Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Outfitician" to Testify at Family Secrets Chicago Mob Trial

Friends of ours: Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, Jimmy Marcello, Frank "The German" Schweihs, Frank Calabrese Sr., Nick Calabrese, Tony Spilotro, Frank Cullota, Paul Schiro
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro, William Hanhardt

Can you have a mob trial without a mobologist? But because this is Chicago, can you have an Outfit trial without an Outfitician?

No, according to U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who ruled Thursday that James Wagner, current president of the Chicago Crime Commission and former chief of the Chicago FBI's organized crime section, may testify for the prosecution in the historic Chicago Outfit case called "Family Secrets" expected this summer.

Wagner brings 30 years of expertise to what should be a sensational trial. He'll define Outfit terms such as "street tax" (what criminals pay the Outfit for operating licenses) and "juice" (high interest with severe penalties for late payments). Wagner will also provide an intelligence analysis of organized crime's command structure.

The case involves 18 previously unsolved killings, and it offers multiple defendants, including Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, Jimmy Marcello, Frank "The German" Schweihs, and alleged Chinatown crew boss Frank Calabrese Sr. It will be prosecuted by several assistant U.S. attorneys led by organized-crime section chief Mitchell Mars.

"I watch 'The Sopranos,' " wisecracked a young criminal defense attorney in the hallway. "I could be an expert."

But Zagel didn't see it that way.

"The fact that a lot of stuff is on a television show does not give [jurors] enough information to make a decision," said Zagel, a former federal prosecutor. "This command and control structure is not often understood by any individual that is not in its highest rank."

Other prosecution witnesses understand the structure, but their testimony will be on the earthy side.

The star witness is Nicholas Calabrese -- the Outfit turncoat who is the key to "Family Secrets."

In 2003, I reported that Calabrese had slipped quietly into the federal witness protection program. That disappearance rattled the Outfit from top to bottom, because they knew what he knew and they were terrified. Calabrese, a confessed murderer, will be attacked by defense attorneys. His Chicago slang will typecast him, as certainly as the actor James Gandolfini has been typecast on HBO.

Another expected witness is Frank Cullotta, Outfit hit man, burglar and technical adviser on the movie "Casino ."

A few years ago, I interviewed Cullotta about former Chicago Police Chief of Detectives William Hanhardt, who was convicted of running an Outfit-sanctioned jewelry heist crew along with Outfit enforcer Paul Schiro, who is, coincidentally, also a defendant in "Family Secrets."

"Paulie [Schiro] was making pizzas when I met him," Cullotta said in that interview. "I took him out of the pizza shop and put him to work. We were sticking up bank messengers. That was big money."

Cullotta worked under Outfit middle-managers Tony and Michael Spilotro, whose highly publicized 1986 murders are also part of the trial.

Cullotta also testified against Tony Spilotro in a federal case in Las Vegas, but his testimony was undercut by none other than Hanhardt, who was portrayed as a bona fide Chicago police hero. The jury believed Hanhardt, not Cullotta, and jurors could not come to a verdict. Spilotro lawyer Oscar Goodman got a big payday, and he later became the mayor of Las Vegas for a happy ending.

And the Spilotros walked out of Vegas -- actually, they flew back to Chicago -- but there was no happy ending for them. Unlike the movie "Casino," they were lured to a suburban Chicago basement -- one theory is that they were lured there by Tony's sponsor, a little guy known as "The Saint." They were beaten to death and later dumped in an Indiana cornfield.

So you see how layered this is? Hanhardt just happens to testify. The Spilotros come marching home to the Saint. The connections are like ligaments, holding the muscle together. This is why Wagner's testimony is important.

Wagner held his own on the witness stand in Thursday's hearing before Judge Zagel.

Defense lawyer Thomas Breen, representing defendant James Marcello, asked Wagner if there was a decent Outfit reading list to be found. Wagner rattled off the titles to some books, which loyal readers have seen mentioned here previously.

" 'CAPTIVE CITY: Chicago in Chains.' by Ovid DeMaris," said Wagner, of the classic linking the Outfit to Chicago politics. He also mentioned non-fiction books by the late FBI supervisor William Roemer, but he disagreed with Roemer's contention that the late Outfit boss Anthony Accardo kept his soldiers away from narcotics trafficking.

Wagner also recommended the Gus Russo books, "The Outfit" and "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Powerbrokers." If you really want to enjoy this trial, you'll read the Russo books and "Captive City" for context.

"Have you read any books by Judge Zagel?" Breen asked as Zagel smiled. "No, I have not, sir," said Wagner.

Outside the courtroom, Lombardo defense attorney Rick Halprin wisecracked that "you can't have a mob case without a mobologist."

Or an Outfitician.

Thanks to John Kass

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