Friday, May 25, 2007

Former FBI Agent, Now Head of Chicago Crime Commission and Mob Expert to Testify at Family Secrets Trial

Friends of ours: Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo, James "Little Jimmy" Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr., Nick Calabrese

An organized crime expert will be allowed to testify at the trial of several alleged mob figures accused of taking part in a conspiracy that included 18 murders, a federal judge ruled Thursday in Chicago.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel said former FBI agent James Wagner can discuss how the so-called Chicago Outfit is structured and how it operates, but he can’t talk about individual members or the defendants.

That was a major concern of defense attorneys, who did not want Wagner — the one-time head of the FBI’s organized crime unit in Chicago — to link their clients to the mob. Wagner now heads the Chicago Crime Commission.

Zagel disputed the argument made by defense attorneys that because organized crime has been widely covered in the media such an expert is not necessary.

“This is not well understood,” he said about the way organized crime is structured.

Zagel’s ruling, which was expected by defense attorneys and prosecutors, is nevertheless significant. In Wagner, prosecutors have an expert on the mob in Chicago whose credibility cannot be easily questioned — unlike some reputed mob members who may be called to testify.

Wagner doesn’t have “the baggage of these witnesses,” Rick Halprin, Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo’s attorney said in arguing against allowing Wagner to testify.

That may be particularly important given that the prosecution’s star witness is Nicholas W. Calabrese, one of the defendants in what has been called the “Operation Family Secrets” investigation. Last week, Calabrese pleaded guilty to planning or carrying out 14 murders — including that of Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, long known as the Chicago mob’s man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for the Joe Pesci character in the film “Casino.”

Calabrese is expected to detail some of the very areas that Wagner likely will testify about the structure of the mob, but defense attorneys will surely try to attack his credibility.

The trial, expected to start next month, is the result of an investigation aimed at clearing up old, unsolved gangland slayings that date back decades. Among the 12 defendants are reputed major mob bosses James Marcello and Lombardo and Calabrese’s brother, Frank Calabrese Sr.

The case, expected to offer a glimpse into the workings of the Chicago mob, has already made the kind of headlines that might seem the stuff of novels and movies. In January, a federal marshal assigned to guard Nicholas Calabrese was charged with leaking information about Calabrese’s whereabouts to organized crime. He has pleaded not guilty.

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