Friday, June 29, 2007

Chicago Pizza, Mob Style

Friends of ours: Jim Colissimo, Al Capone, Murray "the Camel" Humphreys, Sam "Momo" Giancana, Tony "the Big Tuna" Accardo, "Little" Jimmy Marcello, Angelo "the Hook" Lapietra, Nicholas Ferriola, Frank Calabrese Sr.

This is one of the "family secrets" that federal authorities exposed during their covert investigation of Chicago outfit bosses. The Connie's connection is among the secrets that will be revealed during the government prosecution of five ranking hoodlums-- a secret that we can tell you about tonight.

From Colissimo to Capone, Murray "the Camel" Humphreys to Sam "Momo" Giancana, "the Big Tuna" to "Little" Jimmy, for a century the backbone of Chicago organized crime has been the street tax on criminal activities such as gambling, jewel heists, prostitution and peep shows.

As video from a hidden FBI camera shows, vice operators pay when outfit toughs come calling, if they want to stay in business and keep their legs intact. According to federal investigators, from 1980 until 2001, the late outfit boss Angelo "the Hook" Lapietra ordered shakedowns totaling more than $300,000. Lapietra's nickname is derived from the meat hook from which he would hang debtors. Mob enforcers Nicholas Ferriola and Frank Calabrese Sr. were among those who collected the street tax.

Sometimes, they even muscled legitimate businesses for street taxes: from Rush Street taverns to restaurants, including beloved Chicago pizza maker Connie's.

For two decades, authorities say the owner of Connie's Pizza, Jim Stolfe, paid an outfit street tax of $500 per month to hoodlum Frank Calabrese Sr. The FBI contends Connie's was an extortion victim, pay up or pay the price, but Calabrese Sr.'s lawyer says the FBI has it wrong. "Mr. Stolfe went to my client's son's wedding-that'a all I really have to say. That doesn't sound like a shakedown," said Joe Lopez, Calabrese Sr. lawyer.

Connie's original location is on 26th Street, the heart of the outfit's 26th Street Crew that controlled crime syndicate rackets from the Loop to Chinatown. According to Calabrese Sr.'s, attorney, the pizzeria would actually employ mobsters to follow these familiar looking home delivery vans, reporting back to Connie's owner which drivers were sleeping on the job. "They were friends. My client was employed there for a number of years. They were friends and they remain friends," Lopez said.

Federal authorities say the Connie's connection surfaced during a meeting at the old neighborhood Italian-American Club in Bridgeport during Operation Family Secrets. While Calabrese's son Frank Jr. was working undercover for the FBI, he secretly recorded a conversation at the Italian-American Club with club president Dominic "Captain D" Difazio. Prosecutors say the tape reveals Difazio delivering the monthly street tax payment to the mob, on behalf of Connie's, which was owned by Difazio's brother-in-law.

Difazio did not return phone calls from the I-Team. Last year, Jim Stolfe turned over the management of Connie's Pizza to his son Marc, who declined the I-Team's invitation to speak on camera but left this phone message: "I really can't say much of anything without running the risk of getting myself in trouble with one side or the other. I hope you understand."

The I-Team left several messages at the home of former Connie's boss Jim Stolfe but didn't hear back. His son says Stolfe is out of town. Also, the I-Team did not receive a reply from the lawyer for Nick Ferriola, who pleaded guilty last week to his role in the outfit extortions.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

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