This article was last modified on March 18, 2015.

Rosemont: The Empire of Donald Stephens

Born March 13, 1928 in Chicago, Illinois.

Stephens was president of the homeowner’s association of the neighborhood that later became known as Rosemont, and was elected its first mayor upon incorporation in 1956.

In 1963, Stephens purchased the Thunderbolt Hotel (5400 North River Road) from mob boss Sam Giancana and renamed it the Caravelle.

In September 1964, state police arrested two men at an apartment complex at 9504 Glenlake Avenue. The men were accused of operating a betting center for thirty Chicago bookies.

On February 17, 1967, in his capacity as the city’s Liquor Commissioner, Stephens wrote to the Chicago office of the FBI. He informed them that to “clear the air”, he was scheduling public hearings regarding several taverns that had come under scrutiny in the newspapers for being tied to organized crime. Stephens asked that the FBI provide any information they had on the businesses in question or feel free to appear at the hearing. The list of businesses were:

  • Charles Esposito’s Taste of Honey (9463 Higgins Road)
  • Plaza Liquors aka R&H Liquors (9513 West Higgins Road)
  • Fool’s Rush Inn (6150 River Road)
  • Shady Rest Inn (9415 Higgins Road)

Stephens took the next step on March 10, when he created a three-member Liquor Commission. Those appointed were Rev. Francis Burk, school superintendent Raymond North and Dr. John Rudawsky. This allowed him to distance himself from accusations of favoritism and not be held responsible for licenses granted to questionable parties. At the same time, Stephens fired Officer Anthony Esposito, the brother of Charles Esposito, over questions raised about mob ties to Charles’ business, the Taste of Honey. Not coincidentally, the officer was represented at the recent hearing by mob attorney Anthony Champagne.

Patrolman Esposito was found to also be working as a Chicago police officer at the same time, and was fired from that position when it was learned he did not meet the residency requirement. Esposito claimed to live at 932 South Leavitt (Chicago) when he was actually living in an apartment owned by Charles Giancana (brother of mob boss Sam Giancana) at 6148 Willow Creek Drive, Rosemont. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Esposito brothers were also the sons of “Diamond Joe” Esposito, the man who mentored crime boss Paul Ricca.

An informant approached the FBI on March 17, 1967 and claimed Stephens was financially backing Charles Giancana in his construction of the River Rose Apartments. Allegedly, the project was controlled by a trust in the name of a Stephens family relative.

The licenses for Rocco Potenza’s Plaza Liquors and the Shady Rest Inn were officially revoked on April 3. Jerry J. Landry, owner of the Shady Rest, said his business had no criminal connections. However, both businesses used the same bookkeeper and had filed their taxes incorrectly.

An informant spoke with the FBI in August 1972 and explained how Stephens had used his authority on the newly-constructed Regency Hyatt House. He required that the hotel use contractors based in Rosemont wherever possible, and then negotiated a deal where on-duty Rosemont police officers would supply security for the hotel. Through this deal, the hotel would pay the city, and the city would pay the officers, creating a profit for the city. This was on top of the $0.50 room tax, which was already providing a steady income.

The informant also said that prostitutes were meeting clients at Fred Allegretti’s Four Horsemen Lounge (10290 West Higgins Road) and then taking them next door to the Oasis Hotel. Allegedly, the police were aware of this activity and taking payoffs in order to let it continue.

Two village trustees came forward on August 8, 1972 and claimed Stephens offered them “lucrative bribes” in order to vote with him a certain way. Interestingly, one of the trustees was none other than Anthony Esposito, the former disgraced Rosemont officer. Esposito said he met Stephens at the home of Anthony DeSimone and was offered a kickback if he approved the construction of a water reservoir. The city would buy the land for the reservoir at an inflated price, and then the extra would be returned to Stephens. Trustee and insurance agent Louis Venuso said Stephens, again in DeSimone’s presence, offered to steer insurance business his way if he would start voting Stephens’ way. Esposito and Venuso were members of the New Deal Party, who took up three of the village’s six council seats. DeSimone, a paper salesman, declined to confirm or deny these stories, and said he feared for his life since someone threw a rock through his front window a month before.

The next day, the third New Deal trustee, steel salesman Hubert Langer, came forward and said Stephens had offered him part of a car wash franchise. Stephens, among his other business ventures, was partner in MacCleen’s Car Wash with Arthur Dreissiger. The franchise had locations in Rosemont (6200 River Road), as well as throughout Ohio and Illinois. Langer pursued a location in Hanover Park after consulting with the other two men, but denied his changed voting pattern and business deals were related.

A grand jury was in full effect August 11, looking into the bribery allegations. They also looked into a potential conflict of interest: Stephens held 100 shares in the First National Bank of Schiller Park, and that same bank had handled $233,000 in village business the past year. He also had stock in the First National Bank of DesPlaines, which had handled only $1000 of village business.

Stephens was hardly affected by the ongoing scandal. On August 16, at the monthly village meeting, the press estimated that 300-400 village residents showed up with placards and marched in support of the mayor. The rally had been organized by fireman Ed Lee, who said that Stephens “never let them down”. An informant told the FBI that this demonstration was a sham, and consisted entirely on family members of city employees.

The FBI spoke with Fred Allegretti of the Four Horsemen Lounge (10290 West Higgins Road) on March 14, 1973. He said he purchased the land he was on about 18 years prior, and at the time it had only a gas station on it. At some point, it was annexed into the Village of Rosemont. After building a hotel and tavern, Allegretti got a verbal agreement from Donald Stephens that he would be granted a 4am liquor license. He was, however, only given a 2am license and was told the village was not big enough to accommodate another tavern open that late. Allegretti went back to Stephens, and was then then granted his extended license roughly six months after opening. Allegretti told the agents the agreement was done entirely through discussion and there was no bribery, legal threats or extortion involved. Allegretti said he had no problem with law enforcement other than the Illinois Liquor Commission, which had at one point confiscated 24 bottles of liquor from him for testing. They returned the bottles a few days later, though, when the bottles were found to be okay. He had also been criticized for having only one liquor license for his multiple businesses (hotel and restaurant), but he was told by Stephens this was not a problem because they shared one roof.

Michael Lenzi took over Lindsay’s Restaurant (6250 North River Road) on January 7, 1975. The very next day, the building mysteriously burned to the ground. The fire was determined to be arson, but no suspects were ever named.

An anonymous caller contacted the FBI on July 8, 1977 and expressed her belief that Jade Enterprises had a monopoly on vending machines in Rosemont. Moreover, she believed Jade’s silent partner was Mayor Don Stephens. Later, it was alleged that Jade was owned by two Rosemont police officers.

In 1983, Stephens was indicted, in separate prosecutions, for tax fraud and bribery, but was acquitted on both charges.

Donald Stephens died of stomach cancer April 18, 2007 in the middle of his thirteenth term as mayor.

“Bradley Stephens, son of late Rosemont founder Donald E. Stephens, made $125,000 in 2010 as the village’s mayor, financial records show. The mayor’s brother, Donald Stephens II, is the village’s police superintendent who received $144,885 last year. The police superintendent’s son, Donald Stephens III, is Rosemont’s first deputy police superintendent and made $140,613 in 2010. The highest earning member of the Stephens clan is the patriarch’s grandson Christopher, who received $193,462 to oversee the village’s convention center named after his grandfather in the village of a little more than 4,300 residents.”

Also try another article under Organized Crime
or another one of the writings of Gavin.

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