Monday, September 03, 2007

Chicago Outfit Miniseries Heads to Jury Deliberations

When Chicago's biggest mob trial in years got under way, prosecutors urged jurors to throw out any Hollywood notions they'd picked up from "The Sopranos" or "The Godfather."

Ten weeks later, as jurors prepare to begin deliberations, they could write a miniseries based on what they heard in the courtroom about the Chicago Outfit, as the city's organized crime family is known.

There was an admitted hit man, who would "shoot you in the head over a cold ravioli," according to a defense attorney. A son who pretended to reconcile with his father, then recorded their prison conversations for the feds - including one about how men burned holy pictures in their cupped hands at the ceremony to become a "made" guy.

So-called friends allegedly luring friends to their deaths. Bodies buried at construction sites. Secret meetings in parking lots. Code words used in jailhouse conversations. And a dentist, determined to solve the crime of his murdered brothers, who had an on-the-lam alleged mobster show up at his office with a toothache.

The jury is scheduled to begin deliberations Tuesday in the federal racketeering conspiracy case against five defendants: reputed mobster Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78, reputed mob boss James Marcello, 65, convicted jewel thief Paul Schiro, 70, retired Chicago policeman Anthony Doyle, 62, and convicted loan shark Frank Calabrese Sr., 70. Survival Kit In Sardine Can: $12.97

Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars said the 10-week trial was about "the history of organized crime in Chicago," and asked jurors during his closing arguments to hold the defendants accountable for murder, illegal gambling, loan sharking and extortion.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, attacked the case as one built largely on the testimony of a hit man who admitted lying to authorities in the past and was only cooperating with the government now to escape the death penalty. Attorney Joseph Lopez told jurors the FBI stands for "forever bothering Italians."

Much of the testimony centered on 18 long-unsolved murders, including the killing of one man whose story has already been picked up by Hollywood. Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, known as the mob's man in Las Vegas, was the inspiration for the psychopathic burglar played by Joe Pesci in Martin Scorsese's 1995 film "Casino."

In the move, Pesci's character and his brother are beaten with bats in a cornfield and buried alive. In court, jurors heard what admitted hit man Nicholas Calabrese alleges happened.

Calabrese, the brother of defendant Frank Calabrese Sr., testified for the government that mobsters were mad at Tony Spilotro because he was "bringing too much heat" on them and romancing the wife of a Las Vegas casino executive.

He said the brothers were lured in June 1986 to the basement of a suburban Chicago home where they were told Tony would be dubbed a "capo," or mob captain, and Michael a "made guy."

Instead, Calabrese said, the men were jumped by about 14 men who beat and strangled them to death. The bodies were soon discovered in a shallow grave in an Indiana cornfield, but a forensic pathologist who helped conduct autopsies told jurors there was no evidence they were still breathing when buried.

Jurors also heard from the Spilotros' brother, Patrick, a dentist who choked back tears on the witness stand. He said Lombardo appeared at his suburban Chicago dental office in January 2006 to have a tooth abscess treated while wanted by authorities in the "Operation Family Secrets" case.

The dentist told the court he had spent years speaking to people who might know something about his brothers' deaths and feeding that information to the FBI. Lombardo was no exception, Spilotro said, telling the jury he asked Lombardo why his brothers ended up dead. "I recall his words vividly," Spilotro said "He said, 'When you get an order, you follow it. If you don't, you go, too.'"

Lombardo was arrested after he made another visit to the dentist's office.

Three of the defendants testified.

Lombardo, who lived up to his "clown" nickname by wisecracking on the stand, told jurors he's not a member of the Outfit and learned everything he knows about the mob from James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson movies.

Doyle testified that during a secretly recorded conversation with Frank Calabrese Sr. in prison, he had agreed with much of what the prisoner wanted without knowing what it was, and that the code words Calabrese used were "mind-boggling gibberish."

Calabrese Sr. told jurors that he associated and did business with Outfit members, but insists that he never took the oath of a so-called made guy. But first, he had to endure the testimony of his brother Nicholas, who admitted participating in more than a dozen murders and placed his brother at seven killings. He linked all the defendants but Doyle to a murder scene.

Nicholas Calabrese was labeled a "grim reaper," a "walking piece of deception" and a man who would kill you for serving him cold pasta by Lopez, representing Calabrese Sr.

Calabrese Sr. also listened as prosecutors asked his namesake - son Frank Calabrese Jr. - to translate conversations with his father at a federal prison in Michigan where both were serving time for a loan-sharking conviction.

In one example, Calabrese Jr. told jurors that when his father described a mob associate as "not a nice girl," that meant the man was cooperating with authorities.

Lopez said the elder Calabrese pleaded guilty to loan sharking thinking it would help his son. Calabrese Sr. was only boasting on the tape, making up tales to impress his "low life" son, Lopez said.

Prosecutors mocked many of the explanations offered by defense attorneys as unbelievable or ridiculous, and they asked jurors to disregard the claim by Lombardo's defense that any criminal activity he was once engaged in, he withdrew from long ago.

Mars said one thing jurors should have learned from the trial is, "Once you belong to the Outfit, you belong for life."

"These are people that cheat, steal and kill each other," he said. "They can make who they want, they can break who they want."

Thanks to Tara Burghart

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