The Chicago Syndicate: James Marcello
Showing posts with label James Marcello. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Marcello. Show all posts

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Where Were the Spilotro Brothers Killed?

For 23 years, it's been a mystery just where Chicago mob boss Tony Spilotro and his younger brother, Michael, were killed.

CBS 2's John "Bulldog" Drummond got the very first look at a home in unincorporated Bensenville where neighbors and others believe the Spilotros may have met their violent end.

No, the killing of the infamous Spilotro brothers didn't happen the way it was depicted in the movie "Casino." They were not beaten in an Indiana cornfield and buried alive.

Instead, the Spilotros met their demise in the basement of a home in unincorporated Bensenville, where they had been lured to their deaths with a promise of career advancement.

The brothers had worn out their welcome within the Chicago Outfit.

On June 14, 1986, Tony and Michael Spilotro met mob lieutenant Jimmy "The Little Guy" Marcello at a motel parking lot in Schiller Park.

The brothers got into Marcello's car in what amounted to a death ride. The Spilotros, however, were concerned about treachery. Michael told his wife, "If we aren't back by nine o'clock, something very wrong has happened."

The federal government's key witness, Nick Calabrese, testified in the "Family Secrets" trial that he was waiting as Marcello drove the car into an attached garage.

Ed Muniz, who bought the home in question in 2000, gave Drummond a tour of the house, where neighbors and friends say the Spilotros were slain.

"You could just see the layout of the house was perfect" and secluded for the Spilotro killings, said one acquaintance of organized crime figures, who asked that his identity be concealed.

It's not certain if Muniz's home is the location where the Spilotros were killed. But it's understood the fatal beatings occurred in a basement in the same area.

Marcello led the two brothers down to the basement. By the time they got into the cellar fists were flying; so were the knees. The Spilotros were met by a host of their former colleagues. They were beaten unmercifully. Tony Spilotro asked if he had a chance to say a prayer. The killers said no.

Although Muniz has his doubts about whether his home was the scene of the slayings, friends and family are concerned that something terrible happened in the basement.

"I had a friend who went down there, and he got a really weird aura," the owner said. "To my daughters, it kind of creeps them out a little bit."

Even his next-door neighbor -- now deceased -- was haunted by goings-on at the house.

Was this the house or not? Calabrese, the federal witness, couldn't find it for the feds.

CBS 2 shared its information with the FBI. Agents indicated they'll be looking into it.

Thanks to John Drummond

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Family Secrets Jury Deliberations Were Systematic, Often Contentious

The anonymous jury that decided the Family Secrets case was exhausted.

After methodically working through stacks of evidence to convict four mob figures and a former Chicago police officer of racketeering conspiracy, jurors had become bogged down during a second round of deliberations.

For the first time in three months, personality conflicts flared and jurors snapped at one another as they tried to decide if the four mobsters could be blamed for 18 gangland slayings stretching back decades.

"There were times when we all looked out the window for a while and no one talked to each other," one juror recalled.

Two years after the landmark Family Secrets mob trial gripped Chicago with its lurid details of mob mayhem, jurors who sat in judgment have finally broken their silence.

Two of the jurors -- a man and a woman -- spoke last week to a Tribune reporter at a Loop restaurant, insisting their identities remain secret out of continued concern for their safety.

Even two years after the summerlong trial in 2007, few of the jurors know the names of one another, they said. Their identities had been publicly concealed to protect them from possible retaliation by the Chicago syndicate and to shield them from the news media.

Instead, jurors addressed one another by nicknames. Some took on names of characters in the trial, while others won monikers that might have been passed on by the mob itself. A tall juror became "Shorty" and another was called "Puzzles" because he often sat solving them during trial breaks.

As they began their deliberations, jurors pored over their notes -- one juror filled 16 pads of paper -- and sorted through carts of prosecution evidence -- documents, photos and even ski masks worn by hit men.They wrote questions on large "post-it" notes and stuck them to the wall. When they ran out of space, jurors took down decorative pictures to make more room for their notes.

The two jurors said the panel began the initial deliberations by deciding whether a criminal enterprise known as the Chicago Outfit existed. Then they considered the alleged role of each of the defendants they had spent months staring at from the jury box.

"I found them all to look mild-mannered and pleasant and grandfatherly," the female juror said of defendants James Marcello, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, Frank Calabrese Sr., Paul "the Indian" Schiro, and Anthony "Twan" Doyle, the ex-Chicago cop.

The man said most of the jurors began to figure out the importance of the trial after hearing about the infamous murders of mobster Anthony Spilotro and his brother, Michael, whose bodies were found in an Indiana cornfield in 1986.

The jurors said the first round of deliberations went smoothly. If anyone was uncertain, others would calmly go back over the testimony, according to the two. The evidence was strong, they said, and jurors took four days to convict all five defendants on a host of counts, voting by a show of hands.

The jury was surprised, though, to find out that their work was not over after three months, the two said.

They again placed notes on the wall, building a chart with the 18 murder victims on one side and the four mobsters on trial across the top. They placed check marks by the defendant's name if they felt he could be held responsible for a particular murder.

"There was a lot more talking and a lot more disagreement," the female juror said. "People were passionate about Round 2."

The jurors said the panel delved more deeply into the centerpiece of the prosecution case -- the testimony of mob turncoat Nicholas Calabrese. The former hit man admitted committing 14 murders himself and linked the four mobsters -- including his own brother -- to many of the gangland killings.

To some jurors, Calabrese was a tortured man who calmly named names as he recounted murders he was forced to commit with other Chicago Outfit members, but others on the jury wouldn't rely on his word alone to find blame in a killing. "Fundamentally, Nick was himself just like one of those guys in the room," the female juror said. "Some people just weren't able to get past it."

The result, the jurors said, were strained arguments and frazzled tempers.

The male juror was among the leaders who thought Calabrese was believable because other evidence corroborated his testimony. He recalled one instance when Calabrese fought tears on the witness stand as he recounted how an attempt to blow up the car of a businessman targeted by the mob almost resulted in killing the man's wife and child. "That was either the best acting job ever or somebody who's facing some serious demons," the juror said.

The jury wound up finding Lombardo, Marcello and Frank Calabrese Sr. responsible for 10 of the murders, but deadlocked on the other eight slayings. The two jurors said the jury deadlocked on murders that relied only on the word of Nicholas Calabrese.

The jury found Marcello responsible for the Spilotro killings, but it was close, they said. Calabrese testified Marcello drove him to a house where the brothers had been lured by the promise of mob promotions and helped beat them to death in the basement.

Calabrese had alone put Marcello at the murder scene, but the jurors said there was just enough evidence to buttress his account. Relatives of the Spilotros had testified that Marcello called their home the day the brothers were killed and that Michael Spilotro worried enough about the meeting to have left his jewelry at home. But there were discrepancies in the government evidence, the jurors noted. Calabrese had put a mobster at the murder scene who was actually under FBI surveillance at the time, making his presence there impossible. But the jurors said they chalked it up to a memory lapse and moved on, confident they had made the right decision.

The jurors said they weren't surprised to see Marcello, Lombardo and Frank Calabrese Sr. each sentenced to life in prison this year. Both said they supported the controversial 12-year prison sentence that U.S. District Judge James Zagel imposed on Nicholas Calabrese.

The male juror said he thought the judge had done a good job explaining his decision, even though some family members of victims found the sentence unfair. No one would dispute that Calabrese was a killer, he said. "You have to look at what he was able to bring forward on all of this -- he gave people answers," the juror said. "But I'm glad I didn't have to make that call."

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Monday, May 25, 2009

New Chicago Mob Order

Last week's death of an old-line Chicago Outfit boss reveals some changes in the way the crime syndicate does business.

As Chicago organized crime figures die off or go to prison, authorities tell the I-Team they are being replaced by far less flamboyant Outfit bosses, men who conduct mob rackets quietly and collect the proceeds with skilled efficiency.

The new mob order has never been more apparent than at last Wednesday's wake for high-ranking outfit boss Alphonso Tornabene, who died on Sunday at age 86.

It looked just like any other wake for any other man who'd lived a long life. The friends and relatives of Alphonso Tornabene streamed into pay their last respects all day on the northwest side.

A few mourners apparently didn't want to be seen at the wake for a man who recently headed the Chicago Outfit, according to testimony from a top underworld informant.

Mob hitman Nick Calabrese told the FBI that Tornabene administered the sacred oath of the Outfit to new members, a position reserved for only top capos. It's a ceremony that Calabrese described just as Hollywood has depicted over the years with a blood oath and a flaming holy card.

On Wednesday night, at Chicago's Montclair Funeral Home, the ceremony was less fiery. The holy card had Tornabene's name on it.

The attendees included Tracy Klimes, who says Tornabene was a great man who once cared for her family after her own father died, and knew little of his Outfit ties. "People always judge a book by its cover and I know there's things that people say about people but he had a wonderful heart," said Klimes.

The scene on Wednesday was far different than the crowds that turned out at Montclair more than thirty years ago after flashy Outfit boss Sam Giancana was assassinated and where attendance by Giancana's underlings was considered mandatory.

In 1986, mob bosses from other cities and a Hollywood actor showed up for the wake and funeral of Anthony and Michael Spilotro who had also been murdered by their Outfit brethren. But by 1992 at the Montclair wake for godfather Anthony "Joe Batters" Accardo, only a few top hoodlums dared to attend such a public event.

The Accardo funeral and Tornabene's wake on Wednesday are evidence that the new mob order calls for discretion in business and in life.

There was one notable mourner on Wednesday night: suburban nursing home owner Nicholas Vangel.

During the Family Secrets mob trial, Mr. Vangel was shown to be a confidante of one time mob boss Jimmy Marcello. Although Vangel wasn't charged, the government showed undercover video of Vangel visiting with Marcello in prison and discussing the FBI investigation.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Saturday, April 25, 2009

US Marshal's Office and FBI's Relationship is Icy at Mob Leak Trial

Deputy U.S. Marshal John Ambrose sat in federal court on Thursday to hear lawyers portray him two ways:

An honorable screw-up hoping to impress an Outfit-friendly father figure, or a criminal conduit to reputed Chicago mob boss John "No Nose" DiFronzo.

Either way the jury decides, the relationship between the U.S. marshal's office and the FBI is at best icy these days, though they won't formally admit it. But you could see the two tribes in the gallery in U.S. District Judge John Grady's courtroom, sitting stiffly as if in church at a wedding, the in-laws glaring, already at war.

The marshals in their street clothes, shoulders hunched, not happy, sitting behind their man Ambrose. The FBI agents and prosecutors impassive, across the aisle, sitting behind their team.

The cause of the deep freeze? Ambrose himself.

Ambrose has been charged with leaking extremely sensitive information to the mob about the most important federal witness in Chicago's history -- turncoat Outfit hit man Nicholas Calabrese. And with lying about it to federal agents until he later confessed to the FBI about what he'd done. But according to his lawyer Frank Lipuma, all Ambrose really confessed to was screwing up, bragging to a family friend that he was protecting a major Outfit witness.

Ambrose's friend was William Guide, a former crooked cop with Outfit connections, who spent time in prison, convicted with Ambrose's father, Thomas, in the Marquette 10 police drug dealer shakedown scandal.

What Ambrose said about Calabrese ended up in recorded prison conversations beginning in January 2003 between Mickey Marcello and his Outfit boss brother Jimmy.

What also came out during the trial is that Ambrose apparently thought that by leaking a little information, he could win favor from the Outfit and use their street network as a source of information to find fugitives.

At least, that was his story as told to senior FBI agents Anita Stamat and Ted McNamara when they finally caught him in 2006.

The International Olympic Committee might not know this, so don't tell them, but Chicago has a history of law enforcement conduits to the mob. The job has been held by many -- a patrol officer in the evidence section, hit men in the Cook County Sheriff's office, even the chief of detectives of the Chicago Police Department.

Since the time of Paul Ricca, the Outfit has had puppets, in politics, on the bench, in business and law enforcement. That's how it survives, while politically unsophisticated street gangs suffer legal troubles. And what was so unique about Ambrose is that he was a federal law enforcement officer guarding a federal witness.

"He screwed up ... shot his mouth off," said Lipuma, a former federal prosecutor himself, in a riveting closing argument, full of passion, trying to poke holes in the case. "John Ambrose admitted he broke policy. He broke procedure. It may have been a violation of policy. ... But he's an honest man."

Prosecutor Markus Funk was once the new guy on the federal organized crime team. But now he's the veteran, with the most significant convictions in Chicago history under his belt: Jimmy Marcello, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo and others from the Family Secrets trial.

"This is straightforward theft," Funk told the jury. "The defense is throwing up these vast smoke screens to confuse you. He confessed. Not once, not twice, but three times. He shot his mouth off? There was no criminal intent? He admitted it. That's not a legal defense. That's a crime."

The defense also brought my column up again, the one of Feb. 21, 2003, that broke the story that Nick Calabrese had disappeared from prison and speculated (correctly) that he was in the witness protection program.

Lipuma said the column was the "linchpin" of the defense because after it ran, Calabrese's cooperation was common knowledge. But a month before the column was published, Jimmy and Mickey Marcello were already talking about Calabrese's federal "baby-sitter" funneling information to them.

If Ambrose were, say, a plumber, you might excuse him for screwing up and talking about a federal witness to an Outfit messenger boy.

A plumber might be excused, because a plumber wouldn't be expected to know about witness protection. But Ambrose is no plumber, is he?

He's a deputy U.S. marshal.

For now.

Thanks to John Kass

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It's Not the Hollywood Mob, It's the Chicago Outfit

In the mobster movies, a car pulls up and heavy men in hard shoes get out. And in the quiet suburban house, the wiseguy turned government witness stands foolishly in his new kitchen, oblivious in his bathrobe, scratching, boorishly guzzling milk from the carton.

The guns come up. The milk spills. The feds lose another witness.

Happily, it didn't happen in real life to Nicholas Calabrese, the Chicago Outfit hit man turned star government witness in the Family Secrets trial that sent mob bosses, soldiers, even a corrupt cop to prison. Calabrese is very much alive. Yet in federal court this week, the story of Outfit penetration of witness security is playing out in the case of Deputy U.S. Marshal John Ambrose, accused of leaking sensitive information about Calabrese—including his movements—to Chicago's mob.

It's a difficult case to prove, since U.S. District Judge John Grady tossed out key evidence on Thursday. He invited an appeal by telling the jury "I made a mistake" in allowing secret prison tapes to be played linking Ambrose's late father, a Chicago cop convicted in the Marquette 10 police drug scandal, with other crooked cops connected to the Outfit.

Whether Ambrose is found guilty or not, it's obvious that imprisoned Outfit boss Jimmy Marcello and his sleepy brother Michael—who testified in a rumpled orange jumpsuit Thursday—believed they'd cracked the security around Calabrese.

The Marcellos knew of Calabrese being driven around town to murder locations where he briefed the FBI on unsolved hits that formed the basis of Family Secrets, which sent Jimmy and others to prison for life. They knew Calabrese called his wife from a phone dialed as Ambrose guarded Calabrese.

The Marcello brothers knew all about it in January 2003, weeks before I revealed in a Feb. 21, 2003, column that Calabrese was talking to the FBI about a series of unsolved homicides—including the murders of Anthony and Michael Spilotro—and that his federal prison records had disappeared.

Though I'm flattered the Marcellos are loyal readers, and that Ambrose's defense would try to use my column to argue that the leak could have come from just about anywhere, Mickey Marcello testified Thursday that he knew about Calabrese because a law-enforcement source was spilling.

According to Marcello, a fat reputed Chicago mobster, Johnny "Pudgy" Matassa Jr., would tell him what the source learned. Then Marcello would drive to federal prison to tell Jimmy. Then, unbeknownst to the Marcello brothers, the FBI would tape what they said.

"John says his source was giving him a list of names," the balding Mickey testified. "... I had John. He had who he had, who I presumed was a law-enforcement officer."

Matassa and Marcello would meet, but not over checkered tablecloths, candles stuck in bottles of Chianti.

"One time it was Dunkin' Donuts, various restaurants, places like that," Marcello said.

He said Matassa told him about others Nick Calabrese was helping the FBI to investigate, including the boss, John "No Nose" DiFronzo—implicated but not charged in the sensational Spilotro murders. And about Anthony "The Trucker" Zizzo, who later disappeared from a Melrose Park restaurant lot and has never been found.

Mickey Marcello, a font of information, developed a severe case of Fedzheimers when asked about Joe "The Builder" Andriacci, and those two brothers from Bridgeport, Bruno and Frank "Toots" Caruso. Andriacci and the Carusos were not charged.

"Andriacci. 'The Builder,' " said Ambrose lawyer Frank Lipuma during cross-examination. "Is he a mob boss?"

"I don't know," Marcello deadpanned.

"Are you aware of the Carusos who run Chinatown/Bridgeport?" Lipuma asked.

"No," Marcello said. "I'm not aware of that."

"Aren't they associated with organized crime?"

"They know a lot of people," sighed Marcello. "I guess you could say that. That they know a lot of people."

So do the Marcello brothers. They knew a guy who knew a guy who knew Nick Calabrese was taking the FBI to places where murders were committed.

That's not Hollywood.

It's Chicago.

Thanks to John Kass

Mob's Secret Language Revealed

Rub your stomach? That's code for John Matassa, also known as "Pudge" for his love of the sweets.

Brush your nose? Must be talking about boss John "No Nose" DiFronzo.

Rubbing fingers together denotes hush money paid out to a moulieri, or wife.

For the benefit of a federal jury hearing the case against accused turncoat federal agent, Michael "Mickey" Marcello on Thursday deciphered the gestures and phrases he and his brother used to discuss mafia business while behind bars.

Marcello told jurors the information he discussed with his brother, Outfit street crew leader Jimmy Marcello, in a Michigan prison came from "the baby sitter," the guy whose father died behind bars and who dialed phone numbers for a wanted hit man-turned-witness in protective custody. But Mickey Marcello, reluctantly testifying Thursday in his prison-issue orange togs and laceless shoes, said he never knew the source's real name or how he got access to the secrets.

Prosecutors fingered deputy U.S. marshal John T. Ambrose as the man who leaked word to the mafia about Nick Calabrese, the protected witness Ambrose guarded.

The FBI got smart to the leaks in 2003 when they caught the Marcellos on tape talking about Calabrese's covert cooperation with federal investigators. But the brothers talked in code and used a slew of gestures to disguise their conversations about criminal Outfit business. And they almost never named names.

One tape in particular was played twice for jurors Thursday before U.S. District Judge John Grady then decided to strike it from the record. On it, Jimmy asked where the news of Calabrese's cooperation came from.

"The guy who is giving it to you?" James asked.

"The guy who is his babysitter," Michael responded.

"Oh yeah?"

"Baby sitter guy. Same guy."

"Same guy that was at the other place with him?"

"(Nods affirmatively) Same guy that took him the first time."

Baby sitter guy, Marcello said, is a law enforcement source whose father was part of the "Marquette 10" police corruption case and since has died, which describes Ambrose's father.

Marcello, 58, pleaded guilty in 2007 to racketeering charges in the Family Secrets mafia case and is now serving his sentence. Thursday the judge had to constantly remind Marcello to sit up and speak into the microphone.

Marcello's answers came in short bursts, rarely in full sentences, as if he never got over a lifetime of communicating in code to foil eavesdropping investigators and evade wiretaps. Granted immunity by Judge Grady, Marcello didn't balk at any of the questions, but punctuated his answers with lots of "whatever you call it, I don't know."

Mickey Marcello's source was John Matassa, who Marcello said was still separated by several sources from the leaker.

"But you didn't know the information was coming from the marshal's office, right?" defense attorney Frank C. Lipuma asked.

"Right," Marcello said.

"There's no indication you know where Matassa got the information from, right?"

"Right."

Thanks to Lauren Fitzpatrick

Mickey Marcello is Reluctant Witness in Deputy US Marshal John Ambrose Trial

FBI recordings caught brothers James and Michael Marcello anxiously discussing information in 2003 that their Chicago Outfit associate Nicholas Calabrese might testify against them and others.

On Thursday, Michael "Mickey" Marcello was on the witness stand in Chicago's federal courthouse, reluctantly reliving those undercover recordings in the trial of Deputy U.S. Marshal John Ambrose.

Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and thick glasses, Marcello, 58, squinted at transcripts of several recorded conversations with his brother and deciphered the vague codes and signals they used to furtively discuss Calabrese's enrollment in the witness protection program.

Marcello testified that he learned of Calabrese's cooperation with law enforcement from reputed mob figure John "Pudgy" Matassa Jr.

Ambrose is on trial on charges that while twice guarding Calabrese, he leaked Calabrese's cooperation to a family friend with alleged mob links, knowing the sensitive information would end up in the Outfit's hands.

Marcello denied directly knowing Ambrose or knowing that Ambrose was allegedly the source to the mob of Calabrese's cooperation.

When asked who he was referring to on one undercover recording when he identified the source as Calabrese's "baby-sitter," Marcello said, "The guy that watches him."

Marcello testified that Matassa indicated that the original source was in law enforcement. But Matassa said he himself was receiving information from another man named "Billy," Marcello said.

Marcello said that he presumed that referred to William Guide, a former Chicago police officer convicted in the Marquette 10 police corruption trial in the 1980s. Guide was a close friend of Ambrose's father, Thomas, who was also convicted in that prosecution and died in prison. But a key 2003 video recording in which the Marcello brothers discuss the source's ties to the Marquette 10 defendants, the initial clue that led authorities to investigate Ambrose, was belatedly removed from evidence Thursday by U.S. District Judge John Grady.

Grady reversed his earlier decision to allow the videotape as evidence even though the jury had already viewed it twice during the trial. "I apologize for making a mistake," said Grady, ordering the jury to ignore that particular videotape and hand in transcripts of that tape.

Prosecutors have argued that Ambrose leaked details of Calabrese's cooperation to Guide with the knowledge that it would reach organized-crime figures. Ambrose's attorneys have admitted that Ambrose talked to Guide about protecting Calabrese but contend he had no criminal intent.

Marcello, serving an 8 1/2-year sentence on racketeering and conspiracy convictions, spent more than five hours on the stand, responding to most questions with clipped, one-word answers. When questioned about his own organized-crime ties or the rank or status of other Outfit figures, including his brother James, he became visibly uncomfortable, stammering answers and pleading ignorance.

Outside the courtroom, Marcello's lawyer, Catharine O'Daniel, said that her client had testified only because he was granted immunity and threatened with an additional sentence for contempt if he did not appear. "He is not here willingly," O'Daniel said. "He's as willing as I am whenever I go to get a root canal."

Thanks to Robert Mitchum

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Secret Prison Video Highlights Testimony at Mob Leak Trial

Secretly-recorded video of two Chicago Outfit members discussing mob hit man Nicholas Calabrese's cooperation with federal investigators highlighted the first testimony in the trial of Deputy U.S. Marshal John Ambrose in local federal court today.

Grainy footage of James and Michael Marcello, taken from the waiting room of a Michigan federal prison in 2003, showed the brothers using code words, subtle gestures and whispers to discuss what information Calabrese was sharing on dozens of mob murders in the Chicago area.

"He admitted to being involved in 19 of them things," Michael Marcello told his brother in one recording, referring to Calabrese and the number of mob murders he had disclosed to authorities.

FBI Special Agent Michael Maseth said such discussions were the first clue to authorities of a significant leak about Calabrese's cooperation with investigators. "We were shocked," said Maseth, describing the response of agents when they heard specific information about Calabrese's disclosures being discussed by the Marcellos.

Prosecutors say Ambrose, who protected Calabrese during two visits to Chicago in 2002 and 2003 as part of his witness security detail, was the original source of the "highly sensitive" information that eventually made its way to the Marcellos.

Video recordings were also played of the Marcellos, seated side-by-side in a waiting room with their heads almost touching, discussing that the leak's source was the son of a figure arrested in the Marquette 10 police corruption trial in the 1980's. Ambrose's father, Thomas, was convicted on felony bribery charges in 1982.

Earlier, Maseth gave the jury a crash course in the Chicago Outfit, describing the structure of the organization and defining what made particular figures "made members." Maseth also described Calabrese as "the most important organized-crime witness that has ever testified in this district and perhaps in the United States."

Assistant U.S. Atty. Diane MacArthur asked Maseth what consequences Calabrese could face if his cooperation was discovered by members of the Outfit. "The level of risk was the ultimate level of risk. He could be killed," Maseth said.

Thanks to Robert Mitchum

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Deputy U.S. Marshal Trial to Begin on Monday

Once known as a tireless bloodhound who tracked down fugitive gang leaders, deputy U.S. marshal John T. Ambrose now faces years behind bars if he is convicted of betraying his oath and leaking secrets to the mob.

Ambrose, 40, is due to go on trial Monday for tipping off organized crime figures seven years ago that a so-called made member of the Chicago mob had switched sides and was now providing detailed information to federal prosecutors. Ambrose denies he ever broke the law in handling secret information.

"The feds are guaranteed to see this as the worst sort of treacheryThe Chicago Outfit," says mob expert John Binder, author of "The Chicago Outfit." ''I don't think I'm overblowing it. They're going to see him the way the military sees a Benedict Arnold."

U.S. District Judge John F. Grady has ordered extraordinary security including screens in the courtroom to conceal the faces of key witnesses from spectators.

Inspectors in the government's supersecret Witness Security Program operated by the U.S. Marshal's Service will testify behind the screens and also use pseudonyms.

The idea is to prevent anyone from identifying the inspectors, whose job it is to guard heavily protected witnesses from mob assassins, terrorists or others who might want to silence them.

Ambrose defense attorney Francis C. Lipuma objected to the screens and testimony under false names. "This is going to sensationalize the trial," Lipuma told a recent hearing.

Ambrose is accused of leaking information to the mob about an admitted former hit man, Nicholas Calabrese, who was the government's star witness at the landmark 2007 Family Secrets trial that targeted top members of the Chicago mob.

As a trusted federal lawman, Ambrose was assigned to guard Calabrese on two occasions when witness security officials lodged him at "safe sites" in Chicago for questioning by prosecutors.

Ambrose is charged with stealing information out of the Witness Security Program file and passing it to a go-between believing it would go to reputed mob boss John "No Nose" DiFronzo.

He's accused of leaking information about the progress of the investigation -- nothing about the whereabouts of the closely guarded witness. But prosecutors say it still could have put Calabrese in jeopardy, and Grady seemed to agree when the issue came up at a hearing last week.

"Anyone who has even occasionally read a Chicago newspaper in the last 20 years knows what the potential consequences of testifying against the so-called Mafia are," the judge told attorneys.

The Family Secrets trial was Chicago's biggest mob trial in years. Three of the top names in the mob including Calabrese's brother, Frank, were sentenced to life in prison and two other men received long terms behind bars.

Nicholas Calabrese admitted he was involved in the murders of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro and his brother, Michael. Tony Spilotro was the model for the Joe Pesci character in the movie "Casino."

Nicholas Calabrese also said one of the Family Secrets defendants, reputed mob boss James Marcello, was among those in a suburban basement the night the Spilotro brothers were strangled.

Calabrese agreed to cooperate in the Family Secrets investigation in 2002 after a bloody glove recovered by police yielded DNA evidence placing him at a murder scene. Rather than risk capital punishment, Calabrese agreed to become a witness. He was placed in the Witness Security Program.

Ambrose was charged with stealing and leaking the contents of Calabrese's file after federal agents bugged the visitors room at the federal prison in Milan, Mich.

James Marcello was an inmate there and was visited by his brother, Michael Marcello, the operator of a video gaming company who eventually was charged in the case and pleaded guilty to racketeering.

Authorities overheard the Marcello brothers discussing a mole they had within federal law enforcement who was providing security for Calabrese. They called him "the babysitter." They said he was also providing information on the investigation.

Agents quickly narrowed the suspects to Ambrose when one of the Marcellos said "the babysitter" was the son of a Chicago policeman who went to prison decades ago as a member of the Marquette 10 -- officers convicted of shaking down drug dealers.

Ambrose's fingerprint was later found on the file.

Thanks to AP

Friday, April 10, 2009

John Ambrose - The Mob's Babysitter?

Top Chicago Outfit bosses described a deputy wiith the U.S. Marshal service as the "Mob's Babysitter."

The deputy goes to trial next week on charges that he provided sensitive witness information to the Outfit.

When the court bailiff announces "United States versus John Thomas Ambrose" on Monday in a Chicago courtroom, history will be made. It will be the only time since George Washington swore in the first U.S. Marshals that a deputy has ever been charged with leaking inside information to a criminal organization.

When Chicago Deputy Marshal John Ambrose broke down doors for the Great Lakes fugitive squad, it was seen across the country during a CNN special report. But it was what Ambrose was doing behind closed doors, away from the cameras, that authorities say makes him a criminal.

According to federal charges that Ambrose will face beginning Monday, he leaked information about mob investigations.

"The breach could have put at risk the life of one of the most important witnesses ever developed in Chicago against the Chicago Outfit. It could have put at risk US Marshals, and family members of that witness," said Robert Grant, FBI agent in charge.

That witness was Nick Calabrese, mob hitman extraordinare. In 2002, Calabrese began secretly cooperating with the FBI in an investigation called Family Secrets.

One of the primary duties of the U.S. Marshal service is to protect government witnesses. The ultra secret, cloak and dagger style witness security program, or WITSEC as it's known, has protected 17,000 people since 1970 and officials claim not one has ever been harmed.

Calabrese was a protected witness. Deputy John Ambrose was assigned to protect him.

According to federal records, as a supervisor, Ambrose had access to confidential case information, including details of Calabrese's cooperation, where he would he housed, and when he would be moved.

It was during secretly recorded prison conversations between Chicago mob bosses that federal agents knew there was a leak.

The discussions between Outfit leader Jimmy Marcello and his brother Michael were in code. But on numerous occasions when they talked about "the babysitter," feds say that was their code name for Ambrose who was babysitting Nick Calabrese and allegedly leaking inside information to the mob through an Outfit connected family friend.

"No system is perfect. And much of what we do depends on trust and confidence and honor," said Gary Shapiro, first assistant U.S. attorney.

Federal authorities said they were shaken by what they said they found and Ambrose was called in and question by his superiors on several occasions. He denied having contacts with mob lieutenants John "Pudgy" Matassa and or with "Little Tony" Rizzo who had recently gone missing and has never turned up.

Records reveal Ambrose told investigators several conflicting stories including one that he leaked outfit information to curry favor with Chicago mob boss John "No Nose" DiFronzo but only for the purpose, he said, of helping to locate federal fugitives in the future.

"John Ambrose is not connected to the mob at all...it rests on impressions and opinions of an FBI agent," said Frank Lipuma, Ambrose' lawyer.

Ambrose lives in south suburban Tinley Park. He has never publicly spoken about this case. In a 2005 TV interview, Ambrose did discuss how his father motivates him to be a federal lawman. "As corny as it may sound, I feel like he's (my dad) nudging me in a direction or opens my eyes to something," said Deputy U.S. Marshal Ambrose.

Ambrose' father, Thomas, was a Chicago police officer, highly decorated and respected until he was snared in the notorious Marquette Ten police corruption scandal in the 1980's.

Another one of the Marquette ten was William Guidie, John Ambrose' family friend, the one to whom he allegedly passed inside information.

Nothing happened as a result of the breach and Calabrese went onto help convict the top bosses.

Federal judge John Grady said that 40-year-old Ambrose isn't charged with being a member of the Outfit, of murdering anybody or being involved in the Family Secrets Trial and that he is concerned about sensationalizing the proceedings.

That said, Judge Grady is allowing some witnesses in the Ambrose trial to testify from behind screens so no one will see their faces.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Chicago Mobsters Ordered to Pay Restitution

Chicago mob bosses convicted in the landmark Family Secrets trial have already been ordered to spend the rest of their lives in prison. Now they'll have also to pay up with their bank accounts.

Judge James Zagel late Monday afternoon ordered more than $24 million in fines and restitution to be paid, including $4.3 million to the relatives of 14 men who had been murdered by the mob. The gangland killings were the centerpiece of a prosecution that dismantled the Outfit's upper echelon in 2007.

Zagel's order means that Frank "The Breeze" Calabrese, James "Jimmy the Man" Marcello, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo and Paul "The Indian" Schiro are responsible for paying restitution for the murders, some of which occurred in the 1970's and 80's.

The court-ordered repayment is intended to cover the loss of income by the murder victims.

The government had estimated that the murder victims' lives, by way of lost earnings, were valued at $7.4 million. Prosecutors wanted the above four defendants and convicted corrupt Chicago police officer Anthony "Twan" Doyle to split the restitution tab. But Zagel let Doyle off the hook for most of the money.

"I expressed at sentencing that, in my view, Doyle was not an active or full member of the conspiracy in the 1960s," wrote Judge Zagel."None of those murders occurred after February 1999, the latest date at which there is little doubt over Doyle's participation in the conspiracy. Accordingly, I apportion 1% of the total restitution amount to Doyle, or $44,225.73. As to the remaining $4,378,347.16, I hold Defendants Calabrese, Sr., Marcello, Lombardo, and Schiro jointly and severally liable."

In addition to the restitution, forfeitures totaling $20,258,556 were imposed on the men as payback of ill-gotten profits from years of mob schemes, scams and rackets.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Will Leniency to Nick Calabrese End the Chicago Outfit's Foundation of Fear

Chicago Outfit hit man turned star government witness Nicholas Calabrese, who killed at least 14 men and wet his pants on his first murder assignment near Sox Park decades ago, stood in court to talk about fear.

"I chose my path in life," he told U.S. District Judge James Zagel before he was sentenced as the last man in the historic mob prosecution known as Family Secrets. "I was always with fear, and underneath that fear, there was a coward."

Not the Hollywood image of the Outfit hit man, but then Hollywood has always glamorized the mob. American audiences, so numbed by living in an increasingly bureaucratic culture, demand recognizable archetypes to fulfill escapist fantasies. It's Tony Soprano they want, the politically incorrect and unrepentant white guy who takes what he wants. But that's Hollywood, and Nick Calabrese is from Chicago, and he testified to wetting himself as a grown man, when he strangled Bones Albergo years ago with his brother Frank.

He's been afraid since he was a kid, afraid of Frank, afraid of failing at his work. That fear forced him to become meticulous in his planning of murders, so fussy about details that he sounded more like a grandmother at a quilting convention than some archetypal gangster.

That fear led him to become the first "made man" ever to testify against the Outfit, in the most significant prosecution of the mob in modern Chicago's history.

Outfit bosses Frank Calabrese, Joseph Lombardo and James Marcello have been sentenced, as have enforcer Paul Schiro and Chicago cop Anthony "Twan" Doyle. On Thursday it was Nick Calabrese's turn.

The families of his victims came up first, testifying tearfully about fathers who were shotgunned or strangled or tortured, never to see their kids grow up, graduate, marry and start their own families. Some wept, others spat out their hatred at Calabrese, and all asked Zagel to let him rot in prison.

It would have been the easy thing to do. Yet Zagel's job isn't about emotion, but rather about logic and the law, and he began to speak slowly, eloquently about leniency.

Not leniency to Calabrese, but leniency to all the other families of other victims unknown, future victims of other killers who might receive some small measure of justice if the law showed some mercy on Calabrese, to persuade men like him to testify in court.

"There is a phrase used in state courts, when individuals are charged with murder: 'Against the peace and dignity of the people of the state of Illinois,' " Zagel said. "And murder is a kind of war, and the organization you are involved in engages in that war, with faction against faction, and against the people."

Zagel noted that in another federal courtroom in April, Deputy U.S. Marshal John Ambrose will go on trial for allegedly being an Outfit messenger, guarding Calabrese and sending the bosses information about murder sites visited by Calabrese and FBI agents when the investigation began.

I wrote about the beginning of Family Secrets before it was called Family Secrets, back on Feb. 21, 2003, when Calabrese was quietly swept into the federal witness protection program, when the Outfit began to tremble, and I listed some of the murders that would be solved. I knew the Outfit bosses were worried. What I didn't know was how easily they could penetrate the federal shield.

The Outfit "will not forgive or relent in their pursuit of you," Zagel said to Calabrese, adding that even when he's a free man, Calabrese will never draw a secure breath.

He was sentenced to 148 months in prison, but given the time he's already served, Calabrese will be out in about four years. He should be available to testify in other trials.

Without Calabrese's testimony, there would have been no prosecution, and the big bosses would be out on the street, ordering hits, spreading corruption, sending their political errand boys to carry messages to local governments.

Watching him sitting at the defense table, an old man in jeans, glasses and a gray sweat shirt, trying to keep his lips from quivering and losing, it became clear that while the Chicago Outfit relies upon corrupt politicians to protect it, the Outfit was built on what was obvious in Nick Calabrese's eyes:

Fear.

Thanks to John Kass

Mob Hit Man Nick Calabrese, Admitted Killer of 14, Sentenced to 12 Years in Prison

It was a judgment day like none Chicago has ever seen.

Mob hit man Nicholas Calabrese, the admitted killer of 14 people, stood before a judge Thursday as the only made member of the Chicago Outfit ever to testify against his superiors. His cooperation solved some of the Chicago area's most notorious gangland killings and sent three mob leaders away for life.

Weighing Calabrese's terrible crimes against his unprecedented testimony in the Family Secrets trial, a federal judge sentenced him to just 12 years and 4 months behind bars, leaving relatives of Calabrese's many victims outraged and distraught.

One widow, Charlene Moravecek, collapsed moments after leaving the courtroom and was taken from the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on a stretcher. She had earlier glared at Calabrese in court and called him "the devil."

Anthony Ortiz, whose father, Richard, was shot to death by Calabrese outside a Cicero bar, called the sentence pathetic. "To me, that's a serial killer," Ortiz said of Calabrese. "That's less than a year for every person that he killed."

Making the sentence even harder for the families to swallow is the likelihood that Calabrese, 66, will be released from prison in as little as four years. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he must serve 85 percent of his sentence, but Calabrese has been incarcerated in connection with the Family Secrets case since November 2002.

Bob D'Andrea, the son of mobster Nicholas D'Andrea, whom Calabrese admitted beating with a baseball bat, said he expected the judge to be somewhat lenient. But Calabrese won't receive his ultimate penalty in this life, he said. "If he believes in God, he knows what he has coming," D'Andrea said.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel, who had to balance rewarding Calabrese for his extraordinary cooperation with punishing him for the 14 murders, knew his decision wouldn't be acceptable to many relatives of the victims. He spoke directly to them in a slow, deliberate tone.

"None of this happened without Nicholas Calabrese," Zagel said of the landmark Family Secrets prosecution. The judge reminded the crowded courtroom that Calabrese had given families some sense of closure. Zagel said he also had to consider that other would-be mob turncoats must be given some incentive to provide information too.

Federal prosecutors left the sentence to Zagel's discretion but later expressed support for his decision. However, "pure justice" would have required that Calabrese be imprisoned for the rest of his life, said First Assistant U.S. Atty. Gary Shapiro.

Shapiro, a veteran mob-fighter, noted that Chicago has been "the toughest nut to crack" in the U.S. when it comes to turning mob insiders. "Here Judge Zagel has sent the word out that if you do what Nick Calabrese has done, you have the chance of not spending the rest of your life in prison," he said.

With images of many of his 14 victims flashing on a screen just a few feet away, Calabrese had refused to even look that way. He instead stared down at the empty defense table looking like he was trying not to cry.

Wearing a plain gray shirt and jeans, he finally walked to the lectern with a slight limp. He apologized for his wrongdoing and said he thinks about his crimes all of the time. "I can't go back and undo what I done," he told Zagel as his wife and children looked on. "I stand before you a different man, a changed man."

Calabrese's testimony had riveted Chicago in summer 2007 as he pulled back the curtain on murder after murder. He testified about wetting his pants during his first killing, fatally shooting friend and hit man John Fecarotta and taking part in the notorious slayings of Las Vegas mob chieftain Anthony Spilotro and his brother, Michael. At trial, five men were convicted, including mob bosses James Marcello, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo and his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr. Four of them were linked to 18 murders in all.

All of the victims' family members who addressed Zagel in court Thursday said they understood the significance of what Calabrese had done, but they still said they wanted him to pay fully. They recounted years of heartbreak, with the men violently taken from them missing holidays, weddings and births.

"I have waited half a life for the chance to come face to face with the person responsible for my father's death," said Janet Ortiz, the daughter of Richard Ortiz.

Peggy Cagnoni, whose husband, businessman Michael Cagnoni, was killed in a car-bombing on the Tri-State Tollway that Calabrese had said took a hit team months to pull off, called Calabrese "the ultimate killer."

"I feel you are truly heartless and deserve no mercy," she said. "You got caught in a trap and had nowhere to go."

Calabrese had decided to cooperate after investigators confronted him in 2002 with DNA evidence taken from a pair of bloody gloves he dropped while leaving the scene of the Fecarotta homicide in 1986.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Markus Funk called Calabrese a "walking, breathing paradox." Funk acknowledged that the unassuming Calabrese could sometimes be a cold, robotic killer but said he had shown remorse and had done as much or more than anyone before him to damage the Outfit.

Calabrese's lawyer, John Theis, sought a sentence of less than 8 years in prison, which effectively would have meant his immediate release. Calabrese will forever live in fear, Theis said, but should be given the chance to once again be with his family.

Zagel said he doubts Calabrese will ever truly be free. No matter how long he lives or in what protected place it will be, Calabrese will always have to look over his shoulder. "The organization whose existence you testified to will not forgive or relent in their pursuit of you," he said.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Brother of Mob Boss to Testify Against U.S. Marshal

For months, Michael Marcello passed along key information about a top mob snitch during his 2003 prison visits to his half-brother, James "Little Jimmy" Marcello -- the Chicago Outfit's top boss.

The details about the key witness, mob killer Nicholas Calabrese, were allegedly coming from the man assigned to protect Calabrese from the mobsters who wanted him dead -- deputy U.S. Marshal John Ambrose.

Now, in a stunning reversal, Michael Marcello, once his imprisoned half-brother's eyes and ears on the street, will testify against Ambrose next month, a prosecution filing shows.

Ambrose is charged with leaking important information about Nick Calabrese to the Outfit. Marcello could provide key testimony about how the information allegedly made its way from Ambrose to Ambrose's friend with Outfit connections to reputed mobster John "Pudgy" Matassa to Michael Marcello to James Marcello. Matassa has not been charged in the case.

Michael Marcello pleaded guilty in the Family Secrets case in June 2007, admitting he ran an illegal video-poker business. He didn't agree to cooperate then and got 8½ years in prison.

It's unclear what prompted the turnaround. Prosecutors would not comment, and an attorney for Marcello did not return a message. Such cooperation often results in less prison time.

Prosecutors secretly recorded Michael Marcello's conversations when he visited James Marcello in prison.

The Marcellos were intent on finding out what Nick Calabrese had revealed about James Marcello's involvement in the 1986 killings of mobsters Anthony and Michael Spilotro.

James Marcello drove the Spilotros to a Bensenville area home, where the two men believed they were going to get promotions in the mob, according to testimony in the Family Secrets case. Instead, several mobsters, including Nick Calabrese, pounced on them and beat them to death.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Friday, March 20, 2009

Nick Calbrese's Lawyer to Seek Mercy from Courts

A lawyer for Outfit hit man Nicholas Calabrese has asked a judge for mercy by noting Calabrese's decision to cooperate in the landmark Family Secrets investigation almost certainly saved lives.

Calabrese's choice to testify against mob leaders James Marcello, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo and his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., undermined the Chicago mob's ability to carry out its work, lawyer John Theis wrote in a document filed Friday.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel is expected to sentence Calabrese next Thursday. Theis wrote in his memorandum that Calabrese will address the court as Zagel decides his fate.

"The fact that Defendant is and will be asking the court for a sentence which is reflective of his cooperation in this case is meant in no way to diminish his complete remorse and contrition for the pain and sorrow which he has caused many individuals and their families," the filing said.

Calabrese has admitted taking part in more than a dozen decades-old killings, including the infamous murders of brothers Anthony and Michael Spilotro. His testimony was the centerpiece of the Family Secrets trial in 2007, which resulted in convictions for the five men on trial.

Marcello, Lombardo and Frank Calabrese Sr. have since been sentenced to life in prison. Another defendant, Paul "the Indian" Schiro, was sentenced to 20 years for a murder in Arizona in which Nicholas Calabrese was the trigger man.

Prosecutors have told Zagel they would make no specific recommendation for what Calabrese should receive for his crimes, relying on Zagel's discretion. Calabrese has been incarcerated in the Family Secrets case since 2002.

The new filing indicates Calabrese will cite his extraordinary cooperation as a made member of the Outfit when he is sentenced. He decided to help the government for complex reasons, the filing said.

A heavy sentence would be a de facto life term for Calabrese, who is 67, Theis argued. In addition, his family will live in fear no matter what the judge does, the filing said.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob by Jeff Coen


Painting a vivid picture of the scenes both inside and outside the courtroom and re-creating events from court transcripts, police records, interviews, and notes taken day after day as the story unfolded in court in 2007, this narrative accurately portrays cold-blooded—and sometimes incompetent—killers and their crimes. In 1998 Frank Calabrese Jr. offered to wear a wire to help the FBI build a case against his father, Frank Sr., and his uncle Nick. A top Mob boss, a reputed consigliore, and other high-profile members of the Chicago Outfit were eventually accused in a total of 18 gangland killings, revealing organized crime's ruthless grip on the city throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. After a series of other defendants pled guilty, those left to face off in court alongside Frank Sr. were James “Little Jimmy” Marcello, the acting head of the Chicago mob; Joey “the Clown” Lombardo, one of Chicago’s most colorful mobsters; and Paul “the Indian” Schiro. A former Chicago police officer who worked in evidence, Anthony "Twan" Doyle, rounded out the list. The riveting testimony and wide-angle view provide one of the best accounts on record of the inner workings of the Chicago syndicate and its control over the city's streets.

The author, Jeff Coen, is a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, covering federal trials and investigations from the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in downtown Chicago. He was present in the courtroom throughout the Family Secrets trial, and his pieces on the case were featured in a popular series in the Chicago Tribune. He lives in Oak Park, Illinois.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Will Multiple Mob Murders be Solved by Operation Family Secrets - Part Two?

One of my loyal readers, Chicago mob boss James Marcello—captured on grainy federal recordings eating salty corn chips while discussing my column—will be sentenced in the "Family Secrets" case on Thursday.

Marcello, 66, may receive life in prison for his conviction of racketeering conspiracy in connection with previously unsolved Chicago Outfit murders.

The movie "Casino" incorrectly depicted Chicago mob brothers Anthony and Michael Spilotro beaten to death in an Indiana cornfield in 1986. But the trial showed that Marcello drove the Spilotros to a Bensenville home, where Michael thought he was going to become a "made member" of the Outfit. Bosses from every crew waited in the rumpus room for the brothers, who were beaten, strangled, their bodies dumped in the corn.

Dr. Pat Spilotro—dentist brother of the slain men—is scheduled to give a statement before U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel. Dr. Pat has been secretly working with the FBI for years. He's expected to name other mobsters he believes should also pay for the killings.

Many of the murders involved Nick Calabrese, the hit man turned federal witness, who spilled what he knew on his family and others, giving this case the name "Family Secrets."

So, how do I know Jimmy Marcello reads this column? It came up in trial evidence and federal tape.

In late February 2003, at the federal prison in Milan, Mich., the imprisoned Marcello is sitting with a visitor, his close friend Nick "The Caterer" Vangel, a Greek businessman so nicknamed by wise guys because he once owned The Carlisle banquet hall in Lombard.

That was a day or so after my column of Feb. 21, 2003, about Nick Calabrese entering the witness protection program, prepared to testify about the Spilotro and other hits. Nick Calabrese killed dozens of men, but the prospect of his testimony terrified the Outfit and they were trying to find out more.

"I just saw this last thing in the Trib," Vangel tells Marcello on the FBI surveillance tape about the column.

Marcello responds in Outfit code, with winks and nods. He also does another strange thing: Since they're talking murder, Marcello begins chomping on a bag of tasty snack food: Fritos. That's a Super Bowl commercial if I ever saw one.

As Vangel tells Marcello of Nick Calabrese, of bosses swabbed for DNA, of the murders being investigated and speculates about the grand jury, Marcello makes furtive motions with his eyebrows and hands. But he can't stop gobbling his crunchy fried corn.

Family Secrets cleared many Outfit killings. But others remain unsolved, perhaps waiting for a "Family Secrets II."

One mystery is the disappearance of mob boss Anthony Zizzo in September 2006, as prosecutors prepared their case. Zizzo vanished. His car turned up in the parking lot of a Melrose Park restaurant. He had been scheduled to meet some guys on Rush Street, but never made it. Imagine that.

Another is the 2001 murder of mob boss Anthony "The Hatch" Chiaramonti, gunned down in a Brown's Chicken restaurant in Lyons, the sign out front inviting customers to eat their fill "The Chicago Way."

And the 1998 killing of Michael Cutler, who was scheduled to testify in the case against Frank Caruso Jr., the son of the current reputed Outfit street boss Frank "Toots" Caruso. Junior had been charged with the savage beating of Lenard Clark, a black teenager, in Bridgeport. Cutler saw it all. But before he could testify, Cutler was shot once in the chest in what was called a random West Side robbery.

Random? If you say so.

The unsolved 1999 murder of hit man Ronnie Jarrett, killed outside his Bridgeport home, was believed to have been ordered by mobster Frank Calabrese (brother of Nick Calabrese), who last week was sentenced to life, but was never charged with the Jarrett hit.

One incredibly puzzling death hasn't even been listed as a hit. Outfit bookie and city worker Nick "The Stick" LoCoco—tangled in the City Hall Hired Truck scandal—loved to ride horses. In November 2004, the bookie went for a canter in the woods, fell off his steed and died. On a Sunday, with NFL games under way and money on the line, a bookie goes for a horseback ride? Isn't that odd?

Marcello will have plenty of time to ponder all this and read my column while munching on his Fritos, day after day after day. Betcha Jimmy can't eat just one.

Thanks to John Kass

Thursday, February 05, 2009

James Marcello, Highest Ranking Mobster Charged in Operation Family Secrets, Sentenced to Life in Prison

In the long history of the Chicago Outfit, few murders have captured national attention like the killings of Anthony and Michael Spilotro, two brothers found battered and buried in an Indiana cornfield in 1986.

On Thursday, the man reputed to be the one-time head of the Chicago mob stood before a federal judge with an emotionless stare, his hands folded in front of him as he prepared to hear his sentence for his role in the Spilotro killings. James Marcello's expression didn't change as U.S. District Judge James Zagel sentenced him to life behind bars. Marcello was believed to be the highest-ranking mobster felled by the 2007 Family Secrets mob conspiracy trial, and he was held responsible for its marquee murder.

The Spilotros were killed for bringing too much heat to the mob's lucrative arm in Las Vegas, then headed by Anthony Spilotro. The brothers' deaths were immortalized in the movie "Casino," which showed them being beaten with bats in a farmer's dark field.

The Family Secrets trial cleared up many of the myths surrounding the killings. Testifying for the government, mob turncoat Nicholas Calabrese explained how the brothers were actually lured to a suburban Chicago home with the promise of promotions but were jumped in a basement by a hit team.

In some of the most riveting testimony of the trial, Calabrese recounted how the men walked down the basement stairs. Realizing his fate, Anthony Spilotro asked whether he could say a prayer.

That moment was not lost on one of their brothers, Patrick Spilotro, a suburban dentist who aided federal authorities in the Family Secrets investigation. Spilotro was one of three relatives to address the court during Marcello's sentencing hearing and ask for a just punishment. Those who "denied my brothers a prayer . . ." he said, his voice trailing off, "deserve no mercy."

Prosecutors alleged Marcello drove Calabrese and others to the murder scene. He might have known how his actions would hurt others, Patrick Spilotro said, as Marcello lost his father in an Outfit killing.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Markus Funk argued for a stiff sentence, describing Marcello as more cunning, courteous and adept than the other mob figures at the trial. In short, he was management material. "That is why he, unlike them, is in a different position in the Outfit," Funk said.

Marcello's lawyers, Marc Martin and Thomas Breen, told the judge there was little they could say that had not been repeated often during the trial. Marcello pleaded not guilty and always maintained his innocence, they said. "Mr. Marcello has denied his involvement in the Spilotro brothers' murder as well as [a third murder]," Breen said. "That's all he can do."

When Zagel offered him a chance to address the court, Marcello declined, as many convicted reputed mobsters have historically done.

The judge then echoed Funk as he handed down the sentence, saying Marcello had shown self-control and judgment throughout the trial, unlike others who had sometimes come unglued. It was most significant to Zagel that "you could have done better," the judge told Marcello. "You know how to do better."

Marcello spent most of the hearing looking relaxed in a dark olive suit, even when the son of another of his victims turned from the courtroom lectern to stare him down. Bob D'Andrea's father, Nicholas, was beaten to death in 1981 while mob leaders were questioning him about an unauthorized attempt on the life of a ranking Outfit member.

D'Andrea told Marcello to imagine his father's pain as he was beaten with the butt of a shotgun while tied up in the back of a car. One day, Marcello will have to explain himself to God, D'Andrea said. "I hope Mr. Marcello has some good answers for him," he said. "That's not life. That's eternity."

At the defense table, Marcello sat still, one hand resting on his cheek.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

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

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