Friday, March 11, 2011

Former State Sen. James DeLeo Tied to Chicago Outfit According to Frank Calabrese Jr.

In the Family Secrets Trial, the late prosecutor Mitchell Mars told jurors the Chicago Outfit could not exist without the help of another Chicago institution -- politics. Now, the former gangster who brought down the mob is talking about the intersection of politics and the outfit.

FOX Chicago's Dane Placko sat down with Frank Calabrese Junior, who says the Outfit knew how to get political clout.

"I went out there and tried to corrupt people. With girls, drugs, whatever. I was a bad person. I ain't like that no more," Calabrese Junior said.

Former ganster Frank Calabrese Junior, now living in Phoenix, is spilling mob secrets in his new book, Operation Family Secrets. It's the story of his wrenching decision to cooperate with the government and put his father, Frank Calabrese Senior, and other mob leaders behind bars for life.

Calabrese Junior said his father taught him how to capitalize on politicians' weaknesses. His father showed him early on how the Outfit would seek out and compromise politicians at City Hall and in Springfield with women, gambling or drugs.

According to Calabrese, it was important to "make them want you to protect them. Find out their weaknesses. Find out their vices. And that's what I did."

Calabrese says his dad always told him to avoid being seen in public with politicians. But there was one exception. "He wanted me to strike up friendships with a lot of politicians, and I did. I'll give you an example. Jimmy DeLeo," Frank Junior said.

Former State Sen. James DeLeo resigned his seat after 18 years last summer.

Frank Jr. said his dad told him to get close to DeLeo, and he got close enough that they vacationed and partied together in Florida.

DeLeo has not been reachable for comment.

"Ralph was the go-to guy between us and Jimmy DeLeo," Calabrese added, referring to Ralph Peluso, a top bookmaker and enforcer in the Calabrese crew. He was mentioned more than a dozen times in the Family Secrets trial, and was even scheduled to testify on behalf of the government. Peluso backed out at the last minute.

Months later, Peluso got a management job with the Illinois Department of Transportation. Peluso was fired in August after FOX Chicago News began asking how someone with an Outfit background got that job.

Calabrese said Peluso had long been his family's connection to the northwest side's powerful 36th Ward Democratic Organization. FOX Chicago News was unable to find Peluso for comment.

"I knew Ralph was close with the 36th Ward. Everybody in the 36th Ward. So it didn't shock me when he got a job like that. But it's funny because they waited right till after the trial to put him in that spot," Calabrese said. But getting jobs was never a problem for the Outfit, Calabrese said, especially jobs on the public payroll. He himself worked for Chicago's water department for several years and even used his expertise to fish a gun out of a sewer that had been used by his Uncle Nick during a hit.

While the Chicago mob was badly damaged by the Family Secrets convictions, Calabrese says lawmakers in Springfield just handed gangsters a get out of jail free card with the expansion of video gambling. "I mean, I laughed when I seen that. I mean, really. Why? I could go back there and show you how fast I could get in the middle of it," he said.

Lawmakers approved putting tens of thousand of video poker machines in bars, restaurants and truck stops as part of a $31 billion public works bill. That bill is tied up in the courts, but if it goes through, former FBI organized crime director Tom Bourgeois said it could be the jackpot the Outfit needs to re-organize. "You're just providing an avenue for organized crime to re-root itself and find ways to become more powerful. It's just too easy to do that and of course, the legislation provides opportunity for very little oversight," Bourgeois said.

Calabrese says he's already heard some of his old friends from Chicago are lining up for a "video poker payday."

"It's math 101, okay? I'm not gonna go in there and put my name on a license and buy a bar and ask for three machines. I'm coming to you who's totally legit and say you're gonna buy the machines from this guy, and this is what you'e gonna pay him and that guy's gonna help me in some way," he said.

Thanks to Dane Placko

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