In the tightknit Bridgeport neighborhood where he grew up, Michael DiFoggio was known simply as "Bird," a gregarious, hard-drinking plumbing contractor who parlayed political connections into success as a real estate developer.
Through the years, DiFoggio had also developed a reputation for messy relationships, criminal theft convictions and recent tax troubles.
But it was the news last year that DiFoggio had been wearing a wire for the feds — leading to high-profile corruption convictions of a former Chicago alderman and Cook County commissioner — that stunned even those who thought they knew him best.
On Tuesday night, it all came to a tragic end. DiFoggio, 58, was found dead of a single gunshot wound to the mouth at his business, DiFoggio Plumbing, in the 3200 block of South Shields Avenue, authorities said. A family member went to check on him at the business and discovered the body with a .357-caliber handgun lying nearby.
The county medical examiner's office ruled DiFoggio's death a suicide after an autopsy Wednesday. No note was found.
DiFoggio's demise left many speculating that mounting pressure had taken its toll. His fourth wife had filed for divorce less than two weeks ago and on Monday filed for an order of protection alleging he had grabbed and threatened her during a quarrel last weekend.
Others said DiFoggio had been alienated in his neighborhood after news broke about his undercover work for the FBI. Records show he had moved out of his 8,500-square-foot mansion in the 3700 block of South Normal Avenue, which has been listed for six months for $1.5 million. And recently he was told he was not welcome at the Old Neighborhood Italian American Club, a legendary hangout co-founded in the 1980s by his father and Outfit boss Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra.
Despite his woes, court records show, DiFoggio continued to travel despite bond restrictions, winning court approval for trips to Las Vegas, the Caribbean and to Colorado earlier this month to visit his daughter's college for parents weekend.
DiFoggio's attorney, Jeffrey Steinback, told the Tribune on Wednesday that DiFoggio had been planning another family trip and had seemed to handle the pressure of working undercover as well as could be expected.
"It's been hard for him, no doubt about it. ... But he took his commitment to cooperate to heart," Steinback said.
DiFoggio began cooperating with federal authorities in 2010 after he was caught hiding income from his construction and plumbing business from the Internal Revenue Service and using business money for personal use, including $300,000 he used toward the purchase of a boat, according to court records.
In exchange for a lighter sentence, DiFoggio took part in ruses set up by the FBI, secretly recording the conversations, court records show. His undercover recordings snared former county Commissioner Joseph Mario Moreno, former Ald. Ambrosio Medrano and three others in a series of corruption schemes. In one, Moreno accepted $5,000 cash from DiFoggio to back a waste transfer station in Cicero a few months after Moreno had been appointed to a panel looking to attract business to the west suburb.
"I don't want to be a hog; I just want to be a pig," Moreno was quoted as telling DiFoggio. "Hogs get slaughtered; pigs get fat."
Prosecutors may seek as many as 20 years in prison for Medrano, while Moreno faces up to 171/2 years.
For his cooperation, DiFoggio, who pleaded guilty in December to a tax-evasion charge, faced up to 21/2 years behind bars, but his attorneys said his extraordinary cooperation meant probation was still a possibility.
Relatives contacted by the Tribune on Wednesday described DiFoggio as a big-hearted person who was proud of being a third-generation Bridgeport family member. After graduating from De La Salle Institute, he went to work for the plumbing business his family founded in 1915. In the 1980s, DiFoggio also owned the Grand Wells Tap, a popular Italian steak and martini joint in the River North neighborhood where he would hold court with family and friends.
According to Cook County court records, DiFoggio separated from his current wife in July after three years of marriage. She filed for divorce Oct. 18, citing irreconcilable differences.
On Monday she filed for an emergency order of protection detailing several recent confrontations with DiFoggio. On Friday, she said, he refused to give her any money until she handed over her wedding ring. He gave her $1,500 and refused to return the ring, she said. On Saturday, an argument over a boat he had allegedly sold without telling her grew physical, she said.
"Michael then grabbed my shoulders with both of his hands and started pushing me out of the room," according to her complaint. DiFoggio let go of her but then called the police and said his wife was "holding a butcher knife to his throat," she said.
"Michael's threats frighten me," she stated in the complaint.
Tribune reporters Jeremy Gorner and Rosemary Sobol contributed.
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