Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Family Secrets Mob 101

It was Mob 101 in the Family Secrets trial Monday, and the prosecution's first witness started his history of the Outfit with its most notorious name: Al Capone.

With violence and savvy during the 1920s, Capone succeeded in uniting Chicago's underworld, which before Prohibition had been a morass of competing ethnic and racial groups, testified James Wagner, the president of the Chicago Crime Commission.

The five defendants on trial—some of whom are accused of running the modern-day mob—listened impassively, staring ahead or leaning over to whisper to their attorneys.

Wagner, a former FBI supervisor who spent his career investigating mobsters, testified with the tone of a college professor.

Capone and his organization figured out how to earn "vast sums of money" by catering to public demand for vices such as prostitution and gambling and then used that wealth in part to corrupt politicians, the legal system and law enforcement, Wagner said. Unlike New York's disparate crime families, the Chicago Outfit has been united under a single boss since Capone, its six mob crews carrying out its work, Wagner said. "That group he was able to form took control," Wagner said of Capone.

The government will rely on Wagner's primer on how the mob works to show jurors how the defendants used gambling, juice loans, street tax and violence to grow a crime empire that stretched to Las Vegas.

Many jurors took notes with their blue pens, writing as fast as Wagner spoke.

After working cases against the Genovese and Gambino families in New York, Wagner continued his mob-busting efforts in Chicago beginning in 1976, eventually heading an organized-crime squad for five years before his retirement in 2000.

On trial for racketeering conspiracy are reputed mob figures Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr. and Paul "the Indian" Schiro as well as former Chicago police Officer Anthony "Twan" Doyle. The men are accused of playing roles in the criminal enterprise that is responsible for 18 previously unsolved Outfit killings.

Wagner said the Chicago mob expanded from its traditional bookmaking and juice-loan operations to infiltrate labor unions and then used labor's pension funds to make loans to mob associates who built the gleaming mecca of gambling that Las Vegas became.

Its members expect absolute loyalty from one another. There is an elaborate "making" ceremony to get into the upper echelon of the Outfit, Wagner said, but no retirement parties. "There are no provisions for getting out once you're in," he said.

Before trial, defense lawyers had objected to Wagner's testimony. U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel, who is presiding over the landmark trial, limited Wagner to talking about the Outfit in general terms without providing any details he might know about the defendants.

That changed, however, when Lombardo's lawyer, Rick Halprin, made the strategic decision to question Wagner about his knowledge of a case involving labor racketeer Allen Dorfman and an attempt to bribe the late U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon of Nevada.

Zagel then allowed prosecutors in a later round of questioning to ask who else had been convicted in the 1982 case. "It was Joseph Lombardo," Wagner said.

On Monday, jurors also saw a well-known photo of Lombardo with other reputed top mobsters at a restaurant in 1976, dubbed "the last supper" by lawyers in the case.

In his cross-examination of an Internal Revenue Service agent who recovered the photo in a search, Halprin made a point to note that Lombardo was the only participant wearing a suit. The lawyer has sought to portray his client as a non-violent businessman who is only associated with the mob, not a key member of the conspiracy.

But William "Red" Wemette gave jurors what the prosecution contends is a real-life taste of how Lombardo allegedly collected street tax.

Wemette told jurors that he knew the mob would come knocking when he went to open an adult bookstore called "The Peeping Tom" on Wells Street in the early 1970s. Wemette, who has been relocated by authorities because of his cooperation, exhaled deeply on the stand as he talked about doing business with Lombardo's reputed Grand Avenue street crew. The 58-year-old with thin, reddish hair and a thinner mustache wore a gray, three-piece suit.

Asked to define street tax for the jury, Wemette replied, "Basically it's permission to be in a business without being hurt by someone or possibly being burned down."

He described going to see a South Side mobster for permission to open his store and was instructed to meet up with Lombardo. "The instructions were, 'Go see Joey, he's a good boy,'" Wemette said. "'He'll take care of you.'"

Wemette said he eventually agreed to split the proceeds from peep shows in the shop with the mob because Lombardo was powerful and he didn't want to have an "accident."

Prosecutors showed Wemette a series of pictures of the men with whom he said he dealt, including an old mug shot of Lombardo in which the reputed mob boss appeared to be staring off into space. Lombardo, 78, stood up as Wemette was asked whether the man he was talking about was in court. "He looked a lot better then than he does now," Wemette said.

Testimony began Monday after the final two defense lawyers finished giving their opening statements. Attorney Paul Wagner told jurors that his client, Schiro, is a minor player in the case. Ralph Meczyk, the lawyer for Doyle, said his client is only a defendant because he's been a loyal friend to Calabrese.

Doyle was a good cop who came from the rough streets of the Bridgeport neighborhood, Meczyk said. He did not purposefully give Calabrese any damaging information on the Family Secrets case, as he is accused of doing, Meczyk said.

Doyle earned an honest living as an officer, the lawyer said, and before that pushed a street sweeper's cart for the city. Meczyk brought one of wooden carts into court, its metal wheels squeaking up the aisle. "He picked up maybe empty juice cartons," Meczyk said. "That's when he dealt in juice, ladies and gentlemen of the jury."

He told jurors that by the time the case was over, they would have an opinion about what the indictment in the case was worth and with that tossed a copy of the document into the cart with a thud.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

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