Frank Calabrese Sr. went from eating oatmeal for dinner as a child to making millions of dollars from illegal street loans but denied Thursday from the witness stand that he ever killed anyone for the Chicago Outfit.
Calabrese is an allegedly prolific hit man, accused of 13 murders in the Family Secrets mob case in federal court.
The 70-year-old man, who complained about his bad hearing, took the stand for two hours in the case to deny each murder he's accused of. He described a life of doing business with people in the Outfit and hanging around mobsters but not being part of the mob himself.
Calabrese was dressed conservatively, in a tie, suit coat and slacks, and often looked directly at the jury as he was questioned by his attorney, Joseph "The Shark" Lopez, outfitted in a hot pink shirt, matching pink socks, lemon tie and black suit.
In his questioning, Lopez made the distinction between people who were "earners" and people who did "heavy work," in other words, murder.
"Were you an earner or did you did you do heavy work?" Lopez asked.
"Joe, my earnings spoke for themselves," Calabrese said.
"I made millions. How would I have time to do it?" Calabrese Sr. said, referring to the murders he's accused of.
As his lawyer asked him questions, Calabrese would go on and on -- so much so that the judge told him to just answer the questions he was asked.
From the witness stand, Calabrese appeared to be struggling not to lose his temper as Assistant U.S. Attorney John Scully repeatedly objected to Calabrese's expansive answers.
At one point, Calabrese was asked about a club he belonged to. He answered but added, "Can I tell you how they raised money for the club?"
"No," Lopez said, trying to cut him off.
"Just asking," Calabrese said.
Calabrese said he was partners with mob boss Angelo LaPietra in the street loan business but insisted he did not report to LaPietra as his boss.
"He did never control me -- never," Calabrese said.
"Many people feared him," Calabrese said of LaPietra, a brutal mob killer who had such nicknames as "Bull" and "The Hook."
"Many people couldn't look him in the eye when they talked to him. I never had that problem," Calabrese said.
Calabrese has seen both his son, Frank Calabrese Jr., and his brother, Outfit killer Nicholas Calabrese, testify against him at trial.
His son put his life on the line and secretly recorded his father while they were both in federal prison in 1999 on another case.
Jurors have already heard excerpts from those extensive conversations, in which Frank Calabrese Sr. apparently describes mob murders in great detail.
Frank Calabrese Sr. will have to explain those conversations to the jury. He's also expected to blame his brother, Nicholas; his son, Frank Jr., and a second son, Kurt, for conspiring to frame him for the mob murders to keep him in prison, so they could steal his money with impunity.
Kurt Calabrese is not a witness in the case but quietly slipped into court Thursday to watch his father's testimony. At one point, the two locked eyes briefly, and Calabrese Sr. appeared a bit unsettled.
Thanks to Steve Warmbir
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