Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Family Secrets Mob Trial Has Bomb Scare

Friends of ours: Frank Calabrese Sr., Ernest Rocco Infelice, Junior Gotti, Anthony Doyle, Nicholas Ferriola, 32, Joseph Venezia, 71, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello, Paul "the Indian" Schiro

A fake explosive device was found outside a suburban home owned by a son of a defendant in the Family Secrets mob conspiracy trial hours after jury selection began Tuesday, prompting a federal investigation, authorities said.

Investigators said a "hoax device" was left on the back porch of a house in Kenilworth and was discovered about 1 p.m.

A defense lawyer in the case, Joseph Lopez, said the object was found at the home of a son of his client, reputed mob boss Frank Calabrese Sr., on trial for racketeering conspiracy in connection with more than a dozen mob slayings. Public records show the home belongs to one of Calabrese's sons, Kurt, but not the son who is expected to testify when a jury starts hearing evidence in the case. The son who recorded conversations with his father and is expected to take the witness stand is Frank Calabrese Jr.

Investigators said the device was not a working explosive. It was too early to know whether it was a prank or a message, but the authorities are concerned because of its timing as jury selection began in the landmark trial.

Lopez said he was worried that opening statements, which could begin as soon as Thursday, might have to be delayed. "It's shocking, and it shouldn't have happened," Lopez said. "My client loves his children."

Earlier Tuesday, at least eight people had been chosen so far as potential anonymous jurors as the trial began in the much-anticipated mob conspiracy case. U.S. District Judge James Zagel, sorting through a large pool called for jury duty, dismissed some, and lawyers used peremptory challenges to remove others.

Zagel asked potential jurors general questions about their occupations, whether they have any connections to law enforcement and if they think they could be fair. He didn't ask their names, ages or other identifying information—such as where they live.

In a rare move, Zagel decided weeks ago to seat an anonymous jury. Although the jurors will not be shielded visually by a partition, the five men accused of racketeering conspiracy for their alleged roles in controlling the Chicago Outfit will know who is deciding their fates only by court-assigned numbers.

Today, 24 possible jurors were questioned in sessions lasting more than three hours. Several were removed for cause, including a medical physicist who performs cancer treatments and a man who said he has difficulty with English. The process will continue with possible jurors led into the courtroom for questioning in groups of about 25 until 18 are picked. Twelve will be permanent jurors, the rest alternates.

Zagel agreed an anonymous jury was the best course after the prosecution filed a sealed motion citing the safety of jurors for keeping their identities secret, even from defense lawyers in the case, lawyers said.

Experts say seating an anonymous jury is a controversial practice. Judges must weigh juror safety against a defendant's right to an impartial panel. The risk is that the need for their anonymity could leave jurors thinking the defendants must be dangerous. Lawyers in the Family Secrets case said they strongly objected for just that reason.

"Now, of course, the jury can infer that these must be pretty nefarious people," said Ralph Meczyk, the lawyer for Anthony Doyle, a defendant in the case. "That puts in their mind the belief that we're dealing with very, very dangerous defendants."

In seeking to seat anonymous juries, prosecutors typically argue that panel members could be at risk, or at least that the nature of a case could leave jurors apprehensive if the defendants know who they are and where they live.

This is believed to be the first use of an anonymous jury in Chicago's federal court in 15 years, but there is precedent for the move here and across the country, particularly in organized-crime prosecutions.

The last time it was used here was at the trial of mobster Ernest Rocco Infelice, who was convicted in 1992 of racketeering and murder conspiracy.

Recently, an anonymous jury heard a Ku Klux Klan trial in Mississippi, and another decided the fate of reputed mobster John Gotti Jr. last year in New York.

Meanwhile, two more defendants from an original group of 14 pleaded guilty Monday in the Family Secrets case. Nicholas Ferriola, 32, admitted he was part of the criminal conspiracy, while Joseph Venezia, 71, pleaded guilty to being part of an illegal gambling operation. Left to stand trial in the conspiracy that allegedly included 18 slayings are reputed mob bosses Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello and Frank Calabrese Sr. as well as Paul "the Indian" Schiro and Doyle, a former Chicago police officer.

The 6th Amendment guarantees all defendants the right to "a speedy and public trial." But as some organized-crime and terrorism defendants have learned, that doesn't necessarily include the right to know who is sitting in judgment on the jury.

Judges can seat anonymous juries for safety reasons and to prevent juror tampering, though the move usually draws cries of unfairness from the defense.

"From the defense side, you worry that the signal it sends is: We've got to be really careful here. These are dangerous individuals," said Andrew Leipold, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "That's not the mind-set you want jurors to start a case with."

But the judge could have taken into account, Leipold said, that Lombardo, for example, is accused of killing a government witness—an allegation that, if true, shows a willingness to use violence to subvert the justice system. He is blamed for the 1974 killing of Bensenville businessman Daniel Seifert, who was scheduled to testify against Lombardo in a Teamsters pension-fraud trial.

For judges, Leipold said, "it's difficult in that so much of this is predictions. What's the likelihood the jury will be tampered with? How likely is it that jury will be biased against the defense?"

Judges also must factor in the right of the public and media to an open proceeding, Leipold said. In the George Ryan corruption trial last year, for example, reporters at the Tribune used publicly available juror information to discover that two jurors had misled the court about their criminal backgrounds. A federal judge dismissed the jurors as a result.

In the Family Secrets case, it's unclear exactly what evidence persuaded Zagel to keep the jury anonymous. Prosecutors made their arguments in a Feb. 16 motion that was filed under seal. But anonymous juries are more common when defendants are allegedly part of a large criminal organization, with members outside the courtroom who have a strong interest in the trial's outcome.

The process to select the Family Secrets jury began earlier this year when prospective jurors in a special pool had their backgrounds checked and were sent questionnaires that asked for in-depth personal information. In addition to personal data, the jurors were asked dozens of questions about their opinions and perceptions of the justice system, the FBI and organized crime.

Jurors were asked what they read and listen to as well as what TV shows they might watch that touch on the mob. One prospective juror listed "The Simpsons," apparently a tongue-in-cheek reference to the character "Fat Tony" and his band of hoodlums from fictional Springfield's underworld.

Also among the questions was whether the prospective juror had ever written to the editor of a newspaper, and on what topic.

Some of the defense attorneys in the case said because of the detailed questionnaire, they may wind up knowing a bit more about each juror than they would have otherwise. Still, it's a handicap not to know such basics as a person's name or where they live.

Marcello's lawyer, Marc Martin, said he, too, objected to the anonymous panel. He noted he has practiced law for 20 years and has never heard of a case of jury tampering in Chicago's federal court.

Openness in government is important, and jury tampering—in real life, as opposed to Hollywood films—is exceedingly rare, agreed Shari Seidman Diamond, law professor at Northwestern University. "I'm not persuaded that [anonymous juries] are required or that they're useful or that they contribute to justice," Diamond said. "We prefer to have the jury be a source of light, not shadow."

But Lombardo's lawyer, Rick Halprin, said he's sure the judge has plenty of reasons to want the jurors' identities withheld in such a high-profile case. "Frankly, I think the gravest danger the judge perceives are crank phone calls and media scrutiny," Halprin said. "He doesn't want the same kind of fiasco they had in the Ryan trial."

Thanks to Jeff Coen and Michael Higgins

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