Saturday, March 31, 2007

Tony Soprano to be Whacked in Final Season?

IF any television character has a bullet, or meat cleaver, with his name on it, it's Tony Soprano.

As HBO's "The Sopranos" counts down its final nine episodes beginning next Sunday, the existential question hanging over the series is: Should Tony live or die? Given the show's bleak themes, anything less than killing him off could be construed as a miscarriage of justice — and a dramatic sellout.

After six seasons, even Tony doesn't seem to like his chances. In therapy, the married father of two admitted to his psychiatrist, Dr. Jennifer Melfi, that there are two outcomes for "guys like me" — prison or death.

The New Jersey don has meted out death to family (cousin Tony Blundetto), friend (Sal "Big Pussy" Bonpensiero), and foe (witness protection turncoat Fred Peters) alike. He has sanctioned many more cold-blooded hits, of course, as on his daughter's boyfriend Jackie Jr. or on his nephew's fiancée, Adriana. He once even tried to snuff out his smothering mother, Livia, with, appropriately enough, a hospital pillow.

The crime boss' intuition is dead-on, argues Al Gini, who contributed an essay for the 2004 book "The Sopranos and Philosophy: I Kill Therefore I Am." By summer, says Gini, whose essay was called "Bada-Being and Nothingness: Murderous Melodrama or Morality Play?," Tony will be sleeping with the fishes.

"Tony has got to be killed. It's the only satisfying ending," said Gini, a philosophy professor at Loyola University in Chicago who has incorporated Soprano's leadership traits into a business ethics course. "We're not talking about Robin Hood here, someone that takes from the rich and gives to the poor. We're talking about a hood. If Tony doesn't lose everything, what's the message? The bad guy gets away with it all?"

Gini isn't suggesting a Sgt. Joe Friday "crime doesn't pay" lecture as much as a dramatization of the biblical injunction that those who live by the sword, die by the sword. God's judgment may be evident, but a sudden, violent death for Tony would also have to do with probability. In other words, those who live with mobsters, drug dealers, loan sharks and waste management consultants are probably going to die like them.

But popular L.A. mystery writer Robert Crais still would find such a finale overly simplistic, out of sync with the complexity and sophistication that have been earmarks of the show's storytelling. There are things worse than death, after all. Tony should survive some type of mob conflagration, said the former writer for "Hill Street Blues," "Miami Vice" and "Cagney & Lacey," but not without dire consequences.

"I don't think the audience would be happy if Tony gets a bullet to the head," said Crais, who wrote the bestselling fictional thriller "The Watchman: A Joe Pike Novel." "In the end, he should be promoted, but where the cost far exceeds the triumph."

When it comes to story lines, "The Sopranos" breaks all the rules, but that hasn't stopped oddsmakers from weighing in on how the show will end. The line seems to recommend not betting against the man with a back office at the Bada Bing! At an online gambling site based in Costa Rica called BoDog, the odds are running 1 to 2 against Tony's demise, according to founder Calvin Ayre. However, Tony's nephew Christopher Moltisanti is a 2-to-1 favorite to be a stiff before the final curtain falls. (Tony's son, A.J., is a 15-to-1 family long shot to die.)

Certainly, there are no shortage of "Sopranos" characters with the opportunity and motive to knock off Tony. Perpetually disgruntled Paulie Walnuts, rival mob boss and recently imprisoned Johnny "Sack" Sacramoni, even nephew Christopher all would be credible assailants to perform the foul deed. But perhaps there is someone closer still to Tony who would do him in.

"You see echoes of great Greek tragedy in all this," said Glen O. Gabbard, a psychiatrist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston who has written extensively about the show. "I could see Carmela getting so furious that she killed Tony."

Long torn, as she once said, between doing what is right and doing what is easy, Carmela could become the fury behind Tony's death. All the goodwill built between the reunited couple could vanish in a flash if Carmela were to learn the truth behind Adriana's disappearance.

An equally powerful dramatic finish would be if the prone-to-depression mobster took his own life, contends Peter H. Hare, an emeritus philosophy professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo who also wrote an essay for "The Sopranos and Philosophy."

Tony's suicide should not be a personal moral reaction to his many evil acts but rather stem from a deepening melancholy that overtakes him as he realizes his life is without true meaning or purpose. The suicide can't be the result of a pill popping or a gun to the temple. Instead, in what Hare terms an "ambiguous suicide," Tony could deliberately maneuver himself into a heroic battle ostensibly for his Mafia family but actually meant as a way to kill himself.

"I don't want to imply Tony deserves to die," said Hare, whose essay is titled "What Kind of God Does This …?" "But the whole 'Sopranos' narrative has a great deal more meaning if it ends with his death."

SHOULD Tony die is one question. Will he die is quite another. Wrapping up any beloved and long-running television series is extraordinarily difficult, much less one that has drawn comparisons in breadth and depth to the works of Shakespeare and has so clearly stamped its brooding, darkly humorous soul onto the pop culture canopy.

Not surprisingly, series creator David Chase and his staff are in lockdown mode in their New York studios zealously guarding any hint over Tony's ultimate fate. Though the show's writers are renowned for their ingenuity and unpredictability, storytelling convention can still offer clues to the final days of Tony Soprano.

Endings typically hew closely to the logic established within a show's fictional universe while also resolving outstanding dramatic questions. This basic storytelling rule would, it is hoped, eliminate Tony's possible escape into the federal witness protection program, or worse, a "St. Elsewhere"-like scenario where the whole "Sopranos" pageant had been all in the mind of an autistic child. But memorable endings — Bob Newhart ending up back in bed with Suzanne Pleshette! — usually pack a surprise, and that as much as anything else could spare Tony.

"I watch shows like 'The Sopranos' for the unknown — the twists and turns and for the nice ride," said Saul Friedman, a writer for the website "We've all seen the mafia movies, and we know how they end. I want to see something different here."

It's worth noting the conclusions of "The Godfather" movies, which are frequently alluded to and even quoted outright in "The Sopranos." Mafia head Vito Corleone, after being nearly assassinated, turns over his empire to son Michael. Vito's brush with death seems enough punishment and he dies relatively peacefully in the family garden before his bewildered grandson.

Meanwhile, "The Godfather, Part II (Two-Disc Widescreen Edition)" would seem to offer an ending more in keeping with "The Sopranos" overall tone. There, Michael consolidates his rule, but it comes at the price of murdering his older brother and forever alienating his family. The final shot of a soulless Michael staring off at a frozen Lake Tahoe is more chilling than any murder could ever be. (Sorry, "The Godfather, Part III (Widescreen Edition)" doesn't count.)

From a strictly storytelling point of view too, killing off Tony now would seem repetitive and anticlimactic. It was only a handful of episodes ago that Tony escaped death after being shot in the belly by a senile Uncle Junior.

Another problem with killing Tony is how likable he is despite his pathologically long list of misdeeds and murder. We like him, that's why we watch the show, and doing him in may be more than the writers and the audience can bear. Indeed, they want to believe he can change.

"Arthur Miller used to say, 'You don't go to the theater unless you see yourself onstage,' " said Gabbard, who wrote "The Psychology of the Sopranos: Love, Death, Desire and Betrayal in America's Favorite Gangster Family." "The audience thinks that maybe, just maybe, this bad man can be transformed into a good man. That's what Melfi thinks, that's what the audience thinks."

And yet, something more powerful than the demands of storytelling may dictate Tony's final fate — Hollywood. Although Chase is ending the series because he's mined the show for all he can on television, rumors persist about a possible "Sopranos" feature film. A "Sopranos" movie without Tony? As the Bada Bing! boys might say, not going to happen.

Thanks to Martin Miller

A Tale of Two Mobsters

Two men with connections to Chicago organized crime, both of them believed to be outfit enforcers, one is dead the other is in court. In this Intelligence Report: the tale of two mobsters.

There are really only two ways out of the mob life and one is more permanent than the other. You are either murdered...or put in prison. This is...a tale of two mobsters-enforcers-with deep connections to the Chicago outfit. One was found buried in a suburban construction site. The other was found in court...extending his long criminal record.

We begin with Robert Charles " Bobby" Cruz...who spent 14 years on death row for a contract hit on an Arizona businessman and his mother-in-law, a conviction eventually thrown out. Cruz came to Chicago for the 1997 trial of his hitman-cousin, Harry Aleman. A few days after Aleman was convicted, Cruz vanished. Last week--ten years later -- Cruz' corpse was found by a sewer crew in DuPage County...minus his trigger finger and a few other digits...a subtle message that the assassin would never work again.

As authorities were identifying the remains of one mob enforcer...the i-team found another one walking to court.

This is long-time Chicago outfit enforcer Victor "Popeye" Arrigo, arriving with his daughter for a hearing in Maywood. Arrigo's rap sheet reaches back to 1956 and reads like a crime encyclopedia, but at age 70 he admits to be going soft.

On this day, he stood before criminal court judge William Wise on theft charges--but not the big jewel capers or cartage heists he and the outfit are known for. "They accuse me of taking salami, cheese...stuff like that," said Victor "Popeye" Arrigo.

One of the mob's toughest enforcers, Arrigo was hauled away by west suburban Berkeley police on charges that he stole $40-dollars worth of Italian and Hungarian salami from a grocery store.

Arrigo chalks-up the larceny up to old age. "When you hit 69, 70, you do goofy things...just to see if you can get away with it...i got caught. That's about it," Arrigo said.

Arrigo contends the grocery store plunder was not an outfit job--and authorities believe him.

Like many of the old time wise guys he grew up with, Arrigo's public demeanor could win him citizen of the year. "Nice talkin' to you. Anything else you want to say? Say hello to Chuck for me."

I met the mobster more than ten years ago--during his last run in with the law on gun charges...and at that time, learned the heritage of his mob nickname: "Popeye". It's for the detachable glass eyeball he wears as the result of barroom shootout.

When Arrigo is bellying up to the bar he says he enjoys popping out his eyeball and placing it on top of his beer money...then telling the bartender he is merely keeping an eye on his cash.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Friday, March 30, 2007

Mob Bones Belong to Cousin of Hit Man Harry Aleman

Friends of ours: Harry Aleman
Friends of mine: Robert Charles Cruz

Just days after his cousin, reputed mob hit man Harry Aleman, was sentenced for a murder, Robert Charles Cruz disappeared from his Kildeer home.

For nearly 10 years, authorities suspected Cruz had purposely vanished, but his credit cards and bank accounts never were touched. Last week, construction crews digging new sewers for a townhouse development in unincorporated DuPage County came across the body of a man wrapped in tarpaulin and carpet, buried 8 1/2 feet down. On Wednesday, the DuPage County coroner's office publicly identified that the man as Robert Charles Cruz, 50. He had been reported missing on Dec. 4, 1997.

Cruz's body was found just 50 yards from where two other organized crime-connected bodies were found in 1988. An informant had told the FBI there was a mob burial ground in DuPage County near the home of former mob syndicate member Joseph Jerome Scalise.

At the time, an FBI task force descended on the area near Bluff Road and Illinois Highway 83 for five months and found the remains of Robert Anthony Hatridge, a minor associate of Gerald Scarpelli, a crime syndicate killer-turned-informant; and Mark Oliver, another minor organized crime figure.

Now, the FBI and DuPage County authorities are investigating Cruz's murder. Law enforcement sources said it appeared Cruz had been shot.

Cruz's body was identified through fingerprints and through tattoos on his arm, said Tom Simon, special agent and spokesman for the FBI. Family members have been notified, he said.

In addition to his familial relationship to Aleman, who remains in prison, Cruz had his own brushes with trouble. He spent 14 years on Death Row in Arizona before his conviction for hiring three men to kill a Phoenix businessman and his mother-in-law on New Year's Eve in 1980 was overturned and a new trial ordered. .

Prosecutors at the time said Cruz hired the men, including two from Chicago, to murder Patrick Redmond because the man refused to sell an interest in his Phoenix printing shop to Cruz, who wanted to use it to launder money from Las Vegas connections. Redmond's 70-year-old mother-in-law was visiting and died after her throat was cut.

Cruz was tried four more times. He was acquitted in 1995 after the jury decided the state's primary witness, a participant in the killings, was unreliable.

Cruz later moved to Kildeer and was a fixture at Harry Aleman's 1997 trial for the murder of a Teamsters' union official. Cruz sat every day in the courtroom where the attorney in his Arizona appeal, Kevin McNally, defended Aleman.

Cruz had been instrumental in Aleman's decision to change attorneys and hire McNally just before the trial. Days after Aleman was sentenced to 100 to 300 years in prison, Cruz disappeared. He had last been seen hanging Christmas lights from the gutters of his home.

Thanks to Angela Rozas and Maurice Possley

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Mob Hit Man Harry Aleman's Cousin Found in Mafia Graveyard

Construction workers laying sewer pipe found the skeletal remains of a former death row inmate with mob ties at a suburban Chicago site about 50 yards from where the bodies of two other men connected to organized crime were found in 1988.

The DuPage County coroner's office identified the latest bodyEverybody Pays, found wrapped in a blue tarp, as Robert Charles Cruz. FBI spokesman Tom Simon said the body was identified through fingerprints and tattoos.

Cruz was 50 when he disappeared from his Kildeer home on Dec. 4, 1997. His cousin, reputed mob hit man Harry Aleman, had just been sentence to 100 to 300 years in prison for the 1972 murder of a Teamsters official. Cruz had been in the courtroom each day of Aleman's 1997 trial.

Cruz had also spent 14 years on death row in Arizona for allegedly hiring three men to kill a Phoenix businessman and his mother-in-law. That conviction was overturned in 1980 and a new trial was ordered. Cruz was tried four more times and acquitted in 1995.

The construction workers found Cruz's remains more than eight feet underground while laying sewer pipes for a new townhouse development.

Federal and county authorities are investigating Cruz's death as a homicide.

The other two bodies found in the area were located after an informant told the FBI there was a mob burial ground in DuPage County near the home of a former mob syndicate member. FBI agents found the remains of Robert Anthony Hatridge and Mark Oliver, both described as associates of organized crime figures.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Sopranos Looking to do a Job

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family

The cast of "The Sopranos" is less worried about getting whacked than getting new jobs once the series is over in June.

Sopranos Looking to do a JobAt last night's humungous premiere at Radio City Music Hall, followed by a party that swamped Rockefeller Center, that seemed to be the uppermost thought in the minds of everyone from actors to crew.

Nevertheless, James Gandolfini, whose work has been so stellar as Tony Soprano, told me he's taking a year off after the show wraps. The final episode is still being worked on. "At least a year," he joked with me.

Gandolfini's running joke is that while he has been on the show, every movie he made has been so bad that it has wrecked the career of the star he "supported" in each film — think Ben Affleck.

In the next couple of weeks, he opens with John Travolta in a film that's being dumped, essentially. It's called "Lonely Hearts" and, well, fugeddaboutit. "That's right," Gandolfini laughed when we recalled the old joke. But it's also possible that he was so successful with the TV series, he may have to wait for success in films, I offered. "I hope you're right," he said. "But I'm still taking the time off."

Lorraine Bracco laughed heartily about the future. "They love you when you're on top. But wait 'til you're on the bottom," she cried.

Bracco's had a long enough career to know this isn't the end, but it may take a while to get over "The Sopranos." Most of her family, except her ailing mom, came to the premiere: her dad, two daughters, sister and brother-in-law, actor Aidan Quinn.

There were plenty of other Sopranos, dead and alive, all at Rockefeller Center, including Edie Falco, who left the party early to make a morning shoot for the show; Vince Curatola, who does such a magnificent job as Johnny Sack, head of the New York mob; Michael Imperioli, who plays Christopher; Drea de Matteo, whose Adrianna is still being discussed; Jamie-Lynn Sigler; Robert Iler; Dominic Chianese; Steve Schirippa; Aida Turturro; Steve Buscemi; and "Little" Steven Van Zandt, aka Silvio.

Curatola, by the way, doesn't have to worry about future work. He's just made an independent movie called "Frame of Mind" with "Law & Order" star Chris Noth. And he still sings occasionally with the rock group Chicago.

Buscemi, of course, is always busy. And Van Zandt is putting together a TV pilot for his "Underground Garage" station that he does on Sirius Satellite Radio — that is, when he's not playing in Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band. Imperioli told me he's making movies in Portugal and Iceland.

Thanks to Roger Friedman

Sopranos Comes to an End

“You don’t listen to the president? We’re gonna mop the floor with the whole f***in’ world. The whole world’s gonna be under our control. So what are you worked up about?” —Christopher Moltisanti of “The Sopranos”

Everything comes to an end.”

These words, delivered by an irate Edie Falco, are used in the promo death knell for one of the most critically acclaimed and beloved television series of all time, HBO’s “The Sopranos.” The fictional story of a likeable, northern New Jersey crime family ends this spring with the final nine episodes of season six beginning April 8.

What will happen to mob boss Tony Soprano and his family? How about his colorful henchmen, despicable for their brutal violence and racism one moment, and lovable for their humor, resourcefulness and camaraderie the next? Surely, bets are already being placed on who will end up in prison and who will have to go (in the Mafia sense). One thing is almost certain: More than a few HBO subscribers will be going. The program has been a major draw since it first aired in 1999. How do you top one of the greatest pop-culture success stories of the last 25 years?

Show creator David Chase (born David DeCesare) is no stranger to thought-provoking, classic television, having produced episodes for “The Rockford Files” and “Northern Exposure.” But as ruthless and violent as it has been, “The Sopranos” is his masterpiece. People may argue over the best of the six seasons, but the fact remains that this hard-hitting show has always been better written, better acted and better conceived than anything else on television. There is simply nothing like it.

What began as a tongue-in-cheek glimpse into our long-running fascination with Italian-American Mafia culture — from Coppola’s “Godfather” series through Scorsese’s real best picture winner, “Good Fellas” — has continued to evolve by delving deeper into the psychological lives of its characters, usually by way of Freudian themes, Byzantine political plots and philosophical nuggets from the Far East. It’s a postmodern soap opera, colored by Italian-American cultural traditions and populated with anti-heroes, intelligent professionals and plenty of existential despair. As an organized crime reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer once wrote, “If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d be writing for ‘The Sopranos’”

Sometimes, though, I still wonder why I love Mafia tales. These characters are serial murderers for the most part, scary people most of us wouldn’t want to meet in daylight, much less a darkened strip club. Normally I’m not a huge fan of television either, especially the stuff with commercials (which HBO programs thankfully do not have).

I was about to write my fascination off to morbid curiosity, or the Wild West appeal of modern-day lawless cowboys, when I ran across a recent interview with activist/intellectual Noam Chomsky that made me wonder again why so many of us accept mobsters as sympathetic characters.

As Chomsky points out, the U.S. government operates exactly like the mob in its international relations and has for a long time — though with far more money made, and far more lives lost. Specifically, he was discussing our foreign policy strategies concerning Vietnam, Cuba, Venezuela and Iran (which could be in store for some Gulf of Tonkin incident any day now). Speaking of Cuba, Chomsky notes:

“A very large majority of the U.S. population is in favor of establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and has been for a long time, with some fluctuations. And even part of the business world is in favor of it too. But the government won’t allow it. It’s attributed to the Florida vote but I don’t think that’s much of an explanation. I

think it has to do with a feature of world affairs that is insufficiently appreciated. International affairs is very much run like the Mafia. The godfather does not accept disobedience, even from a small storekeeper who doesn’t pay his protection money. You have to have obedience, otherwise the idea can spread that you don’t have to listen to the orders and it can spread to important places.”

I realize “The Sopranos” has poked fun at this analogy between organized crime in high and low places. And the show’s political awareness, like much of the country, has mushroomed since 9/11. Those following this final season are likely expecting some explosive plot thread involving the suspiciously quiet Middle Easterners who’ve been hanging at the Bada Bing and buying up guns. Yet the similarities between La Cosa Nostra and our foreign policy dons are uncanny indeed.

For instance: Back in the ’70s, the United States overthrew the parliamentary government of Iran, installed a brutal dictator (the shah) and proceeded to help him develop the same nuclear energy we now worry about. When the shah was overthrown, we punished Iran for its disobedience by supporting Saddam Hussein in his war on Iran. More recently, we had to punish Saddam because he wasn’t following orders (yes, the strategic control of oil is the chief reason for our current predicament, for those of you still deluded enough to think it was for the Iraqi people’s sake or keeping terrorists out of America’s shopping malls or whatever excuse Bush is peddling this week).

But what’s really scary to ponder is how the U.S. role as world mob boss will play out with China — or the Johnny “Sack” New York mob boss character, if you’re a “Sopranos” fan. More from Chomsky:

“You can imagine a kind of a loose Shi’ite alliance in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, controlling most of the world’s oil and independent of the United States. And much worse, although Europe can be intimidated by the United States, China can’t. It’s one of the main reasons why China is considered a threat. We’re back to the Mafia principle. … If the Middle East oil resources around the Gulf, which are the main ones in the world, if they link up to the Asian grid, the United States is really a second-rate power.”

Ever in denial, Tony Soprano admits that everything he does — all of his horrible crimes — he does to provide for his family. Likewise, it is an operating assumption too seldom challenged in the U.S. media that our leaders act only from noble reasons. “Ugatz!” as Paulie “Walnuts” might say.

I’ve greatly enjoyed watching “The Sopranos” these last eight years. What I probably won’t enjoy is the world stage drama from our bought-and-paid-for Mafia captains in the White House over the next 20 years.

Like Carmela tells Tony: “Everything comes to an end.”

Thanks to Brent Baldwin

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

New Jersey Landscape Altered by The Sopranos

Friends of ours: Soprano Crime Family

The guy who runs the real-life Bada Bing is going to miss "The Sopranos," even if he thinks the show may have lowered his club's image a naughty notch or two.

The North Caldwell woman who cooked meals for the cast and crew while her home was used for "Sopranos" location shots is going to miss making baked ziti and chicken soup for her favorite performers.

Meanwhile, one of the mob show's most vocal critics is happy "The Sopranos," which filmed its last episode this week, will soon be history. "Am I glad they're gone? Yes," said Manny Alfano, director of the Italian-American One Voice Coalition. But, Alfano is resigned to the show's A&E re-runs -- and more TV shows and movies that he says unfairly portray Italian-Americans. "There will always be something to take its place."

"The Sopranos" may die off in several months, as may some of its main characters, but whether there will ever be another phenomenon to take its place is debatable.

"I don't know if we'll ever see something like this again," said David W. Schoner Jr., production coordinator for the New Jersey Motion Picture and Television Commission.

New Jersey, the nation's most mocked, maligned and misunderstood state, received an image boost from "The Sopranos," said Schoner, even if the show did center around a Jersey mob family who often did business with brute force. "The great thing about the show was that it was New Jersey," Schoner added. "There was this unabashed shouting from the mountain: 'This is New Jersey!'"

The other great thing about the show is the $60 million-plus it pumped into the state's economy for things like filming fees, meals, food, lumber and local hiring, according to Schoner. "'The Sopranos' increased the film industry's awareness of the state," Schoner said. "We have been considered for and have gotten projects because of 'The Sopranos.' They've raised our profile as a location for filming."

Those whose have lent their businesses and homes for location filming are sorry to see "The Sopranos" wrap up.

Satin Dolls in Lodi, the stand-in for the Bada Bing strip club, became "the most popular club in the country" due to the HBO series, according to general manager Nick D'Urso. "It certainly made us a lot more popular," D'Urso said. "It really gave us an image. We were a high-line club. Now we were the Bada Bing."

Hanging out at the "Bing" was not always a wise career move on "The Sopranos." One dancer in the show, Tracee, was killed outside the club and various "beatin's" were administered inside. The real-life Satin Dolls is a much serene, says D'Urso, who noted that the Bada Bing will continue to be in the spotlight during the final season. "They filmed more in the club this season than any other," he said.

One business that may continue to profit, even after "The Sopranos" is gone, is On Location Tours, which has conducted tours of "Soprano" locations sites since 2001.

"When 'Sex and the City' ended, the numbers for our 'Sex and the City' tours tripled," said Cathy Wilke, director of marketing for On Location Tours. "People go into withdrawal when a show ends. (With) 'The Sopranos'... on A&E, we'll get a whole new audience." (Reruns of the series, with the language and other content toned down, started airing on the basic cable channel in January.)

More than 15,000 people from 40 countries have taken the bus tours, described as a "four-hour tour through Sopranoland."

Towns across New Jersey have reaped the benefits of "Sopranos" location filming. Scenes have been shot in 40-plus communities, "from Ramsey to Asbury Park," according to Regina Heyman, the show's location manager.

Add Atlantic City to the list; the Borgata will appear in an episode this season.

Filming fees can add up. Kearny has been a popular "Sopranos" backdrop. Scenes have been shot inside and outside the Irish-American Association, which takes down its Irish flag and puts up an Italian flag during filming. The association is next door to the building standing in for the fictional Satriale's Pork Store, a hangout for Tony and his crew.

The association has earned $20,000 in rental fees over the years, according to past vice president Richard Dunleavy. The town itself has collected permit fees of $76,650.

Businesses have been paid for shutting down to accommodate a "Sopranos" shoot. Clear Eyes RX in Wayne, for example, was compensated $6,000 for filming. And then there are those who have invited the show into their homes.

Deborah Del Vecchio, for one, is going to miss cooking for everyone's favorite Jersey mob family. Over the years, her three-level North Caldwell home has served as the "home" of several "Sopranos" characters -- Janice Soprano, Johnny Sack, Silvio Dante and Patsy Parisi. "I always cook for the cast and crew," Del Vecchio said. "Antipasto, baked ziti -- they all love my homemade chicken soup," especially Aida Turturro, who plays Janice.

Filming was last done in her home a week ago, and Del Vecchio reported no gunshots were fired.

Initially, her home was in the running to be Tony Soprano's house, but the ducks ruined it -- or the lack of ducks. Tony liked the ducks in his swimming pool, and though there were ducks in the Del Vecchios' pool, construction on the house next door drove them away. So another house was chosen for the mob don's dwelling.

Del Vecchio's husband, Richard, has his own fond memories of "The Sopranos." He appeared in one episode as a Bada Bing patron. "All I know is that he was smiling for three days," Del Vecchio said, laughing."

Thanks to Peter Genovese

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Powerful Mafia Boss Seeking Plea Deal?

Friends of ours: Vito Rizzuto, Joseph "Big Joey" Massino, Salvatore "Good- Looking Sal" Vitale, Gerlando "George From Canada" Sciascia, Patrick "Patty From the Bronx" De Filippo

Vito Rizzuto, named as Canada's most powerful Mafia boss, has asked a New York City judge to delay his trial for three gangland slayings, fueling speculation he is negotiating a plea deal.

David Schoen, defending Mr. Rizzuto against racketeering charges in the United States, declined to discuss any plea negotiations but said one thing is clear: Mr. Rizzuto is not considering co-operating with the authorities, as many of his American co-accused have done. "The answer is absolutely unequivocally 'no,' " he told the National Post.

An earlier document from prosecutors said Mr. Rizzuto, 61, of Montreal, was negotiating a settlement as far back as October, 2006. "If there were plea negotiations going on in any case, notwithstanding what may be a different practice for some other lawyers, I could never conceive of discussing them publicly," Mr. Schoen said. When pressed, he added: "Any speculation about a plea deal, at this point, is misguided."

He and his co-counsel are planning a vigorous defence that is well funded and well planned, he said. "Mr. Rizzuto is very strong and holding up well under these conditions - although I must say he misses Canada and his family very much," Mr. Schoen said. "In my view, there is no need or valid reason whatsoever for Mr. Rizzuto to be incarcerated in a jail in Brooklyn, or anywhere. He is no risk of flight whatsoever and certainly no danger to anyone in any community."

Mr. Rizzuto was arrested in January, 2004, inside his Montreal mansion at the request of the U.S. government. He is accused of being a shooter in an ambush of three rival mobsters in Brooklyn in 1981 as part of an ongoing criminal enterprise. He has been imprisoned since. The charge carries a maximum penalty of a 20 years.

Mr. Rizzuto's desire to return to Canada could factor into any deal; he would likely ask to serve his sentence in Canada. If that were agreed to, it would see him released far sooner than if he served his prison term in America. Under international agreements on the transfer of prisoners, once back in Canada, inmates benefit from our more lenient release rules, including release after serving just two thirds of a sentence.

Mr. Rizzuto was the only Canadian among dozens of men ensnared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its assault on the Bonanno Mafia organization, one of the notorious and influential Five Families of New York.

Those indicted alongside him have not fared well. Almost all have pleaded guilty, been found guilty at trial or become government informants.

A cavalcade of Mafia turncoats are pointing fingers at former colleagues. The so-called "rats" include the former Bonanno Family boss, Joseph "Big Joey" Massino, and underboss, Salvatore "Good- Looking Sal" Vitale. Both are expected to be star witnesses against Mr. Rizzuto, should his case go to trial.

Vitale has already testified in other prosecutions, twice telling juries about Mr. Rizzuto's alleged crimes, but Massino has not yet been called to the stand. "I am not in the speculation business and I will leave such decisions to the government," Mr. Schoen said of whether he expects to see Massino testify against his client. "I certainly should hope we will be well prepared to deal with any witness."

Massino has been telling his secrets to the FBI for a year. Although the high-security debriefings are held in utmost secrecy, some of the information he provided was recently summarized in a note from prosecutors to a judge in another case. Some of it involves his contact with Canadian mob figures.

Massino said he ordered the murder of Gerlando "George From Canada" Sciascia, who was the Montreal Mafia's representative in New York and a close friend of Mr. Rizzuto's. He assigned the job to Patrick "Patty From the Bronx" De Filippo at Danny's Chinese Restaurant.

After the murder, Vitale, contacted Massino and spoke a prearranged code to signal the job was done: "I picked up the dolls for the babies."

Mr. Rizzuto continues to be a presence - through his name and photograph - in New York mob cases.

At the trial of De Filippo, which ended this month, the jury heard Vitale claim that Mr. Rizzuto started the shooting that killed the three mobsters.

"What was your role in that murder?" Vitale was asked by Greg Andres, the prosecutor. "Shooter," he answered.

"Were there other people assigned as shooters?" Mr. Andres asked.

"Vito Rizzuto; an old-timer from Canada, I never got his name; another individual from Canada named Emmanuel."

Vitale was shown a photograph and asked to identify it.

"That's Vito Rizzuto from Canada," he answered.

"Do you know where Vito lives?" Mr. Andres asked. "Montreal, Canada."

Later, Vitale again brought Mr. Rizzuto up.

"At the time of your arrest, was there a particular person who you considered the most powerful person in Canada, the person who you would deal with in Canada?" Vitale was asked.

"Vito Rizzuto," came the answer.

Pretrial motions in the case are expected to be ruled on in June.

Mr. Schoen estimates a trial would last nine weeks.

Thanks to Adrian Humphreys

Hoboken Genovese Gang Not Seen Much Any More

Friends of ours: Genovese Crime Family, Michael Coppola, Michael "Tona" Borelli, Peter Grecco, Peter Caporino, Tino R. Fiumara, Lawrence A. Ricci

The old gang isn't seen much around Hoboken any more, thanks to the recent efforts of the FBI to nab the city's most notorious mobsters.

The latest arrest: Michael Coppola, 60, a reputed captain in the Genovese crime family, who was arrested Friday in New York City and charged in the 1977 killing of a mobster in Bridgewater .

Coppola was one of the FBI's most wanted fugitives, and he'd been featured on " America 's Most Wanted" several times. Investigators had searched for him in Nevada , Pennsylvania , Florida , Canada , Italy and Costa Rica .

In the 1970s and 1980s, Coppola could be seen in Hoboken social clubs meeting with the likes of Michael "Tona" Borelli, 69, of Fort Lee, a reputed made member of the Genovese crime family, Peter Grecco, 70, of Woodcliff Lake , and infamous mob rat Peter Caporino, 69, of Hasbrouck Heights , Hoboken police sources said yesterday.

Borelli and Grecco are facing prison time after a federal probe into gambling and other rackets in Hoboken and Jersey City . Caporino, who cooperated with the feds in that case to avoid jail time on a gambling charge in Hudson County , faces jail time himself, as authorities said he continued his criminal activities even after the feds told him to stop.

Caporino wore a wire for the FBI for years and made one recording of Borelli in the "Company K" social club on Jefferson Street , where Coppola used to hold court. When Genovese boss Tino R. Fiumara was in prison and Coppola was on the run, Borelli and Lawrence A. Ricci ran the Coppola/Fiumara crew, says a report 2004 by the New Jersey Investigation Commission. Ricci was found dead in a car trunk behind a Union County diner in December 2005.

With the help of Caporino, Borelli and Grecco pleaded guilty in April 2006 to operating an illegal gambling business. "The Fiumara/Coppola crew is one of the largest and most resourceful Genovese crews operating in New Jersey ," the state report says.

Coppola is accused of gunning down Johnny "Coca Cola" Lardiere outside the Red Bull Inn on Route 22 in Bridgewater in 1977.

Investigators believe Coppola drew a silenced .22-caliber pistol and pointed it at Lardiere - but the gun jammed. Lardiere then sneered at the hitman, "What're you gonna do now, tough guy?" Coppola then drew a second gun from an ankle holster and shot Lardiere five times, authorities said.

Nine years later, DNA evidence and an informant led the FBI to Coppola, but he disappeared.

Coppola has been listed at or near the top of the state Division of Criminal Justice's 13 most wanted fugitives since the list was drawn up five years ago.

Newhouse News Service contributed to this report.

Thanks to Michaelangelo Conte

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Anne Hathaway Connected to the Mob?

Anne Hathaway Connected to the Mob?Anne Hathaway, star of "The Devil Wears Prada" and more recently "Becoming Jane", is facing an extradition hearing due to her being accused of running her husband's criminal empire after he was jailed for murder.

The 44-year was said to be "bewildered" by the allegations, which carry a maximum sentence of 24 years.

Friends of the beleaguered film starlet and part time mafia don are equally bewildered as they say they had never realised that she was that old or an Italian underworld Kingpin.

Such is the magic of celluloid it would appear, in "The Devil Wears Prada (Widescreen Edition)" she looks all of 20 something, a good twenty years younger than the police information reports.

Italian investigators believe she passed on instructions from her jailed husband, Cosa Nostra boss Antonio Rinzivillo, to criminal associates, collected earnings, laundered money and sold kittens to Robert Mugabe for his personal consumption.

Rinzivillo was jailed for 30 years after being convicted of drug trafficking and the murder of a Milan lawyer Antonio Mirabelle after he had discovered the baby cat laundering racket and many other shady dealings, so many in fact that Ann Hathaway has had her fingers in so many pies it is difficult to know where to start looking.

Fingers in pies being just one of the more disturbing issues uncovered.

Thanks to The Spoof

Alle Origini della Mafia

Origins of the Mafia, also known as Alle Origini della Mafia, is a fairly engrossing five-part English-Italian TV co-production from 1976. If you're like me, you've watched just about every mob movie that's come down the pike, but it's rare to see one that examines the very beginnings of the Mafia, back in Sicily, over four hundred years ago. I understand that some historians doubt a mediaeval start date for la Cosa Nostra, and I'm certainly no expert on Sicilian or mob history (like any good American, most of my history background comes from the movies). But the all-star Origins of the Mafia makes a pretty good case for its origins beginning during the mid-16th century.

Separated into five, 50 minute episodes that span over three hundred years of Mafia history in Sicily, Origins of the Mafia, in a straightforward, TV miniseries manner, details not only milestones in the organization, but more interestingly, gives the viewer background on what external forces and social conventions may have created the Sicilian culture that has allowed the Mafia to flourish for over four hundred years. Whenever I see The Godfather or The Godfather Part II, I always wonder who those Sicilian guys are, walking around with berets and shotguns, guarding their dons, on the huge Sicilians estates. How did the system of patronage, extortion, and violence start there? The Mafia, at least in modern movies, always seems to be this monolithic entity that just is, that exists without a start or stop. Origins of the Mafia does a rather nice job of giving the viewer the background necessary to appreciate all the other mob movies, while telling a good story on its own.

Episode One takes place in 1556, where the corrupt Gramignano family holds absolute power over the small island of Sicily, which is ruled at this time by Spain. Bartolomeo Gramignano (Lee J. Cobb), the head of the family, is an informer for the Ecclesiastic Court -- the Spanish Inquisition -- and as such, enjoys almost unlimited power, and is answerable only to the King of Spain, or his Envoy. The King's Envoy (Joseph Cotton), comes to Sicily to investigate the Gramignanos, particularly the crimes of Bartolomeo's son, Giuseppe (Claudio Camaso), a sadistic killer who terrifies the village. Unfortunately, the Envoy and his impetuous aid, Sebastian (Edward Albert), cannot find one witness who will testify against the Gramignanos. The Spanish Army captain (Renato Salvatori) has long given up trying to bring the crime family to justice, and now actively works with them to save his own neck. When Sebastian tries to protect a bride from being raped on her wedding night by Giuseppe, both he and the Envoy, despite the influence of their office, come to realize who the real power is in Sicily.

Episode Two sees Sicily, in 1785, controlled by the Bourbons of Naples. A crusading Viceroy, Caracciolo (Massimo Girotti), works to reform Sicily, but meets opposition on all sides. The aristocracy, such as Don Armando Della Morra (Mel Ferrer) despise him for trying to limit the power of their class, while the gilds, such as the bakery guild, hate him for trying break up their control of consumer prices. Further weakening the Viceroy's power is the reliance of the Sicilian people on private organizations such as the Beati Paolos (the "Beautiful Pauls"), who offer justice to the weak, but at a terrible price for those who go against the group. This episode tells the story of Angelo La Parma (Biagio Pelligra), a peasant who was unjustly imprisoned by Della Morra when he discovered that Della Morra killed his own brother, the true prince. Aided by Pietro (John McEnery), a nobleman who belongs to the Beati Paolos, Angelo joins the organization. When Della Morra tries to intervene in the murder of a baker who had threatened the influence of the guilds, he learns of the real power that controls 1785 Sicily.

Episode Three begins in 1835, when the Bourbons still control Italy. The jaded aristocracy, such as Baron Della Spina (Fernando Rey), employ tax collectors to not only gather money from the peasants that live off their vast estates, but to actually run the estates for the absentee landlords -- and to keep the peace with the oppressed peasants. These tax collectors have their own private armies of overseers and guards who exploit the peasants – and even the landlords if their power becomes great enough. Nicu Borello (Fausto Tozzi), steals Baron Della Spina's cattle, without his knowledge, and then presents them to the Baron, asking to take on the role of his tax collector. Spina agrees, and after twenty-five years of extortion and secret theft, Borello dies rich, and Spina dies penniless. Borello's son, Michele (Tony Musante) is now a powerful, wealthy merchant with ties to politicians and judges, while Spina's son, Antonio (Remo Girone), wastes away as an indolent gambler with a title and no money. As Garibaldi's forces move to take over Sicily, Michele and his own "mafia" wait to see the inevitable fall of the Bourbon aristocrats. Michele, now part of the emerging bourgeoisie, takes Spina's sister Barbara (Rejane Medeiros) as his wife, in a bid to gain respectability.

Episode Four finds Sicily, in 1861, now part of the Kingdom of Italy. But Garibaldi's promises of a peasant revolution have failed to come true. The peasants are not allowed to own the land they work on, and the government is powerless to enforce its own laws, particularly when the Mafia has such a strong hold on the populace. At the center, like a spider, lies Don Consalvo Saccone (Trevor Howard), who pulls the strings for all who come to him for help. Prefect Mieli (Giancarlo Sbragia), new from Italy, finds he doesn't understand the ways of the Sicilians, and unwisely lets Saccone in on a family secret. Marquis Tarcone (Massimo Serato), a sadistic, wealthy landowner, refuses to work with the peasants who are organizing into an angry mob, led by Bernardino Campo (Tom Skerritt), who demands his right to own land and not be treated like a serf. La Monica (Spiros Focas), who is running for political office, is controlled as well by Don Saccone. As events lead to an inevitable tragic end, the only remaining constant is the power of the Mafia, under Don Saccone.

Episode Five opens in 1875, when the government of Italy first officially investigates the crimes of the Mafia in Sicily, which has become a national scandal. A senator (Amedeo Nazzari) is sent down to investigate the murder of an orange grower who was killed for undercutting the prices of other farmers – who are protected by the Mafia. A witness to the killing, Vincenzo Biscetta (Paolo Bonacelli), has been driven mad by the death of his own don, Don Antonio Mastrangelo (Renzo Montagnan). Don Antonio, who controlled the water source that flowed to fellow Don Felice Balsamo's (Claudio Gora) property, decides to buck the Mafia system and shut off the water to Don Balsamo's property. He is promptly killed, and his bodyguard, Nino Sciallacca (Tony Lo Bianco) is immediately charged with the crime. Vianisi (James Mason), a famous lawyer, is engaged by Don Antonio's widow, Rosa (Katherine Ross), to get Nino off. But why does she do that?

Working within the miniseries framework, Origins of the Mafia has the time to tie in several theories about how the Mafia began, as well as nicely detail the evolving social and political conditions that may have encouraged its growth. The first episode sets up the notion that Sicilians, long ruled by foreign powers, came to distrust anyone but other Sicilians, while they relied on their own to take care of their own, as well as dispense their own justice. Episode Two details the further retreat of Sicilians from foreign rule, as well as their reliance on secret societies to right wrongs within in their communities. Episode Three illustrates the failure of the aristocracy to address the peasants concerns, with the nascent Mafia stepping in to provide justice – while lining their own pockets and consolidating their own power – in the vacuum created by a distant government and an uncaring, dissipated, decadent gentry. Episode Four shows the newly middle class Mafia moving into the world of politics, providing the "juice" by buying politicians and keeping order – as long as it consolidates their power. And Episode Five shows the depth of the Mafia's hold over ordinary peasants, and their reach within every single transaction – whether business, political, or personal – in the lives of Sicilians.

Origins of the Mafia's miniseries format doesn't offer great "cinematic" moments that you're likely going to remember. It's isn't that kind of film. Storytelling comes first and last here; watching Origins of the Mafia is like diving into a really long, good book that, while not stylistically compelling, is dramatically most satisfying. It's a good yarn, plan and simple, and it's straight-ahead, flat TV style perfectly suits the material. Spectacular location shooting in Sicily aids enormously in recreating the historic atmosphere (it's apparent real interiors, not sets, were used as well). Where one might quibble is in the film's use of name Hollywood actors to anchor the various episodes. The Italian actors, of course, fit in perfectly. And while some of the American actors acquit themselves quite well (that fantastic, underrated actor Tony Musante is near-perfect in his role), others flounder (what the hell is Joseph Cotton doing here playing a Spaniard, and even more mind-boggling, Katherine Ross playing a vengeful Sicilian?). As well, the final episode, while benefitting from the presence of always marvelous James Mason (as an Italian?), doesn't fit in nearly as well as the previous episodes in detailing specific evolutions of the Mafia throughout Sicilian history. But it's a small point. The four and a half hour, two-disc Origins of the Mafia, directed in a clean, concise fashion by Enzo Muzii, is an absorbing, entertaining history lesson that moves confidently within its potboiler framework.

The DVD:

The Video:
The full-frame video image for Origins of the Mafia looks good, but some of the colors have gone a little muddy, a little faded. Dirt and scratches occasionally appear, but overall, it's fair transfer.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital English 2.0 stereo mix is adequate, but unspectacular. This is a dialogue-driven production, but it would have been nice to hear that Nino Rota score in a stronger mix. No subtitles or close-captioning are available.

The Extras:
There are no extras for Origins of the Mafia.

Final Thoughts:
If you love Mafia movies, Origins of the Mafia is necessary viewing, if only for the background you can get on the mob's beginnings in Sicily. But even if you're not in the mood for a history lesson, Origins of the Mafia is a leisurely paced, confident, cleanly executed TV miniseries that tells five absorbing Mafia-related stories. I recommend Origins of the Mafia.

Thanks to Paul Mavis

The Untouchables

"The Untouchables" is one of the few television shows I really missed on DVD. I loved watching it when I was younger and would eat up every single episode of Eliot Ness fighting the Chicago Mob. Accordingly my excitement was high when Paramount Home Entertainment finally announced a DVD version of the series and dropped this little package in my lap.

"The Untouchables" tells the relentless fight of Eliot Ness and his special squad of policemen against the Chicago mob during the Prohibition era in the 1930s. In the one corner was Ness and in the other corner was mobster legend Al Capone and their countless battles have been well documented by history. Ness and his squad of incorruptible agents managed to infiltrate Capone's corporations and damage its illegal operations of alcohol distribution on countless occasions making him the number one enemy of the mob. But despite all efforts, Capone was never able to buy off any of the "Untouchables" or to kill Eliot Ness. But the focus of Ness' work was not only Capone - in fact his antics are covered in the pilot episodes - but also many other infamous mobsters, all of which make appearances in this television series, adding to the breadth of the show.

"The Untouchables" was running from 1959 until 1963 and made for some great entertainment that was pretty gritty given its subject matter. Borrowing heavily from the film noir genre that was popular in the days the series has an ominous and dark look to it and doesn't go easy on the violence or bullet-count. The acting is also in line with some of the best noir classics where men were portrayed as super-tough guys without too many words and always ready to pull an automatic gun out of their overcoats. Robert Stack plays Eliot Ness and he plays the character to the hilt and he is supported by a great cast, including guest stars such as Peter Falk, Telly Savalas, Lee Van Cleef, Lee Marvin and many others over the years.

As a cool extra the release actually contains the seamless theatrical version of the show's two pilot episodes. While initially broadcast separately these episodes were later spliced together without their TV introductions and shown in theaters. That is the version you will find here. The original TV introductions are also included, both now running in front of the pilot.

Here now we have the first 14 episodes of the show on DVD as Paramount release "The Untouchables: Season 1 Volume 1." I am not quite sure why Paramount decided to split the season in half – my guess would be to keep the retail price per DVD set down and more attractive as opposed to trying and sell a DVD set at twice the price. Be that as it may the quality of the presentation on this DVD set is "untouchable" – excuse the pun. I was truly amazed at the quality of this show that is almost 60 years old. Paramount cleaned up the transfer and you will be hard pressed to find any blemishes, scratches or other defects in the presentation. What's more, there's not even a hint of grain. I found myself staring at the screen unable to believe that what I was watching was really created in 1959! The black and white presentation is rich and runs the entire gamut of contrast with bright highlights and solid, deep blacks. Grays are balanced and fall off nicely creating a balanced picture that never looks harsh or dated. Without compression artifacts or edge-enhancement, this is truly a classic TV presentation to behold.

The audio presentation has also been cleaned up and is free of hiss or defects. However, given the age, the frequency response is limited giving the presentation a harsh-sounding edge. On top of that the dialogue elements are in varying states of quality and thus the audio presentation can change quite a bit from scene to scene. Still, to me it adds to the vintage feel of the show and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Paramount Home Entertainment blew me away with the quality of this release. It is simply amazing what modern technology and a little TLC can do to something like a 60-year old television show. I know that for the next couple of nights I will be glued to the screen watching episode for episode of this great TV series and then eagerly expecting the second volume and other season box sets. Let's just hope Paramount's won't be taking too long to bring them on.

Thanks to DVD Review

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bones Likely from a Mob Hit

Friends of ours: Gerald Scarpelli
Friends of mine: Robert Hatridge, Michael Oliver

Visible injuries to bones found this week in west suburban Downers Grove Township have led investigators to believe the victim could have been the target of a gangland slaying, law-enforcement sources said Thursday.

The bones, which construction workers discovered Tuesday morning buried more than 5 feet underground, have not yet been positively identified, but are those of an adult male, the DuPage County coroner's office said. Investigators think the bones may have been in the ground for 20 years or more.

Law-enforcement sources said the Federal Bureau of Investigation is now involved in the inquiry, and that a possible connection to organized crime has arisen because of the manner of death and obvious injuries to the body.

Three of the deceased male's fingers were sheared off, possibly with a bolt-cutting type tool. The man also had suffered a broken shoulder and two gunshot wounds in he back of the head, law-enforcement sources said.

The coroner's office said only that authorities are working to identify the male, whose approximate age couldn't be determined. The man was not an "old person," however, said DuPage Coroner Pete Siekmann. Authorities are trying to identify the remains based on fingerprints and a tattoo visible on the body, he said.

DuPage County State's Atty. Joseph Birkett said the case is being investigated as a possible homicide.

Construction workers laying sewer pipes for a new townhouse development found the bones near Bluff Road and Illinois Highway 83. The bones were wrapped in a blue tarpaulin.

The location of the bones had neighbors speculating this week that they could be linked to organized crime. The bones were found less than a half-mile from a purported mob victim burial ground, where two bodies were found in 1988 and later identified as low-level organized-crime figures. A task force formed in the 1980s to solve cold mob cases got the tip for the location from an informant, and at the time sources believed searchers might find as many as seven bodies. But after five months of digging, they found only two bodies—those of Robert Anthony Hatridge, a minor associate of Gerald Scarpelli, 51, a crime syndicate killer-turned-informant who later committed suicide; and Mark (Michael?) Oliver, another minor organized-crime figure.

Investigators said part of the process of identifying the body would include working off a list of missing persons with connections to the Chicago Outfit.

After the bones were found, Darien authorities considered that they might belong to Xu "Sue" Wang, a Darien doctor who disappeared in 1999.

Thanks to Jeff Coen and Angela Rozas

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mob Burial Ground Reveals Another Body

Friends of mine: Robert Hatridge, Michael Oliver

A new body was discovered at an old mob burial ground. CBS 2's Mike Parker explains: the FBI believed they'd closed the case two decades ago until a construction crew was surprised by human remains.

There are growing signs that this plot of land, just off Route 83 on Bluff Road, has been used again as a burial site for victims of the mob. “It's an interesting puzzle that's been opened up here," said Jim Wagner of the Chicago Crime Commission.

DuPage County officers are still guarding the scene where crews digging a sewer for a townhouse project found a body enclosed in a plastic tarp Tuesday. It was buried beneath the freshly turned earth.

The FBI tells CBS 2 there are signs the body could have been placed there as recently as five years ago.

Acting on a tip almost two decades ago in 1988, the FBI dug up the very same location for five days. They found two bodies buried there. Both were men, and both were described as low-level soldiers in the Chicago outfit. The bodies were identified as Robert Hatridge and Michael Oliver. Both men had been shot to death are their murders remain unsolved.

The latest discovery seems to suggest the possibility that the mob has moved back to its old, unofficial cemetery in more recent years. "If this has anything to do with organized crime then you suspect that somebody had a favorite spot they were going to continue to use, because they felt comfortable and safe," Wagner said.

When the body was found Tuesday, authorities believed it was within a half mile of the old discovery scene. Today, they realized it is the same spot.

The FBI says it is monitoring the case, waiting to see if the DuPage County coroner can identify the latest body and pinpoint the cause of death.

Thanks to Mike Parker

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Anthony Pellicano Worked for Mobster Lombardo?

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Frank Cullotta
Friends of mine: Anthony Pellicano

Private investigator Anthony Pellicano shot to fame working for Hollywood stars. But when he worked in Chicago 30 years ago, Pellicano hustled for an alleged rising star of a different kind: Infamous Chicago mobster Joseph "Joey The Clown" Lombardo.

Pellicano's investigative work from 1974 on Lombardo's behalf could provide Lombardo an alibi for the brutal murder of Daniel Seifert, who was to be a key witness against Lombardo in a Teamster fund embezzlement case. Lombardo is charged in Seifert's death in the upcoming Family Secrets mob trial in Chicago.

These days, Pellicano has his own problems as he sits in jail awaiting trial on charges he illegally wiretapped the conversations of the enemies of his rich and famous clients. Those allegations have rocked the Hollywood elite. But in 1974, Pellicano was working for Lombardo, compiling information to show Lombardo was far away when Seifert was gunned down the morning of Sept. 27 outside his Bensenville factory.

Prosecutors are expected to tie Lombardo to the Seifert murder by pointing to his fingerprint on a title application for a car used in the slaying.

Pellicano's investigation, though, contends Lombardo was at the International House of Pancakes in the 2800 block of West Diversey the morning of the murder. After Lombardo left the restaurant, he noticed someone had stolen his wallet from his car's glove compartment. Lombardo went back inside the IHOP and reported the theft to two cops having breakfast. They wrote a report, which is included in Pellicano's work. There's a signed statement from one of the cops and another from a driver's license facility supervisor who says Lombardo came in the morning of the murder for a duplicate license.

Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin, called his client's alibi "rock solid." He said Pellicano's current difficulties have no impact on his work for Lombardo.

In another court document obtained by the Sun-Times, a government informant, former mobster Alva Johnson Rodgers, a Lombardo associate, alleges in late 1973 or early 1974 that Pellicano asked him to burn down a Mount Prospect building. Rodgers alleges he did just that, but Pellicano was never charged.

Pellicano is being held in custody because he allegedly asked unnamed Chicago mobsters to put a hit on a witness against him, according to a government court filing.

Pellicano's attorney, Steven F. Gruel, disputed the allegations and said he's seen nothing to buttress claims his client is tied to the mob.

Also, on Monday, Lombardo's attorney filed a motion asking the feds for a pre-publication copy of a book by a government informant, mobster Frank Cullotta. Cullotta may be a witness at the Family Secrets trial, and his book could provide fodder for the defense.

Prosecutors should have access to Cullotta, who is hiding under a new identity, Halprin noted. "For all I know, he's Ann Coulter," Halprin quipped.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Joey the Clown Denies He was a Fugitive to Avoid Mob Arrest

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Frank "The German" Schweihs, Frank Calabrese, James Marcello, Paul Schiro, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro

Reputed mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo pleaded not guilty today to a charge that he went on the lam to avoid arrest.

In a brief hearing in federal court, Lombardo pleaded not guilty to obstruction of justice. The charge was tacked onto a sweeping indictment of several defendants in a federal investigation of long-unsolved mob murders and other crimes.

Lombardo and Frank "The German" Schweihs allegedly went on the run to avoid FBI agents after prosecutors unveiled the first version of the Operation Family Secrets racketeering indictment in April 2005.

Schweihs was captured in Kentucky in December 2005, and Lombardo was caught in Elmwood Park in January 2006. Schweihs was not in court Tuesday.

Earlier this month, Lombardo attorney Rick Halprin said the government could not charge Lombardo with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution because it could not prove that he had crossed state lines -- a key provision of the law. He said the second choice was charging Lombardo with attempting to "impede and obstruct" efforts to arrest him. But Halprin said that at no time did Lombardo's absence from court impede and obstruct the case.

Reputed mobsters Lombardo, Schweihs, Frank Calabrese, James Marcello, and Paul Schiro and nine others are charged with conspiring to commit 18 murders going back three decades. The murders include the 1986 hit on Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, the mob's man in Las Vegas.

The charges grow out of a decades-old federal investigation known as "Family Secrets." Jury selection is expected to start in May, and the trial is expected to last four or five months.

Aleman Parole Vote Case Ends in Acquittal for Officials

Friends of ours: Harry Aleman, Joseph Ferriola

A former state parole board member was cleared Monday of charges that he voted to free mob hit man Harry Aleman in exchange for help in getting his son a gig as an entertainer in Las Vegas.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge Patrick Kelley found both Victor Brooks and former ranking prison official Ron Matrisciano not guilty of charges that included official misconduct and wire fraud in the case brought by the office of Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan.

Kelley delivered a directed verdict for Brooks and Matrisciano, meaning the defendants did not even have to present their side before the judge ruled the attorney general's office had not proven its case, defense attorneys said. "We believe this case should never have been indicted in the first place, and this view has been borne out by the outcome today," said L. Lee Smith, a former federal prosecutor who represented Brooks.

Brooks, 56, formerly of Batavia but now living in Florissant, Mo., was the only member of the Prisoner Review Board who voted in 2002 in favor of parole for Aleman, who remains in prison serving 100 to 300 years for killing a Teamsters official. Matrisciano, 52, formerly a high-ranking prison official, testified on behalf of Aleman and eventually lost his job with the Illinois Department of Corrections as the case unfolded.

The indictment alleged Brooks agreed to vote for Aleman's release in exchange for Matrisciano's help in landing Brooks' son, a singer, a job in Las Vegas. Prison officials have said Matrisciano told them he is a family friend of Aleman's. But the judge ruled there was insufficient evidence of an alleged quid pro quo, Smith said.

"We presented all of the evidence to the court," said Robyn Ziegler, Madigan's spokeswoman. "The court considered that evidence and reached its decision, and we respect that decision."

Matrisciano and Brooks had been friends for more than 20 years.

Matrisciano, a frequent visitor to Las Vegas, merely had suggested a couple of people to call during a lunch in Nevada with Brooks' son, Smith said. "Ron said, `When I'm out there (in Las Vegas), maybe I can get him a couple of leads,'" said Terry Ekl, who represented Matrisciano.

The indictment also alleged Matrisciano knew he should have been speaking as a private citizen to the Prisoner Review Board and falsely portrayed his statement as a recommendation from the Illinois Department of Corrections, but the allegation was also tossed aside, Ekl said.

Evidence showed Matrisciano, who is seeking his job back, had brought the matter up beforehand to superiors and received approval and that he had not identified himself as representing the department, Ekl said.

The indictments were the latest twist in the long saga of Aleman, the nephew of reputed former rackets boss Joseph Ferriola.

His conviction in 1997 made American legal history as the first time a criminal defendant had been retried after an acquittal. A mob lawyer later admitted that he bribed the judge in the first trial, and Aleman was subsequently convicted of the 1972 murder.

The Tribune first reported that Matrisciano, while serving in his role as an assistant deputy director of the Illinois Department of Corrections in December 2002, testified before the Prisoner Review Board in favor of paroling Aleman.

After a parole hearing at Dixon Correctional Center, the parole board officer overseeing the matter recommended Aleman's bid for parole be denied. Such recommendations are usually upheld unanimously by the full board. But when the full board considered the matter, Brooks made the unusual request for a roll call vote and cast the only vote for Aleman's parole.

Correction Officials Found Not Guilty

Friends of ours: Harry Aleman

A Sangamon County judge Monday issued a directed verdict of not guilty in favor of a former state Department of Corrections official and a former state Prisoner Review Board member who had been accused of abusing their positions.

Both Ronald Matrisciano of Lockport, a former assistant deputy director of Corrections, and Victor E. Brooks of Batavia, a former prison warden and member of the Prisoner Review Board, were indicted by a Lee County grand jury in 2005 on charges of wire fraud and official misconduct in connection with a 2002 parole hearing for Harry Aleman.

Aleman is serving a 100- to 300-year sentence for the September 1972 shooting death of a union steward at a Chicago trucking company.

According to the indictment, Brooks agreed to vote in favor of paroling Aleman in exchange for help getting Brooks' son a job as an entertainer in Las Vegas. That help allegedly was going to come from Matrisciano, who testified during a parole hearing at Dixon Correctional Center in December 2002 that Aleman was "a model prisoner."

Matrisciano also was indicted on a charge of perjury in Sangamon County for allegedly lying during a February 2005 deposition. In that deposition, Matrisciano said he did not appear at the parole hearing in his official capacity as an assistant deputy director at Corrections. The attorney general's office alleged that he had represented his position as that of the department, and that Brooks and Matrisciano schemed to try and get Aleman paroled.

All the charges were consolidated in Sangamon County about six months ago, and Matrisciano and Brooks went on trial without a jury before Circuit Judge Patrick Kelley on Monday.

After hearing the attorney general's office's seven witnesses, Kelley allowed motions by attorneys for the defendants for directed verdicts of not guilty on all counts.

Matrisciano's attorney, Terry Ekl of Clarendon Hills, said that Kelley looked at the transcripts of Matrisciano's testimony before the Prisoner Review Board and found the evidence "fell far short of what the prosecution alleged."

Kelley also found the prosecution produced no proof of Matrisciano and Brooks conspiring to have Aleman paroled or that they used any electronic device to further any kind of scheme.

"There was no proof of any scheme, and the evidence fell short of establishing any illegal activity," Ekl said. "It wasn't even a close call."

Brooks was represented by Peoria attorney Lee Smith.

Ekl said his client, Matrisciano, "has gone through a living hell since this began."

"He's lost his job, and he lost his marriage as a direct result of losing his job," Ekl said. "He broke down in tears when the judge announced his ruling, and he is absolutely elated at the outcome," Ekl said. "He hopes to get his job back."

The Prisoner Review Board denied parole for Aleman, a reputed Chicago mob hit man, despite Matrisciano's testimony.

Aleman was charged in 1972 with murdering a Teamsters official. He was acquitted in 1977, but it later was determined that the judge in the case had been bribed. He was tried again, convicted in 1997 and is serving 100 to 300 years in prison.

A federal lawsuit filed by Matrisciano in 2003 claiming that Illinois corrections officials retaliated against him for testifying at Aleman's parole hearing was dismissed in U.S. District Court in Springfield last year.

U.S. Judge Richard Mills granted summary judgment to Corrections Director Roger Walker Jr. and former acting director Donald Snyder in the case.

Matrisciano had said in his lawsuit that he told Snyder and an associate director he was considering giving a statement to the Prisoner Review Board and that no objections were raised.

About a week after the hearing, Matrisciano was reassigned to a northern Illinois reception facility, which he claimed was a demotion in retaliation for his testimony.

When Gov. Rod Blagojevich took office in 2003, Matrisciano was laid off in a department reorganization unrelated to the controversy over his testimony. Under terms of the layoff, he became eligible to return to work in March 2004 but immediately was put on paid administrative leave while aspects of his testimony were investigated.

Springfield attorney Howard Feldman, who represents Matrisciano in the civil suit, said the dismissal has been appealed to the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Thanks to Chris Dettro

Former Prison Officials Aquitted of Criminal Support for Mob Hit Man

Friends of mine: Harry Aleman

A former state prison official and a former Illinois Prisoner Review Board member didn't commit any crimes when they supported a reputed mob hit man's bid to be paroled in 2002, a judge ruled Monday in Springfield.

Sangamon County Judge Patrick W. Kelley found both Ronald Matrisciano, 52, and Victor Brooks, 56, not guilty of several official misconduct and wire fraud charges. The ruling prompted tears from Matrisciano, a former assistant deputy director for the Illinois Department of Corrections.

"He's absolutely elated," said Terry Ekl, Matrisciano's attorney. "His life's been turned inside out. Now he can go forward."

The case stemmed from Matrisciano testifying on behalf of Harry Aleman during a Dec. 17, 2002, parole hearing, and Brooks being the lone Prisoner Review Board member to vote to parole Aleman.

Though law enforcement officials long have identified Aleman as a hit man, he's only been convicted of one murder, the 1972 slaying of Teamsters union steward William Logan. Aleman was acquitted in 1977, but authorities later learned the judge hearing his case was bribed. Aleman was found guilty during a second trial in 1997, and remains in prison.

Matrisciano identified himself as a corrections official and a friend of Aleman's family during the 2002 parole hearing, in which he called Aleman "a model inmate." Prosecutors alleged Matrisciano was leading people to believe he was speaking on behalf of the state's prison system, not as an individual citizen.

Authorities also accused Matrisciano of offering to help Brooks' son land a singing gig in Las Vegas in exchange for Brooks' vote to parole Aleman.

L. Lee Smith, Brooks' attorney, acknowledged that Matrisciano had had lunch with Brooks' son in Las Vegas and recommended names of a couple of people he could talk to in the city. But Matrisciano simply was trying to help the son of a longtime friend -- Brooks and Matrisciano have known each other for years and worked together for the state prison system -- and was not doing anything wrong, Smith said.

A spokeswoman for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, whose office prosecuted the case, did not indicate if an appeal was planned. "We presented all of the evidence to the court, the court considered that evidence and reached its decision," Madigan spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said. "We respect the court's decision."

Matrisciano was fired in January 2006 after his indictment. Now that he has been acquitted, he plans to try to get his job back, plus back pay, Ekl said.

Thanks to Chris Fusco

Monday, March 19, 2007

Waste Hauler with Alleged Mob Ties Doing State Work

Friends of mine: Peter DiFronzo, John "No Nose" DiFronzo

A waste-hauling firm that's repeatedly been accused of having ties to the mob is still doing taxpayer-funded work and has surfaced on a government-produced list of environmentally friendly businesses.

In recent days, a Dumpster from D&P Construction was on site at a Metra station construction project in Edison Park. D&P also saw a longtime snowplowing contract it has with the University of Illinois at Chicago renewed last year.

Besides that, D&P and a sister company, JKS Ventures, are listed in a state government "Green Your Space Database," which helps people find "environmentally friendly building products you may use to improve your home or office."

D&P was widely publicized as having alleged mob links in 2001, when the Illinois Gaming Board took issue with it hauling trash from a casino site in Rosemont. "The owner of D&P, Josephine DiFronzo, is married to Peter DiFronzo and is the sister-in-law of John DiFronzo, individuals who have been identified as known members of organized crime," board officials wrote at the time.

In November 2005, a Gaming Board hearing officer -- citing a memo from the FBI -- wrote D&P was "controlled" by the DiFronzo brothers. Josephine and Peter DiFronzo declined to return messages left at D&P's Northwest Side office. John DiFronzo's lawyer did not return a call.

D&P's continued involvement in government work angers the president of the Chicago Crime Commission. "I can understand if it's a private company, but we're dealing here with taxpayer money," said Jim Wagner, who headed the Chicago FBI's organized-crime squad and was the Gaming Board's investigations chief before being hired by the crime-fighting group in 2005. "Is it in the best interest of the public to do business with people who have a history of intimidation as reported by law enforcement?" he said.

Metra officials didn't know D&P had a Dumpster at the Edison Park station site until being contacted by the Chicago Sun-Times. Neither Metra nor its general contractor were aware of the firm's alleged mob links, spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said.

D&P was hired recently to haul bricks left by a subcontractor "and it doesn't sound like a lot of taxpayer dollars have gone toward them," Pardonnet said. The rail agency plans to investigate whether future dealings with D&P should be prohibited, she said.

UIC officials last year renewed D&P's longtime snowplowing contract because the firm was the low bidder and met all legal criteria, UIC spokesman Mark Rosati said. UIC paid D&P $55,169 under the deal last winter. The final tally for this winter is pending.

Susan Hofer, a state spokeswoman, said the Green Space Database makes clear that all firms named, including D&P, are not being endorsed by the state.

Thanks to Chris Fusco

Saturday, March 17, 2007

America's Most Wanted: James "Whitey" Joseph Bulger

Friends of ours: James "Whitey" Bulger, Raymond Patriarca, Jerry Angiulo, "Cadillac" Frank Salemme, Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi
Friends of mine: John Connelly

There was a period of time in the 80s when renowned mobster James "Whitey" Bulger led a reign of terror of sorts in Boston, Mass. Those who knew him or dug around for information found their lives threatened by Bulger and his crew. So when he went on the run in 1995, no one talked for fear of retaliation. But now, FBI Agents have released surveillance video of Bulger in hopes of helping their investigation. Although the video is more than 25 years old, agents on the Bulger Fugitive Task Force believe bringing national attention to the case may help jog the memories of those who were too scared to come forward when Whitey Bulger had control.

The housing projects in South Boston are a difficult place to grow up. Crowded and violent, these complexes are renowned in the Boston area for creating tough, often criminal, young men. That's where the Bulger boys, Jimmy and Billy spent their formative years. But the neighborhood had different effects on the two boys. Billy grew up to be a very well respected leader in the community. He was elected to the Massachusetts Senate in 1979 and became its president, a position he held for 17 years.

Jimmy, however, was a different story. He was always known as a tough kid on the streets - no one would call him his nickname, "Whitey," to his face. Bulger hated the name, given to him for his shock of blond hair. At a young age he turned to a life of crime. He was convicted of bank robbery in the 1950s and spent nine years in federal prisons, including the infamous Alcatraz. When he got out, he made his way back to Boston and reportedly vowed never to go back to prison again. But that's not to say that Whitey changed his ways. Authorities allege Whitey became an underworld mob figure, involved in loan sharking, extortion, money laundering and various other crimes. In the 70s state police and DEA agents say Bulger's most common criminal activity was extortion of other criminals. Drug dealers who wanted to move their drugs through South Boston had to pay Bulger for the privilege. As a result, he was known as a Robin Hood figure in the community, stealing from the criminals and giving back to the residents of his neighborhood.

Cops say Bulger was not always so philanthropic. Those who knew him say he could be violent, especially to those who got in his way. When a liquor store owner would not sell his business, cops say Bulger threatened his infant daughter. Those who seemed to be a threat to Bulger kept disappearing. But for years, Bulger was never charged with any crime, and never arrested.

Meanwhile, a crackdown on the Italian Mafia was taking place all over the country, and Boston was no exception. In the 60s and 70s, Boston's mob community was controlled by the Patriarca family. Raymond Patriarca ruled out of Providence, Rhode Island, and his underboss Jerry Angiulo ran the rackets in Boston. The mafia controlled most of the nefarious business in the city, but they were not the only act in town. The Winter Hill Gang, an Irish force named for a hill in Somerville, MA, was renowned for their violent manner and iron fist with which they ran their extortion schemes.

In the mid eighties, two events left the New England mob scene in turmoil. The mob boss, Raymond Patriarca died. His lieutenant in charge of Boston, Jerry Angiulo, was sent to prison. Boston was up for grabs. The Patriarca family out of Rhode Island tried to maintain power, but they were challenged by a local don, "Cadillac" Frank Salemme. Salemme wound up on top, thanks to, officials report, Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi and James "Whitey" Bulger.

The government's investigation of the Boston mob did not end with Patriarca's death. They went after Salemme and his organization next and were able to connect members with multiple counts of extortion, drug charges and many counts of murder. In January, 1995, a RICO indictment was released charging Bulger and others with crimes. The other co-conspirators were arrested, but Bulger, mystifyingly, escaped.

Soon after the indictment came down it became clear how Bulger had managed to evade the law over all those years and how he knew to run when the indictment was issued. Bulger was working as an informant for the FBI. An FBI agent, John Connelly, who also grew up in the South Boston projects, had been brought in to help the organized crime division bring down the Italian Mafia. One of Connelly's techniques was to use his connections in the underworld to recruit informants. Steven "The Rifleman" Flemmi was one of those, as was "Whitey" Bulger.

In return for their information, Connelly promised that the FBI would turn a blind eye to any criminal enterprises Bulger may be involved in. In addition, the FBI tipped Bulger off whenever another agency, like the Massachusetts State Police or the DEA, was trying to build a case against him. So, when the US Attorney was about to release the indictment against Bulger, Connelly tipped him off and gave him a head start on those pursuing him.

Authorities believe Bulger could be anywhere now. They have tracked him all over the country and the world. They believe he was in Britian a few years ago, and they found safe deposit boxes in England and Ireland filled with money.

Agents believe Bulger is staying in a warm climate, and believe he may have to treat a heart condition with a drug called Atenolol.

Thanks to AMW

Friday, March 16, 2007

Don't You Just Love Chicago Fairy Tales?

Don't you just love Chicago Fairy Tales?

They're almost like Russian Fairy Tales, but without the little house that walks on the legs of a chicken.

Instead, Chicago Fairy Tales sometimes involve condos at preconstruction prices, walking around on the pink, hairless feet of a rat.

My favorite Chicago Fairy Tales include:

The Chicago Outfit didn't intend to kill Mayor Anton Cermak. Sen. Barack O'Bama (D-Daley) couldn't see the Real Estate Fairy, the indicted Tony Rezko, coming when they bought property.

Another tale is how mayoral brain Tim Degnan and his developer buddy Tommy DiPiazza aren't trembling with fear about the feds investigating the Bridgeport Village developments. But here's an inspirational rags-to-riches bedtime story perfect for restless inmates in the federal pen: "How Mayor Richard J. Daley launched Uncle Amrish's political career at lunch."

You may have read about Uncle Amrish Mahajan in Wednesday's paper, in a savvy political-investigative article written by Tribune reporters John Chase and David Kidwell.

They tell the tale of Uncle Amrish--called so by the young daughter of Gov. Rod "The Unreformer" Blagojevich--who runs the Mutual Bank in Harvey. And how Mahajan bundled $500,000 in political donations from the Indian community for the current governor. And the connections between Uncle Amrish and his benefactor, insurance mogul and Viagra Triangle fixture Richard "Dickie" Parrillo (who can be found at Tavern on Rush, if you look hard for a short Italian guy in jeans and cowboy boots).

Patti Blagojevich, the governor's wife, has received $113,000 in real estate commissions through the Mahajans.

Amrish's wife, Anita, was recently charged with fraud for running a company that allegedly bilked the state out of millions of dollars in phony drug tests.

Mahajan's bank handled the mysterious Rezko-O'Bama real estate deal when Rezko was politically radioactive, a deal that O'Bama now calls "boneheaded" and "a mistake." But today's story is about how the Daleys helped Uncle Amrish make it big.

We contacted former Ald. Donald Parrillo (1st), estranged brother of Mahajan's benefactor Richard. The Parrillos were in the banking business together, when the feds brought charges against their bank for laundering drug money, though the Parrillos were never charged.

Donald Parrillo describes a friendless Mahajan newly arrived from India, a lonely little guy willing to work hard and prosper, like Horatio Alger in olden days.

As young Amrish walked in the Loop, an older man fell on the street. The old man happened to be Clem Shapiro, of the Illinois Department of Revenue. "Shapiro was up in years, it was a rainy day, and he slipped on the sidewalk," Donald Parrillo told us. "Amrish had only been in Chicago a short time, a matter of months. He helped Shapiro up, and Shapiro asked if Amrish would like to go to lunch with someone.

Donald said that as they walked, Shapiro turned to the young Horatio Alger Amrish and said: "`I want you to come up and meet somebody I'm having lunch with.' Well, that person was Mayor Daley, Richard J.

"Amrish ended up eating lunch with him. And the mayor said, `What are you going to do now that you're in Chicago?' And Amrish said, `I'd like to get into the banking business.'

"So Mayor Daley said to Amrish, `Go over and see Ald. Parrillo and tell him I would appreciate it if he could help you.'"

Donald Parrillo said that a few days later, he showed up at their National Republic Bank and there was Amrish, already hired by his brother Richard. "If you know my brother Richard, he would have loved to do anything for any politician," Donald said, though Richard J. Daley wasn't just any politician.

Richard Parrillo says Amrish was a Good Samaritan, but downplayed Richard J.'s role and says Shapiro was Amrish's clout.

Either way, the Daleys helped bring Uncle Amrish into the family, and now Blagojevich is getting the heat. Uncle Amrish is so scorching that his contributions to Mayor Richard M. Daley were returned, lest they singe the mayoral fingertips.

The mystery is that the Cook County state's attorney is running the Anita Mahajan investigation, who I'm told stands by her man, even if she'll have to sit in state prison for 10 or 15 years while he's having lunches at Gene & Georgetti.

You'd think local prosecutors would leave this stuff alone, rather than lock witnesses into statements that may hinder a federal case.

If I were an enterprising FBI agent, I'd check Uncle Amrish's relationships with the Daley administration, including the Department of Transportation, which employed engineers on those gigantic mega-projects run by mayoral loyalist, tough Tony Pucillo.

Do you think any of the Department of Tony engineers knew Amrish well? Hmmm.

It might be another Chicago Fairy Tale worth telling--to a federal grand jury.

Thanks to John Kass

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A-List Could Testify about Mob Family Secrets

Friends of ours: James LaValley, Lenny Patrick, Frank "The German" Schweihs, Sal Romano, Frank Cullotta, Tony Spilotro

A former adult bookstore owner and an ex-juice loan enforcer who once threatened to cut off the remaining arm of an amputee are among the witnesses who could testify in the upcoming blockbuster Family Secrets mob trial in Chicago, the Sun-Times has learned.

Federal prosecutors are expected to put forward a parade of former wiseguys in the trial, beginning in May, that aims to solve 18 mob hits and puts some of the top reputed mobsters in Chicago on the hot seat.

Former enforcer James LaValley, who once belonged to the street crew of one-time top mobster Lenny Patrick, has cooperated with the government for more than 15 years after a career in which he specialized in so-called "hard-to-collect" debts.

LaValley, an intimidating, sizable man, testified in an earlier mob trial that he cut the hand of one deadbeat gambler and threatened to cut off the arm of a bookie who was an amputee.

Another potential witness in the Family Secrets case is former adult bookstore owner William "Red" Wemette, according to sources familiar with the matter. Wemette repeatedly helped record one defendant in the case, reputed mob killer Frank "The German" Schweihs, who was convicted of extorting Wemette during the 1980s.

Also on tap as potential witnesses are two former members of the burglary crew run by Anthony Spilotro, the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas. Both Sal Romano and Frank Cullotta have testified previously at mob trials.

It's unclear exactly what the witnesses would testify about at trial, but they could provide jurors with expansive views of their slice of mob life in Chicago.

Attorney Joseph Lopez, who represents reputed mob hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. in the Family Secrets case, said he had seen LaValley testify in another case years ago and did not share the government's estimation of him. LaValley is "a real character," Lopez said. LaValley "loves himself to death. If he could look at himself in the mirror all day, that's all he'd do."

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

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