Reputed Chicago Outfit lieutenant Rudy Fratto sat in a federal courtroom, with reporters filling the jury box a few feet away.
His usual lawyer, the always snazzy Art Nasser, was unavailable. So Rudy had another attorney: Donald Angelini Jr., son of the late Outfit king of bookies, Donald "The Wizard of Odds" Angelini.
Though Angelini was pleasant and professionally buttoned down on Friday, Fratto, 66, seemed a bit lonely at the defense table, waiting for his criminal hearing to begin.
That scraggly beard hid his chin, and he was comfortably dressed in the Rudy look: black shirt, jeans, cowboy boots, just like a Hopalong Cassadicci.
I didn't want him to feel lonely, so I said hello and asked about a line in the federal charges, in which he was described as Rudy "The Chin" Fratto.
Hey, Rud? What's with "The Chin"?
"I don't know," Rudy said. "I don't know where they got that,"
Did the FBI get you early?
"Not too early," Rudy smirked.
Like 6 a.m.?
"No, they came later, for coffee," Rudy said.
He'll need his sense of humor. I've heard that last week's new charges are just the beginning of a larger tsunami coming for the Chicago Outfit and its political messenger boys.
In January, Fratto was sentenced in a federal tax-evasion case. That was his first conviction ever.
On Friday, he pleaded not guilty to the new charge, which involves alleged bid-rigging in contracts at McCormick Place and leverage by the Cleveland mob.
McCormick Place has long been the Outfit's playground. In 1974, the Tribune reported the payroll read like a "who's who of the Chicago crime syndicate."
The 1974 payroll list included mobsters such as the late Rocco Infelice (natural causes), the late Ronnie Jarrett (unnatural bullet holes) and the 11th Ward's favorite Outfit bookie, Ray John Tominello (still alive, investing in Florida real estate).
Quiet hit man Nicholas Calabrese also was on the McCormick Place payroll. He killed dozens of men and decades later was the star government witness in the Family Secrets mob trial.
Another McCormick Place payrollee was the Outfit's Michael "Bones" Albergo. Nick Calabrese and his brother Frank got rid of "Bones." They buried his body in a pit a few hundred yards from Sox Park.
The federal Family Secrets trial put mobsters in prison for life. Other reputed bosses who were not charged, such as John "No Nose" DiFronzo and Joe "The Builder" Andriacci, have gone underground.
Sources say DiFronzo refuses to see anyone. His only sit-downs take place in his Barcalounger, when he watches TV. And Andriacci has apparently been suffering from Fedzheimers, a malady that makes politicians and wiseguys forget lots of things, like how to find Rush Street.
Fratto has a scary reputation. Yet he's always been friendly and charming to me. Then again, I've never spotted him in my rear-view mirror. That happened to Outfit enforcer Mario Rainone. Mario didn't believe in coincidence and was so shaken by the sight of Rudy Fratto in his mirror that he ran straight to the FBI.
In the courtroom, Rudy's wife, Kim, dressed in a black shawl, said hello.
"It's always nice to see you, Mr. Kass," said Kim.
The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Fratto.
After Rudy was fitted with a home monitoring device, the couple took a long lunch in the newly remodeled second-floor federal cafeteria.
When they finally came down, they didn't want to talk to reporters. Then I asked Rudy a question he couldn't refuse:
Was the food in the federal building as good as it is at Cafe Bionda?
Rudy, always the jokester, couldn't resist.
"No," he said, "but it's better than Gene & Georgetti's, though."
Rudy knows how much I like Gene's, the best steakhouse in the city. Yet for years, Rudy had made Cafe Bionda, at 19th and State Street, a personal hangout. On her Facebook page, Kim Fratto lists Cafe Bionda as one of her favorites.
With such strong recommendations, my young friend Wings and I felt we had to stop there for lunch. Cafe Bionda is a short cab ride from the federal courthouse. And a long pistol shot from McCormick Place.
We were hoping to run into head chef/owner Joe Farina to ask him about Rudy's favorite dish.
Wings ordered the Linguini con Vongole. I had the signature Nanna's Gravy. It was all delicious. Sadly, Joe wasn't in, so I left a note with our server:
Dear Joe: Sorry I missed you. Rudy recommended your place to me. The food was great. John.
The coffee was great, too. And I thought of all that coffee Rudy and his friends will be drinking, and the Rush Street guys, and the politicians, buzzing on caffeine.
They might want to stay wide awake, and keep a pot of coffee on, just in case the feds come knocking some morning.
Thanks to John Kass
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