The Omaha Steaks God Bless America Memorial Day Special

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mob Brother Vs. Mob Brother

Friends of ours: Nicholas Calabrese, Frank Calabrese Sr., Paul "the Indian" Schiro, James Marcello, John Fecarotta, John "Johnny Apes" Monteleone, Jimmy LaPietra, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, Joseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa, Jackie Cerone, William "Butch" Petrocelli, Michael Talarico, Angelo LaPietra, Richard "Richie the Rat" Mara

The man whose testimony is expected to lift the shadow on some of the Chicago Outfit's most notorious murders over the last three decades looked harmless enough. Nicholas Calabrese took the witness stand Monday wearing a gray sweatsuit and rounded eyeglasses. With his white hair neatly parted, he looked more like a doughy banker in his pajamas than a "made" member of the mob who has admitted to taking part in 14 gangland killings.

As one of the highest-ranking turncoats in Chicago's inglorious mob history, the testimony of Calabrese, 64, promises to be the pivotal moment of the Family Secrets trial, providing first-hand accounts of the Outfit's secret induction ceremony and a long list of hits. He is expected to spend several weeks testifying against his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., and four co-defendants.

For Frank Calabrese Sr., the testimony represents a second nightmare come true. Last week his son, Frank Jr., testified against him as federal prosecutors played a series of undercover tapes that the son had secretly recorded of private prison conversations with his father. But Nicholas Calabrese's testimony could be far more damaging. He also secretly recorded his brother and has more intimate knowledge of his brother's alleged wrongdoing as the two worked side-by-side for the mob as reputed made members.

As his testimony was about to begin late Monday afternoon, Nicholas Calabrese stared ahead at a darkened computer screen placed on the witness stand. His brother sat just yards away. Assistant U.S. Atty. Mitchell Mars asked whether Nicholas Calabrese was familiar with an organization known as the Outfit, and whether he was a member.

"Yes, I was," Calabrese said.

Mars asked whether Calabrese had committed a murder with reputed mob boss James Marcello, one of the defendants on trial, as well as a murder in Phoenix with co-defendant Paul "the Indian" Schiro and yet another murder with his brother.

"Yes," was the answer each time, in a matter-of-fact tone.

With that, Frank Calabrese Sr., who during an earlier break Monday leaned back in his chair and appeared to take a catnap, pitched forward at the defense table and straightened his glasses.

Some of the murders were to make an example of someone, Nicholas Calabrese said. Others were to protect the Outfit from anyone who might talk to authorities.

As part of his deal for cooperating, Nicholas Calabrese said, he understands that he won't be prosecuted for any of the 14 homicides as long as he testifies truthfully. In addition, the government will recommend something less than the life in prison he could have faced if he had been convicted of even one murder. Ultimately, U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who is presiding over the trial, will impose his sentence. "When I'm on the stand, I can't lie," Calabrese told jurors, most of whom took notes throughout his first hour of testimony, which came as the trial was ending for the day.

Calabrese did not look in his brother's direction as he answered questions. Frank Calabrese Sr. chuckled with a hand to his mouth at some points. At other times, he leaned over and looked animated as he whispered to his lawyer.

Nicholas Calabrese, pausing to clear his throat and sip from a cup, said his association with the mob dated to 1969. He began cooperating in 2002, he said, after being confronted with DNA evidence on a bloody glove that linked him to the 1986 killing of mob hit-man John Fecarotta.

Calabrese said he was joined in that murder by his brother and reputed mob figure John "Johnny Apes" Monteleone after Jimmy LaPietra, the reputed crew "capo" or captain at the time, gave his approval. Federal prosecutors have told jurors the Chicago mob is a decades-old criminal enterprise that protected itself with murder when necessary.

Calabrese said he worked for his brother in the mob's 26th Street, or Chinatown, crew. There were other crews as well , he said, including Rush Street, Melrose Park, Chicago Heights and Grand Avenue, which he said was led by co-defendant Joey "the Clown" Lombardo.

At the top of the Outfit hierarchy in the 1970s was the boss, Joseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa, and the underboss, Jackie Cerone, known as "One and Two," Calabrese said.

Every murder had to be cleared by higher-ups, he said, and disputes were settled in "sit-downs" with bosses. For example, he said his brother once had a dispute with mobster William "Butch" Petrocelli and Aiuppa himself had to become involved.

"He said, 'If you guys can't straighten it out, I'll straighten it out,'" said Calabrese, quoting Auippa. Asked by Mars what that meant, Calabrese answered, "They'd probably both get killed" if they didn't take care of the dispute themselves. At one point in the 1970s, a sports-gambling operation pulled in $500,000 to $750,000 a year for his brother, said Nicholas Calabrese, who told jurors that he did the paperwork for the crew. Some of the profits were passed up to LaPietra, he said.

Even as the trial was ending for the day, Nicholas Calabrese avoided looking at his brother. He stood facing the jury box as jurors left the courtroom, his back to the defendants until court security led him away. Frank Calabrese continued to laugh, shaking hands with his attorney, as he walked out to a lockup by the courtroom. He remains in custody..

In earlier testimony Monday, a 55-year-old Bridgeport native with swept-back, salt-and-pepper hair, testifying with immunity from prosecution, told jurors he formerly ran surveillances for the Outfit.

Michael Talarico, admitting he still works as a bookie, recalled how he once left a dead rat, a rope strung around its neck, at the office of someone who apparently ran afoul of his uncle, reputed mob boss Angelo LaPietra.

He said he left the rat on instructions from LaPietra. "He never gave me a reason," Talarico said. Assistant U.S. Atty. Markus Funk asked whether Talarico had gotten the rat at a pet store. "Yeah, I believe so," Talarico said.

LaPietra put him in business with the Calabrese brothers, Talarico said, and he made payments for running his gambling operation and also gave out juice loans on their behalf.

On cross-examination, he said Nicholas Calabrese once cut off the head of a puppy and placed it on someone's car, a gesture that also went unexplained.

Also testifying Monday was Richard "Richie the Rat" Mara, who told jurors he was an agent for jockeys as well as a Teamster at McCormick Place before pulling off burglaries and armed robberies for Frank Calabrese's crew.

He said he once saw Frank Calabrese Sr. "beat the [expletive]" out of someone making unauthorized juice loans.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

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