Organized crime, the Mafia, or the Outfit as it is known in Chicago, is surrounded by a false glamour that elevates mobsters to the level of swashbuckling folk heroes whose ready violence and savage murders are too often excused in the public mind as acceptable because they only hurt each other. Similarly, illegal gambling, the bread-and-butter racket inevitably combined with loan-sharking and extortion, is widely tolerated because it is perceived to be a victimless crime.
Donald H. Herion, a US Army veteran during the Korean War, who grew up in a neighborhood where there was a bookmaker on every corner, sometimes two or three, learned just how wrong all that was when he returned home from the Army and joined the Chicago Police Department. He wasn't sure that he was doing the right thing at the time because he really never liked cops, but if he didn't like it, he could always quit he thought.
After six years learning the ropes in the patrol division collaring burglars and stick up men, chasing daredevil drivers, calming adversaries in domestic disputes, and riding herd on drunks and dope dealers, he was promoted to plainclothes as a vice cop investigating illegal gambling, narcotics, prostitution and gang bangers.
He quickly learned that chasing bookmakers and busting up wire-rooms was a fight against organized crime. Illegal gambling was organized crime's biggest money maker, the Golden Calf that financed most of its other illicit activities ranging from stock and bankruptcy swindles to the narcotics trade.
Herion and his partner were transferred to the Vice Control Section of the Organized Crime Division at police headquarters at 1121 S. State Street. He now had jurisdiction to make raids anywhere in the City of Chicago instead of only in his district.
He was promoted to detective, then sergeant, he rubbed shoulders with degenerate gamblers, bookmakers, prostitutes and stone-cold killers, while witnessing first-hand how gambling destroys lives. He broke up more than 4,000 gambling operations, arrested hundreds of mob controlled bookmakers and other racketeers.
Herion also had the pleasure of busting up the mob's biggest floating crap game eight times costing the crime syndicate millions of dollars. To accomplish this it was necessary for him to work on his own time as well as city time. The mob moved the game into the suburbs, which was out of his jurisdiction so Herion worked with Chicago Tribune crime reporter Bob Wiedrich to get the job done. The crap game took every precaution necessary to keep from being discovered. Lookouts with walkie-talkies roved the area where the game was held to warn the operators of the game of any police in the area. One suburb had a local police lieutenant and sergeant as lookouts, the lieutenant who became aware of there presence in the area stuck his gun in their face wanting to know who they were. Herion had used his own car to conduct a surveillance hoped that the lieutenant didn't check his license number. When the reporter explained to the lieutenant that they were watching a crime syndicate crap game going on in a building down the street and would he like to accompany them on a raid, the lieutenant at this point made an excuse and left the area. This of course caused some heat, but the reporter had already had his story about the game which made headlines in the Chicago Tribune the next day.
On another occasion the game began again and was next to a railroad track in another suburban building in Melrose Park, a suburb west of Chicago. There was only one road in and out, lookouts with walkie-talkies were posted everywhere in the area. Herion had his son Don print a sign on plasterboard 4' by 6' with large letters in red paint, CRAP GAME operated by Mob Boss JACKIE CERONE, with an arrow pointing to where the game was being held. Herion nailed the sign on a telephone pole on the road leading to the game. Wiedrich again had his story which again appeared in the Chicago Tribune the next day. Herion checked on the sign the next day which had been torn down and had been broken into smithereens by some unhappy mobster.
Working vice and gambling he learned to develop criminal informants; bookies, burglars, fences and others operating on the flipside of the law. Two of his informants were murdered. Mobsters he arrested went to prison, served their time, and returned to Chicago's streets or graduated to Las Vegas where they represented the Outfit until it was their turn to die violently
Early in his career he was a close-up witness to some of the Windy City's most tragic events. Along with thousands of other police officers, he was called out to help put down the violence during back-to-back riots in 1968. One was carefully crafted rioting accompanying the Democratic National Convention; the other was the more spontaneous and destructive spasm of looting and burning that erupted in the wake of the Martin Luther King Jr., assassination. His most heart rendering assignment as a cop occurred a decade earlier, when he was detailed to the Our Lady of Angels Catholic School. Ninety- two elementary students and three nuns died there in one of the city's worst disasters.
Herion was a front-line observer to forty tumultuous years of Chicago criminal history. He became the nemesis of the outfit, and personally faced down the organization's most feared professional killers, ruthless gunmen who didn't have enough fingers on both hands to count the number of victims they whacked. Harry "The Hook" Aleman, William "Butch" Petrocelli, Lenny Patrick, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, notorious juice collectors, enforcers and other hit-men, were among his targets. He never backed down from any confrontation with a hoodlum.
Herion's experience and expertise were recognized by law enforcement in Washington D.C. he was asked to testify before the President's Commission on Organized Crime in New York City in 1985. His picture appeared on the front page of the New York Times when he demonstrated how the Chicago Mafia operated their gambling enterprise.
Herion was also contacted by the movie industry that had read about his career in law enforcement and asked him to be a technical advisor on a mob movie that was going to be filmed in Chicago. He also appeared in the movie as well as many other mob movies and television shows that were filmed in Chicago. He is a member of the Screen Actors Guild.
One day Herion reported to work and was told that he had been transferred back to a district in uniform on the North side of Chicago. No explanation was given to him, just that an order came down from Police Headquarters. After a reform Police Superintendent was sworn in, Herion was transferred back to the Organized Crime Division and was told to do his job, which he did relentlessly.
Herion was informed by a reliable source that he was transferred back in uniform because he had been making too many raids in the suburbs and that the person that transferred him was a Deputy Superintendent who was friendly with the Sheriff of Cook County. As luck would have it this Deputy Superintendent was caught along with his other burglar associates operating a jewelry theft ring that had stolen millions of dollars from traveling jewelry salesmen. He was found guilty and sent to prison for 18 years.
While on the job trolling through the slime of the underworld, he and his wife of 50 years raised six children, three boys and three girls. There were times when Herion had to do things as a vigilante to get the job done. Certain investigations needed special surveillance methods that could help him gather enough intelligence to get the job done. One investigation discovered by him was involving a mob run parlay card operation involving 15 cars who were distributors of the cards throughout Chicago and suburbs. Herion discovered that the printer of 200,000 cards would deliver these cards to a different location every week and then meet the 15 runners who would pass them out. The problem Herion had was that it would be almost impossible to observe this operation from anywhere close by because of lookouts that would warn the bad guys.
Herion decided to use his station wagon with his three sons ranging in age from 9 to 12, sitting in the back seat wearing their little league football uniforms. He would be in the front seat with a walkie-talkie directing other undercover cars as to what vehicles had just picked up his load and which direction he was driving. The cars would be stopped blocks away as not to heat up the area. Due to the fact that Herion was able to park close enough to the main source of the operation the plan worked. No one paid any attention to a car with three boys fighting in the back seat "as directed." All 15 cars were confiscated along with the printer and where his press was located. The boy's assistance was not free of course, it cost him three banana splits and they didn't have to walk the dog for a week.
In one four year period, 28 bookies were murdered beaten and tortured as examples to others, scores of other bookmakers fled town. The victims were gunned down, burned to death, garroted, narcotic overdoses or tortured with ice picks and electric cattle prods.
Even two of the mob's executioners during the campaign were themselves slain and their bodies stuffed in the trunk of one of their cars when they screwed up a hit on gambling boss Ken Eto who they shot in the head three times, but he didn't die.
In 1989 Mob boss Rocky Infelise had a conversation taped between him and mob informant B.J. Jahoda of Infelise's efforts to get Herion out of the Organized Crime Division. Infelise sent an unknown police official to the Superintendent of Police to get Herion sent to a subway detail. The tape was played in Federal Court at the trial of Infelise and 19 other mobsters on racketeering and murder charges.
Herion reached the mandatory retirement age of 63, after 38 years on the job, 32 of which were fighting the mob he retired in 1992.
Four months later Herion was then asked by the Sheriff of Cook County if he would consider working for the Sheriffs office. The Sheriff wanted Herion to set up a Vice Detection Unit of which he would be the Commander. He would be allowed to pick his own men and report to no-one but him. Herion agreed but he had to have jurisdiction in the entire County of Cook, not just the unincorporated area. Sheriff Sheehan agreed and Herion was back in operation. It seems that the former vice unit had a problem with vice activities and needed new blood.
Herion began causing the mob more damage as Herion and his crew busted up numerous gambling operations, some of which led him back to Chicago.
During Herion's career on the job he had to tail numerous bad guys, sometimes with four unmarked squads. This is very time consuming as well as aggravating when the subject drives down alleys and the wrong way on one-way streets to see if he is being followed. Usually the police have to commit a lot of traffic violations to stay with the subject and not be detected.
He had heard of a tracking device called TELETRAC that is used to track a vehicle by sending signals to a computer that is in your office. He checked it out and found that it was a small metal box 8" by 10" by 2" which is battery operated with a small aerial. The unit had four magnets on the bottom which is attached to the vehicle that the suspect is using. The unit sends a signal every few seconds to a receiver which can be in your office. The better news was that it will report to you within ten feet where the subject vehicle is located within a 50 mile radius.
The bad news is that the sending device has to be attached to the vehicle which usually means late at night or early morning when no one is around. Most of his crew lived on the south side, and most of the bad guys lived on the north side. Herion decided to give it a try, but he needed a lookout to warn him of any nosy neighbors that might see him crawling under a car. Some times his wife volunteered or one of his sons. Herion told them in the event that he was detected just tell them that they were looking for a lost cat or dog, and to carry a leash with them to make it look believable.
Of course once the unit is attached it has to be retrieved when the batteries wear out. To get it off the same method had to be used of course. The unit cost $1,000 dollars so it wouldn't be good to lose it.
TELETRAC worked like a charm and a lot of bad guys could never figure out how they got caught because they took every precaution to keep from being tailed.
In law enforcement of course all good things must come to an end. On June 6, 1996, Herion was officially notified that the use of electronic tracking devices should only be used when there has been prior judicial approval. It was the opinion of Brian K. Flaherty Esq. from the office of Legal and Labor Affairs of Cook County that prior approval is only needed when the Sheriff's police are attaching the device "WITHOUT THE CONSENT OF THE INDIVIDUAL THEY ARE TRACKING." Herion decided that getting the bad guy's consent to put a tracking device on his vehicle as well as other stipulations was not such a good idea. Checking with other police departments as what their procedures were in using TELETRAC, they all informed Herion that judicial approval was not needed, and to ask the subject they were tailing for his permission made no sense at all. Herion turned in the TELETRAC units he was using to the Sheriff's office in Maywood, Illinois.
Herion lasted eight years with the Sheriff's office and decided to call it a day and retire again in 2000. 40 years of fighting the Chicago Outfit was now over for him.
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June 30, 2008
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