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Lawsuit filed over alleged juice loan collection attack

Luigi Mucerino was returning from a weekend in Lake Geneva in August 2016 when a “tough guy” he knew from the western suburbs of Italian social clubs showed up at his Bloomingdale home late at night, banging on windows and doors, frightening him and his wife. two young girls.

The man, Giocchiano “Jack” Galione, told Mucerino on the phone that they needed to talk, Mucerino told a federal grand jury Tuesday. They met at Dapper’s West restaurant in nearby Addison, and Galione drove her to his house a few blocks away, where they chatted briefly in the garage.

But before Mucerino could ask what that was about, something caught his eye and knocked him out, Mucerino testified. When he woke up, he was on the floor, his face broken and bloody, and Galione was standing next to him with a towel in his hand.

“I was scared,” Mucerino, 39, told the jury in a matter-of-fact tone. He said Galione never told him why he hit him, instead offering an age-old line from gangster movies that “it was just business.”

Federal prosecutors alleged that the attack, which left Mucerino with a broken nose and several broken bones in his face, was the result of Mucerino’s attempt to collect on a $10,000 juice loan from Galione’s partner, Gene “Gino” Cassano.

In his opening statement Tuesday morning, Assistant U.S. Attorney William Hogan said Cassano was furious that Mucerino was unable to repay a street loan offered at exorbitant interest rates without any paperwork, so he “decided to take matters into his own hands.” He sent his “violent henchman” to collect it.

“There was no other reason why Galione, a notoriously violent stranger, would have come to her home that night,” Hogan said.

Meanwhile, the defendants’ lawyers told the jury they did not deny that Galione was rough with Mucerino that night. But they said the victim and key witnesses changed their stories repeatedly and had so many credibility issues that it was impossible to determine a motive for the attack; This is an element that prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Mr. Cassano didn’t send anyone, he didn’t hire anyone to go there,” Cassano’s attorney, Todd Pugh, said in his opening statement. “Gene had nothing to do with what was going on in that garage.”

Christopher Parente, the attorney representing Galione, said in his opening statement to the jury that one of the key witnesses who prosecutors said would connect Cassano’s juice loan to the attack was actually being tried by the U.S. attorney’s office on Social Security fraud charges.

Another witness, a known fentanyl dealer who operated an illegal gambling den, had been cut off as a paid source by the government when he suddenly remembered new details about the case, including how Galione allegedly told him he “conducted” the attack on Mucerino. occurred, Parente said.

Mucerino, in particular, was portrayed by the defense as a drug trafficker, a degenerate gambler, and a marijuana addict; this person admitted to telling a series of half-truths and outright lies to the police and later the FBI about the loan to get them off the case.

“How many liars does it take to get to one truth?” Parente said. “I don’t know; the government set the lower limit at around five.”

Cassano, 55, and Galione, 47, both of Addison, are charged in a 2021 indictment with conspiracy to collect a debt by extortion, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Galione is also accused of using violence to collect a debt.

The hearing before U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman is expected to last about a week.

Although the case is limited to a single incident involving Mucerino, federal court records show it is connected to a broader investigation into the Chicago Outfit, including gambling and prostitution rackets allegedly run by the mob’s notorious Elmwood Park crew.

A court filing in a related case last year found that Cassano and others were caught on FBI wiretaps talking about an offshore sports betting site they allegedly operated.

Cassano is currently president of Games Gone Wild, a Norridge-based company that rents sweepstakes machines to area businesses, records show. The machines are similar to video poker kiosks but are not considered gambling devices because they can be played for free. Critics claim the unregulated devices are designed to circumvent the law and have known links to organized crime.

During his testimony Tuesday, Mucerino admitted that he only reported Galione’s assault to Addison police at his wife’s insistence and that he initially lied and told Galione he owed a gambling debt. Assault charges filed against Galione in state court were later dropped because Mucerino refused to cooperate.

When FBI agents confronted him at a suburban Starbucks in April 2018, Mucerino said he once again tried to “downplay the situation,” saying he had a small gambling debt but didn’t know why Galione hit him.

Mucerino said the agents conducting the interview were “very interested” in Cassano.

“Did you want to talk about him?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Sean Franzblau asked.

“No,” Mucerino said. “I thought if I underestimated the situation it would end there.”

The FBI then subpoenaed Mucerino and threatened him with prison if he did not comply. He was eventually granted immunity in exchange for his testimony.

On cross-examination, attorney Damon Cheronis, who also represents Galione, pressed Mucerino about marijuana trafficking; that he used the money from Cassano to buy hundreds of kilos of drugs from suppliers in California and smuggle them into Chicago in semi-trucks. .

Cheronis accused Mucerino of withholding details about the operation, which earned him hundreds of thousands of dollars over many years, until a recent interview with agents.

Cheronis asked Mucerino if the agents had told him he had to give up these illegal proceeds and even asked who his suppliers were.

“No,” Mucerino said.

“Who were your suppliers? What are their names?” Cheronis asked.

“I don’t know,” Mucerino said.

jmeisner@chicagotribune.com

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