Sunday, September 16, 2007

Upholding the Legacy of Al Capone

To me the Chicago Outfit has always meant a Bears shirt and some loud sweatpants.

That's how little I've followed our neighboring city's organized crime syndicate until this week's verdict nailing five of its aging leaders and associates.

It's like "The Sopranos" episode that Tony hoped would never come. Tough guys with colorful nicknames were dragged into court by the feds to answer to charges of racketeering, illegal gambling, extortion, obstructing justice and 18 murders dating back to 1970. The jury returned guilty verdicts on the other counts but has yet to decide on the murder charges.

A panel of 12 peers, if that word can apply to a mobster trial, convicted James Marcello, 65, said to run the Outfit; Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78; Paul "the Indian" Schiro, 70; Frank Calabrese Sr., 70; and Anthony "Twan" Doyle, 62, a former Chicago cop.

The summer-long trial followed an investigation code-named Operation Family Secrets because two star witnesses were the brother and son of accused hit man Calabrese, who shouted, "Them are lies!" as the prosecutor told the jury he had left a trail of bodies.

Calabrese's brother, Nicholas, who pleaded guilty, said he peed his pants in fear as they dug a shallow grave for one victim. And he recalled that "Strangers in the Night" was playing on the jukebox at the restaurant where one guy was whacked.

There was plenty of mob-speak about high interest "juice loans" and grownup bullies collecting "street taxes" from fearful merchants. The jury saw surveillance photos and listened to tape recordings made in secret. They heard about "made" guys and "capos," bookies and henchmen. There was even talk of a severed puppy head and a dead rat being left to get someone's attention.

Wisconsin, long a vacationland for gangsters, got only brief attention at the trial. The Outfit buried a few hundred thou in cash up here but found it soaked and smelly when they dug it up.

Calabrese's lawyer tried to put a wholesome sheen on his client by saying he might as well be "a cheese salesman from Wisconsin."

One old-time Outfit figure mentioned at the trial was Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio. According to the Journal Sentinel archives, he oversaw organized crime activity in Milwaukee for his Chicago bosses in the 1950s and 1960s. He died in 1971.

Much better remembered here, of course, are the Balistrieris - dad Frank P. and sons Joe and John. They lacked a cool name like the Outfit, but they were the faces of our reputed Milwaukee mob. All three went to prison in the 1980s but were later released. Frank died in 1993, and his sons still live quietly here in town.

The FBI in Milwaukee has an organized crime detail, but these days they spend more time on groups from Eastern Europe and Asia, and street gangs.

"We don't see the Italian organized crime as being a large threat in the Milwaukee area," said special agent Doug Porrini. "There just haven't been any cases since the Balistrieris," Milwaukee U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic added.

That's OK, we don't miss it. The level of disorganized crime here is bad enough.

The U.S. Department of Justice in Chicago admitted that this prosecution wounded the Outfit but did not kill it. As these men go off to prison, new leaders will step in.

It just wouldn't be Chicago without someone upholding the legacy of Al Capone.

Thanks to Jim Stingl

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