Federal grand jury indicts 15 men in Pierce County for racketeering on December 8, 1978.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 4/05/2011
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9728
See Additional Media
On December 8, 1978, a federal grand jury indicts 15 men in Pierce County, including Sheriff George V. Janovich (1928-2005), for engaging in a widespread racketeering conspiracy.  The gang, known as “The Enterprise,” led by Tacoma mobster John Joseph Carbone (1919-1998), is charged with using assault, arson, extortion, bribery, and attempted murder in an effort to control Pierce County’s topless-dancing tavern business.  In addition, The Enterprise actively engages in insurance fraud, protection, prostitution, and illegal gambling. Because of extensive pretrial publicity, the trial will be held in San Francisco during the spring of 1979.  Six of the defendants will plead guilty before trial and agree to testify against the others.  After three months of testimony, the jury will find all but one defendant guilty of racketeering. Sentences for those convicted will range from 12 to 25 years in federal custody.

Day of Reckoning

On Tuesday, November 28, 1978, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) filed a criminal complaint in U.S. District Court, Tacoma, charging 15 Pierce County men with racketeering.  Federal marshals, together with agents of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) immediately arrested eight of the men named in the complaint: Pierce County Sheriff George V. Janovich, John J. Carbone, his son, Joseph M. Carbone, Ronald J. Williams, Frank J. Mazzuca, LaMonte A. Zemek, Anthony J. Mladnich, and Richard F. Caliguri.  And shortly thereafter, Robert M. Valentine, Jackie M. Bentley, Michael D. Johnson, Leroy G. Lusk, David W. Levage, Harry E. Wilcox, and William L. Pettit were taken into custody  All of the defendants were booked into the King County Jail and then taken to Tacoma for initial court appearances before U.S. Magistrate Robert Cooper.

The complaint, which charged acts of arson, assault, bribery, extortion, and attempted murder, was the result of 13 months of investigation and undercover work by FBI and BATF agents.  The case broke when Bentley and Johnson, half-brothers, were arrested in Kansas City, Missouri, in possession of a shotgun used in the attempted murder of Washington State Liquor Control Board Agent Melvin R. Journey at his home in Tacoma on November 15, 1977. 

The men agreed to cooperate and told federal agents they had been hired by Valentine on behalf of John Carbone and Ronald Williams to kill Journey for interfering with their tavern businesses.  Valentine not only admitted hiring the two gunmen but also told agents he had been engaged to arrange for the firebombing of various taverns in Pierce County; for an assault on Jerome Leo Weinstein (1909-1988) suspected of providing information about Carbone’s businesses to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and for a murder contract on Bentley and Johnson.  Valentine agreed to become a government informant and introduce undercover agents to members of The Enterprise. From there, it was a matter of gathering enough hard evidence -- documenting meetings, recording private conversations, and making payoffs -- to substantiate the racketeering conspiracy and dismantle the organization.

Conspiring to Racketeer

On Friday, December 8, 1978, after four days of testimony, a federal grand jury in Seattle returned a sweeping 17-count indictment charging 15 members of The Enterprise with a racketeering conspiracy and numerous substantive offenses over a seven year period (1971 to 1978). It was an expanded version of the criminal complaint and structured on the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), created in 1970 to combat organized crime. The indictment canceled the requirement for preliminary hearings in which the government would be obliged to present details of its case to establish probable cause for the arrests. 

The RICO Act prohibits investment in, control, or operation of an “enterprise” through a pattern of racketeering activity. Under the statute, all the defendants are considered coconspirators, responsible for all the crimes committed by the group.  Each defendant must be found guilty of at least two “ predicate acts” (specified crimes) for the defendant to be found guilty of the RICO count. Upon conviction, the maximum penalty for violation of the RICO Act is 20 years imprisonment and a $25,000 fine. However, it also allows the government to seize and forfeit all property and assets used by the criminal organization to further its goals.

According to the indictment, John Carbone was the leader of The Enterprise, directing and overseeing its activities.  Williams was Carbone’s “chief lieutenant” and directed henchmen to carry out illegal acts. Mazzuca and “Joey” Carbone were also lieutenants and shared the responsibility of operating various taverns and discos owned or controlled by the organization. Caliguri was Carbone’s chief enforcer and provided security for The Enterprise. Zemek and Valentine acted as middlemen who hired gangsters for murder, assault, arson, and extortion.  Mladnich and Pettit managed and provided security for the illegal gambling business. Lusk, Wilcox, and Levage were employed as arsonists, and Bentley and Johnson specialized in strong-arm tactics, killing, and the occasional firebombing.  Sheriff Janovich protected The Enterprise by disclosing information, discouraging law enforcement investigations, using deputies to harass competing businesses, and permitting prostitution and illegal gambling.

Burning, Beating, Shooting

The federal investigation was prompted by a rash of arsons (10 or more in six years) at taverns and homes in Pierce County, with a $2 million loss.  Between 1972 and 1977, three taverns owned or operated by members of The Enterprise were destroyed by fire. The owners paid off mortgages and debts with the insurance money, and either rebuilt the premises or opened new establishments nearby. Carbone even had his own house in Gig Harbor torched in order to appear as a targeted victim and for the insurance money.  Between 1976 and 1978, several arsons occurred at discos and taverns featuring topless dancing, clearly aimed at driving out competition.  The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department had been unsuccessful in solving the crimes, so BATF joined the investigation in the fall of 1977. When it became evident that Sheriff Janovich was providing information to Carbone and Williams, BATF pretended to abandon the arson investigation and partnered with the FBI in a undercover operation. They used Valentine to elicit and record conversations and introduce undercover agents into the organization.

The Enterprise used violence to extort money and intimidate people.  A liquor control board agent, Carl A. Fiske, had his home firebombed on May 12, 1977. In November 1977, The Enterprise, through Valentine, hired Bentley and Johnson to kill state Liquor Control Board Agent Journey, age 45, for vigorously enforcing the state’s liquor laws.   At approximately 7:15 a.m., Tuesday, November 15, Journey said goodbye to his wife, Phyllis, and 12-year-old daughter, Ami, and walked out the front door of his home to his car. Two men wearing dark clothing and stocking caps came up the driveway with firearms and opened fire. Journey was hit four times and three bullet holes were found in his car.  Tacoma Police found eight 9-mm shell casings and one spent 12-gauge shotgun shell at the crime scene. The load of buckshot, apparently intended to scare his family, hit the house, breaking the front window.  Journey was rushed to Saint Joseph Hospital in Tacoma where he underwent four hours of surgery to save his life.

In February 1978, Carbone had Jerome Weinstein, age 69, owner of the Prudential Mortgage Company, attacked and beaten.  A few months earlier, his home had been destroyed by arson. The assailant fractured Weinstein's skull and damaged one eye.  Carbone mistakenly thought he had been snitching to the IRS and told Weinstein he would be “protected” from further violence if he paid $2,500.  The FBI supplied the payoff money and Weinstein gave it to Williams as instructed.  Williams, however, said it wasn’t enough and demanded another $7,500, which the FBI supplied.

Ronald and Patricia Chase, owners of the Night Moves tavern, had their business firebombed twice.  In addition, female topless-dancers who worked at the tavern had been routinely threatened and the Chases were being followed home after they closed the business for the night.  In August 1978, Caliguri invaded the Chase’s home in Kent, armed with a butcher knife.  He tied up the children, two little boys and a teenage girl, and the housekeeper and threatened to chop off their hands. Caliguri told the housekeeper to tell the Chases, who were not home at the time, to cease operations or he would return and kill them all.  Later, federal agents foiled a plot to blow up the Night Moves tavern.

Sheriff Janovich had an agreement with members of The Enterprise to provide advance warning of any raid of its topless-dancing and illegal-gambling operations so evidence could be removed or destroyed. He accepted a bribe of $1,300 from an undercover agent, posing as a tavern buyer from Chicago, to provide protection for illegal gambling and prostitution operations.

The Trial

U. S. District Court Judge Morell E. Sharp (1920-1980) was assigned to hear the case in Seattle on February 4, 1979.  On January 26, however, he ordered the trial be moved outside of the Western District of Washington because the unparalleled amount of pre-trial publicity jeopardized the defendants’ Sixth-Amendment right to a fair trial. The trial was transferred to San Francisco, Northern District of California, and scheduled to begin on Monday, March 19, 1979.  Before the trial began, six defendants, Valentine, Bentley, Johnson, Mladnich, Pettit, and Wilcox, decided to plead guilty and agreed to testify as government witnesses.  One defendant, Leroy Lusk, was granted a separate trial because he couldn’t afford to defend himself in San Francisco.

Trial by jury began in San Francisco as scheduled before Judge Sharp, sitting by designation. John C. Merkel, U. S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, and two assistants, Peter Mair and David Wilson represented the government and each defendant brought his own team of lawyers.  After only two days of questioning -- fast for a complex trial with multiple defendants -- a jury composed of six men and six women, plus four alternates, was impaneled and sworn in.

The trial lasted three months, during which time more than 150 witnesses testified and hundreds of exhibits were introduced, including 77 tape recordings between the defendants and undercover agents. The prosecution took two months to present its case while the defense took less than two weeks. The defense began its case on Monday morning, May 21, 1979, calling Sheriff Janovich to the witness stand.  Janovich, whose testimony was the longest, was on the stand for three days. Each of the other seven defendents took less than one day to present his case.

The case finally went to the jury at noon on Tuesday, June 12, 1979.  Judge Sharp decided there was no need to sequester the jurors because the San Francisco press was not interested in covering the trial. On Tuesday afternoon, June 19, the jury returned the verdicts, finding seven of the eight defendants guilty of racketeering and a variety of other substantive offenses.  Richard Levage, already serving a 20-year sentence at the Washington State Correctional Center in Shelton for setting fire to the Top of the Ocean, a landmark Tacoma restaurant, was found not guilty. Federal agents had linked that April 1977 fire in to the string of arsons perpetrated by The Enterprise.

Convictions and Appeals

On Wednesday, July 11, 1979, Judge Sharp sentenced the six defendants who had pleaded guilty to certain charges in the indictment and testified for the government.  The heaviest sentences, 12 years, were given to Valentine, Bentley and Johnson for the attempted murder Agent Melvin Journey.  On Friday, July 13, 1979, Judge Sharp sentenced the seven defendants found guilty at trial to sentences ranging from 12 to 25 years in federal custody.  The U. S. Attorney’s Office reviewed the charges of conspiracy and mail fraud against Leroy Lusk and decided there wasn’t enough evidence to sustain a conviction.  The charges against Lusk were dismissed on August 8, 1979.

The seven defendants appealed their convictions to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  They attacked the sufficiency of the evidence to support their convictions for a racketeering conspiracy and assigned judicial error to certain evidentiary rulings and jury instructions.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court judgment and convictions on October 6, 1980.

Paying for a Sheriff's Crimes

One year after the trial, Melvin Journey, Ronald Chase, owner of the Night Moves tavern, and E. Norman Anderson, owner of the Back Forty tavern that had been firebombed three times, filed lawsuits in federal court against Pierce County and several defendants in the RICO case.  The civil lawsuits charged violations of civil rights and collectively requested $13.5 million in damages.

On November 15, 1983, after losing both the Anderson and Journey civil trials, Pierce County officials negotiated a global settlement with the plaintiffs for $3.7 million.  Ironically, Pierce County had refused to settle all three cases for $400,000 in 1981.

In the End ...

In November 1980, Ronald Williams, facing 25-years in federal prison, decided to cooperate with the FBI and provided information that saved lives and resulted in numerous arrests.  In addition, he prevented two major jailbreaks and the murder of at least one prison guard and two inmates who had been government witnesses. In February 1983, U.S. District Court Judge Walter T. McGovern (b. 1922) in Seattle, at the request of U.S. Attorney Gene Anderson and the FBI, reduced Williams sentence to time served -- four years. Because his cooperation endangered his life, Williams was given a new identity by the U.S. Marshal Service and put in the Witness Protection Program.  Williams also gave a deposition in the civil lawsuits against Pierce County, alleging that more than 40 Washington state and Pierce County officials were involved in fostering The Enterprise’s illegal activities.

Crime boss John J. Carbone was released on parole from Atlanta Federal Penitentiary on December 20, 1991.  He died on Tuesday, August 18, 1998, at Western State Hospital in Tacoma. Carbone was suffering from psychosis, dementia, and Parkinson’s disease. He was cremated and interred without a funeral or fanfare at Calvary Cemetery in Tacoma.

George V. Janovich was released on federal parole on December 19, 1986, after serving six years of his sentence.  He was moved from prison to prison some 30 times and kept segregated from the general prison population because of his background in law enforcement -- 30 years with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.  Janovich died in Gig Harbor on Sunday, June 19, 2005, of complications from a ruptured appendix.  It was a bad year for the Janovich family: George’s wife, Joan died on March 9 and his son, George Jr., died on April 12. The Janovichs are inurned in the mausoleum at Haven of Rest Funeral Home and Cemetery in Gig Harbor.

Pierce County Responds

The racketeering scandal caused far-reaching changes in Pierce County government.  In 1980, voters approved a new county charter by a 62 percent margin that did away with the three-commissioner system of government -- one that fostered political favoritism and corruption. 

The new charter established an elected county executive and a seven-member county council, authorized to appoint the positions of sheriff and county clerk.  Pierce became the only county in Washington state with an appointed rather than an elected sheriff.  The first county executive was Booth Gardner (b. 1936) who later served two terms as Washington’s governor (1985-1993).

Members of The Enterprise indicted on December 8, 1978

Pleaded guilty before trial/government witnesses:

  • Jackie Monroe Bentley, age 32, sentenced: 12 years
  • Michael Dorris Johnson, age 27, sentenced: 12 years
  • Anthony John Mladnich, age 65, sentenced: two years
  • William Lee Pettit, age 51, sentenced: two years
  • Harry Edwin Wilcox, age 39, sentenced: five years
  • Robert Michael Valentine, age 45, sentenced: 12 years

Found guilty at trial:

  • Richard Francis Caliguri, age 31, sentence; 18 years
  • John Joseph Carbone, age 60, sentence: 25 years, $163,000 fine
  • Joseph Michael Carbone, age 30, sentence: 18 years, $38,000 fine
  • George V. Janovich, age 51, sentence: 12 years
  • Frank Julius Mazzuca, age 39, sentence: 15 years, $25,000 fine
  • Ronald John Williams, age 52, sentence: 25 years, $172,000 fine
  • LaMonte Arnold Zemek, age 45, sentence: 12 years

Found not guilty at trial:

  • David Willard Levage, age 29, (already serving 20 years in state prison for arson)

Charges dismissed:

  • Leroy Gilbert Lusk, age 45.

Sources: Don Duncan, Washington: The First One Hundred Years (Seattle, The Seattle Times, 1989), p. 115; Steve Johnston, “Tales of Violence Unfolds in Charges,” The Seattle Times, November 30, 1978, p. A-1; John Arthur Wilson, “Scandal Could Result in State Charges,” Ibid., November 30, 1978, p. A-14; John Arthur Wilson, “17-Count Indictment Handed Down in Pierce County Case,” Ibid., December 8, 1978, p. A-1; Steve Johnston, “Suspected Leader of Racketeering Ring Released on $500,000 Bail,” Ibid., December 10, 1978, p. A-14; John Arthur Wilson, “Pierce County sheriff, 9 Others Plead Innocent,” Ibid., December 16, 1978, p. A-1; Steve Johnston, “Two More Defendants Plead Guilty in Racketeering Scandal,” Ibid., December 19, 1978, p. A-15; Johnston, “Rackets Case Faces Long Road,” Ibid., January 28, 1979, p. A-14; Johnston, “Pierce County Racketeering,” Ibid.,  March 18, 1979, p. A-1; Johnston, “Pierce County Jury Selection Begins,” Ibid., March 20, 1979, p. A-10; Johnston, “Pierce County Commissioner Expected to Testify Today,” Ibid.,  March 21, 1979, p. A-7;  Johnston, “Pierce County Defense Attorneys Open Case,” Ibid., March 22, 1979, p. A-19; Johnston, “Racketeering Trial: Prosecution Sets Tone, for Now,” Ibid.,  March 25, 1979, p. C-1; Johnston, “Tavern Was Pierce County Trouble Spot, Says Journey,” Ibid., March 29, 1979, p. B-1; Johnston, “Witnesses Fill in Outline of Rackets Case,” Ibid.,  April 1, 1979, p. A-20; Johnston, “Journey ‘Hit Man’ Was Paid $800,” Ibid.,  April 3, 1979, p. C-24;  Johnston, “Defendants Talked of Connections,” Ibid.,  April 10, 1979, p. A-10;  Johnston, “Racketeering Case,” Ibid., April 22, 1979, p. A-25; Johnston, “Pierce Trial Defense Moves for Dismissal,” Ibid.,  May 18, 1979, p. A-10; Johnston, “One Janovich Charge Rejected,” Ibid., May 21, 1979, p. A-15; Johnston, “Janovich Testifies, Denies All Charges,” Ibid., May 22, 1979, p. A-15; Johnston, “Janovich Defense Rests in Racketeering Trial,” Ibid.,  May 24, 1979, p. A-20; Johnston, “Final Arguments Tuesday in Racketeering Trial,” Ibid.,  June 1, 1979, p. B-3;  Johnston, “Both Sides Ready for Final Arguments in Racketeering Trial,” Ibid.,  June 3, 1979, p. B-1; Johnston, “Pierce-Trial Defense Summing Up,” Ibid.,  June 6, 1979, p. A-10; Johnston, “Janovich ‘Protection’ Disputed,” Ibid.,  June 8, 1979, p. A-15; Johnston, “Racket Trial Ends After Hard Rebuttal,” Ibid., June 9, 1979, p. A-1; Johnston, “Jury Could Take at Least a Week in Rackets Case,” Ibid.,  June 12, 1979, p. B-8;  Johnston, “Janovich, 6 Others Convicted,” Ibid., June 19, 1979, p. A-1; Johnston, “Stiff Sentences, Appeals Likely,” Ibid.,  June 20, 1979, p. A-14; Peyton Whitely and Steve Johnston, “Six Get Sentences in Rackets Case,” Ibid, July 11, 1979, p. A-24; Peyton Whitely, “Pierce County Could be Big Looser in Civil Suits,” Ibid., July 12, 1979, p. A-14; Steve Johnston, “Janovich Gets 12-Year Term, Carbone 25 Years, Big Fine,” Ibid.,  July 13, 1979, p. A-1; Steve Johnston, “Surprise, Tears as Racketeers Sentenced,” Ibid., July 14, 1979, p. A-1; “Steve Johnston and Eric Nalder, “How Pierce Racketeer Won His Freedom,” Ibid.,  February 9, 1983, p. A-1; Steve Johnston, “Williams: Paradox at Home, Work,” Ibid, February13, 1983, p. C-1; Bill Gordon, “Pierce Rackets settlement: $3.7 Million,” Ibid, November 15, 1983, p. E-1; “Tacoma Racketeer John Carbone Dies,” Ibid.,  August 21, 1998, p. B-2; “Former Pierce County Sheriff. Jailed for Corruption, Dead at 77,” Ibid., June 23, 2005, p. B-2; Paul Sand, “Janovich Case Forced Change in Government,” Tacoma News Tribune, June 23, 2005, p. A-6.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You