Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No Goodfellas in this Sordid Crew

Chicago mob trial exposes zero honour among thieves
By Josh Casey
Outfit enforcer 'Butch' Petrocelli before and after his alleged murder by the Calabrese brothers.

Forget about the clichés and the movies, the wiseguys and their broads, the snappy suits and sharp one-liners. Most of all forget about the men of honour concept laid bare for the risible oxymoron it always was in what has been billed as the biggest mob murder trial in U.S. history.

Instead, what has been playing out in the 25th Floor courtroom in front of Judge James B Zagel is a story of men barely above the morality of hyenas, who kill each other by the most barbaric methods for the flimsiest and most debased of motives.

And even those motives, such as they are, rarely seem to be more than the crude suppositions of simple minds reacting to rumour and guesswork no more profound than fishwives gossiping on a street corner. The difference is that gossips might sometimes smear a reputation a little, but with the characters exposed in the ‘Family Secrets’ trial, it can result in medieval murder, nearly always over money, or the notion that the victim might have betrayed them or might do so sometime in the future. And if they got it wrong - so what? The guy shouldn’t have been in the wrong place at the wrong time…

And that is what separates them from civilised citizens. It was once written by a political philosopher that the rule of law succeeded not generally because of a citizen’s fear of the consequences of not abiding by it, but because the majority of citizens recognised and accepted the necessity of restraints required for civil co-existence.

That essentially is the measure of decent people as opposed to those who reject restraints and disregard the rules others accept and comply with, however resentfully from time to time. We would all rather drive at whatever speed we felt like now and then, not wear crash helmets or seat belts, even party naked in the park from time to time, and might feel like wringing the neck of that noisy neighbour on the odd occasion. But that is a figure of speech; we don’t actually plan to force men to the ground and strangle and cut their throats open for any reasons, let alone unsubstantiated reasons all rooted in greed.

The difference with the people depicted in this trial is that they just will do that and so much worse, and without regard for either the rules of society, humanity, or for life itself.

In the movies, bad guys don’t get killed, they get ‘whacked’. It is usually depicted as exciting, even sexy: the set-up, the tension, the shooting, over and done, he had it coming anyway…ratatatat! A body in the street…the screeching of tyres…Warren Beatty, Harvey Keitel, Lee Marvin, Pesci, and DiNiro have kept us appallingly entertained with their apparently cinema verite depictions of gangsters who terrify and excite in the same measure, along with other actors and film makers who have used their skills to insinuate the image of these semi-romantic outlaw figures in our minds.

The reality of the Family Secrets crew is of two men wrenching on either end of a rope looped around a man’s neck, each with a foot braced against the victim’s skull, throttling him to death and then slicing his throat open for good measure. Butch Petrocelli, himself an Outfit enforcer, forced to the ground, strangled, his throat slashed, then doused in lighter fuel and burned. Or the Spilotro brothers, again held down and strangled and beaten with fists, boots and knees, or the unspeakable murder long ago of a man hung from a meat hook pierced through his rectum, then tortured to death over three days.

This is not the territory of the Godfather or The Soprano’s, the former risibly portrayed hoodlums as noble peasants elevating themselves by the only means available through some imagined re-creation of an alternative Roman Empire (a notion re-attributed to defendant, Frank Calabrese, in the testimony of his son recently), and the latter escaping all true evaluation by rarely departing from a slick caricature in black comedy.

Better cinematic representation can be found in The Funeral, a largely overlooked almost Shakespearean tale directed by Abel Ferrara, featuring the extraordinary talents of Christopher Walken and the late Christopher Penn in whose character is distilled the despair and depravity of the gangster’s life and fate. The two actors portray siblings in a criminal family of the 1930s, but the awful moment of truth of this film is stolen in just a few seconds of masterful portrayal by Annabella Sciorra. Playing Walken’s screen wife at a time of violent crisis, she talks to a younger woman while tearfully despairing of and rejecting the inevitability and brutality of their occupations, speaking words to the effect of: “…all because they have failed to rise above their illiterate and savage origins…”

That was the message underpinning the entire film - and it serves the so-called ‘Family Secrets’ trial in Chicago also - both portray gangsters as they should be seen, as squalid, uncivilised savages, not as handsome, slick suited outlaws. Such men (whether those in the courtroom or not, the jury have yet to decide) are just sadistic thugs who commit murder not for noble cause but for squalid greed and that should never be forgotten.

It's Still the Chicago Way, New Books Prove Nothing Changes

“Here is the difference between Dante, Milton, and me. They wrote about Hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years.”

Those were the profound words of Carl Sandburg, published in his book of “Chicago Poems: Unabridged (Dover Thrift Editions)” in 1916.

Ninety-one years later, Chicago’s landscape may have changed, but the sordid souls, who poisoned Sandburg’s time, live here in infamy.

That much is evident after sitting through last week’s Operation Family Secrets trial in federal court in Chicago. Five elderly men connected to the Chicago Outfit are charged with running mob rackets and torturing and killing 18 people the past four decades by strangulation, beating and shooting, with ropes, ball bats, blowtorches, shotguns, fists and feet. But the five hoodlums with witty nicknames such as the Clown, the Breeze, Little Jimmy and Twan, didn’t operate without help from outside their secret organization.

Just as in Sandburg’s day, when the hell-bent were called Big Jim and the Fox, the mobsters of our era admit they bribed police and public officials to protect their illegal businesses.

Two new books prove that nothing has changed. Despite the modernization of Michigan Avenue, lakefront beautification and regular police department announcements that crime is declining, the dirty business of public corruption at the behest of the Outfit thrives.

InSin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul her book “Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul.” author Karen Abbott writes about the open sex trade in Chicago’s Levee District on the near South Side in the early 1900s. It focuses on the turn-of-the-previous-century whorehouse, the Everleigh Club. The story amounts to a blueprint for the modern rackets that the Calabrese/Lombardo Outfit is now on trial for allegedly running.

In 1900, dance hall operator Ike Bloom was in charge of making sure the police allowed bordello operators, call girls and pimps to freely conduct their business. "So integral was Bloom to the web of Levee graft that his portrait, handsomely framed, hung in a prominent place of honor in the squad room of the 22nd Street police station,” writes Abbott.

Below Bloom’s picture was a price list of the appropriate bribes to be paid to police: “Massage parlors: $25 weekly; Larger houses of ill fame, $50-$100 weekly, with $25 additional each week if drinks are sold; Saloons allowed to stay open after hours, $50 per month; Sale of liquor in apartment houses without license …”

The architects were First Ward Alderman “Bathhouse” John Coughlin and Democratic Party boss Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna.

In a second new book, “The Tangled Web: The Life and Death of Richard Cain - Chicago Cop and Mafia Hitman,” author Michael J. Cain reports on the devilish work of his brother Dick. In the late 1950s and ’60s, Dick Cain was a Chicago police vice detective and then chief investigator for the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

Author Cain says his brother was also “a made Mafia soldier and a protégé and informer for legendary mob boss Sam Giancana.”

Dick Cain was a Chicago mobster, groomed by the mob to be a Chicago cop. “Dick was one of a very small number that reported directly to Sam ‘Momo’ Giancana,” writes Michael Cain.

Dick Cain distributed weekly mob bribes to other cops, according to his brother, and tipped Outfit bosses to gambling and prostitution raids. When independent, non-mob rackets were raided, Cain would be seen in the next morning’s newspapers posed with a Tommy gun, a la Eliot Ness.

Cain’s mob work stretched to Mexico and Cuba and probably included murders, admits his brother. Dick Cain was killed in 1973, five days before Christmas. Two gunman ambushed him in a West Side sandwich shop.

Richard Cain and Sam Giancana’s corrupt DNA was the same that Ike Bloom and his ilk had in 1900. And now a century later, the bad genes are on display in Operation Family Secrets.

Testimony revealed that modern-day Chicago cops were on the Outfit payroll. Mob informants testified they were tipped off by dirty cops about upcoming raids.

An alleged Chicago mob boss testified about his cozy relationship with politically connected labor union bosses and with the late First Ward Alderman Fred Roti, who was convicted of corruption.

Another accused mob boss, who once bribed a U.S. senator, last week implicated all 50 Chicago aldermen in a payoff scheme to allow illegal gambling in their wards.

An admitted Outfit hit man pinned a suburban firebombing on one of Mayor Daley’s close friends.

So nothing changes. We just keep writing about Chicago, after looking the town over for years and years.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Monday, August 20, 2007

Outburst in Court Leads to Judge Threatening Family Secrets' Defendant with Contempt

A federal judge warned Monday that he would hold alleged Chicago mobster Frank Calabrese in contempt of court if he continued to try to testify about evidence already ruled inadmissible at his racketeering conspiracy trial.

The warning followed a flare-up of emotion on the part of Calabrese, a convicted loan shark who is one of five alleged members of the Chicago mob on trial in the Operation Family Secrets case.

"I will not allow you to introduce evidence that is inadmissible," U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel told Calabrese in his second day on the witness stand. Zagel told Calabrese to stop trying to introduce evidence that "you personally think should be introduced" even though it already had been ruled out.

"You will not question my rulings in the presence of the jury," Zagel said. He said he would hold Calabrese in contempt it if happened again.

Earlier, Calabrese had blurted out a claim concerning an alleged robbery in which he had been the victim. When prosecutors objected -- evidence concerning the robbery had been ruled inadmissible -- Calabrese became upset. "Your Honor, how am I going to defend myself?" Calabrese asked Zagel.

At that, Zagel sent the jury out of the courtroom, admonished Calabrese and warned Calabrese's defense attorney, Joseph Lopez, against "your client's intention to get into evidence material that I'm quite sure you told him he could not get into evidence."

Calabrese, 70, is accused by federal prosecutors and witnesses of doubling as a mob hit man when not operating a loan sharking business. His brother, Nicholas, testified earlier that Frank Calabrese on a number of occasions strangled victims with ropes then cut their throats to make sure they were dead.

Also on trial are Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo, 78, James Marcello, 65, Paul Schiro, 70, and Anthony Doyle, 62. They are accused of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that involved extortion, gambling, loan sharking and 18 long unsolved murders.

On Thursday, Frank Calabrese testified that he knew many people involved in organized crime, hung out with them and did business with them but did not belong to the mob. He denied ever committing any of the murders alleged in the indictment produced by an FBI investigation known as Operation Family Secrets.

Mafia T-Shirts Cures Unemployment for One Man

AMafia T-shirts formerly unemployed man in Sicily is making a living hawking T-shirts sporting Mafia-inspired designs outside the theater seen in "The Godfather: Part III."

Salvatore Trippodo of Palermo says tourists -- perhaps influenced by the popularity of HBO's "The Sopranos" -- are loading up on the items, Italy's ANSA news service reported Friday.

One design features Marlon Brando as Don Corleone in "The Godfather." Others bear the omerta code of the Mafia -- often summed up as "don't see; don't hear; don't speak."

"The idea came to me when I was really depressed about my chances of ever finding a job," Trippodo told ANSA. "It's really hard to find work in Sicily and it's so easy to slip into doing something wrong; but with a bit of imagination, you can create your own job."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

From Eating Oatmeal as a Boy to Earning for the Mob

Chicago Outfit loan shark and accused hit-man Frank Calabrese Sr. didn't have the gall to wear his First Communion suit on the witness stand. It wouldn't have fit, anyway.

Instead he wore a pale sports coat just on the edge of ivory, like an older bride with plenty of miles, still yearning for the white on her big day.

Calabrese testified in his own defense in the "Family Secrets" trial on Thursday, explaining that as a boy, his family was so poor they ate oatmeal most every night, that he had to leave school in the 4th grade to help deliver coal. And, how he grew up with an intense desire to protect the weak against the strong, even when the weak owed him money from his juice loans and couldn't pay him on time.

"I hated bullies and I still hate them today," said the knightly Calabrese, led through his story by crafty defense lawyer Joseph Lopez.

Yet when court resumes Monday, Calabrese will face cross-examination by federal prosecutors, so the jury won't see Sir Frank of Chinatown, but a different Frank, the Frank on federal tape giggling about murders.

The jury will hear about his many alleged victims, dumped into holes like so many goo-goo dolls, those yellow rubber toys of years ago. Put your thumbs on their throats, squeeze hard, and their eyes bug out, the tongues protrude, they make a strange noise, which is the way his brother, Nicholas Calabrese, described the effects of Frank's heavy work in earlier trial testimony.

"Murder? No way. No way," Frank kept telling Lopez, also resplendent in a pink shirt and electric yellow tie, as Lopez directed him through more than two hours of testimony designed to give context to Calabrese's life and have his client repeatedly deny he killed anyone.

Lopez's theory is that Frank's son and his brother Nick conspired to rip off Frank's money and keep him in prison. It's an interesting theory. But on Monday, as those tapes are played, the tapes his son Frank Jr. recorded in prison conversations with his father for the FBI, the theory will have a side effect.

Calabrese's co-defendants -- Joseph Lombardo, Paul Schiro, Anthony Doyle and James Marcello -- will look up and feel the fork in them and know they're done.

Some of my colleagues have been tempted to say that the Chicago Outfit is done, too, but it is not. Today's web was woven long ago, when Paul "The Waiter" Ricca moved here from New York and quietly allowed Al Capone to play the loud baboon in the shiny suit.

Calabrese is an example of this influence, a portly squire from the Chinatown crew, which still reaches into the 11th Ward, home of mayors. His brother-in-law was the late Ed Hanley, president of the powerful international hotel workers union, who dabbled in wiseguys and politics from Chicago to Las Vegas.

Hanley got him a city job, and later Frank got Nick a city job running McCormick Place, and depending on what testimony you believe, they either killed a lot of people together or they didn't, but they made a lot of money.

Calabrese explained on Thursday that the Outfit is dedicated to money, composed of two kinds of men, those who earn, and those who do the heavy work.

"And what is the heavy work?" Lopez asked.

"Killing people," Calabrese said, "but I didn't kill people, I was an earner ... I earned millions ... I didn't have time to do that other stuff."

He did this, he said, by loaning money at high rates to gambling addicts who couldn't go into a bank and apply for loans.

Listening to him, I wondered how lousy he must feel, in prison now, with so much opportunity outside, as City Hall pushes quietly for a giant city-run gambling casino, one that would have its own "independent" gaming commission controlled by the mayor, so it won't be subject to bothersome state regulations.

Loan sharking is part of gambling, in casinos or on Rush Street, though scary collectors aren't featured in the commercials. Calabrese testified that in his loan-sharking business, he never threatened or hurt anyone, but they paid anyway, but not from fear.

Yet it was instructive, with Calabrese explaining the meaning of "the sit down," a meeting designed to settle disputes, like the time Butch Petrocelli (one of the alleged victims) "kept sticking his nose in there" to try and take away Calabrese's card games, Calabrese said.

"It was all done diplomatically," Calabrese said. "The head of this group sits there, the head of that group sits there. And someone very important, like [late Outfit boss] Joey Aiuppa sits there."

Lopez asked: "Was there any swearing or cursing?"

"Swearing or cursing? Oh, no. It was diplomatic," Calabrese said. The way he said "oh, no" was quite odd. It was something a PTA mom would say, not some Chinatown bone-crusher who sat meekly before the boss.

The jury stopped taking notes, and stared, transfixed, as if a penguin from the zoo were sitting in front of them reading "The Divine Comedy." And Calabrese faced them, in his almost white ivory jacket, blinking.

Thanks to John Kass

Calabrese Delivers Longwinded Testimony

Frank Calabrese Sr. went from eating oatmeal for dinner as a child to making millions of dollars from illegal street loans but denied Thursday from the witness stand that he ever killed anyone for the Chicago Outfit.

Calabrese is an allegedly prolific hit man, accused of 13 murders in the Family Secrets mob case in federal court.

The 70-year-old man, who complained about his bad hearing, took the stand for two hours in the case to deny each murder he's accused of. He described a life of doing business with people in the Outfit and hanging around mobsters but not being part of the mob himself.

Calabrese was dressed conservatively, in a tie, suit coat and slacks, and often looked directly at the jury as he was questioned by his attorney, Joseph "The Shark" Lopez, outfitted in a hot pink shirt, matching pink socks, lemon tie and black suit.

In his questioning, Lopez made the distinction between people who were "earners" and people who did "heavy work," in other words, murder.

"Were you an earner or did you did you do heavy work?" Lopez asked.

"Joe, my earnings spoke for themselves," Calabrese said.

"I made millions. How would I have time to do it?" Calabrese Sr. said, referring to the murders he's accused of.

As his lawyer asked him questions, Calabrese would go on and on -- so much so that the judge told him to just answer the questions he was asked.

From the witness stand, Calabrese appeared to be struggling not to lose his temper as Assistant U.S. Attorney John Scully repeatedly objected to Calabrese's expansive answers.

At one point, Calabrese was asked about a club he belonged to. He answered but added, "Can I tell you how they raised money for the club?"

"No," Lopez said, trying to cut him off.

"Just asking," Calabrese said.

Calabrese said he was partners with mob boss Angelo LaPietra in the street loan business but insisted he did not report to LaPietra as his boss.

"He did never control me -- never," Calabrese said.

"Many people feared him," Calabrese said of LaPietra, a brutal mob killer who had such nicknames as "Bull" and "The Hook."

"Many people couldn't look him in the eye when they talked to him. I never had that problem," Calabrese said.

Calabrese has seen both his son, Frank Calabrese Jr., and his brother, Outfit killer Nicholas Calabrese, testify against him at trial.

His son put his life on the line and secretly recorded his father while they were both in federal prison in 1999 on another case.

Jurors have already heard excerpts from those extensive conversations, in which Frank Calabrese Sr. apparently describes mob murders in great detail.

Frank Calabrese Sr. will have to explain those conversations to the jury. He's also expected to blame his brother, Nicholas; his son, Frank Jr., and a second son, Kurt, for conspiring to frame him for the mob murders to keep him in prison, so they could steal his money with impunity.

Kurt Calabrese is not a witness in the case but quietly slipped into court Thursday to watch his father's testimony. At one point, the two locked eyes briefly, and Calabrese Sr. appeared a bit unsettled.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Reunion for "La Famiglia" in Mafia 2?

Take-Two Interactive is apparently working on a reunion for "la famiglia," as Czech site Tiscali Games today spotted a listing on the German ratings board's database for a Mafia 2 promotional trailer to debut at next week's Games Convention in Leipzig, Germany.

This is not the first time a game's existence has been discovered via the Unterhaltungssoftware Selbstkontrolle (USK). Late last month, the ratings board leaked word of the next World of Warcraft expansion, Wrath of the Lich King. As with Mafia 2, that entry was not a rating for the game itself, but a rating for the promotional trailer meant to be revealed at Leipzig. Also much like the Wrath of the Lich King entry, the Mafia sequel listing was quickly pulled after it started circulating around news sites. A representative with Take-Two had not returned GameSpot's request for comment as of press time.

Originally released on the PC in 2002, Illusion Softworks' Mafia received a fair amount of critical acclaim for its combination of a Grand Theft Auto III-style living city with some of the structure and set pieces of traditional third-person action games. The game made it to the PlayStation 2 and Xbox in 2004, but reviews indicated it had lost something in the translation.

Thanks to Brendan Sinclair

America's Most Wanted for 8-18-07 on The Chicago Syndicate

America's Most Wanted on The Chicago Syndicate
Roy “Bubba” Massey: Massey was first featured on AMW back in 1992, and now he’s back for me more. After a stint in prison, police say he had no intention of going back—even if it meant leading officers on high-speed chases all over the south. On AMW.com, you can see video of one of his infamous chases.

Unknown Newark Shooters: New Jersey authorities are working around the clock in their search for 24-year-old Rodolfo Godinez, a Nicaraguan national wanted in connection with the execution style slaying of three college students in Newark . Last week, police arrested two 15-year-old juveniles and 28-year-old Jose Carranza, an undocumented illegal immigrant from Peru in relation to the killings.

Unknown Sgt. Reyka Killer: More than 200 investigators from the Broward County, Fla. Sheriff’s Office and other agencies are searching South Florida for the man responsible for the murder of veteran deputy Sgt. Chris Reyka early last Friday morning. Now, authorities need your help to bring his killer to justice. You can see surveillance footage of the car cops think the killer was driving on AMW.com.

Book of Days: After almost 30 years of waiting, Pulitzer Prize-winning “Opus” cartoonist Berkely Breathed is working with AMW to help solve a mystery—and catch the man who murdered one of Austin ’s brightest stars. Learn more about the death of Michael Cahill at AMW.com, and see why investigators think his killer may have chose his victims from a local calendar. A calendar called The Book of Days.

Juan Bautista: Nearly four years after Chris Applegate’s life was destroyed by an accused drunk driver, her family has vowed to change the law they say allowed the suspect to get away. Cops say in New Jersey , a person charged with a felony offense is only required to pay 10% of the stated bail in order to be released. Bautista did just that; he paid only 2,000 of the set 20,000 dollars and was never heard from again. If the Applegate’s get their way, anyone accused of a felony will be required to pay the entire bail amount before being set free.

William Santos: Police say illegal alien William Roberto Santos was considered a trusted member of his community, and was a dedicated member of his church. But police say this farm laborer had a dark secret, and it wasn’t long before the whole community had figured out what he was really up to. Cops say Santos was regularly raping an 11-year-old boy, but by the time anyone found out, Santos hit the road. On AMW.com, we have info on where we think this suspected child offender may be hiding out. Tune in this week to help us put him in cuffs.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Frank Calabrese Sr. Takes Witness Stand

In the Family Secrets mob trial Wednesday there was testimony from "Joey the Clown." Thursday, it was "Frankie the Breeze." In an unusual strategy, the two top defendants in the federal case have now taken the witness stand.

We know from his testimony that mob boss Joe Lombardo fancies himself as one of those movie gangsters played by Jimmy Cagney. In the Hollywood vein, then Frank Calabrese's testimony Thursday qualifies Calabrese as the flimflam man. For three hours in the witness chair Thursday afternoon, Calabrese admitted to being a part of the Chicago mob, explained how the Chicago mob operates and who else is in it, then tried to convince the jury that he had nothing to do with any mob murders.

Frank Calabrese Senior's education was on display Thursday in court. Frank "the Breeze," as he's known, was a fourth grade drop out who twice went AWOL from the military. Now, at age 70 and claiming to be hard-of-hearing, the convicted outfit boss is fighting to stay out of prison for the rest of life in operation family secrets.

Calabrese is charged with 13 gangland murders as part of the mob conspiracy. Calabrese denied them all, saying "No way, I loved that guy" when asked about them. He appeared in court well groomed and dressed in a Palm Beach-style sportcoat fit for a croquet match. His lawyer Joe Lopez dazzled the jury with a pink shirt and banana-colored tie. Calabrese peppered his testimony with a sorrowful tale of his poor upbringing. "We ate oatmeal many nights," he said, "because we had no money."

Calabrese admitted to being a streetfighter: "I hated bullies and I still hate them today." Then he boasted, "I was very good with my hands." he was also well connected, he said, to the late, corrupt 1st Ward Alderman Fred Roti, Calabrese's brother-in-law was hotel restaurant union boss Ed Hanley, whom Calabrese claimed once offered him a job as president of the union local in Las Vegas.

Despite claiming he couldn't do arithmetic and barely literate, Calabrese admitted to a career as a mob loanshark, illegally lending hundreds of thousands of dollars to people who couldn't get bank loans at interest rates sometimes 10 times the going rate and keeping the accounting books. But Calabrese claimed: "There was never a time that anybody got a beating from me for not paying...I'd sit and talk to them."

In a remarkable confession, Calabrese talked about the structure of the outfit: There are "heavy workers" who do the killing, he said, and there are "money makers" who control the finances. Said Calabrese: "I was a money maker, I mean millions. When would I have time for" the killing?

Calabrese said Joseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa was the outfit's top boss who oversaw what were called "sit downs," meetings to solve mob problems. "It was all done diplomatically," stated Calabrese. "At the head was someone very important, usually Joey Auippa."

We know from his testimony Wednesday that mob boss Joe Lombardo fancies himself as one of those old Hollywood gangsters played by Jimmy Cagney. Judging by the jury's reaction to Frank Calabrese's testimony, Calabrese might be better suited for a role in the old classic movie "Born Yesterday."

Jurors who have been taking non-stop notes the past eight weeks, Thursday took down nothing that Calabrese said. One juror spent the afternoon doodling on the back of his notebook.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Did Testifying Backfire for Lombardo?

There's a reason professional criminals don't generally take the witness stand in their own defense, as anyone watching Wednesday's cross-examination of Joey "The Clown" Lombardo could see for themselves.

It has the potential to backfire.

After another half day of trying to put his own spin on his alleged criminal activities, Lombardo had to face up to questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitch Mars, and the results were not pretty for the defense.

Lombardo was left parsing his words like a lawyer, albeit a jailhouse lawyer, as he explained away wiretap conversations involving apparent mob activity by arguing over the meaning of the word "we."

"We" seemed to plainly refer to Lombardo and his mob associates, but Lombardo, who contends he was never a part of organized crime in Chicago despite two previous convictions, said it really meant "they" or anybody but him.

"We never means 'we' in this conversation," Lombardo said of a taped chat with Louie "The Mooch" Eboli over how to muscle a new massage parlor that was encroaching on the turf of massage parlors controlled by other mob bosses.

It got so ridiculous at one point that Lombardo even invoked by inference former President Bill Clinton's fight over the word "is" during his impeachment proceedings. "Just like the president did. He didn't choose the right words," Lombardo said of his own choice of words.

Earlier in the day, Lombardo gave the jurors a primer on "street taxes," the Chicago mob's term for extortion payments. Lombardo tried to draw a distinction between an "investment tax," in which a "businessman" such as him "invests" in an activity and then takes a pre-determined cut, and a "muscle tax," which is nothing but a shakedown demanding money for the opportunity to remain in business.

At least, that's my interpretation of what he said.

In Lombardo's mind, only the muscle tax is against the law, a delineation that is clearly not shared by prosecutors.

Mars, who has made it his career to pursue the Chicago mob, seemed choked with emotion in the opening stages of his scathing cross-examination, which came as close as you'll get to seeing television-style drama in a real courtroom.

While he didn't budge Lombardo from his basic contention that he had nothing to do with the mob, he exposed its absurdity at various junctures, such as when Lombardo admitted that his family cleared more than $2 million on a sweetheart investment arranged by the late mob lawyer Allen Dorfman.

You won't believe where Lombardo now says he was holed up during most of those eight months on the lam from federal authorities. Right under my nose in Oak Park. That's right. The People's Republic of Oak Park, home of more news media representatives per capita than any other place in the Chicago area, though formerly the home of many of Chicago's top mobsters.

Aren't you glad you had us on the case?

Lombardo says he was hiding out in a basement flat owned by "some guy" named Joe. He still did not disclose the exact location.

Lombardo said the hideaway was arranged for him by his friend Georgie Colucci, whom Lombardo called from his car while parked at a golf driving range at 22nd and Wolf Road, which I presume to be the one at Fresh Meadow golf course in Hillside.

"He said stay right there," Lombardo said. "He sent some kid."

The kid drove him to Joe's place in Oak Park, which Lombardo said was "like an apartment."

Lombardo was eventually arrested in Elmwood Park, where he had been staying with another friend for just a few days, according to previous testimony in the trial.

He said those were the only two places he used to hide.

I'm not sure whether the feds believe Lombardo, who made his whereabouts during that period an issue by testifying Wednesday that he never thought he was in violation of federal law while eluding capture because he never crossed state lines. They certainly found that notion preposterous.

Lombardo said he'd always intended to surrender as soon as his co-defendants completed their trials because he didn't think it was fair that he should be charged with participating in a conspiracy with them, some of whom he'd never met before this trial.

Showing the jury a photo of Lombardo with his long hair and beard when he was captured, Mars asked if he thought that was funny.

"A little joke once in a while doesn't hurt," said The Clown.

Thanks to Mark Brown

Lombardo Just Pretends He's A Gangster

In the world of Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo presented at the Family Secrets trial Wednesday, he isn't a Chicago Outfit captain.

He's a mob gofer.

When he threatens a man with tough mob talk, he isn't a gangster. He is just acting like one.

When he says in a secretly recorded conversation about a massage parlor, "we'll flatten the joint," the word "we" doesn't really mean "we."

Lombardo gave those explanations Wednesday as he defended himself from the witness stand and took a verbal beating as a federal prosecutor grilled him over his account of his life, from his finances to his criminal career to the murder he is accused of committing in 1974.

Lombardo and members of his crew allegedly were trying to handcuff Bensenville businessman Daniel Seifert and take him away when Seifert got free and ran off.

"Then you had your crew chase him down and shoot him down, isn't that true, sir?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars, his voice rising. "That's not true, sir," Lombardo said.

The 78-year-old reputed top mobster denied knowing that Seifert was going to be a witness against him in a federal criminal trial involving allegations Lombardo and others embezzled from a Teamsters pension fund.

Mars suggested that if Seifert had testified, and Lombardo and a co-defendant, businessman Allen Dorfman, were convicted, it would have meant the end of "the golden goose" of access to those funds.

Dorfman provided profitable real estate deals for Lombardo, Lombardo acknowledged, including one in which his family invested $43,000 that turned into more than $2 million. Mars suggested a mob flunky wouldn't be handed such a sweetheart deal.

To show Lombardo collected street tax and extorted people, Mars referred to two secretly recorded conversations, both from 1979.

In one, Lombardo appears to be threatening a St. Louis lawyer with death unless he pays what he owes the mob.

Lombardo contended he was only acting like a mobster to get the attorney to pay up.

"That was a good role for you, wasn't it Mr. Lombardo?" Mars asked.

"Yeah, like James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson . . ." Lombardo said.

"And Joe Lombardo," Mars cut in.

"Member of the Outfit," Mars added.

"No," Lombardo said.

"Capo of the Grand Avenue crew," Mars said.

"No," Lombardo said.

In another conversation, Lombardo and an alleged crew member, Louis "The Mooch" Eboli, allegedly discuss taking retribution against a massage parlor that's not paying a street tax. Lombardo acknowledged using the word "we" in the conversation but said he misspoke and didn't mean he was involved in the matter, only Eboli.

"Just like the president said, he doesn't always choose the right words," Lombardo explained.

"Well, the president didn't have a crew, did he?" Mars replied.

At times, Lombardo needled the prosecutor.

"No, no, can't you read?" Lombardo said, when questioned about one transcript.

And later, Lombardo added: "Sir, sir, sir. Let's read it together."

"Sir," Lombardo asked the prosecutor, "are you having trouble understanding me?"

"At times, I am, Mr. Lombardo, I must admit," Mars said.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

End of the Clown's Days?

The Joey "The Clown" Lombardo who testified Tuesday in his own defense was the boss of nothing, in his own mind.

Street boss, what street boss? Clown, what clown?

He was just an old man with a gray face in a gray suit with a cane, pushing 80, working his jaw, his tongue fishing some flecks of lunch out of his gums as he sat in the witness box, taking the one chance left to him in this historic Family Secrets trial of the Chicago Outfit in federal court:

To convince the jury he wasn't the Joey Lombardo of legend, but instead a humble shoeshine boy from the old neighborhood who hustled a bit for extra cash.

Lombardo said he grew up on the West Side, that his father worked at the Tribune in some unspecified capacity, and that Joe later took fencing lessons in high school, played handball, even rollerbladed in later years, ending up with a small interest in a floating craps game while running minor errands for bail bondsman and Outfit wiretapper Irwin Weiner.

Lombardo didn't kill anyone, he insisted. He wasn't the boss of anything. He wasn't a made member of the Outfit, which forms the base of the triangle that runs the town. Politicians, Lombardo said, were the real hoodlums.

"There's 50 bosses in Chicago," Lombardo said, "The 50 bosses are the 50 aldermen; without them you can't get anything done. If you want zoning, you see the alderman. If you want to run a card game, you go see the alderman. If you want a dice game, go see the alderman."

In Lombardo's mind, what does that make the boss of all the aldermen, that guy I used to call Mayor Fredo, who sits on the 5th Floor of City Hall? I couldn't ask Lombardo, since he's only talking from the witness stand.

The last time I tried speaking to Lombardo was years ago, at Bella Notte, a nice Italian restaurant on Grand Avenue, just after former Chicago Police Chief of Detectives William Hanhardt was indicted for running an Outfit-sanctioned jewelry-heist ring. I wanted to ask Lombardo about Hanhardt, another friend of the Outfit-connected Weiner. But before I could saunter over to Lombardo's table, he snapped his fingers, the busboys shoveled his food into containers and he walked out. The manager trotted over and said I was sadly mistaken if I thought he catered to clowns.

"Clown? Clown? What are you talking about, clown? What clown?" the manager said.

Well, wasn't that the Clown? "No, that was Mr. Irwin Goldman," the manager said, forgetting to explain why Mr. Goldman was wearing a St. Dismas medallion -- the Good Thief crucified next to Christ -- around his neck.

That was sure amusing, but Lombardo is weirdly amusing, and when he testified in court on Tuesday he got a laugh when he talked about shining shoes as a boy. Gamblers would tip him a dollar. The cops only gave him a nickel. "They were very cheap people," said Lombardo, and there was a loud chuckle in the courtroom, prompting U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel to admonish other lawyers laughing at Lombardo's wisecracks.

Rick Halprin, the seasoned criminal lawyer whose job it is to try and keep Lombardo from dying in prison, took a gamble in putting Lombardo on the stand. Halprin had no real choice, with Lombardo's fingerprint on the title application from a car used in the killing of Danny Seifert, a Lombardo partner-turned-federal witness in 1974. That fingerprint has an itch the Outfit can't scratch. It waits, still, quiet, filed, hanging over Lombardo's head.

In 1974, Seifert was killed in front of his family. Seifert was the key witness in the federal case against Lombardo. The case against him exploded the way Seifert exploded, when the shotguns came out. Halprin had to gamble the jury would see a cane in the fingers of the grandpa on the stand, not a shotgun.

The other accused Outfit bosses and soldiers on trial must be thinking that now they've got to follow him up there, too, and swear another oath, this one before God. They watched Lombardo in cold blood. There was Paul "The Indian" Schiro, James Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr. and former Chicago Police Officer Anthony Doyle, accused of warning the Outfit when the FBI began investigating the 18 formerly unsolved mob killings that are part of this landmark case.

Their eyes black, their heads framed against black leather courtroom chairs, they leaned back and watched the shoeshine boy. Their chins rested on fists, they took deep breaths, their eyes sponging up the light of the world.

Halprin: "On Sept. 27, 1974, did you kill Danny Seifert?"

Lombardo: "Positively, no."

Halprin: "Have you ever been a capo or a made member of the Chicago Outfit?"

Lombardo: "Positively, no."

The old man pushed that second "positively, no" too quickly past his choppers, the delivery was rushed, so it fell in front of the jury with a thunk, like a car trunk slamming shut in a lonely parking lot.

There wasn't anything amusing about it.

It wasn't funny, like a clown.

It was desperate, an old man holding his cane, seeing the end of days.

Thanks to John Kass

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Lombardo Claims Alibi for Murder

Friends of ours: Joey "the Clown" Lombardo

Reputed mob boss Joey “The Clown" Lombardo told a packed courtroom Wednesday that he had an alibi for the morning a federal witness was executed by ski-masked gunmen: He was in a Chicago police station miles away complaining that someone had stolen his wallet.

Curiosity seekers jammed U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel's court for a second day, eager to see the now-frail, gravel-voiced 78-year-old who has been tied for years to the top echelons of the mob. Also Wednesday, a juror was dismissed for personal reasons.

Delivered to the witness stand in a wheel chair by a federal marshal, Lombardo gripped his cane as he testified, and at times seemed slightly absent minded as he was questioned by chief defense attorney Rick Halprin.

As CBS 2’s John “Bulldog” Drummond reports, most significant charges against Lombardo stem from the September 1974 of Daniel Seifert, a government witness. Seifert was gunned down outside of his Bensenville factory.

Seifert's widow, Emma, testified earlier in the trial that she believes Lombardo was one of the gunmen.

Lombardo, however, testified that he got up early on that September morning and went out to buy an electric garage door opener. He said the store was closed and he stopped at a pancake house for some breakfast. Returning to his car, he found that his glove compartment had been opened and his wallet taken from it, Lombardo testified.

Lombardo said he returned to the restaurant and told his story to two police officers who were having breakfast there. He said they took him to the Shakespeare Avenue stationhouse on Chicago's North Side, where he filled out a complaint about his stolen wallet.

Emerging from the station afterward, he was surprised, he said. "Then I got the news about Danny Seifert," he testified.

Immediately on taking the stand Tuesday, Lombardo denied that he had anything to do with the Seifert murder.

Sources say the district commander at Shakespeare was later convicted of masterminding a stolen jewelry ring.

On Tuesday Lombardo denied killing Seifert and Wednesday his lawyer asked Lombardo, “What was your relationship with Daniel Seifert?” Lombardo replied, “Very friendly.”

Lombardo explained to the court why he was in the famous “last supper” picture where a number of mob heavyweights had gathered in 1976 to pay tribute to a dying colleague. Lombardo said he had just happened to stop at the restaurant for ice cream when, by chance, he joined the group.

The topic of his 1986 conviction was skimming money from Las Vegas casinos. When Halprin asked Lombardo if he’d ever received any skim money he answered, ”I have to tell the truth. I’m under oath. Not a red penny.”

“The Clown” became a fugitive in April 2005 when he was indicted in the Family Secrets case, but he testified that when he was on the lam for 9 months, he never left Illinois.

Halprin asked him if he believed he committed a federal crime, to which Lombardo replied “Absolutely not.”

Lombardo has admitted that he was a "hustler" who ran a floating crap game and associated with numerous members of the Chicago Outfit, as the city's organized crime family calls itself. But he denies that he has ever been a full-fledged mobster.

Lombardo is one of five alleged mob members on trial, charged with a racketeering conspiracy that included gambling, extortion, loan sharking and 18 murders. Prosecutors say he is responsible for the shooting of Seifert, who was a witness against him in a federal investigation.

After his 1992 release from prison, Lombardo took out an ad in the Chicago Tribune, denying that he had ever taken part in the secret ceremonies by which mob members are initiated as "made guys." The ad invited anyone hearing of criminal activity on his part to call the FBI. But Lombardo did acknowledge on the witness stand Wednesday that he once posed as a mobster to pressure a St. Louis lawyer to pay old debts he owed to Allen Dorfman, the Chicago insurance man who ran the mammoth Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.

The fund was riddled with corruption in the era when it was operated by Dorfman, who himself was gunned down in gangland fashion shortly after he and Lombardo were convicted in the 1986 bribery conspiracy case.

Thanks to John Drummond

Joey the Clown Becomes Court Ringmaster

Friends of ours: Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio, Anthony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Irwin Weiner, Allen Dorfman

After stopping momentarily to flirt with the blond court reporter and swearing to tell the truth with a raspy "I do," Joey "the Clown" Lombardo lowered himself onto the witness stand with the help of a cane.

The 78-year-old with a Caesar haircut leaned toward the microphone Tuesday afternoon and took off his rounded eyeglasses, settling in to answer his lawyer's questions at the landmark Family Secrets trial.

Joseph 'Joey the Clown' Lombardo Testifies at Family Secrets Mob Trial.With the revelation last week that one of the city's quirkiest reputed mob figures would take the stand in his own defense, his testimony became one of the most anticipated moments in a trial that already has earned a place in Chicago mob lore.

A long line of spectators waited for a seat in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse's largest courtroom, filled to capacity with federal judges, FBI supervisors, veteran federal prosecutors, a flock of reporters and dozens of the simply curious.

Defense attorney Rick Halprin wasted no time in getting to the heart of the charges, asking Lombardo whether he took part in killing federal witness Daniel Seifert in 1974 and whether he was a "capo" in the Chicago Outfit.

"Positively no," Lombardo responded to both questions.

Lombardo is a reputed organized-crime figure with a flair for humor and theatrics, known for once leaving a court date with a mask made of newspaper to hide his face from cameramen. Another time he took out advertisements disavowing any mob ties.

When the Family Secrets indictment came down two years ago, he vanished, writing the judge letters asking for his own trial before he was apprehended in the suburbs sporting a beard that resembled the one Saddam Hussein grew while hiding in his spider hole. Brought to court for the first time in the case, Lombardo announced he simply had been "unavailable."

On Tuesday, he was at center stage again, telling jurors how he worked the streets as a youngster, shining shoes of police officers in his Grand Avenue neighborhood. They paid him only a nickel a shoe, he said.

"Very cheap people," said Lombardo, sending a wave of laughter through the courtroom.

"Let's not press our luck," shot back Halprin, trying to keep his client focused.

"You told me to tell the truth," countered Lombardo, drawing more laughter.

The guffaws, some from other defense lawyers in the case, brought a stern warning from U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who said he didn't see anything funny about a sweeping conspiracy case that includes the murders of 18 individuals.

Lombardo, one of five men on trial, took the stand as the best way to flesh out his defense that he was essentially an errand boy for powerful mob-connected businessmen such as Irwin Weiner and labor racketeer Allen Dorfman, who ran an insurance agency that did business with the Teamsters. He contended he has always held legitimate jobs and got caught up in criminal conduct through friends.

The jury knows about Lombardo's celebrated convictions from the 1980s for attempting to bribe U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.) and for skimming millions of dollars from the Stardust casino in Las Vegas.The jury knows about Lombardo's celebrated convictions from the 1980s for attempting to bribe U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon (D-Nev.) and for skimming millions of dollars from the Stardust casino in Las Vegas.

Lombardo set about to describe his work history, starting with shoe shining and detouring briefly to his dice game. Lombardo acknowledged he ran one, blessed by city aldermen, from 1976 until the bribery indictment. "I didn't have time to play dice because I was on trial," he said matter of factly.

Lombardo, dressed in a conservative gray jacket and silver tie, sometimes rubbed his hands in front of him as he testified and sometimes played with his glasses. He often gave brief answers in a sing-song tone and looked toward the jury as he talked.

Lombardo said he worked a dumbwaiter at a hotel, drove trucks, built two six-flats in a small construction business and worked at a salvage warehouse.

Through his relationships with Weiner and Dorfman, Lombardo said, he met Outfit figures such as Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio and Anthony Spilotro.

Lombardo testified that Weiner also led him to International Fiberglass, where he worked with Seifert. Prosecutors contend Lombardo had Seifert killed before he could testify against Lombardo in a pension fraud case.

The business was failing when he got there, Lombardo said, telling jurors he agreed to round up out-of-work "kids" in the Grand Avenue area to help make sinks and other company products. He helped Seifert pay bills and manage the business, Lombardo said.

A host of nicknames used for Lombardo have surfaced during the trial, including "Lumpy," "Lumbo" and "Pagliacci," the Italian word for clowns. On Tuesday, Lombardo acknowledged he used another name for himself in some of his business dealings in the 1970s: Joseph Cuneo. "Because my name, Lombardo, was always in the paper for different things," he said.

Halprin tried to take on evidence that prosecutors say points to Lombardo's involvement in Seifert's killing. But Lombardo appeared confused on one critical issue and Halprin moved to another topic.

Lombardo's fingerprint was found on the title application for a car used by the gunmen to flee from the scene of Seifert's shooting at his Bensenville business. In addition, Lombardo was identified as having often bought police scanners like the one found in the getaway vehicle.

Lombardo acknowledged buying police scanners from a local store but said he was running errands for Weiner and his bail-bonding business. But Lombardo said he was puzzled about the fingerprint. Halprin asked how it could have been left on the title document.

"What are my prints on? On what?" he asked. "Is that document in Irv Weiner's office?"

Halprin promised to come back to the subject.

Lombardo also denied that he had attempted to bribe Sen. Cannon. He said he was recorded in Dorfman's office discussing his idea to have the senator buy a Las Vegas property that was being purchased by someone else with a large loan from a Teamsters pension fund. He got nothing out of the deal, Lombardo said, except "15 years and 5 years probation."

Earlier Tuesday, Lombardo's lawyers called a series of witnesses who testified that they saw Lombardo at work at legitimate jobs, including International Fiberglass.

Among those testifying was Johnny Lira, 56, a Golden Gloves boxing champion and a one-time lightweight title contender. Lira said he renewed a relationship with the reputed mobster when Lombardo left prison in the early 1990s. Lombardo worked every day at a business that dealt with concrete-cutting machines, he said.

He described Lombardo as "a grease monkey" who worked on equipment in the business' warehouse on Racine Avenue until his arrest in early 2006. Assistant U.S. Atty. Markus Funk asked whether Lira knew Lombardo was a fugitive in his final months on the job. "He didn't act like a fugitive," Lira said. "He came there every day."

In his testimony, Lombardo tried to portray himself as a normal working guy who liked sports. He can "ice skate, roller skate, Rollerblade and bowl," Lombardo testified.

Prosecutors are likely to go hard after that image during their expected cross-examination on Wednesday, and there will be no chance for "the Clown" to disappear.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Morgan Mint

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Spilotro Brothers Leave Court

Friends of ours: Anthony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

Anthony Spilotro, left, and his brother, Michael, leave the federal building in Chicago.Reputed mobster Anthony Spilotro, left, and his brother, Michael, leave the federal building in Chicago after a bond hearing in this June 17, 1986 photo. Anthony Spilotro was known as the Chicago Outfit's man in Las Vegas and inspired the Joe Pesci character in the movie casino. He and his brother were beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield in June 1986.

On Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007, a forensic pathologist who did autopsies on the Spilotros, testified at the trial in Chicago of five men charged with taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included 18 murders. He said there was no evidence that the two men were buried alive.

Cop Stories About The Chicago Outfit

Jim Jack and I are watching the world's biggest mob trial from a back bench, where he can whisper to me while pointing to this thug and that one.

All these decaying Chicago Outfit guys, they look like uncles and grandpas now. But Jack knew a few of them when they just looked mean. They hide it better now.

Jack, 79, was a Chicago cop. He got on the force in 1955, made detective a year later, and worked the old Gale Street District on the Northwest Side -- last stop before the suburbs. He and his longtime partner, Frank Czech, knew all the hinky joints and liked to poke their heads in.

Jack points across the courtroom to a balding fellow slumped in a chair. That's Frank Calabrese Sr., alleged hit man in love with his work.

Jack tells me about the first time he met Calabrese. It was 1958 and he and Czech were cruising around, looking for a suspect in a shooting. They stopped at a mob-connected joint called The Nest, in the 3800 block of North Central.

"It was like 2 o'clockish in the morning, a swinging place, Tony Smith playing on stage," Jack says. "And me and my partner walk in and it was jammed. I was lucky I had my feet on the floor. I take two steps to the bar and there's a space between two guys. I'm bothering nobody, just sticking my head in there to look down at the end of the bar."

One of the two guys swiveled on his stool, as Jack recalls, and offered a traditional Chicago greeting: "What the f--- you lookin' at?" Jack replied, "Nothing much."

"Evidently he took offense to that, because first thing I know he whacked me right in the mouth," Jack tells me now. "Later on, when he's under arrest, he says he's sorry -- he didn't know we were cops. Like if I were a regular patron, it's OK to do a tattoo on my face."

I look across the courtroom again at Calabrese. He still looks like somebody's uncle. But I wonder if he's wondering what the f--- I'm looking at.

James A. Jack has been attending the Family Secrets mob trial at the Dirksen Federal Building since it began June 21. He's thinking of writing a book about his cop days, and the trial fits in.

Jack already has written one award-winning bookThree Boys Missing: The Tragedy That Exposed the Pedophilia Underworld, Three Boys Missing: The Tragedy That Exposed the Pedophilia Underworld, just published by HPH Publishing. The book is Jack's account of his dogged police work in the days immediately after one of Chicago's most notorious crimes, the 1955 Peterson-Schuessler triple murders.

Jack didn't solve that crime. Decades would pass, in fact, before an aging pedophile would be convicted of the murders and tossed in prison. But in the course of working on the case, Jack and his partner rooted out two or three other sex offenders, and they discovered something that was almost like a secret in the more innocent 1950s -- pedophilia is frightfully common.

That's what happens when you're a cop: You learn the world is a darker place than most people know.

I ask Jack for another story, another tale from those jolly formative years. He tells me about his first partner as a detective, a cop who dressed in Gucci on a Florsheim salary.

"Phil Tolomeo -- the Outfit put him in there," Jack tells me. "The first month I was working with him, I didn't even know. I was new and just married.

"We're working midnights and he's driving, and he stops at a place on Harlem called Meo's," Jack continues. "He says, 'Wait here, I'll be right back,' and he goes in and it's like 45 minutes, then an hour. He comes out and I say, 'Jesus, where the hell you been?' He says, 'Oh, I just went to see a few guys.'"

Jack didn't like Tolomeo's Gucci shoes. He didn't like that Meo was the last three letters in Tolomeo. He didn't like what he had heard when he started asking around -- that Meo's was a favorite mob hangout.

"They're all in there, every day and every night -- Tony Accardo, Aiuppa, Cerone, Murray the Camel," Jack says. "I'm not Charlie Chan, but I'm beginning to figure it out."

The last straw came the third or fourth night Tolomeo left Jack waiting outside Meo's. All of a sudden, as Jack sat there in the dark, flashbulbs began popping in the weeds from a vacant lot across the street. Somebody was taking pictures.

Back at the police station, Jack finally had a talk with Sgt. George Murphy, the supervisor of detectives. "Sarg, what's going on?" he said. "I'm gonna get myself fired."

Murphy nodded and clued Jack in. Yeah, he said, that was probably the FBI taking surveillance pictures from the weeds. And he already knew all about Tolomeo.

"Somebody had to be his partner, Jim," Murphy said, "and you're new and we didn't think you'd get in trouble with him."

"Get me off," Jack said.

The next month, Jack had a new partner, Frank Czech. And 35 years after that, long after leaving the police force, Phil "Philly Beans" Tolomeo -- who was, indeed, related to the owner of Meo's -- entered the federal witness protection program. He explained to the FBI exactly how Frank Calabrese's extortion racket worked.

Jack wasn't a Chicago cop for long. He left the police force in 1968 and became head of national security for Toys R Us. He had a family to support, and he was tired of moonlighting to make ends meet. One good-paying job made more sense than two or three poor paying jobs. Not bad for an ex-boxer from the West Side who grew up in an orphanage. But before turning in his badge, Jack gathered enough great cop stories for a lifetime.

Like the story about getting into a huge bar fight with Tony Spilotro, the vicious mob boss of Las Vegas who wound up dead in an Indiana cornfield.

Jack's story about Spilotro is a long one, starting in 1961 and ending in 1963. It's also a good one, involving a nightclub singer, a pretty girl and a grudge that wouldn't go away. But in the space I've got left here, I could never do it justice.

"You really should write that book," I tell Jack, whispering to him at the Family Secrets trial.

Up on the witness stand, a forensic pathologist is describing how Tony Spilotro and his brother Michael were beaten to death with nothing but fists, knees and feet.

"I just might," Jack says. "It was something."

Thanks to Tom McNamee

Lawyer on Lombardo: Hustler? Yes, Gangster? No

Friends of ours: Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Frank Calabrese Sr., Anthony Doyle, Nicholas Calabrese
Friends of mine: Frank Calabrese Jr.

Lawyer Rick Halprin stood a step from the jury box Monday at the Family Secrets trial and painted a picture of a vastly misunderstood Joey "the Clown" Lombardo.

Lowering his normally deep, echoing voice, Halprin contended the reputed leader of the Outfit's Grand Avenue street crew was "a hustler and not a gangster," telling jurors that his client's ambition got him tangled up with the wrong crowd and mislabeled a mobster. "Joey Lombardo is not, was not and never has been a capo or a made member of the Chicago Outfit," Halprin said.

His remarks came after federal prosecutors completed seven weeks of often-dramatic evidence and the defense opened for the five men on trial in a conspiracy case that at its heart involves 18 long-unsolved gangland slayings.

The trial's next few days could be pivotal as Lombardo and another key defendant, Frank Calabrese Sr., are expected to testify on their own behalf, their attorneys said. Former Chicago Police Officer Anthony Doyle, another defendant in the case, may testify as well.

The investigation's Family Secrets code-name came as a result of cooperation by Calabrese's brother and son. In recent testimony, the brother, Nicholas, an admitted Outfit hit man, implicated Calabrese in more than a dozen of the mob killings. The son, Frank Jr., also testified after secretly recording conversations with his father.

The task could be tall as well for Lombardo, 78, as he tries to dispel his image as one of Chicago's most clever and colorful organized-crime figures of recent decades.

In a highly unusual, strategic move Monday, Halprin delivered his opening statement on Lombardo's behalf weeks after the landmark trial began in late June and other defense lawyers addressed jurors. Halprin denied his client took part as charged in the massive criminal conspiracy but admitted he had one connection to questionable activities on the West Side. "He did, in fact, run the oldest, most reliable craps game on Grand Avenue," Halprin said with a smile.

Lombardo sat back at his defense table, watching his lawyer. At one point he looked toward the courtroom gallery while adjusting his glasses, as if gauging reaction.

Halprin's remarks lasted about 30 minutes. He stood away from a lectern, gesturing with his hands and explaining Lombardo's point of view.

Halprin portrayed Lombardo as a businessman who fell into trouble after mixing with the wrong people. He was friends with men such as mob-connected bail bondsman Irwin Weiner and labor racketeer Allen Dorfman and got swept up in their schemes, he said. Lombardo was convicted with Dorfman in an attempt to bribe the late U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon of Nevada, Halprin told jurors, and was later convicted of skimming millions of dollars from a Las Vegas casino. But Lombardo played a minor role, Halprin said, and didn't see a dime of any casino cash. He was snared in the case because he spent time at Dorfman's office while the FBI was wiretapping conversations there.

In prison in the 1980s, Lombardo had an epiphany, the lawyer said. "He knew for the rest of his life, in the public's perception, [it would be]: reputed mobster, reputed gang boss," Halprin said. "He decides to withdraw from his past life."

Lombardo took out a newspaper ad in the early 1990s claiming he wasn't a made member of the mob and asking anyone who witnessed him commit a crime to call his probation officer or the FBI.

He has held to a lawful lifestyle ever since, Halprin said, working at an upholstery factory and minding his own business.

Jurors would not see a witness come into the courtroom and identify the Lombardo of the past decade as anything "other than older, smarter, wiser and a decent citizen," Halprin promised.

Halprin denied Lombardo played any part in the 1974 murder of federal witness Daniel Seifert, the lone killing in which he has been implicated. Seifert was fatally shot before he could testify against Lombardo and others in a fraud case. But Halprin said his client was 20 miles away in a restaurant at the time of the killing.

Also Monday, a defense witness testified he witnessed the 1983 murders of Richard Ortiz and Arthur Morawski and contradicted the testimony of Nick Calabrese, the government's star witness. Terry Pretto, 56, who was the first witness called for Frank Calabrese Sr., testified he lived above the Cicero bar owned by Ortiz at the time of the murder.

Pretto said several times that he was "petrified" to be testifying and faced the wrong way as he was about to be sworn in Monday. U.S. District Judge James Zagel asked him to turn around and face the bench. "Sorry guy," Pretto said.

The gray-haired Pretto said he left his pregnant wife upstairs to buy a six pack of beer on the night of the shooting when he saw a man standing in front of Ortiz's car. Pretto said a single gunman with no mask or gloves shot the men. He identified the gunman as a Cicero police sergeant.

Calabrese testified that he and his brother carried out the killing after Ortiz crossed the Outfit.

On cross-examination by Assistant U.S. Atty. Mitchell Mars, Pretto acknowledged he never gave a statement about what he contends he saw until May 2000, 17 years after the murders.

Mars pressed him for details, and Pretto admitted again that he was flustered. "I'm scared," said Pretto, even telling the prosecutor "you might come after me tonight."

"No, I guarantee it won't be me," Mars answered.

Mars also asked if it was possible Pretto was naming the police officer because he had a grudge against him. He asked if Pretto remembered giving a statement saying that the officer had once handcuffed him in Cicero and beaten him up.

Pretto said he didn't recall. "I've been handcuffed a lot of times in Cicero," he said.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Monday, August 13, 2007

Feds Rest Their Case at Family Secrets Trial

Federal prosecutors rested their case Monday at the racketeering trial of alleged mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and four other reputed members of the Chicago underworld.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel quickly denied requests by the defendants for immediate acquittal and began setting the stage for perhaps a week of defense witnesses -- including Lombardo himself -- at Chicago's biggest mob trial in years. "It's quite plain that all of these motions for acquittal at the end of the government's case must be denied and I deny them," Zagel said.

Besides the 78-year-old Lombardo, those on trial are James Marcello, 65, Frank Calabrese, 69, Paul Schiro, 70, and Anthony Doyle, 62.

They are charged with operating Chicago's organized crime family -- known as the Chicago Outfit -- as a racketeering enterprise that included gambling, extortion, loan sharking and 18 long-unsolved murders.

Among those murdered was Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, for years the mob's man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for the Joe Pesci character in the movie "Casino." He and his brother Michael were beaten and strangled in 1986 and buried in an Indiana cornfield.

Lombardo plans to take the witness stand in his own defense sometime this week, attorneys said. Defense attorneys for Calabrese and Doyle did not rule out the possibility that their clients also could testify.

Lombardo's defense is based on the claim that, after serving years in prison for attempting to bribe a U.S. senator and involvement in Las Vegas casino skimming, he swore he would never take part in any further crimes.

Zagel said he would allow Lombardo to talk about his withdrawal from a life of crime despite grumbling from prosecutors that it amounted to letting him vouch for his own good behavior.

On cross examination, prosecutors are guaranteed to ask him why he went on the lam for months after the indictment was unsealed. He was arrested after FBI agents cornered him in an Elmwood Park alley.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Gambino Ambassador to Sicilian Mobsters

Friends of ours: Frank "U Frankie" Cali, Gambino Crime Family, Dominic "Italian Dom" Cefalu

A reputed Gambino crime-family soldier serves as ambassador to Sicilian mobsters trying to pump millions of dollars in illicit drug and extortion proceeds into real estate and other business in New York, officials said yesterday.

Wiretapped conversations picked up by Mafia-hunters in Palermo identified Frank "U Frankie" Cali as the suspected Gambino point man between his crime family and their counterparts in Sicily, Italian authorities said.

Sources said the only Frank Cali listed in the Gambino family in the United States is a 42-year-old Sicilian native living Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. He could not be reached for comment last night.

The bombshell disclosure came after Italian police rounded up 14 suspected mobsters in Palermo on an array of charges, including aiding fugitive boss Salvatore Lo Piccolo, one of Palermo's most powerful mob figures and possible successor to Bernardo Provenzano, the undisputed boss of bosses. Provenzano was captured last year after 43 years on the lam.

The probe uncovered evidence that Cali, who has close ties to a once-prominent Mafia family in Italy, the Inzerillos, would likely help the Sicilians launder tens of millions of euros in speculative real-estate deals in Brooklyn and retail businesses in Manhattan. Authorities did not disclose what those investments might be.

Telephone wiretaps and listening devices discovered close relations between the Palermo families and the American Mafia, according to a statement by Palermo police.

The Mafia has already made an agreement with the Italian-Americans in view of shared opportunities, Pietro Grasso, Italy's national anti-Mafia prosecutor, said at a recent news conference. In this new strategy, the American connections are indispensable.

Grasso explained that the Sicilians have a difficult time laundering their money in their homeland and are increasingly turning to the United States and other countries, where they have allies to launder cash.

Last May, The Post reported that the Sicilian mobsters, with their infamous history of violence and drug trafficking, were re-emerging as major powers in the Big Apple, and their ranks were expected to grow with the release of notorious Pizza Connection Mafiosi.

Sources say Cali appears to be a legitimate businessman, but investigators believe he is closely aligned with Dominic "Italian Dom" Cefalu, 60, who is currently considered the underboss of the Gambino crime family.

Thanks to Murray Weis

The Clown to Enter Center Ring at MobTrial

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello, Nick Calabrese, Michael Marcello

In the upcoming defense of the five men on trial in the Family Secrets case, there will be one star attraction: the Clown.

Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo will take the witness stand in his own defense, his attorney, Rick Halprin, said in court Wednesday as the prosecution all but wrapped up its case.

Lombardo's defense "obviously centers around his testimony," Halprin said. And he has been put at the highest levels of the Chicago Outfit in trial testimony. Lombardo, 78, has never testified in a criminal case in his own defense. He gave a deposition in a union proceeding and spoke to the judge before he was sentenced in a criminal case in the 1980s.

Halprin deferred his opening statement for Lombardo until after the prosecution rested its case. Halprin is expected to give his opening on Monday.

Lombardo has an alibi for the day Seifert was killed. He contends he was reporting his stolen wallet to police at the time of the murder.

Defense attorneys for other men on trial, including the reputed head of the Chicago mob, James Marcello, will say Monday whether their clients will take the stand too.

As prosecutors brought their case to a close Wednesday, they played several more secret tape recordings made when Marcello was visited by his half-brother, Michael, at a federal prison in Milan, Mich. The tapes appear to show great concern by the Marcellos over the cooperation of Nick Calabrese, a mob killer who has testified at the trial.

Michael Marcello was the owner of a company that put video gambling machines in bars in the western suburbs. IRS Revenue Agent Michael Welch testified that the company failed to report at least half its income from 1996 to 2003, to the tune of $4.3 million. A top mob investigator with the IRS, William Paulin, testified earlier that when he and other agents searched Michael Marcello's company in 2003, they found thousands of dollars in apparently unreported cash.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

America's Most Wanted on The Chicago Syndicate 8/11/2007

America's Most Wanted on The Chicago Syndicate
Richard McNair: In 1987, Richard Lee McNair killed a man during a burglary attempt in North Dakota . He was captured shortly after, but a long prison term wasn’t what he had in mind. Cops say he packaged himself in prison mail bags, and literally mailed himself to freedom. Since then, McNair has had several close calls with the law. Now, this week, AMW correspondent Michelle Sigona tries to put McNair back behind bars for good. Saturday night, you’ll see her re-enact McNair’s bizarre escape plan, from start to finish.

Newark Student Shooters: What began as a typical summer night for four students in Newark , New Jersey ended in a senseless blood bath in the parking lot of Mount Vernon Elementary School . Sources say Natasha Aerial, who was shot in the head, saved her life by playing dead. But unfortunately, her three friends were murdered execution style just minutes later. Police have already made two arrests in the case, and say there could be more.

Walentina Knapek
: Police say Walentina Knapek has been ripping off supermarkets and large retail stores all over the county for over 25 years. Cops say she poses as a deaf mute and tries to convince store clerks they’re giving her incorrect change. Surprisingly, she’s succeeded several times. Last month, it looked like we finally had a break in the case when cops arrested a woman who allegedly scammed a store out of $200. But as it turns out, the suspect wasn’t Knapek. Hopefully with your help this week, we can finally track her down.

Wedding Dress Attacker: For 15 years someone has been targeting women who have advertised wedding gowns for sale. Cops say the suspect sets up a meeting with the guise of being interested in purchasing a dress. But while he’s there, he attempts to sexually assault the women. Jeffrey Mullins was arrested in connection to the case, but police say there’s a chance he’s not the Wedding Dress Attacker. More suspects could be identified soon.

Arturo Munguia: For nine years, police have been on the hunt for a man named Jessi Vega in connection to the murder of Tricia Beristain. Now, cops tell AMW that they’ve learned the man’s real name is Arturo Munguia. And we’re closer than ever to bringing him down. Help us put Munguia in cuffs.

Brossman Killer: Billy Brossman was working at Bower’s 7th and 70 Liquor Store in Indiana the day after Thanksgiving in 2001 when an unidentified man entered the store. Unfortunately, cops say the man had other plans than just purchasing alcohol. Surveillance tapes show the man removing his gun from his waistband, demanding money from the register, and then leading Billy to the back of the store to kill him. We need your help in identifying this cold-blooded killer.

Sophie David: Cops say Sophie David expected a life of luxury when she moved to Los Angeles . But police think when she began suspecting her husband was cheating on her, she killed him. Now, 16 years later, the trail has gone cold. And cops need your help in tracking David down.

Michael Alexander: Cops say Michael Alexander is suspected of killing his uncle so he could inherit the home of his late aunt. On May 29th, an AMW viewer tipped off police that Alexander was hiding out in his Brooklyn apartment. But when cops arrived, he already escaped through the window. A day later, Alexander was captured; making him AMW Direct Result # 942.

Raymond Gates: With the help of an AMW tipster, Raymond Gates is finally in police custody. New Mexico cops collaborated with the U.S. Marshals in Texas to take down the wanted sex offender on June 26, 2007, making him direct capture #950.

Carl Dinatale: Police say Carl Dinatale robbed dozens of jewelry stores all along the East Coast. But, thanks to great police work and some help from AMW, the crooked thief is behind bars.

Vincent Ledoux: For ten years, Vincent Ledoux was able to elude the long arm of the law. But thanks to an AMW viewer, the accused sexual predator is in custody, and we were there for the takedown.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Marcello Brother's Videotape Played for Jury

Friends of ours: James Marcello, Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo, Frank Calabrese, Paul Schiro, Anthony Doyle
Friends of mine: Michael Marcello

A secretly recorded videotape played to jurors at a mob trial Wednesday showed one of the defendants cursing and fidgeting as he spoke to a brother visiting him in prison, apparently fearful authorities might be closing in on him.

The video of a visibly anxious James Marcello, his eyes darting around a visitors’ area during the expletive-laden conversations, was among the last evidence presented by prosecutors before they rest their case against Marcello and four co-defendants.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said at the conclusion of testimony Wednesday that he expected prosecutors to wrap up their case Monday when the trial resumes. The defense could start calling witnesses later the same day, he said.

The video footage shown Wednesday was recorded in 2003 when Michael Marcello visited his brother, James, who was serving a prison sentence on a separate matter at the time. Neither man knew he was being recorded.

On the tape, James Marcello speaks in hushed tones and admonishes his brother to put his hand over his mouth when he talks, apparently out of concern someone could read their lips.

He also tries to convey how grave the situation could be. “You think this is a high school prom or something?” he said in a heavy Chicago accent. But at another point, he uses a curse word to express confidence he’d be able to stay out of legal trouble: “They couldn’t prove a … thing,” he said.

The 65-year-old James Marcello sat at a defense table Wednesday viewing the video recording on a monitor, sometimes watching intently and other times smiling.

The other defendants on trial in Chicago are Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo, 78, Frank Calabrese, 69, Paul Schiro, 70, and Anthony Doyle, 62. The five are accused of mob racketeering conspiracy that allegedly included 18 murders, including of Michael and Tony Spilotro. It was the latter who inspired the Joe Pesci character in the popular 1995 movie “Casino.”

In their recorded conversations, the Marcello brothers employ the colorful language of another era, referring, for instance, to “broads” and “coppers.”

They also rely heavily on code words, hand signals and nicknames, which an FBI agent interpreted for jurors. The mention of a “Hitler” in the recording, the agent said, referred to reputed mobster Frank “The German” Schweihs.

In cross examination, defense lawyers suggested that — since the federal agent wasn’t a native Chicagoan — he might have misinterpreted what the Marcellos really meant when they spoke or used hand gestures. “That’s not unusual for Italians to use their hands when they’re talking, is it?” said Frank Calabrese’s lawyer, Joseph Lopez.

The Marcellos also expressed admiration for Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo, who they refer to in the video as “Pagliacci” — the name of an Italian opera about a clown. “He’s the only one that’s got the brains,” said Michael Marcello.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Using Intel to Stop the Mob, Part 2: The Turning Point

Friends of ours: Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Joseph Barbara, Joseph Valachi

Capone was history. (Part 1) “Lucky” Luciano’s luck ran out when he was convicted and deported to Italy. And Murder Inc. and its professional hit men were out of business.

The FBI and its partners had scored some major successes against organized crime by the late 1940s, but hoodlums and racketeers were still operating and thriving in certain big cities—New York, Chicago, Detroit, to name a few.

During this time, we’d been using intelligence to paint a picture of criminal activities, mostly locally on a case-by-case basis. In 1946, we launched the General Investigative Intelligence Program—our first national criminal intelligence initiative—to survey the crime landscape and gather details on key players, including mobsters.

By the early 50s, we’d gained (according to one memo) “considerable information concerning the background of operations of hoodlums and racketeers throughout the country,” using informants, discrete inquiries, and public sources. We’d also pulled together intelligence through surveys on the Mafia, on bookmaking and race wire activities, and on other criminal rackets.

In 1953, the New York office—facing rising mobster activity—specifically asked to open intelligence files on 30 top hoodlums in the city to get a general picture of their activities and to keep an eye out for violations of federal law. On August 25 th of that year, we made it an official national “Top Hoodlum Program,” asking all field offices to gather information on mobsters in their territories and to report it regularly to Washington so we’d have a centralized collection of intelligence on racketeers.

It’s important to understand: at the time, most racketeering activities—including gambling and loan sharking—were beyond our jurisdictional reach. Still, we needed to build a bank of information to better understand the threat and to be prepared if federal laws were broken.

Three key developments would help us further expose the length and breadth of organized crime generally and the Mafia specifically in the years to come.

* In 1957, New York State Police Sergeant Edgar Croswell discovered a secret meeting of top Mafioso at the rural estate of mob leader Joseph Barbara in Apalachin, New York. We immediately checked the names taken by Croswell. We had information in our files on 53 of the 60 mobsters; forty had criminal records. Croswell’s discovery led us to intensify our interest in these figures (not begin it, as some have speculated) and to arrest mobsters who violated federal law. In part because of Apalachin, we realized that local and regional crime lords were conspiring and began to adjust our strategy accordingly.
* In 1961, Attorney General Robert Kennedy created an Organized Crime and Racketeering Section in the Department of Justice to coordinate activities by the FBI and other department agencies against the criminal threat.
* In 1963, thanks in part to the FBI, the first major Mafia turncoat—Joseph Valachi—publicly spilled the beans before a Senate subcommittee, naming names and exposing plenty of secrets about organized crime history, operations, and rituals.

As the threat became clearer, Congress began giving us more tools to combat it—including jurisdiction over more mobster related crimes like gambling and, in 1968, the ability to use court-authorized electronic surveillance in cases involving organized crime.

As a result of these intelligence efforts and new tools, our campaign against the mob turned a corner. The next key piece of the puzzle would come in the early ‘70s, with the passage of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations or “RICO” statute that would enable us to take down entire mob families. More on that later.

Thanks to the FBI

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Clown's Hideout

Friends of ours: Joey "the Clown" Lombardo
Friends of mine: Dominic Calarco

Dominic Calarco said he went to his social club seven days a week to cook for its members, but that routine was broken by a knock on his door in January 2006.

He thought he knew the bearded man standing in front of him. But he wasn't sure until he heard the man speak, he told jurors Monday at the Family Secrets mob-conspiracy trial. The man asking for shelter at Calarco's Elmwood Park home was Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, an alleged leader of the Chicago Outfit who was on the run from federal authorities.

"He said, 'I got no place to go, can I stay with you for a couple of weeks?'" Calarco said.

Lombardo sat in the back of a row of defense tables at the trial Monday, and he didn't have any noticeable reaction to hearing about his last days of freedom. He tilted his head as he listened to Calarco, looking ahead through his tinted eyeglasses.

The two were once neighbors said Calarco, 85, and they had known each other for more than 70 years. He said he invited Lombardo in, and he said that although the case against Lombardo was "none of my business," he soon began to urge his fugitive friend to turn himself in.

There were nights Lombardo cried because he missed his family, and he appeared to be in poor health, Calarco said. They wouldn't have had far to go to find an officer, he added.

"I said all we've got to do is walk across the street," Calarco said, referring to his home being within a block of the Elmwood Park police headquarters. "He said he had a few more things to do," Calarco said.

Among them was a visit to dentist Patrick Spilotro, the brother of Anthony and Michael Spilotro, for some dental work. The deaths of Anthony and Michael Spilotro are among the 18 mob-related slayings in the case.

Star government witness Nicholas Calabrese has also testified about seeing Spilotro for dental care. Spilotro is expected to testify Tuesday.

Lombardo was arrested in Elmwood Park soon after the visit with Patrick Spilotro, nine months after he was indicted along with the other defendants in the Family Secrets case.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Russian Mafia Coming to FX

FX is stepping up its bid to find the successor to "The Shield," teaming with helmer Pete Berg ("The Kingdom") and scribe Sheldon Turner ("X-Men: Magneto") for a dark cop drama with echoes of "Heart of Darkness."

Untitled project revolves around two law-enforcement agents who are undercover in the world of the Russian Mafia. One is a Kurtz-like figure who's gone off the grid; the other is an NYPD officer sent in to find the potentially renegade agent. "They're two freight trains on a collision course," said Justin Levy, VP and head of television for Film 44, the shingle run by Berg and Sarah Aubrey.

Turner, who's finished a first draft of the script, will serve as an exec producer on the project, along with Berg and Aubrey. Berg -- who exec produces NBC's critically beloved "Friday Night Lights" -- may direct the pilot should it be greenlit and if his schedule allows.

Turner said he was attracted to the notion of reinventing the cop genre for FX, a network that did just that with "The Shield."

"You've seen lots of undercover shows and films before, but there's a great opportunity to take the well-worn cliches, undermine them and pull the rug out from underneath them," he said. "This is what the real world of undercover is like."

One twist is that the cop who's gone rogue may end up being more likable than the so-called good cop sent in to find him, Turner added.

Levy credits FX development exec Matt Cherniss with the broad concept for the show. "He came to us with the idea, and we went and got Sheldon," he said, adding that the idea for the show was a good match for all parties involved.

"I've always imagined the Film 44 brand as adrenaline and authenticity, which matches what FX is all about," he said. "And Sheldon is the guy to go to when you want (that kind of writing). He's got it in spades."

Turner has developed material for FX before, writing serial killer pilot "The Gentleman." On the feature front, his credits also include "The Longest Yard" and the upcoming pics "Orbit" at Fox 2000 and "Two Minutes to Midnight" (with Jennifer Klein). He's also writing Warner Bros.' Enron pic, which Leonardo DiCaprio is producing.

Film 44 has a first-look deal with Universal Media Studios, but that studio isn't involved in the FX project; the cabler is developing it inhouse.

Thanks to Josef Adalian

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