Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Guilty Pleas on Eve of Family Secrets Mob Trial

Friends of ours: Nicholas Ferriola, Frank Calabrese Sr., Joseph Venezia, Michael Marcello, James Marcello, Frank "The German" Schweihs

Two men accused of working with the Chicago mob pleaded guilty on the eve of the city's biggest organized crime trial in years.

The guilty pleas leave five defendants in the racketeering conspiracy case, scheduled to go to trial on Tuesday. The case is based on an FBI investigation of 18 long unsolved murders that federal prosecutors tie to the Chicago Outfit, the city's organized crime family. Neither man was among the most prominent defendants.

Nicholas Ferriola, 32, pleaded guilty to racketeering, bookmaking and squeezing extortion payments from a Chicago restaurant. He admitted he was part of the mob's South Side or Chinatown crew and that he worked with Frank Calabrese Sr., a defendant and reputed to be one of the city's top mob bosses.

Joseph Venezia, 64, pleaded guilty to running a gambling business and hiding the proceeds from the Internal Revenue Service.

No sentencing date was set. The men are to return to court Aug. 10.

The federal indictment presents a panoramic picture of the Outfit, which it says consists of six "street crews," each with a franchise over organized crime in its respective sector of the city and suburbs. The indictment details murder, gambling, pornography, extortion and loan sharking among the Outfit's activities.

The number of defendants has dwindled steadily as the date for jury selection has drawn closer.

Last week, Michael Marcello — brother of James Marcello, described by federal prosecutors as one of the top leaders of the Outfit — and two other men pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel also tentatively dropped reputed mob extortionist Frank "The German" Schweihs from the trial last week for health reasons.

Championcatalog.com (Sara Lee)

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