The Chicago Syndicate: Family Secrets
Showing posts with label Family Secrets. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Family Secrets. Show all posts

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Defendants in the Operation Family Secrets Trial #TheyGotCaught



Defendants in the "Operation Family Secrets" trial included Frank Calabrese Sr. (clockwise from left), Joey Lombardo, Anthony Doyle, Paul Shiro and James Marcello. The men are pictured during an Aug. 15, 2007, court hearing in Chicago. Verna Sadock/AP


Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Former Chicago Mob Boss Joey ‘The Clown’ Lombardo Dies in Federal Prison

Former Chicago mob boss Joey "The Clown" Lombardo died Saturday at a maximum security prison in Colorado.

Lombardo was serving life for his conviction in the 2007 Family Secrets case that pulled back the curtain on the Chicago Outfit.

He was the leader of the organized crime family and was behind the 1974 murder of government witness Daniel Seifert, who was hunted down and shot by masked gunman in a union pension fraud case.

Lombardo continued saying he was innocent, saying the government presented no evidence of his involvement in organized crime after serving time for a 1983 skimming and bribery conviction, according to the Chicago Tribune.

In the summer of 2007, then Chicago Tribune courts reporter Jeff Coen had a front row seat for one of the most historic mob trials in Chicago history.



Coen said Lombardo was known for keeping a sense of humor about him. He was often described as a colorful character. “He’s famous for leaving court one time and cutting the paper, so his eyes could be seen, Coen said. “He’s seen looking through the paper as he’s leaving."

Coen later wrote the book “Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob."

Lombardo was 90 years old.


Friday, August 03, 2018

Is the Answer to Who Murdered Sam Giancana on the Family Secrets Organized Crime Tour?

A Mafia turncoat who ushered in one of the biggest Mob trials in US history is now sharing tales of his former life as a streetwise soldier for the infamous Chicago Outfit, during the fascinating two-hour Family Secrets tour around the Windy City.

‘It’s not just a Mob story, it’s a family story, too,’ says Frank Calabrese Jr., who became so desperate to escape life in organized crime that he ratted out his own father, the Outfit’s Chinatown crew boss, Frank Calabrese Sr., by wearing a wire for the FBI and testifying against him at trial in 2007.

‘Nobody likes to hear their family called dysfunctional and nobody likes to be called a rat, but it is what it is,’ says Frank Jr., 58. ‘I hope that people can get takeaways from it.’

The Family Secrets tour operates several times a week and kicks off from Chicago Chop House in the heart of downtown. Frank Jr., perched at the front of a 37-seat bus, doesn’t hold back on exposing what Mob life is like, warts and all, as he revisits scenes from his family’s crimes and other landmarks.

‘Some things are embarrassing, but in order for people to understand, I have to be straight up with everybody on everything,’ he notes. ‘It does take a lot out of me, because I’m seeing these stories as I’m telling them.

While the bus winds its way throughout the city, including Little Italy, Chinatown and other neighborhoods, Frank Jr. relates his tale of growing up here with a dad who could be kind and loving one minute, then ‘sociopathic’ and ‘explosive’ the next.

He starts the tour with recollections of how Frank Sr., a made man who went by the nickname ‘Frankie Breeze,’ began grooming him at a young age to become proficient in loansharking, gambling and the Chicago way.

One tale he spins is the day Frank Sr. appeared to get into an altercation with a man in the family’s driveway. Upset, Frank Jr., then a teenager, ran and grabbed a baseball bat from the garage and snuck up on the duo.

‘I could see my dad look, and he had this little smirk on his face, like he was all proud of me,’ says Frank, adding there was no fight that day. ‘I didn’t know what my dad was capable of at the time, but years later I was like, “Boy, that guy was lucky.”’

Soon the pair started going on father-son field trips so Frank Jr. could watch and learn. One of his final tests occurred when his dad came home from his ‘so-called work’ and brought him into the bathroom. Frank Sr. turned on the ceiling fan and faucets in case the government was listening.

‘Son, we just killed two guys,’ Frank Jr. recalls his dad telling him as he watched the teen’s face carefully to see what his reaction to the news would be.

All Frank Jr. could think at the time was how his buddies’ fathers probably weren’t having similar conversations in their houses. ‘I’m so excited about it, but I can’t run and tell anybody,’ he says.

Very quickly, recounts Frank Jr. as the bus winds its way through Chicago traffic, he graduated to ‘violence, arson, collections’ and other sketchy gangland behavior. ‘I eventually bought in to all of this, and I was good at it.’

The longer Frank Jr. spent under the tutelage of his ruthless dad, the more Outfit tactics he added to his growing arsenal.

One trick Frank Sr. and other Mob bosses often employed was to tell the aspiring Mafioso they were on their way to kill somebody, even if they had no intention of carrying out a hit.‘They’re just testing you to see if you’re really up to it,’ explains Frank Jr., who today credits his uncle, Nick Calabrese — his dad’s brother and fellow made man — with protecting him from committing the most terrible of crimes: murder.‘I didn’t realize it until years later, but he saved me from my father,’ says Frank Jr. ‘He saved me from crossing a line I couldn’t cross back over.’

That doesn’t mean Frank Jr. didn’t learn how to test his friends’ loyalty by producing a dead body.

On the Family Secrets tour, Frank recounts for his guests the day his dad instructed him to place some sandbags in the trunk of his car and throw a sheet and shovel over them. He then told him to pull up to his pals and tell them he accidentally hit and killed a guy and he needed help burying the body. ‘Let me know how many guys get in the car,’ Frank Sr. told his son.

Hollywood has always played a large role in glorifying Mafia life, and Frank Jr. takes time during the tour to spin some of his favorite related tales, including his memory of seeing Casino, the 1995 film based in part on the Chicago Mob.

“It’s funny, because when I’m watching the movie in the theater I could see that they’re wrong about a lot of stuff, but I had to sit there and shut up because who am I gonna tell?” he laughs.

Talking about the movie, which showcases the Tangiers Casino, the cinematic substitute for the Chicago Outfit’s preferred real-life Vegas hangout, the Stardust, sparks another of Frank Jr.’s recollections.

In 1972, when he was 12, says Frank Jr., he traveled with his dad to Sin City and loved spending his time at the Circus Circus Hotel & Resort’s video arcade. Proving he was developing the chops for manipulation, Frank Jr. says he would wait for his pop to join 20 or 30 of his associates at the dinner table before asking him for money to go play games ‘My dad would give me three or four dollars,’ recalls Frank. ‘Then the guys would say, “Come here kid.” I’d leave there with like $200 or $300 dollars in my pocket!’

On occasion, West Coast royalty would head to Chicago, and Frank Jr. takes his tour bus to Rush Street, once the place to see and be seen for major entertainers, like rumored Mob man Frank Sinatra.

Sinatra, says Frank Jr, had connections to the Mafia, and he claims the Calabreses had ‘direct ties’ to Ol’ Blue Eyes, a Chicago club-scene favorite in the ‘50s and ‘60s, because Frank Sr. was close to the crooner’s longtime comedic opening act, Pat Henry. However, he adds, ‘that doesn’t mean Sinatra was involved in doing illegal activities.’

Despite his family’s familiarity with the glitz and glamour that comes with organized crime, Frank Jr. explains that working in the Mob actually required him to live life under the radar to keep the heat off his family and associates. 

‘You learn deception,’ he says. For instance, instead of three-piece suits, fedoras and flashy jewelry, he and his cohorts wore baseball caps, ski jackets and eyeglasses to blend in with their surroundings and not appear too flashy. ‘We didn’t drive Mercedes and BMWs, like you see in the movies. We drove Fords and Chevys.’

And when the older Mob bosses got together to discuss business, it wouldn’t be at a fancy social club.‘They would meet at McDonald’s,’ says Frank Jr. ‘If you walked past them you would think they must be talking about retirement, but they could have been planning a high-profile murder.’

Not that anyone would understand if they happened to overhear. ‘We were so aware of the FBI that everything we did was in code,’ he points out. ‘I could talk to my father in a conversation and he has four names and I have four nicknames. You’d think we were talking about six to eight people and we were really just talking about one another.’

In fact, a discussion about recipes could really be about a hit.

What’s not coded on the tour is Frank Jr.’s refusal to sugarcoat the Mob’s deadlier side, and he goes into detail about the rise and fall of the Outfit’s most infamous upper echelon of villains, including Sam Giancana, who ruled from 1957 through 1966 and was alleged to have played a part in the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

Giancana’s fatal mistake, says Frank Jr., was he became too high profile. In 1975, Giancana was supposedly meeting somebody he trusted in the basement kitchen of his home in Oak Park, Illinois. He wound up dead, shot multiple times in the head and neck. Frank Jr. claims he and the FBI ‘know who did it’ and it was somebody nobody would ever suspect — but he refuses to tell.

Frank Jr. does spill information on his father’s sordid history of hits. He says he found out later in life that Frank Sr. was part of a crew of hit man dispatched to take care of guys ‘causing problems.’ His preferred method of killing, says his son, was ‘to strangle you and cut your throat ear to ear,’ a method Frank Sr. liked to call the Calabrese necktie.

Despite the intense times, life in the Mafia was filled with just as many boring days and nights, especially when it came to casing targets.

According to Frank Jr., surveillance often included getting a windowed van and putting a refrigerator or dishwasher box inside with little holes poked through the cardboard. One of the Outfit’s henchmen would have the unfortunate task of sitting inside the box with two jugs — one for drinking water and another for waste — and staring out at their target to gather information for as long as 24-hour stretches.

Life in the Mob also meant always looking over your shoulder and making sure the FBI wasn’t on your tail. But if they were, Frank Sr. ‘had a sense of humor,’ and he once wrangled the unwitting owner of a Greek diner into helping him throw off the Feds.

Frank Sr. went into the man’s restaurant, sat at the counter and ordered a cup of soup. When he finished, he asked to speak to the owner, who he hugged and shook his hand. When the proprietor asked if they knew each other, the mobster told him no and that he just wanted to compliment him on his fine food. He then darted out the door.

The FBI quickly descended on the diner and its confused owner. Agents demanded to know why he was speaking to Frank Sr., but they refused to buy the man’s pleas of ignorance.

‘Poor guy,’ laughs Frank Jr. ‘My father always used to do that.’

Other times, the mobsters wouldn’t have to worry about police following them because they would head to an auto yard, steal license plates from a car of similar make and model to what they were going to use in a crime and swap them in. ‘If the cops run the number while we’re driving it matches the car and it matches the color so they’re not going to pull us over,’ explains Frank Jr.

One of Frank Jr.’s favorite stories he recounts on the tour is about how his ‘master thief’ father loved to rob weddings. Frank Sr. would take advantage of the fact everyone was drinking and not paying attention to steal the purses filled with cash set aside for the newlyweds. Other times, Frank Sr. would be more brazen and bring a crew to help line up guests against the wall and steal their jewelry.

‘I don’t talk about this like I’m proud of it, but it was what we knew,’ explains Frank Jr.

As time passed, the elder Calabrese became increasingly paranoid and violent, and his son grew desperate to escape the Outfit. ‘I feared my dad more than anything,’ he reveals of the man who once held a loaded gun to his head and threatened to kill him.

Salvation, Frank Jr. says, finally arrived in 1995 when the feds indicted him, his father, and several Outfit crewmembers. He pleaded guilty to charges of racketeering, extortion, mail fraud, perjury and intent to defraud the IRS. The son and dad were eventually incarcerated together in Milan, Michigan, where Frank Jr., sentenced to serve 57 months, hatched a risky plan to free himself from his father’s omnipotence.

He mailed a letter to the FBI on July 27, 1998, and offered to help agents entrap the killer. In what became known as 'Operation Family Secrets', Frank Jr. agreed to wear a wire behind bars and tempt his dad into talking about several gangland murders.

‘I just wanted my father to leave me alone, and the only way I could figure out how to do that was to keep him locked up,’ he says of the life-changing realization.

Frank Jr. was released from prison in February 2000. Seven years later, the 'Family Secrets' trial he was responsible for sparking created a firestorm both in the press and behind the scenes. After testifying on the stand against his dad, Frank Jr. went into a private room, where he had tears rolling down his face because he realized their courtroom confrontation was probably the last time he would see the man alive.

Frank Calabrese Sr., found responsible for 13 murders — likely a fraction of the number he actually committed — died in solitary confinement of heart failure on Christmas Day 2012.

Confirmation he made the right choice by ratting on his dad came when Frank Jr., who wrote the 2011 memoir Operation Family Secrets: How a Mobster's Son and the FBI Brought Down Chicago's Murderous Crime Family, learned Frank Sr. tried to put out a $150,000 contract on his head before he died. He believes one of the big reasons he’s still alive to tell the tale is nobody trusted the cagey Mob boss to actually pay up once the job was completed.

Now ‘every day is like a gift,’ Frank Jr. says. ‘I try to be a good person and I try to surround myself with good people.’

And he gives tours and shares his story as a way to somehow make amends with his dark past.

‘I have to deal every day with what I know,’ Frank Jr. explains. ‘I’m not trying to glorify something. I want people to realize you can change your life around; I want to do something good.’

Thanks to Aaron Rasmussen.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

John DiFronzo, Leader of The Chicago Outfit, is Dead

The leader of the Outfit for more than a decade, notorious for his nickname and his cagey demeanor, died on Sunday-the ABC7 I-Team has learned.

John "No Nose" DiFronzo was 89 years old. He had Alzheimer's disease, according to noted Chicago attorney Joe "the Shark" Lopez who counts mob leaders as clients. "I knew that he was extremely ill and I thought that the ending was going to come and it finally did" Lopez told the I-Team during an interview on Tuesday.

DiFronzo was awarded the mob moniker "No Nose" early in his career when part of his schnoz was sliced off as he jumped through the plate glass window of a Michigan Ave. clothing store window to escape after a burglary. That incident in 1949 happened in the middle of a gun battle with police and left DiFronzo with a mangled snout.

Eventually plastic surgery restored the mobster's nose, but the nickname stuck. Sometimes he was also called "Johnny Bananas" by associates.

"John DiFronzo was at the top during a much different era than other times in history" said Chicago mob expert John Binder. "I mean they were still killing quite a few guys pre-years during the 1960's. Starting in the 1990's that really slows down and by the late 1990's there's very few certifiable or agreed-on outfit hits" said Binder, author of "The Chicago Outfit."

DiFronzo had been a longtime resident of River Grove. He would meet weekly with Outfit underlings at a local restaurant near the apartment he shared with his wife.

The I-Team put his regular midday meetings under surveillance in 2009 and conducted a rare interview with the mob boss as he was leaving one of the luncheons. "Lunch with No Nose" as it was coined, was a rare glimpse into Outfit operations and perhaps the last time DiFronzo was seen on television.

The crime syndicate boss, who began as an enforcer, did serve prison sentences for burglary in 1950 and in 1993 for racketeering-and was a suspect in about three dozen Outfit crimes and some murder cases. But he was convicted only a few times and managed to escape the legal fate of many of his mob colleagues.

As the upper echelon of the Chicago Outfit went to prison for life in the 2007 Operation: Family Secrets case, DiFronzo was always thought to have been atop the list of those who would fall in the second round of federal indictments.

"I think about (mob hitman) Nick Calabrese saying that DiFronzo was there when they killed the Spilotro brothers" recalled Lopez. Anthony "Ant" Spilotro and his brother Michael Spilotro were murdered by Outfit hitmen according to federal investigators and buried in an Indiana cornfield. The 1986 double murder was the subject of a Hollywood movie and has never been officially solved.

There never was a Family Secrets II and DiFronzo managed to hold the reins of power into his 80's.

After Lunch with No Nose, the octogenarian Outfit boss told the I-Team that he was "not concerned at all" about being prosecuted. As it turned out, he was correct. He met the fate of old age and a debilitating disease on Sunday morning, passing away less violently then some of those who crossed paths with the Outfit over the years.

"I would say John DiFronzo was no Tony Accardo" said Binder, referring to Anthony "Joe Batters" Accardo the long-time Chicago consiglieri who died in 1992. "Now of course they (Outfit bosses) are working during different time periods. It's one thing to be leading an organization when its growing and it's at its peak. It's another thing to be leading an organization when it is clearly declining" Binder said.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Barb Markoff.

Reports that John "No Nose" DiFronzo, AKA Johnny Bananas, Chicago's Top Mobster has Died

Days earlier a “message” had been sent by Chicago mobsters, federal agents believed, when a small bomb exploded outside the home of the daughter of Outfit turncoat Lenny Patrick.

John DiFronzo was just one of a group of alleged mobsters for whom the Feds wanted to send a message back, immediately.

There was no hurry in DiFronzo that day as he breezed north on Dearborn as if it was a noon-time walk, declining to answer any questions.

DiFronzo climbed the ladder of the Outfit ranks from burglar to boss. Reporters nicknamed him “No-Nose” after he was cut jumping through a window in a Michigan Avenue burglary in the 1940s. But to his fellow organized crime brothers he was known as “Bananas” due to his complexion.

In January 1992, DiFronzo was indicted in California in a scheme to run a casino at the Rincon Indian Preservation near San Diego. He and fellow Chicagoan Donald Angelini, were convicted of fraud and conspiracy, though the conviction was over turned and he was released from prison.

By day DiFronzo worked as a car salesman at an Irving Park dealership and often by 4:00 he could be seen entering an Elmwood Park restaurant for his afternoon vodka.

DiFronzo’s name surfaced in the Operation Family Secrets trial in which mob heavy weights Joey “the Clown” Lombardo, Frank Calabrese, Sr. and James Marcello were convicted of taking part in a series of mob hits, including the murders of Tony Spilotro and Michael Spilotro.

During the trial, federal prosecutors named DiFronzo as part of the crew that killed “Tony the Ant” and his brother and buried them in an Indiana farm field. When asked during the course of the trial how prosecutors could name—and not charge—DiFronzo, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars’ only response was “good question.”

The Elmwood Park mobster had reportedly been ill for some time. Within hours of the announcement of his death at the age of 89 his Wikipedia page was updated to list his birth as December 13, 1928 and his death as May 27, 2018.

Thanks to Carol Marin and Don Moseley.

Friday, October 20, 2017

New Family Secrets Mob Bus Tour Hosted by @FrankCalabres15 ‏Inflames Victims Families

A century-old code of silence practiced by the Chicago Outfit is being broken several days a week on a bus tour by a former gangster who is taking his personal mob knowledge to the streets.

The "Family Secrets Tour," hosted by Frank Calabrese Jr., is a two-hour guided expedition to mob murder sites around Chicago. "Frank Jr. takes you to the actual crime scenes he experienced firsthand while working as a member of his father's Chinatown crew," states a description of the tour.

Calabrese's new business, at $40.00 per person, began in early October and will "teach you what it was like to think, look, and act like a mobster and how to blend in with the mean streets of Chicago."

"Family Secrets" was the name of an FBI investigation into mob murders and rackets that began in 1998 when Calabrese Jr. wrote a letter to authorities offering to help prosecute his father. Frank "the Breeze" Calabrese was an Outfit boss and killer who controlled his mob crew-and his own family-with an iron fist.

14 mob bosses and associates ended up charged in the landmark case and Calabrese Jr. was a main witness. When the investigation and court cases were finished in 2007, federal investigators had solved 18 gangland murders dating back to 1970.

Now, ten years later, the reformed hoodlum is leading a new bus tour that takes patrons to locations where wayward mobsters were rubbed out. Calabrese Jr. gives his account of growing up in the mob and describes the hits, runs and errors of his family's murderous rackets.

"Don't do this to us. We've suffered enough" said Ellen Ortiz, whose husband Richard was murdered by Frank Calabrese Sr. in 1983. The widow Ortiz, 75, says junior's bus tour is "disgraceful."

Richard Ortiz was a Cicero bar owner whom Calabrese Sr. believed to be dealing drugs and floating juice loans without the blessing of the mob. The Outfit boss blasted Ortiz several times with a shotgun, obliterating his face. Now the thought of Calabrese Sr.'s son leading a tour to mark that murder and others grates on Ellen Ortiz. "It's not right, it's not right" she told the I-Team.

Her son, 12 years old at the time his dad was killed, now has a more direct observation of Calabrese's Family Secrets Tour. "He was the rat so I think the rat should just crawl back in his hole" said Tony Ortiz, now 46.

"The tour doesn't focus on murders -- it focuses on the evolution of the Chicago mob" Calabrese Jr. said in an interview with the ABC7 I-Team. He maintains the tours are therapeutic for him. "I haven't really thought deeply why the exact reason is I'm doing this. For a few reasons. I mean I want to make money too just like anybody else. I want to do good."

The son-of-a-mob-boss, who wrote a 2011 book about his experiences as well, said he is not trying to glorify Outfit life. "They have that right to say 'was he making money, you know?' I'm trying to take something that was bad and make it good for more than one reason" Calabrese Jr. said.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Christine Tressel.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Examining the Crimes of the Calabrese Family #FamilySecrets

Why are we so fascinated by the mob? Well, there's violence: garroting, shooting, stabbing; the thrill of men hunting men. Money: While most of us sweat for our daily bread, gangsters take what they want. The unknown: Gangster stories give us special knowledge of dark, hidden places in the city and in the human heart.

That last point is important, because half the fun is pulling back the veil. The author strips away the pretenses and pleasantries of daily life and reveals how the world really is. Which is to say that force reigns supreme, not intelligence or character or merit. But part of the popularity of gangster lit is the assumption that the veil is only ever half-raised. Mob stories feed our most paranoid fears by implying that so much more remains to be told. Because we really can't see the subject whole, never know the limits of the mob's influence, we can imagine it as all-powerful, with cops, politicians and businessmen bought and paid for. Authors let us in on the secrets, but the thrilling question always remains, just how big is this menace?

That is one of the reasons that Chicago Tribune reporter Jeff Coen's "Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob" is so refreshing. He never reaches beyond his story, sticks close to his evidence, lets the carefully gathered wiretaps and eyewitness testimony and reporter's notes do the talking. Like Nicholas Pileggi's classic "Wiseguy," on which the film "GoodFellas" was based, Coen keeps it at street level, focusing on his distinct cast of characters, the gangsters and their victims, the federal agents, local cops and attorneys who played out the drama.

During the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, Frank Calabrese Sr. operated a lucrative loan-sharking business on Chicago's South Side. He had ties to higher-ups in the "Outfit," as the Chicago mob is known, men like Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, and James "Jimmy Light" Marcello. Calabrese was not a nice man. In the late '90s, his son, Frank Jr., musing on his father's abusiveness, decided to turn state's evidence against the old man. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, young Frank's uncle Nick (Frank Sr.'s brother) also decided to cooperate with the feds.

With that the Outfit's cover unraveled, and the case finally came to trial in 2007. Coen gives us fine-grained pictures of the loan-sharking and extortion, and, above all, at least 18 killings.

Nick Calabrese, a reluctant hit man, committed multiple murders at brother Frank's behest. Nick told the feds that his sibling would willingly kill him had he failed to carry out a hit. Frank Calabrese himself specialized in garroting his victims, then cutting their throats to make sure they were dead. Coen gives us gruesome accounts of the murders and burials in corn fields and at construction sites.

"Family Secrets" isn't for everyone. It is a complex narrative of a long case that resulted in several convictions. The devil is in the details, there are a lot of them, and they thoroughly de-romanticize the mob.

This is a well-written and researched book, but its subject might disappoint some readers. Unlike the East Coast mob, Coen tells us, "Chicago had been unified for much of the century, since the days of the infamous boss Al Capone. ..." That statement is true but a bit deceptive. This late 20th Century crew seems a little pathetic. They're not exactly the gang that couldn't shoot straight, but they're certainly not Capone's Outfit either. When we pull back the veil, we get a strange blend of Don Corleone and the Three Stooges.

Thanks to Elliott Gorn, who teaches history at Brown University. He is author of "Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One," published this year by Oxford University Press.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Family Secrets Mob Book by @JeffCoen is Indispensable to Know How Chicago Truly Works

If you're interested in understanding the real Chicago—and there can be no serious understanding of this completely political city without examining the Chicago Outfit—then you'll soon have a great new book on your shelves:

"Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob" (Chicago Review Press) by Chicago Tribune federal courts reporter Jeff Coen.

Yes, Coen is a colleague of mine who is well-respected in our newsroom. But the reason I recommend this book is that I've followed Coen's work chronicling this case. His careful eye and clean writing style have produced years of compelling Tribune stories and now this authoritative account of one of the most amazing Chicago Outfit cases in history.

It involves the FBI's turning of Chicago Outfit hit man Nicholas Calabrese into a top witness and informer. Calabrese's access and insight into unsolved murders, offered up at trial by the expert killer and brother of a Chinatown Crew boss, were more than astounding. And, in a creepy but necessary way, illuminating.

Calabrese, a deadly though perpetually terrified hit man, testified against the bosses about more than 18 gangland murders in the federal Family Secrets case. Now mob bosses including his brother Frank, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo and Jimmy Marcello, and fellow hit man Paul Schiro will spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Later this week an Outfit messenger boy—Anthony Doyle, a former Chicago police officer who worked in the evidence section and who visited Frank Calabrese in prison to discuss the FBI's interest in an old bloody glove—also will be sentenced.

From the witness stand, Doyle gave Chicago one of my favorite words, "chumbolone," the Chinatown Crew's slang for idiot or fool. He deserves a long sentence. Federal mob watchers consider him to be close to the Outfit's current overall reputed street boss, Frank "Toots" Caruso.

Outfit helpers like Doyle, placed in sensitive government posts, in politics, in law enforcement, in the judiciary, in city inspection and business licensing bureaucracies, have long allowed the Outfit to form the base of the iron triangle that runs things.

"Doyle was one of the most interesting aspects of the case," Coen told me this week. "Here you have a police officer as a mole telling the Outfit when evidence in a murder was being sought by the FBI. I don't think the public is aware of the effort that goes into placing people in low-key clerical positions that give them great access, people that can fly under the radar."

Doyle learned the FBI was interested in a glove worn by Nick Calabrese in the murder of John Fecarotta, who himself received an Outfit death sentence for botching the 1986 burial of brothers Tony and Michael Spilotro.

"If Nick doesn't drop that glove, the FBI doesn't have the physical evidence to tell him he'd be going away forever," Coen said. "Without the glove, they wouldn't have Nick."

Nick's testimony involved the planning and surveillance of his victims, and the final end that came to them, either by a remote-controlled car bomb on a suburban highway ramp, or shotguns from a van along a country road near Joliet, or the laying on of hands and feet and ropes in a suburban basement.

The movie "Casino" depicted Outfit brothers Tony and Michael Spilotro beaten to death in an Indiana cornfield. That's how many of us thought they were killed, until Family Secrets revealed that they were actually beaten and strangled in a Bensenville basement.

In the gangster movies, the hit men are usually the roughest characters. But Calabrese wasn't a movie hit man, he was a real one, so frightened that he wet himself during his first killing.

On the witness stand and in the book, he comes off like what he is, a nerd of homicide, a man plagued by a sickening fear that settled on him at the first one and became like a second skin, and he found one way to deal with that fear—meticulous planning.

"He was nothing like a movie hit man," Coen said. "During testimony, he looked like somebody you'd bump into at a store in your neighborhood. But if the bosses pointed him at somebody, they could sleep, knowing the murder would be done."

On my shelf, there are books I consider to be indispensable to truly knowing how Chicago works. There is:


And now, there is Jeff Coen's Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob.


Thanks to John Kass

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Flashback: Prison Release of Betty Loren-Maltese Awakens Organized Crime Mystique of Cicero

Prohibition was the law of the land when Al Capone took over Cicero in 1924, muscling his way in with gun-toting hoodlums on Election Day. And many residents were happy to hear his beer wagons rumbling through the streets en route to speakeasies.

More than 80 years later, this sleepy-looking suburb of blue-collar bungalows and strip malls a few miles west of Chicago still hasn't shaken its reputation for mob influence, political scandal and corruption, even as leaders insist they've put it behind them.

"The organized crime mystique _ that's the reason for our image," says town spokesman Ray Hanania, insisting President Larry Dominick has "taken politics out of town government" since taking office in 2005. The story of Cicero and the mob, he said, is "a great story and it's easy to write but it's unfair."

Critics, though, say corruption still hangs thick in the air.

About a week ago, former town President Betty Loren-Maltese returned to Chicago after 6 1/2 years in prison for fleecing taxpayers of more than $12 million in a mob-related insurance scam. The money paid for an island golf course in Wisconsin, a horse farm and a summer home for reputed mob boss Mike Spano, who went to prison along with Loren-Maltese.

Loren-Maltese was boosted into politics by her late husband, former Cicero town assessor Frank "Baldy" Maltese, who was indicted on corruption charges in the early 1990s along with Rocco Infelice, reputed one-time boss of the Cicero mob. Maltese pleaded guilty to conspiracy in 1993 but died of cancer before going to prison. Infelice died behind bars.

No sooner had the once-jovial Loren-Maltese _ sporting her trademark flamboyant hairdo but grim and silent behind large dark glasses _ arrived Monday to start a four-month term in a halfway house, than news surfaced that she and her elderly mother were receiving health insurance benefits from the very town fund that Loren-Maltese was convicted of looting.

Hanania said Loren-Maltese received the benefits under a law she "rammed through" while still in office that provides coverage to all Cicero elected officials for life, and her mother got insurance for serving on the police and fire commission for 10 years.

By Tuesday, officials in the town of about 85,000 decided her mother wasn't entitled to the coverage because she never held elective office, and terminated it. But that wasn't the only problem, critics say. Dominick, a hefty ex-cop who served on the Cicero force for years, also has found jobs for a number of his relatives on the town payroll, including a son who works as the human resources director.

"I think they haven't really changed since the Al Capone era in their approach to government and politics and civic decency," says Andy Shaw, head of Chicago's Better Government Association. "This is the town that time forgot."

Not that some things haven't changed.

Scantily clad prostitutes no longer saunter in the neon haze outside the mob-connected strip joints that flourished along Cicero Avenue in the 1950s and 1960s. Gone are the no-name prize fighters who once slugged it out in a little arena in a cloud of colored smoke and flickering strobe lights.

"The place was crawling with vice and gambling," said John Binder, author of "The Chicago Outfit," a history of the city's organized crime family. "It was the same story in some other little suburbs where the mob could get its hooks in, but Cicero was sort of the crown jewel, maybe because of its location close to Chicago and because Capone pushed his way in there."

Now it all seems comparatively tame. Almost.

In February 2003, a massive pipe bomb erupted on a quiet street in Berwyn, a neighboring suburb. The explosion blew away the front of a company that distributed the video poker machines that federal prosecutors say were used for illegal gambling throughout Chicago and its suburbs.

Prosecutors said it was organized crime's way of delivering the message that horning in on its monopoly on video poker machines was dangerous _ and at the time, the biggest distributor of the machines in the western suburbs was based in Cicero.

It was owned by Michael Marcello, whose brother, James Marcello, went to prison for life following the 2007 Operation Family Secrets trial, the biggest mob case in Chicago in decades. Michael Marcello also went to prison after pleading guilty to racketeering and other offenses for running a gambling business and paying the government's star witness in the Family Secrets case, Nicholas Calabrese, to keep mum.

Then in 2008, Cicero jewelry store owner Mark Polchan and Samuel Volpendesto, a tiny, white-bearded, 86-year-old former manager of a Cicero strip joint, were indicted on charges of blowing up the Berwyn video poker company.

Last year, the charges against the two men became part of a larger, racketeering indictment that added five other defendants, including a Cicero police officer. All have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in September.

Originally reported by Mike Robinson on 2/21/10.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Attorney for Roman Catholic Priest Who Plead to Conspiracy with Mob, Cries Foul on Feds

The lawyer for a former prison chaplain awaiting sentencing for passing notes from convicted Chicago Outfit boss Frank Calabrese Sr. accused federal prosecutors Wednesday of making "inaccurate and highly inflammatory" claims that the priest had also divulged the secret location of the mobster's turncoat brother.

Prosecutors alleged in a sentencing memorandum earlier this week that Eugene Klein had revealed secret information to Calabrese about the location of his brother, Nicholas, who was in the federal witness protection program after his stunning decision to cooperate brought about the landmark Operation Family Secrets probe.

In a court filing Wednesday, however, attorney Thomas Anthony Durkin wrote that Klein never knew where Nicholas Calabrese was being held and never took any steps to find out, even though as an employee of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, he could have done so.

Durkin called the allegations "consistent with the hostile and over-the-top position the government has taken throughout this case." He asked U.S. District Judge John Darrah to strike the references to Nicholas Calabrese from the court record and possibly delay Klein's Thursday sentencing so the judge can hold an evidentiary hearing into the matter.

Klein, a Roman Catholic priest, admitted in a plea agreement with prosecutors that he violated the most restrictive prison security measures possible that had been placed on Calabrese by conspiring with the convicted hit man to recover a supposedly rare 18th-century Stradivarius violin said to be hidden in the mobster's vacation home.

In asking for the maximum of five years in prison, prosecutors alleged for the first time Monday that Klein had also revealed information about the location of Nicholas Calabrese despite knowing that he "was in grave danger" because of his cooperation with law enforcement. But Durkin included in his filing an FBI report that showed Klein had told agents in April 2011 that another inmate had told him he knew where Nicholas Calabrese was located. Klein relayed the message to Frank Calabrese Sr., who "asked Klein to find out all he could about the matter," the FBI report stated.

"Although Klein did not intend to do anything more, he told Calabrese that he would see what he could do," the report said. Klein, however, was never told which prison the inmate thought Nicholas Calabrese was in and he never took any other steps to find out, according to the report. Nicholas Calabrese was behind bars at the time for unrelated mob charges.

Nicholas Calabrese was the first made member of the Chicago Outfit to testify against his cohorts, and his testimony at the Family Secrets trial in 2007 led to life sentences for several Chicago mobsters, including his brother. Although he admitted to killing 14 people for the Outfit, Nicholas Calabrese was given just 12 years in prison because of his unprecedented cooperation.

Frank Calabrese Sr. was first placed under special administrative measures after he was allegedly seen in court mouthing, "You are a (expletive) dead man," at a federal prosecutor.

Thanks to Jason Meisner.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Did Father Klein Leak the Location of Mob Informant Nick Calabrese?

Federal prosecutors in Chicago want to send a Roman Catholic priest to prison for five years for a crime that involved the Chicago mob and a plot to steal a priceless violin.

Father Eugene Klein wore a Roman collar, but the story line is less God and more godfather. The elements resemble a mafia movie: secret messages from prison, a violin stashed in a vacation retreat, and a priest recruited by an outfit hitman. But the trailer is about to come to an end on Thursday, when Father Klein is sentenced for helping a late mob boss in solitary confinement.

For Chicago mob boss Frank Calabrese, killing was a breeze, hence his nickname "Frankie Breeze". In 2011, Calabrese was at a Missouri penitentiary doing life for 13 Chicago mob hits in the Family Secrets case. He was considered a security risk and held in solitary confinement when prison chaplain Father Klein became more than a spiritual advisor.

Klein plotted to help the outfit boss recover a rare, centuries-old violin that Calabrese had hidden years earlier here in his Wisconsin summer home. The plot was aimed to prevent U.S. authorities from finding the violin and selling it to pay off the mobster's debt to society. But that's not all he did. Now authorities say Father Klein told Frank Calabrese where Nick Calabrese - his brother and the key witness in the case - was living while he was in the witness protection program.

According to a court filing Monday, prosecutors want to send the priest to prison for the maximum five-year sentence because they say he had clear disregard for others and for the trust placed in him, and that new information Klein revealed to Frank Calabrese about the location of his brother, Nicholas, "knowing that Nicholas had cooperated against his brother and was in grave danger as a result."

Father Klein's attorney Tom Durkin compared the priest's 60-month recommended sentence to that of former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, whom prosecutors recommend less than six months.

Durkin told the I-Team: "They recommend no more than six months for Dennis Hastert and ten times that amount for Fr. Klein. That is absurd."

"This latest revelation that the priest, the defendant, tried to help identify the location of a witness that's a bombshell and that can explain why the government is seeking so much time because it undermines the witness security program," said ABC7 Legal Analyst Gil Soffer.

During trial, Frank Calabrese threatened to kill a U.S. prosecutor. The mobster was considered a ruthless killer and a dangerous prisoner.

Soffer says Father Klein used his religious position to help Calabrese communicate with the outside world - conduct he says resulted in the government asking for such a lengthy sentence.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Frank Calabrese Jr. Wrote Tell-all Chicago Mobster Book

"I had a choice of two titles, right? Rat, or cold-blooded murderer. And I chose rat," said Frank Calabrese Jr., former heir to the Chicago Outfit's Chinatown Crew and the author of a tell-all mob book. "Neither is a title good to have. But I had to make a decision."

Calabrese Jr. was dressed in dark clothes, sitting at a table with his back against a restaurant wall. He is not in the federal witness protection program, and he talked about that choice in a flat, quiet voice.

It was a voice that weighs things out, an unemotional voice, and if a meat scale could talk, it would have a voice just like that. Calabrese Jr. says he's changed his life, and made amends, but I could picture him years ago, using that voice on some bust-out gambler who owed his father Outfit juice, the son collecting, asking, "You're late this week. Where's my $5,000?" as he neutrally sized up the meat in front of him.

"I don't feel like a rat," he told me. "And afterward, I didn't go run and hide. But I'm not going to stand on the corner and flex my muscles.

"My father had these multiple personalities. There was the good dad and the evil dad. One minute, you're dealing with the caring, loving father who hugs and kisses you, and looks out for you. Then it changes. You see it in his eyes. I think he lost his soul," said Frank Jr. "I would have followed this guy anywhere. I didn't buy into the Outfit. I bought into my father. All I cared about was my father being proud of me. And he didn't watch out for me or my brothers."

Thus Frank Jr.'s book, "Operation Family Secrets: How a Mobster's Son and the FBI Brought Down Chicago's Murderous Crime Family". I get the feeling it is a must-read among Outfit types and their political puppets. And it is a story of fathers and sons.

Frank Jr. kicked off the famous Operation Family Secrets investigation of the Chicago Outfit. While in federal prison in 1998, he wrote a letter to the FBI volunteering to help them against a fellow inmate: his own father, Chinatown Crew boss Frank Calabrese Sr.

He wore a wire and recorded his father, and that led to the cooperation of hit-man uncle Nick Calabrese. By the time the Family Secrets trial was done, more than a dozen Outfit hits were solved, and his father, other hit men and bosses like Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo and Jimmy Marcello were given what amount to life sentences.

I remember Frank Sr. as stumpy old man in court, the one credited with strangling his victims before stabbing them in the head with a knife, a brutal loan shark and the hammer for the real boss of Bridgeport and Chinatown, the late Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra.

"Here's what he taught his son," said Frank Jr. "To manipulate. To find a guy with a business, with money, and he'd say, 'Make him feel close to you. Make him feel secure. And then somebody's going to come and scare the guy and he'll run to me. And then we'll get a piece of his business. And once we get a piece, there will be a little more, and a little more. If it's a bad week, I don't care, where's my money? And we'll slowly drain the business.'

"What happens is that you start getting numb to having feelings. And it becomes normal to threaten. These are the things my father taught me."

Calabrese's publicity tour this week began with Monday's story about Borders canceling his book-signing events after receiving anonymous threats. He's scheduled to be at the Union League Club for lunch Friday, discussing the case with former federal prosecutor T. Markus Funk, a member of the prosecution team whose own life was allegedly threatened by Calabrese Sr.

In the book there is talk of murders and beatings, extortion and treachery. But that is standard fare. What makes this book different is the dysfunctional family. The sons are in mortal fear of the patriarch. That's what will sell it as a movie.

Frank Sr. isn't receiving many visitors these days in federal prison. So I called Calabrese Sr.'s lawyer, criminal attorney Joseph "The Shark" Lopez, who isn't impressed by the son.

"I think there are some people who would blame the father for the sins of the son," Lopez said. "Some might say the father was out of order by talking to the kid. But the father was angry. He beat up his son because the son admitted to using and selling drugs. And the son stole a lot of money from his father."

In the book, the son admits to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in gambling proceeds from hiding places. During the trial, the father claimed the son stole millions more, a charge the son denies.

"The son has always wanted to be in the movies," said Lopez. "Now he's written this book, he's done the publicity stunt about the threats although he's not in danger from anyone, and now his book will probably become a movie."

I can see it as a movie that begins in sentimental fashion, a father and his sons spending quality time together. But they're not tossing a ball and having some boring game of catch. Instead, they spend time together, collecting.

Collecting politicians, collecting gambling debts, collecting victims.

Thanks to John Kass

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

It Ain't Pretty, But It's Real

John Drummond proudly calls himself a pack rat.

A retired reporter for WBBM Channel 2, Drummond has interviewed countless people over the years, including mobsters, murderers, athletes and assorted Chicago oddballs. Drummond did more than just get those interviews on tape -- he also transcribed them. And now, the basement of his Wilmette home is filled with transcripts and tapes.

With his book, It Ain't Pretty But It's Real (Chicago Spectrum Press), Drummond offers the public a peek into his filing cabinets.

In 1998, Drummond wrote a similar book, Thirty Years in the Trenches Covering Crooks, Characters and Capers, but one book wasn't enough to contain all the colorful characters Drummond has encountered in Chicago. Talking about his reasons for writing a second book, Drummond gives a characteristically blunt explanation. "It's an ego trip," he says.

It's also a trip into the past for readers. Drummond writes about organized-crime trials, conspiracy theorist Sherman Skolnik, boxer Tony "The Man of Steel" Zale, and Frank Pape: "the toughest cop in Chicago."

On the comical end of the spectrum, Drummond remembers Ted Serios, a mentalist who claimed the ability to photograph people's thoughts. Serios was not able to pull off the feat when Drummond tried to film him doing it. "He'd just make a lot of noise and grunt and groan," Drummond recalls. The Polaroids never came out.
Criminal intent But while Drummond's first book focused on eccentric people like Serios, criminals dominate his second book. "In the first book, those people didn't get a lot of play," he says. "I thought, 'You know, there's a lot of stuff I left out.'"

One of the most memorable bad guys Drummond ever interviewed was Silas Jayne, the horseman who went to prison for conspiring to murder his brother, George, after years of bitter feuding. "He was considered a bogeyman," Drummond remembers.

In the book, Drummond recalls a disagreement in 1978 with an editor at Channel 2 who didn't see the news value in Drummond's exclusive interview with Jayne -- who just happened to be visiting home on a furlough from prison at the time. "He didn't know Silas Jayne from Joe Six-Pack," Drummond says of the editor, who was new in town.

The editor postponed the broadcast, but then when newspapers got wind of Jayne's temporary release from prison, he rushed it onto the air. "That was quite a scoop at the time," Drummond says.

Drummond says Jayne had an intimidating stare, but that the man also knew how to turn on the charm. "I enjoyed interviewing Silas Jayne," he says. "I have a soft spot for him, I have to admit."
Nice wise guys

At the same time, Drummond says he knew that Jayne could be dangerous. The same is true of the many mobsters Drummond covered. They rarely agreed to appear on camera, but when they chatted with Drummond and other reporters, they often seemed like amiable fellows.

"They claimed they were providing goods and service to the public: girls, gambling, whatever people wanted," Drummond says. "But you have to remember they're very ruthless."

Drummond still gets phone calls with tips about investigations and crimes. He does occasional reporting as a freelancer, including the Family Secrets trial. He says that case revealed the continued decline of the Chicago Outfit's power.

"The Family Secrets trial is very significant, but the trial that devastated the mob as we know it occurred in Kansas City 20 years before," he says. That case -- Operation Strawman -- is another chapter in Drummond's book.

Years ago, his fellow journalists started calling him Bulldog Drummond. In part, it was a reference to a detective who appeared in a series of 1920s novels, but it also seemed like an apt description of this newsman.

"They thought I was very tenacious," he says. And so he still is.

Thanks to Robert Loerzel

Friday, June 06, 2014

With Attorney Dead, Mob Boss Joey "The Clown" Lombardo Claims Bad Lawyering in Appeal

Chicago mob boss Joey "The Clown" Lombardo is in federal prison because people died. Now he is blaming his conviction on his trial lawyer, who is also dead.

Attorney Rick Halprin died by suicide a year ago, long after losing the Lombardo case which was part of Chicago's infamous "Family Secrets" murder trial. Lombardo now has a new attorney, who has filed a new motion to get the 85-year-old out of prison.

While a gag order seemed fitting in a case where the defendant was known as "The Clown," Lombardo was no easy client for his longtime attorney Rick Halprin.

During his notorious career as a top Chicago hoodlum, Lombardo was known to sport a newspaper mask at the courthouse, and in his heyday he liked to lead news hounds on hide and seek missions, once through a construction site. But in the "Family Secrets" murder case the stakes couldn't have been higher for Lombardo and other mob bosses. Joey "The Clown" was sentenced to life in prison, and has been in solitary confinement at the federal penitentiary in Butner, N.C.

Now Halprin is being vilified in a Lombardo appeal memo newly obtained by the I-Team. Lombardo says he wants and deserves freedom because Halprin was ineffective, incompetent, deficient and unprofessional.

His new attorney from Florida is claiming Halprin did little or no work investigating the evidence and witness claims used against Lombardo, and that Halprin "ensured his conviction" by calling Lombardo a liar in closing arguments.

Lombardo's current attorney didn't respond to I-Team questions. In legal papers he claims that Halprin received extra money from the court to investigate decades-old evidence, but didn't do so.

In the motion, Halprin's work is described as so inept that Lombardo's conviction should be thrown out or he should be let out on bond.

Bad lawyering claims are not unusual, but with Halprin dead they will go unchallenged. Prosecutors, however, intend to respond in court.

Thanks to I-Team.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Despite Accusations of #ElderAbuse, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo to Remain in "The Hole"

Imprisoned Chicago hit man and 84-year-old mob boss Joey Lombardo will remain in solitary confinement.

In Wednesday's ruling, US District Judge James Zagel denied Lombardo's request to get out of what is commonly known as "the hole" saying "this court has no jurisdiction" to make that decision. In Judge Zagel's order, he suggests Lombardo file a lawsuit in North Carolina where he is currently locked up.

His attorneys accuse the government of "elder abuse."

For decades, Joey Lombardo has been known in mob circles as "the clown." But on Monday, his courthouse hijinks and comedic banter with the media have given way to a tear-jerking motion for mercy. Or at least that is what Mr. Lombardo might like you to believe. Attorneys for the aged Chicago outfit boss say he is just a sick old man in a wheelchair and should be removed from solitary confinement, where he has been locked up 24 hours a day as a violent menace.

Long gone are the days when Joey the Clown wore a newspaper mask to court, or led news crews on a sprint through downtown. Since Lombardo was sentenced to life in prison during the landmark Family Secrets mob murders case, he has been locked up at the Butner North Carolina penitentiary under what are known as "special administrative measures" -- shorthand for solitary confinement.

Lombardo's lawyers say the lockdown was meant to keep international terrorists from plotting attacks.

In their motion to release Lombardo from solitary, they say "the imposition of these draconian conditions against an 84-year-old, chronically ill, wheelchair-user can only be an attempt to appear 'tough on crime' by engaging in 'elder abuse' against a man who once had a reputation (deserved or not) as a major player in the Chicago 'Mob.'"

Lombardo was convicted of personally murdering those who crossed the outfit even while overseeing the Chicago mob. He is a career hoodlum having risen through the ranks from syndicate soldier. But at 84, his lawyers say keeping his on lockdown is "unduly restrictive on Petitioner's physical well-being and his mental health, especially given his advanced age." And they contend "punitive confinement for more than 30 days constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment."

In the government's response on file Monday, they pay homage to Lombardo's moniker "the clown" then ridicule his effort to escape lockdown, stating: "defendant does not even properly allege that this matter is ripe for federal court review in any forum, let alone this one. In addition to the obvious jurisdictional problem noted above, the defendant does not contend that he has exhausted his administrative remedies."

Prosecutors say Lombardo has already been denied a similar request once before. These special administrative measures are generally imposed by the Bureau of Prisons and have been used on terror suspects, but other Chicago mob bosses have been put in solitary as well.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Should Joey #TheClown Lombardo be Released from Solitary Confinement?

Imprisoned Chicago hit man and 84-year-old mob boss Joey Lombardo says he wants out of solitary confinement. His attorneys are accusing of the government of "elder abuse."

For decades, Joey Lombardo has been known in mob circles as "the clown." But on Monday, his courthouse hijinks and comedic banter with the media have given way to a tear-jerking motion for mercy. Or at least that is what Mr. Lombardo might like you to believe. Attorneys for the aged Chicago outfit boss say he is just a sick old man in a wheelchair and should be removed from solitary confinement, where he has been locked up 24 hours a day as a violent menace.

Long gone are the days when Joey the Clown wore a newspaper mask to court, or led news crews on a sprint through downtown.

Since Lombardo was sentenced to life in prison during the landmark Family Secrets mob murders case, he has been locked up at the Butner North Carolina penitentiary under what are known as "special administrative measures" -- shorthand for solitary confinement.

Lombardo's lawyers say the lockdown was meant to keep international terrorists from plotting attacks.

In their motion to release Lombardo from solitary, they say "the imposition of these draconian conditions against an 84-year-old, chronically ill, wheelchair-user can only be an attempt to appear 'tough on crime' by engaging in 'elder abuse' against a man who once had a reputation (deserved or not) as a major player in the Chicago 'Mob.'"

Lombardo was convicted of personally murdering those who crossed the outfit even while overseeing the Chicago mob. He is a career hoodlum having risen through the ranks from syndicate soldier. But at 84, his lawyers say keeping his on lockdown is "unduly restrictive on Petitioner's physical well-being and his mental health, especially given his advanced age." And they contend "punitive confinement for more than 30 days constitutes "cruel and unusual punishment."

In the government's response on file Monday, they pay homage to Lombardo's moniker "the clown" then ridicule his effort to escape lockdown, stating: "defendant does not even properly allege that this matter is ripe for federal court review in any forum, let alone this one. In addition to the obvious jurisdictional problem noted above, the defendant does not contend that he has exhausted his administrative remedies."

Prosecutors say Lombardo has already been denied a similar request once before. These special administrative measures are generally imposed by the Bureau of Prisons and have been used on terror suspects, but other Chicago mob bosses have been put in solitary as well.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Condolences to Family of Victor J. Cacciatore Sr. Real Estate Magnate Testified at #OperationFamilySecrets Trial

Victor J. Cacciatore Sr. made the family name larger than life. Just take a drive past the iconic Jos. Cacciatore & Co. Real Estate sign that greets drivers just before the Chicago Stock Exchange on Congress, marking one of Chicago’s oldest and most successful real estate companies.

Much of what Mr. Cacciatore did was on a large scale. He raised a large family — 10 children — in the River Forest home he shared with his wife of 57 years, his high school sweetheart Charlotte. And he’d grow the family’s business empire beyond real estate to law, street sweeping, and banking.

Mr. Cacciatore, 83, died Monday after a long battle with cancer.

The son of a humble immigrant who came from Sicily at age 13, Mr. Cacciatore had big dreams for his family.

“I remember him saying, many times, ‘mediocrity should not be in your vocabulary,’” his daughter Susan Lasek. “He said ‘never be a procrastinator.’ He taught us that if you needed to do something, do it right away or it’s not going to get done. ‘Part of a successful person,’ he would say, ‘is that you do things. You’re a doer.’ My dad is a doer.”

“Everybody knew Vic,” said longtime friend John Turner, attorney at the Law Offices of Victor J. Cacciatore since 1963. “He always was a businessman, starting out with parlay cards in high school. His first big business adventure was selling chances on portable radios. He was a great raffle guy.”

But his youth wasn’t just fun and games. Mr. Cacciatore spent much of his time as a teen in his father’s real estate office, learning the tricks of the trade.

After graduating from DePaul University where he earned both his undergraduate and law degrees, he served in the U.S. Army as a Counterintelligence Corps Special Agent in France.

His ambitions upon returning led him to follow in his father’s footsteps, taking over his real estate firm Jos. Cacciatore & Co. and expanding it. But with financial success came some trouble. In 2007, he testified in the Operation Family Secrets trial about being extorted by the mob during the early 1980s. He was the victim of mob threats, including having his back windshield shot out and receiving threatening phone calls. He said he was initially extorted for $5 million and wound up paying $200,000 to get the Outfit off his back.

The threats were something he discussed with his closest friends, but it was a matter they kept in confidence. “It was extortion because he was doing so well. He was really doing well, and of course, he was one of the hits,” Turner said. “It didn’t matter that he was a good Italian boy. Vic was right in the middle. It was a perfect mark. When we found out [about the extortion], we couldn’t believe it.”

Turner called that time in Mr. Cacciatore’s life a “terrible, unfortunate thing.” “He was relieved when it was all put behind him, all finished,” Turner said.

Above all, Mr. Cacciatore’s home life was at the core of his success, friends and family say.

He met his wife Charlotte at age 15. They got married in 1956. “It was a beautiful strong marriage. They respected each other. They went through ups and downs but they loved each other,” Susan Lasek said. It was a great partnership, son Philip Cacciatore said: “My parents never had help . . . it’s pretty amazing. They’re amazing people.”

Charlotte was Polish. He was Italian. And she knew she had to learn a key thing to make him happy. “He loved my mom and my mom made him his favorite, homemade spaghetti and meatballs. That was his thing,” daughter Susan said. “She learned how to cook when they first got married. She didn’t know how to cook a lot of Italian dishes, so she learned from my grandmother Cacciatore. That’s how you win a man’s heart. Through the tummy.”

Mr. Cacciatore himself became a pancake maker, whipping up flapjacks for his family every Sunday. He took all 10 kids on fishing trips in Canada, and to an island in South Carolina. He talked about them in nearly all of his public speeches at charity and civic events. “There is one word that Vic used more than anything in the world, family,” Turner said. “He harped on that. Family was the basis, was the keystone, was the word he used every time he gave a speech. . . . He never failed to mention the fact that family was behind everything. And it wasn’t phony. It wasn’t just a catchphrase to use.”

Mr. Cacciatore was also a philanthropist, donating to his alma maters Mount Carmel High School and DePaul University, where he personally gave funds to construct Cacciatore Stadium, which serves as the athletic field at the Lincoln Park campus.

The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations are sent in memory of Victor J. Cacciatore to Misericordia Heart of Mercy, a nonprofit the family is very involved with.

In addition to his daughter Susan Lasek and son Philip Cacciatore, Mr. Cacciatore is survived by his wife Charlotte, his other sons Victor Jr., Joseph, Peter, Chris, and Danny; his other daughters Cynthia Bickel, Mary Beth Cacciatore and Gloria Turan; 21 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Visitation will be Friday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. at St. Vincent Ferrer Roman Catholic Church in River Forest.

The funeral mass is to start at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Vincent. Burial to follow at the Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside.

Thanks to Tina Sfondeles.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Frank Calabrese Jr "Operation Family Secrets" Movie in Development with Nicholas Pileggi, Author of "Goodfellas" and "Casino" as Executive Producer and Gary Ross of "The Hunger Games" as Director

One of Chicago's most notorious mobsters has a new home. Fox Chicago has learned convicted gangster Frank Calabrese, Sr. has been moved to a federal prison in North Carolina.

Calabrese, Sr. was recently transferred to Butner Federal Correctional Complex in North Carolina. He is serving life behind bars after his conviction in the historic Family Secrets mob trial of committing more than a dozen murders for the Chicago Outfit. For the last several years Calabrese was held under the highest level of security at a federal prison in Springfield, MO. Despite having virtually no contact with the outside world, Calabrese allegedly convinced a prison chaplain to pass messages to associates in Illinois, in an attempt to recover mob loot worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Frank Calabrese, Jr., who secretly recorded his father for the feds and testified against him during the trial, says it's clear why the Federal Bureau of Prisons moved his dad.

"My father's a hot item, meaning that nobody wants to deal with him, and a lot of time in the Bureau of Prisons, instead of dealing with problem prisoners, they'd rather ship them to another prison," Calabrese, Jr. said.

Calabrese, Jr. wrote a best-selling book about his decision to abandon the mob lifestyle and go against his father. He says that compelling story is now being turned into a movie with some Hollywood heavy hitters.

Nicholas Pileggi, who wrote the mob classics "Goodfellas" and "Casino" has signed on to executive produce the Calabrese story. Gary Ross of "The Hunger Games" has agreed to direct the movie. They've also landed Stephen Schiff as screenwriter, who wrote the recent "Wall Street" sequel. The William Morris Endeavor agency is involved, which is headed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel's brother Ari. Calabrese says rather than sell the rights to a studio, he wanted to put together an independent team to make the movie so he could retain some control.

"What I was concerned with is not just somebody that wants to make the next shoot 'em up gangster movie. This is about family. This is about the dark side of crime," he said.

Calabrese says nobody has been cast yet, but he's heard several a-list actors are interested in the role of his father, whom he calls a Shakespearian figure.

"The multiple personalities--in the book I explain there was a good side to my dad. There was a great side to my dad. There were multiple sides to my dad. He could walk in a room and win everybody over, and the next minute he could walk in a room and everybody would run for their life."

Thanks to Dane Placko.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Family Secrets Mob Trial Convictions Upheld


An appeals court has upheld the convictions of several reputed mobsters in a landmark trial credited with delivering a body blow to Chicago's mob. But Tuesday's opinion cited at least one trial error. And a dissenting judge argued two defendants' convictions should have been reversed.

The defense asked the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals for a do-over of the 2007 Family Secrets trial. Their grounds included that Judge James Zagel talked to a panelist privately who told him she felt threatened. He later dismissed her.

The court said Zagel should have told attorneys about the comment but found the error was harmless.

Dissenting in part, Judge Diane Wood said she would have overturned Frank Calabresse, Sr., and James Marcello's convictions on grounds they'd been tried previously for the same crimes.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Appellate Judge Raises Concerns Over Family Secrets Mob Trial Judge

A federal appellate judge has expressed misgivings about a lower court judge's contact with jurors during Chicago's highest profile mob trial in decades — one credited with helping to weaken organized crime.

The judge commented Monday as attorneys for convicted reputed mobsters argued for a do-over of the 2007 Family Secrets trial before the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Jurors five years ago convicted reputed mob boss James Marcello and others of racketeering conspiracy that included 18 murders.

Appellate Judge Diane Wood told Monday's hearing she's concerned by accounts that trial Judge James Zagel seemed to have "private chats" with jurors that didn't become part of the official trial record.

Defense attorney Francis Lipuma singled out how Zagel dismissed one juror without consulting the trial lawyers.

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