Chicago Outfit assassin Frank Calabrese Sr. was stewing in prison in 1999, trying to figure who was ratting him out for crimes worse than the loan-sharking that had landed him there.
First on his list of prime suspects was fellow mobster James DiForti. Calabrese Sr. couldn't stop gabbing about how DiForti could hurt him.
Calabrese Sr. covered every angle with his son, Frank Jr., who was locked up with him in federal prison in Milan, Mich. He quizzed two crooked cop friends for intelligence on DiForti, who was out on the street.
Calabrese Sr. -- so paranoid other mobsters made fun of him for always talking in code -- had not one but three nicknames for DiForti: "Poker," because DiForti liked to play poker; "Tires," because DiForti once had a tire store; and "rota," Italian for tires.
There was only one error in Calabrese Sr.'s thinking.
DiForti wasn't the snitch. FBI agents, preying on his paranoia, had played a mind game on him. And while Calabrese Sr. focused on DiForti, he missed the informant right under his nose -- his son, Frank Jr., who was secretly recording his father.
The mind game served two purposes. Calabrese Sr.'s focus on DiForti kept him talking about misdeeds -- much of it being recorded. And it kept the real informant safe from his father's suspicion. Agents had little doubt Calabrese Sr. would have had his son killed.
The FBI mind game is the untold story of the Family Secrets investigation, pieced together through court records and an exclusive interview with one of the key agents involved at the start of the case, Kevin Blair.
In an interview last week, Blair, now an FBI supervisor in Southern California, downplayed his own role and praised the work of fellow agents. But as one of the early agents on the case, Blair came up with the name for the investigation, Family Secrets.
Without the turmoil within the Calabrese family, the case would never have been made. Frank Calabrese Jr. also testified against his father at trial. Frank Calabrese Sr.'s brother, Nick, cooperated and told jurors how he and his brother killed for the mob.
Family Secrets began when Frank Calabrese Jr. wrote a letter in 1998 to the FBI, telling them he wanted to cooperate. "I feel I have to help you keep this sick man locked up forever," he wrote.
Frank Calabrese Sr. wanted to restart the Calabrese mob crew when he got out and wanted his son, who was going to released sooner, to pave the way. "It scared Frank Jr., and he realized he didn't want his father to ever get out again," Blair said.
After the FBI got the letter from Calabrese Jr., Blair was sent out to talk to him. The two men had a history. He had arrested Calabrese Jr. in 1995 on the very case that landed him in prison with his father. The arrest had gone smoothly, and Blair believes that set the tone for the FBI's further relationship with Frank Calabrese Jr., who was part of his father's crew but wasn't involved in the violence.
"When we arrested Frank Jr., it was one of those very polite, very professional things," Blair said. "We treated him like a gentleman. He treated us like gentlemen."
The tone of the arrest was designed to put Calabrese Jr. in the frame of mind to cooperate. "He knew we were treating him differently than his father was," Blair said.
Frank Calabrese Jr. got his father to talk about the murder of John Fecarotta and other slayings while he secretly recorded him. It was beyond the FBI's best hopes. "I just have to rate this guy as the best informant I've ever come across," Blair said.
Calabrese Jr. "did it with extreme risk, inside the walls of a prison. He did it with the ultimate sincerity, to make sure a bad man stayed in prison," Blair said.
The FBI also had two informants who fed false information into the Cicero crew to have them believe the FBI had an informant within the mob.
One informant, who court records show is the late private investigator Sam Rovetuso, went to Cicero mob chief Michael Spano Sr. and said an FBI agent had approached him, wanting to talk. Rovetuso said he referred the agent to his attorney, who sent Rovetuso a letter with a list of topics the FBI wanted to discuss. Rovetuso, who was wired up, showed Spano Sr. the letter.
The whole story was a lie, right down to fake attorney stationery the FBI created. The idea was to get Spano Sr. talking and worried there was a snitch within his crew, given the FBI's interest in certain topics.
A second informant also told mobsters the FBI had an Outfit snitch. This informant had credibility within the Cicero crew, because the informant had been passing along true intelligence on law enforcement activity for years.
The Outfit came to believe the FBI's informant was reputed mobster James DiForti. DiForti was charged in 1997 with murder but had not gone to trial for two years -- a delay that stoked the suspicions of many mobsters.
The suspicions made their way to Frank Calabrese Sr. who clearly became obsessed with DiForti. Calabrese Sr. became so obsessed that agents eventually went to warn DiForti his life could be in danger and asked if he would cooperate. DiForti declined, shutting the door in the agents' faces.
He would die of natural causes in 2000.
Thanks to Steve Warmbir
Best of the Month!
- Chicago Mob Infamous Locations Map
- The Chicago Syndicate AKA "The Outfit"
- One Family's Rise, A Century of Power
- Mafia Links of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
- THE OUTFIT'S GREATEST HITS
- Top Ten Signs a Mafia Boss is Nuts
- Profile: Harry Aleman
- Firm with reputed mob ties flourishes
- Abraham Kiswani, Owner of World Security Bureau, Indicted on Tax Evasion Charges
- Chicago Alderman Ed Burke Charged with Extortion by Federal Prosecutors #Corruption