Saturday, July 07, 2007

Mob Testimony Better Than Any TV Drama

Friends of ours: Frank Calabrese Sr., Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra

Frank Calabrese Jr. says he was just a Holy Cross High School student when his father got him started in the family business by assigning him to help his Uncle Nick make the rounds to collect all the quarters taken in from peep shows at half a dozen adult bookstores.

The bookstores were owned by a guy named Vito, who got the idea the Calabreses were skimming -- which they were -- and decided to paint the quarters to help him get an honest count. Frank Calabrese Jr.'s father, alleged mob hit man Frank Calabrese Sr., didn't appreciate the tactic and confronted Vito, slapping him and telling him "not to worry," Frank Jr. told a federal jury Tuesday.

Soon thereafter, "Vito left and couldn't be found," said Frank Jr., who in short order was helping his "Uncle Joe" run the bookstores.

You hear for years about the big Family Secrets investigation of the Chicago Outfit and how a son helped make the case against his father by secretly tape-recording their conversations. You hear it so long it starts to become background noise, and then the son steps into the courtroom and you suddenly are witness to more real drama than any television show about the mob has ever captured.

Frank Jr. hobbled to the witness stand with the help of a cane in his left hand, necessitated by multiple sclerosis, with which he was diagnosed in 2000.

He is a big man with broad shoulders and a shaved head, imposing despite his illness and eyeglasses. He wore a striped golf shirt, which was untucked. And he is the spitting image of his father, who watched Frank Jr.'s first hour of testimony with seeming bemusement, a thin smile on his face that one could imagine concealed an urge to get up and slap his 47-year-old son. Frank Jr. said that's exactly what Frank Sr. did on more than one occasion after he stole and spent between $600,000 and $800,000 that he took from one of his father's hiding spots in the early 1990s.

Frank Jr. said he invested about $200,000 of the money into opening a restaurant, La Luce at Lake and Ogden, and a lesser amount on the Bella Luna Cafe on Dearborn. But he said he spent most of it on vacations and drugs. "I blew all the money. I just spent it all wildly," he testified, occasionally interrupting to take a swig from a bottle of Ice Mountain water.

His father figured out what had happened and came to Frank Jr.'s home in Elmwood Park to confront him. "He grabbed me by the arm and walked me down the street," Frank Jr. testified, admitting that he started to cry. "When I denied it, he cracked me in the head with an open hand."

After Frank Jr. confessed, his father told him he would have to find a way to pay the money back, because it actually belonged to mob boss Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra.

Soon thereafter, Frank Sr. went to the restaurant to check on his son and found he wasn't there. According to Frank Jr., his father then phoned him and instructed him to meet him outside a White Hen in Elmwood Park.

From there they drove to a garage in Elmwood Park where Frank Jr. said his father kept cars owned in other people's names that he used for his Outfit work.

Once inside the garage, "my father cracked me and started yelling at me," Frank Jr. testified. Then, Frank Jr. said, "He pulled out a gun and stuck it in my face and told me: 'I'd rather have you dead than disobey me.' "

"I started crying and hugging him and kissing him," Frank Jr. told the jury. "Help me. Help me," Frank Jr. said he pleaded. "I want to do the right thing."

His father relented. On the way back to the restaurant, though, Frank Sr. "punched me in the face . . . numerous times," Frank Jr. said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Scully cut off the line of questioning at that point and took it another direction, though likely to return to it in the days ahead as the younger Calabrese continues his testimony. Frank Jr. then told stories of the first two times he accompanied his dad on his mob enforcement rounds, including helping with the attempted firebombing of an Elmwood Park garage.

It is in the nature of men to want to bring their sons into the family business, I suppose, and therefore illogical to think it would be any different when the family business is crime. But logic has nothing to do with it.

Thanks to Mark Brown

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