Monday, July 16, 2007

Mob School

Frank Calabrese Sr. smiled broadly, sometimes chuckling, as his son, Frank Jr., underwent cross-examination Thursday, denying that hatred motivated his decision to cooperate against his father.

Testifying at the Family Secrets trial for a fifth consecutive day in court, the younger Calabrese said he still loved his father but worked secretly for the FBI in an effort to keep the reputed mob boss imprisoned. "I know he loves me, just not some of my ways," Calabrese, referring to his own drug use, said of his father. "I love him, just not some of his ways." But in a 1998 letter in which he offered his cooperation to a federal agent, the younger Calabrese wrote, "I feel I have to help you keep this sick man locked up forever."

The elder Calabrese is on trial with three other reputed mob figures and a former Chicago police officer in connection with 18 long-unsolved gangland murders.

At times, Calabrese appeared flustered by the rapid-fire questioning of his father's lawyer, Joseph Lopez.

Calabrese, whose secretly recorded conversations with his father in a federal prison in Milan, Mich., dominated the trial this week, denied he steered his father into talking about several murders or the inner workings of the Chicago Outfit.

His father was trying to "school" him in the ways of the mob so that he could exert control of the father's criminal operation on leaving prison, the younger Calabrese said. "He's schooling me because I'm telling him I want to be involved," Frank Calabrese Jr. said.

Lopez hit hard at Calabrese's on-again, off-again estrangement from his father over the years. Calabrese acknowledged that despite his father's genuine concern for him, he stole $600,000 to $800,000 in cash stuffed in a duffel bag from him.

After his father discovered the theft several months later and came to confront him at his house, the younger Calabrese fled out a window. "I didn't want to be around him no more," Frank Calabrese Jr. said.

After they went to prison in the mid-1990s in a loan-sharking operation, Calabrese said he hoped his father would keep a promise to semiretire from the mob. But he decided to contact the FBI when it became clear that "he was not going to change his ways," he said.

The elder Calabrese had not worked outside of the Outfit since about the 1960s when he worked for the City of Chicago as a stationary engineer, his son said. He did have a remodeling business for a while, but it was funded with Outfit money, Frank Calabrese Jr. said.

The elder Calabrese is on trial with reputed Outfit members Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello and Paul "the Indian" Schiro, as well as Anthony Doyle, a former Chicago police officer. The case centers on charges of conspiracy to commit the homicides as well as loan-sharking and illegal sports bookmaking.

The aging defendants have been the center of attention at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, as waves of spectators crowd the courtroom to take in a few minutes of the real-life mob tale.

Lopez, wearing a pinstripe suit and a pink shirt and tie, questioned Frank Calabrese Jr. repeatedly about his relationship with his uncle, Nicholas Calabrese, whom Lopez implied the younger Calabrese favored over his own father. Nicholas, one of seven defendants to have pleaded guilty in the case, also secretly recorded brother Frank Calabrese Sr. and is expected to implicate him in numerous murders.

Calabrese agreed with Lopez that at times he spoke with Nicholas Calabrese, as well as other uncles, about things he did not tell his father.

Frank Calabrese Jr. acknowledged that he lied to investigators in the 1990s in an unsuccessful bid to avoid prosecution in the loan-sharking case. Calabrese said he lied at his father's direction. "I did that for my father, for the crew, for myself," he said.

Calabrese said his father had confronted him several times while he was taking drugs and stealing family jewelry to feed his cocaine addiction.

His father expressed his concern about the thievery, telling him, "People will cut your hands off for doing things like that," Calabrese testified.

Earlier Thursday, in some of the last of numerous video surveillance tapes played this week in court, the elder Calabrese told his son that those who believed that Lombardo and others led the Chicago crime syndicate were wrong.

The elder Calabrese, believing his son was set to rejoin the Outfit as an active member on his release from prison in 1999, told him that they could be part of a better, stronger crime syndicate. Too many members of the Chicago mob were being too public about their roles, even bragging incorrectly that they were Outfit leaders, the elder Calabrese said in one videotaped conversation in the prison visiting room.

With a few "good guys," a stronger Outfit would arise, the elder Calabrese said. "It's not going to be the Christmas tree . . . it used to be," he said. "It's going to be a smaller Christmas tree that's going to have the loyalty that was once there."

Thanks to Liam Ford

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