markus Funk, who investigated Sarno.

"While having two jobs is, of course, not unheard of, it would not be unfair to raise a skeptic's eyebrow about a claim that Sarno, on the one hand, worked as a brutal mob boss running a multifaceted criminal enterprise, and at the same time punched his union carpenter ticket, banging in nails and whittling wood," Funk said. "Not to be uncharitable, but that, frankly, is a level of multi-tasking few on the street would -- for a variety of reasons -- credit him with possessing."

Sarno was taking down a trade show exhibit on Aug., 17, 2000, when he was asked to climb onto a forklift to provide ballast as the forklift moved some heavy material. The job usually took two people, but Sarno -- whose mob nicknames include "Large" and "the Large Guy" -- was big enough at about 330 pounds for the job at McCormick Place, then a common workplace for mobsters.

The material on the forklift started to tip, and Sarno tried to jump, but was hit in the back of the head by a handrail that had been loaded on and knocked unconscious.

"I remember going to jump, and I remember waking up on the floor," Sarno said in a 2003 deposition, about six months after a Berwyn business was bombed on his orders. He was later convicted in trial for the bombing.

Sarno suffered knee and neck injuries. While no one disputed he got hurt, the severity of his injuries came into question.

Sarno filed a worker's compensation claim against his employer, Eagle Management Group, and sued the company that ran the trade show, Freeman Decorating Co. Sarno claimed he couldn't help around the house or jog like he had in the past. Even his sex life suffered. But in the deposition, an attorney for Freeman, Bob Yelton, questioned Sarno on whether he had told his physical therapist he was strong as a bull and was not taking any pain medication. Sarno disputed that, and his attorney, Antonio Romanucci, last week in an interview rejected any suggestion that Sarno was exaggerating his injury, noting the size of the settlement, arrived at through mediation.

"You don't pay that much money for a nuisance-value case," Romanucci said.

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