Sunday, September 30, 2007

Smaller Christmas Tree for Chicago Outfit

While under investigation in 2001, mob boss Frank Calabrese Sr. was captured on tape predicting what the Chicago Outfit's future might look like, describing the crime syndicate in coded language as, of all things, a Christmas tree.

"It's gonna be a smaller Christmas tree that's gonna have the loyalty that once was there," Calabrese, then in prison for loan-sharking, said on the undercover recording. "And the, the big Christmas tree ... it'll never hold up. It's gonna fall. Watch it," he said.

Thanks in part to Calabrese's own recorded words, the Christmas tree tumbled last week as the Family Secrets jury found three Outfit figures responsible for 10 of 18 gangland slayings. Earlier this month, the same jury convicted the three as well as two others on racketeering conspiracy charges.

As a result, Calabrese, 70, a feared hit man blamed by the jury for seven of the murders; James Marcello, 65, identified by the FBI in 2005 as the head of the Chicago Outfit; and legendary mob boss Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, 78, face the prospect of spending the rest of their lives in prison. But as sweeping as the case was -- resolving some of the most notorious mob murders in modern Chicago history -- organized-crime experts say the Family Secrets prosecution won't derail an entrenched Outfit that dates to Al Capone.

After the trial Thursday, Robert Grant, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Chicago office, said the Outfit remains a priority because of its propensity for violence and corruption. "They're much like a cancer," Grant said. "Organized crime, if not monitored and prosecuted, can grow, can corrupt police departments, can corrupt public officials."

"We have dozens of open investigations," John Mallul, supervisor of the FBI's organized crime unit in Chicago, said in an interview.

Calabrese's prison musings about a slimmer but more focused mob appear to be on the mark, the experts said.

Law enforcement officials and the Chicago Crime Commission say the mob is now run in northern and southern sections, with street crews consolidated from six geographical areas to four: Elmwood Park, 26th Street, Cicero and Grand Avenue. Mallul estimates the Outfit has about 30 "made" members and a little more than 100 associates.

Although the mob may be smaller and more tightly controlled, it remains a force with an ability to deliver its trademark illicit services as always, the FBI and experts said.

The mob continues to push its way into legitimate businesses and infiltrate labor unions, offer gambling and high-interest "juice loans," as well as extort "street taxes" from businesses, Mallul said. "In a lot of ways, it's still the same rackets -- 50 years ago, 25 years ago and today," Mallul said.

The Outfit still controls dozens of bookies who rake in millions of dollars a year in the Chicago area, he said, giving the mob its working capital for juice loans and other ventures.

"Sports bookmaking is still a huge moneymaker for them," Mallul said. "On the low end, that can include parlay cards in a tavern all the way up to players betting $5,000 or $10,000 or more a game across the board on a weekend."

James Wagner, head of Chicago Crime Commission, said his organization's intelligence from law enforcement sources indicates Joseph "the Builder" Andriacchi controls the north while Al "the Pizza Man" Tornabene runs the south.

Wagner, a former longtime FBI organized crime supervisor, said the Caruso family runs the 26th Street crew, Andriacchi leads the Elmwood Park crew, Tony Zizzo controlled the Cicero crew until he disappeared a year ago and Lombardo still held influence over the Grand Avenue crew before his arrest.

Authorities believe John "No Nose" DiFronzo also continues to play a prominent role for the mob. His name came up repeatedly in the Family Secrets trial as an Outfit leader, sometimes under another nickname, "Johnny Bananas."

Neither Andriacchi, Tornabene nor DiFronzo has been charged in connection with the Family Secrets investigation. None returned calls seeking comment. An attorney who has represented DiFronzo in the past declined to comment. Wagner said all three reputedly rose in the ranks of the Outfit through cartage theft and juice-loan operations and have since moved into legitimate businesses.

Authorities have said Andriacchi earned his nickname through his connections in the construction business. In the undercover prison recordings, Calabrese identified Andriacchi as the boss of the Elmwood Park crew.

DiFronzo has long had a reputation as a car expert who attended auctions and worked at dealerships, Wagner said. He was convicted of racketeering in the early 1990s for trying to infiltrate an Indian casino in California. He also had connections to waste hauling, Wagner said.

Tornabene, believed by some to be the Outfit's current elder boss, earned his nickname from his family's ownership of a suburban pizza restaurant, authorities said. Law enforcement has recently observed Tornabene, who is well into his 80s, being taken to "business" meetings at his doctor's office, Wagner said.

"Many of these guys are obviously trying to stay out of the limelight as much as they can," he said.

The Family Secrets convictions could further embolden prosecutors in their assault on the Outfit. The verdicts appear to vindicate Calabrese's brother, Nicholas, one of the most significant mob turncoats in Chicago history, who provided crucial testimony on many of the gangland slayings.

His testimony could still spell trouble for DiFronzo and others he named in wrongdoing but who were not indicted, said John Binder, a finance professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago and mob researcher who wrote the 2003 book, "The Chicago Outfit."

Calabrese testified that DiFronzo was among the dozen men or more who fatally beat Anthony Spilotro, the mob's Las Vegas chieftain, and his brother Michael in 1986.

"This trial showed how many of these guys had jobs where they worked for the city or at McCormick Place," Wagner said. "When you look at the number that have been connected to the Department of Streets and Sanitation, the Water Department, it's hard to explain without the idea of clout being a factor."

In addition, a former Chicago police officer, Anthony "Twan" Doyle, was convicted of leaking inside information to the mob about the then-covert Family Secrets investigation.

"It's a problem Chicago has preferred to ignore," Wagner said.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

No comments:

Post a Comment