Chicago Outfit Members Arrested for Robbing Cartel Stash Houses

Robert Panozzo, 54, Paul Koroluk, 55, Panozzo's son, Robert Panozzo, Jr., 22,
Maher Abuhabsah, 33, and Koroluk's wife, Maria Koroluk, 53.

Members of a drug-dealing street crew tied to Chicago’s Outfit got their product by posing as police officers to gain access to Mexican Cartel stash houses, which the mobsters then pilfered for drugs.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the Mafia crew consisted of four men who are part of the Panozzo-Koroluk Street Crew. The men were known to utilize violent methods, once slicing off the ear of a reported cartel member who lied to them during one robbery.

The Outfit-tied crew members were arrested Thursday after investigators set up a sting operation in Chicago’s Hegewisch neighborhood.

Robert Panozzo, 54, Paul Koroluk, 55, and Maher Abuhabsah, 33, and Panozzo’s 22-year-old son, Robert Panozzo, Jr., were held without bail in Cook County bond court Saturday.

Panozzo and Koroluk have several burglary convictions and operated one of the most sophisticated burglary rings police have ever seen, prosecutors said. Panozzo and Koroluk operated in the area of Grand and Western.

They are from the old Italian neighborhood known as the Patch on the near West side, where Joey the Clown Lombardo and many other mobsters once held forth.

The crew’s crimes included home invasions, armed robberies, burglaries, insurance fraud and prostitution; they were said to have posed as cops to rob around five or six major drug-houses per year and were considered to have sophisticated methods. Police scanners, police vests, and real police badges stolen from police officers’ homes were seized by police while arresting each member of the crew.

Prosecutors said in Cook County Bond Court Saturday that the men tried to steal 44 kilograms of “a substance containing cocaine,” from what they thought was a drug dealer’s stash house in the 13000 block of South Brandon Avenue.

Police had installed surveillance equipment in the house, however, and the crew was arrested as they brought the cocaine outside.

Panozzo and Koroluk are part of a Grand Avenue Outfit crew run by Albert “Little Guy” Vena, according to sources and court testimony in the federal murder plot trial of Steve Mandell, a former Chicago police officer, earlier this year.

Vena assumed control of the Grand Avenue crew while "The Clown" Lombardo began dying in prison. According to reports, Vena stands just over 5 feet tall and is one of the most feared men in Chicago. No one in the Outfit calls him Albert. It's Albie, or behind his back, "the little guy," and guys who know, know. As in "the little guy is active," a phrase that might mean nothing to you, but it's the kind of thing that prompts nightmares from Oak Brook to Rush Street for some.

Vena was acquitted in Cook County Circuit Court of the 1992 murder of Sam Taglia of River Forest. Vena was alleged to have shot Taglia in the head, slit his throat, then stuffed him in the trunk of his own car in Melrose Park.

The crew came to investigators’ attention in October 2013, when law enforcement found evidence that Panozzo Sr. tried to have a witness in a home invasion and kidnapping case murdered to prevent the witness from testifying at trial, prosecutors said.

Koroluk’s wife, Maria Koroluk, 53, was arrested Friday at the home she shared with her husband in West Town, where police found 200 grams of cocaine on her clothes and shoes, Morley said. She was charged with possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver and held on $100,000 bail.

The male defendants face 15 to 60 years in prison for racketeering as well as 15 to 60 years for drug conspiracy charges. Maria Koroluk faces up to 40 years in prison.

The crew was sophisticated in its methods: It was known to attach GPS trackers to dealers’ cars to located their stash houses.

 “I think this is a very organized crew and a dangerous crew,” Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez said. “They have a  history of burglarizing and being in and out of jail. Clearly it didn’t help. We are hoping under these charges they will be held accountable.”

This is the second case charged under the State of Illinois’ RICO law that allows prosecutors to target the structure of a criminal organization itself so that a judge can see a complete picture of a gang’s criminal activity, Alvarez said.

“This is the perfect example of the type of cases we were looking to be able to handle under this new law,” Alvarez said.

During numerous search warrants into the mens’ homes executed as late as last night, Alvarez said, officers found police scanners, police vests, and real police badges that had been stolen from police officers’ homes.

“They have a long history, a history of burglaries and home invasions,” Alvarez said. “We are happy that this operation turned out the way it (did).”

During a home invasion in 2013, Panozzo Sr. sliced off the ear of a victim after he heard the man speaking English after he had claimed that he only spoke Spanish.

“Needless to say their methods involved extreme violence,” Alvarez said.

The two are also part of the same crew as Louis Capuzi and Frank Obrochta, who are in jail facing burglary charges in both DuPage and Cook Counties.