Wednesday, January 31, 2007

U.S. Marshal Pleads Not Guilty of Mob Leak

Friends of ours: James Marcello, Michael Marcello
Friends of mine: John Ambrose

A deputy U.S. marshal pleaded not guilty Wednesday to federal charges that he leaked confidential information that a mob hit man was cooperating with the FBI against organized crime.

John Ambrose was charged last month with telling a family friend that Nicholas Calabrese, the only member of the Chicago Outfit ever to become a government informant, was releasing details of gangland slayings.

Ambrose's alleged role as the inside source came to light in cryptic conversations between imprisoned Outfit boss James Marcello and his brother, Michael, that were secretly recorded by the FBI.

Following Wednesday's arraignment, Ambrose's lawyer, Francis Lipuma, said he has been told that federal officials plan to place Ambrose on unpaid leave from his job, but Lipuma intends to fight the move. He is currently on paid leave.

Ambrose, 38, a 10-year veteran of the U.S. Marshals Service, is free on bail.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Joe Pistone Confesses to Crimes as Mob Mole

Legendary FBI agent Joe Pistone is confessing for the first time that he broke the law during the years he spent undercover as mob wanna-be Donnie Brasco.

Warehouse burglaries. Beatings. Truck hijackings. And even a conspiracy to murder a Bonanno crime family capo.

In his new memoir, Pistone details the crimes he committed to prove his loyalty to the gang he eventually took down. "Sometimes you have to do stuff you don't normally do, you wouldn't do," Pistone told the Daily News, which got an exclusive peek at "Donnie Brasco: Unfinished Business."

For instance, there was the phone call that came in 1981 when Pistone and his mob buddies were playing cards in Brooklyn's Motion Lounge.

It was a tip that Bonanno big Anthony (Bruno) Indelicato, who took part in the infamous 1979 rubout of Gambino boss Carmine Galante, was camped out on Staten Island.

On the orders of his own capo, Dominick (Sonny Black) Napolitano, Pistone headed out to find Indelicato - with a .25-caliber automatic.

It turned out the caller had bum information, but the former lawman admits he would have pulled the trigger on Indelicato before jeopardizing his life or the operation. "If Bruno's there, he's gone," Pistone writes.

"If I have to put a bullet in his head, I will, and I'll deal with the federal government and the Staten Island DA later. ... There's no doubt they both would charge me for murder. The Bureau would brand me a rogue agent and hang me out."

During his six years infiltrating Sonny Black's vicious crew, Pistone dug up enough evidence to put away nearly 200 mobsters, all while making life-or-death decisions on how far to take his role-playing.

Now 65, the New Jersey native lives with his wife in an unidentified location, but will come out of hiding for a book tour in the coming weeks.

Over the years, Pistone - portrayed by Johnny Depp in the 1997 movie "Donnie Brasco" - has been cagey when discussing how he gained the trust of an insular gang of suspicious men because revealing more could have damaged prosecutions. But his most revealing book to date details the incredible lengths he went to.

Take the beating he delivered on two druggies dumb enough to stick up Pistone and his mob pal Benjamin (Lefty Guns) Ruggiero in the stairwell of a Little Italy walkup. "You just saw two dead punks run down the stairs," Ruggiero told him.

At Ruggiero's urging, Pistone caught up with them a few days later near Little Italy and meted out the punishment. "He hit the pavement as if I'd had a roll of dimes in my right fist," Pistone writes.

"I looked down at the kid on the ground and realized he was out cold and so I sprung suddenly and hauled off an overhand right on the other one and he went down ... "From the kidney blows they bled piss for weeks. And until the breaks healed they had no use of their fingers for such things as shooting a gun."

It was savage, but Pistone says the beating saved their lives. "Otherwise they would have got killed," Pistone said. "Either I go take care of it or they [the mob] will. You don't stick up a wiseguy and live to tell about it." He's quick to point out that the assaults he carried out always involved thieves or other wiseguys. "No citizens got hurt," he said.

Pistone also admits getting cuts of between $2,500 and $5,000 from warehouse burglaries he took part in but says he turned over the money to the FBI.

He doesn't offer details on the hijackings he carried out. But he admits that "my participation in Mafia hijacking has always been an open sore for me, something that I have hesitated to talk about."

Even after 30 years, Pistone is still angry that the FBI didn't let him stay undercover longer so that he could become a made man. "Imagine if I had been made," Pistone writes. "It would have been the biggest humiliation the Mafia had ever suffered. And it was the one chance the FBI would ever have to pull it off.

"Imagine the embarrassment for the Mafia from coast to coast and all the way to Sicily when the news got out that the exalted Bonanno crime family had made an agent."

Thanks to Thomas Zambito

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Chicago Officials Cringe That Al Capone Refuses to be Rubbed Out

Friends of ours: Al Capone

Chicago officials shun any association with Al "Scarface" Capone, whose Prohibition-era exploits made his name synonymous with the city.

"Anything that glorifies violence we are not interested in," said Dorothy Coyle, director of the city's office on tourism. But 60 years after his death, they still can't run his memory out of town and visitors from all over the world are very much interested.

They drive by Capone's house. They leave flowers, coins and cigars at his grave. They take pictures of places associated with him never mind that everything from hotels where he ran his criminal empire to the garage where his henchmen carried out the St. Valentine's Day massacre is long gone.

"That era, the mobsters, gunfights … I'm just fascinated by it all," Nancy Spranger, of Fenton, Mich., said before boarding an Untouchable Tours bus decorated with fake bullet holes to see sites tied to Chicago's gangland past.

Much of the mobster's history is left to the imagination because Chicago officials have made little effort to preserve or promote sites tied to his legacy. In the 1980s, they gunned down an effort to designate Capone's house on the South Side a national historic landmark.

Jonathan Fine, president of Preservation Chicago, understands why the city wouldn't want reminders of Capone, but says the city loses a piece of itself with each demolition of one those sites destroys. "Destroying history is the most shameful legacy of all," Fine said. "You can't erase it, so you might as well embrace it."

Laurence Bergreen found Chicago officials far from receptive when he was researching his 1994 book "Capone: The Man and the Era."

"They rebuffed me (and said) 'Why don't you write about the symphony, architecture, Mayor Daley?'" he recalled.

John Binder, author of "The Chicago Outfit," has a conspiracy theory: that the lingering influence of organized crime even today in Chicago has the city dead set against anything that smacks of mobsters. "It's not that they want you to forget about the past, they want you to forget about the present," he said a few days before a deputy U.S. marshal was arrested on charges that he fed information about an informant to the mob.

It's clear that many people still are drawn to the city's mobster past.

Capone is the subject of 50,000 hits a month on the Chicago History Museum's Web site, five times the number of inquiries about the Great Chicago Fire and "by far the number one hit on our Web site," said museum curator John Russick.

Untouchable Tours owner Don Fielding said he's been able to stay in business for 18 years longer than Capone was around, he'll remind you because "people like the idea of somebody getting away with something."

Capone surely did for a while raking in tens of millions of dollars as head of a vast bootlegging, prostitution and gambling operation. He was widely suspected in a number of murders but never charged.

Finally, with the help of federal Prohibition Bureau agent Eliot Ness, head of a special unit dubbed "The Untouchables," Capone was brought down by income tax evasion charges.

Convicted after a trial in which his men tried to bribe jurors, Capone spent seven years in federal prison. He died in 1947, his mind ravaged by syphilis.

"He's kind of been elevated to this status as the quintessential example of (the) American gangster," Russick said.

Countless films, TV shows and books have cemented that image.

"You hear somebody say 'This guy's a regular Al Capone,' you don't need to say another word about the guy," said Robert Schoenberg, author of the book "Mr. Capone."

"He's infected the national consciousness," Schoenberg said.

Make that the international consciousness.

Tourists from Europe and Asia especially love to see and hear about the places where his torpedoes pumped his enemies full of lead, tour guides say.

"European tourists who watch a lot of American gangster show reruns, they are fascinated," said guide Michael LaRusso Reis. "The French and the Italians love to go to Union Station in Chicago where they filmed the baby carriage scene" for the 1987 movie "The Untouchables." And sometimes, those tourists get a little under-the-table assistance.

"Some (city) employees have gangster tours brochures, and when supervisors aren't looking they will slip them to European tourists," LaRusso Reis said.

Thanks to Don Babwin

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Mafia Victim Not a Rat?

Friends of mine: Colombo Crime Family, Greg "The Grim Reaper" Scarpa

Accused FBI mob mole Lindley DeVecchio, charged with sealing the fate of a Brooklyn teen by tipping off a Colombo crime pal that the boy was about to squeal, had been completely wrong about the 17-year-old's intentions.

Filings in a related case make clear that murder victim Patrick Porco was no rat. "Porco flatly refused to answer the investigators' questions," the court papers reveal.

DeVecchio, a star FBI agent who helped make major cases against the mob in the '80s and early '90s, now stands accused of four counts of second-degree murder for an all-too-cozy relationship with Colombo killer Gregory "The Grim Reaper" Scarpa. Brooklyn prosecutors allege that he thanked Scarpa for the info he got by sending back tips that helped the mobster avoid arrest and whack rivals. DeVecchio has denied any wrongdoing.

In the Porco case, DeVecchio is accused of acting to safeguard Scarpa's son, Joey, from a murder rap.

In the spring of 1990, cops and prosecutors were eager to talk to Porco about a fatal drive-by shooting the previous Halloween. The victim was Dominick Masseria, 17, who was believed to have tossed eggs at the wrong bunch of kids. Porco and Joey Scarpa were in the white limo involved in the shooting.

Just after speaking on the phone with DeVecchio, Gregory Scarpa told his girlfriend that Joey was going to have to kill Porco, prosecutors say. But last week's filings make clear that prosecutors' efforts to find out what Porco knew were going nowhere.

On May 5, 1990, Porco and his sister met with prosecutors and Detective Alphonse Lombardo. "Neither one was willing to talk," the papers reveal. "Inspector Lombardo confronted Patrick Porco with the fact that he was likely to be killed because he was the only witness who could implicate Joey Scarpa.

"Porco started crying, but he steadfastly refused to cooperate."

But even the appearance of cooperation was enough. Porco was found shot dead - once in the mouth, signifying rat - on Memorial Day, 1990.

In 2005, the Brooklyn DA reopened the Masseria case, identifying the shooter as Craig Sobel, 39. The papers revealing Porco's noncooperation were filed in connection with the Sobel case.

Thanks to Alex Ginsberg

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blood vs. Blood in Operation Family Secrets

The mob hit men were under the gun -- literally -- as they exited the brown Ford LTD and approached their target in front of the His 'N Mine Lounge in Cicero.

One of them, Nick Calabrese, felt he had a choice. Either kill the intended victim, Richard Ortiz, an alleged dope peddler who had crossed the mob -- or be killed himself.

Nearby, in the car he just left, sat his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., with a gun aimed out the window. Frank Calabrese Sr. was providing cover for the hit men. He could just as easily mow them down if they froze on the job.

Nick Calabrese had no doubt his brother would do it if he didn't complete the job, according to federal court testimony. It was not a new feeling for Nick Calabrese. He and other family members often worried that Frank Calabrese Sr. was going to kill them. In fact, Frank Calabrese Sr. instilled fear and terror into his family every day.

Interviews with friends and acquaintances of the family and law enforcement sources along with a review of court records provide fresh details on life in the Calabrese family. The stereotype of the mobster -- whether it's Tony Soprano or Michael Corleone -- is that while he does business brutally, he treats his family with honor and respect. Calabrese Sr. shattered that perception, according to interviews and court records.

In the 1983 murder of Ortiz, the victim had been stalked for months. Nick Calabrese had called off one hit attempt because he believed it was too risky. But rather than tell his brother the truth and incur his wrath, he told him another hit man, James DiForti, froze during the job.

Frank Calabrese Sr. told Nick Calabrese he should have killed Ortiz anyway. And then Frank Calabrese Sr. told his brother he should have killed DiForti, as well.

Such brutality and ruthlessness may help explain why Calabrese Sr. has not one but two family members cooperating against him in a case that has been called the most important mob prosecution in Chicago history. The investigation is called Family Secrets, and it indeed will reveal some of the deepest family secrets of the Chicago Outfit. But underlying the case are other family secrets -- those of the Calabrese family -- that many never saw but that still haunt the family.

At the trial starting in May, Nick Calabrese will testify about the mob killings he and his brother went out on together, such as the Ortiz killing. In that case, Nick Calabrese and DiForti went through with the hit at the His 'N Mine.

Calabrese Sr.'s son Frank Jr. was less involved in the mob life and has gone clean. He will tell jurors about the conversations he had with his father as they walked the yard while in prison together on another case in 1999 -- conversations he secretly recorded at great risk to himself to ensure his father never saw freedom again.

In those conversations, Calabrese Sr. may have believed he was advising his son on mob life and planting the seeds with him to continue the Calabrese legacy in the Outfit. Instead, he may have been sowing his own destruction.

Frank Calabrese Sr. is even recorded once on tape telling his son he would send "his blessing" if other top mobsters determined his brother Nick was cooperating and had him killed.

How Frank Calabrese Sr. treated his children became a sore point between Calabrese Sr. and his brother Nick. The tension reached a high point during the first federal case against them in 1995, according to law enforcement sources.

While Frank Sr. and Nick had deep involvement in their street crew, Frank Jr., had much less involvement, while his son Kurt's role was virtually nonexistent.

Nick Calabrese felt his brother could have better looked out for his sons in the case and worked to reduce any chance of prison time for the two young men. But in the end, both went to prison. While Calabrese Sr. was sentenced to nearly 10 years in prison, son Frank got 57 months and Kurt got 2 years.

When Frank Calabrese Jr. and his younger brother, Kurt, were growing up in Elmwood Park, their childhood, from the outside, seemed normal and all-American, according to people who know them. They lived in a tight-knit, Italian-American neighborhood, going to school at John Mills Elementary and to what was then Holy Cross High School.

In the community, Frank Calabrese Sr. worked to portray himself as a great father, one who was always friendly with the neighborhood kids. Inside the home, though, was a radically different story.

Calabrese Sr. would at times erupt in rages, even over the smallest matters, and scream like a maniac at his two sons, according to sources who know the family. Following the humiliation would come the beatings, with Kurt Calabrese often taking the worst of it. It was a reign of terror that left both sons dreading the time their father came home every day. The abuse continued into adulthood.

When Kurt Calabrese, for instance, got married in the early 1990s, the matter was not a cause of celebration for his father. Kurt was seeing the granddaughter of Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra, a brutal mobster who was Calabrese Sr.'s mentor in the mob.

Neither Calabrese Sr. nor LaPietra wanted the two young people to see each other, but the two fell in love and secretly got married.

On his wedding night, Kurt Calabrese broke the news to his father while they were sitting down at a restaurant in the west suburbs. Calabrese Sr. was stunned that his son would disobey him and punched him in the face. Fearing for his life, Kurt Calabrese hightailed it out of the restaurant and drove off. The two engaged in a high-speed chase, with Kurt Calabrese eventually eluding him.

Chicago political operative Frank Coconate, a friend of Frank Jr.'s, pointed to that confrontation as an example of the price the family paid for Calabrese Sr.'s decisions. "That's what the Outfit does, it makes you choose between them and your family," Coconate said. Frank Calabrese Sr. "chose the mob and threw his family in the gutter."

Despite often taking the worst of the abuse, Kurt Calabrese is not cooperating in the case, law enforcement sources said.

Calabrese Sr.'s attorney Joseph Lopez denied that his client ever abused his children and said the elder Calabrese loves both sons dearly. But Lopez also went on the attack on Frank Calabrese Jr., calling him a con artist who "could sell air conditioners to Eskimos."

Calabrese Jr., who is believed to be living out of state, put his life on the line by secretly recording his father, according to court testimony and law enforcement sources. FBI agents did not have the ability to listen in on the conversations as they happened, and if his father attacked him, agents -- whose presence at the prison was a secret -- were not close enough to protect him, law enforcement sources have said. Calabrese Jr.'s key reason for cooperating with the government was to keep his father locked up for good, sources said.

People who associated with Calabrese Sr. say no one was safe from his wrath. Even having breakfast at a restaurant with Calabrese Sr. could turn into a free-for-all. Calabrese Sr. would be very particular about his order. If the waitress should make an error, the mobster would erupt in a fury, spewing obscenities.

Calabrese Sr.'s demanding nature has not mellowed with age.

Well-known Chicago private investigator Ernie Rizzo learned that firsthand when Calabrese Sr. hired him last year to help him prepare for trial, according to a source familiar with Rizzo's account. Calabrese Sr.'s trial strategy is to try to dig up dirt on his son Frank Jr. in an attempt to undermine his testimony.

It's unclear how attacking the son, though, will counter Calabrese's Sr. own words on hours of secretly recorded conversations in which he discusses mob hits. His attorney has suggested in court that Calabrese Sr. was merely bragging about things he actually never took part in.

Calabrese Sr. wanted Rizzo's office number. And his cell phone numbers. Plus his home phone number. And the phone numbers of any bars where he hung out.

Calabrese Sr. also was frustrated with his attorney, Lopez, because Lopez allegedly wasn't taking his calls -- or calls from his representatives -- as often as Calabrese Sr. wanted.

So Calabrese Sr. wanted to find out if Rizzo had better luck with Lopez. Calabrese Sr. wanted Rizzo to keep a log on how many phone calls it took before the attorney answered Rizzo's calls. That way, Calabrese Sr. would have something to badger Lopez about.

Calabrese Sr. "orders people around like a hit man," Rizzo would say, according to the source.

The thing that disturbed Rizzo most was that Calabrese Sr. would try to get to meet him alone, away from his lawyer, at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in the Loop, where Calabrese Sr. is being held. The one-on-one meeting never took place.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Are Murder Rates the Best Guage of Violent Crime?

As end-of-year crime statistics are tallied, newspapers in recent weeks have been running headlines comparing their local crime rates with other cities and with prior years.

"L.A. County homicides decrease by 6%," the Los Angeles Times reported. The Dallas Morning News headlined its report, "Murders fall, rapes rise in '06," while noting that Dallas was likely to retain its reputation as the most crime-ridden city with a population of one million or more. According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, violent crime "rose sharply" in 2006, but the rate of increase declined during the year. But while murder stats make for good headlines, they may not be the best gauge of violent crime, or a city's safety. I took a look at two compelling theories from criminologists that call into question the way the numbers are used.

The first theory, proposed by the federally funded Improving Crime Data project run by researchers from Georgia State University and the University of Missouri-St. Louis, holds that a city's stats should be adjusted for underlying demographic characteristics. The idea is to figure out if a city's murder rate is higher or lower than you would expect it to be. To do that, researchers examined factors that appeared to contribute to a higher murder rate, including the number of people living in poverty, the city's racial makeup and the divorce rate. (They also identified factors that didn't appear to have an impact on murder rates, including population density. More detail on the calculations can be found here.)

The thinking is that those underlying factors can't be controlled, so when you take them out, you can more clearly evaluate how well police and city policies are preventing homicides. "It helps you direct the police forces in a way that is data-driven rather than either political or serendipitous," said Robert Friedmann, professor of criminal justice at Georgia State University and principal investigator on the ICD project. He added, "When you're ranking a city on raw rates, it doesn't take into account the nature of the city."

Think of a comparison between two hospitals' death rates (a topic I wrote about last year). If Hospital A has a higher proportion of patients suffering from life-threatening diseases, it wouldn't be fair to compare its death rate to Hospital B, which tends to treat patients with milder complaints. Prof. Friedmann's team believes that certain cities (Atlanta, Detroit) have higher underlying risk of murder than others (Denver, San Francisco).

The group relies on stats from the federal government, so its most recent ranking is for 2004. According to that ranking, San Francisco was No. 1 among 67 cities in adjusted homicide rates, despite ranking 30th in the raw rates. Atlanta, conversely, fell to No. 46 from No. 7 after the adjustments. And Detroit dropped to No. 37 on the list from No. 3 -- suggesting that the city's demographic profile helps explain what the Detroit News earlier this month called an "abysmal" crime picture for the city.

The project's underlying premise, that a city's economic and demographic makeup forecasts crime rates, has controversial implications. I asked Prof. Friedmann whether his model is suggesting that African Americans are more likely to commit murder than whites living in similar circumstances. "On the face of it, it looks troubling," he replied. But he offered another explanation: Blacks are disproportionately the victims of homicide. Also, his model shows only that a city's black population correlates with homicide rates, not that it causes them -- some other underlying factor may be influencing the numbers. "It seems to me that if you take the racial attributes out of a politically correct discussion and just look at the facts, it is something that makes sense to analyze," Prof. Friedmann said.

Meanwhile, Anthony Harris, professor emeritus of criminal justice at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, is behind another theory getting a lot of attention. He has for several years argued that murder numbers are not a good measuring stick because they can be heavily influenced by the emergency medical care someone receives. The difference between life and death on the operating table can determine whether a murder rate rises.

Prof. Harris was the lead author of a study in 2002 examining the decline in the murder rate between 1960 and 1999. Prof. Harris focused on the role improved medical care had on "lethality," which is the proportion of violent crimes that result in death. Even though the number of potentially deadly attacks surged in that time period, and the proportion of attacks involving guns also rose, lethality actually decreased by 70% -- to under 2% from nearly 6%. He concluded that improved medical-response times and trauma surgery were responsible for turning many would-be murders into assaults.

To demonstrate the effect of medical care, the researchers compared counties nationwide by various medical criteria, and found, for instance, that counties with at least one hospital were associated with 24% lower lethality than those without a hospital. Prof. Harris also found other medical factors that contributed to a drop in lethality of violent crimes, including the addition of physicians to a county's population and the presence of a facility for performing open-heart surgery.

The Harris study was, by necessity, indirect: The researchers lacked the data to track individual cases and determine whether the same injury was more likely to cause death in 1960 than in 1999. Instead, they tracked broad trends in crime and health care.

Prof. Harris told me that looking at all violent crime, rather than homicide, would better serve lawmakers and police. "If people were looking at aggravated assault and the use of guns in producing serious injury, I think the debate would be totally different," he says. "The big social indicator is injury by gun, and its long-term medical effects."

Derral Cheatwood, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at San Antonio, who has studied the relationship of medical resources to homicide rates in Maryland and Pennsylvania, told me that one of the biggest changes is the approach to treatment at the scene of a crime. "It has shifted from the 1960s, where you put someone in an ambulance, rush them to the hospital and treat them there, to an emergency medical vehicle, where you start to treat them right away and stabilize them," he said. (Bill Doerner, professor of criminology and criminal justice at Florida State University, offered up an interesting anecdote: As recently as 50 years ago, ambulances in Leon County, Fla., were run out of funeral parlors, presenting something of a conflict of interest.)

Lethality has actually edged up since Prof. Harris completed his study. One possible reason for the increase, he said: Several large cities, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas, have closed trauma centers, which can be particularly expensive to operate. "Homicide rates are where trauma centers really have an impact," Connie Potter, executive director of the National Foundation for Trauma Care, told me. A May 2004 report from her group declared a "crisis" in U.S. trauma centers, with 30 closed since 2001.

Thanks to The Numbers Guy, Carl Bialik

Author Comments on Thief!

Friends of ours: Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino, John Gotti
Friends of mine: William "Slick" Hanner

It's strange that our fascination with the mob centers so on top bananas like Lucky Luciano, Carlo Gambino and John Gotti when, as any crime beat reporter will tell you, the most incredible stories always involve madcap misfires by the lowliest flunkies, the truly clueless nostra.

Fort Myers author Cherie Rohn ran into just such a lovable screwball more than a decade ago in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when, after losing her job as a TV station manager, she enrolled in casino dealer's school. One of her instructors was a well-traveled man of action named William "Slick" Hanner. "He was walking around with his notebook of 20 hand-scrawled pages in his third-grade-educated hand of his life story, looking for somebody to write it," Rohn recalls. "No money, of course, but I looked at it and it was like an electric shock went through my body. Something about this guy grabbed me and I vowed to write his story."

A decade in the writing, "Thief: The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist" is the laugh-out-loud misadventures of a savvy Chicago street kid who managed to partake in the profitable mob trifecta of booze, gambling and prostitution without ever actually becoming a made guy.

Like some street-smart version of Forrest Gump, Slick went from rags to riches while drifting through America's hottest post-war entertainment scenes. Whether he was fleecing poker players aboard his yacht, the Knot Guilty, in Miami Beach, driving a limo for Nevada's infamous Chicken Ranch, serving as Jerry Lewis' bodyguard or managing the poker room at the Landmark casino in Las Vegas, Slick was where the action was for the last half of the 20th century. "He was an interesting kind of a screw-up adrenaline junkie con artist who goes through life like a speeding freight train about to derail at any minute," Rohn says of her colorful collaborator.

The project was no mere samba down memory lane. Hanner's third-grade education was one obstacle, but Rohn had her challenges as well. "Aside from a couple lurid love letters, I hadn't written anything," she says. "So I had three tasks: I had to learn to write, I had to learn to write as a guy, and I had to learn to write as a guy who hung with the mob."

Rohn does a wonderful job at all three, telling Slick's first-person tale with all the swagger and latter-day slang of a high-rolling con artist of the day. "We filled it out very slowly," she says. "I actually had to put words into his mouth."

She also found that time was of the essence if she hoped to interview Slick's running mates. "Through the nine agonizing years of writing this story, a lot of people died, mostly from unnatural causes," he quips.

At 74, Slick is still doing what he does best, playing poker and consulting with Las Vegas casinos on how to thwart card sharks.

Does the guy who knows where the bodies are buried fear that some associates may take offense at his candid biography? What are you, nuts?

"We had a few death threats," Rohn admits. "I'm not going to tell you where they came from but they were real. Slick isn't one to worry. His attitude is, 'Hey, if that happens, we can sell a few more books!'"

Thanks to Jay McDonald

Mafia 2.0 - Is the Mob Married to Your Computer?

Organized crime has had its fingers in criminal activity on the internet for some time, but until about two years ago most of its activity was limited to obvious scams, pornography and gambling. But in the past two years the rapid growth in organized crime in Eastern Europe and a huge increase in sophistication has jumped organized crime on the internet from an irritation to a serious problem.

How is this happening? The basic reason is that almost half all computer users connected to the internet have no or ineffective security protecting themselves and their systems while they web browse or even when using email. That doesn't even take into account new threats spreading into instant messaging, VoIP and even cell phones.

Estimates of losses from internet and other computer-related fraud in the UK alone are over $4 billion annually. And the losses come in all forms – from small sums scammed out of people via email up to blackmail, extortion and outright theft of very large sums from large corporations. Some of these attacks come with collusion or inadvertant access inside organizations to secure systems, but most come from some form of trickery that exploits na├»ve and insecure practices in all kinds of ways. And because of the embarassment, many of these frauds go unreported.

First up, WHAT criminals are up to - the top types of internet, telephony, email and credit card scams.

Top Scams

1: Credit card and telephony billing fraud. Example: The Gambino family telephony scam – a couple of telephony company executives organized a billing fraud for credit card and telephony services and a related internet pornography ring on behalf of the Gambino family – that netted over $500 million over a five year period.

2: Nigerian (and Eastern European and Indonesian and...) scams – if you never received a Nigerian scam email you have probably never received email at all – that's how much of it there is – now also known as a 419 scam after the Nigerian anti-fraud law code.

3: Phishing – typically an email supposedly from a bank or credit card company or anyone that has an online financial account that tries to tempt you to log into a site that LOOKS like the real site but is really just a way to watch and capture your account information. These have gotten much more sophisticated and just this past week a kit was made available online to help criminals automatically build sites that transparently pass the data on to the real site and that report that they are the real site – making it even harder to detect the fraud. More recently VoIP and IP Phishing scams have become more prevalent.

4: Zombies – these can be a really subtle scam – you may never even know that you were involved. In this scam your PC is taken over subtly to help run almost every other form of scam. A piece of code gets run on your computer – and it sets itself up as one of a big network of computers (aka a botnet) that hackers have taken over. Once it gets activated, the zombie computer gets used to deliver spam or to infect other computers or to install keyloggers or other malware or even distributed denial of service attacks – then at some later date it just gets turned off again until another time.

5: Extortion – this is one of the big time mob moneyspinners. They infect computers with zombies – often paying unscrupulous hackers something like 20 cents per infected PC – until they have many thousands of infected computers – and then they block access to a major site by having all those zombie PCs access it simultaneously. Depending on circumstances they deliver an extortion demand before or after the attack. This technique has been used successfully against offshore gambling sites and with mixed success against all kinds of other sites. Demands are typically kept in the $50,000 range to make it easy for companies to pay rather than lose business.

6: Wifi Spying and Packet Sniffing – sure it's fun to kick back and surf the web at Starbucks or the local library. But as David Pogue of the New York Times has illustrated, it is incredibly easy for any hacker to watch everything you do and to also install software onto your laptop without you knowing. And packet sniffing techniques can be combined with devices that read data right off a wire to rebuild network traffic and capture data on the fly.

7: Buddying Up – cyber criminals are also making friends online – on MySpace, Facebook and even business-oriented LinkedIn – it is easy to fake an attractive identity and then suck in new online friends and harvest personal information – many social network posters are willing to give up information that reveals enough to aid in identity theft.

8: Insider Trading – organized crime is starting to hire and train employees to get inside target companies and then steal information and access codes. There is also evidence that some hackers are getting sponsored through college courses to improve their knowledge of IT and security systems purely in order to make them more effective at creating and running attacks.

9: Event Piggybacks – whether it is the World Cup, the Superbowl or a hot celebrity scandal, current events are now part of the social engineering attacks used by malicious hackers. An example is online games or downloadable screensavers associated with an event – prior to the 2006 World Cup, German hackers created downloadable screensavers for many of the teams that enticed fans to download them. Along with the screensaver came a pile of trojan malware.

10: Dumpster Diving – not really a scam – just taking advantage of people disposing of (or losing) storage devices without taking security precautions. Take your pick of the scare stories – either the US military USB drive with highly confidential data that was for sale at an Afghani bazaar or the German police computer hard drive that was full of criminal data that was sold on eBay.

11: Invisible Links – the latest trick – borrowing techniques from the latest web practices – is to run a piece of javascript code when the user simply hovers over a link – that code looks for holes in browser security and downloads a trojan like a keylogger to your PC – all without you even knowing. Plus lots of other Ajax and javascript nastiness is possible.

12: Feed spam – Feed spam is basically a way of feeding real sites that use aggregated RSS feeds with bogus information and malware links.

13: Up And Coming – video and multimedia trojans – the next big target is going to be online media – streaming audio, streaming video, flash movies, animations and games and more. It is quite feasible that someone will find a way to have a YouTube link trigger a method of loading malware onto your computer. How well do you really know that person sending you the latest awesome online video?

Now lets look at WHY hackers are exploiting technology and human nature to get access to your PC.

Billions Of Dollars

Here's the bottom line – money and lots and lots of it. Industry estimates for the US are that at minimum several billion dollars were made in the US in computer and internet fraud last year. Some estimates go as high as over $20 billion. So how do they make that kind of money?

1: Identity theft – most people know about this by now – get access to enough data about someone and you can pretend to be them to get money or false documents. The simplest purpose is to get enough information to access credit cards and use them to get money. But it can go as far as usurping and destroying a whole life by running major criminal enterprises under an assumed identity and then walking away and leaving the real person to be held accountable. This is now a serious problem and probably the number one individual concern in online crime. Any one crime may not be all that big, but multiply it by millions and the potential damage is huge.

2: Data theft – stealing valuable information and reselling it – this is pretty rare and never publicized – businesses are too embarrassed to reveal that their intellectual property has been stolen – but this modern equivalent of industrial espionage is believed to be big business.

3: Extortion and blackmail – amazingly enough this now happens on a personal level as well as being directed at companies. On the personal level, imagine turning on your computer to see a blank screen with one message – 'click here to read about how to get access to this computer' only to be told how to pay money to an offshore account to get an unlock code to get into your own computer! All it takes to activate this is something as simple as technique #11 above. On the corporate side is where the big mafia money and attention. It has gotten to the stage where offshore gambling websites now expect extortion demands around big business days for them like Superbowl Sunday. The demand is simple – pay us $1 million or we will take your site down for the Superbowl using a distributed denial of service attack. The threat is to activate a botnet of hundreds of thousands of PCs to bombard the site with spurious access and download requests, effectively blocking real visitors from getting to the site. And organized crime is now known to be prepared to pay hackers to install these bots on computers worldwide – as much as 20 cents per installation. This may seem like a joke but it is estimated that as many as 5 million PCs are online at any moment that are infected with a malware bot of some kind.

4: Investment and drug scams – the most recent wave of spam is so-called image spam – where the spam text is actually a picture. This is purely to avoid spam detectors and the goal is still the same – one version is to get people to invest in penny stocks to drive the price up so the spammer scammers can sell high after buying low – leaving the victims to pay the price after the stock drops back down again to below the price they paid. The other is to buy pharmaceuticals for cheap on the internet – usually Viagra or a derivative. The reason the drugs are so cheap – they are basically talcum powder if they even exist – but by the time you find that out the 'merchant' is long gone.

There are many, many more but they are essentially all variations on these basic themes.

In order to make sure you are safe your best bet is to take the time to understand the HOW – how your information gets stolen, how your computer gets hijacked.

Exploiting Gaps

There are two parts to this – one is general life activity. For example, if you give your credit card to someone in a store or a restaurant and it gets taken away to somewhere you can't see it, then you have already opened yourself up to credit card fraud. If you sign up for an in store membership at the same time, you just opened yourself up to big time identity theft. Obviously, 99% of the time nothing is going to happen, but that does not mean it never will. Your objective should be to minimise your risk in a sensible way.

The other part is technological – some technologies are more of a target than others. For example, if you run a Windows system and use Internet Explorer as your browser you are automatically at higher risk than a Linux user running Opera or Firefox. While many people would tell you that is because Microsoft's software is full of flaws and buggy to boot and you are just asking for trouble by using it, that is only part of the reason. The other part is just a numbers game – over two thirds of all internet users browse using the combination of Windows and Internet Explorer – that makes a tempting target for the criminal. And if Linux and the Mac get more market share, they too will be targeted for these attacks. Complex software has bugs and sometimes these bugs show up as holes and vulnerabilities. There are Mac and Linux specific viruses and trojans out there – just not many of them – yet.

So how does this all happen? Basically someone somewhere finds a bug in a piece of software that allows an external piece of software to slip inside and gain control of some aspect of your computer or its software. These flaws can be in almost anything. There is even a current attack that uses a flaw in an older version of Symantec's enterprise anti-spyware software – a particular version of malware was written to exploit this flaw and take over computers it attacked and turn them into remotely controllable 'bots'.

HOW to know you've been targeted.

Danger Will Robinson

You want to know that you've been targeted by the mob as soon as possible – well before you turn on your computer to see a ransom demand and a password prompt – pay up or watch your hard drive get trashed. The problem is that many of these attacks aren't even aimed at you – all they want from you is as much processing time and bandwidth as possible over a certain period of time. You may not even know you've been targeted and infected. The botnet attack could run without you ever knowing. Of course, since the hackers have opened a free pathway into your computer, they are going to go back and take advantage of it in any way they can.

Here are a few of the basic signs that you might have a problem. In every case you should move to address the problem immediately.

1: Way too many pop-ups. It is practically impossible to eliminate pop-ups altogether if you ever browse the web. But they should be manageable. If you can hardly even use your computer because of the frequency of pop-ups then it is already too late – you've been infected.

2: Your computer slows down and the hard drive runs all the time – and this happens all the time. If you get worried, shut down your programs one at a time in case there is a big data transfer or backup or copy or virus scan running that is responsible. Then restart. If the problem comes back within a few minutes and you can't tell why, then you could be infected.

3: A HUGE increase in spam. This may or may not be a targeted attack. It might just be a new wave of spam that your anti-spam filters haven't learned to cope with. Or it could be a concerted effort to get you to click something that'll install a trojan. Or it could be a sign that you are infected and your email has been harvested and passed on to hundreds of other spam networks.

4: You start having data and program execution errors. This is a big problem. It can mean your hardware is failing. But it also means you could have a malicious virus or piece of malware.

5: Your friends start to complain about getting spam from you. Again, too late. You are already in trouble.

6: Your computer locks up and keeps locking up. Even worse if it does it with a password and demand for cash. If the latter happens do not do ANYTHING to the computer. Do not touch the keyboard, do not turn it off. Instead, call a computer security expert and the police. Your computer and data can be recovered by someone who knows what they are doing.

We will be posting a follow up piece on what you can do to protect your computer and your network next week. In the meantime, here is some background and some suggestions from McAfee and from the Justice Department.

Thanks to Owen Linderholm

Saturday, January 20, 2007

JIM POWERS (1928-2007)

When Jim Powers took over the Las Vegas FBI office in 1977, he inherited a department in disarray and a town of well-entrenched mobsters. He vowed to address both problems.

One of his primary targets was Gold Rush Ltd., a jewelry store/fencing operation near the Strip. The FBI's raid of the place set the table for the demise of its owner, mobster Tony Spilotro, and his Hole-in-the-Wall Gang.

James M. Powers, who later served as security chief for Steve Wynn's Golden Nugget and helped bring to justice the kidnappers of Wynn's daughter Kevyn in 1993, died Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 78.

"Jim was the best of what you would call Old Bureau FBI agents, those who had worked under J. Edgar Hoover," said former federal prosecutor Stan Hunterton, who is a local defense attorney. "He was disciplined and hardworking. Jim treated everyone with decency, and his integrity was above reproach."

Although Powers served just two years as special agent-in-charge of the Las Vegas FBI office, it was a pivotal time in Southern Nevada history - the beginning of the end of the mob's great influence on the region.

A year before Powers took the job, Spilotro had formed the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang with younger brother Michael Spilotro, boyhood chum Frank Culotta, Joey Cusumano, "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein, former Metro Police Detective Joe Blasko and others. The gang got its nickname by drilling through the walls of the buildings that it burglarized. Its headquarters was the Gold Rush - a block from the Strip - which also had opened in 1976.

Powers targeted the Gold Rush for a massive raid in which a large amount of evidence was gathered that helped lead to Spilotro's 1981 indictment on federal racketeering charges that eventually were dismissed. Spilotro was killed, presumably by mob associates, in 1986.

Born Oct. 4, 1928, in Springfield, Mass., Powers joined the Marine Corps in 1946 and served for two years. In 1953, he earned a bachelor of laws degree from Boston University School of Law. Powers joined the FBI in 1954, working in New York and Chicago before retiring in Las Vegas in 1979 and becoming vice president of corporate security for the Golden Nugget. He worked for Wynn until his retirement in the late 1990s.

Thanks to Ed Koch

The "Big Guy" From Spilotro's Hole in the Wall Gang Dies

The late Tony Spilotro was the Chicago Outfit's fearless, brutal soldier in Las Vegas, who once tortured a man by putting his head in a vise and squeezing it until one of his eyes popped out. But even Spilotro was unnerved by one man -- a member of Spilotro's own Hole in the Wall Gang, -- Lawrence Neumann.

Long before Neumann joined, he left a trail of violence.

In 1956, when Neumann thought he got shortchanged at an Uptown bar, he went back and shotgunned three people dead. Later, Neumann would be convicted of one more murder, and suspected in two others in McHenry County.

Neumann had a steady income from a trust fund, so he didn't need to steal, rob and kill to make money. Apparently, he just enjoyed it.

Now, his long history of violence has ended. Neumann, 79, in advanced stages of cardiac disease, died of natural causes Jan. 9 at Menard Correctional Center located Downstate. He was pronounced dead at 5:45 a.m. in the medical unit of the prison where he was serving a life term for murder.

"As long as they don't remove the stake out of his f - - - - - - chest, we'll be all right," said onetime mobster Frank Cullotta during a telephone interview Wednesday from an undisclosed location. Cullotta was not particularly saddened to hear of Neumann's death.

Cullotta turned federal informant and testified against Neumann in a murder trial in 1983 that resulted in putting Neumann away for life. Neumann killed mob-connected jeweler Robert Brown during a robbery. Brown was strangled, hit on the head and when he wouldn't die, stabbed with a bayonet. "He was a real animal, the world's a better place without him -- a safer place I should say," Cullotta, who has written an autobiography that's soon to be released, said of Neumann.

Neumann was born in St. Louis, the son of a successful sporting goods salesman. He was kicked out of a Missouri military academy when he was 14, then attended Amundsen High School in Chicago, where he started running with a rough crowd and eventually dropped out, according to a published interview with his father in 1956.

It was in June of that year when Neumann went into Mickey's Miracle Bar with a shotgun he had bought on sale and unloaded on one of the owners, an employee and a patron, killing them all. He felt the bar had shorted him on change. The triple slaying sparked a citywide manhunt. Neumann's efforts to contact a "pretty divorcee" -- as she was described in news accounts -- helped police track him down. Neumann had vowed to kill one of the lead detectives trailing him. After a gun battle between Neumann and police, he surrendered peacefully. Neumann was sentenced to 125 years in prison but because of a change in parole laws, he was released after serving a little more than 10s.

Cullotta met Neumann when they were in Stateville Prison, and Neumann sought out Cullotta after both were released. "He wanted to be involved in my type of life," Cullotta said. So Neumann got into mob life, including Spilotro's burglary crew out in Las Vegas, called the "Hole in the Wall Gang" because members knocked holes through the walls of buildings to avoid alarm systems.

Dubbed "The Big Guy" and "Lurch," Neumann's hands were so big, authorities sometimes had trouble fingerprinting him. More than one top mobster -- who scared people for a living -- was frightened by Neumann, a fitness buff who reportedly did 1,000 sit-ups a day.

"Tony [Spilotro] was scared of him," Cullotta recalled. "He said, 'Please . . . don't ever get the The Big Guy mad at me or you.' "

Retired FBI agent Dennis Arnoldy said, "Larry would always go overboard," even by Spilotro's loose standards.

After Neumann died last week, no one claimed him. The state paid to cremate him, said Downstate funeral director Mike McClure. The prison chaplain will say a brief service next week over his cremated ashes in a plastic urn at Evergreen Cemetery in the nearby town of Chester.

At his request, Neumann, who was Jewish, was cremated with his yarmulke on his head.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir and Robert C. Herguth

Gambler, Yes; Bookie, Yes; Boss of Mafia Crew, No?

Friends of ours: Colombo Crime Family, Joseph Colombo
Friends of mine: Soprano Crime Family, Chris Colombo, Anthony Colombo

Chris Colombo carries a famous gangster's name and "looks like he just walked off the set of 'The Sopranos' " - but he's really just a simple bookie and gambler, his lawyer said yesterday.

Defense lawyer Jeremy Schneider cut his losses as Colombo's racketeering trial got under way, conceding guilt on gambling charges, but denying that the son of murdered mob boss Joseph Colombo ran a renegade crew that used threats of violence to rake in cash.

"He looks like he just walked off the set of ' the Sopranos.' He's going to sound like he just auditioned for 'The Sopranos,' " Schneider said of Colombo, whose real-life try at stardom fell flat when HBO pulled the plug on his reality show, "House Arrest," in 2005. "He's a gambler. He's a bookie. He is not a boss of a crew," Schneider said as the barrel-chested Colombo, dressed in a flashy pinstriped suit and silver tie, listened from the defense table in Manhattan federal court.

The admission came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa Baroni told jurors how Chris Colombo and his brother Anthony terrorized victims and lined their pockets as "bosses" of the "Colombo Brothers' Crew."

Prosecutors have conceded they invented the crew's name for the purposes of the indictment, but not the criminal organization itself. They claim the brothers were on the losing side of the Colombo crime family war in the 1990s and struck out on their own. Chris and his lower-key sibling Anthony, who leans on a cane and came to court in a plain gray suit, are on trial for a slew of racketeering charges, including gambling, loan-sharking, extortion and fraud.

The feds claim Anthony was double-trouble for DoubleClick - an Internet ad company that has serviced Microsoft, General Motors and Coca-Cola - after a cohort landed a job overseeing cleaning contracts during construction of the firm's new offices. Baroni said the insider ensured the contract went to a cleaning service under the crew's control and approved payment for "work that was done and work that wasn't done" to the tune of more than $100,000 in a "massive double-billing scheme."

Chris Colombo is accused of overseeing the crew's gambling operations in East Harlem and The Bronx and receiving cash deliveries at his Orange County compound. Meanwhile, Anthony allegedly shook down the owner of a small construction company, forcing him to write paychecks to his wife in a no-show job scheme.

Thanks to Kati Cornell

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ex-Cop Denies He Passed Info to the Mob

Friends of ours: James Marcello, Michael Marcello, Nick Calabrese, John "No-Nose" DiFronzo
Friends of mine: William Guide, John Ambrose

Speaking publicly for the first time, a former cop accused of receiving sensitive information about the mob from a deputy U.S. marshal denied he did anything wrong.

William Guide became agitated Tuesday when asked if he passed on to a reputed mobster sensitive information he got from deputy U.S. Marshal John Ambrose. "I didn't do anything," an emphatic Guide told the Chicago Sun-Times on Tuesday. "I didn't do anything wrong. You don't know the whole story. You're making me out to be the bad guy in this whole thing."

Guide was responding to a story in Tuesday's Sun-Times in which Ambrose's lawyer, Frank Lipuma, said if the government's allegations were true, Guide "may or may not have taken advantage of Mr. Ambrose."

Ambrose, 38, was charged last week with theft of information after the government said he leaked confidential material about protected mob witness Nick Calabrese to "Individual A." Sources say that is Guide. Guide has not been charged in the case.

His lawyer, Rick Beuke, said Guide looks at Ambrose as a son. Beuke said he doesn't believe there was anything sinister going on between Ambrose and Guide, two longtime friends. If Ambrose talked about anything sensitive, he may have just been bragging, Beuke said. "He wanted to impress Guide like he'd want to impress a father," Beuke said. "It's like a kid coming home and saying: 'Dad, I hit a home run.' "

Ambrose twice briefly guarded Calabrese, who is set to testify in a mob trial this spring, when he was in Chicago. Shortly after, the feds say Ambrose revealed to Guide confidential facts he obtained from a file on Calabrese.

That information made its way to mobsters, the government alleges. The feds released transcripts of prison surveillance tapes in which reputed mobsters -- Jimmy and Michael Marcello -- can be heard discussing specifics about Calabrese's movements in Chicago and his cooperation. In coded language, they refer to both Guide and Ambrose, the FBI said. Information about Calabrese came from a file Ambrose had accessed, the feds allege.

The Marcellos refer to getting information from the "baby-sitter," whose father was a cop convicted in the Marquette 10. Federal authorities say that's specific information identifying Ambrose.

They allege that a third party passed the information to mobsters and do not allege that Ambrose disclosed sensitive information intending it to go to the mob. Ambrose denies wrongdoing.

Guide briefly served prison time with reputed mobster John "No Nose" DiFronzo.

Guide was a Chicago Police officer when he was convicted in the Marquette 10 scandal in the 1980s along with Ambrose's father, Thomas. Thomas Ambrose died in prison at age 37. Since then, Guide and John Ambrose have been close friends, talk often and share a love for wrestling, both of their attorneys said. "John was seeking out Bill's approval. He wanted Bill to be proud of him as a marshal," Beuke said.

Beuke said Guide and DiFronzo know each other. But he doesn't believe there's an ongoing friendship. Beuke said Guide, a South Sider, runs a pizza business and is too busy working to be a mob associate. "I don't think there's any evidence of Bill passing along any information to the mob," Beuke said.

Thanks to Natasha Korecki

Was Arrest of a US Marshall a Terrific Mistake?

Friends of ours: Nick Calabrese, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, John "No Nose" DiFronzo, Aldo Cardellicchio
Friends of mine: John Ambrose, William Guide

Like his late father, John Ambrose was a distinguished, decorated law enforcement officer, respected by his peers. And also like his dad, Ambrose doesn't believe he should be facing criminal charges.

The elder Ambrose, Thomas, was a decorated Chicago cop before he was prosecuted as one of the Marquette 10, a police corruption case in the 1980s. At age 37, Thomas Ambrose died of a heart attack in prison -- just seven days after John's 18th birthday.

John Ambrose, 38, grew up to become a deputy U.S. marshal known for hunting down violent fugitives, including gang-bangers, and hauling them in to face a judge. But last week, it was Ambrose who had to face a judge's questions after he was accused of leaking sensitive government information. With short-cropped hair, Ambrose, well-built and intense, answered in an almost military style -- "Yes, your honor" -- to each of the questions.

His intensity, tenacity and strong work ethic made him such a successful law enforcement officer, colleagues say.

Despite what the FBI and federal prosecutors allege, Ambrose doesn't believe he should face prison time and plans vigorously to fight the charges, said his lawyer, Frank Lipuma. "I think they've made a terrific mistake," Lipuma said. "I think it's going to come out that other people's names have been identified, other people could have been the source of the material . . . not John."

Ambrose is accused of leaking information about what mob witness Nick Calabrese was telling the feds. After guarding Calabrese during short stints with the federal witness security program in 2002 and 2003, Ambrose allegedly leaked information from a sensitive file to a longtime family friend, William Guide. His fingerprints were found on the file, but his lawyer said the file was not secured and Ambrose was allowed to review it.

Guide, also one of the Marquette 10, allegedly passed on the information -- including details about Calabrese's movements and his cooperation -- to the mob. It caught authorities' attention when two reputed mobsters under surveillance were heard discussing the information and referred to Ambrose as "the babysitter," according to charges.

If the allegations are true, what was Ambrose's motivation? The feds do not allege Ambrose was paid. In fact, transcripts of conversations between the reputed mobsters indicate Ambrose refused money.

"Perhaps Mr. Ambrose had a father figure in this person [Guide] who may or may not have taken advantage of Mr. Ambrose," Lipuma suggested. "John did not knowingly disclose any confidential information to Guide. Whether Guide conveyed that information to someone else, we don't know."

Lipuma said Ambrose was open with his superiors about his longtime friendship with Guide, who shares Ambrose's interest in wrestling.

Ambrose, married and a father of four, grew up on the South Side and was an avid wrestler while attending St. Laurence High School. He went to Lewis University in Romeoville. Ambrose is a wrestling coach today.

Ambrose allegedly told investigators he was just bragging to Guide, described only as "Individual A" by the feds. He said he hoped his goodwill with Guide would ingratiate Ambrose with reputed mobster John "No Nose" DiFronzo.

DiFronzo and Guide are reportedly friends. That relationship could help Ambrose track down Joey "the Clown" Lombardo if he were to become a fugitive, Ambrose allegedly told investigators last September. The alleged leaks to Guide happened in 2002 and 2003. Lombardo was charged in April 2005 and then became a fugitive.

Ambrose was in his mid-teens when he saw his father go to prison. "It was very painful and hurt him a great deal when his father was convicted," Lipuma said. "He missed having his father in his life since then."

The Marquette 10 prosecution was considered ground-breaking because it was among the first to put drug dealers on the stand to testify against police officers. Some saw it as a slap in the face to local law enforcement. "I think there was a certain element of the community that resented it," said former prosecutor Dean Polales.

Lipuma dismissed any notion that Ambrose harbored resentment against the FBI or prosecutors for charging his father.

He pointed to dangerous fugitives Ambrose has hunted down, including gang-bangers on the most wanted list and mobster Aldo Cardellicchio, wanted by Italian authorities. "His job meant everything to him, to the point where he sacrificed his time with his family to do his job," Lipuma said.

Ambrose, a supervisory inspector with the Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force, was involved in the hunt for six Cook County jail escapees last year. He also helped capture a man whose disappearance in the federal courthouse caused it to be shut down for hours last year. "John was so highly regarded," said attorney Thomas C. Royce, who represented Ambrose's father. "I would see him in the courthouse and he would say, 'I haven't slept in two days because I've been chasing a fugitive to Milwaukee.' "

There's a reason federal authorities are taking the Calabrese matter so seriously. Calabrese is among one of the most significant witnesses developed in Chicago's history, Chicago FBI chief Robert Grant said at a news conference.

Calabrese is poised to testify this May in the Operation Family Secrets trial as a witness to 16 mob killings that he allegedly carried out with others. But his cooperation is delicate; Calabrese has allegedly admitted to taking part in slayings, has promised to testify against family members but has no deal with prosecutors to do so.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Feds Learn of 38 Hits and Chicago Mob Hierarchy from Mobster

Friends of ours: Nick Calabrese, Jimmy Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr., Tony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

Made mobster Nick Calabrese has told the FBI more about mob hits than any other witness in Chicago history.

He should know. He took part in 16 of them, the feds say. And filled the feds in on 22 more.

Apart from the murders, Calabrese described to the FBI the secret ceremony mobsters underwent to get "made" into the organization -- promoted to its top echelon. He told them what other mobsters were made with him in 1983. And he outlined the hierarchy of organized crime in Chicago.

So it's little wonder the reputed head of the Chicago mob, Jimmy Marcello, had a great deal of curiosity when he heard in prison that Nick Calabrese was cooperating with the feds.

Calabrese, who has no deal with the feds, is one of the key witnesses in the upcoming Family Secrets mob trial in May -- one of the most important ever in the federal effort to wipe out the Outfit in Chicago.

Calabrese is testifying against his brother Frank Calabrese Sr., a brutal loan shark and alleged mob hit man. Calabrese Sr. and Marcello are charged along with other top mob leaders in a case that pins 18 previously unsolved murders on the Outfit.

Frank Calabrese Sr. will also have to face his own recorded words at trial. His son Frank Jr. put his life on the line by secretly recording his father while both were in prison on another matter. Frank Calabrese Sr. allegedly talked about mob hits and other matters he never should have spoken about.

Nick Calabrese can tell jurors about allegedly taking part in mob hits with both his brother and Marcello.

Nick Calabrese, for instance, can relate to jurors how Marcello allegedly drove mobsters Anthony and Michael Spilotro to a home in the Bensenville area in June 1986 on the ruse that they were to be promoted in the Outfit.

Instead, they were beaten and strangled to death in the basement, with Tony Spilotro, the mob's man in Las Vegas, denied his last request: to say a novena before he was slain.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir, Natasha Korecki, and Frank Main

Department of Justice Details Felony Charge Against US Marshall

Friends of ours: Nick Calabrese, Frank Calabrese Sr., James Marcello, Michael Marcello

A Deputy U.S. Marshal was taken into custody today on a federal felony theft charge for allegedly illegally disclosing highly sensitive, confidential information about a federally- protected organized crime witness. The defendant, John Thomas Ambrose, was charged in a criminal complaint filed today with theft of government property for allegedly revealing information relating to the status, substance of cooperation, and travel of cooperating witness/defendant Nicholas Calabrese, while Calabrese was in the United States Marshals Service's Witness Security Program (WSP), also known as "WITSEC."

Ambrose, 38, a deputy marshal since January 1998, was a supervisory inspector of the U.S. Marshals Service's Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force. He was placed on administrative leave last September when he was questioned by federal agents conducting this investigation. He was scheduled to appear at 1:30 p.m. today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael Mason in U.S. District Court. He surrendered voluntarily earlier today at the FBI's Chicago office, announced Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Gary S. Shapiro, First Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, and U.S. Marshal Kim R. Widup.

"While this defendant's conduct in revealing closely guarded and highly sensitive information regarding a protected witness constitutes an egregious breach of his law enforcement duties, the investigation, so far, has not uncovered any evidence that either this witness or any other was ever in danger, and there is no evidence that any attempt was made to harm any protected witness," Mr. Shapiro said. "I remain confident in the integrity of the United States Marshals Service and the government's Witness Security Program, and am grateful for the Marshals Service full participation in the investigation with the FBI, which allowed the investigation to reach this successful outcome."

Mr. Grant said: "I am also confident that the Witness Security Program remains a vitally important resource for law enforcement and that its effectiveness is not diminished by this isolated problem. The Marshals Service participation was integral to this investigation and we didn't hesitate to ask them to join the investigation once it began to focus on this defendant."

According to the FBI's detailed complaint affidavit, Nicholas Calabrese admitted to the government that he was a "made" member of the "Chicago Outfit" (also known as the "Chicago Mob") and has provided federal law enforcement with the most expansive overview ever of Chicago Outfit murders. In 2002, he agreed to cooperate in the investigation of alleged Outfit members, including his brother Frank Calabrese, Sr., and brothers James and Michael Marcello. Nicholas Calabrese was formally admitted to the WSP in August 2002, and he was moved to a secure prison facility within the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, based upon an application prepared by federal agents and prosecutors detailing his ability to testify about 16 murders in which he participated and 22 other murders about which he had some secondary information from others. The application also provided an analysis of the significant danger posed to Nicholas Calabrese by members of the Chicago Outfit.

The ensuing investigation resulted in the April 2005 indictment of 14 defendants in U.S. v. Nicholas Calabrese, et al., 02 CR 1050, which alleges, among other crimes, a 40-year racketeering conspiracy involving 18 previously unsolved Outfit murders, often of suspected government cooperators and witnesses, between 1970 and 1986. The case against 12 remaining defendants (two others are deceased) is scheduled for trial in May 2007.

As part of his cooperation, Nicholas Calabrese was brought to the Chicago area by WSP Inspectors on two occasions: first, on October 31 - November 1, 2002, for his then-sealed court arraignment, and, second, on May 20-22, 2003, when he assisted the FBI in locating some of the murder scenes and other relevant locations. Both of these trips involved highly secret travel details to which only a handful of government personnel were privy. During both of Nicholas Calabrese's stays in Chicago, Ambrose served on the night shift security detail assigned to protect him. The affidavit explains that the role of and chain of command of WSP Inspectors is distinct from that of Deputy U.S. Marshals. WSP Inspectors occasionally request supplemental security services from Deputy U.S. Marshals, such as Ambrose, but the Deputy Marshal's role is restricted to providing a limited support function.

Between January and June 2003, the government intercepted 11 prison conversations between James and Michael Marcello when Michael visited James, ordinarily once or twice a month, at the federal prison in Milan, Mich., where James was incarcerated. The conversations indicated that Michael Marcello had an inside source of information concerning Nicholas Calabrese. The affidavit states that James Marcello was highly interested in learning the nature of the government's continuing investigation into his alleged criminal activities. The content of the intercepted cryptic conversations indicated that Michael Marcello's source of information was someone within federal law enforcement who had access to WSP protectees. The content of the conversations also confirmed that the source of information had access to documents and material that only a small number of individuals within the federal government would be in a position to retrieve.

In approximately five of the recorded conversations, large portions of which were coded and whispered, Michael Marcello reported to James Marcello information relating to Nicholas Calabrese that allegedly was obtained from Ambrose -- including information concerning Nicholas Calabrese's whereabouts, his status as a cooperator, and the level of his cooperation. These conversations -- excerpts of which are contained in the affidavit -- took place on January 30, March 6, March 24, April 24, and June 12, 2003.

The affidavit states that the intercepted conversations captured Michael Marcello providing James Marcello with current details concerning Calabrese's cooperation with the government, including non-public, sensitive matters regarding organized crime homicides that were the subject of Nicholas Calabrese's May 2003 trip to Chicago. This information would have been known to a very limited number of people, including federal law enforcement officers involved in providing security to Nicholas Calabrese on that trip.

In a recorded conversation on March 24, 2003, Michael Marcello identified his inside source of information regarding Calabrese as Ambrose, not by name, but by a description that could fit no other law enforcement officer. Michael Marcello told James Marcello that this source, whom he referred to as "the Babysitter," was the son of a deceased defendant prosecuted in the so-called "Marquette 10" case with then Chicago police officers Frank DeRango and Individual A. Ambrose's father, Thomas Ambrose, was the lead defendant, and Frank DeRango and Individual A were co-defendants, in U.S. v. Ambrose, et al., a police corruption case commonly referred to as "the Marquette 10" case. Thomas Ambrose died in prison while serving his sentence after being convicted of bribery.

According to telephone records cited in the affidavit, on May 23, 2003, (the last day of the second Calabrese detail) Ambrose placed a 14-minute phone call to Individual A's work telephone number. The call was made within hours of Ambrose completing his last night shift of the Calabrese protection detail, and phone records show no other calls over three minutes between Ambrose and Individual A for months prior to and after this 14-minute call, according to the complaint.

During other recorded conversations, Michael Marcello indicated that his source had access to information provided to the government by Nicholas Calabrese. According to the complaint, Ambrose's fingerprints were recovered just last summer from the originals of the confidential documents maintained by WSP personnel in a secure location. These highly-confidential documents were within Nicholas Calabrese's WSP file, which included details provided by Nicholas Calabrese regarding organized crime. The January 30, 2003, recorded conversation between James and Michael Marcello was the first time that they were heard discussing Nicholas Calabrese's cooperation. During Nicholas Calabrese's October 31 - November 1, 2002, visit to Chicago, records concerning him, including his background, criminal history/involvement, names of individuals about whom he had provided information, murders about which he had provided first and second-hand information, and names of individuals who could potentially pose a threat to him, were maintained in a locked cabinet within the control room located inside the secure WSP facility in Chicago.

According to the affidavit, on June 22, 2006, WSP personnel provided the FBI with the secured WSP Production File concerning Nicholas Calabrese. The FBI performed a latent fingerprint examination of the paperwork contained in this file, and two latent fingerprints identified as Ambrose's were found on two of the original WSP documents. One of the documents was included in the WSP application for Nicholas Calabrese's admission into the WSP, and Ambrose's fingerprint was found on the last page which included the signature of the U.S. Attorney.

The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys T. Markus Funk, John Scully and Mitchell Mars.

If convicted, each charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The Court, however, would determine the appropriate sentence to be imposed.

The public is reminded that a complaint contains only charges and is not evidence of guilt. The defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lawyer Says US Marshall is no Hoodlum

A deputy US marshal is charged with revealing information about a mob informant in the witness protection program. The ABC7 I-Team has learned there are serious questions about the deputy's background. He has family ties to the Marquette 10 Chicago police scandal back in the 1980s.

The deputy charged is John Thomas Ambrose. His father Tom Ambrose served prison time in the Marquette 10 police scandal.

There is a hit movie out right now called "The Departed" starring Jack Nicholson as a mob boss. It centers on a cop who is actually working for the mob. It is fictional story. But in Chicago that same scenario is playing out in real life, with a 9-year veteran lawman accused of helping the outfit by secretly leaking information that might have compromised the biggest outfit case in Chicago in 20 years. "No system is perfect. Much of what we do depends on trust and confidence and honor," said Gary Shapiro, US. state's attorney.

According to federal prosecutors, 38-year-old John Thomas Ambrose broke the trust, compromised that confidence and dishonored his oath to uphold the law. Ambrose appeared Thursday afternoon before US Magistrate Michael Mason on federal theft charges.

According to the FBI, Ambrose fed Chicago organized crime bosses, including Jimmy "the Man" Marcello, a steady diet of "highly sensitive, confidential information" about a key witness in the federal investigation of more than a dozen unsolved Chicago mob killings. "The breach could have put at risk the life of one of the most important witnesses ever developed in Chicago against the Chicago Outfit. It could have put at risk US Marshal's, and family members of that witness," said Robert Grant, FBI special agent in charge.

Conversations between Marcello and his brother at the federal prison in Milan, Michigan, had been secretly recorded by the FBI. The conversations included coded references to "the status, substance of cooperation and travel" of Nicholas Calabrese, a defendant and key witness in the FBI's Operation Family Secrets.

Federal agents say they had to break the mob code, deciphering that Ambrose was "the babysitter." The FBI was "polizia." Mob leader Joey "the Clown" Lombardo was Pai-Achi, the name of a clown in a famous Italian opera. The Spilotro brothers who had been tortured and buried alive in a cornfield were "shivago," and the code for wife, "moolieri."

Ambrose's lawyer contends, he's no hoodlum. "He is not connected to the mob at all. It rests on impressions and opinions of an FBI agent who wrote that affidavit. She said so herself and she is interpreting what they are saying," said Frank Lipuma, Ambrose's attorney.

Ambrose's father Thomas was a disgraced Chicago cop, a key figure convicted in the Marquette 10 police corruption case 20 years ago.

Authorities believe that while the father was serving time at the downstate Marion penitentiary, he renewed a boyhood friendship with Chicago mob king John "No Nose" DiFronzo , and that after Thomas Ambrose died, his son john, the deputy US marshal, struck up a relationship with DiFronzo , all leading to questions about why Ambrose was hired in the first place.

When interviewed by the FBI, Ambrose said he understood he made a mistake but that his intention was to ingratiate himself to DiFronzo and others to help his career. He thought they might help him locate fugitives including the recently captured Joey "the Clown" Lombardo.

Ambrose has been on leave from the US Marshal's Office since September and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. He is out on $50,000 bond.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Guns and Roses

Friends of ours: Dean O'Banion, Al Capone, Johnny Torrio, "Bloody" Angelo Genna, "Big Jim" Colosimo, Earl "Hymie" Weiss, Vincent "the Schemer" Drucci, George "Bugs" Moran

Before Al Capone became its underworld kingpin, Chicago's reigning gangster was the colorful and lethal Dean O'Banion, the stoutly built Irish florist the press nicknamed "Chicago's Arch Killer" and the "Boss of the 42nd and 43rd Wards." Based on information compiled from police and court documents, contemporary news accounts, and interviews with O'Banion's friends and associates, Guns and Roses traces O'Banion's rise from Illinois farm boy to the most powerful gang boss in early 1920s Chicago. It examines his role in the Irish-Sicilian clashes that rocked the North Side circa 1890-1910, his years as a slugger for William Randolph Hearst during the city's newspaper wars, and his turbulent relationship with "Scarface Al" Capone as the two gang bosses battled for supremacy.

Guns and Roses also shines a spotlight on many of Chicago's elite, among them Mayor William Hale "Big Bill" Thompson and playwright Charles MacArthur (The Front Page), as well as such underworld luminaries as dapper Johnny Torrio, "Bloody" Angelo Genna, "Big Jim" Colosimo, Earl "Hymie" Weiss, Vincent "the Schemer" Drucci, and George "Bugs" Moran, the latter of whom barely escaped the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Of particular interest are O'Banion's notorious "handshake murder" ordered by the Capone, Torrio, and Genna factions and the bloody war for gangland supremacy that was sparked by his death and gave the city its reputation for violence. An enigmatic character, O'Banion was a powerful gang boss who could crack skulls as brutally as his henchmen, but he also supported entire North Side slums with his charity. While he had few gangster allies, the charismatic criminal inspired fanatical loyalty among his own men, who mourned his murder and sought violent revenge against those who ordered it. The product of fifteen years of research, Guns and Roses is as much a stroll through the history of Chicago as it is a chronicle of one of its premier underworld icons.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Marcello's Loose Lips Result in Arrest of US Marshall

Friends of ours: Michael Marcello, James Marcello, Nicholas Calabrese

Reputed U.S. Mob boss Michael Marcello apparently didn’t watch crime shows on television - otherwise he might have known the FBI often listens in to conversations in prison visitors rooms.

In 2003, the unsuspecting Marcello dropped broad hints about his source inside the U.S. Marshals Service during visits to his brother in the prison in Milan, Michigan.
FBI agents heard every word about the man Marcello called "The Babysitter." As a result, Deputy marshal John Thomas Ambrose surrendered on Thursday to FBI agents who say he was the source who told Marcello secrets about a federally protected witness.

"This defendant’s conduct in revealing closely guarded and highly sensitive information ... constitutes an egregious breach of his law enforcement duties," said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Gary S. Shapiro.

Ambrose is accused of leaking information about the whereabouts of reputed mobster Nicholas Calabrese, a key witness in a murder conspiracy case. Fourteen reputed mobsters and their associates are charged with at least 18 murders. Ambrose appeared briefly before a judge who scheduled a hearing for Jan. 30. Defense attorney Francis C. Lipuma told reporters that his client denied the accusations. "John Ambrose is not connected to the mob at all," Lipuma said.

Prosecutors said that between January and June 2003 they intercepted 11 conversations that took place when Michael Marcello visited his brother, James, at the Michigan prison.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

U.S. Marshal Charged with Leaking Information to Chicago Mob

Friends of ours: John "No-Nose" DiFronzo, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Frank Calabrese Sr., Tony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Nick Calabrese

A federal deputy marshal was charged Thursday with leaking information about a reputed mobster's cooperation with prosecutors as they investigated the top echelon of Chicago's organized crime family.

John Thomas Ambrose, 38, a former supervisory inspector of the U.S. Marshals Service's Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force, surrendered Thursday at the FBI's Chicago office, officials said. Ambrose has been on leave since September. He is charged with theft of government property, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine.

Ambrose is accused of revealing information concerning the cooperation and travel plans of Nicholas Calabrese, expected to be a key witness in the government's Operation Family Secrets murder conspiracy case. Prosecutors said Ambrose told them in a Sept. 6 interview that he passed the information to an associate of reputed mob boss John DiFronzo in hopes of getting information on the whereabouts of then-fugitive organized crime figure Joseph Lombardo.

Prosecutors said that in later interviews Ambrose said he never believed the information would be passed to organized crime figures.

Lombardo, among those charged in the Operation Family Secrets indictment, was subsequently captured and is due to stand trial starting in May along with the others accused in the case.

Calabrese, 63, of Chicago and his brother, Frank Calabrese, 68, of Oak Brook are among 14 defendants charged in a sweeping indictment alleging a long-term conspiracy by Chicago mobsters to commit at least 18 murders. Victims include Tony Spilotro, the mob's one-time man in Las Vegas, who was beaten to death and buried in a corn field.

Prosecutors said Ambrose leaked information concerning Nicholas Calabrese while Calabrese was in the witness security program operated by the Marshals Service. They said in court papers that the information was given to members of the Chicago mob.

Gary Shapiro, the first assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago, said the alleged leak "constitutes an egregious breach of his law enforcement duties." There was no evidence that Calabrese or other witnesses were ever in danger, Shapiro said.

Discount Syndicate Honors the Golden Age

I am certain that some of my sharper soldiers have noticed that I have added a 5th site to the Syndicate Series. That site is called the Discount Syndicate. While you can make your bones at the Chicago Syndicate, relax at the Music City Syndicate, cheer at the Sport Syndicate and party at the Vegas Syndicate, the Discount Syndicate will help you save large.

In order to benefit from it the most, I recommend that you subscribe to it or save it as one of your favorites. Currently, over 40 associates of mine are offering discounts and special offers to the Syndicate crew. However, that is just a taste of what will eventually be available. When I finish opening the books, the total of connected specials will be closer to 100. Many of these offers will not be available anywhere else. The only way to save more would be to come heavy. Fortunately, I am not one to eat alone nor am I bound by a Code of Silence on these offers.

No need to pay tribute to the boss for this thing of ours. This is just my way of saying piacere.

Chicago Crime Commission Subpoenaed by Clown

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Frank "The German" Schweihs

Reputed Chicago mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo is looking to an unusual source for possible help in his defense at one of the most important mob trials in Chicago history: the Chicago Crime Commission.

Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin, had a subpoena served on the Outfit-fighting organization Tuesday for all the supporting documents the commission used to justify putting Lombardo on a mob hierarchy chart the group created in the 1980s. The chart shows Lombardo as a top Chicago mobster. "I can think of no privilege they have with those files," Halprin said. "If they do, I'm sure we'll hear about it in court."

The commission's general counsel, Jeannette Tamayo, called the subpoena for the documents "fairly unusual" and said officials are determining what documents the commission has that are responsive to the subpoena and what the commission is legally obligated to provide.

It's unclear whether the subpoena will spark a legal showdown in federal court in the Family Secrets case. Prosecutors have charged Lombardo and other reputed Outfit leaders in a wide-ranging racketeering case that aims to solve 18 slayings.

Halprin said the late, well-known, former FBI agent William Roemer worked as a consultant for the crime commission in putting together the chart outlining the hierarchy of the Chicago mob.

Halprin is particularly interested in any documentation relating to the prosecution of Lombardo and several others in a scheme to embezzle more than $1 million from a Teamsters pension fund.

In 2005, authorities charged Lombardo, alleged mob hit man Frank "the German" Schweihs and others with the September 1974 murder of Daniel Seifert, a Bensenville businessman who authorities say was to be the key witness against Lombardo at the embezzlement trial.

The Teamsters embezzlement case is more than 30 years old, and documentation from it is scarce. Halprin is curious to find out if the crime commission has any historic FBI documents from the case or other matters involving Lombardo.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

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