Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Mobster's Son Testifies Against Dad at Trial

Frank Calabrese Jr. had barely introduced himself and testified that he lettered in football at Holy Cross High School before his father sneered and leaned over to whisper into his lawyer's ear.

The start of his testimony Tuesday was one of the most anticipated moments of the trial -- code named Family Secrets because defendant Frank Calabrese Sr.'s son and brother had done the unthinkable, squealing on a reputed mob brother and blood relative.

The 47-year-old Calabrese Jr., stricken with multiple sclerosis, limped into court on a cane, taking the witness stand a mere 10 yards from his father. Even though Calabrese Sr. swiveled his chair for a direct look at his son, the two did not appear to make eye contact.

He was on the stand for just 45 minutes before jurors were sent home for the holiday, but Assistant U.S. Atty. John Scully led the younger Calabrese through a quick personal history: how he joined the family's mob business as just a high schooler and now operates a pizza joint. He said he's been living near Phoenix running a strip-mall restaurant that serves pizza "Chicago style."

The balding Calabrese testified in a white casual shirt with thin green stripes, his remaining hair buzzed close. He leaned into the microphone to answer each question and occasionally paused to take sips from a water bottle.

Calabrese testified he was a teenager when he joined the 26th Street crew, collecting quarters from peep-show booths in mob-controlled pornography shops with his uncle Nicholas. It is Nicholas Calabrese, Frank Calabrese Sr.'s brother, who is expected later in the trial to implicate his brother in as many as 13 decades-old gangland slayings.

Eventually, Calabrese Jr. said, he graduated to keeping the books -- gambling, juice-loan and street-tax records -- with his father.

Once, Calabrese said, his father took him along when he slapped around an associate nicknamed "Peachy" for spending Outfit gambling money. Another time, his father had him use a flare to ignite kerosene against the garage of someone who wasn't following orders. "He wasn't taking care of his obligations to us," Calabrese said.

The elder Calabrese, 70, sat with a sarcastic smile through much of the testimony, talking repeatedly to his lawyer, Joseph Lopez. His son appeared to focus mostly on the prosecutor asking questions from a few feet away. In the son's brief time Tuesday on the witness stand, no mention was made of the hidden recording device Calabrese wore to secretly tape conversations with his father while the two were imprisoned in Michigan in the 1990s.

That promises to be the highlight of the son's testimony in the trial's coming days. But Calabrese revealed how his relationship with his father soured.

Calabrese said he was moving from job to job and using powder cocaine when he went to one of his father's hiding spots and stole $200,000 in cash to help open a Lake Street restaurant. Later, he went back for hundreds of thousands of dollars more, he said. "I blew all the money," he said. "I just would spend it all wildly."

On discovering the thefts, his father slapped him and threatened him, Calabrese testified. At one point, his father drove him to an Elmwood Park garage where Outfit "work cars" were kept. "He pulled out a gun and stuck it in my face and said, 'I'd rather have you dead than disobey me,'" Calabrese said. "I started crying. I started hugging and kissing him.

"I said, 'Help me. Help me do the right thing,'" he said.

After court Tuesday, Lopez, the elder Calabrese's lawyer, told reporters that his client had not been fazed by the son's testimony. "He's happy to see his son," Lopez said.

Asked why the elder Calabrese appeared to be smiling during parts of his son's testimony, Lopez replied, "He's a happy-go-lucky fellow." But another government witness Tuesday painted a starkly different portrait of the elder Calabrese. James Stolfe, the soft-spoken co-founder of the well-known Connie's Pizza restaurant chain, said he made "extortion payments" to Frank Calabrese Sr. and the Chicago Outfit for 20 years beginning in the 1980s.

Stolfe said he sold his 1962 Oldsmobile Starfire to buy his first Connie's location on West 26th Street near Chinatown, and he operated for nearly two decades before the mob paid a visit. Stolfe said he thought the two men, one large and one small, were salesmen, but he quickly learned differently.

Stolfe didn't have time to talk, he said he told them. "They said, 'Find time,'" he said.

The two demanded $300,000 -- or else, Stolfe testified. "They said that it was no joke, and if I didn't pay that I was gonna get hurt," he said.

Stolfe said he went to Calabrese, whom he knew from the Bridgeport neighborhood where the two had grown up, to intercede on his behalf. Strangely enough, Stolfe said, Calabrese had just been to his office for the first time in years, the only hint in Tuesday's testimony that Calabrese was in on the extortion from the beginning.

Calabrese said he would see what he could do, Stolfe said, and soon said the payment "only" had to be $100,000. Fearing that he could be beaten or his business burned down, Stolfe said, he agreed to pay. He said he handed over the first payment of $50,000 cash to Calabrese.

That prompted the prosecutor to ask Stolfe if he saw Calabrese in the courtroom. Calabrese, in a gray jacket over a black shirt, didn't stand up but stuck up a hand and waved toward the witness stand as Stolfe pointed him out.

The white-haired Stolfe, 67, said he confided in only his close associate, Donald "Captain D" DiFazio, about the payoffs, keeping even his wife in the dark.

Stolfe said he eventually put Calabrese on the payroll as a "spotter," ostensibly to keeptrack of pizza delivery trucks. In reality, it was to hide the monthly payoffs of about $1,000.

Stolfe acknowledged Tuesday that he had lied to a grand jury investigating Calabrese in 1990, concealing the nature of the payoffs to Calabrese and his relationship with the reputed mobster. He told jurors Tuesday that he had been intimidated by Calabrese. Stolfe said Calabrese even invited himself on his family vacations.

On cross-examination, attorney Lopez tried to portray the two as pals. "Did anyone put a gun to your head and say you had to go play handball with him?" Lopez asked.

The attorney pointed out that when Stolfe halted the payoffs in 2002 when the Family Secrets investigation became public, no one burned down a Connie's Pizza restaurant. Prosecutors also called DiFazio to the stand, who testified that he carried the payoffs to the mob for years. For the final payoffs, DiFazio said, he gave the cash-filled envelopes to Frank Calabrese Jr., who was already wearing a wire for the feds.

DiFazio, testifying with a gravelly voice and heavy Chicago accent, said he is still director of special events for Connie's. "I'm supposed to be at Taste of Chicago," he said.

He said he still lives in Bridgeport and described each mob figure he testified about as "another tough guy."

He said he was once confronted by Anthony "Tony the Hatch" Chiaramonti when Connie's sought to open a location in Lyons. Those plans were scrapped, DiFazio said. "The name speaks for itself," he said of Chiaramonti, who was gunned down at a chicken restaurant in the suburb in 2001.

On cross-examination, Lopez sometimes made small talk with DiFazio, who wore an expensive-looking suit. The attorney, who had exchanged his trademark pink socks for red ones Tuesday to match a blazing red tie, said he had heard DiFazio is a sharp dresser.

"You were a tough guy, too, weren't you?" Lopez asked. "The whole neighborhood was filled with tough guys."

DiFazio finally gave in. "Absolutely," he said.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

No comments:

Post a Comment