Sunday, April 29, 2007

Presidential Candidate Target of Mob Hitman Plot

Cleveland Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich, Presidential Candidate Dennis Kucinich was the target of a mob hitman plot.who is drafting legislation to ban civilian ownership of handguns, kept a pistol in his house after police learned of a Mafia plot to kill him during his tumultous stint as Cleveland's mayor during the 1970s.

Kucinich spokesman Andy Juniewicz said the congressman kept a pistol at home long ago, after police learned that a Mafia hitman had planned to shoot Kucinich as he marched in an October 1978 parade. Kucinich ended up missing the parade because he was hospitalized with an ulcer, but police feared subsequent murder attempts so they recommended that he keep a gun in the house, Juniewicz said.

Details of that plot were publicized during a 1984 Senate inquiry into organized crime activities. News accounts at that time suggested that Cleveland organized crime figures were frustrated that some of Kucinich's mayoral initiatives were thwarting their money-making plans.

Earlier in his career, Kucinich owned a starter's pistol that he kept to scare potential muggers, said his congressional spokeswoman, Natalie Laber.

He no longer owns either weapon.

Thanks to Sabrina Eaton

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Top 10 Mob-Related Movies

1. The Godfather (Widescreen Edition) / The Godfather, Part II (Two-Disc Widescreen Edition)
Francis Ford Coppola, 1972; 1974
Coppola's masterpieces are not only the greatest film and sequel of the genre, but perhaps two of the best films ever made. Boasting casts featuring huge stars (Brando, Pacino, De Niro) they focus on the Corleone family, a mafia dynasty in New York from the 1920s to the late '50s. Slickly made, beautifully shot and featuring some of the finest screen performances on record.

2. Goodfellas (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Martin Scorsese, 1990
"As far back as I can remember I've always wanted to be a gangster." Focusing on the dirty end of the mafia, this film charts the rise and fall of Henry Hill, a man of Sicilian-Irish descent who works his way up the tree of organized crime in New York during the '60s and '70s. Powerful and violent, this is one of Scorsese's finest moments. Joe Pesci earnt an Oscar playing an unpredictable and terrifying gangster: just don't call him funny.

3. Mou gaan dou (Infernal Affairs)
Wai Keung Lau & Siu Fai Mak, 2002
The basis for this year's Best Picture Oscar "The Departed," this is a tense and exciting thriller which hints at the strength and depth of Asian gangster movies. Steeped in nervy and fast-paced tracking shots around the underworld of Hong Kong, and embellished with two extraordinary performances from the two lead actors, Scorsese didn't need to change much to make it an Oscar-worthy picture.

4. White Heat
Raoul Walsh, 1949
"Made it Ma! Top of the world!" A true classic of the genre, starring one of the best known and loved gangster actors, James Cagney. A dangerously deranged criminal, who is obsessed with his mother and gives little thought to killing anyone who crosses him, breaks out of prison to avenge his mother's death and secure control of his gang -- but he unwittingly takes a rat into the organization. The blueprint for modern crime thrillers.

5. Once Upon a Time in America (Two-Disc Special Edition)
Sergio Leone, 1984
An epic feast of sumptuous sets, beautiful tracking shots and outstanding performances, especially from Robert DeNiro and James Woods. A gang of children progress from small scale crimes to become embroiled in the mafia during prohibition in the U.S. with shocking and violent results. The framework that holds the story together is a dream-like wander through New York of 1968, where DeNiro relives his past. A beautiful and sedate shell to an elaborate and fascinating gangster movie.

6. Scarface (Platinum Edition)
Brian De Palma, 1983
The archetypal and truly iconic sleazy '80s gangster movie, this is the American dream gone bad. Tony Montana, played by Al Pacino, arrives in Florida as a refugee from Communist Cuba, and sets out to make his fortune as a cocaine dealer, but becomes consumed with possessive greed. The movie has two of the most striking and memorable scenes in film history: one a torture scene with a chainsaw, piling on the tension with the screaming soundtrack; the other, of course, "Say hello to my leettle friend!"

7. Angels With Dirty Faces
Michael Curtiz, 1938
Another influential Cagney movie, and perhaps the first classic of the genre. The friendship of two boys from Hell's Kitchen is rekindled as one gets out of prison to find the other is a priest. Uncovering corruption throughout the city, this is a story of sacrifice and honor that proves gangsters are people too.

8. Get Carter
Mike Hodges, 1971
Michael Caine's finest hour, as he gets tough with the '70s gangsters of northern England. Relentlessly brutal, Caine works his way through the seedy underworld, and at every unpleasant turn gives a dry quip, seduces a femme fatale or wreaks bloody violence on the murderers of his brother. An unstoppable revenge movie.

9. Sexy Beast">Sexy Beast
Jonathan Glazer, 2000
One of the most extraordinary gangster films of recent times. Oscar-nominated Ben Kingsley gives one of his most remarkable turns, as a character that's the polar opposite of his most famous role, Ghandi. A misanthropic, bitter and aggressive gangster, with a penchant for colorful language, he makes this a truly unforgettable movie.

10. Cidade de Deus (City of God)
Fernando Meirelles & Kátia Lund, 2002
This Brazilian film shockingly paints a gangster world populated by children as brutal and heartless as any character in "Goodfellas." At once a beautiful and traumatic carnival, the movie flits between the gritty realism of life in the favelas of Rio and the dream-like existence of a child attempting to escape a world of crime.

Thanks to The Screening Room

Friday, April 27, 2007

Beef from Mobster Who Says He is No Beefer

Friends of ours: Mario Rainone, Nick Calabrese, Gerald Scarpelli, Lenny Patrick, Gus Alex

It's so nice to talk to loyal readers, even an angry reader who's spent the last 15 years in federal prison for being a notorious juice loan collector for the Chicago Outfit. But I'd prefer not being hectored on an empty stomach. All those blunt Paulie Walnuts vowels make me hungry.

"I think you want to talk to this guy right away," said the young fellow who answers the phone around here. "He wants a correction. He keeps talking about beef."

5 Dollars a Steak SaleBeef?

"He insists that he's not a beefer and that you wrote in the column the other day that he's a beefer. 'Tell John I'm not a beefer,' he said. So I'm telling you."

What's his name? "Mario Rainone."

So I called him, out of respect for his ability to remain alive.

"I'm no beefer!" said Rainone, the Outfit tough guy who plead guilty to racketeering and extortion in 1992. "You keep saying I'm a beefer, and it's not true. You're ruining my life."

Ruining his life? What about mine? I was starving for the classic Chicago sammich, Italian beef with hot peppers on crusty bread. But he was using Chicago slang, employing the words "beef" and "beefer" to refer to a guy who complains about, then informs on, his associates.

"Enough is enough already!" he pleaded. "I got released 90 days ago. I don't know nothing."

Here's what Rainone was upset about. This week, I wrote a column about the upcoming "Operation Family Secrets" trial, involving top Chicago Outfit bosses and their hit men and 18 previously unsolved Mafia assassinations.

The case is largely built on the testimony of mobster Nick Calabrese, who beefed on his brother to the feds. But other mobsters have spilled their gravy on what they know, in other unrelated cases. And all these stories, cobbled together, have helped federal authorities develop extensive dossiers on the mob. Naturally, guys like Rainone are nervous.

"It's ridiculous," Rainone said. "I don't know nothing about 'Family Secrets.'
"

I never said you did.

"It's in the paper," he said.

Read it again. But he didn't, because he was upset, for good reason.

A few years ago, Outfit soldier Gerald Scarpelli told what he knew to the FBI. Later, Scarpelli strangled himself with plastic bags. In prison. So who wouldn't understand a man suffering from agita after beef?

Rainone's former supervisor, Lenny Patrick, another gangster, also beefed on his boss, Gus Alex, who years ago, according to news reports, put out a hit on my new friend Mario, who beefed on Patrick, which led to Alex.

It's confusing, but symmetrical, like that song, "Circle of Life," only think of it sung by Frank Sinatra instead of Elton John.

"I was locked up since 1990. I never testified," Rainone said. "Then you want to put my name in the papers with this. I never cooperated with the FBI. I have never been a witness. You know like I know, if a guy is going to beef, he is going to beef. But I didn't beef."

Yet according to news accounts, federal testimony, court documents and the FBI supervisor who worked on the Rainone case, Mario was a deluxe beefer with extra juice and peppers. "He's trying to rewrite history, and that's fascinating," said Jim Wagner, the FBI supervisor who interviewed Rainone and is now president of the Chicago Crime Commission. "He cooperated. Now he's putting out the word he never beefed? Obviously, he's feeling pressure."

After living a life collecting gambling debts the hard way, Rainone had an epiphany and decided to call the FBI. But instead of angels, he spotted two associates tailing him in another car. Outfit guys don't believe in coincidence. Rainone figured they weren't going to ask him for coffee and cake, not even poppy seed. He figured they were going to kill him.

So he flipped and told the FBI many things, and they put him on the phone with Lenny Patrick, and Patrick flipped on Alex. Then Rainone had another change of heart and tried to flip back again. He refused to testify in court. Yet by then, his beef was overcooked, and he did 15 years.

"In max penitentiaries," he said, "not those [easy] joints."

I asked about the two guys in the tail car, if their names were Rudy and Willie, and how he felt phoning Patrick with the FBI listening. "I've got no knowledge of that. It was all lies. I paid for my crimes, and I am not going to pay no more. I don't know those guys. I don't know none of them. This is ridiculous."

He also mentioned that it might have been a mistake to beef me on a column when I was hungry. "I shouldn't have called you. That's my mistake. Listen, I know that Friday's paper will be worse than Wednesday's," he said.

These days, Rainone said he's looking for a job, perhaps as a truck driver: "I'll take anything." But if he can't get a job driving trucks, perhaps he could ask a builder for meaningful, fulfilling work. Or you readers might know of something appropriate.

"All I want is to live a legitimate life," he said. And all I wanted was a legitimate lunch.

Thanks to John Kass

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mob Enforcer Attends Stephens Funeral

Friends of ours: Sam "Momo" Giancana, Anthony "Jeeps" Daddino
Friends of mine: Don Stephens

The one and only mayor of suburban Rosemont, Don Stephens, was laid to rest Monday. The funeral attracted some of the state's top political figures. In this Intelligence Report: one mourner linked to the Chicago mob and the late mayor's fight to shed an unsavory image.

Since the day 45 years ago that Don Stephens did some business with Chicago's supreme outfit boss, Sam "Momo" Giancana, Stephens had been dogged by scurrilous suggestions that he was mobbed up.

To his death, Stephens denied connections to organized crime. But he never wavered in his personal commitment to one organized crime figure, a former outfit enforcer who Monday paid his respects to the friend who cut him a break.

As the flag-covered coffin of Rosemont's mayor was walked to a waiting hearse Monday, there in the crowd of onlookers was Anthony Daddino, a.k.a. "Jeeps." He was the only outfit-connected face recognized by mob-watchers.

In 1990, Daddino was sentenced to federal prison for collecting a mob street tax from porn shop operators on Chicago's North Side. At the time, Rosemont Mayor Don Stephens wrote to the judge asking for leniency for the outfit enforcer. "My connection with him -- I went to Leyden High School with him," said Stephens.

In Mayor Stephens' last interview the I-Team did with him in December, he remembered helping Daddino, despite knowing that people would be suspicious. When Daddino got out of prison, Mayor Stephens knew he would need a job. "I said, 'OK, I'll give you a job,' " Stephens told the I-Team. " 'A very low-level job,' where he inspected for building violations."

Monday at Stephens' funeral, Daddino remembered him. "That's what good friends do," Daddino said.

Despite decades of being dogged by innuendo, Stephens was never charged with any mob crimes, and in the early 1980s he was acquitted in the fraud and bribery cases that federal prosecutors did bring against him.

Governor Blagojevich Monday was joined by former Illinois governors Jim Edgar, Jim Thompson, Mayor Daley and House Speaker Mike Madigan. Absent was state attorney general Lisa Madigan who killed a casino license for Rosemont citing mob connections.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

2007 Summer Blockbuster to Feature the Chicago Mob

Friends of ours: Jimmy "The Man" Marcello, Frank "The German" Schweihs, Paul Schiro, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, John Fecoratta, Tony Spilotro, Billy Dauber, Nick Calabrese., Mario Rainone, Gerald Scarpelli, Richard Cain
Friends of mine: William Hanhardt, Michael Spilotro

As president of the Chicago Crime Commission, former schoolteacher Jim Wagner naturally has an academic interest in the big upcoming "Family Secrets" trial of Outfit bosses and hit men accused of 18 previously unsolved murders.

Founded in 1919 by local business leaders to fight the Outfit's influence in local politics and law enforcement at the dawn of the Al Capone era, the Chicago Crime Commission continues that fight to this day. The commission, at chicagocrimecommission.org, is now developing two invaluable documents: a new organizational chart of the Chicago Outfit and an index, drawn from federal testimony, of Outfit-friendly Chicago businesses.

"Over the past several years, there has been an attempt to convince the public that the Chicago Outfit is passe, that it's dead," Wagner told me Tuesday in his office. "You've seen the same headlines that I've seen," he said. "But as 'Family Secrets' continues, the public will realize that the Outfit is very much alive, that they have incredible reach and power and that they're capable of unspeakable brutality, not only toward their own but to business associates."

There's more than academic interest at work here. Wagner, from a small Illinois farm outside of Newman, south of Urbana, became a teacher before he was recruited into the FBI, where he spent 30 years. He ran the FBI's Organized Crime section, which helped build cases against hit men like Harry Aleman.

Wagner also helped initiate the recent investigation of the Outfit's favorite cop, William Hanhardt, former chief of detectives for the Chicago Police Department. It was a secret investigation, run off-site because of Hanhardt's vast intelligence network, and it sent fear through City Hall and police headquarters when Hanhardt was charged. Hanhardt later pleaded guilty to running a nationwide jewelry theft ring, aided by intelligence from local law enforcement. By pleading guilty, he spared Chicago, and himself, a trial.

Wagner could not speak specifically about the federal case because he may be called as an expert witness. But he knows the history of the 11 reputed mobsters soon to go on trial. The list includes boss Jimmy "The Man" Marcello, mob enforcers Frank "The German" Schweihs and Paul Schiro, and overlord Joseph Lombardo, called Joey "The Clown," even though he stopped laughing awhile back.

Some of the killings include those of Michael and Anthony Spilotro, reproduced in graphic detail in the movie "Casino" with baseball bats in a ditch in an Indiana cornfield, though it turns out they weren't killed in the corn, but in a suburb after being lured to a meeting.

Also killed was John Fecoratta, who was in charge of hiding the Spilotro bodies that were found too soon. Later, he would go on a robbery of a bingo game where he must have felt like the guy at the crooked card game. He sat down, probably wondering which one of the losers at the table was the sucker, only to realize the sucker's identity, too late, in a brief moment of excruciating clarity.

And the Will County killing of hit man Billy Dauber and his mouthy wife, Charlotte, chopped to pieces on a farm road with automatic weapons fired from cars, including one presumably containing Calabrese. And so on.

One killing not on the list is that of Eugenia "Becca" Pappas, 18, shot to death around Christmas in 1962 after she had been dating Schweihs over the objections of her family. Missing for weeks, she was later found in the Chicago River by a tugboat captain.

Schweihs was brought in for questioning by Richard Cain, then the homicide chief of the Cook County Sheriff's Police, but Cain released him. Wonder why? Cain at the time was on the payroll of the late Outfit boss Sam "Momo" Giancana. Cain himself was assassinated at Rose's Sandwich shop on the West Side in 1973, and that killing also is touched on in the government's outline of the Family Secrets case.

Outfit killings haven't stopped.

Wagner says Family Secrets would not have been possible without Nick Calabrese. Others who have spilled include Mario Rainone, who then clammed up after a bomb damaged his mother's porch, and Gerald Scarpelli, who reportedly strangled himself with plastic bags in prison.

Their information, combined with Calabrese's statements, provides an inside look at the Chicago Outfit, which maintains itself through intimidation, vast political connections and supporters in local law enforcement.

"Obviously, Calabrese's cooperation was a significant development, a monumental development," Wagner said. "And you put his information together with what we've learned from other Outfit witnesses over the years, well, there's a treasure trove of information."

And you can read all about it, when the trial begins this summer.

Thanks to John Kass

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Mafia Legends

Friends of ours: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel

Biography Presents Mafia Legends is an iffy grab bag of Biography profiles on three of organized crime's most notorious gangsters: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and Bugsy Siegel. A bonus fourth disc, Mob Hitman comes from A&E's American Justice series. Quickly edited, with a nice selection of archival footage and stills, these glossy but essentially superficial bios certainly move well enough, and hit the highlights of these infamous mobsters. But there's a certain nagging sense of romanticism to two of the bios which makes this collection a questionable purchase.

There are quite a few genuine historians out there who have nothing but contempt for channels like The History Channel, A&E, and The Biography Channel – as I find out every time I praise one of their DVD box set releases. But I would imagine that most viewers of those channels and their programs understand that, as with all historical studies, interpretation of facts – and the crucial omission or inclusion of certain facts – largely determines the worth or value of such an exploration. Unlike the studied historians who may occasionally email me, chiding me for recommending series like Lost Worlds or Dogfights when even the tiniest factual errors are found, most viewers of Biography documentaries such as Biography Presents Mafia Legends understand that these are entertainments first, meant to gather an audience, and serious education second.

That being said, there still appears to be a slightly disingenuous slant to two of the docs presented here – Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel – that make them less-than-stellar inclusions for this themed box set. Not being a big fan of romanticized tales of real-life thugs, criminals and murderers, the tone of Lucky Luciano and Bugsy Siegel left a somewhat bad taste in my mouth. It's not that the documentaries go out of their way to re-write history and say these psychotics were in reality good guys, but there's a persuasive feeling of almost grudging hero-worship, if you will, that illustrates a sloppy (and dishonest) approach to the filmmakers' (or the network who may have had final cut) vision.

While each documentary chronicles in full a wistful, almost fatalistic approach to these two vicious criminals, they spend almost no serious time chronicling their ugly crimes. Watching Lucky Luciano: Chairman of the Mob, one might get the notion that Lucky Luciano was really nothing more than a patriotic American businessman who helped keep the New York docks free of sabotage during WWII, and who gave the Army instructions on how to invade Italy safely – only to be "stabbed in the back" by the ungrateful U.S. government who deported him. Expert after expert testify to his brilliance and genius, while the documentary ends on a sad note, with Lucky's final, lonely days in exile in his fabulous Italian penthouse. The filmmakers even pull out a picture of Lucky with his dog to tug at your heartstrings – I guess if he was good to his dog, he was an okay guy, right? But almost no time is spent on the early part of his life, where he earned convictions for pimping, extortions, theft, and almost nothing is said about his role in numerous murders. As well, the dubious notion that Luciano "loved" this country above all else is put forth without any serious questions, such as perhaps, as some theorists believe, Luciano and the mob were behind the dock sabotages in the first place during WWII, and they used it as extortion against the government. As with almost any philanthropic endeavor that Luciano supported, it was usually to cover his illegal activities.

Watching Bugsy Siegel, the same kind of romanticized approach is used, with Siegel coming off as some kind of starry-eyed dreamer who should be remembered as the "inventor" of Las Vegas, and not for the psychotic killer who terrified those around him. Again, almost no time is spent documenting the actual crimes that Siegel committed, including murder, extortion, white slavery, and assault, that earned him his place in organized crime. But plenty of time is spent discussing his sartorial splendor, his charm, his good looks, his Hollywood connections, his "epic" love affair with Virginia Hill, and of course, his dream of the Flamingo Hotel out in the desert. For all purposes, Bugsy Siegel may as well be a documentary on a movie star, and not a real-life vicious thug and criminal.

The other two documentaries fare much better here in the Biography Presents Mafia Legends box set. Al Capone: Scarface is brought in straight down the middle. It's factual, and dispassionate in showing not only the fame that came to Capone, but also the unrelenting violence and murderous impulses that led to his downfall. It doesn't sugar coat his life, and it certainly doesn't glamorize or romanticize it. Capone is portrayed as he was: a well-organized criminal who murdered and extorted his way to the top of an empire, and who died insane from the aftereffects of syphilis, contracted from one of the many prostitutes he frequented. It's a sobering, insightful look at a criminal who's received far more "fame" than he deserves – and almost all of that fame for the wrong reasons (the final shots of a gift store in Chicago, which has an audiotronic Al Capone, speaking like one of the Presidents in Disneyland's Hall of Presidents, is pretty mind-blowing after seeing what the guy was all about).

Even more gritty and deglamorized, Mob Hitmen, the final bonus disc in the Biography Presents Mafia Legends box set, comes from the frequently compelling A&E series American Justice, hosted by Bill Kurtis. Featuring interviews with real mob killers, and using archival surveillance footage and audio samples, Mob Hitmen plays like a junior-league Donnie Brasco, and it's a welcome, if minor note contribution to this DVD box set. While it's an intriguing documentary, it's scope is somewhat narrow in conjunction with the oversized subjects of the previous three docs, so its inclusion is not the best fit here in Biography Presents Mafia Legends. If a bonus doc was needed with a more modern slant, perhaps one discussing a major mob figure from more recent days, such as John Giotti, would have been more appropriate. Still, the always professional, low-key, and most importantly serious delivery of host Bill Kurtis is a most welcome relief from the totally inappropriate, jovial, smiling smarminess of host Jack Perkins, who hosts the other three documentaries ("Bugsy, as he was known, liked to kill people!").

Here are the 4, one hour documentaries included in the four disc box set, Biography Presents Mafia Legends, as described on their hardshell cases:

Al Capone: Scarface
In the thrilling underworld of speakeasies, Tommy guns, and turf wars, Al Capone was the undisputed emperor of 1920s Chicago. "Scarface" -- a nickname born from the consequences of a violent encounter in his youth -- was many things to many people: a ruthless and vindictive murderer, a generous patron, and a glamorous impresario. Capone's legacy, however, will forever be marked by his role as the most notorious gangster in American history. In this in-depth biography, follow Capone's journey from the immigrant Brooklyn neighborhood of his youth to the glittering circles of Chicago's powerful elite, and finally to his years of imprisonment and his death at the age of 48. Al Capone: Scarface reveals rare photographs and exclusive interviews to paint an extraordinary portrait of the rise and fall of America's ultimate anti-hero.

Biography - Bugsy Siegel (A&E DVD Archives)
He was handsome. He was glamorous. And in a seedy underworld of ruthless murderers, he was the most vicious of them all. Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel first made his mark as a hitman on the gang-run streets of Brooklyn, New York. Yet, his fame was solidified amid the Hollywood hills where his unique gangster/playboy image made him a legend. In this fascinating portrait, see rare footage of the dapper mobster and witness exclusive interviews with acquaintances and enemies alike. Examine Siegel's greatest legacy as the founding father of glittering Las Vegas, Nevada, and listen as mob insiders reveal the details of Siegel's ultimate betrayal at the hands of his best friend.

Lucky Luciano: Chairman of the Mob
He wrote his name in blood and made himself the Boss of Bosses. Arriving in America at the age of nine and embarking upon a life of crime at 14, Charles "Lucky" Luciano rose through the ranks of the New York Mafia like a shot. By 34, Lucky ran the Sicilian mob like a major corporation: diversifying rackets, organizing gangs, and running his own political candidates. Lucky Luciano: Chairman of the Mob investigates Lucky's 30-year career as the CEO of Murder, Inc. through rare interviews and extensive archival footage. Listen as mob insiders reminisce about meetings held in Luciano's Waldorf-Astoria headquarters and witness the top-secret war efforts that earned Lucky parole from a 50-year sentence.

Mob Hitmen
They are the most feared figures in the business of organized crime -- the triggermen whose job it is to eliminate contentious witnesses, rivals, and fellow mobsters in accordance with their bosses' orders. Today, the modern mob hitman – or woman -- is a different breed than the Tommy-gun-toting stereotype of popular Hollywood gangster films. He or she may wear several different hats in the organization, killing when ordered, but performing more mundane tasks in the interim. In this chilling expose, American Justice ventures inside the bloody mob wars that have scarred Philadelphia over the past decade. In addition to interviews with some of the mob's most notorious triggermen and women, Mob Hitman features footage and news accounts of the city's recent brutal mob hits, and introduces viewers to the police and prosecutors who have devoted their lives to catching these shadowy killers.

Thanks to Paul Mavis

Family Secrets Jury to be Anonymous

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

An anonymous jury will be seated in the upcoming trial of reputed Chicago mob leaders accused of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included 18 murders, a federal judge said today.

"I do intend to empanel an anonymous jury," Judge James B. Zagel said at a hearing in the case of Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and 10 other reputed members of The Outfit -- Chicago's organized crime family.

Zagel refrained from saying why he decided to seat an anonymous jury. But he may have acted to insulate the jurors from outside pressures.

Some of the defendants could spend the rest of their lives in prison if convicted of taking part in the racketeering conspiracy.

Eight of the 11 defendants are charged with participating in a long-running conspiracy involving 18 murders, including those of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, The Outfit's one-time man in Las Vegas, and his brother, Michael. The Spilotro brothers were beaten and buried in an Indiana corn field in June 1986.

Besides the eight charged with racketeering conspiracy, the indictment names three other defendants on gambling charges.

Originally, 14 people were charged in the case. One was found dead when FBI agents went to arrest him. Another has since died. A third isn't going on trial, but is expected to be the government's star witness.

The defendants have pleaded innocent and jury selection for their trial is scheduled to begin June 5. That could be postponed if pretrial skirmishing now before a federal appeals court is dragged out.

Thanks to Mike Robinson

Monday, April 23, 2007

Santiago Proffer Released Against Chicago Mob

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Frank Cullotta, James "Litty Jimmy" Marcello, Frank "the German" Schweihs, Anthony "the Ant" Spilotro, Sam "Momo" Giancana, Sam Annerino, Richard Cain, Anthony Zizzo, Sam Carlisi, Tony Accardo, Nicholas Calabrese, Frank Calabrese Sr.,
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro, John Mendell, Frank Calabrese Jr.

Running an Outfit crew on Chicago's West Side in the 1970s, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo decided how everyday mob business would be handled -- and which of his organization's enemies would be hit, according to prosecution documents unsealed Thursday.

Lombardo was involved in everything from shaking down movie and pornography distributors to securing union payoffs and the killing of a former chief of the Cook County sheriff's police at a sandwich shop, the court filing states.

Former hit man Frank Cullotta, who has cooperated with the government, is expected to testify at the federal trial of Lombardo and 10 others that he once asked Lombardo for permission to kill a regular patron at his club who was causing problems by starting fights. "Lombardo told Cullotta that he could not kill the target, but he could break his legs and hands," the document states. "Lombardo added that if the target caused trouble after that warning, Cullotta could kill him."

With less than two months before the "Family Secrets" conspiracy case goes to trial, U.S. District Judge James Zagel ordered a redacted version of a legal document known as a Santiago proffer in the case released Thursday. The document, which provides a partial road map of the government's evidence of a conspiracy that led to at least 18 murders, had been filed under seal in March.

Among the men facing trial are reputed Outfit heavyweights James Marcello, Lombardo and Frank "the German" Schweihs.

The document is filled with the gritty business of the Chicago mob, describing how members and associates got permission from bosses to run gambling rings, make exorbitantly high-interest street loans and extort protection money from businesses. And it recounts how some connected men ran afoul of one another.

Lined heavily with deletions on some pages, the court filing does not offer many significant new details on some of the most high-profile murders charged in the landmark case, including the infamous slayings of Anthony "the Ant" Spilotro and his brother, Michael, whose bodies were found in an Indiana cornfield.

But it does include more specific allegations against Lombardo. The filing suggests he was behind the 1970 murder of Richard Cain, the onetime chief of the sheriff's police who also was a driver for mob boss Sam Giancana. And it alleges Lombardo targeted mobster Sam Annerino by placing him on his "hit parade." No charges have been filed in connection with the Cain murder. Annerino eventually was killed in 1977.

One unidentified witness apparently will testify that he knew Lombardo was in charge of a number of executions and often said his crew on the West Side "has all the firepower," according to the filing. Lombardo's lawyer, Rick Halprin, said Thursday night that when Cullotta testified against Lombardo in the early 1980s a federal judge didn't find him credible. "His main interest in testifying is to sell his book," said Halprin, who has repeatedly denied all the accusations prosecutors made against his client. "In my view, that book belongs in the fiction section."

Lawyers for the Tribune filed a motion for the filing's release, and Zagel ordered that the document be made public after giving prosecutors a chance to remove some witness names and other details. Assistant U.S. Atty. Mitchell Mars had told the judge the government's chief concern was for the safety of witnesses in the case.

One person mentioned in the filing has in fact disappeared in the past year, though sources said he was not expected to be a witness.

Anthony Zizzo, who was not charged, is identified as an underboss of Sam Carlisi. Zizzo was last seen leaving his Westmont home in August, and his Jeep was found days later in the parking lot of a restaurant in Melrose Park.

The 64-page filing details Lombardo's role in mob business, including its involvement in pornography. In one section, Lombardo is described as telling the owner of a pornography business not to use his home phone because it was probably tapped and to stay away from an adult bookstore owner named Robert Harder.

Harder was "number one on the hit list, and if you go around him you will get hit too," Lombardo allegedly said, and the document notes Harder was killed a few weeks later.

The filing also details an infamous burglary of Outfit boss Anthony Accardo's River Forest residence in 1978 while he vacationed out of state. The six suspected burglars were all killed in retaliation -- including John Mendell, whose murder was among the 18 gangland slayings charged in the unprecedented indictment.

According to the filing, Mendell and others earlier burglarized a jewelry store without realizing that Accardo had some possible involvement in the business. A few weeks later someone broke into Mendell's business, discovered the stolen jewelry hidden in the rafters and stole it.

Mendell, apparently believing Accardo was responsible, wanted to break into Accardo's residence to get the jewelry back, according to an undisclosed government witness.

A second government witness -- a career burglar who knew Mendell -- was so concerned about being wrongly linked to the burglary of Accardo's residence that he arranged to take a polygraph to show he had nothing to do with that offense or the burglary of the jewelry store. He passed the lie detector, and the Outfit "heat" on him ended, the witness told authorities.

Another Calabrese appears prepared to corroborate turncoat Nicholas Calabrese. Frank Calabrese Jr., a son of mob boss Frank Calabrese Sr., will testify about discussions with his father and uncle, Nicholas Calabrese, about a dozen of the gangland slayings, according to the filing.

Thanks to Jeff Coen and Matt O'Connor

Hollywood P.I to the Stars tied to Chicago Mob

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo
Friends of mine: Anthony Pellicano, Alva Johnson Rodgers

Allegations of mob ties have long dogged Anthony Pellicano, once the private investigator of choice for Hollywood stars.

Hollywood P.I to the Stars, Anthony Pellicano, tied to Chicago MobOn Thursday, for the first time, the feds marked his place in Chicago mob history, saying he once belonged to the mob crew of Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo.

The allegation came to light in a court document released Thursday that lays out much of the case against Lombardo and other top mobsters who are going on trial June 5. Pellicano's name is blacked out in the heavily redacted document, but based on other public court documents, the Sun-Times could determine that Pellicano was the individual being referenced.

A former associate of Lombardo, Alva Johnson Rodgers, is cooperating with the feds and is expected to testify at trial that Pellicano asked him to torch two buildings in the mid-1970s.

Pellicano grew up in Cicero and worked in Chicago for years before heading to California. The Sun-Times first reported last month that Pellicano did the investigative work to provide Lombardo with an alibi for the 1974 murder of a key federal witness against Lombardo.

Pellicano's attorney, Steven Gruel, has denied that Pellicano has any mob ties.

In one case, Pellicano allegedly paid Rodgers to shut down a restaurant. Rodgers got some neighborhood kids to break the restaurant's windows, which hurt business, but Pellicano allegedly was looking for something a little more permanent, like burning the place down. Rodgers allegedly declined and refused to give Pellicano his money back.

In another instance, previously reported by the Sun-Times, Pellicano allegedly asked Rodgers to burn down a building in the northwest suburbs, and Rodgers complied.

Lombardo allegedly chewed out Rodgers both times for not getting his permission for the crimes.

Pellicano is in jail in California awaiting trial on charges he illegally eavesdropped on the conversations of the enemies of his rich and powerful clients. The feds have alleged he contacted unnamed Chicago mobsters to put a hit on a witness against him.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Who Robbed Joe Batters?

Friends of ours: Tony "The Big Tuna" Accardo AKA "Joe Batters", James "Little Jimmy" Marcello, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Ronald Jarrett, Frank Calabrese Sr., Nick Calabrese, Frank Saladino, Tony Spiltro, Rocco Infelice, Joseph Ferriola, Robert "Bobby the Beak" Siegel, Daniel Bounds, James LaValley, Frank Cullotta
Friends of mine: John Mendell, Michael Spiltro

It's the stuff of Chicago mob lore, cloaked in mystery.

Tony 'Joe Batters' AccardoThieves rob the home of ruthless Chicago mob boss Tony Accardo while he's away.

Then one by one, in brutal retribution, they are rubbed out.

One well-known career burglar, not involved in the Accardo job, got so nervous he'd be killed anyway that he took a lie detector test to prove his innocence and sent it to mob bosses.

Now, the mystery around the burglary in the late 1970s is clearing as the fullest account yet of the crime and the bloody consequences is being offered in a court document made public Thursday.

It's just one of the tales on tap as part of the Family Secrets federal trial, involving the top names in the Chicago Outfit, including reputed mob leaders James "Little Jimmy" Marcello and Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo.

Those alleged mobsters and others have been charged in a case involving 18 unsolved Outfit murders.

The trial won't only be about those murders. It will reveal a secret 40-year history of the Outfit itself.

On the Accardo burglary, ace thief John Mendell was simply out to get back what he had already stolen, according to the document.

Mendell had led a burglary crew that stole hundreds of thousands of dollars of jewelry from Levinson's Jewelry. The only problem was that Accardo was a friend of the owner.

Mendell went into hiding as he learned top mobsters were angry with him and looking for revenge. He hid the loot in the rafters of his business. But it wasn't safe there for long -- another group of burglars broke in and stole the items.

Limoges JewelryMendell wanted his loot back and led his crew to break in to Accardo's home, where the jewelry was stashed in a walk-in vault.

The feds believe this because one of their witnesses -- whose name is blacked out in the court document -- allegedly went on the jewelry store burglary with Mendell but balked at pulling the heist at Accardo's home.

Mendell was lured to his death by a fellow burglar he knew and trusted, Ronald Jarrett, according to the new document. Jarrett worked for reputed hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. Jarrett died in 2000, shot in a mob hit outside his Bridgeport home.

Participating in Mendell's murder were Calabrese Sr., his brother Nick Calabrese, Jarrett and mob hit man Frank Saladino, the court filing alleges. Nick Calabrese is cooperating with the feds and expected to tell jurors in detail how Mendell was killed. He was beaten without mercy, his body punctured by an ice pick. Five other burglars met a similar fate.

The government filing also sheds more light on the slayings of Anthony Spilotro, the mob's man in Las Vegas, and his brother Michael in 1986. The brothers were lured to a Bensenville area home, on the promise of promotions within the mob, but they were beaten to death by several mobsters, authorities say.

In 1986, federal investigators had secretly wired phones at Flash Trucking in Cicero, allegedly the headquarters for years of the Cicero mob, as well as the home phone of Cicero mob boss Rocco Infelise. Investigators heard Infelise, James Marcello and top mob boss Joseph Ferriola exchange calls to set up a meeting with Outfit leader Sam Carlisi at a McDonald's in Oak Brook on June 13. The next day, the Spilotros were slain.

All of the witness names are blacked out in the heavily redacted court document, but the Sun-Times has reported the names of several witnesses, including reputed Outfit hit man and career burglar Robert "Bobby the Beak" Siegel, failed mob assassin Daniel Bounds, mob leg breaker James LaValley and burglar and mob killer Frank Cullotta, a close associate of Anthony Spilotro.

Cullotta is expected to be a key witness against Lombardo but will likely undergo a vigorous cross by Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin. "From what I've been told, Cullotta, in Sicilian, means mendacious," Halprin said.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Dominic Chianese's Ungrateful Heart

Dominic Chianese's (The Sopranos' Uncle Junior) Ungrateful Heart CD is the ultimate Italian song collection. Consisting of all Italian favorites from since the turn of the century, the CD features 16 tracks including the classic "O Solo Mio"; "Core 'n Grato," as performed on The Sopranos; and "Parla Piu Piano," the theme from The Godfather.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Chicago Outfit Hits from Four Decades Detailed in Court Papers

Friends of mine: Tony "The Big Tuna" Accardo, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, Nick Calabrese
Friends of ours: John Ambrose

A newly released court document details four decades of alleged Chicago mob killings, including the slayings of six men accused of robbing the vault of the Mafia's biggest boss.

The 63-page document was submitted by federal prosecutors to U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel. He is to preside over the trial of 14 men accused in an indictment that blames the mafia for 18 long-unsolved murders. Jury selection is scheduled to begin June 1.

The trial is the result of the FBI's long-running Operation Family Secrets investigation.

In the robbery case, mob bosses wanted to send a message that they would not tolerate the theft of jewelry and other items from the basement vault of fellow boss Tony Accardo's house, according to the document unveiled Thursday.

"The Outfit wanted to find out which burglars were actually involved in the Accardo burglary so they could be killed to enforce the message," the document says.

Eventually, six men were blamed. The alleged organizer of the vault burglary, John Mendell, was last heard from January 16, 1978, the prosecutors said.

Among the list of 18 unsolved murders is the killing of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, the Chicago mob's longtime man in Las Vegas, who inspired the Joe Pesci character in the 1995 movie "Casino." His body was buried in an Indiana cornfield.

The document seeks to convince Zagel that a conspiracy existed and that third-party testimony that would ordinarily be hearsay should be allowed.

Among those expected to testify is Nicholas Calabrese, a self-described "made guy" in the Chicago mob who now is helping the government. The document says Calabrese's account of mob bookmaking, loan sharking, extortion, arson and murder has resulted in an FBI report more than 100 pages long that points the finger at organized crime leaders.

The version of the document made public Thursday is heavily redacted with prosecutors saying their witnesses are afraid of mob reprisals and would be even more terrified if their names got out before trial.

Federal deputy marshal John Ambrose is charged with leaking information about Calabrese's whereabouts to the mob. He has pleaded not guilty and claims he was not read his Miranda warning when arrested.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Will the Mafia Cops Replace Law and Order?

Friends of mine: Louis Eppolito, Stephen Caracappa

Producer Dick Wolf has made a television empire out of his Law and Order police procedural shows, and now another series may be in the works. Daily Variety reports Wolf and NBC Universal have acquired the rights to the book The Brotherhoods: The True Story of Two Cops who Murdered for the Mafia, by Guy Lawson and William Oldham.

The book tells the story of Stephen Caracappa and Louis Eppolito who were convicted of moonlighting as killers for the mafia. Author Oldham was once a cop working side by side with Eppolito, and when the story came to light—and the NYPD failed to actively investigate—Oldham became a special investigator for the U.S. Attorney’s Brooklyn office and broke the case.

It’s a good story, so good that three movies based on it are already in the works. And now Wolf is looking at it as a launching point for a series about the U.S. Attorney’s investigative team. Whether or not it takes on the Law and Order brand has yet to be decided. "We are very excited about this project," Wolf told Daily Variety. "It contains a unique franchise that could be taken in a multitude of directions."

Thanks to Dennis Michael

Donald Stephens Dies

Friends of mine: Donald Stephens

Donald Stephens, who saw this Chicago suburb develop into a commercial haven during his half-century as its only mayor, has died, a city spokesman said. He was 79.

Rosemont Mayor Donald Stephens has died.Stephens had stomach cancer and died at his home on Wednesday, spokesman Gary Mack said.

The Rosemont mayor was the longest-serving incumbent mayor in U.S. history, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

During his 51-year tenure, Stephens focused on large-scale projects — an entertainment center, a theater and a convention center that bears his name. His final years in office were colored by a casino bid that collapsed amid allegations of mob ties.

Stephens won his latest four-year term in 2005. It was not clear how his successor would be chosen, Mack said. Stephens' son Bradley, a village trustee, had served as mayor pro tem when his father was unable to attend city meetings, Mack said.

The tiny suburb near O'Hare International Airport had only 85 residents when Stephens was first elected mayor in 1956, the same year Rosemont was incorporated. Today, with about 4,200 people, its annual economic impact is estimated at $248 million.

"He took Rosemont from a tiny mud swamp to an incredible mecca of tourism in the hospitality industry," Mack said.

An effort to attract the Emerald Casino, consuming many years and millions of dollars, ended in December 2005 when the Illinois Gaming Board voted unanimously to revoke the casino's gambling license. The board said top company officials lied to regulators and took investments from people allegedly tied to organized crime.

In a summer 2005 hearing on the proposed casino's license, an FBI agent testified that Stephens had met with organized crime figures about mob control of construction and operations contracts at the planned gambling hall. Stephens repeatedly denied allegations about any mob connections.

Stephens was born in Chicago on March 13, 1928. Along with Bradley, he is survived by his wife, Katherine; a daughter, Gail; and two other sons, Donald and Mark.

Thanks to Fox News

Volz on "The Sopranos"

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family, Sam "The Plumber" DeCavalcante

OK, I was the only person in town who missed the opening of the new, and last, season of "The Sopranos."

The SopranosI love the show but I don't have HBO.

I have been watching re-runs every Wednesday at 9 on A&E.

So, do me a favor. Honor the mob's code of silence. Don't tell me how it all ends. I will find out whether Tony goes out with a bang or a whimper a couple of years from now on A&E.

Surely, though, "The Sopranos" is the greatest show on the tube since the early days when classics like "Playhouse 90" used to run live.

I particularly like Tony and his crew because they are from my home state, New Jersey. I almost tear up when I see those opening credits, Tony tooling out of the Lincoln Tunnel and around that highway ramp, past the Weehawken town hall (my first beat as a reporter), on out to his home in the Caldwells.

New Jersey was a Mafia-dependent state. Our economy would have tanked without the mobsters. They made our pizzas, ran our four-star restaurants, built our highways, kept our politicians in pocket money and operated gambling before casinos became legal.

The Mafia was a full-service provider. And an equal opportunity employer who hired black hitmen once in a while.

If you lived in Jersey, you either had a relative in the mob or knew somebody who did. It was just a way of life. But you might ask: "Hey are "The Sopranos" for real? Did mobsters really do those terrible things?"

The answer is: "Yes."

Sure "The Sopranos" are a caricature. No self-respecting mobster would go to a shrink, for example, like Tony does. But mobsters actually talked, in real life, like they were characters in a Soprano episode. I wrote a book, "The Mafia Talks," on the real New Jersey Mafia, the DeCavalcante family back in the 1960s and read hundreds of pages of wiretap transcripts provided by the FBI.

The boss, the late Sam "The Plumber" DeCavalcante, worried about the safety of a couple of hitmen he was sending out to kill someone. "Now be careful," he said. And an unrepentant young kid named Itchie, about to be gunned down, philosophized, "If you gotta do it, you gotta do it."

The transcript was replete with tales of rubouts, arson for the insurance money and bragging about who had the most powerful crime family.

One thing "The Sopranos" show does not do is glorify these thugs. They were murderous with absolutely no moral compass.

They were not men of honor, despite all of their mouthings about having a code to live by. Their code was greed and power and violence. There were no Boy Scouts in that group, no role models. For a year, I covered the Mafia full-time.

I must say one thing in the mob's defense. Its behavior towards reporters was impeccable. Nobody called up and threatened me despite the hundreds of stories I did chronicling their crimes. Nobody sued for libel, although one mobster wanted me to testify as a character witness. He definitely was a character but I turned down his request.

No Mafioso banned me from his restaurant like a Frederick politician threatened to do. And although a number of local pols are constantly moaning and threatening to have me fired for what I write in Frederick, no mobster tried that in New Jersey.

Mobsters realized that no publicity is the best publicity.

Of course, they didn't have to run for political office. They bought, or rented, the best politicians available. In New Jersey, there was an endless supply.

Thanks to Joe Volz

U.S. Marshal Coerced to Reveal Leaks Regarding Mob Informant?

Friends of ours: Nick Calabrese, John "No Nose" DiFronzo, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo
Friends of mine: John Ambrose

A deputy marshal accused of leaking sensitive information about a valuable mob informant is claiming that Chicago's U.S. attorney and FBI chief coerced statements from him.

John Ambrose is asking that a judge toss out statements he made last September to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Chicago's FBI Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant. Ambrose claims he was pressured into talking and was never read his rights.

"I felt extreme pressure because of . . . the stature of the men who were confronting me and the intimidating nature of the confrontation," Ambrose wrote in a court-filed affidavit. "The pressure was so extreme that my body was shaking and my mind was racing."

Ambrose, 38, was charged in January with theft of information after the government said he leaked confidential material about protected mob witness Nick Calabrese to "Individual A." Calabrese will be a top government witness in this June's Operation Family Secrets mob trial. Ambrose watched Calabrese in a brief stint with witness protection. The feds say the information Ambrose leaked about Calabrese made its way to the mob.

Last September, Ambrose said he was told to come to the FBI to talk about white supremacists and fugitives. Once there, Grant and Fitzgerald allegedly accused him of compromising the government and pushed him to talk.

At one point, Ambrose claims Fitzgerald referenced his father, Thomas, who was convicted in the Marquette 10 cop corruption case. "I told Mr. Fitzgerald that they took a cheap shot bringing my father into this," Ambrose wrote.

Ambrose said Grant told him to "think of your family. Think of your job. You don't want to go to prison."

He alleged Fitzgerald told him: "You've got two choices, either fill in the blanks and cooperate, or possibly face charges and lose your job." Ambrose claims he talked because he felt he "had no choice."

The government has claimed that Ambrose gave conflicting statements. They say in one he admitted giving sensitive information to a third party, who knew reputed mobster John "No Nose" DiFronzo. Ambrose allegedly said he hoped DiFronzo's "good will" would help him capture onetime mob fugitive Joey "The Clown" Lombardo. In another interview, Ambrose allegedly denied intending to pass information to DiFronzo or mob members.

Spokesmen for the FBI and U.S. attorney's office declined to comment. Prosecutors are expected to respond in future court filings.

Thanks to Natasha Korecki

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Role Flip-Flop: Feds Serve as Loan Sharks for Lombardo

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey The Clown" Lombardo

In a better late than never move, federal authorities are moving to collect nearly $500,000 in fines and judgments -- more than 20 years old -- against top Chicago mobster Joseph "Joey The Clown" Lombardo.

Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin, is crying foul -- over the timing of the request just as Lombardo is to go on trial, and at the interest rate the feds have charged on one fine -- 18 percent per year.

"Apparently, this is a federally approved involuntary juice loan," Halprin wrote in response to the feds' request.

With such a high interest rate, Lombardo "would have been much better off dealing with his co-defendants," Halprin cracked. Lombardo is charged with several other top mobsters in one of the most important mob trials in Chicago history.

The 18 percent per year was the interest rate allowed to be charged by law from the 1986 case. Lombardo paid $250 on an original judgment of $143,409.58 before the interest started accumulating.

The U.S. attorney's office had no comment on the timing of the motion. It comes about a year after a federal judge appointed Halprin to defend Lombardo at taxpayer expense. Lombardo said he didn't have the money to pay a lawyer, but the judge said the government could examine Lombardo's finances to see if he really did.

Halprin balks at the timing of the request, noting that the fines date from the 1980s and it comes as he is preparing Lombardo's defense in a complex case starting June 5. He also contends that Lombardo may no longer owe the money, in one instance possibly because of a settlement Lombardo made with the government in a civil case.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Smokin' Aces

Mob boss Primo Sparazza has taken out a hefty contract on Buddy "Aces" Israel--a sleazy magician who has agreed to turn state's evidence against the Vegas mob. The FBI, sensing a chance to use this small-time con to bring down big-target Sparazza, places Aces into protective custody-under the supervision of two agents dispatched to Aces' Lake Tahoe hideout. When word of the price on Aces' head spreads into the community of ex-cons and cons-to-be, it entices bounty hunters, thugs-for-hire, deadly vixens and double-crossing mobsters to join in the hunt. With all eyes on Tahoe, this rogues' gallery collides in a comic race to hit the jackpot and rub out Aces.

John Gotti: How the FBI Made the Charges Stick

Friends of ours: John "Teflon Don" Gotti, Gambino Crime Family, Paul Castellano, Aniello Dellacroce, Thomas Bilotti, Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano

He was slippery, yes, but even the “Teflon Don” couldn’t escape justice forever.

John Gotti Mug ShotDespite the future nickname, John Gotti—a violent, ruthless mobster who’d grown up on the streets of New York—had been in and out of prison several times in his early career. In 1968, for example, we arrested him for his role in a plot to steal thousands of dollars worth of merchandise. Gotti was sent to prison, but was released in 1972.

And quickly made more trouble. Within two years, we’d arrested him again for murder. Same story: he went to prison and was out in a few years. Soon after, he became a “made man” for the Gambino family, one of the five most powerful syndicates in the Big Apple. Gambling, loansharking, and narcotics trafficking were his stocks in trade.

The heat was on. By the early 80s, using Title III wiretaps, mob informants, and undercover agents, we were beginning to get clear insights into the Gambino family’s hierarchy and activities (and into the other families as well) and were building strong cases against them as criminal enterprises. A break against Gotti came in late 1985, when mob violence spilled out on to the streets of Manhattan.

The scene of the crime? Sparks’ Steak House, a popular hangout for major criminals. On the evening of December 16, 1985, 70-year-old-mafioso Paul Castellano—the apparent successor of recently deceased Gambino boss Aniello Dellacroce—was gunned down along with his number two in command, Thomas Bilotti, in front of the restaurant. Gotti, who’d been watching from a car at a safe distance, had one of his men drive him by the scene to make sure his deadly orders had been carried out. [Thanks to several readers who pointed out that Dellacroce was actually not the boss. It was best put by pointing out that Dellacroce was the underboss, & had been under Carlo Gambino. Castellano had been the boss since 1976 (when Gambino died). In 1976, there was fear Dellacroce, as underboss, would resist Gambino's choice of Castellano as boss, since Dellacroce was above Castellano in the family. However, after being given almost complete autonomy over several crews, Dellacroce acquiesced to Castellano's appointment as boss. Murder Machine (Capeci & Mustain) has more details of all this.]

Top hood. Having eliminated the competition, Gotti took over as head of the Gambino family. With his expensive suits, lavish parties, and illegal dealings, he quickly became something of a media celebrity, and the press dubbed him “The Dapper Don.” Following a string of highly-publicized acquittals—helped in large part by witness intimidation and jury tampering—Gotti also earned the “Teflon Don” nickname.

Our New York agents and their colleagues in the New York Police Department, though, refused to give up. With extensive court-authorized electronic surveillance, diligent detective work, and the eventual cooperation of Gotti’s henchman—“Sammy the Bull” Gravano—the Bureau and the NYPD built a strong case against him.

The end was near. In December 1990, our agents and NYPD detectives arrested Gotti, and he was charged with multiple counts of racketeering, extortion, jury tampering, and other crimes. This time, the judge ordered that the jurors remain anonymous, identified only by number, so no one could pressure them. And the case was airtight.

The combination worked. On April 2, 1992, 15 years ago Monday, Gotti was convicted on 13 counts, including for ordering the murders of Castellano and Bilotti. The head of our New York office famously remarked, “The don is covered with Velcro, and every charge stuck.”

Indeed. Gotti had evaded the law for the last time. He died in prison in June 2002.

Thanks to the FBI

Monday, April 16, 2007

Big City, Bad Blood

The private detective novel is constantly revitalized by authors with vision who take the conceit of the knight-errant and push it forward with a contemporary spin.

Authors such as Laura Lippman, Robert Crais, Steve Hamilton and S.J. Rozan continue to refresh this sub-genre. To that list, add Chicago author Sean Chercover, whose debut Big City, Bad Blood signals a true talent.

Like the best authors of private detective novels, Chercover doesn't just give a thrilling plot -- and it is indeed a story that starts strong and only accelerates -- but he also looks at his city, its past and present, movers and criminals, its beauty and its chaos.

Chercover's conflicted, complex hero perfectly matches his plot. A former newspaper reporter disillusioned with journalism, Ray Dudgeon has found another career as a private detective. Both jobs brought him in contact with some of Chicago's best and worst residents, especially in his latest job. Ray agrees to be the bodyguard for Bob Loniski, who's in Chicago to find sites for a movie shoot. Bob ventured into unknown territory and witnessed a crime. Bob needs protection from the "Chicago Outfit," the current term for the local mob. Soon the case extends to blackmail and corruption among city officials.

Chercover keeps the suspense high and also knows just how far to use violence as a plot device and when to pull back. Ray is a multilayered character; readers will look forward to exploring this new detective's personality and history.

Big City, Bad Blood will rank high on the list of the year's best debuts. Ironically, one of the other top debuts of 2007 is Chercover's fellow Chicagoan Marcus Sakey's The Blade Itself: A Novel.

Thanks to Oline H. Cogdill

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Measuring "The Sopranos"

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family

Based on all the hype for the return last Sunday of HBO's "The Sopranos," you would have thought a veritable mob of viewers would be camped out in front of their sets to see Tony, Carm, Bobby and Janice playing a rock 'em, sock 'em game of Monopoly in the first of the critically adored pay-cable series' final nine episodes.

Didn't exactly happen that way.

Only 7.7 million viewers that night caught the first new episode of "The Sopranos" since June 4. That's 1.8 million fewer than tuned in for the series return for a sixth season 13 months ago and way off the show's fourth season opener, in September 2002, when almost 13 million tuned in.

This might be a matter of one dream sequence or stereotype too many for some fans. And, perhaps, it reflects the fact the broadcast networks have beefed up lineups for Sunday night. But if "The Sopranos," technically resuming its sixth season, is no longer appointment viewing, the reason also may be the realization that an appointment is no longer needed.

Although the popularity of "The Sopranos" probably crested with that fourth season, anyone with HBO today knows its programming repeats several times over the course of a week and on several HBO channels. Plus, the show is available on demand for subscribers who have figured out how to use that service.

It's like calling McDonald's for a dinner reservation. If you show up for supper in shoes and a shirt you can get a table and some McNuggets.

For last year's 12 episodes James Gandolfini and "The Sopranos" averaged 8.6 million viewers on Sundays. Yet, by the end of a given week, its cumulative audience bulged to 13.1 million. Another 1 million viewers kept pace through HBO On Demand, according to HBO.

That doesn't take into account the "Sopranos" fans who, fed up with the long waits between seasons, decided they might as well wait for DVD sets to come out, and would-be viewers who settled for the sanitized version on A&E, which requires no subscription.

Chris Albrecht, the head of HBO, likes to point out that those who cite only the ratings for its shows, particularly those who cite declining ratings for its shows, don't understand HBO's business model. It's not about delivering viewers to advertisers. It's about getting subscribers and keeping them for cable systems, whether it's through series such as "The Sopranos" and "Entourage," theatrical movies, original movies, Bill Maher, boxing, "Real Sex" or whatever.

Then there's the extra money to be made from DVDs and rerun rights of original content.

Actually, as TV audiences--the audiences for all media, really--continue to splinter, it might be time for everyone to rethink the old metrics of viewership, listenership and circulation.

Online availability is seen as a way to build up the audience for some TV series, just as it expands the reach of radio and print outlets. But there's also a growing recognition that Internet streaming of series is siphoning off some audience. In broadcast TV the effect has been seen particularly in receding viewership for reruns.

People who want to see an episode have never had more opportunities to keep up--and the options don't play into the "who watched what Tuesday night" mentality embraced for decades. Nielsen Media Research is trying to expand its accounting to include time-shifting, viewing outside the home and on the Web.

That presumes Nielsen numbers can be relied upon, of course. The New York Times' public editor last week awakened to the fact that Nielsen doesn't provide a margin of error to its ratings, long an accepted standard, and said reports should carry a disclaimer calling ratings audience "estimates."

It's interesting that ABC's "Desperate Housewives," the night's most popular show, drew only an estimated 15.7 million viewers opposite "The Sopranos," nearly 2 million viewers off the hit soap's average this season and the lowest ratings for an original episode in its three-year history.

The old gang may not be what it once was, but it still has some muscle.

Thanks to Phil Rosenthal

20% Off "The Sopranos: The Book"

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family

Say goodbye to the nation's favorite bad guys with The Sopranos Deal of the Week. This week take 20% off the pre-order of the new book that chronicles the behind-the-scenes story of the making of this revolutionary show, "The Sopranos: The Book."

Get an exclusive look at the New Jersey-based mob family that has captured the world. This full color book illustrates the birth of the show from the Sopranos creator David Chase's own New Jersey childhood, with an on the set look at the Sopranos Cast and Crew, and candid interviews with stars James Gandolfini, Tony Sirico, Michael Imperioli, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, and many, many more. Add this collectors piece to your own library.

Sopranos   20% off Book 468x60

This special sales event runs from April 16 - 22, 2007.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The Power of the 'Soprano' Women

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family

If you are going to have coffee at an Italian restaurant, who better to have it with than the women of "The Sopranos"?

At Fiamma, a chic Italian eatery in downtown New York City, I sat down with Carmela, Meadow and Dr. Melfi — or more specifically, Edie Falco, Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Lorraine Bracco.

I had coffee.

As for them? Well they had to listen to my questions. As the show wraps up its sixth and final epic season, I didn't just want to talk about whackings, I wanted to talk about the women of the show.

From the first seconds of the opening credits of every episode of "The Sopranos," we are told that this is a show about Tony. He's the mob boss. He is the one driving the car literally and figuratively. But scratch the surface of this epic drama, and you realize it's not just about Tony.

"Tony happens to be in the Mafia, but I think it's not really just about that," Sigler said. "It's about him balancing all these relationships in his life."

It's about Tony and his wife, Tony and his daughter, Tony and his psychiatrist.

It is the women in "The Sopranos" that give the show its texture and its depth.

"It has to be, you know, three or four or five of the, the better women characters written for television or movies today," Bracco said.

"We're not just the 'goomars' or whatever," Sigler said. "Did I say that correctly?"

Edie Falco as Carmela Soprano"That was perfect," Falco said.

It is safe to say that Falco's Carmela is not just the stereotypical mob moll. There is a certain depth and complexity to her character. "Carmela went through 10 years of a woman's life," Falco said, "as the kids are getting older, as you re-evaluate your marriage, and um, the way any woman would change and grow if they stay alive for a 10-year period, you know?"

Well, not quite any woman, as Bracco — ever the analyst — noted: "[Carmela] is married to someone who is doing despicable things. She's living a good life. She's trying to bring up children in a good way, give them an education, instills things that are important. She has her own family, and she deals with it in an unbelievably dysfunctional family that she's going to feed every Sunday, whether she likes it or not. Am I right?"

Oh, she is right, Carmela has dealt with dysfunction at a level most of us can't imagine — from infidelity to whackings. But she's made it so relatable. She added a touch of ordinary to the extraordinary.

"If you think about it, you find ways to get through every day, even though there are little pieces that just don't match up," Falco said. "And you have no choice but to put them in that little place in your brain where you say, 'I'll deal with that another time.'"

And the women of "The Sopranos" are far from powerless victims. They might not be mob bosses, but they pull the strings in their own ways.

Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Melfi"My power with Tony Soprano is very simple," Bracco said. "I was smarter than him."

Bracco's Dr. Melfi is one of the off-kilter defining roles in this drama. The shrink who tells the mob boss what to do.

Bracco said, "I was a woman that he never met, really, before, or had anything to do with. And I think it was an intelligence game between Melfi and Tony."

But it wasn't just about brains, there is also the matter of the legs. I tried to ask without blushing, "How about the legs? Are the legs empowering?"

Bracco had something of an instant education for me: "I think legs on a girl are always empowering. Come on!"

At 25, Sigler is the youngest of the actresses, and her character, Meadow, is the young ingenue of the show. But even her character knows how to vie for power and work Tony.

"We all knew how to manipulate him," Sigler said. "He was a very simple character to us in that sense, that he was very easy to manipulate."

Even Dead, the Mother Reigns

The most powerful woman in "The Sopranos" was not with us at Fiamma: Livia, Tony's mother.

That character died along with actress Nancy Marchand after Season 2, but Tony's relationship with his mother is, in a way, the basis for the whole show.

"It's all about the mother," Bracco said.

"Oh yes. It is," Falco agreed.

She tried to control him. He tried to put her in a home. She tried to kill him. Ultimately, it drove him to therapy.

The women of "The Sopranos" have not been spared the one aspect that has made the show so controversial: violence, graphic violence. Still, these women defend its use.

"We're not kidding around," Falco said. "It's this really, genuinely bad stuff that they do to other people — illegal, bad, violent death things that in seeing them in your face, you have no choice but to experience the true badness of it."

In Season 3, Melfi is the victim of a rape.

"The whole Dr. Melfi rape episode … was absolutely horrifying," Bracco said.

"Despicable violence against another person, but meanwhile when you look at the statistics of women being raped in this, just to, this, it's hundreds and hundreds of thousands of women and young girls and women being raped every year. It's unbelievable, the violence against another human being. And it's, we, we just, God forbid we should really look at it for what it is," she said.

Jamie-Lynn Sigler as Meadow SopranoIt is just one of the aspects of the show some people will miss as it wraps up its last season.

In the hour or so at the restaurant, try as I might, I could not get the three women to tell me how the show would end.

But I did get one tidbit from Sigler. Could her goody-two-shoes character go the way of another famed goody-two-shoes-gone godfather Michael Corleone?

"I think so," she said. "I think so because her family does come first. She's capable of it. She's strong, but if she's anything like you know, her family and like Livia. … You know, she could definitely manipulate and handle these guys."

So is there a chance for a spinoff: "Meadow Soprano!!! Boss!!!"

"I love it. I love it!" Sigler said.

Thanks to John Berman

Friday, April 13, 2007

Will Book Shed New Light on Old Gangland Tales?

For a guy considered a pariah by his old friends, mob hit-man-turned-government informant Frank Cullotta suddenly finds himself, or at least his bloodstained memories, quite popular these days.

After spending the past two decades in the shadows as a protected witness after his cooperation with the FBI and U.S. attorney against mobster Anthony Spilotro and members of his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, Cullotta is close to bringing out his memoirs of time in and out of the Chicago Outfit. Published by Huntington Press, "Cullotta: The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness" is scheduled to officially hit bookstores July 1. The book is co-authored by the 68-year-old Cullotta and Dennis N. Griffin with credited contributions from former FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy. Arnoldy was Cullotta's handler after his defection from the heart of Spilotro's criminal crew.

The timing of Cullotta's project couldn't be more intriguing for those who have followed the rise and fall of traditional organized crime groups, especially the infamous Chicago Outfit. Cullotta is telling his story at the same time attorneys for reputed Chicago mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and a gaggle of co-defendants will be searching for outs and alibis in a sweeping criminal case in federal court in Chicago.

Reporters there are openly speculating that Cullotta, a former Lombardo associate, will be called as a witness. The trial is expected to start in May.

Word of the Cullotta manuscript's existence recently had both sides of the Lombardo case contacting Huntington Press publisher Anthony Curtis to request a copy. First, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars called. Then, FBI agent Michael Maseth contacted Curtis. Not long after, Lombardo defense attorney Rick Halprin called.

When Curtis declined to provide the manuscript on the advice of lawyer Andrew Norwood, on April 2 the feds came through with a promised subpoena. On Monday, Curtis said he would comply with the subpoena.

Although Halprin expressed doubt the manuscript would produce new information, the defense attorney admitted to Curtis, "There are things only Frankie knows." (That sentiment is a far cry from Halprin's wisecrack about Cullotta during a pre-trial hearing in a Chicago courtroom last week: "For all I know, he's Ann Coulter.")

Are the things that only Frankie knows in the book?

What can Cullotta say that he hasn't previously testified to under oath?

At 78, Lombardo has been around the track too many times to get nervous about the memories of an admitted killer and thief. But Cullotta's story already has a proven appeal with readers. His perspective was sprinkled throughout Nicholas Pileggi's best-seller "Casino," and Pileggi has provided the foreword for Cullotta's memoir. In fact, Cullotta is said to have received a handsome fee as a consultant on the Martin Scorsese movie that followed Pileggi's book.

What will Cullotta's own book reveal?

Hopefully, he'll give readers his authentic and disturbing eyewitness accounts of his own criminal activity and the countless felonies that swirled around his life in Chicago and Las Vegas. The fact he's detailed a lot of that bloody stuff as a government witness shouldn't diminish its impact on the public more than two decades after Spilotro's murder, as long as he's candid.

Considering he's admitted killing in cold blood, it's the least he can do.

When the FBI and Las Vegas police finally caught up with Cullotta after the botched Bertha's store heist in 1981, his lifelong friend Spilotro was under enormous pressure from law enforcement. Even Spilotro's former defense attorney, Mayor Oscar Goodman, admitted his client's failure to provide legal assistance to Cullotta helped lead to his defection.

More than two decades after the murders of Spilotro and his brother, Michael, their homicides are part of 18 killings, some dating to the 1970s, outlined in the indictment against Lombardo, Frankie "The German" Schweihs, current reputed Outfit leader James "Little Jimmy" Marcello and a dozen others.

Cullotta was a participant and front-row associate during the twilight of the Outfit's dominance in Chicago and influence in Las Vegas. He has a rare perspective on a lifestyle that has killed dozens of his pals as well as a number of government witnesses and innocent bystanders.

The last thing Lombardo and the gang should want is for Frank Cullotta to take a stroll down memory lane.

Thanks to John L. Smith



Wednesday, April 11, 2007

FBI Looking for Missing Reputed Mobster, "Little Tony"

Friends of ours: Anthony "Little Tony" Zizzo, Al "The Pizza Man" Tornabene, Anthony "Big Tony" Chiaramonti

Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced today that the FBI was joining local authorities in the search for missing Westmont resident ANTHONY ZIZZO, a reputed top Chicago mobster.

The 71-year old ZIZZO was last seen on August 31, 2006, when he left his residence is his 2005 Jeep Laredo for an appointment with unknown individual(s). ZIZZO has not been seen or heard from since and there has been no reported use of either his credit cards or cellular telephone since that date.

ZIZZO's Jeep Laredo was found abandoned, two days later, in the parking lot of Abruzzo's Restaurant in Melrose Park. The vehicle was undamaged and no signs of foul play were noted. ZIZZO has an extensive criminal history, including a 1993 conviction for Racketeering, for which he was imprisoned for eight years, being released in 2001. ZIZZO is a suspected associate of the Chicago LCN crime family. As such, it is possible that his disappearance might be tied to this association.

ZIZZO is an associate of Al "The Pizza Man" Tornabene, who has been referred to in court documents as the man running the Chicago mob. ZIZZO allegedly became a made member of the mob in 1983. ZIZZO was involved in the lucrative but violent, mob-controlled world of video poker machines. A close associate, Anthony "Big Tony" Chiaramonti, was slain in 2001 in the last known Chicago area mob hit, in a dispute over video poker revenue

ANTHONY ZIZZO is described as a white/male, 71 years of age, 5'3" tall, 200 pounds, heavy build, gray hair and blue eyes with prescription eyeglasses. When last seen, ZIZZO was wearing a gray shirt, black pants and a black jacket.

Anyone having any information regarding ZIZZO's current whereabouts is asked to call the Chicago FBI at (312) 421-6700.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Rudy Giuliani vs. The Mob

Rudy Giuliani's office prosecuted a number of high-profile cases during his time as U.S. attorney in Manhattan in the 1980s:

THE MOB

Three of five leaders accused of being the "ruling body" of New York's five organized crime families were each sentenced in a single day to 100 years in prison after a prosecution that Giuliani said would help dismantle the mob. A fourth leader was later convicted and imprisoned. The fifth mob boss, was acquitted at three trials in Brooklyn and Manhattan before he was convicted of racketeering in federal court in Manhattan in 1992. He died in prison a decade later.

PIZZA CONNECTION

The "pizza connection" trial resulted in the conviction of 18 defendants for participating in a Mafia-backed drug racket operated through pizza parlors. The ring imported an estimated $1.6 billion worth of heroin into the United States. The case began Sept. 30, 1985, and ended 17 months later with 18 convictions and one acquittal. It was one of the longest criminal cases in federal court history.

Broadway Partners with "The Sopranos"

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family

Broadway stars Julianna Margulies, Tim Daly, David Margulies and Ken Leung will be among guest stars to appear in the new season of "The Sopranos."

HBO kicked off its final eight episodes of the mob family drama April 8 (with additional airings playing throughout the week). The David Chase-created New Jersey-set drama returned last March for the first part of its sixth and final season and airs Sunday evenings at 9 PM (ET). Check local listings.

The show features series regulars (and stage veterans) James Gandolfini (A Streetcar Named Desire), Edie Falco ('night, Mother), Lorraine Bracco (The Graduate), Michael Imperioli (Ponies), Dominic Chianese (A Second Hand Memory) and Jamie-Lynn Sigler (Beauty and the Beast).

Actors Julianna Margulies (Festen), Tim Daly (The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial), David Margulies (Wonderful Town, The Accomplices) and Ken Leung (Thoroughly Modern Millie) will be featured as guest stars on the series.

Past seasons have included such theatre folk as Tom Aldredge, Joe Pantoliano, Mark Blum, David Strathairn, Robert LuPone, Linda Emond, Annabella Sciorra, Linda Lavin, Steve Buscemi, Mary Louise Wilson, Laila Robins, Ron Leibman, Frank Wood, Rae Allen, Peter Riegert, Ari Graynor, Capathia Jenkins, Yul Vazquez, Will McCormack, Phyllis Somerville, Lewis J. Stadlen, Christine Pedi, Jordan Gelber and Remy Auberjonois.

Thanks to Ernio Hernandez