Reputed Grand Avenue Crew “Uniform” Cops Plea In Extortion Conspiracy Case

Do members of the Chicago Outfit pay associates to help them collect money? Apparently, in the following case involving a long-time Outfit soldier, he did....

Robert Panozza Sr., alleged Outfit soldier.

Reputed Outfit soldier Robert Panozzo Sr. pleaded guilty last Wednesday in the federal courthouse in Rockford to threatening and beating a businessman over an alleged $100,000 debt, and then hiring someone to torch the businessman's car and house when he wouldn’t pay.

A reputed longtime soldier under Albert (Little Guy) Vena, the reputed Grand Avenue boss, as well as a member of the Grand Avenue Crew, Panozzo allegedly carried out a four-year campaign of violence and threats to collect the debt after telling the man in 2005, “This is serious. I want my money.”

He entered a guilty plea to one count of extortion conspiracy. The plea agreement, which was 17-pages long, calls for up to 14 years in prison, and whatever his ultimate sentence, it will be served concurrently with the 18-year prison term handed down earlier this year for his conviction in a sweeping racketeering conspiracy brought in Cook County court. In that case, Panozzo and longtime associate Paul Koroluk admitted to heading a crew that ran a host of rackets, including home invasions, armed robberies, burglaries, insurance fraud and prostitution.

Panozzo, Koroluk, and several other members of the crew were arrested in 2014 for attempting to heist a Southeast side drug house that was in actuality a ruse by law enforcement. Panozzo and Koroluk posed as cops (Koroluk wore a police star around his neck) to rob what they thought was a cartel stash house. They kicked the door down and grabbed narcotics — only to be arrested by Chicago police and federal agents who, after wiring the place for audio and video surveillance, had watched the robbery from an FBI spy plan up in the sky.

In the recent extortion conspiracy case, Panozzo loaned the McHenry County businessman — identified as Victim 1 — $40,000 in 2005 and then “additional loans.”

At a 2006 meeting at a Palatine restaurant, the businessman handed Panozzo $25,000 in cash in an envelope, making what he thought was the final payment, according to the agreement.

Panozzo, however, told him he still owed $100,000 in interest.

That October, after the victim had not paid, Panozzo and an associate, Joseph Abbott, confronted the businessman at work and gave him a beating, causing “injuries and contusions to Victim 1′s head."

Panozzo was later sent to prison for a burglary conviction and couldn’t collect on the debt.

When released in 2008, Panozzo began calling Victim 1 to demand payment.

In February 2009, Panozzo paid Abbott $1,000 to set fire to a Dodge Caravan parked in the businessman's driveway. Then two months later, Abbott “used an incendiary device” to set fire to the man's garage and trash cans.

Panozzo acknowledged to paying Abbott about $4,000 or $5,000 to “blow up” the victim’s residence.

Abbott has pleaded guilty to extortion and is awaiting sentencing.

Panozzo and Koroluk have criminal histories that stretch back decades.

Both were born and bred in the old Italian American enclave known as “the Patch” on the Near West Side.

In 2006 the two were both sentenced to seven years in prison for a series of multimillion-dollar burglaries of tony north suburban homes that netted jewelry and other luxury items.

Chicago police, at the time, had described the burglaries as among the most sophisticated ever seen.

Prosecutors allege the crew participated in several other elaborate schemes targeting drug dealers, many of which involved tracking their targets with GPS to find where they stashed their narcotics.

Koroluk was also sentenced to 18 years in prison.