Sunday, May 08, 2005

Loan shark's tale in federal court has literary ring

What does Geoffrey Chaucer have in common with the Chicago Outfit's Frank Calabrese Sr.?

Don't worry, you are not having an English Lit nightmare. There are no "Loan Shark's Tales" in Chaucer. I hate to say it, but Calabrese and other members of the Chinatown Crew probably found something threatening in "The Canterbury Tales."

The Chinatown guys probably enjoyed a much later period, with all the wanton sex, food orgies, violence and corruption to be found in Henry Fielding, a writer who would have understood Chicago. Fielding (1707-1754) was a British writer, playwright and journalist, founder of the English Realistic school in literature with Samuel Richardson. Fielding's career as a dramatist has been shadowed by his career as a novelist. His aim as a novelist was to write comic epic poems in prose - he once described himself as "great, tattered bard." Fielding's sharp burlesques satirizing the government gained the attention of the prime minister Sir Robert Walpole and Fielding's career in theater was ended by Theatrical Licensing Act - directed primarily at him. Between the years 1729 and 1737 Fielding wrote 25 plays but he acclaimed critical notice with his novels. The best known are THE HISTORY OF TOM JONES, A FOUNDLING (1749), in which the tangled comedies of coincidence are offset by the neat, architectonic structure of the story, and THE HISTORY OF THE ADVENTURES OF JOSEPH ANDREWS (1742), a parody of Richardson's Pamela (1740)

Yet there might be a "Billy Dauber Tale" in federal court someday--about the icy hit man and his mouthy wife Charlotte. They were chopped to pieces by shotguns during a car chase in Will County years ago. Chaucer's pilgrims would have been horrified by the carnage. (Rumors suggest that Albert Tocco, then the head the Mob's Southland activities, was angered that Dauber had started a freelance string of chop shops and ordered the gruesome hit which occured during a daylight attack.)

Dr. Milt Rosenberg, the cultured and brilliant host of WGN-AM's "Extension 720" radio panel show, read Chaucer on the 50,000 watt station, as a few of us sat with him to talk about the Outfit and its relationship to Chicago politics. I'm a big fan of Rosenberg's program. One evening he'll have professors reading "The Iliad" in the ancient tongue, the next he'll moderate brawling foreign policy experts arguing Iraq policy. Naturally, to open our discussion on the Outfit, he read from "The Canterbury Tales":

"Murder will out, we see it every day. Murder's so hateful and abominable To God, Who is so just and reasonable, That He'll not suffer that it hidden be; Though it may skulk a year, or two, or three, Murder will out ..."

Milt smiled. His message was artfully put as always--this one being that murder is so objectionable that the Almighty causes it to be discovered.

Perhaps the Almighty causes murder to be discovered in English literature, but not in Chicago. There have been more than 1,100 Outfit hits and, until recently, only a little more than a dozen have been solved. That is, not until Frank's brother, Nick Calabrese decided to tell the FBI tales that led to Operation Family Secrets, the indictments of several mob bosses, including the fugitive Joe "the Clown" Lombardo in 18 Outfit murders.

The legendary WBBM-TV crime reporter John "Bulldog" Drummond, the Chicago Crime Commission's Tom Fitzpatrick and yours truly took interesting telephone calls from Milt's listeners.

One caller shocked me by insisting that a now-defunct suburban restaurant was an Outfit hangout--and that the bartenders were deadly--and I was too stunned to mention that it was once owned by a late relative who made great rice pudding.

Another caller said he'd call me later about serving as jury foreman in the Albert Tocco trial. Others asked about the relationship between the Outfit and City Hall, or wondered about relatives who'd been killed.

One who tried phoning in was the daughter of Sam "Momo" Giancana. Antoinette Giancana called me the next day. The author of "Mafia Princess: Growing Up in Sam Giancana's Family" was furious. "I like Milt's show and I know you and I know Drummond so I thought I'd call in and we could gab a bit on the air about the old days," Antoinette Giancana told me the next day. "But they wouldn't connect me. They said, `Sam Giancana's daughter? Oh yeah. OK.' Then the phone clicked off. Oh, I'm so angry! You know how angry I am? I'm angry!"

Antoinette? Please don't take it out on Milt. I enjoyed his Chaucer reading so much that I invited him to accompany Drummond and me to federal court on Friday. We were to watch Frank Calabrese answer charges of murder conspiracy and racketeering.

"I'm sorry," Milt said, "but I have another engagement." Too bad, Milt. You missed it.

In U.S. District Judge James Zagel's courtroom, Frank Calabrese Sr. pleaded not guilty. But he didn't look like himself. For one thing, the convicted Outfit loan shark remains a prisoner, and was in an orange prison jumpsuit. He wasn't wearing the uniform of the Chinatown Crew--black T-shirt, porkpie hat and smirk.

So he didn't seem like a guy who'd sneak up behind you at a bar and make a friendly gesture to remind you to pay your debts--say, stabbing his cigarette out into your bare forearm, or squeezing your head in a car door.

Instead, Calabrese was the picture of a timid old man in an orange jumpsuit, whining about ailments. "I've only got 10 percent of my pituitary gland," Calabrese told Zagel, who has probably heard every excuse, even the pituitary gland. "... I'm on nine medications ... It's a very serious thing. "And, plus a septic in my nose for which I have to take a nasal spray," Calabrese said, hands folded behind him, trigger fingers free to wiggle, sadly.

It's too bad Milt didn't hear a Chicago tough guy complain about his sinus cavity. It's not fiction. Even Fielding, a judge who could have thrived in Cook County, couldn't make this stuff up.

Thanks to John Kass (Bold comments have been added)

Friday, May 06, 2005

Casino hearing expected to call reputed mobster

Reputed Chicago Outfit boss John "No Nose" DiFronzo and his brother, Peter DiFronzo, will be among those called to testify at a state hearing on whether to revoke the state gambling license once destined for Rosemont, Illinois Gaming Board sources said Thursday.

Robert CooleyWhen Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down--the corrupt lawyer turned government informant who testified in mob cases involving the nexus between the Outfit and politicians--is also expected to be called as a witness. Cooley is the author of the book "When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down."

The new head of the Gaming Board said he's looking forward to the hearing but isn't talking about who will testify. "I'd rather not comment on that, because I think it's up to the lawyers to conduct the case as they see it," Chairman Aaron Jaffe told me in a telephone interview. "But I will promise you this. It will be very interesting."

What he didn't say is important here. He didn't say they weren't going to subpoena the tough guys. He didn't say that the DiFronzos and others would not be called. He could have. But he didn't.

Gov. Rod "The Unreformer" Blagojevich appointed Jaffe with the understanding that the Gaming Board was to become independent again. That's nice, since Blagojevich tried to gut the board by denying it a full set of independent investigators.

Jaffe said that to make the board truly independent, though, the governor and the legislature must allow gambling officials to hire more investigators to be led by chief investigator Jim Wagner, the retired chief of the FBI's Organized Crime task force in Chicago. Wagner helped train several current FBI agents who brought the Operation Family Secrets case, with 18 previously unsolved mob murders, to indictment last week.

The Rosemont casino license has been a political Gordian knot. Republican powerhouses have pushed it as a favor to Rosemont Mayor Donald Stephens and his ally, the indicted former Gov. George "Safe Roads" Ryan.

Last year, past board chairman Elzie Higginbottom, a longtime ally of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, led a controversial pro-Rosemont ruling. He and other board members dismissed the concerns of Gaming Board staff that Rosemont was mobbed up and approved a plan to steer a license to a new casino in Stephens' town.

One of those pro-Rosemont board members appointed by Blagojevich was Bill Fanning. After the Rosemont vote, Fanning privately told his colleagues he had neglected to inform them that he had once been related by a past marriage to reputed Outfit boss Joe "The Builder" Andriacchi. Then Fanning resigned. There was little official comment about the development. Fanning did tell colleagues, though, that he had rarely spoken to Andriacchi and hadn't seen him in years.

What surprised me was that Blagojevich hadn't asked Fanning--before appointing him--whether he knew any tough guys. But now Blagojevich says independent is a good thing. Good luck, Mr. Jaffe.

Rosemont was once the headquarters of Outfit boss Sam "Momo" Giancana. According to Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan and other law enforcement authorities, Rosemont has been mobbed up.

Mayor Stephens, who will also be called to testify, vigorously disputes this characterization and has released the findings of an investigation he commissioned that said he's never been "connected to or associated with" the Chicago Outfit.

So I mentioned to Jaffe that he might consider calling another witness--Antoinette Giancana, daughter of the murdered Sam Giancana.

Several years ago, as Stephens was railing that his was not an Outfit town, I had breakfast with the gracious Antoinette and she remembered the days when Stephens eagerly hung out with her father at the Thunderbolt motel in the 1960s. Stephens disputes this. Obviously, a hearing would be quite interesting. "We were very friendly and casual and we all had a good time at the pool," she said. "My father's friends were there too. They had their board meetings in the banquet room. And Don was at the motel too, of course."

I asked her if it was true that the daughters of Outfit bosses teased the young and anxious Stephens by ordering him to fetch them towels at poolside. Did you ever say: Hey Don, get me a towel!? "Wait a minute!" Antoinette Giancana said. "I'd never shout, `Don, go get me a towel!' That would be rude. I was ladylike. You would say, `Don? Would you please get me a towel?'"

Recently, Jaffe appointed the distinguished jurist and former congressman Abner Mikva to preside over the hearing on the Rosemont license revocation. Jaffe said he expects Mikva to set a date for the hearing sometime next week. And Mikva has said he doesn't expect the hearing to drag on forever.

With all that's going on--Operation Family Secrets, City Hall corruption cases and Unreformer Blagojevich's problems--it'd be nice to spend time near a pool. Don, would you please bring me a towel?

Thanks to John Kass

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Judge to Lombardo: No deal

A letter purportedly penned by Joey "the Clown" Lombardo says the reputed mob boss would turn himself in if certain conditions were met--an offer swiftly rejected by a federal judge.

The handwritten, four-page letter indicated Lombardo, who has been on the lam since being indicted last month, would surrender if the judge promised he would be released on his own recognizance and prosecuted in a separate trial after the fate of co-defendants had been decided.

"Judge I am in dire strate (sic) at this time at 76 yr old to live my life peaceful until I die," the letter reads.

Lombardo's lawyer, Rick Halprin, handed over the original letter and envelope to federal authorities in U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel's courtroom. Halprin and an FBI agent familiar with Lombardo's handwriting told the judge they believe the letter is authentic.

The judge said he was satisfied the letter was from Lombardo, then swiftly rejected the conditional offer to surrender. "The conditions that he sets are ones that I simply cannot guarantee," Zagel said. "So knowing this, he is for all practical purposes a fugitive."

The judge then issued a new warrant for Lombardo's arrest. Lombardo already was the subject of an international manhunt since he and 13 others were indicted last month, half of them in connection with 18 long-unsolved Outfit murders.

Law enforcement officials said the letter appears to confirm their belief since last week that Lombardo is holed up in Chicago. The letter arrived in Halprin's law office Tuesday with a postmark indicating it had been mailed in Chicago a day earlier, Halprin said.

Court records show that prosecutors had intended to ask the judge to deny bond to Lombardo even before he disappeared last week when agents rounded up suspects. The unusual correspondence is sure to add to Lombardo's legend.

After a 1981 court appearance, Lombardo walked out with a newspaper in front of his face--with a hole cut out so he could see. He took out advertisements in newspapers to swear off mob ties after being released from prison in 1992.

Of Lombardo's "Clown" moniker, Halprin said: "That's a name he doesn't relish, and neither do I. The guy I know is not a clown."

"This is a very sincere letter by a guy convicted twice who knows the system and is 76 years old and says these are the circumstances [under which] I think I could get a fair trial," Halprin said. "People can mock it, but they're not in his shoes."

The letter is filled with misspellings and grammatical errors, for which the author apologizes near the end, writing, "English was my worst subject in school."

The letter, addressed to the "Honarable (sic) Judge Zagel," opened with a denial that Lombardo was "hiding to avoid the charges against me."

The letter said Lombardo anticipated that if he were taken into custody, he would be detained without bond.

The letter claimed Lombardo didn't know most of the other defendants and denied he had "received 1 penney (sic)" from any of them. It also denied he had been part of a racketeering enterprise or played any role in gambling operations.

According to the letter, Lombardo "was not privy" to the 18 murders at any time.

The letter then launched into an attack on the criminal justice system. "There was not a witness, or evidence against me that I intended a crime," the letter said of Lombardo's two convictions after trials. "Well your (sic) going to say that jury herd (sic) the evidence and found me guilty. How many, many, manny (sic) innocent people are there in jail."

The letter recounted two other criminal cases, including the Lori Roscetti murder, in which defendants had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned--only to be cleared years later by DNA testing. "Thank God for D.N.A.," the letter said.

The letter then fretted about Lombardo's future, noting he would have to live into his 90s to survive a 20-year prison sentence. "Will I live 10 yrs? Will I live 20 yrs?" the letter asked.

The letter criticized medical care in prisons as "a farce." During a prior prison stint, it said, Lombardo suffered chest pains several times and was told to take an aspirin each day.

One month after Lombardo was released from prison, doctors discovered he had an artery 98 percent blocked, and they performed angioplasty that same day, according to the letter. "So Judge you know what my thinking is, and why I did not answer the indictment," the letter reads. "Judge I want you to know that I am not a violent man in anyway (sic) shape or form."

The letter said Lombardo doesn't possess any firearms and vowed that he would surrender peacefully "if the F.B.I. should find me."

The letter included several postscripts, one noting that federal prosecutors have a staggeringly high conviction rate on criminal cases. "Like they say they could indict a hamburger for murder & get a conviction," the letter reads.

The letter also complained that Lombardo doesn't have a chance at a fair trial with the heavy publicity over the indictment and his fugitive status. "The media made me a 10 headed monster," the letter reads. "How does a (sic) innocent person defend himself?"

The letter ended by setting out his conditions for surrender: a $50,000 recognizance bond and a separate trial from his co-defendants so he could call them as witnesses. "Then I will turn myself in with my lawyer," the letter reads.

As Halprin was about to hand the original letter up to the judge, Assistant U.S. Atty. Mitchell Mars interrupted, asking that it first be placed in a plastic envelope for evidentiary purposes. An FBI agent wearing gloves put the letter in the plastic wrapping, Halprin said.

Zagel asked if anyone in the courtroom knew Lombardo's handwriting. Halprin said the letter appeared to be written by his client.

Mars showed the letter to FBI Special Agent Christopher Williams, who is assigned to the organized crime squad. Williams had reviewed documents as part of the mob investigation, said FBI spokeswoman Virginia Wright.

Mars told the judge that Williams agreed that the letter appeared to be in Lombardo's hand. "It's enough for now," Zagel said. "I'm satisfied that he wrote the letter and he signed the letter."

Halprin said he was relieved that the letter appears to mean that Lombardo is safe. A couple of years ago during the investigation, the FBI had warned Lombardo that it had learned his life was in danger, Halprin said. Lombardo took the threat seriously, he said.

This is an unedited transcript of the letter given to U.S. District Judge James Zagel.

Honarable Judge Zagel,
I am writing you a letter to let you know that I am not hiding to avoid the charges against me.
#1 I anticipate there will be no bond
#2 I want a seperate trial, which I will not get
#3 Majority of the other defendants I do not know.
4 There is not one defendant in this case that I recieved 1 penney or did I give them 1 penny.
5 I am no part of a enterprise or racketering .
6 Have no part in the poker machines, extorcinate loans, gambling and what ever else the indictment says.
7 About the 18 murders in the indictment, I want you to know that I was not privy before the murders, during the murders, and after the murders, and to this present writing to you.
Judge I went through two trials and was found guilty in both cases I got 15 years + 5 yrs probation, and 14 yrs on the other. There was not a witness, or evidence against me that I intended a crime. Well your going to say that jury herd the evidence and found me guilty. How many, many, manny innocent people are there in jail.
I read in the paper where 3 ladies were rape at 3 different times and all 3 indentified the same person. He was convicted and sent to prison by the jury. Like you will say the jury heard the evidence and found him guilty. Tank God for D.N.A. It freed him.
It's the same with the Rossetti case I read in the paper. One defendant pleaded guilty to rape & murder for a deal for the state 12 years instead of life in prison for his testimony against his 3 or 4 other defendants. They were all convicted and sent to jail for life. Again by a jury who heard the evidence. Thank God for D.N.A. They were all free including the man who confessed for the 12 years. I could go on, and on, and on with cases. How's about the innocent people that where found guilty by a jury and do not have D.N.A. to free them.
Judge I am in dire strate at this time at 76 yr old to live my life peaceful until I die
If I get 10 yrs I will be 86 yrs old, and 20 yrs I will be 96 yrs old. Will I live 10 yrs? Will I live 20 yrs?
Medical care in prison is a farce. I went 3 times with chest pain and 3 cardiograms they said I had a enlarged heart take 1 aspirn a day. 1 month later I was released had chest pain went to the hospital took a angiogram and found I had artery 98% blocked. Had angioplasty the same day. Since my release 1993 Ive had 2 or 3 angioplasty and 3 stents put in.
So judge you know what my thinking is, and why I did not answer the indictment. Judge I want you to know that I am not a violent man in anyway shape or form. I do not own or have any weapons of any kind. If the F.B.I. should find me I will come
peacefully and no resistence at all.
If you have any ideas or suggestion of what I should do, notify my lawyer he could reach me by the mediaThank you
Joe Lombardo
A Innocent Man
P.S. The govt has 98% convictions.
PSS. Like they say they could indict a hamburger for murder & get a conviction
P.SS Judge with the pre publicity I do not have a chance. The media made me a 10 headed monster. How does a innocent person defend himself?
P.S.S.S. Judge the other reason for a seperate trial is after they go to trial I will have my attorney suppeana them to be wittiness. All of them.
If I go to trial with them they do not have to take the stand.
Excuse the mispelt words and also my grammar. English was my worst subject in school.
1. Give me a $50,000 reconiance bond
2. A seperate trial by myself after the other defendants go to trial
3 Then I will turn myself in with my lawyer

Thanks to Matt O'Connor

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Crackdown just latest hit on mob

Friends of ours: Anthony Chiaramonti, Al Capone, James Marcello, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Frank Calabrese Sr., Nick Calabrese, Michael Spano Sr., Gus Alex, Lenny Patrick, Sam Carlisi, Rocco Infelice, Marco D'Amico, John DiFronzo
Friends of mine: William Hanhardt

Among the 14 alleged mob bosses and associates indicted last week by a federal grand jury were three "made" members who enjoy lofty status in the organized crime underworld.

Prosecutors said the indictments were historic for Chicago because never before had so many high-ranking bosses of La Cosa Nostra been taken down in a single criminal case. The mob, U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said, had taken a hit. But the truth is the Outfit has been wounded for some time.

A series of successful federal prosecutions over the years have put many bosses behind bars and have forced mobsters and their associates into much lower profiles. "Over the last 20 years, it's been one blow after another," said Lee Flosi, a former FBI agent who supervised the organized crime task force in the early 1990s.

The mob has downsized from six street crews to four. The number of organized crime associates--individuals the crews need for muscle, loan sharking, debt collecting and sports betting--also has dwindled.

"Made" members, who are typically of Italian descent and have committed one murder on behalf of the mob, have become an endangered species.

The last known induction into the mob took place in 1984 at the Como Inn, an Italian restaurant in Chicago, although there may have been other induction ceremonies since, according to former organized crime investigators.

The FBI estimates that Chicago now only has 25 "made" members and another 75 organized crime associates. Federal authorities said that 15 years ago the mob had 50 "made" members and as many as 400 associates.

Mob violence has dropped off, as well.

The last known successful mob hit occurred in Nov. 20, 2001. That's when Anthony "Tony the Hatch" Chiaramonti, a top figure in the Outfit's South Side rackets, was gunned down in the vestibule of a west suburban chicken restaurant. The 67-year-old Chiaramonti's murder remains unsolved.

The hit, or rub-out, was used to command loyalty, to take out rivals or to silence witnesses. According to the Chicago Crime Commission, 1,111 gangland slayings have been committed since 1919.

The latest arrests of alleged mobsters generated widespread media interest and calls from overseas talk show hosts who recall the St. Valentine's Day massacre of 1929, which led to the end of Prohibition, made Al Capone a household name and solidified Chicago as the gangster capital of the world. But the Chicago Police Department's definition of organized crime has shifted during recent decades from the Outfit to street gangs like the Latin Kings and the Black Gangster Disciples that control drug sales in the city.

"When you look at who's a bigger threat to the public, it's clear," said Cmdr. Steve Caluris, who runs the Deployment Operations Center, which coordinates all of the department's intelligence gathering. "These aren't just punks hanging out on street corners. It's organized crime." Chicago police statistics show that 1,276 murders were tied to street gangs from 2000 through 2004.

The 41-page racketeering indictment provided fresh insights into the mob's enterprise of illegal gambling, loan sharking and murder. Prosecutors charged that La Cosa Nostra bosses and "made" members were responsible for 18 gangland slayings from 1970 through 1986.

While the Outfit is still active in embezzling from union pension and benefit funds, illegal sports bookmaking, video poker machines and occasional violence, its heyday of influence passed long before Monday's indictments of James Marcello, the reputed boss of the mob; fugitive Joseph "the Clown" Lombardo; and 12 others.

Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr. and Nicholas Calabrese were the three "made" mob members indicted, according to court records.

"Once `made,' the individual was accorded greater status and respect in the enterprise," the indictment said. "An individual who was `made' or who committed a murder on behalf of the Outfit was obligated to the enterprise for life to perform criminal acts on behalf of the enterprise when called upon."

Prosecutors had begun weakening the Chicago Outfit with a series of successes, though few of the convictions have involved mob murders.

Among the more recent major cases have been that of William Hanhardt, a former Chicago police deputy superintendent, for running a mob-connected jewelry theft ring and reputed Cicero mob boss Michael Spano Sr. for looting $12 million from town coffers.

In the 1990s, convictions included mob leaders Gus Alex, chief political fixer for decades; Lenny Patrick, a gangster for 50 years who became the highest-ranking mobster to turn government informant; Sam Carlisi, former head of the mob's day-to-day operations; Ernest "Rocco" Infelice, convicted of murdering a bookmaker who refused demands to pay "street tax"; and Marco D'Amico, a top gambling boss.

With each aging mobster who dies or goes to prison, the Outfit has not been fully successful in recruiting leadership. Still, law enforcement officials and mob watchers caution that Monday's arrests do not mean the Chicago La Cosa Nostra is near death. La Cosa Nostra--"this thing of ours" or "our thing"--is used to refer to the American mafia.

The mob controls most of the illegal sports betting in the Chicago area, remains stubbornly entrenched in the Teamsters Union and remains disturbingly effective at collecting "street taxes" as a cost to operate businesses such as strip clubs.

While federal authorities, took down alleged members and associates from the Grand Avenue, the 26th Street and Melrose Park crews, the Elmwood Park street crew was untouched. That crew, perhaps the most powerful of the four mob crews in the Chicago area, reputedly is led by John "No Nose" DiFronzo. And even though they are imprisoned, mob bosses have remained adept at running their enterprise from their cells. "They still continue illegal activities through conversations with relatives and associates. It's not going to put them out of business," said James Wagner, a 30-year FBI veteran who retired in 2000.

Court records show that Frank Calabrese Sr., a leader with the mob's 26th Street crew, did just that. Two retired Chicago police officers allegedly delivered messages between Calabrese and mobsters on the outside, including messages to determine whether Calabrese's younger brother, Nicholas, had become an mob turncoat and was cooperating with government. Frank Calabrese Sr. was right to worry; his brother had become an informant, federal authorities said.

The indictment provided sketchy data about a sports bookmaking operation that allegedly was run between 1992 and 2001 by Frank Calabrese Sr. and Nicholas Ferriola. The indictments stated that it operated in northern Illinois and involved five or more people.

Thomas Kirkpatrick, president of the Chicago Crime Commission, said illegal gambling is the mother's milk of the mob.

Kirkpatrick said he had seen one estimate from several years ago that about $100 million was bet with the Chicago mob on the NFL's Super Bowl. "That's where the money is for the mob," Kirkpatrick said. "No one else has the ability to move the money, to cover the bets, to keep the records and to collect debts. That takes an organization."

And, the chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board last week raised concerns that the current board's low staffing of investigators could let organized crime sneak into the state's nine operating riverboat casinos. Gaming officials fear that mob figures would work the casinos in search of desperate gamblers and offer them "juice loans," lending money at rates that can reach 520 percent a year.

The Chicago mob allegedly has its tentacles deep into at least six Teamsters Union locals, according to a report prepared last year by the union's anti-corruption investigators. They turned up allegations of mob influence, kickback schemes and the secret shifting of union jobs to low-wage, non-union companies.

A copy of the report had been provided to the Justice Department after the investigators alleged that union leaders acting at the direction of the Chicago mob had blocked their probe into alleged wrongdoing. "The Chicago area, more than anywhere else where Teamster entities are concentrated, continues to furnish the conditions that historically have made the union vulnerable to organized crime infiltration and systemic corruption: an organized crime family that still has considerable strength, a corrupt business and political environment and resistance to anti-racketeering reform efforts by key Teamster leaders," the report said.

In fact, the FBI's organized crime unit already is investigating some of the allegations in the report.

Agents are looking into whether hundreds of thousands of dollars were siphoned from a Teamsters benefit plan that provides dental care to Chicago-area undertakers and valets, according to sources. "The mob is the same as it always has been," said FBI spokesman Ross Rice, "just on a smaller scale."

Thanks to Todd Lighty and Matt O'Connor

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