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

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