The Chicago Syndicate: Loan shark's tale in federal court has literary ring
The Mission Impossible Backpack

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)

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