Tollway snoozer: Did he cruise on his connections?
BY ROSALIND ROSSI AND BECKY SCHLIKERMAN Staff Reporters April 11, 2013 8:04PM
Joseph Caffarello, was making $78,444 a year when he was fired as a maintenance supervisor for an Illinois Tollway garage.
Updated: May 13, 2013 6:25AM
Former Illinois Tollway garage supervisor Joseph Caffarello wasn’t shy about bragging that he had clout and it protected him, authorities say.
Whether he was accused of head-butting a fellow employee or plowing into a good Samaritan in his tollway truck with marijuana in his system, Caffarello kept his job, despite the tollway’s efforts to fire him.
In fact, Caffarello got promoted.
Now, he’s fighting his latest firing from the tollway — that’s number three. The job paid him $78,444 a year.
The tollway fired Caffarello after he was photographed by fellow employees snoozing in his office. He was also accused of intimidating tollway employees and threatening to bring down the tollway’s inspector general.
Caffarello, 29, of Rosemont, did not return phone messages, and his attorney scoffed at the notion he bragged about his clout.
But Caffarello does have ties to important people, public records show.
His uncle, whom Caffarello once wrote raised him like a father, is the late mob street tax collector Anthony “Jeep” Daddino.
When he wasn’t working at the tollway, Caffarello found work at D & P Construction, which has been tied to the family of reputed Chicago Outfit boss John DiFronzo.
The lawyer who was the arbitrator in the case that awarded him his job back after he plowed into the good Samaritan is the son of the late mob underboss Jackie “The Lackey” Cerone.
And Caffarello also happens to be married to the daughter of the clerk of the village of Rosemont, which has been stained by ties to organized crime throughout much of its history.
Caffarello “did threaten to get anyone who was opposing him, including me,” Tollway Inspector General James Wagner said. “There were reports from the employees that he referred to his clout being able to take care of him.”
Wagner, a former FBI agent who specialized in the Chicago mob, declined to speculate on Caffarello’s clout.
“There are a number of potential possibilities,” Wagner said.
Caffarello’s second firing stemmed from an accident in which he struck a good Samaritan helping out a motorist in trouble on the tollway and afterward, tested positive for marijuana. Though he was fired, he ultimately won his job back and was eventually promoted — twice.
The good Samaritan, Joseph Gibrick, was stunned to learn of Caffarello’s work history and positive drug test when contacted by the Sun-Times.
“He almost killed me,” Gibrick said.
To win your job back after such an incident, Gibrick said, “You’ve got to know somebody. He had to have some clout there.”
Gibrick said his wife repeatedly yelled to warn Caffarello that he was going to hit her husband as the tollway truck backed up. Gibrick said Caffarello never even bothered to get out of his truck to see if he was alive or dead — a point Caffarello disputed in his written statement about the accident.
Caffarello’s attorney insists Caffarello never bragged he had clout and disputes all other allegations against him.
“He never told anyone he had any clout,” his attorney, Margherita Albarello, said. “What a stupid thing for anyone to say.”
She cautioned against a “witch-hunt because Mr. Caffarello is Italian. . . . Sure sounds like profiling to me. Sounds like national origin discrimination as well.”
Added Albarello: “Shame on you.”
Mobster like a father
No one has accused Caffarello of being tied to organized crime.
But his uncle, Daddino, has been described by the Chicago Crime Commission as an “Outfit member” who was friends with the first mayor of Rosemont, Donald Stephens, and was a village employee. Daddino also worked for the late feared mob killer Frank “The German” Schweihs, court records show.
When Stephens died in 2007, Daddino was at the funeral and told the Sun-Times he “lost a very good friend.”
The following year, after Daddino died from cancer, Caffarello asked the tollway for bereavement leave — something normally reserved for the deaths of immediate relatives.
“I consider my uncle immediate family due to the fact that he raised me from a baby,” Caffarello wrote tollway officials. “I do not have a relationship with my father, and my uncle was the closes [sic] thing to a father.”
The leave was approved.
Caffarello, who got as far as 11th grade at East Leyden High School, was hired in 2000 to work as a summer temporary toll collector for the Illinois Tollway, according to tollway personnel records.
Within three months, he received a full-time job as a toll collector and on Sep. 11, 2000, he began his career with the tollway.
Over the next 12 years, Caffarello would be promoted three times, fired three times, issued four warnings and suspended once, officials say.
Three times, he got into accidents with vehicles on the job — twice while backing them up.
The first time he was fired, in 2001, Caffarello allegedly head-butted a co-worker, but was eventually reinstated in a settlement and then promoted, according to officials.
A rainy night
In 2004, Caffarello was fired again — this time for backing a tollway truck into Gibrick on a rainy night as the Hawthorn Woods man helped a driver whose car had slipped into a ditch near Schaumburg on I-90.
After the accident, Caffarello tested positive for marijuana, records show. He was fired, and, his state personnel file indicates, went to work for D & P Construction, a Melrose Park firm whose listed president is the sister-in-law of reputed former mob boss DiFronzo.
Caffarello eventually won his tollway job back when the labor arbitrator, attorney Jack Cerone, ruled Caffarello’s dismissal couldn’t hold up because the tollway’s past practice had been to give employees who failed a drug test a second chance. The tollway, however, had argued that in those instances, the drug tests had been random, and a pedestrian hadn’t been hit.
Cerone ruled that the previous head-butting incident wasn’t relevant to the tollway accident.
Cerone has not been accused of wrongdoing or tied to organized crime, but his late father was identified by law enforcement as once the second-in-command of the Chicago Outfit.
The younger Cerone, who has been an arbitrator for at least 20 years, did not respond to requests for comment or to written questions.
Tollway authorities say Cerone should have never been selected as the arbitrator in the first place because he failed to disclose that, up until 1993, he had represented Teamsters Local 726, which counted Caffarello as a member at the time of the dismissal and provided his attorney at the arbitration hearing.
Although both sides must agree to an arbitrator, rules require that arbitrators disclose any past relationships with the parties first, tollway officials said.
“Clearly we feel he should have disclosed this relationship, and he did not,” tollway spokeswoman Wendy Abrams said. “The tollway won’t use him again, because of his past representation, and it hasn’t used him since.”
The case marked the only time Cerone served as an arbitrator on a tollway case since at least 2000, Abrams said.
Not only should Cerone have disclosed his past Local 726 work, Inspector General Wagner said, but his ruling “ignored” other egregious elements of the accident, including that Caffarello had hit Gibrick and then allegedly left the scene.
Caffarello told authorities that he helped the disabled vehicle and left after Gibrick refused an ambulance repeatedly. Gibrick had a different story, telling the Sun-Times that Caffarello’s truck backed into him, knocked him off his feet, ran partially over him, and then drove off, with Caffarello never offering any help.
Gibrick, 58, said he is “100 percent positive” Caffarello never got out of his truck to help.
“I remember the incident like the back of my hand because I almost died that night,” Gibrick said.
Caffarello, though, wasn’t ticketed or charged — a point Cerone noted in his arbitration ruling.
Tollway authorities never interviewed Gibrick about what happened May 21, 2004, but the agency did pay him a few thousand dollars to cover medical expenses, said Gibrick, who repossesses cars for a living.
“If somebody else would have hit me and left the scene, they would have been arrested. . . . I knew there was something up,” Gibrick said.
Caffarello’s latest dispute with the tollway started after co-workers at a tollway garage in Gurnee took photographs with a cellphone of him lounging back in his chair, asleep at work. Those photos wound up in the hands of State Rep. Rita Mayfield (D-Waukegan).
In March 2012, Mayfield sent an angry letter to tollway officials demanding an investigation.
Caffarello’s attorney insists that was the only time Caffarello fell asleep at work — and only did so because he had been up late comforting his distraught wife over a medical condition.
The tollway IG’s investigation, though, alleged that Caffarello had also slept on the job in his tollway truck, created a “hostile” work environment, and had been “intimidating, threatening, abusive, condescending and loud.’’
Caffarello’s attorney racked up the allegations to disgruntled employees who weren’t used to finally putting in “a day’s work for a day’s pay.”
Employees said that after previous complaints against Caffarello went unanswered, they started to think Caffarello was “untouchable,” Wagner said.
Caffarello was fired for the third time March 14, and, once again, plans to contest his dismissal, his attorney said. She called the charges “vague” and the allegations “a farce.”
Tollway spokeswoman Abrams is predicting that this time, Caffarello will stay fired.
“This is the new tollway. The steps we’ve taken and will continue to take in Mr. Caffarello’s case prove that we are committed to acting against any employee who doesn’t adhere to our standards of professionalism and accountability,” Abrams said.
“We are confident that he will never work for the tollway again.”