Friday, July 27, 2007

The Mob Will Extort Street Taxes from Anyone

Friends of ours: Nicholas Calabrese, Frank Calabrese Sr., Fred Roti, Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Jackie "The Lacky" Cerone

I could just kick myself for missing Monday's installment of the Family Secrets mob trial playing out at the federal building here in Chicago. There's so much that doesn't make the headlines that is every bit as spellbinding as the stuff that does.

No, I'm not talking about who got whacked in 18 old, cold, brutal unsolved mob hits. Or even referring to the riveting testimony of Nicholas Calabrese, the mob hit man and betraying brother of defendant Frank Calabrese Sr., whose deadpan delivery and downcast eyes mesmerized the jury for five days.

What I'm talking about are those little snippets and small moments when the intersection of the Chicago Outfit and this city's powerbrokers and businessmen comes into startling focus.

The high drama of the day dealt with the cross-examination of Calabrese by defense attorneys who sought to undercut his credibility and shore up the fortunes of the five defendants whose prospects of dying outside prison are looking rather dim. But what happened at the end of the day wasn't even mentioned in the Tribune account and only briefly in the Sun-Times, the last paragraphs of which read:

"CHICAGO BUSINESSMAN VICTOR CACCIATORE TESTIFIED HE WAS A VICTIM OF OUTFIT EXTORTION AND . . . PAID $200,000 IN THE EARLY 1980s TO THE PEOPLE EXTORTING HIM AND THREATENING HIS FAMILY."

Victor Cacciatore? The Chicago attorney and real estate developer? Chairman of Lakeside Bank? Member of convicted ex-Gov. George Ryan's transition team? One of the partners of now-indicted Antoin "Tony" Rezko's defunct 62-acre riverfront parcel in the South Loop? Holder of loads of government contracts and political contributor of at least $385,000 since 1995?

Yes, that Victor Cacciatore.

When he took the stand this week at the request of federal prosecutors, it was to buttress what Nick Calabrese had been saying about the Chicago mob. That they will muscle, extort, threaten or kill anybody if they think they can get away with it.

Thank goodness for Sun-Times reporter Steve Warmbir's blog that delved into this small but fascinating aspect of the trial.

Warmbir reports that Cacciatore testified he was being extorted by the mob in the 1980s, though "his memory was fuzzy."

In the 1980s, Cacciatore told the court, somebody put the head of a dog on his son's car and shot out his back windshield. Cacciatore called the cops. Oddly, he refused to tell police at the time who exactly it was who was extorting him to the tune of $5 million. Instead, Cacciatore went to 1st Ward Ald. Fred Roti, someone who had sent a lot of business Cacciatore's way. The extortion demand dropped to a mere $200,000.

Roti, you may recall, went to federal prison in the 1990s on corruption charges. It was revealed that he was a made member of the Chicago mob.

Cacciatore told the court this week that he had some familiarity with mob figures and had lived next door in River Forest to Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo, the onetime head of the Outfit. When shown the so-called Last Supper photo of Accardo, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Jackie "The Lacky" Cerone and others, Cacciatore was able identify a number of them. But on the stand, he still could not identify those extorting him nor did he recall telling investigators years ago that by naming names he'd be signing his own death warrant.

Cacciatore, a civic-minded philanthropist not accused of anything, didn't return my calls Tuesday. But, like the trial itself, he leaves us wanting to know much more.

Thanks to Carol Marin

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