The Chicago Syndicate: James Marcello

Showing posts with label James Marcello. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Marcello. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Joey the Clown Given Life in Prison

Reputed mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo was sentenced Monday to life in federal prison for serving as a leader of Chicago's organized crime family and the murder of a government witness in a union pension fraud case.

Lombardo, 80, was among three reputed mob bosses and two alleged henchmen convicted in September 2007 at the landmark Operation Family Secrets trial which lifted the curtain of secrecy from the seamy operations of Chicago's underworld.

"The worst things you have done are terrible and I see no regret in them," U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said in imposing sentence. He also sentenced Lombardo separately to 168 months for going on the lam for eight months after he was charged.

Lombardo grumbled that he had been eating breakfast in a pancake house on Sept. 27, 1974, when ski-masked men beat federal witness Daniel Seifert in front of his wife and 4-year-old son and then shot him to death at point-blank range.

"Now I suppose the court is going to send me to a life in prison for something I did not do," Lombardo said. He said he was sorry for the suffering of the Seifert family but added: "I did not kill Danny Seifert."

In a last-minute effort to bolster his alibi, he read from two documents signed by Hollywood private eye Anthony Pellicano, now serving a 15-year sentence for wiretapping stars such as Sylvester Stallone and bribing police to run names through law enforcement databases. Pellicano was originally from Chicago.

Lombardo was one of the best-known figures in the Chicago underworld. His lawyer, Rick Halprin, told jurors during the trial that he merely "ran the oldest and most reliable floating craps game on Grand Avenue" but was not a killer.

Witnesses said he was the boss of the mob's Grand Avenue street crew — which extorted "street tax" from local businesses and engaged in other illegal activities.

He was sent to federal prison along with International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Roy Lee Williams and union pension manager Allen Dorfman after they were convicted of plotting to bribe U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon, D-Nev., to help defeat a trucking deregulation bill. Cannon was charged with no wrongdoing in the case.

Lombardo was later convicted in a Las Vegas casino skimming case.

Seifert was gunned down two days before he was due to testify before a federal grand jury. His two sons spoke at the sentencing about the pain of losing their father when they were still children.

Joseph Seifert recalled how he saw mobsters "chase my father like a pack of hungry animals" before shooting him.

Nicholas Seifert said that he succumbed to depression over the killing. "I felt like a coward for many years for not seeking revenge for what those men did to my father," he said.

Lombardo used a wheelchair in court. Halprin declined to say what health problems his client has but said he needed to be sent to a prison where he would get adequate medical care.

Zagel acknowledged that he thought carefully about Lombardo's age in deciding on a sentence. But he said he wanted one that would not "deprecate the seriousness of the crime."

Zagel has already sentenced Calabrese to life and reputed mobster Paul Schiro to 20 years. Schiro was sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison seven years ago after pleading guilty to being part of a gang of jewel thieves run by the Chicago police department's former chief of detectives.

Still to be sentenced are James Marcello, reputedly one of the top leaders of the mob, and Anthony Doyle, a former Chicago police officer who became an enforcer for Frank Calabrese. Also still to be sentenced is Nicholas Calabrese, Frank's brother and an admitted hit man who became the government's star witness.

Thanks to Mike Robinson

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Operation Family Secrets Mob Trial Sentencing to Continue This Week

Federal agents tried for more than three decades to penetrate the deepest secrets of Chicago's organized crime family -- the names of those responsible for 18 ruthless murders aimed at silencing witnesses and meting out mob vengeance. They even called the investigation Operation Family Secrets.

Their patience was rewarded six years ago when a mob hit man began to spill the family secrets as part of a deal to keep himself out of the execution chamber. And starting this week, three aging dons of the Chicago underworld convicted in September 2007 as a result of that testimony are due to receive long sentences -- quite likely life.

Two alleged henchmen also convicted after the 10-week Family Secrets trial are expected to get long sentences as well.

"These were the main guys who ran the crime syndicate -- they were ruthless, they were absolutely ruthless," says retired police detective Al Egan, also a former longtime member of an FBI-led organized crime task force.

Wisecracking mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 80; convicted loan shark and hit man Frank Calabrese Sr., 71; and James Marcello, 66, all face a maximum of punishment of life in prison.

Former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle, 64, and convicted jewel thief Paul Schiro, 71, weren't convicted of any murders but the jury found them guilty of participating in what prosecutors say was a long-running conspiracy that included killings, gambling, loan-sharking and squeezing businesses for "street tax."

The case is a major success for the FBI in its war on the mob.

"It led to the removal or displacement of some of the most capable guys in organized crime," says author John Binder whose book, "The Chicago Outfit," tells the story of organized crime in the nation's third largest city. And it sends a strong message to members of organized crime: Do you really want to be the guy at the top? Because we're going to get you in the future."

Lombardo is the most colorful defendant. He was sent to federal prison in the 1980s for conspiring with International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Roy Lee Williams and union pension fund manager Allen Dorfman to bribe Sen. Howard Cannon, D-Nev., to help defeat a trucking deregulation bill. Cannon was never charged with any wrongdoing and the bill became law with his support.

When Lombardo got out, he resumed life as the boss of the mob's Grand Avenue street crew, prosecutors say. He denies it but his attorney, Rick Halprin, told the trial he ran "the oldest and most reliable floating craps game on Grand Avenue."

When the Family Secrets indictment was unsealed, Lombardo went on the lam for nine months. And when he was brought before Zagel, the irrepressible clown quickly lived up to his nickname. The judge asked him why he had not seen a doctor lately.

"I was supposed to see him nine months ago," Lombardo rasped, "but I was -- what do they call it? -- I was unavailable."

"A little joke now and then never hurts," he told the trial. But the jury found him responsible for gunning down a federal witness.

The jury also found Calabrese responsible for seven murders.

His own brother, Nicholas Calabrese, 66, testified that Frank liked to strangle victims with a rope and slash their throats to make sure they were dead.

Nicholas Calabrese became the government's star witness after he dropped a bloody glove near the scene of a mob murder. He agreed to talk out of fear that agents would match his DNA to that on the glove and he would be sentenced to death.

Among other things, he said his brother Frank liked to give names to their mob hits.

One was known as "Strangers in the Night," he testified. That was because the Frank Sinatra song was playing on the jukebox while two men were strangled in 1978 in a suburban Cicero restaurant.

Marcello was at one time the mob's big boss, according to federal investigators.

The jury held him among those responsible for the murder of Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, at one time the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for the Joe Pesci character in the movie "Casino."

Spilotro and his brother Michael were found buried in a shallow grave in an Indiana cornfield.

Doyle is the only one of those convicted at the trial who is not accused of direct involvement in the murders.

Schiro was sentenced to prison for 5 1/2 years in 2002 for being part of a gang of jewel thieves run by the former chief of detectives of the Chicago police department, William Hanhardt. Prosecutors claimed he was to blame for a mob hit in Phoenix. But the jury deadlocked on the case.

Nicholas Calabrese is to be sentenced Feb. 23.

Thanks to CBS2

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Restitution Filing Doubles Value Requested for Mob Murder Victims

In a separate court filing, the lives of 14 mob murder victims have gone up in value.

Federal prosecutors originally filed court motions last fall citing the earnings potential of victims and the monetary loss to their relatives. At that time, restitution to be paid by top Chicago mobsters convicted in Operation Family Secrets was put at $3.9 million.

Updated figures filed in federal court on Friday put the restitution at $7,450,686.00. Prosecutors say the increased value is based on new information provided to experts who figured the restitution. Government lawyers are asking the court to force lead mob defendants to split that figure five ways and be made to pay survivors of those who were rubbed out by assassins.

The convicted hoodlums who are being asked to pay up are: Frank Calabrese Sr., James "Jimmy the Man" Marcello, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Paul "The Indian" Schiro and Anthony "Twan" Doyle.

All of the men are due to be sentenced by the end of February, at which time Judge James Zagel is expected to impose restitution and also $20 million in fines that the government has requested.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Reputed Mob Bosses, Frank Calabrese Sr, and James Marcello Seek Delay in Sentencing

Two reputed mob bosses convicted of taking part in a murder conspiracy have asked a federal judge to postpone their sentencing.

James Marcello and convicted hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. filed their requests Wednesday with Judge James B. Zagel. Calabrese is due for sentencing Dec. 11 and Marcello Dec. 17. They were convicted at the landmark Operation Family Secrets trial.

Marcello says he needs time to prepare and Calabrese says he needs more time to talk with his lawyer because he has been thrown into "a segregation unit commonly known as 'the hole'" in the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Federal spokesman Randall Samborn had no comment.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sentencing of Mob Handyman, Thomas Johnson, Kicks Off Chicago Outfit Sentencing Season

'Tis the season to be sentenced for the Chicago Outfit.

By the time the New Year rings in, more than a half dozen hoodlums will have guaranteed reservations at the Holiday Pen.

Mob handyman Thomas Johnson on Tuesday became the first of several Operation Family Secrets defendant to be sentenced this month. Johnson, of Willow Springs, was handed a 30-month prison term and three years of supervision after pleading guilty to his role as an Outfit handyman. U.S. District Judge James Zagel also fined Johnson $7500. He will surrender on March 3, 2009 to begin serving his sentence.

"It is undisputed that Johnson for over seven years engaged in illegal conduct for and with Outfit associate Michael Marcello and his (Michael Marcello's) brother, Outfit boss James Marcello," stated federal prosecutors in sentencing reports. "Johnson's full-time employer was Cicero-based 'M&M Amusements,' which was a large-scale illegal gambling business operating for the financial benefit of the Chicago Outfit."

In Johnson's plea agreement, he admitted rigging video poker machines so that they could be used for actual wagering. "Johnson and others did so by installing a 'knock-off' button or switch which enabled the bar owner to keep track of winning and losing plays. Johnson and his co- conspirators then placed these illegally-altered machines at dozens of bars, restaurants, and clubs throughout Chicagoland" stated prosecutors.

Johnson's talents were not limited to tinkering on machines. He was also a skilled bookkeeper, according to federal investigators. "He created two sets of written documents during the weekly accountings held with the proprietors where the gambling machines were located. Johnson would record the true amount of income retrieved from the machines, and split this figure with the proprietors as agreed. On 'settle-up day,' Johnson also created another set of written records ("collection reports") which falsely recorded a lower amount of income generated by the machines, namely 50% of the actual income generated" authorities said.

Johnson's pleaded guilty of conducting an illegal gambling business and tax fraud. Government agents estimated that he cheated the IRS out of nearly $1.69 million.

Attorneys portrayed Johnson, 53, as little more than a mob stooge, who was a "minor participant, if not a minimal participant. In a court filing, they said Johnson's "involvement was limited to participating in a non-violent illegal gambling operation. Furthermore, within the gambling operation, Mr. Johnson was a low level employee. Mr. Johnson regularly visited business owners participating in the gambling operation to collect proceeds and collection reports from the machines. In return, Mr. Johnson was paid $2,400.00 per month."

The Family Secrets defendants who were convicted at trial will be up for sentencing next week, including former Chicago Police Department officer Anthony Doyle and Paul "The Indian" Schiro, both on Dec. 10

The namesake of the USA vs. Frank Calabrese case as it is officially known, Frank "The Breeze" Calabrese, will be sentenced on Dec. 11 in the Dirksen Building courthouse.

He will be followed by Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo on Dec. 15 and James "Little Jimmy" Marcello on Dec. 17.

The key witness in the landmark case, one-time Outfit assassin Nick Calabrese, will be sentenced on Jan. 26, 2009. Nick Calabrese, who has admitted his role in more than a dozen gangland hits, turned government witness and fingered his brother Frank in the mob plots.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Barb Markoff

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mobster Offers Only Pennies Per Hour in Restitution to Families of Victims

Prosecutors want James "Little Jimmy" Marcello to pay millions in restitution for the victims' lost lifetime earnings.

There were fourteen of them, killed in cold blood by the Chicago Mob. Federal prosecutors want James "Little Jimmy" Marcello to pay millions of dollars in restitution for the victims' lost lifetime earnings.

Lawyers for Mr. Marcello contend that he should only be responsible for paying funeral expenses of victims, under case law, and that he really shouldn't pay anything. And in a unique argument against the payment of any restitution, Marcello attorney Marc Martin states that certain mob murder victims would have been eventually been put in prison with measly income potential.

"The government's expert speculates as to the earnings potential and life expectancy of certain murder victims," wrote Mr. Martin in a motion filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court. "The expert failed to take into account the victims' actual circumstances, i.e., their specific actual damages. For example, the evidence showed that Nicholas D'Andrea and Michael Spilotro were criminals. If they had been convicted and sentenced (Michael Spilotro was awaiting a federal criminal trial at the time of his death), their prison earning capacity would have been pennies an hour."

Marcello's lawyer also challenges whether convicted mob bosses should be on the hook for restitution for "victims for whom the jury did not reach a verdict during the special verdict phase (Henry Cosentino, Paul Haggerty, John Mendell, Vincent Moretti, Donald Renno, Nicholas D'Andrea and Emil Vaci). Restitution cannot be awarded for such persons. A conviction is a condition precedent for a restitution judgment," states Martin. "There is no authority for awarding restitution in instances where the jury fails to reach a verdict."

As a result, Martin says "Defendant James Marcello respectfully moves this Honorable Court to deny the government's request for restitution and/or order any lawful and equitable relief."

Marcello is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 17 by Judge James Zagel. Co-defendant's in the Operation: Family Secrets case will also be sentenced before Christmas. All are facing the prospects of lengthy stays in the penitentiary for their roles in a lucrative, decades-long Outfit enterprise.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Ann Pistone

Monday, October 06, 2008

Top Mob Fighter Stepping Down from the Chicago Crime Commission

After less than three years as head of the Chicago Crime Commission, James Wagner is stepping down for unstated "personal reasons."

The surprise announcement from the nation's oldest, private crime-fighting organization was made without fanfare in a Thursday afternoon fax from CCC Chairman Robert M. Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald cited Mr. Wagner's efforts in the commissions opposition to a Chicago-owned gambling casino and to the strengthening of state gaming regulations.

Wagner is a lifetime lawman who spent most of his time on the job as an FBI agent. As a career special agent with the FBI here in Chicago, he toiled for years on Outfit cases, eventually becoming supervisor of the organized crime squad.

Wagner had trained many of the federal agents whose investigation resulted in last year's convictions of top hoodlums Frank "The Breeze" Calabrese Sr., Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, James "Little Jimmy" Marcello and more than a dozen other Chicago mob figures in connection with 18 unsolved gangland murders.

Considered an expert on Chicago organized crime lore, Wagner was called as the first prosecution witness in the federal case known as Operation Family Secrets. His testimony set the stage in the landmark trial.

Wagner came to the CCC in January 2006 after a run as chief investigator for the Illinois Gaming Board. During his tenure, Wagner rejuvenated the crime commission's focus on it roots: the Chicago Mob.

Organized crime was raging when the commission was founded in 1919, the same year that Al Capone moved to Chicago.

The announcement of Wagner's departure doesn't indicate if he will be taking a new position elsewhere and he was not immediately available for comment.

Several directors of the crime commission offered praise for Wagner, noting the "many accomplishments" that occurred under his leadership. "He was the personification of the Chicago Crime Commission," said commission chairman Fitzgerald. According to the CCC statement, a successor has not been named.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Family Secrets Mobsters Seeking Gifts of Leniency and Mercy During Holiday Season Sentencing

It's not even October but several top Chicago Outfit bosses are already thinking about Christmas and hoping they'll receive gifts of leniency.

In rat-a-tat succession this December, five mobsters who were convicted in the milestone Operation: Family Secrets prosecution last year are now scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel.

The pre-Christmas list of defendants who will stand before Judge Zagel begins with Anthony "Twan" Doyle, a former Chicago police officer. Doyle is to be sentenced Monday, December 8. Doyle's sentencing and the others will take place in Zagel's courtroom on the 25th floor of the Dirksen Federal Building, 219 S. Dearborn in downtown Chicago.

An Italian-American who was born "Passafume," the ex-cop changed his name to the Irish "Doyle" when he joined the Chicago Police Department. He was convicted of being the Outfit's "go-to guy" during some of his 21 years on the police force. The jury found that Doyle was part of a racketeering conspiracy that used violence to achieve its goals.

Next up in court will be Paul "The Indian" Schiro, who is due to be sentenced Wednesday, December 10. Schiro was convicted on racketeering charges.

The following day, Thursday December 11, lead defendant Frank "The Breeze" Calabrese, Sr. will be sentenced. It was Calabrese Sr.'s son and brother who both turned government witnesses and brought down the elder's Outfit street crew like a house of parlay cards. Nearly one year ago, a federal jury blamed "The Breeze" for nearly a dozen gangland murders and on Dec. 11 Calabrese Sr. is will face a sentence that will likely keep him locked up for the rest of his life.

The pre-holiday sentencing will continue the following week, on Monday December 15, when Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo will appear before Judge Zagel. Lombardo was also convicted of racketeering in connection with the old, unsolved mob murders, including those of notorious Las Vegas boss Anthony "Ant" Spilotro and his brother Michael. The Spilotros were found buried in an Indiana cornfield in 1986 after a dispute with their Outfit superiors. "The Clown" is known for his courtroom antics, such as peering out from behind a homemade newspaper mask, wise-cracking with lawyers and judges and once leading news crews on a downtown chase through a construction site. He is likely to be less jovial on Dec. 15, when he faces what will be tantamount to a life sentence.

The final sentencing for the five major Family Secrets defendants will be Wednesday, December 17. James "Little Jimmy" Marcello will also face the potential of life in prison for his role in mob killings and the collection of Outfit "street tax." The mob crew strong-armed protection money from businesses, ran sports bookmaking and video poker businesses as well as loan sharking operations. They rubbed out some of those who might have spilled their secrets to the FBI.

Admitted mob hitman Nick Calabrese, brother of Frank "The Breeze," will be sentenced Monday, January 26, 2009. Nick Calabrese had a hand in at least 15 gangland hits before turning informant. His cooperation was key to the original indictment of 14 Outfit bosses and soldiers and the success of the prosecutions.

Several lower-echelon members of the mob crew have already been sentenced. Also, Judge Zagel has denied defense motions for new trials.

Sentencing Dates

Anthony Doyle Sentencing Dec 8

Paul Schiro Sentencing Dec 10

Frank Calabrese Sr. Sentencing Dec 11

Joseph Lombardo Sentencing Dec. 15

James Marcello Sentencing Dec 17

Nicholas Calabrese Sentencing Jan 26, 2009

Frank Schweihs -- Died before trial.

Already Sentenced

Michael Marcello -- 8 1/2 years prison
Nicholas Ferriola three years in prison
Joseph Venezia -- 40 months prison
Dennis Johnson -- 6 months in prison

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Friday, September 12, 2008

Mystery of Juror Excused from Family Secrets Mob Trial Revealed

The Chicago Mob is an illicit business, notorious for its myths, mystery and folklore.

One baffling moment in the recent history of the Outfit now has an explanation. The incident occurred last year near the end of the Operation: Family Secrets prosecution of five members of the Outfit.

One juror, an alternate, was excused from the panel without explanation by trial Judge James Zagel.

In a ruling on defendants' post-trial motions Wednesday, Judge Zagel, for the first time, disclosed the reason for the juror's dismissal. She seemed to be frightened of the mob.

Zagel wrote that the female juror's posture and demeanor "revealed at best discomfort and perhaps anxiety or panic." When she asked the judge if any threats had been made against her during the trial, he excused her. None of the defense attorneys objected at the time.

There have been numerous cases the past 75 years in which the Outfit tried to buy justice and influence judges and juries when hoodlums were on trial. Mob bosses have also been known to silence witnesses and intimidate jurors.

For those reasons, the names of jury members impaneled in the Family Secrets case were not made public, and they were anonymous. But, considering the well-documented history of Outfit intimidation and violence against those working for justice, we now know that at least one juror seemed unwilling to take the risk.

The five members of the Chicago Outfit were all convicted last year in the government's landmark mob case and Wednesday were all denied new trials by Judge Zagel.

In a written order handed down by Zagel, the guilty verdicts for murder, conspiracy and racketeering will stand against Outfit bosses Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Frank "The Breeze" Calabrese Sr, James "Jimmy the Man" Marcello and Outfit soldier Paul "the Indian" Schiro. Mob associate and former Chicago police officer Anthony "Twan" Doyle was found guilty of racketeering. His post-trial motion was also denied.

Judge Zagel said in his order that the motions were being denied "because there was ample evidence to support the jury's verdict" and that the jury was within its right to believe government recordings and witness testimony.

Specifically, Zagel noted Joe Lombardo's testimony on the witness stand worked against him and that Lombardo's advertisement in a newspaper stating he was no longer in the Outfit was "nothing more than a stunt."

The defendants argued that Judge Zagel should have granted a mistrial when he received a note during the trial from a juror saying that other members of the jury had formed opinions about the case before all the evidence had been heard. The defendants' motion stated that "some [jurors] also mentioned that they would be very upset if they had to deliberate for more than a few days while waiting on a decision that should already be made or close to being known." After receiving the note, Judge Zagel questioned each juror, dismissed two of them and says that he stands by his determination that the rest of the jury was not tainted.

Lombardo, Marcello, Schiro and Doyle also argued they were entitled to a new trial because a juror observed Calabrese threaten to kill Assistant US Attorney T. Marcus Funk, during closing arguments. Zagel stated jurors were able to differentiate between the defendants, so it would not have clouded their judgment.

Zagel acknowledged that Funk did "misstate some of the evidence in his closing argument." But the judge denied Schiro's motion for a mistrial because Funk and co-council Mitch Mars pointed out the mistake.

Zagel said he disagreed with several of the defendants' complaint that media coverage leading up to and during the trial tainted jurors and that the identities of the jurors should not have been anonymous.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Ann Pistone

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nicholas Ferriola, Son of Former Chicago Mob Boss, Sentenced to Prison

The son of a former Chicago Outfit boss was sentenced Tuesday to three years in federal prison for profiting from illegal sports gambling and extorting businesses on behalf of the mob.

Nicholas Ferriola admitted that from at least 1999 until he was indicted in March of 2007, he profited up to $160,000 a month from running gambling operations as part of the Outfit's 26th street crew. His father Joseph "Joe Nagal" Ferriola, a convicted felon, headed the Chicago mob from 1986 until he had a pair of heart transplants and died of cardiac failure three years later.

At Tuesday's sentencing hearing, the younger Ferriola was ordered by Judge James Zagel to forfeit more than $9 million and pay $6,000 in fines. Federal officials believe Ferriola made more than $9 million dollars during his career with the Chicago outfit, a figure Ferriola disputed. According to filings by the US attorney's office, Ferriola was pulled over when Chicago Police in 1999, suspected of driving under the influence. Officers found $15,000 in Ferriola's pants pocket. He was a high school drop out with no verified employment history and had no explanation for the cash. Weeks later, the government caught a conversation on tape, between Ferriola and a senior member of the Chicago outfit, Frank "The Breeze" Calabrese, discussing profits. Ferriola told Calabrese he is "making a hundred thousand" dollars each week. Calabrese Sr. told Ferriola to be careful when he's talking about money.

Ferriola, 33, is considered by federal law enforcement to be a low-level hoodlum compared to his co-defendants in last summer's Operation Family Secrets trial. Outfit bosses Frank Calabrese Sr., Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and James Marcello were among five Outfit bosses found guilty of 18 mob hits that went unsolved for years. The gangland killings included the murder of Tony "Ant" Spilotro, the Outfit's Las Vegas boss and the inspiration for Joe Pesci's character in the movie "Casino". Ferriola was not accused in any of the murders.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Ann Pistone

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Joseph Venezia Says He Only Worked for the Mob and Was Not in the Mob

A low-echelon courier for the Chicago Outfit alleges that federal prosecutors are trying to throw the book at him because he is Italian.

Joseph Venezia of Hillside pleaded guilty to running a gambling business and hiding the his profits from the IRS. He was charged with more than a dozen Chicago hoodlums in the Operation: Family Secrets mob case.

In a court filing, Venezia attorneys state that the hoodlum "takes objection to the investigating agent's conclusion that he was an 'associate' of the Chicago Outfit. There is nothing other than his name ending in a vowel that distinguishes" him from other, non-Italian defendants, argue Venezia's lawyers.

Mr. Venezia, 65, was a runner for an Outfit gambling operation in Cicero. He admits having been "a route man who, among his other duties, collected the proceeds from the video poker machines. For this he was paid a salary of $2,400.00 per month. His tenure was from 1996 until his arrest."

Venezia is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday afternoon in U.S. District Court in Chicago. The motion filed by his lawyers in advance of sentencing asks for probation, downplaying his role in the Outfit scheme and characterizing him as little more than a gopher.

"He is not a member of the 'Chicago Outfit.' He had no dealings with any of the co-defendants other than the owner and employees of M&M Amusement," states Venezia's motion for mercy filed by attorney Kevin P. Bolger. M&M is a business owned by Mickey Marcello, another defendant in the case who pleaded guilty, and the brother of Chicago Outfit powerhouse James "Little Jimmy" Marcello, so named as a play off of his pasta-infused mid-section.

Venezia isn't the first Family Secrets defendant to raise the issue of an Italian bias by prosecutors. During last summer's trial, lawyers for "Little Jimmy" Marcello flashed a pickup truck-sized shamrock on a screen for the jury to see. The show and tell by Marcello's attorneys was intended to prove that the gangster was really an Irishman because of his mother's heritage.

Another defendant, former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle, actually changed his moniker from the Italian family name he was born with to the Irish name he now sports. Doyle changed his last name at the time he took the police exam, apparently to better fit in with a department that has been historically well-populated by Irish-American officers.

In Venezia's case, the government is asking a lengthy prison sentence for his role in the mob scheme. Venezia computes the applicable sentence range as 18-24 months but wants Judge James Zagel to adopt a downward departure from the federal guidelines. "He has no criminal record, no history of violence and but for this indiscretion is a law abiding citizen. A period of probation would not deprecate the seriousness of the instant offense," according to Venezia's motion.

Further, his motion states that the mob messenger "is married to a women who is in poor health and is dependent on him for financial support as well as assist her in her every day activities. He is also supporting his hearing impaired step son & he has lost his elderly mother, but his son Frank has had a mental breakdown an attempted suicide. He was hospitalized for treatment and now depends on Joe for strength in getting through a most difficult time in his life."

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Ann Pistone

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Frank "The German" Schweihs, Chicago Outfit Mob Enforcer, Dies Awaiting Trial

Frank "the German" Schweihs, a reputed Chicago Outfit enforcer once described as one of the most feared men in the city, died Wednesday in a North Side hospital after being transferred from the Metropolitan Correction Center, where he was awaiting trial.

Frank 'The German' SchweihsSchweihs, 78, was cancer-stricken and too ill to face charges in last year's landmark Family Secrets case, one of the biggest mob trials in Chicago's history. The frail Schweihs was scheduled to go to trial Oct. 28. He appeared at recent hearings in federal court in a wheelchair.

On Wednesday, Schweihs died in Thorek Memorial Hospital, said jail spokesman Vincent Shaw.

Schweihs initially went on the lam after the sweeping indictment came down in 2005, but authorities were able to track him down in an apartment complex in a small town in Kentucky late that year.

His upcoming trial had been threatened when Schweihs signed a do-not-resuscitate order that might have forced officials to move him from the downtown jail, which has no medical facility. But Schweihs rescinded the order.

During the Family Secrets trial, in which five of Schweihs' co-defendants were found guilty, witnesses testified that Schweihs was a henchman for capo Joey "the Clown" Lombardo. Schweihs was identified during the trial as being involved in the 1974 hit in Bensenville on Lombardo business partner and federal witness Daniel Seifert.

Schweihs' last court appearance June 10 was memorable, as he complained loudly and barked at federal prosecutors. One of them, Assistant U.S. Atty. Markus Funk, who was part of the trial team on Family Secrets, had looked in his direction as he spoke with his attorney Ellen Domph.

"You makin' eyes at me?" Schweihs snarled. "Do I look like a [expletive] to you or something?"

In a recent court filing, prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge James Zagel to seat an anonymous jury to hear the Schweihs case, noting that he used violence to rise in the Outfit starting in the 1960s.

"Throughout this phase of his life, Schweihs continued to use seemingly irrational brutality for 'effect,' portraying himself as the consummate 'tough guy' at every opportunity," the government's brief stated.

Trial testimony during last year's Family Secrets case made it clear that Schweihs was someone who others linked to the mob feared most.

Michael Spilotro, who was killed in a mob hit along with his brother, once told his daughter that if she ever saw Schweihs around their home, she was to call 911 immediately. Brothers James and Mickey Marcello, defendants in the case, had another nickname for him: "Hitler."

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Minimum $20,000,000.00+ Profit Earned by the Chicago Mob

It took a calculator for the government to figure out this Family Secret. Since the 1960's, a Chicago Mob street crew turned a tidy profit of more than $20 million, according to documents filed today by prosecutors in federal court. And that is a "very conservative figure," according to T. Marcus Funk, the case prosecuting attorney.

The government forfeiture motion obtained by the ABC7 I-Team says that the Operation Family Secrets defendants are responsible for repaying $20,258,556.00 in ill-gotten gains from various organized crime rackets including gambling, extortion and shake-down schemes. In some cases, authorities say, the crime business relied on murder as a final solution to organizational disputes.

Today's filing is a pre-sentence motion in the case of former Chicago police officer Anthony "Twan" Doyle, who was convicted last summer and is due to be sentenced by Judge James Zagel on October 1. Doyle was a "juice loan collector for the South Side/26th" according to prosecutors. His sentencing date will be the first of the major defendants.

"The evidence at trial established that, as charged in the Indictment, DOYLE joined the charged conspiracy in the 1960's as a juice loan collector who was supervised by Outfit street crew boss and enforcer/hit man Frank Calabrese Sr." states today's motion. Calabrese Sr. was convicted in the dramatic mob trial, along with top Outfit boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and James "Little Jimmy" Marcello. All are awaiting sentencing and expected to be hit with similar, $20 million forfeiture orders.

"Before or at the time of sentencing, the United States requests that this Court enter a preliminary order of forfeiture against the defendant [Doyle]," states the government motion. "He is jointly and severally liable with his co-defendants, representing the $20,258,556.00 in proceeds."

"The figure is based on all the evidence we introduced," Funk told the I-Team. "Notably, it excludes the juice loan money that they earned. That was too difficult to calculate" he said.

"It only includes those unlawfully obtained proceeds that the government has been able to trace in the context of the 'Family Secrets' investigation" states the forfeiture motion. "Additional gambling, extortion, and street tax activities have not been included in this figure. Moreover, the figure entirely excludes any of the Outfit's lucrative juice property subject to forfeiture pursuant to the provisions of [federal law]."

As the I-Team reported last September, Click Here to Read the Past Report Anthony "Twan" Doyle was a Chicago cop for 21 years. Sixty-two-year old Doyle is a hulking figure, whose rigid jaw line helps carve an imposing presence. Doyle is a longtime friend and associate of Chicago Outfit boss Frank Calabrese, who was responsible for at least 13 gangland murders, according to federal prosecutors.

Numerous times in 1999, Calabrese paid for Doyle to come to a federal prison in southeastern Michigan. Doyle discussed Chicago mob business with Calabrese, who is known as Frank "the Breeze." Neither man knew the FBI was secretly taping the meetings.

The visits alone violated Chicago police rules that prohibit associating with felons. And when Doyle gave Calabrese information he'd requested about a police murder investigation, straight from a department evidence computer, that was also criminal.

Investigators believe that Doyle sensed Chicago police were on to his relationship with Calabrese and that Doyle tendered his resignation from the police department in 2001 before a federal grand jury could indict him. That way, Doyle was able to receive his Chicago police pension of $2,800 a month, or $34,000 a year.

Since retiring, Doyle has collected nearly $200,000 in pension payments from the city. The director of the police pension board wrote in a letter to ABC7 that they are aware of Doyle's conviction and plan to address the forfeiture of his pension once he is sentenced.

Doyle began his defense last June with a trash bin, his lawyers demonstrating for the jury that he started as a city sanitation worker and made it to the police force.

His birth name is actually Passafume, which is Italian. But when he decided to join the Chicago police force, which is historically Irish, he became Anthony Doyle. His police records list him as "Irish/Italian." But through the ethnic transformation, his nickname stayed the same: Twan.

A twan is a popular Chinese doughnut. Literally translated, it means "rice glog."Of course, police are known to be fond of their doughnuts, and Officer Doyle grew up in a section of Chinatown where twans are sold.

Doyle asked to be freed on bond until sentencing, offering to post his home in Arizona; his daughter's home and the homes of two retired Chicago policemen as bond. Judge James Zagel denied that motion and he has been in custody since the Family Secrets conviction.

Doyle was the only mob defendant not accused of murder.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie and Ann Pistone

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Four Chicago Defense Lawyers in A League of Their Own

In a city infamous for crime and corruption, the top criminal defense lawyers are as colorful and cunning as their clients.

They are routinely faced with insurmountable government evidence – wiretaps, surveillance tapes, fingerprints and informants. And they also claim the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are weighted in favor of the government.

On top of this, their cold-blooded clients can make a lawyer's life hell – especially when they lose.

"I think it's very difficult to do what they do," said Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass, who has covered many corruption and mob trials in Chicago. "Their clients demand perfection. They're the kind of clients you don't want to anger."

This is a surprisingly small club, with only about 15 lawyers doing criminal defense work in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on a regular basis.

Lawyers USA interviewed four prominent Chicago criminal defense lawyers: Joseph "The Shark" Lopez; Rick Halprin, Edward Genson and Steven R. Hunter. All have recently handled high-profile federal trials.

Whether grilling government witnesses on the stand or trying to convince jurors to spare cold-blooded killers, these lawyers are in a legal league of their own.

Joseph "The Shark" Lopez

Lopez is the only one of the four who actually looks the part of a "wise-guy" lawyer.

Joseph 'The Shark' Lopez has been called a mob layer and a gang lawyer, but he could care less.Wearing a black suit, black shirt, a black tie with bright slashes of color and a diamond ring with enough bling to make a rapper blush, Lopez, 52, could care less if people call him a "mob lawyer."

"I've been called a mob lawyer, gang lawyer. I've represented a lot of mobsters," he said.

He's also been called "Shark" since he was a youth; it's on his license plate and his e-mail address.

Lopez, who represented Frank Calabrese Sr., in last year's "Family Secrets" trial in Chicago, is not exactly media shy. He wrote his own blog (The Chicago Syndicate) about the trial while it was under way – until the judge ordered him to shut it down.

"He's promoted himself in every way possible," said fellow criminal lawyer Halprin, who represented another defendant in the Family Secrets trial. "That blog was outrageous."

Lopez is unrepentant: "The government was mad because I was criticizing them and their witnesses."

He plans to re-launch his blog this summer during the trial of client Gary Kimmel, a Chicago dentist charged with laundering money for a nationwide prostitution ring.

A native Chicagoan of Mexican/Italian heritage, Lopez graduated from the University of Illinois law school. He planned to specialize in divorce law, but was asked to help out in a drug case. "My friends were Colombian/Mexican drug [defendants]," he said. "They sent me over there because I was squeaky clean."

A large swordfish hangs on the wall of his cluttered office. "I tell my clients, 'See how that fish's mouth is open? That's how it got caught,'" he said, laughing loudly.

Sketches on the wall depict Lopez in several of his biggest cases. He represented Rev. Jesse Jackson's brother, Noah, in a money laundering case; and one of the teenage defendants in the infamous Lenard Clark case. Clark, a young black teenager, was savagely beaten by a group of white teenagers in 1997 as he rode his bike home through a predominantly white neighborhood.

Lopez has a trial scheduled for the end of March involving Fernando King, the head of the Latin Kings gang in Chicago, on drug and weapons charges.

Lopez said he's always confident going into the courtroom. "Most lawyers are afraid they're gong to lose, so they talk their clients into pleading guilty," he said. "I always think I'm going to win. Even if there are 300 witnesses, I convince myself I'm going to win."

Rick Halprin

In stark contrast to Lopez, Halprin, 68, looks more like a securities lawyer than a criminal defense attorney. Dressed conservatively in a blue shirt with white collar, red checked tie, suit pants and vest, he said he is careful not to call attention to himself. "The most important thing is never lose your credibility with the jury," he said. "When the trial is about the lawyer, you're dead. When it's an endless cross examination that goes nowhere, you're dead. And when you dress flashy instead of conservative, you're dead."

Thomas A. Durkin, a veteran criminal defense lawyer and partner in Durkin & Roberts in Chicago, described Halprin as "absolutely one of the very best courtroom lawyers in Chicago."

"He's extremely persuasive with juries; he's very smooth," Durkin said. "He can be very low-key when the situation calls for it, and he can be aggressive when that's appropriate."

Halprin bristles at the term "mob lawyer," even though he defended Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, 78, in the Family Secrets trial – the biggest mob trial in Chicago in years.

"I'm not a mob lawyer," he said. "I think it's absurd."

Lombardo, along with Calabrese and mob boss James Marcello, were convicted of a total of 10 murders.

Although Halprin and Lombardo had their "moments" of disagreement in the courtroom, Halprin said Lombardo didn't blame him for the verdict. "I know to the whole world he's a scary guy, but if you explain something to him enough times he gets it," Halprin said. "The trial is about the evidence. You've got to be a good cross-examiner, and I'm very good at it," said Halprin. "You [attack] the lifestyle of the main witness – but if you can't take out the corroborative evidence, in the end, jurors are collectively just too smart to be swayed by that."

According to columnist Kass, "It's difficult to represent the Chicago Outfit – especially when they insist, as Lombardo did, on putting themselves on the stand."

Rick Halprin's client, Joseph Lombardo could not resist a few cracks from the witness stand as 'Joey is JoeyWhile Lombardo "tried hard" to curb his wise-guy comments on the stand, Halprin said, he couldn't resist a few cracks that elicited laughter from the audience, and a rebuke from the judge.

"Joey is Joey," said Halprin. "There's no way you can get someone to change their contentious nature or stop making inappropriate jokes. He is a very funny guy, but there's a time and a place – and this was neither. But he tried hard."

Halprin, who described himself as a wild youth, never graduated from high school. He joined the Marines at 17, and eventually got enough hours of college credit so he could get into law school. He graduated from John Marshall Law School and has been practicing since 1970.

He learned the local legal ropes from Frank Oliver, a renowned Chicago criminal lawyer.

Sitting in his office a block and a half away from the federal courthouse, Halprin – who has a deep voice reminiscent of TV talk show host Larry King – said he has no plans to retire.

"I'm having too much fun. There's nothing like a federal courtroom. Federal trials are so challenging and so difficult to win," he said. "I'm going to die in the courtroom."

Edward Genson

At 66, Genson is the dean of Chicago's criminal lawyers. Just don't call him a "mob lawyer."

Genson detests the term so much that he stopped talking to Chicago Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin after her description of Genson as a mob lawyer was picked up by Vanity Fair magazine.

"I was angry about it," he said. "At some point in my career I had a number of Italian politicians as clients. That was about 20 years ago, and it was never more than 10 percent of my practice."

In 43 years of practice, Genson has represented scores of well-known clients, including former Illinois Gov. George Ryan's aide Scott Fawell and lobbyist Larry Warner. Even young Hollywood star Shia LaBeouf called on Genson when he was arrested in Chicago last year for refusing to leave a Chicago drugstore. "A lovely young man," Genson said, noting that the charges against LaBeouf were dropped.

In a case that has dragged on for six years, Genson is currently defending rapper R. Kelly on charges of having sex with an underage girl. Kelly's trial will finally take place May 9, according to Genson, who quipped: "It has to take place sometime."

Genson was co-counsel in last year's trial of Canadian newspaper publisher Conrad Black, who was accused of mail fraud and obstruction of justice.

Although Genson was supposed to be second chair on the defense team, he wound up questioning 24 of the 28 witnesses and handling almost the entire closing argument.

On the day in early March that Black was scheduled to be sent to a federal prison in Florida on a six-year sentence, Genson was still critical of Canadian lead lawyer Eddie Greenspan's courtroom performance. "He was a very bright man and an extraordinarily good lawyer in Canada, but they can't work at this speed," he said.

The son of a Chicago bail bondsman, Genson remembers driving his father to police stations at night and sitting in courtrooms, listening to trial lawyers.

After graduating from Northwestern University Law School, he scrambled for clients, handling up to 100 trials a year. He still keeps a grueling pace, despite having suffered for years from dystonia, a neurological disorder that makes walking difficult, especially when he is tired or under stress.

Genson wears an arm sling while recuperating from recent shoulder surgery – the latest in a string of orthopedic surgeries related to his neurological condition. An electric wheelchair sits next to his desk in his office on the 14th floor of the 19th century Monadnock Building, across from the Federal Center.

Still, he has no thought of retiring. "Trial law is an all-encompassing kind of profession," he said. "It's your whole life when you're at trial. There's no such thing as sleeping with any regularity because you're always waking up with ideas. There's no such thing as weekends. When you occasionally go to a movie, you're thinking about what you should be doing the next day.

"A good trial lawyer just doesn't develop a whole lot of interests," he added. "So, what would I do if I retired?"

Despite his protestations, Genson has an obvious interest in art and antiques. The eclectic decorations in his office include: cowboy paintings by an art forger who testified as a government witness in one of his trials; a 19th Century desk he bought in London; a 16th Century Spanish credenza; and a portrait of Clarence Darrow, his idol.

Genson has a murder trial coming up in April, a money laundering trial set for June and a Medicaid fraud trial later this summer.

"I'll retire when they start laughing at me," he said. "So far, that hasn't happened."

Steven R. Hunter

Hunter, 45, knew from a young age he wanted to be a criminal lawyer. He remembers being inspired by the story of Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"Something about defending the underdog just appealed to me," Hunter said.

Originally from Grosse Isle, Mich., Hunter graduated from University of Michigan Law School in 1997 and headed for Chicago. "I knew I wanted to be in Chicago," Hunter said. "To me, Chicago is the greatest city in the world."

But without any connections, it wasn't easy. Hunter worked as an immigration lawyer for Catholic Charities, and then landed a job with the public defenders' office.

He spent eight and a half years defending child abusers, juveniles and street gang members. "I was dealing with people who were whipping their children with extension rods and coat hangers," he recalled.

Overloaded with cases and long hours, Hunter left in 1986 to start his own practice. He qualified for the federal trial bar and was appointed to the federal defenders' panel.

He recently defended Anthony Calabrese (no relation to Frank Calabrese), an alleged mob hit man who was convicted of armed robbery. He also represented Eural Black, a Chicago police officer convicted in January of robbing drug dealers while on duty.

Although many of his cases still come through the panel, Hunter is getting an increasing number of calls from private clients. "It's really a slow, grinding process where you start out small," said Hunter. "If you work hard enough for your clients, if you fight cases, as opposed to pleading everybody out, that snowballs, and eventually you wind up having a pretty good practice."

Thanks to Nora Tooher

Friday, April 11, 2008

Judge Takes No Action for Now on Alleged Threat by Mobster to US Attorney

The federal judge who presided over Chicago's biggest mob trial in years ruled Thursday that a threat allegedly uttered by one of the defendants during closing arguments calls for no immediate action.

It should be obvious that a defendant is not entitled to a new trial or any other relief merely because a juror observed his behavior in court, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said in a 12-page opinion.

"A defendant seeking relief in this instance is somewhat like the apocryphal child who murders his parents and then asks the court to have mercy on an orphan," Zagel said.

The jury convicted five defendants of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that involved illegal gambling, extortion, loan sharking and 18 murders that went unsolved for decades.

Among the victims was Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, the mob's longtime man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for Joe Pesci's character in the movie "Casino." He and brother Michael Spilotro were beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield in June 1986.

Other victims were strangled, beaten and shot to keep them from leaking secrets to the FBI, according to witnesses at the 10-week trial.

Several of those convicted at the trial argued that the alleged threat may have prejudiced the jury and one of them, mob boss James Marcello, asked for a new trial.

The alleged threat took place while Assistant U.S. Attorney Markus Funk delivered a closing argument for the government.

Four jurors told prosecutors after the trial that while Funk spoke, convicted loan shark and hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. said: "You are a (expletive) dead man," according to a letter from the government to Calabrese's lawyer last October.

The juror who made the initial report was "extremely credible" in saying he heard part of the sentence and saw Calabrese mouth the rest of it, Zagel said in his opinion Thursday. Prosecutors didn't hear it.

Zagel said he held a hearing at the request of the defendants but found no reason for further action now. The judge did say, however, that he would address the issue further when he rules on the defendants' post-trial motions.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Despite Recent Success in Fighting "The Outfit", Federal Prosecutors' Mob Focus Decreases

The ranks of the Chicago mob have taken some serious hits in recent years.

So have the ranks of federal prosecutors specializing in Outfit prosecutions.

The number of federal prosecutors dedicated solely to prosecuting Outfit cases has dwindled to an all-time low -- two attorneys -- just after one of the most significant victories ever by the U.S. attorney's office against the mob, the Family Secrets case.

Some prosecutors have been transferred out of the group over the years. Others have retired. And in the biggest blow to the group, its highly regarded chief, Mitchell Mars, died recently after battling cancer.

It's a fact that's causing great worry among some mob busters.

In interviews with the Chicago Sun-Times, six current or former law enforcement officials familiar with the situation said U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald is making a mistake by not beefing up the unit.

The Outfit may be battered, but it is far from dead, they say. It's getting more sophisticated in how it carries out and covers up its crimes.

"The lessons learned from the Family Secrets trial should tell everybody that the Outfit is alive and active in the city," said James Wagner, a retired FBI agent who battled the mob in Chicago and is now the head of the Chicago Crime Commission.

The crime commission will send a letter to Fitzgerald this week asking him to increase the number of attorneys in the group, Wagner said.

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago had no comment on the matter.

The organized-crime group of prosecutors doesn't need the dozen or so lawyers it had in the early 1990s, officials say, with some suggesting that five or six attorneys would be enough these days.

"I think it's a strategic mistake," said Ken Holt, a retired FBI agent who worked on several high-profile Outfit cases.

Holt and others point to the fact that the organized-crime group has lost a great deal of institutional memory with the death of Mars and the retirement of prosecutor John Scully last year.

Mars led the prosecution of the Family Secrets case, which resulted in the convictions of Chicago mob boss James "Little Jimmy" Marcello and top mobster Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, among others.

Scully, another prosecutor on Family Secrets, also worked on the case of former Chicago Police chief of detectives William Hanhardt, who led a mobbed-up jewelry theft ring before being sent to prison.

Law enforcement officials say the group needs veteran attorneys who know the history of and the players in various Outfit street crews, attorneys who can understand, for instance, the significance of an obscure reference from a wiretapped conversation between two mobsters.

The cases are long and complex -- Family Secrets spanned activities covering nearly 40 years -- and they build upon one another, yet another reason to have dedicated attorneys there for the long haul, officials say. And even with some top mobsters behind bars, it's not going away.

"When one guy gets locked up, another guy replaces him," Holt said.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

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Friday, March 07, 2008

US Marshall Wore Wire to Investigate Mob Witness Leak

A deputy U.S. marshal secretly wore a wire against a man who was like a father to him as part of the investigation into the leak of confidential witness information to the Chicago Outfit.

The details were revealed Tuesday in federal court as the deputy marshal, John Ambrose, battled prosecutors to get certain statements he allegedly made to investigators thrown out of his upcoming trial. Ambrose is charged with leaking information on a star witness, hitman Nick Calabrese -- information that made its way to mob boss James Marcello.

Federal agents focused on Ambrose as the source of the leak after listening to secret prison tape recordings of Marcello.

Ambrose was lured to FBI offices on a pretense in September 2006, then the feds revealed their evidence against him. The feds needed Ambrose to detail how the information got from him to Marcello. Ambrose answered the feds' questions but initially balked at wearing a wire, worrying he would be viewed as "a snitch," FBI Special Agent Ted McNamara testified.

Ambrose eventually recorded William Guide, a former Chicago Police officer who was convicted with Ambrose's cop father in the Marquette 10 scandal. Ambrose's father died in prison, and Guide became a second father to Ambrose.

The feds haven't charged Guide but claim in court filings Ambrose passed witness information to Guide, who allegedly has mob ties.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

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Did US Marshall Put Flipped Mobster at Risk?

In a brief but loud confrontation, the top FBI agent in Chicago, Robert Grant, underscored the deadly potential of a deputy U.S. marshal leaking information to the Chicago mob about a star government witness, as Grant verbally battled with the deputy marshal's attorney during a court hearing on Monday.

"This leak put at risk the most important witness in the Family Secrets case. It put at risk the agents guarding him. It put at risk his wife," Grant said, during questioning by Francis C. Lipuma, the lawyer for U.S. Deputy Marshal John Ambrose. "This leak was no small leak."

Ambrose is accused of leaking information about mob hit man Nicholas Calabrese, the star witness in the Family Secrets trial, which ended in September with the convictions of five defendants, including Calabrese's brother, mob killer Frank Calabrese Sr.

Chicago mobsters "protect their own because it's assumed they won't cooperate. Once that cooperation becomes known, it's fair game," Grant said.

A federal judge is holding a hearing to determine what statements by Ambrose, if any, should be allowed at his trial.

Ambrose contends when he was lured to FBI offices in September 2006 on a ruse, he was in custody but not initially read his Miranda rights.

Both Grant and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who paired up to talk with Ambrose initially, testified at the hearing that they told Ambrose he wasn't under arrest.

Ambrose's name came to light during secret FBI recordings of Chicago mob boss James Marcello while in prison.

Grant said that Ambrose admitted he knew two of his friends had connections to mob bosses Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and John "No Nose" DiFronzo.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Family Secrets Mob Prosecutor Succumbs to Cancer

It may seem an odd compliment, but there is perhaps no better praise for the work Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars did than how mobsters referred to him.

"That (expletive) Mitch Mars," is what crooked Chicago cop Anthony Doyle called him on tape recordings he didn't know were being made.

"That is a real testament to the guy," said Markus Funk, one of Mars' co-prosecutors in the Family Secrets trial, which put Doyle and other mobsters away in September.

Over and over, said Funk, on wiretaps and prison eavesdropping recordings, the bad guys had one concern: what did Mitch Mars know and how close was he getting?

More often than not, Mars knew a lot about the Chicago Outfit and was very close.

In September, he got closer than many mobsters ever dreamed he would: convicting mob leaders James Marcello, Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, Frank Calabrese and others on racketeering charges stemming from murders that were, in some cases, decades old.

It was a fitting exclamation point on the career of Mars, the chief of the organized crime section of the U.S. attorney's office.

Mars died of lung cancer Tuesday night. He was 55.

He had battled crime since 1978, when he joined the U.S. Justice Department. He arrived in Chicago in 1980 and joined the U.S. attorney's office in 1990 when it merged with the Justice Department's organized crime strike force.

Family Secrets was but the last hurrah in a long line of prosecutions. He also helped put away Cicero mayor Betty Loren-Maltese, Chicago Heights mob boss Albert Tocco and several others along the way.

"But we would do a disservice to remember Mitch only by what he accomplished as a prosecutor in the courtroom," said Patrick Fitzgerald, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, in a prepared statement.

"He is a complete gentleman," said Susan Shatz, one of the lawyers who represented Lombardo in the trial. "I hold him in the highest regard.

While Mars was all business in the courtroom, those who knew him outside of it said he was easygoing and a prankster.

After months of trial and working late nights and weekends, Shatz and Mars were forever calling one another, Shatz said.

On the last day of trial, Shatz arranged with Mars' wife, Jennifer, to have Jennifer wait until Mars wound down that evening and then ask him if he had remembered to call Shatz.

Mars apparently enjoyed the joke enough to return the favor, calling Shatz that night on her office phone, demanding trial papers in a mock-annoyed voice.

"I have not taken his message off my voicemail since then," said Shatz, who said she kept it when she learned Mars was sick.

Mars discovered his cancer shortly after the trial and took a leave of absence to spend time with his family.

He is survived by his wife, his mother, Constance, his sister, Deborah Berkos, his brother, Jeffrey, an uncle Raymond Oster and several other aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.

Visitation is Friday from 3-9 p.m. at Damar Kaminski Funeral Home, 7861 S. 88th Avenue in Justice. A funeral Mass will be held Saturday at 10 a.m. at St. Cletus, 600 W. 55th St. in LaGrange.

Thanks to Rob Olmstead

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Banks Family Rules

In the overly gentrified Bucktown community on the city's North Side, neighbors call the gigantic gray stone home on Wood Street by a special name: the "French Embassy." But why not give it a proper name -- "La Palais de la famiglia du Pastries Banks."

The massive single-family home that dwarfs neighbors and casts a humongous shadow was featured in the Tribune's amazing series on zoning this week "Neighborhoods for Sale."

Written by Tribune reporters Dan Mihalopoulos, Robert Becker and Darnell Little, the series -- with more installments to come -- focused on what critics call Chicago's corrupt pay-to-play zoning system, and how neighborhoods suffer as real estate developers intersect with aldermanic ambition.

So I stood there on Wood Street on Wednesday, staring at the so-called French Embassy, the mountain of frozen gray stone, the wrought iron-covered balconies, the security cameras right out of a Ludlum novel. It didn't feel like Paris.

It felt more like Albania, at some Ministry of Information, or perhaps the compound of their late dictator, the psychotic communist Enver Hoxha. But I say live and let live. A property owner has the right to build what they choose to build on their own land. Yet not at the expense of their neighbors, merely because they touched their alderman with contributions and got the zoning lawyer whose uncle runs the zoning committee.

The problem with Chicago zoning, according to this series, is that everything is so haphazard, with some aldermen invoking some standards and other aldermen invoking other standards, so there is no one standard.

Except for the Banks Family Standard.

They're the powerful political family on the Northwest Side, picking judges, congressmen and Department of Transportation bosses. Some even consider them the second most powerful family in Chicago politics, behind, of course, Bruno and Toots Caruso from Chinatown.

I don't know if the Banks Family Standard is measured in pounds sterling, or cannoli from the city's finest bakeries, but when it comes to zoning in Chicago, the Banks Family Rules. After the mayor's brother Michael, the Banks family is the alpha and omega of zoning.

You'll find a Banks that sells property. Another that buys property. Another Banks is the city's busiest zoning lawyer.

Ald. William J.P. Banks, chairman of the Committee on Zoning, is the powerful boss of the 36th Ward. He's the boss when his big brother Sam "Pastries" Banks, a powerful attorney, lets him run things. And Pastries is the boss when state Sen. Jimmy DeLeo (D-How You Dooin?) is busy in Springfield, where he's the real governor, having to sometimes keep the pretend governor, Rod Blagojevich, in line.

And what about Jimmy Banks, son of Pastries, and a top zoning lawyer in his own right?

Jimmy Banks was the zoning lawyer for the "French Embassy" expansion, or, as neighbors may call it forevermore, "La Palais de la famiglia du Pastries Banks," and guess what?

It got approved. And the Bankses don't even live there.

His uncle, the alderman, excuses himself from the zoning meeting, as he does periodically when nephew Jimmy's cases come up. He walks into the City Council's back room, and has a sandwich and waits. And like so many times before, the aldermen approve Jimmy's zoning cases, not because he's Pastries' son or the alderman's nephew, or on account of 36th Ward muscle, but because of Jimmy's amazing legal abilities.

Cynics may scoff at such intellectual purity coming from City Hall on zoning issues, but don't be fooled. Chicago aldermen are known to be prisoners of their own virtue.

Pastries and his 36th Ward boys were also mentioned in the recent federal Family Secrets trial of Chicago Outfit crime bosses.

An Outfit sanctioned burglar, Sal Romano, testified that he bribed corrupt police with the help of Sam Banks, though Banks remained mum at the time of the testimony. And Annie Spilotro, widow of Michael "Magnum P.I." Spilotro, also testified that she had disagreements with DeLeo and Jimmy Banks over the sale of her husband's restaurant, after Michael and his brother Tony were murdered.

Apparently, there is bad blood between the families. Annie Spilotro testified that she appealed to Outfit boss James Marcello to iron out things between the Spilotros and Bankses. But the sit-down never took place. And that should have told the Spilotros where they stood.

Like those neighbors living next to the gargantuan structure on Wood Street, there are certain political dictums, (or is that dicta?) in Chicago, as "Neighborhoods For Sale" proved.

One is that you can't fight City Hall. And the other is that when it comes to building and zoning, the Banks Family Rules.

Thanks to John Kass

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