This article was last modified on December 9, 2018.

The Rise and Fall of Rocco Youse and Del Chemical

Robert Ernest Youse had been born in St. Louis, Missouri on February 3, 1925 to Ernest(?) and Dorothy Burkin Youse. He was raised on a farm in nearby Sedalia. Already by 1930, there is no sign of Robert’s father, and he lived with his mother and grandmother (Lena Burkin) in St. Louis.

By 1940, he went along with his mother to live with his maternal aunt, Helen Ewert, at 2933 Hebert Street in St. Louis. Robert’s mother worked at a local bakery, and his uncle Herman Ewert was a machine operator at a nearby paper company. Because the family lived only two blocks from Central High School, it is likely that Robert attended and graduated from there around 1943. News articles would later say he graduated in Sedalia, but this seems less likely.

Del Chemical Corporation was founded in 1958, with headquarters in Menomonee Falls, just outside of Milwaukee.

Youse was playing golf at the North Shore Country Club (Milwaukee) in August 1965, when the newspaper took notice of his hole-in-one on the 183-yard 14th hole. This was especially interesting because he followed Clyde Coffel, who also had a hole-in-one on the same hole. Playing with them were Paul DesJardins and Laurie Gardner, who did not do so well.

On April 27, 1966, Del Chemical began construction of a $261,000 plant in Sparks, Nevada’s McKenzie Industrial Park on Glendale Road. They were expected to open in August with a staff of 22, and would need an additional 60 salesmen to expand to Western states. They manufactured snow plow wax, sewage odor control, traffic paints and other things. This was a major expansion, as their headquarters was still in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. (At this time, Sparks had about 16,000 residents — in 2015 it is over 90,000. There was a major boom in the 1970s.)

In July 1968, Youse announced a $500,000 expansion to Del’s Sparks facility, which would be used by his other company, MuniChem, for making aerosol products. He expected to hire an additional 100 employees. Already in July 1970, another building (this time in nearby Reno) had a groundbreaking ceremony (featuring Senator Howard Cannon). The company claimed that sales had tripled in just the last year. 1970’s sales were expected to top $7,000,000. (That would be just shy of $43 million, adjusted for inflation.)

A 1970 budget meeting in Hawthorne, California (at the Cockatoo?) had company money going to political contributions ($16,000) and remodeling for Rocco’s house. Employee David hensley found this strange, but did not say anything until 1976 when employee Robert Bagemihl was facing a tax trial.

On April 11, 1970, Menasha Street Superintendent Earl Kohler was speaking to Mayor John Klein on the phone. In the room with Kohler was Alfred Voelker. Kohler told Klein, “I’m well aware of what’s going on and I’m going to take it to the proper authorities so it can be straightened out.” This would have to wait, however, because in the middle of the phone call Kohler had a heart attack and died.

In May 1971, an investigation was conducted because Kohler’s widow had filed a claim saying her husband died of work-related injuries. At the hearing, Voelker explained what apparently caused his death, and further explained that about $4800 in chemicals had to be dumped at Brighton Beach because they lost their potency. Over 15 drums were tossed out. The proper authorities were notified, and Voelker was recruited to conduct three secret wiretaps. One conversation caught on December 5, 1972 at the city garage sparked a John Doe investigation.

On May 13, 1971, Youse spoke out against Reno mayor Roy G. Bankofier, who said that Del was trying to pressure Reno into giving the company preferential treatment. Youse said the accusation “is an insult to anyone’s intelligence.” On the contrary, “We have offered in the past to give the city $10,000 worth of free chemicals and I want to go on record again as saying the offer still stands… what profit motive could we possibly have with regard to the city?” Speaking in third person, he noted, “I have even heard the rumor that Rocco Youse wants to help run the city. If Rocco Youse wanted to help run the city, he would run for public office under the democratic process instead of sitting in downtown Reno and trying to pull the strings of elected officials.”

Authorities in California were looking into Rocco Youse in May 1972, and were curious if he had a financial interest in Del Stables, or horses named Mr. Cockatoo and Rocco’s Lady. On May 4, a spot check was done at Andrew Lococo’s Cockatoo Inn in Hawthorne, California, searching for Youse or his Rolls Royce. They did not find it, but found an associate’s Cadillac.

A John Doe probe was going on in Oshkosh on Friday, January 19, 1973 before Judge William Crane. Called to testify was Paul DesJardins, the president of Share Corporation of Brookfield (Wis.), who had been vice president of sales for Del Chemical until 1971. Also there were two city of Menasha officials, Mayor James Adams and city garage bookkeeper Alfred Voelker. Between 1963 and 1970, Menasha had purchased thousands of dollars’ worth of chemicals from Del, but when Adams took office in April 1970, he sent back over $1000 worth that he found to be unnecessary. Voelker had first brought the “chemical matter” to the city’s attention, explaining how on one occasion $4800 worth of chemicals had to be dumped because they were expired.

On Wednesday night, January 24, the John Doe probe was continued in Oshkosh regarding alleged kickbacks from contractors and suppliers to municipalities. Specifically, two Milwaukee-area firms were named: Del Chemical Corporation of Menomonee Falls and Share Corporation of Brookfield. The prosecutors were Peter A. Peshek and Grant C. Johnson, assistant attorneys general, and Winnebago County District Attorney William Carver. Annunzio Ferraro, a former boxer and assistant to Del’s president Rocco E. Youse, testified. Youse owned two racing horses in Arcadia, California: Rocco’s Lady and Mr. Cockatoo. Cockatoo was named after the Cockatoo Inn, and Andrew Lococo was known to frequently watch him race. Attorney Joseph Balistrieri was secretary of Del Chemical at this time.

On May 7, 1973, the FBI received a private investigator’s report on Rocco Youse from Harrah’s Hotel and Casino in Reno. The report said that although he went by “Rocco”, his name was actually Robert Ernest Youse and he was German, not Italian. The Del Chemical Company was in deep financial trouble and the corporation’s assets are used as collateral for loans from the Walter Heller Corporation of Chicago. The report claimed officials at Del admitted the sales to municipalities are accomplished by “buying the city purchasing agent”. Youse spent a lot of time at the Pioneer Inn and had a $200,000 salary, as well as an additional $155,000 of company money he used for expenses. His tabs at Vario’s and Eugene’s were each around $1000 per month. The investigator believed Youse was a good friend of Frank Balistrieri, but was not himself a member of the Mafia.

The Milwaukee Journal ran a story on Del Chemical president Rocco Youse on May 13, 1973. They said he liked to gamble with $100 chips at the Riverside Casino in Reno and was known to win or lose $25,000 in a single night playing blackjack. Wallace Wroting, head of security, said Youse always carried a .38 pistol and liked to wave it around. After drinking, he would get belligerent and tell staff to “fuck themselves”, which had gotten him ejected once or twice. Other Del employees spoke of Youse’s love of guns, including Clyde “Ruster” Walters, who helped Youse move in 1966. One heavy box was loaded up with .45 automatics and shoulder holsters. Walters also claimed he shipped slot machines from Reno to Milwaukee for Youse inside 55-gallon drums. He flies in a private $150,000 airplane and owns Cadillacs and Rolls-Royces. They estimated his annual sales at $17 million. Before entering the business world, he had a brief stint in the military and was a professional boxer. He became a salesman for National Chemsearch Corp in 1958, and was later hired on by DL Chemical in Milwaukee in October 1962. Within months, he was kicked out by Joseph Kelly and formed Del. Kelly did not like Youse’s methods — offering incentives like television sets and fishing tackle to make his sales. Youse soon had enough money to buy a 40-acre estate in Germantown he dubbed Roccorosa. Out front was 600 feet of wrought iron fence, designed by Mequon blacksmith Lars Carlson. The estate has a swimming pool and bridle paths. He had a $1000-per-month apartment in Phoenix until purchasing a $140,000 home in Reno. He also had a $40,000 duplex. Exactly when Youse and Frank Balistrieri became acquainted is unclear. Balistrieri was at a MuniChem party in Reno in August 1971, but they likely knew each other earlier. Youse was known to associate with Andy Lococo and Tony Machi. Youse had held meetings at Lococo’s Cockatoo, and even named a racing horse Mr. Cockatoo in his honor (he had another named Rocco’s Lady). On April 8, 1972, Lococo actually rented a helicopter to watch “his” horse race at Santa Anita because he was barred from the grounds. Boxer Annunzio Ferraro, who had worked as a bouncer for The Scene, also worked as a bodyguard for Youse. MuniChem was a respected company in Reno, and Senator Howard Cannon even showed up to break ground for the new facility on July 23, 1972.

The Journal tried to interview Youse, but were turned away by his attorney, Joseph Balistrieri. When asked about the ongoing investigation into bribes, Balistrieri said, “Anyone who suggests that Del Chemical is engaged in the systematic breaking of a law or offering bribes to any public employees is deeply in error. It has never been the company policy to bribe anyone, be it a public employee or the purchasing agent for a private corporation. There was no need for an investigation. If anyone had any quarrels with the Del premium policies, all they had to do was say ‘stop it’ and it would have been stopped.”

Rocco married Donna Lee Peckenpaugh on September 16, 1973 in Reno.

On November 29, 1973, the Organized Crime and Criminal Intelligence Branch of the California Department of Justice released a report saying that 15-25% of profits were skimmed from the Ormsby House casino in Carson City, owned at the time by Senator Paul Dominique Laxalt. The skimmed money would be picked up by Rocco Youse from manager Joseph Viscuglia, identified as a front man for Frank Balistrieri.

Rocco Youse was arrested on Tuesday, April 2, 1974 while walking along a Biloxi, Mississippi beach. He was charged with bribing the mayor of Menasha and spent the night in jail while his lawyer, Joseph Balistrieri, flew in from Milwaukee. Youse agreed to waive extradition in exchange for being let free on a $5000 recognizance bond.

On June 3, 1974, Winnebago County Judge Thomas S. Williams denied 26 motions from Joseph Balistrieri who was attempting to get charges against Youse dropped and/or the trial location moved. Balistrieri also asked for copies of John Doe transcripts; this request was denied because such transcripts were secret and the probe into chemical companies was ongoing, with more charges expected to come down. Williams said the excessive amount of motions was nothing more than a “fishing expedition” and he was not going to allow the legal process to be abused.

During the preliminary hearing on Tuesday, July 2, 1974, former Menasha mayor John L. Klein admitted under oath to receiving kickbacks from Del Chemical between 1960 and 1970. Klein had purchased $18,199 worth of products from Del while mayor, and was personally given about 10% back as a personal check. On one occasion, the money was given to him personally by Rocco Youse, but it was usually handed over in envelopes of cash by salesman Wallace R. Flaherty. Klein’s testimony was given before Judge Thomas Williams.

Wallace Flaherty testified that bribes would start with something simple like a letter opener and then move into “premiums”. He said, “There was a clear understanding that if there was no order, there was no premium.” William Maxwell showed the court two checks he had written to Klein, each for $100, from his personal account.

The preliminary hearing wrapped up on July 5, with enough evidence found to take Youse to trial. The only question remaining was whether or not the alleged crimes committed happened within the statute of limitations.

The final hearing date was July 31, 1974, where it was decided that the statute of limitations was not a problem, and Youse was bound over for trial. Attorney Balistrieri was furious, telling the court, “Felony cases cannot hinge on inferences that are heaped upon inferences.”

Arraignment was set for September 27, 1974, but was postponed when Balistrieri applied to have the case moved to the state Supreme Court. Circuit Judge Edmund Arpin pushed arraignment back to October 1, expecting the Supreme Court to deny the petition.

To make matters worse, Youse was indicted on October 23 for eight counts of tax evasion. The government alleged that he owed more than $186,000. Charged with him was Del vice president Robert C. Bagemihl, who was accused of helping Youse hide his income. On November 8, Youse pleaded not guilty.

On December 20, Attorney Balistrieri again tried to raise the issue of statute of limitations. Judge Arpin dismissed this concern. Balistrieri also complained that the offenses alleged against Youse were too vague on the dates cited. By not having exact dates, it denied Youse the right to have an alibi. Arpin dismissed this, as well.
Last, Balistrieri asked for copies of John Doe transcripts, but Arpin said he would get those closer to trial and only the relevant portions.

Jury selection took place on January 20, 1975 for Youse’s bribery trial in Winnebago County before Judge Arpin. Before the end of the day, seven men and five women were selected and the trial was set to begin right away.

On January 21, Judge Arpin accepted the statute of limitations request of Attorney Balistrieri, at least in part. Del salesman Frederick Dousman of Milwaukee was called to testify, but the judge said he could not because his employment was too long ago. In his opening statement, Balistrieri said prosecution witnesses would have “recollections that are hazy and inconsistent and in some cases their testimony would be perjury. The state will be unable to show that Youse influenced anybody to do anything.” Regarding the money paid to Klein, Balistrieri argued that the money “was not transferred with the intent to influence” Klein. “If Mr. Klein did accept money, he was under no inducement to do anything in the future.”

Salesman William Maxwell testified that Youse told him that “when I get to Menasha I should take care of the dumb so-and-so. He used some obscene word that I can’t think of, but he told me the dumb so-and-so got 10%.” When questioned by Balistrieri, Maxwell conceded, “It’s been a long time and my recollection is kind of hazy… This is a few years back. There has been a lot of water over the dam since then.” He added, “I wasn’t making anything on that account to begin with, I was just trying to please my boss.” Salesman Wallace Flaherty testified that Youse once said, “I own the mayor. I own that animal.”

Mayor Klein admitted taking the bribes on the stand, saying he accepted the money “to take my wife out to dinner… to buy her extra things.”

Taking the stand in his own defense, Rocco Youse called his accusers “liars” and said he never allowed any bribes or kickbacks. He also had a letter from July 13, 1965 written to his sales manager, Paul DesJardins. It read, “If you even mention a cash payoff to any city, town or federal agency, you will be terminated without hesitation and without reservation. This is a felony, it is a fraud, it is graft, and if any officer does this for one moment he will no longer be with Del Chemical Corp.” Prosecutor Grant Johnson was flabbergasted. He objected to the letter “all of a sudden, miraculously appearing out of nowhere. The more I think about this, the more incredible it seems. I just can’t swallow it.”

On the evening of January 23, the jury deliberated for five hours… and ultimately decided that Youse was guilty of the bribery charges against him. He now faced a possible five years in prison and $15,000 in fines.

Balistrieri filed 11 more motions in an attempt to get a new trial, and they were again all denied on January 30. Balistrieri argued, “There was no bribe as bribe is defined in Wisconsin law. To be a bribe, there must be inducement, and in no place in the record is inducement shown.” He suggested there is a legal difference between “bribes” and “kickbacks”. Arpin responded, “While the defense makes an eloquent argument, there is sufficient evidence in support of the jury’s findings. It is not the court’s function to sit as the 13th juror. It is only to determine if the evidence is sufficient to support the verdict.”

On March 10, 1975, Rocco Youse was sentenced to three years probation and $1,000 fine by Judge Edmond Arpin for bribing Menasha mayor John Klein. As head of Del Chemical, Youse had purposely overcharged Menasha so he could give the extra money as a “kickback” to Klein. At the sentencing, Assistant Attorney General Grant Johnson argued for incarceration, saying, “The only thing white collar criminals understand is jail.” He wanted the court to set an example by giving Youse three years “so everyone will know that the rich don’t get away free while the poor pay. What’s good for the salesman is good for the boss. What’s good for the poor man is good for the $6 million man.” He specifically pointed out that Bert Ische (one of Youse’s salesmen) was sentenced to nine months in jail for bribery. Salesman Ralph Yeazel got 60 days. They were fined $5,000 and $3,500, respectively. Youse’s attorney, Joseph Balistrieri, argued for probation (and won), saying that Youse had “suffered enough” because he now had the “stigma” of being a “convicted felon” and “other problems are waiting for him down the road.” Youse personally addressed the court, saying if he went to jail it might jeopardize the jobs of his employees. After the sentence, Johnson told the press, “I think (the sentence) is unfortunate. I think it’s wrong. I think it’s 150 other things.”

On March 13, 1975, two Youse-owned firms were fined $1,000 each by Judge David Dancey. Del Chemical pleaded no contest to bribery in Jefferson, and MuniChem pleaded no contest to bribery in Sparta. Prosecutor Peter Peshek complained to the media. Under the current law, $1000 was the maximum fine ,which he felt was not enough. “The state’s integrity is at stake when it deals with corporations,” he said. “But corporations know their maximum exposure is $1000.”

Following a prolonged legal battle and appeal, the Wisconsin Supreme Court decided on May 8, 1975 to uphold a $19,000 judgment against Del Chemical by a former employee, Mario Calero. Following Calero leaving the company, Del (specifically Robert Bergmihl) would tell potential employers that Calero had stolen sensitive documents, which was false.

Rocco was accused of a assaulting a woman on June 25, 1975. Linda Batham, an employee at a Reno casino, said she got in an argument with Youse at the El Borracho restaurant and he punched her twice. A bartender on duty said he did not see any argument, while another customer said he saw an argument but no physical violence. She dropped her complaint on the 27th.

On Wednesday, July 2, 1975, it was announced that Jean Youse would take over Del Chemical of Wisconsin from her ex-husband Rocco Youse as part of their divorce settlement. The property had been held up in litigation for three years. He maintained ownership of Del Chemical of Nevada.

In mid-July 1975, Youse sued to protect Del company secrets. He believed that salesman John Susedik of Tacoma was deliberately used to get secrets from Del and then take them to competitor Share Corp, a business run by Youse’s former salesman Paul DesJardins.

Rocco pleaded guilty to one count of tax evasion on August 15, 1975 on the condition that all other tax evasion charges against him were dropped. On October 17, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison and a $10,000 fine by Judge Bruce Thompson.

On Friday, September 19, 1975, it became public that Steve DiSalvo was picked by owner Jean Youse to become an executive at Del Chemical Company in Menomonee Falls. DiSalvo was suggested by Frank Balistrieri’s son, Joseph, who happened to be Youse’s attorney. Del Chemical already had a troubled history, with a recent arrest for bribery by Youse’s husband Rocco and several salesmen, who made improper offers to the mayor of Menasha. According to Youse, “Joe said, ‘Jean, you haven’t run a business before and he can help you’ and he’s been a tremendous help.” Within a year, the company would file for bankruptcy (on March 18).

On January 1, 1976, the sale of Del Chemical of Nevada and MuniChem to Del’s executive vice president Jerry Saylor was final. Saylor had started out with the company as a salesman in Fresno only six years earlier. “We plan a very rapid expansion program,” Saylor told the press. “We think this is the time to expand. The economic outlook for the next year looks great.” Specifically, he expected the company to begin sales to commercial outlets and not just to municipalities.

On January 23, 1976 the EPA filed a complaint charging Del with various violations of the Insecticide Act. The agency recommended a fine of $20,600, based on the inspection and sampling of the previous February.

On March 1, 1976 three persons formed Oner II, Inc., with apparent assistance from Jerry Saylor, to acquire Del’s assets. In consideration of the acquisition of Del’s assets, Oner II agreed to assume all of Del’s outstanding trade liabilities, but no mention was made of an agreement to assume liability for the EPA’s claim for $20,600 in fines. Saylor became president of Oner II but owned no stock in the corporation. Del was left as a corporate shell.

On August 3, 1976, the EPA, having learned of Del’s transaction with Oner II, filed a motion to amend its complaint to include Oner II and Saylor as respondents in the action against Del. The motion was granted by the administrative law judge on August 11, 1976. Saylor and Oner II filed a motion to dismiss the action for lack of jurisdiction, which was denied.

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

2 Responses to “The Rise and Fall of Rocco Youse and Del Chemical”

  1. Drew Hunkins Says:

    Absolutely fascinating piece of outlaw history Gavin. Thanks for posting this.

  2. gavin Says:

    Howdy, Drew. Thanks. I’m giving a presentation on Youse this coming Thursday, so expect this page to get expanded in the coming days… I’ll also have a post on Andrew Lococo.

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