Sunday, July 22, 2007

Chicago Mob Hitman Reveals His First Hits

Friends of ours: Nicholas Calabrese, Frank Calabrese Sr., Michael "Bones" Albergo, Frank "Gumba" Saladino, Tony Accardo
Friends of mine: Ronnie "Menz" Jarrett

Nicholas Calabrese paused a moment in the silent courtroom, his voice dropping off as he spoke Tuesday of the first time he took part in a murder for the Chicago Outfit.

"We gotta put somebody in a hole," Calabrese said his brother, Frank Sr., told him without elaboration in the summer of 1970. At first, Calabrese said, he thought it was a test of his courage. The brothers then proceeded to dig the hole at a construction site near old Comiskey Park. But the real test came days later, Calabrese said, when he helped hold down a man's arms while his brother strangled him with a rope -- and then slit his throat just to make sure he was dead. Nicholas Calabrese, then in his late 20s, didn't even know the victim's name, he testified.

"He was put in the hole, and we started shoveling the dirt in," said Calabrese, again pausing to keep his composure. "During this time I wet my pants I was so scared."

His brother didn't catch on, Nicholas Calabrese said, because "I had a lot of dust and dirt on my pants so you couldn't really tell."

Sitting nearby on Calabrese's first full day on the witness stand in the landmark Family Secrets trial in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse was Frank Calabrese Sr., one of five defendants, who was resting his chin in his hand and smirking.

Nicholas Calabrese's testimony Tuesday was a flurry of mob imagery -- multiple murders, bombings, scraps of paper with scribbled notes about "street taxes," a 300-pound enforcer nicknamed "Gumba" and buried Outfit cash. He spoke of sending warnings with dead chickens and puppy heads, and mice strung up with "little nooses" and left on a windshield.

And he used nickname after nickname. There was "Mugsy," "young Mugsy," Johnny "Bananas" and Johnny "Apes," not to be confused with Angelo "the Monkey."

And there was Michael "Bones" Albergo, a collector of high-interest "juice" loans. Nicholas Calabrese said Albergo had once warned that if he was going to jail, he wasn't going alone. Calabrese said he only learned it was "Bones" in the hole near the White Sox ballpark years later when he saw Albergo's photo in a pamphlet put out by the watchdog Chicago Crime Commission.

Nicholas Calabrese, the government's star witness, is expected to blame his brother, a reputed leader of the mob's 26th Street crew, for more than a dozen Outfit killings in the 1970s and '80s. He began with the slaying of Albergo, whose remains authorities searched for unsuccessfully after Calabrese began cooperating in 2002.

While testifying in sometimes lurid details about the gangland slayings, Calabrese kept his composure, occasionally gesturing with his hands to make a point. He traded in the sweatsuit he wore on Monday for a palecollared shirt, worn untucked, and blue pants.

He sometimes leaned toward a computer screen on the witness stand to look at a betting slip or identify a photograph, a reflection of the image visible in his eyeglasses.

After describing Albergo's death, Calabrese recounted four more murders in which he said he took part. The next was the 1976 homicide of 27-year-old Paul Haggerty, a convict who was living in a halfway house and whom Outfit bosses wanted to question about his dealings with a suburban jewelry store.

Calabrese said he had arrived at his brother's Elmwood Park home and gotten another cryptic greeting. "He said, 'Don't make any plans, we're gonna be busy,'" Nicholas Calabrese said, continuing to refuse to look in his brother's direction after quickly identifying him in court earlier Tuesday.

For weeks, Calabrese said, he had followed Haggerty with a team that included hit man Frank "Gumba" Saladino and mob associate Ronnie Jarrett, nicknamed "Menz," the Italian word for half, because he was half Irish and half Italian.

The men watched Haggerty's movements for patterns, Calabrese said, following him to the bus and work. Eventually, they snatched him and drove him to Jarrett's mother-in-law's garage, he said.

After Haggerty was questioned, Calabrese said, he was left alone with him for a time, his hands cuffed and his eyes and mouth taped. He said he gave Haggerty some water and helped him use the bathroom, but the rest of the men soon returned with a stolen car to finish the job.

"I held him and Ronnie held him and my brother strangled him with a rope," he said.

Calabrese also testified about the murder of burglar John Mendell, who was killed in 1978 as an example for burglarizing mob boss Tony Accardo's home. Mendell was lured to the same garage where Haggerty was killed and then he was jumped, Nicholas Calabrese said. His brother strangled Mendell with a rope, but this time there was a twist, he said.

"My brother handed me the knife, and he said 'You do it,'" Calabrese said.

Asked by a prosecutor whether he did as instructed, Calabrese answered, "Yeah, yes I did." Next, Calabrese testified about the murders of thief Vincent Moretti, who was also killed in the wake of the Accardo burglary, and Donald Renno, who made the mistake of being with Moretti at the time.

Calabrese said he helped his brother kill Moretti at a Cicero restaurant using a rope, pulling one end as he braced a a foot against the victim's head. He said the brothers referred to the slayings in code as "Strangers in the Night," the song that was playing on the restaurant's jukebox as the slaying took place.

Though he wasn't an eyewitness, Nicholas Calabrese said, his brother told him of how in 1980 he drove a car that blocked one driven by federal informant William Dauber and his wife, Charlotte, enabling mobsters to fatally shoot the couple from a passing van in Will County.

Earlier Tuesday, Calabrese told jurors about a variety of work he carried out for his brother beginning in 1970, collecting "street taxes" and juice loans and running gambling operations. He also dutifully followed directions when it came to extorting businessmen, he said, using dead animals as threats until he had to scare one into paying by blowing out the back window of his car with a shotgun.

Calabrese said his brother had hundreds of thousands of dollars to lend on the street, a claim that caused Frank Sr. to rock back in his chair and chuckle with his hand in front of his mouth. Once, Nicholas Calabrese said, his brother misplaced more than $400,000 by losing track of a safety-deposit box. Another time, he said, the brothers buried $250,000 in cash in a steel box in Wisconsin. But on digging it up later, the money was wet, mildewed and smelly. "We tried to use cologne," Calabrese testified. "It made the smell worse."

Calabrese said cash collections had to be split, with half going to their boss, Angelo LaPietra. Calabrese said he sometimes drove the payment to LaPietra's Bridgeport garage, stuffing the envelope into a barbecue mitt that was hanging from a nail. He flipped the mitt over and pointed its thumb in the opposite direction to alert LaPietra to the hidden cash, he said.

Calabrese said that in the 1980s he and his brother bombed several businesses, including the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace; Marina Cartage, which is owned by Michael Tadin, a friend of Mayor Richard Daley; and Tom's Steakhouse in Melrose Park.

Calabrese said he never learned the motives for the bombings, but prosecutors have said that the Outfit sometimes resorted to violence to extort street taxes from even legitimate businesses.

An explosive was set off against the wall of the Oakbrook Terrace theater during off-hours. "We talked about how loud it was," Calabrese said.

Calabrese said he also threw a dynamite-packed device onto the roof of the steakhouse. It landed near an air-conditioning unit and exploded, he said. "I lit the fuse in the bag," he said. "I got out of the car and jumped up on a Dumpster."

Calabrese said he sometimes brought along "Gumba" Saladino, who was 6 feet tall and weighed 300 pounds, to collect late payments on juice loans.

"I told him, 'You stand behind me and don't say nothing, just look at the guy,'" Calabrese testified. "'Give him one of those looks.'"

Calabrese said he warned the debtors that the 5-percent-a-week loans weren't going away and that "next time, I'm not gonna come -- he's gonna come." He said he then would point toward the imposing Saladino.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

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