Friday, April 11, 2008

Judge Takes No Action for Now on Alleged Threat by Mobster to US Attorney

The federal judge who presided over Chicago's biggest mob trial in years ruled Thursday that a threat allegedly uttered by one of the defendants during closing arguments calls for no immediate action.

It should be obvious that a defendant is not entitled to a new trial or any other relief merely because a juror observed his behavior in court, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said in a 12-page opinion.

"A defendant seeking relief in this instance is somewhat like the apocryphal child who murders his parents and then asks the court to have mercy on an orphan," Zagel said.

The jury convicted five defendants of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that involved illegal gambling, extortion, loan sharking and 18 murders that went unsolved for decades.

Among the victims was Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, the mob's longtime man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for Joe Pesci's character in the movie "Casino." He and brother Michael Spilotro were beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield in June 1986.

Other victims were strangled, beaten and shot to keep them from leaking secrets to the FBI, according to witnesses at the 10-week trial.

Several of those convicted at the trial argued that the alleged threat may have prejudiced the jury and one of them, mob boss James Marcello, asked for a new trial.

The alleged threat took place while Assistant U.S. Attorney Markus Funk delivered a closing argument for the government.

Four jurors told prosecutors after the trial that while Funk spoke, convicted loan shark and hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. said: "You are a (expletive) dead man," according to a letter from the government to Calabrese's lawyer last October.

The juror who made the initial report was "extremely credible" in saying he heard part of the sentence and saw Calabrese mouth the rest of it, Zagel said in his opinion Thursday. Prosecutors didn't hear it.

Zagel said he held a hearing at the request of the defendants but found no reason for further action now. The judge did say, however, that he would address the issue further when he rules on the defendants' post-trial motions.

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