Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Kurt Calabrese Speaks Out

All Kurt Calabrese ever wanted was a father.

Not the man -- Frank Calabrese Sr. -- who sat on the witness stand during the Family Secrets trial to face charges he killed 13 people for the mob.

Not the man who blamed his brother and his sons for conspiring to frame him for the crimes.

Not the man who denied he beat his sons and brought them into the loansharking business.

"All I wanted him to be was a dad," Kurt Calabrese said. "Why couldn't he be a dad?"

At one point from the witness stand, Frank Calabrese Sr. gestured out to Kurt, who was sitting in the gallery. "Ask him!" Calabrese Sr. said, as if Kurt Calabrese would confirm his testimony.

He would not have. Kurt Calabrese did not testify at trial and has not spoken publicly about his father or what life was like with him -- until now. But after his father made allegation after allegation from the witness stand, Kurt Calabrese is reluctantly breaking his silence in an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times.

"I'm not looking for anybody to feel sorry for me," Kurt Calabrese explained. "I hope maybe they can understand it.

"I don't hate him," Kurt said of his father. "I hate what he's done, and I hate how he's treated our family. But I don't hate him, because that's not me. I'm not a hateful person."

Without the turmoil in the Calabrese family, there may never have been a Family Secrets case.

Frank Calabrese Sr.'s eldest son, Frank Jr., agreed to record his father secretly while they were both in federal prison in 1999 on a loansharking case -- a case that also landed Kurt in prison. Frank Calabrese Jr. led jurors through the recorded conversations, in which Calabrese Sr. seems to admit taking part in mob murders.

Frank Calabrese Sr.'s brother, Nicholas, also testified against him at trial, admitting to killing at least 14 people, some with Frank Sr.

On the witness stand, Frank Calabrese Sr. often had a two-word response to the allegations: "No way."

Calabrese Sr. said he never hurt anyone, unless it was to defend someone against bullies. He used diplomacy to collect his juice loans, he said. He said his brother Nicholas tried to turn his two sons against him.

Calabrese Sr. said he loved his sons so much he pleaded guilty in the loansharking case -- so Frank Jr. and Kurt could get less time in prison. But his sons betrayed him, Calabrese Sr. suggested, by agreeing with their uncle, Nicholas, to frame him for mob murders and take his money.

At one point, Frank Calabrese Sr. had Kurt Calabrese subpoenaed to testify, a move that baffled Kurt. The subpoena was withdrawn. "For him to want to get me on the stand made no sense," Kurt Calabrese said. "I wasn't going to lie. The truth wouldn't have helped my father."

Kurt Calabrese worked for his father and made stops to collect loan payments but was not involved in the violence of his father's street crew, according to testimony and law enforcement sources. "My father was very good at what he did. I don't like what he did. I don't condone what he did," Kurt said.

Kurt Calabrese pleaded guilty to a tax charge and was sentenced to two years in prison, getting out in 1999. "At the direction of my father, I did those things. Since I've come home from prison, that life is over," said Kurt Calabrese, who is now in the restaurant industry.

Kurt rejected the notion that his father pleaded guilty to help him. On the contrary, he said, he pleaded guilty to help his father. Kurt Calabrese said his lawyer was told by authorities at the time that if he didn't plead guilty, the negotiated pleas for his father and brother wouldn't be accepted. So he took the deal.

When he next saw his father -- who did not know of his decision -- his father pleaded with him to sign the plea agreement, Kurt recalled. "My father told me, 'If you don't take this plea, I'm gonna die in prison,' " he said.

Kurt Calabrese scoffs at his father's allegation he was involved in framing him -- along with his brother and his uncle -- in the Family Secrets case. "I wish I could tell you I was that smart," Kurt Calabrese said.

His uncle Nicholas never pitted him or Frank Jr. against his father, Kurt Calabrese said. In fact, his uncle Nicholas was more like a father to him than anyone, he said.

His uncle would at times try to stop his father from beating him, Kurt Calabrese said. In spite of his claims to the contrary, Frank Calabrese Sr. regularly beat his two oldest sons, Kurt Calabrese said. "My father said he didn't like bullies," Kurt Calabrese said. "The biggest bully I've ever known is my father."

Kurt Calabrese, who shows his emotions readily, said his father verbally abused him until he broke down. His father would punch him, throw things at him and kick him when he was down on the ground, Kurt recalled.

One trial witness told the FBI Frank Calabrese Sr. once got so mad at him he was foaming at the mouth. Kurt Calabrese remembers that face: The quivering chin, the reddening skin, the spit coming out of an enraged mouth. Then the violence.

He still sees that face in his nightmares, he said. "There were times when he hit me, and I didn't think he was going to stop," he said.

As for the tapes on which his father talks about the mob murders, Kurt Calabrese was shocked his father would ever discuss such things with anybody. But he wasn't shocked his father did them. He wonders what his father makes of the victims' families, sitting in court. "I hope when he sees these people, he knows they are there and dealing with things they shouldn't have to deal with," Kurt Calabrese said.

The trial has been hard on his family too, Kurt said. He is thankful every day for his mother, his wife and his children. The day jury selection began, a fake bomb was found at his Kenilworth home, prompting police to evacuate the area. "This is my whole family," Kurt Calabrese said of the havoc his father has created. "This didn't have to happen."

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

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