The Chicago Syndicate: Romance of the Mob Shattered by Trial

Monday, July 30, 2007

Romance of the Mob Shattered by Trial

Friends of ours: Vito Corleone, Tony Soprano, Nicholas Calabrese, Frank Calabrese, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello, Paul Schiro, Anthony Doyle, Joey Aiuppa, Michael "Hambone" Albergo, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, Louie "The Mooch" Eboli
Friends of mine: Robert "Bobby the Beak" Siegel, William Hanhardt, Michael Spilotro

They have described becoming "made guys" in the mob by holding burning holy pictures in cupped hands while promising a lifetime of silence.

They've spoken of the arcane arts of "peeling" safes and selling bogus stock certificates. And they've told stories that seem straight from the movies: bombing businesses, bloody hits on FBI informants, bodies stuffed in car trunks and an oil drum stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash. But Hollywood's romantic view has been mainly missing over the last month as witnesses — from a defendant's brother to old-time crooks with rap sheets as long as bed sheets — took the stand at Chicago's biggest mob trial in years.

Vito Corleone and Tony Soprano look like tame old duffers compared to what prosecution witnesses have been saying about the alleged dons of the Chicago Outfit, as the city's organized crime family has named itself. "They are not the romantic people who are often portrayed in the movies," says James Wagner, who fought the mob for decades as an FBI agent and now is president of the Chicago Crime Commission. "They are brutal."

Star witness Nicholas Calabrese told jurors he watched for decades as the bodies of his fellow mobsters piled up around him. He said he lived in dread that if he made just one misstep he would "end up in a car trunk."

His brother, Frank Calabrese, 69, is among the defendants along with Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78, James Marcello, 65, Paul Schiro, 70, and Anthony Doyle, 62. They are charged with taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included gambling, extortion, loan sharking and murders.

Lombardo was convicted in the early 1980s of conspiring to bribe then Sen. Howard Cannon, D-Nev. Calabrese and Marcello have both served time for mob-related activity. Schiro is a convicted jewel thief and Doyle — the only one not alleged to have killed anyone — is a retired police officer. All but Doyle could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

As prosecutors Mitchell A. Mars, John J. Scully and Markus Funk dredge up evidence going back to the 1970s, Chicago's police are not faring well.

Last week, old-time burglar Robert G. "Bobby the Beak" Siegel emerged from the witness protection program to accuse Chicago's former chief of detectives, William Hanhardt, of collecting $1,000 a week and a new car every two years in return for seeing to it that mobsters weren't caught. "Most of the police were on the payroll" in the old days, he recalled.

Hanhardt is now serving 16 years after pleading guilty to leading a band of thieves that stole some $5 million in jewelry and fine watches. Schiro pleaded guilty to serving as a member of Hanhardt's gang.

Nicholas Calabrese testified that onetime mob boss Joey Aiuppa personally presided over the ceremony at which he became a "made guy" in the Outfit, his finger cut in the ancient ceremonial manner and a burning holy picture placed in his hand while he recited the oath of silence. "If I ever give up my brothers may I burn in hell like this holy picture," he remembered promising. But DNA found on a bloody glove left at a murder scene was matched to his and he has agreed to testimony in return for a promise that he won't have to die in the execution chamber.

His testimony has been the most graphic of the trial. He told how his brother, Frank, allegedly strangled victims like loan shark Michael "Hambone" Albergo with a rope and then cut their throats to make sure that they were dead. Albergo had threatened to talk to the FBI.

Frank Calabrese's attorney, Joseph Lopez, who loves a good wisecrack and sometimes wears pink socks to court, said before the trial that Nicholas Calabrese was lying about his brother. Since then U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel has clamped a gag order on the attorneys.

Best known on the list of 18 murder victims in the indictment is Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, the Outfit's onetime man in Las Vegas who was found in a shallow grave in an Indiana cornfield along with his brother Michael. Tony Spilotro inspired the Joe Pesci character in the movie Casino.

Nicholas Calabrese testified that mobsters were mad at Spilotro because he was "bringing too much heat" on them and having a romance with the wife of a casino executive. "That's a no-no," he quoted brother Frank as saying.

He testified that in June 1986 the Spilotros were lured to the basement of a Bensenville home where they were told Tony would be dubbed a "capo," or mob captain, and Michael a "made guy."

Instead, they were beaten and strangled.

Calabrese said he pulled one end of a rope around Michael Spilotro's neck while a mobster known as Louie the Mooche tugged away on the other.

With Nicholas in tow, FBI agents drove up and down Bensenville's streets searching for the house where the Spilotros died — to no avail. Such missing elements have been fodder for defense attorneys.

Marcello attorney Thomas M. Breen pounced on a claim that the Spilotro killers all wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints, claiming that the story simply didn't sound realistic. "Did Mike Spilotro, say, 'Hey, guys, how come everybody's wearing gloves? This looks like a hit,"' Breen asked during Nicholas Calabrese's days on the witness stand.

Thanks to Mike Robinson

No comments:

Post a Comment