At Schiller Park bar, murder, stabbing, drive-by happen — but it donates to mayor, stays open

Last November, Schiller Park’s Sway Bar was issued a citation by village officials because its back alley was marked up with graffiti. But then in April, when a man was murdered there in a possible gang-related shooting, the business remained open, and faced no fines or suspensions.

That’s even though police records reveal the April 19 murder of 38-year-old River Grove resident Jonathan Vallejo was the third violent incident at Sway Bar in five years, the Chicago Sun-Times found.

In 2021, somebody fired into the 9420 W. Irving Park Road business from outside, with the bullets narrowly missing people inside.

In 2019, a patron was stabbed and hospitalized following a fight inside the establishment.

Sway Bar has made several campaign contributions over the years to the political fund benefiting Mayor Nick Caiafa, who doubles as the northwest suburb’s liquor commissioner with considerable authority over businesses in town that sell alcohol. Those contributions include $370 one month before Vallejo’s murder, according to Illinois State Board of Elections records.

Schiller Park Mayor Nick Caiafa.

Village of Schiller Park

Records show that a number of bars and restaurants in town contribute to Caiafa’s Schiller Park First political party, but Caiafa says that doesn’t translate into favors and free rein. He says he downgraded from 4 a.m to 2 a.m. the liquor license at another local bar following problems there — even though that bar donated to his campaign.

Last week, he said he hadn’t made a decision about Sway Bar’s future because he didn’t yet know if the murder was a sign of problems “inherent in the bar, or a random incident.”

“We’re waiting to see what the police come back with,” he said at the time.

This week, he said he now plans to meet with the bar’s owner “and ask some serious questions” because “we have concerns” about what went on the night of the murder, and about other incidents.

“I didn’t know anything about the stabbing,” Caiafa said. “I wanted to bring them in first, get answers and make a decision if we go for suspension or revocation, or maybe we come up with an agreement.”

Caiafa says he sent a letter to local businesses with liquor licenses two weeks after the Vallejo murder urging them to attract good clientele or risk a crackdown on their ability to operate.

A letter sent to liquor license holders in Schiller Park by the mayor after a murder at a bar in April.

Village of Schiller Park

“You must bear in mind that every patron who commits bad acts could cause anything from a citation to revocation of your license,” Caiafa wrote. “You should strive to have patrons that would be as welcome in your home as in your establishment.”

Former Schiller Park Mayor Barbara Piltaver, who runs a community newspaper in town, says Caiafa should have acted more aggressively against Sway Bar.

“I would definitely either suspend them or pull the license and say, ‘You have to get different clientele,’” she says.

She lost to Caiafa in the 2017 election and is considering running against him again, partly, she says, because of her belief that Caiafa is putting politics over public safety.

Sway Bar’s owner, who asked not to be quoted by name, says his customers are mostly local people and, since the 2021 drive-by, with the exception of the murder, “it’s been very quiet” in terms of incidents and police calls.

Vallejo’s family says he had gone to the bar that night to attend a birthday gathering, and police are investigating whether the shooter had been with that group, which authorities say might have included some current or former gang members.

Campaign contributions from the Sway Bar to local political funds.

Illinois State Board of Elections

Sway Bar’s owner says those at the birthday gathering were “not any type of regulars or people we know,” and the murder is “the last thing I wanted to see happen in the establishment and our neighborhood . . . it hurts . . . it’s horrible.”

Police sought an arrest warrant for a suspect in the Vallejo murder but say Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office wouldn’t approve it, contending there wasn’t enough evidence.

Foxx’s office said, “This matter is a continuing police investigation, and no charging decision has been made.”

Vallejo’s family says he was raised mostly in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood and was a father who operated a trucking company that would deliver cars from vehicle dealers to buyers.

A relative said that, on the night of the shooting, Vallejo had finished work and decided, “I’m tired, but I’m going to go over” to the birthday gathering to “show a little love.”

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