Saturday, October 20, 2007

Jurors Claim Mob Defendant Threatened Prosecutor, New Trial Coming?

At least four jurors in the city's biggest mob trial in years allegedly heard one of the defendants threaten a federal prosecutor as he delivered closing arguments, according to a published report.

Convicted loan shark and hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. allegedly told Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcus Funk, “You are a (expletive) dead man,” according to a letter obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times and WMAQ-TV.

A juror met with prosecutors after the trial and told them about the alleged threat, according to the letter, sent to Calabrese attorney Joseph Lopez by lead prosecutor Mitchell A. Mars. Three other jurors “confirmed the juror's observations and heard Mr. Calabrese say the same thing,” Mars' letter said.

ZIRH - CorduroyLopez told the Sun-Times for a story posted Friday on its Web site that he sat next to his client and never heard any threat. “My client has more brains than that,” Lopez said. “We were surrounded by FBI agents and U.S. attorneys and spectators and nobody heard anything, and now a month later ... Why wasn't something said immediately right afterwards? That's what I want to know. It's an overactive imagination, that's all I can think of.”

U.S. attorney's office spokesman Randall Samborn declined to comment.

If jurors heard Calabrese threaten a prosecutor it could have unfairly affected deliberations, raising the possibility of new trials, attorneys for Calabrese's co-defendants said. “This is quite a development,” said Rick Halprin, attorney for Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo. “I have grave concerns about this. ... You would assume it impacted their thought process. We know from the letter that one-third of them talked about it. I expect to be in court on it next week.”

Marc Martin, attorney for James Marcello, who was held responsible for two murders, said he had argued the defendants should have had separate trials. “Marcello has been complaining about this since day one, and this just adds more fuel to the fire,” said Martin, who also questioned whether Mars and Funk broke rules by having contact with a juror without court permission.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who also got a copy of the letter, could let the verdict stand if he reconvenes the jurors and hears from each one that the alleged threat did not affect the deliberations, Alschuler said.

Calabrese was among five defendants convicted last month for taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included gambling, loan sharking, extortion and murder.

The defendants were accused of squeezing “street tax,” similar to protection money, out of businesses, running sports bookmaking and video poker operations, and engaging in loan sharking. And they were accused of killing many of those who they feared might spill mob secrets to the government - or already doing so.

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