Shady campaign cash flows to GOP candidate

Local News

ILLINOIS (WCIA) — A Republican running to become the top law enforcement officer in the state took tens of thousands in campaign contributions from companies in the Cayman Islands, a restaurant whose owners are named in FBI mafia investigations and another group whose owners were jailed on federal fraud charges. 

DuPage County Board Member and former Burr Ridge mayor Gary Grasso admits he has made some “first time mistakes” in his fledgling campaign for Attorney General. Twice, the State Board of Elections has rebuked him for accepting donations above the individual and corporate contribution caps. 

Grasso reported a $25,000 campaign donation from Yorkville Investment I, LLC, on October 27th, which not only exceeds the corporate limit of $11,100, but state records show the business was registered as a foreign entity and is no longer open for business. Asked about the illegal donation, Grasso said he planned to give back $14,900 to bring the contribution within compliance.

“Contributions over the limit are not appropriate and those rules should not be circumvented,” said Sarah Brune, the Executive Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

State records show Yorkville Investment I uses the same Wheaton address as 60 Degrees Group Ltd, another foreign firm based in the Cayman Islands. 60 Degrees Group gave Grasso’s campaign $2,800 on December 7th. JR Marital Trust is also registered at the same address in the Caymans, and sent Grasso $11,100 on the same date.  

Tom Newman at the Illinois State Board of Elections said “there’s a federal prohibition against campaign contributions from foreign nationals, but it’s a question of definition.” Newman, the Director of the Division of Campaign Disclosure, says Grasso’s campaign donations “might be illegal,” but that would be a question for the FEC. 

The Federal Election Campaign Act bans politicians from accepting contributions from foreign nationals. According to the FEC website, foreign corporations qualify as foreign nationals and candidates are strictly prohibited from taking campaign cash from them. “Persons who knowingly and willfully engage in these activities may be subject to an FEC enforcement action, criminal prosecution, or both,” the site reads

“These are clients of mine that have hedge funds,” Grasso explained. He said he was unaware of the FEC rules, but would “look into it.”

Brune, who runs a user-friendly website to help citizens track campaign donations, said it’s extremely unusual to see foreign companies make donations to Illinois politicians, and said if the offshore donations came from American citizens, the Grasso campaign could be “dancing in a gray area.” 

On November 16, Grasso accepted a $10,000 donation from Felippo Rovito, Jr., the manager of Capri Ristorante in Burr Ridge. Individual contributions are capped at $5,600. 11 days later, Grasso penned a letter to the State Board of Elections seeking to correct an “inadvertent” donation and claimed the actual source of that donation was Five Brothers, Inc., the group that owns the Italian restaurant. That switch allowed Grasso to keep the money because the amount fell under the cap for corporate donations.

That letter was followed up by another individual $5,000 gift from Rovito. In a Thursday afternoon phone call, Rovito denied having any knowledge of the campaign cash. It’s not the first time he’s denied knowledge of that same sum of money. The last time someone came calling, it was an FBI agent. 

In 2013, known mobster Paul Carparelli told an FBI informant on a recorded line that their “friend in Burr Ridge” had a “job” for them. 

The federal government said the Capri restaurant owners collected an envelope stuffed with $5,000 in cash and delivered it in person to a hit man who was hired to “break both legs” of another man who owed a debt, according to court records. 

John Rovito testified under oath in a 2014 trial that he and his brother Gigi both knew about the planned beating, but Gigi denied he knew anything about it in his interview with the FBI. 

According to FBI interview records, a federal agent visited Filippo Rovito at his Burr Ridge restaurant in 2014 to ask him about the details surrounding the transaction that occurred at his restaurant. “Rovito denied having any knowledge of the incident but did not rule out that others might have used his restaurant to carry out the hand to hand exchange,” an FBI 302 form said. 

“C’mon, man. That was just an accusation,” Grasso said. 

The scheme was never carried out, but “Mickey” Davis was convicted of attempted extortion and using extortionate means to collect a loan. 

Grasso said he would “absolutely” return any campaign donations if he learned they came from a convicted criminal.

Grasso’s campaign collected another $11,000 gift from the PAL Group on November 16, an entity owned by Joseph and Sebastian Palumbo. The two brothers plead guilty to federal fraud charged in 1999. They were forced to pay back $15 million in restitution and went to federal prison after bilking the Illinois Department of Transportation for unused concrete and defrauding union employees of their pensions. Three months after their 2001 release from custody, the Chicago Tribune reported they were back in control of another road construction company. 

Grasso is running against Champaign attorney and former Miss America Erika Harold in a March 20 Republican primary contest. The Harold campaign did not immediately respond to request for comment. 

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