All Bets Are Off

 Anthony Borgo April 2019

The Supreme Court cleared the way in May 2018 for states to legalize sports betting, striking down a 1992 federal law that had prohibited most states from authorizing sports betting.  Some people in Whiting did not let a little law get in the way of running gambling dens throughout the city.  However, in the summer of 1967, Whiting’s own illegal betting syndicate was exposed.

According to investigators for The Chicago Tribune and the Northwest Indiana Crime Commission, two illegal gambling joints, located directly across an alley from the Whiting police station, had been conducting a booming business for several years.  Going back to 1951, the operations were under local and federal investigations because of their connection to Chicago crime bosses.  The places were Nardi’s lunchroom, 1612 119th Street, and Nardi’s Lounge located at 1606 119th Street. 

For several weeks in the summer of 1967, investigators held the illicit gambling dens under surveillance.  From a second story room nearby, motion pictures and still photographs were taken of illegal activities.  The undercover operatives made wagers in both businesses and observed as the lucrative gambling machines generated additional revenue.   Bets were believed to be placed with Julius (Tony Nardi) Lazzareschi, brother of Hugo Lazzareschi, who was previously convicted of illegal gambling at  Nardi’s. 

The task force reported that runners picked up bets from other locations throughout Whiting and deposited the money at Nardi’s.  Investigators observed  Lazzareschi and bartender Pete Colburn handling a large volume of wagers across the bar in plain sight.  Members of the crime commission reported that almost every customer seated in the lounge was betting on the horses. 

Roland Restle, chief investigator of the commission, casually struck up a conversation with Colburn and after a little while asked if he could place a bet.  Once Lazzareschi arrived at Nardi’s, Restle continued to place bets with Tony.  In addition to bookmaking, Nardi’s lunchroom also had three gambling pinball machines.  Jacobsen handed Vince Spanish a $5 bill and received a roll of dimes in exchange.  On his first play, Jacobsen won a payoff of $1.60.  After receiving his winnings, Jacobsen walked across the alley and summoned Whiting Police Captain George Zahorsky, who returned with him and arrested Spanish on gambling charges.

 Three Lake County deputy sheriffs arrested Julius (Tony) Lazzareschi and Wesley (Pete) Colburn on July 17, 1967.  Warrants for their arrests were obtained by Lake County Prosecutor Henry Kowalczyk. The warrants were issued on the basis of affidavits submitted by the crime commission.  Lazzareschi was charged with operating a tavern after legal closing hours and gambling.  Colburn was charged on two counts of gambling violations.

According to the July 18, 1967, issue of the Chicago Tribune, Whiting’s Mayor Joseph B. Grenchik admitted that he observed illegal gambling operating in Nardi’s but failed to take action.  He also acknowledged that Whiting police officers had been in the betting joints but failed to make any arrests even after witnessing violations of the law.  During the ongoing investigation, Colburn admitted to Roland Restle, chief investigator, “that whenever Whiting police attempted to close Nardi’s, the mayor’s office would intervene and transfer the policeman ‘who made trouble’ for the place.”

A year earlier the Federal Bureau of Investigation struck at the same multi-million dollar a year northern Indiana gambling empire.  The alleged crime syndicate spanned East Chicago, Gary, Hammond and Whiting.  The bust resulted in the arrest of 54 individuals.  The enterprise was allegedly operated in absentia by Gaetano (Tommy) Morgano.  Morgano was the northern Indiana mob boss who was deported to Sicily in 1963.  Federal authorities claimed that the establishments were under the command of George Dicks and Frank Zizzo, who were known associates of Charles Nicoletti and Felix (Milwaukee Phil) Alderisio.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the existence of illegal gambling had been going on unchecked in Whiting for several years.  Nardi’s, which operated for more than 30 years, was known as the busiest bookie joint in Lake County.  In 1951, Andrew Kovacik, mayor of Whiting at the time, three of his top police officials, and five gamblers were indicted by the Lake County grand jury.  The indictment came after an investigation of Nardi’s lunchroom.  Kovacik and his policemen were charged with malconduct and misfeasance while in office. It was believed that Kovacik not only knew that illegal gambling was being conducted at Nardi’s, but that he also continued to allow it to operate unchecked.

The indictments were thrown out shortly after Metro Holovachka took office as the Lake County Prosecutor.  Holovachka later was sent to prison after he was convicted of income tax evasion.  Kovacik, while in office, continued to deny that there were any illegal gambling establishments in his city and any rumblings were vicious rumors.  According to a May 25, 2003, Hammond Times article, “He went as far to require Whiting police officers to pledge, in writing, that they would ‘refrain from entering public buildings for the purpose of conducting raids.”  One police officer, who quit two years after signing the pledge, said that, “Everyone in town knew that there were two bookies and 27 buildings with slots operating wide open during the Kovacik administration.”

In 1957, five men were charged with running illegal gambling enterprises in East Chicago and Whiting.  The cases were the first to be handled under terms of a “peace” agreement negotiated between the Lake County Prosecutor and Indiana State Police.  The five men were arrested on August 21, 1957, by State troopers during raids at four alleged bookie joints.  Hugo Lazzareschi and John Lee were accused of running a gambling house in Nardi’s lunchroom.  Prosecutor Holovachka severely criticized the gambling arrests being tried in Justice of Peace courts.  He claimed that they were out of their legal jurisdiction and the stiffer penalties could be obtained through city courts.  Up until the agreement was reached, 15 gambling operators who were arrested during the raids only had to pay fines of $25 plus an additional $13 court cost fee and were then released.

On July 10, 1963, Hugo Lazzareschi (Chicago), Walter Wojachowski (Chicago), Frank (Nick) Zizzo (Hammond), and Alex Strosky (Griffith) were convicted in Hammond’s federal district court for conspiring to operate an interstate network of bookmaking.  The gambling establishments busted in Whiting were Uptown Lunch Club in the 1600 block of 119th Street and Nardi’s Tobacco Shop located at 1612 119th Street, operated by Edward Nardi.

According to the August 29, 1963, issue of the Daily Banner, “This trial was one of the first in the nation resulting from federal anti-gambling laws passed in 1961.”  Judge George Beamer sentenced Frank Zizzo to 15 concurrent 5-year terms and a $150,000 fine. Likewise, Strosky, Lazzareschi and Wojachowski were each sentenced to six months, with an additional 18-months of probation.

Frank Zizzo

By the summer of 1968, Elmer Jacobsen, operating director of the crime commission, was growing impatient with the Lake County courts delay in bringing Whiting’s illegal bookies to justice.  Awaiting trial were Tony Lazzareschi, owner of Nardi’s, and Wesley (Pete) Colburn, Nardi’s bartender.  According to a July 15, 1968, Chicago Tribune article, Jacobsen claimed, “In three years as an observer of the Lake County court system, I have been struck by the fact that the more profitable the gambling operation that is raided, the longer the time lapse before the defendants are put on trial.”

I was unable to discover whether Julius (Tony Nardi) Lazzareschi and Pete Colburn were ever convicted. However, Frank Zizzo did serve jail time for his connection to gambling in Whiting.  Zizzo was released from prison in 1973.  In the spring of 1986, Frank Zizzo passed away.  Lazzareschi lived a long life, living for a period of time in Robertsdale.  He worked as a bartender for several years at the Woodmar Country Club and later at Teibel’s Restaurant, when he moved to Schererville.  Julius passed away on July 24, 2000, he was 91 years old.