Monday, August 06, 2007

Mistress Faces Reputed Mobster

Friends of ours: James Marcello, Tony Spilotro, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

The reputed mob boss did his best to keep a poker face Thursday.

First, the daughter of one of the Spilotro brothers tried not to cry as she indirectly blamed James Marcello for luring her father to his violent death.

Then a second witness, a slim, woman with shoulder-length brown hair testified against him in a quiet voice he knows well.

Connie Marcello, 53, who changed her name after becoming Marcello's mistress, said she met him while she was tending bar in Cook County strip clubs such as Michael's Magic Touch and The Hollywood. James Marcello, who was married to another woman, gave her thousands a month in cash for more than 20 years, she told jurors at the Family Secrets mob conspiracy trial in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

The gifts are important because prosecutors allege Marcello ran an illegal, cash-based gambling empire that saw video poker machines placed in bars around the Chicago area. If she was ever asked where her money came from, Connie Marcello testified, she was supposed to say her mother gave it to her.

Her testimony came during the continuing trial of five men—including Marcello—for a conspiracy that allegedly included 18 previously unsolved murders, including the killings of brothers Anthony and Michael Spilotro.

Connie Marcello calmly said she lied to Marcello in 2005 after she appeared before a grand jury, telling him the subject of the money never came up. "I just said it was things about the '80s," she said she told him.

She was still getting money from him as late as June, she said. His brother or a friend would hand her an envelope or a coffee cup stuffed with $100 bills, she said.

Marcello paid for her lawyers, she said, and when she ran up $15,000 in gambling debt, Marcello's cash made it go away. If she was forced to testify at the Family Secrets trial under a grant of immunity, as she did Thursday, she was expected to say nothing and go to jail, she said.

On cross-examination, she was asked if Marcello was being kind to her and her two children, one of whom was adopted and has special needs. That, she said before leaving the courtroom, was true too.

Connie Marcello's testimony followed an earlier session where Michelle Spilotro, the daughter of mob figure Michael Spilotro, talked about working as a hostess at her father's restaurant in the 1980s. She watched him whisper with mobsters in the back room, she said, and told jurors she watched in her house as her dad and alleged mob leader Joey "the Clown" Lombardo wrote each other notes on a child's toy instead of talking out loud.

It was a board that could be written on and then erased by pulling a plastic sheet away from its backing. "You'd see scribbling and they'd lift it up," she said. And she received directions from her father about taking phone calls, especially when a man she knew as "Jim" rang the house.

"Jim," who authorities allege is James Marcello, had a distinct voice with a thick Chicago accent.

Spilotro, 38, now a homemaker, fought tears on the witness stand as she thought about the day in June 1986 when her father disappeared. Her father and uncle were waiting for "Jim" to call, and she answered the phone. After that, she said, the Spilotro brothers got dressed to leave the house.

She said her father left his jewelry in a Ziploc bag on the kitchen counter, and told her to tell her mother to bring it to a graduation party they were attending that night.

Years later, an FBI agent sat her in a car and played her a "voice lineup" of five investigators and Marcello reading a couple of paragraphs from an item in a Chicago newspaper.

When Marcello's voice came on, Spilotro told agents she didn't need to hear anymore, she was sure it was the caller.

On cross-examination, Spilotro acknowledged she hadn't heard "Jim's" voice for three years before listening to the tape. Spilotro's testimony followed that of her mother, Ann Spilotro, who told jurors her husband had once told her that he and his brother "were going to be No. 1" in the hierarchy of the Outfit. The men eventually were targeted for death because Anthony Spilotro, the mob's Las Vegas boss, was attempting unauthorized hits.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

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