The Chicago Syndicate: Joseph Lombardo
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Showing posts with label Joseph Lombardo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Joseph Lombardo. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Peeking Inside Chicago's Modern Day Mob

The trial of a reputed mob boss known for his wide girth and alleged penchant for violence will offer a peek into the inner workings of Chicago-area organized crime, laid low by prosecutions that sent older mobsters to prison for life.

Michael “The Large Guy” Sarno, whose racketeering trial starts Wednesday in Chicago, is considered — at the relatively young age of 52 — a different breed of mobster, someone whose talents as an enforcer normally would not have translated into a top mob job.

“I would say he is the perfect example of the new face of the mob,” said Art Bilek, a one-time mob investigator at the Cook County State’s attorney’s office. “He has street smarts — he’s not a dope. What he simply doesn’t have is the intelligence some of the earlier guys had.”

That goes to show how far the mob has fallen, he and other law enforcement experts said.

The 2007 Family Secrets trial, the biggest such trial in Chicago in decades, was a body blow to the Chicago-area mob, also known as the Chicago Outfit. It ended in life sentences for reputed bosses James Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr. and Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo.

With aging kingpins behind bars and others dying, a weakened Outfit has scaled back a network that in its heyday, around 1970, encompassed operations ranging from prostitution and drugs to multimillion-dollar scams involving corrupt unions or Las Vegas casinos. But racketeering laws designed to target organized crime, aggressive federal prosecutors and competition from big-city street gangs or biker syndicates have severely cut into mob-associated operations. Not surprisingly, mobster numbers are down.

There are now fewer than 100 people formally initiated into the Chicago-area mob compared with more than 200 ‘made men’ around 1970, estimated Scott Burnstein, co-author of a book on the Family Secrets trial.

In Chicago, the mob now focuses more heavily on running illegal video gaming, with approximately 25,000 machines in bars and restaurants, generating millions of dollars in revenue, according to some estimates.

It’s leaders allegedly include Sarno, who weighed as much as 300 pounds and was known for using his bulk to collect mob gambling debts as an enforcer. Bilek says he suspects Sarno may have taken over operations in the city’s western suburbs from one of the imprisoned bosses.

Sarno’s defense attorney, Michael Gillespie, said allegations his client is linked to the mob are “fanciful.”

“The associations he has are with his family — his mom and dad,” Gillespie said Tuesday.

Whatever the case, it is impossible to know just where Sarno would fit in. That’s partly because the mob’s old pyramid structure is coming undone and true leaders are eager to maintain a low profile, even endeavoring to keep violence at a minimum, Bilek said.

Burnstein said there are reasons to question what would be the extent of Sarno’s power. For one, mob bosses want to see crime organizations they built up over decades continue after their deaths, so it’s likely more savvy mobsters also are being promoted. “I don’t think it’s quite fair to say Sarno’s the new face of the mob, therefore the mob is dead because he’s an idiot,” Burnstein said. “If he is the new power, I agree it wouldn’t bode well. But I’m sure there are other competent mobsters who aren’t just thugs.”

Sarno is accused of ordering co-defendants Mark Polchan and Sam Volpendesto to set off a bomb that wrecked the offices of a gaming company in Berwyn, C&S Coin Amusements. The aim, say prosecutors, was to send a message: Stop horning in on a profitable mob business.

The indictment alleges the enterprise Sarno was a part of also was responsible for burglaries and jewel thefts. The armed robbery of the Marry Me Jewelry Store in LaGrange Park netted nearly $650,000-worth of jewelry and other valuables, according to the indictment.

Sarno, Volpendesto and Polchan all have pleaded not guilty to racketeering and other related charges.

Polchan’s attorney, Damon Cheronis, would only say Tuesday that trial observers will see “a different picture painted than the one painted by the government.” Volpendesto’s lawyer, Michael Mann, declined to comment.

Thanks to LCN

Friday, March 12, 2010

Rudy Fratto Indicted on McCormick Place Bid-Rigging Scheme

Reputed mob lieutenant Rudy Fratto was arrested this morning after being charged with using inside information to rig a bid and win a forklift contract at McCormick Place.

Fratto, 66, was charged along with William Anthony Degironemo, 66, of Inverness, who runs MidStates Equipment Rentals and Sale.

Rudy Fratto Indicted on McCormick Place Bid-Rigging SchemeFratto was taken into custody at about 7:45 a.m. He joked with the Chicago Tribune's John Kass that it was "not too early" and that he was able to have his coffee.

Wearing jeans and a black jacket, he entered a plea of not guilty.

Prosecutors say Fratto and Degironemo were able to squeeze information from a worker at Greyhound Exposition Services (GES) of Las Vegas to win a forklift contract in 2006. The contract covered two shows at McCormick Place.

The worker owed a debt to members of the Cleveland organized crime family and a Chicago lawyer, and Fratto promised to use his "standing and association with the Chicago Outfit" to help him, prosecutors allege. Fratto told the worker he would help with the worker's "debt to Cleveland," authorities said. Fratto, Degironemo and the witness were to split the profits equally, they said.

Using the information, Fratto and Degionemo submitted the lowest bid and landed the contract, according to an indictment handed down Thursday.

Degironemo also had the Chicago lawyer arrange for four people to write reference letters on behalf of MidStates, according to the charges. And Deironemo provided GES with materials claiming his company was a leader in the forklift industry when the company wasn't actively involved in such work, authorities said.

The new charges against Fratto -- a reputed lieutenant in the Elmwood Park street crew of the Chicago Outfit -- comes more than a month after he was sentenced for tax evasion.

Fratto had admitted he failed to report nearly $200,000 in income in 2005. Federal authorities had said Fratto brought in income for several years by directing payments to him to come through a defunct company he ran.

In 2005, an FBI agent said Fratto was one of five high-ranking organized crime figures who met with Rosemont Mayor Donald Stephens to discuss what control the mob would have over contracts at a casino Stephens wanted to build in the town.

Sitting with Stephens at Armand's restaurant in Elmwood Park were Fratto, reputed mob leader Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, John "No Nose" DiFronzo, his brother Peter, and Joe "The Builder" Andriacchi, according to John Mallul, head of the FBI's organized crime unit in Chicago.

Mallul said agents learned of the May 29, 1999, meeting just days after it occurred from a longtime FBI informant who also was there. Stephens denied he had met with the men.

In January, Fratto was asked by a Tribune reporter about his alleged status in the Outfit. He said he was a "reputed good guy" and said he had no prior criminal history.

After the new charges were announced in court today, U.S. Magistrate Judge Maria Valdez ordered Fratto released on $200,000 bond and on home confinement. He is to report to custody April 27 to begin serving time in the tax case.

A lawyer for Fratto, Donald Angelini, asked Valdez to allow Fratto to attend his son's high school hockey games, and the judge agreed.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Jimmy DeLeo Era Begins

An important Illinois political story took place on Wednesday.

It didn't happen in Springfield or at Chicago's City Hall.

It took place on a quiet street in Oak Park. There were no TV cameras, no press aides. It was a somber ritual marking the transfer of power.

Sam Banks, the longtime political boss of the 36th Ward on the Northwest Side of Chicago, was laid to rest. He passed away after a long bout with cancer. The funeral was held at St. Giles Roman Catholic Church.

One of Sam's pallbearers was his former political apprentice, State Sen. James DeLeo, D-How You Doin'?

Sam was the guy for years. But there's a new guy now, reaching beyond the ward, from Rush Street to Rosemont and beyond:


The night before, at Salerno's Galewood Chapels on North Harlem Avenue, thousands of clout-heavy people attended the wake in rooms crammed with flower arrangements.

Attendees included trucking barons, asphalt kings, Republican and Democratic officials from across the state, right down to Christy Spina, the former driver for imprisoned Outfit boss Joey "The Clown" Lombardo. And there were plenty of judges, who along with the lawyers, helped form Sam Banks' network.

Criminal defense lawyer Tom Breen delivered the eulogy in church.

"If I were writing a newspaper column about Sam Banks," said Breen, "my newspaper column would be about a man who worked hard all his life, who loved his family, his career. That's the Sam Banks I would write about.

"He was a good person, he was a generous person. And I think we will miss him terribly."

Banks did love his family, and Breen is a fine lawyer. But he's no newspaper columnist. You can't write a column about the 36th Ward without asking some FBI types about the Chicago Outfit.

Almost two decades ago now, the old mobbed-up 1st Ward was scattered to the winds by federal prosecutions. The late Ald. Fred Roti, 1st, was sent to prison. With City Hall's official position that there is no Outfit, the old 1st Ward boundaries were erased on the city political maps.

"Once Roti was out of business, they did have other people to assume the same power and control in the 36th Ward," said Jim Wagner, the former head of the Chicago Crime Commission and longtime chief of the FBI's organized-crime section.

"If you're in organized crime, you're not going to give up the position of influence and authority," Wagner said. "You're going to turn to a replacement. That's what they are thought to have done."

Banks was low-key. He wasn't a showoff, no spaccone, like some. Again, remember, despite federal theories, there have been no Outfit-related charges. Sam was never charged. It's not illegal to know guys who know guys.

"What does that mean, ‘mob-associated?'" said DeLeo years ago, when the Sun-Times asked about political contributions he received from businesses connected to reputed Outfit boss John DiFronzo.

"In the year 2001, is there really a mob in Chicago?" DeLeo asked then, perhaps rhetorically.

Jimmy can be amusing. He's a funny guy.

Shortly after that witty comment, Chicago was treated to the most significant Outfit investigation in history. The "Family Secrets" case led to what amounts to life prison terms for top mob bosses and hit men.

In the "Family Secrets" trial, DeLeo and Sam's son, zoning lawyer and banker James Banks, were named in testimony by Ann Spilotro, widow of slain gangster Michael Spilotro, as the buyers of a business she owned. In other testimony, Sam Banks was named by a convicted burglar as an alleged conduit for protection money to corrupt cops.

Then in 2008, pressure on the 36th Ward organization increased. The Chicago Tribune investigative series "Neighborhoods for Sale" documented how clout influenced the politics of zoning in Chicago. While Sam Banks was strong, the Banks family was the first family of zoning in the city.

His brother William Banks was the alderman. For decades, Billy was chairman of the powerful City Council Committee on Zoning. Back when I covered City Hall, every time James Banks appeared before Uncle Billy's committee with a zoning matter, Uncle Billy would stand up and loudly excuse himself, saying he wanted no conflict of interest.

Then Billy would walk into the back room, perhaps have a sandwich, and wait while the other aldermen approved his nephew's zoning request. They probably didn't want a conflict of interest with Sam.

Recently, things have changed. With the feds interested in the 36th Ward, Billy has retired from the City Council. Jimmy might let him keep the Democratic committeeman's job and play with the precinct captains and pretend he's got power, but that's about it.

In his eulogy Wednesday, Breen said that moments after the family asked him to speak in church, his phone rang. It was the guy. It was Jimmy.

"He (DeLeo) said, ‘Tom, you know there is a time limit and you know that it's in a church, right?'" Breen recalled, getting some laughs. "So the golf jokes were out the window. The dinner jokes were out the window."

Jimmy is now retiring from the state Senate. He'll become a lobbyist. He still has his title insurance company business partner, Senate President John Cullerton, D-DeLeo, running things in Springfield.

Like Sam before him, it's time for Jimmy to go low-key. After all, he's the guy.

Thanks to John Kass

Reputed Mob Lawyer Sam Banks Succumbs to Cancer

Whether he was prosecuting comic Lenny Bruce on obscenity charges, defending a client, or fending off talk that he was a mob mouthpiece, lawyer Samuel V.P. Banks was a bulldog in the courtroom.

"Sam" Banks, who questioned witnesses with the force and cadence of a jackhammer, died of cancer Saturday at age 73 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

He was a member of one of Chicago's most politically connected families. His brother, former Ald. William J.P. Banks (36th), headed the City Council zoning committee until he retired last year; his son, James, is a zoning lawyer; his brother, Ronald J.P. Banks, was a judge, and his daughter, Karen, married state Rep. John A. Fritchey (D-Chicago).

Some of the city's most colorful federal probes -- and characters -- were braided through Mr. Banks' career.

Ronald Banks said his brother believed everyone deserved a strong defense. "He was good," Ronald Banks said. "He was not afraid to try any case. He believed you're innocent till proven guilty."

Sam Banks represented 1st Ward Ald. Fred Roti in 1989 after "Operation Kaffeeklatsch" broke wide open when a busboy found hidden recording equipment at a favorite pols' haunt: the old Counsellor's Row restaurant. Roti was a "made member" of the mob, according to the FBI.

In the 1991 "Gambat" probe of 1st Ward corruption, Mr. Banks defended Pasquale "Pat" Frank De Leo against charges he bribed Judge David J. Shields to fix a case.

At the 2007 "Family Secrets" trial of mobster Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, a former burglar testified he believed he'd passed bribes to police through Sam Banks. But the man admitted he never saw money change hands.

In 1989 at the Operation Greylord trial, former mob gambling boss Ken Eto -- who entered protective custody after a botched "hit"--linked Mr. Banks to a ticket-fixing scheme.

Mr. Banks was never charged with any wrongdoing.

"Sam used to say 'I take 'em as I find 'em," his brother Ronald said. "Insinuations, they do it all the time."

Mr. Banks loved the chess game of a trial, and never stooped to anything untoward because of his courtroom skill, his brother said. "Sam had too much dignity and class for that -- he was a talented man."

He grew up in the Austin neighborhood and graduated from Austin High and Loyola University. He worked his way through school as an investigator for what was then the city Welfare Department. His specialty was tracking deadbeat dads.

"One time, they knocked on a door and said they were with the Department of Welfare," his brother said. "Four bullet holes went through the door."

Mr. Banks had to call police to arrest the man inside.

Mr. Banks received his law degree from DePaul University, where he impressed Dan Ward, who was dean of DePaul's law school before becoming chief justice of the state Supreme Court.

When Mr. Ward became Cook County state's attorney, he asked Sam Banks to join him.

Mr. Banks successfully prosecuted comic Lenny Bruce on allegations of obscenity in his act at the Gate of Horn nightclub in 1963.

He was proud that he was Mr. Ward's protege, said retired defense attorney Patrick Tuite, who was sworn in as a prosecutor on the same day as Mr. Banks. "Some assistant or secretary was giving him some guff," Mr. Tuite recalled, "and he said, 'I didn't get this job through the Tribune want ads.' ''

"When I started out, he sent me a case and he gave me some encouragement and kind words," said defense attorney Terry Gillespie. "He was an aggressive, determined lawyer in the courtroom, but he had a compassionate side, especially with young lawyers."

To avoid anti-Italian bigotry, Mr. Banks' father, currency exchange owner Vincenzo Giuseppe Panebianco, anglicized his name to James Joseph and added "Banks" to their surname, said Ronald Banks. All his sons continue to use "P" or "Panebianco" in front of "Banks."

A resident of River Forest, Mr. Banks loved golfing at La Grange's Edgewood Valley Country Club and Riverside Golf Club.

He is also survived by his wife, Dorothy, his sister Marlene Panebianco, and two grandchildren. Visitation is from 3 to 9 p.m. today at Salerno's Galewood Chapels, 1857 N. Harlem. A funeral mass is scheduled at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Giles Church, Oak Park. Burial is at Queen of Heaven Cemetery, Hillside.

Thanks to Maureen O'Donnell

Friday, January 22, 2010

James "Little Jimmy" Marcello is Moving Back to Chicago

Mob boss James "Little Jimmy" Marcello gets to stay in Chicago...for now.

Judge James Zagel granted a motion this morning in federal court that allows Marcello to remain at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago while he appeals his Family Secrets conviction. He had been serving his life sentence in the maximum security penitentiary in Atwater, California, but was brought back to the MCC because of a petition filed against him by the United States Probation Office. Inexplicably, the government wants to cite Marcello for a long ago probation violation, even though he is serving a life sentence from the Family Secrets case.

If Marcello's appeal is denied then Judge Zagel will recommend the Bureau of Prisons assign Marcello to an institution such as Oxford, Wisconsin, instead of being sent back to California so he will be closer to his family. "Mr. Marcello has no family in California. His wife, three children and grandchildren reside in the Chicagoland area," states the Marcello motion.

Oxford has long been the prison of choice for Chicago Outfit figures, crooked politicians, white collar criminals and other cigar chomping convicts-because of its close proximity to Chicago.

Originally, Judge Zagel had recommended Marcello spend the rest of his life locked up in the fed's crossbar hotel in Terra Haute, Indiana. But Marcello's guilty co-defendant, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, is already assigned there. "It is our understanding that a 'seperatee' order prevented Mr. Marcello's designation to Terre Haute since Co-Defendant Joseph Lombardo was designated there" wrote Marcello's attorney Marc Martin.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

James Marcello Requests Prison Transfer Closer to His Family

When top Chicago Outfit boss James "Little Jimmy" Marcello was sentenced in the fed's Family Secrets mob murder case, he expected to do his time at a prison somewhere close to home.

To make it easy for family visits.

Judge James Zagel even "designated James Marcello to the maximum-security prison in Terra Haute, IN." according to a motion filed by Marcello's lawyers Monday in U.S. District Court. But the Bureau of Prisons had other plans for Little Jimmy and now he is trying to make things right.

BOP officials last year assigned the long-time Chicago hoodlum to a cell in the maximum security penitentiary in Atwater, California. Atwater is more than 100 miles from San Francisco.

"Mr. Marcello has no family in California. His wife, three children and grandchildren reside in the Chicagoland area," states the Marcello motion that will be heard Tuesday morning by Judge Zagel.

The problem may be that Marcello's guilty co-defendant, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, is assigned to the fed's crossbar hotel in Terra Haute."It is our understanding that a 'seperatee' order prevented Mr. Marcello's designation to Terre Haute since Co-Defendant Joseph Lombardo was designated there" wrote Marcello's attorney Marc Martin.

Marcello's motion asks that he be held in the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago while he appeals his Family Secrets conviction-or at least until the filing of the opening brief.

Then, the motion asks Judge Zagel to "recommend that the BOP designate Mr. Marcello to an institution closer to his family, e.g., Oxford, WI."

Oxford has long been the prison of choice for Chicago Outfit figures, crooked politicians, white collar criminals and other cigar chomping convicts-because of its close proximity to Chicago.

Marcello does have one thing going for him: he's already been brought back to the MCC in Chicago because of a petition filed against him by the United States Probation Office. Inexplicably, the government wants to cite Marcello for a long ago probation violation, even though he is serving a life sentence from the Family Secrets case.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Reputed Mob-Backed Video Poker Machines Under Investigation

A federal investigation of mob-backed video poker machines is now under way in the Bridgeport neighborhood, sources have told the Chicago Sun-Times and NBC5 News. And tavern owners, in whose bars the poker machines were located, have been called to testify before a federal grand jury.

The raids, according to law enforcement sources, began over the summer.

“They hit several taverns, 10 or 12 of them maybe,” confirmed attorney Joseph Lopez, who said the FBI took all the circuit boards out of the machines.

One such raid, according to a knowledgeable source, took place at the Redwood Lounge at 3200 S. Wallace. Reached at home, the bar’s owner, Nick Spazio, declined to comment when asked if his tavern was the object of an FBI raid. “Sweetheart, I can’t really talk to you on the advice of my lawyer . . . we better leave it alone,” he told a reporter.

The bar is now closed.

Authorities believe the video poker machines, which produce illegal payouts, tie back to the operation of the late Joseph “Shorty” LaMantia, a top lieutenant in the 26th Street Crew.

LaMantia, in turn, worked under Frank Calabrese Sr., who was convicted in 2007 in the historic Family Secrets trial, involving 18 unsolved mob murders. Calabrese, Joseph Lombardo and three others were found guilty on racketeering and conspiracy charges.

A jury ruled that Calabrese, 72, took part in seven outfit hits and ran an illegal gambling operation. He was sentenced to life in prison.

At the end of the trial, Robert Grant, special agent in charge of the Chicago FBI office, said his agents’ work was not done. “It’s not the end of the Outfit,” he said. “I would declare to you right now we are actively investigating the Chicago Outfit.”

Video poker machines have long been a staple of Chicago taverns and a rich source of revenue for the Chicago mob.

Currently, it is the state that is desperate for revenue. And so in July, Gov. Quinn signed a bill to legalize video poker as a way to fund state construction projects. But those machines won’t be able to legally make payouts until the Illinois Gaming Board can hire sufficient staff to license them and enforce their operation. A Gaming Board official said the goal is to be up and running by the end of 2010.

The plans call for an estimated 45,000 to 60,000 legal video poker machines in bars and taverns statewide. So far, about 49 cities, town and counties, including Cook and DuPage, have opted to ban them. (The county bans apply only to unincorporated areas.)

The Legislature, according to the Gaming Board, allocated $3.3 million to the board in fiscal year 2009 and $4.7 million in fiscal year 2010, allowing it to double its existing staff. Half of the new hires will be dedicated to monitoring video poker machines.

Critics argue that even with additional personnel it will be a daunting, if not impossible, challenge to wire all the machines to a central location and ensure no criminal influence.

Then there is the question of what will the mob do? Jim Wagner, a former FBI supervisor and past head of the Chicago Crime Commission, believes video poker remains too lucrative for the Outfit to cede its profits to the state.

There’s “too much money to be made with those machines to turn their backs on it,” Wagner said. “They have their own equipment out there and that won’t change.”

The U.S. attorney’s office declined to comment for this story.

Thanks to Carol Marin and Don Mosely

Monday, November 30, 2009

Rudy Fratto Seeks to Delay Federal Sentencing

Chicago Outfit bosses have devised some shrewd excuses to stall justice, from feigning heart attacks and strokes to babbling incoherently as if possessed by an evil spirit.

About the time most people were starting to thaw the Thanksgiving bird last week, Rudolph C. "Rudy" Fratto of Darien was filing a motion to put off his federal court sentencing for a while.

The reason?

His lawyer needs a vacation in a sunny place. And then after the vacation his lawyer needs eye surgery.

Most people would take a break after an operation, but maybe the attorney needs to rest up for the surgery.

Regardless, by syndicate standards Fratto's delay tactic - laying it off on his lawyer - deserves a C at best. But as lame as the motion may be, the occasion allows me to revisit Mr. Fratto, whose well-cleansed and affluent suburban lifestyle has allowed him rapid upward movement in the Outfit, according to mob investigators.

As the omnipotent overseer of Outfit rackets in Elmwood Park, according to mobologists, for years Fratto has flown just below the fed's radar. Then, the lanky and birdlike Fratto committed the same mistake that eventually brings down all crooks: tax charges.

The feds finally got Al Capone that way. They caught Rudy Fratto when he neglected to ante up more than $141,000 in taxes on about $835,000 in income. So, the government got him indicted by a federal grand jury.

Now I know that federal prosecutors could get a hamburger indicted, as Joey "the Clown" Lombardo said recently in the Family Secrets mob murders case. But after they are indicted, nobody makes them plead guilty as Fratto, 65, did last month.

The kindly U.S. District Judge Matthew F. Kennelly set sentencing for Jan. 12, which allowed Fratto to spend the holidays with his family.

Last Thursday Mr. Fratto no doubt gave extra thanks for his timely fortunes and took an extra helping of mashed potatoes. And he will be able to enjoy a very merry Christmas and a blissful New Year with his loved ones before the judge considers handing him 12 to 18 months, which is the term called for in his plea bargain.

A year and a half isn't the kind of stay at the Crossbar Hotel that "Scarface" was given for breaking federal tax laws, but it no doubt is an unwelcome cold spell for a late-budding mob boss.

Now though, Mr. Fratto's sentencing may be delayed even further due to his lawyer's vacation plans and untimely cataract surgery.

The Fratto motion, to be heard on Wednesday morning in federal court, asks for a delay in sentencing to Feb. 12 for the convenience and pleasure of Fratto's attorney, Arthur N. Nasser.

"The defendant's attorney had made plans to visit with his family during Thanksgiving weekend in McLean, Va., and Christmas in Charleston, W.V." states the motion. "Thereafter, he has reservations to travel to Palm Springs, Calif., for 12 days departing Dec. 28, 2009 and returning to Chicago on Jan. 9, 2010. Upon his return to Chicago he is scheduled to have a cataract removed from his right eye ... on Jan. 14, 2010."

Such an excuse might have been better suited for Fratto's dearly-departed crime syndicate relative, Luigi Tomaso Giuseppi Fratto, who was a gangland boss and labor racketeer from the 1930s into the '60s.

Fratto was also known as "Cockeyed Louie" due to his off-kilter eyeball. Modern surgery could have fixed the problem.

"Cockeyed" is just one of Fratto's blood relatives who toiled in the trenches of the mob when it was in its infancy during the 1920s.

Rudy's public behavior certainly befits that of a smart-aleck Outfit boss. Federal records first reported by the ABC 7 I-Team revealed that Fratto was considered a major threat to major mob witness Nicholas Calabrese, a reformed hitman.

Calabrese' compelling testimony helped put away top hoodlums during the Family Secrets trial. Fratto was not charged in that case. Also, he was photographed over the years by federal surveillance teams during meetings with mob leaders. In 2001, he was seen at a secret Outfit summit where the takeover of video-poker turf in the suburbs was being hatched.

On another occasion, Fratto was observed meeting with former Chicago Police Chief of Detectives William Hanhardt. The duo was plotting of a proposed gangland hit, according to testimony in 2002 during a sentencing hearing in Hanhardt's jewel theft case. The hit did not occur and Hanhardt is serving a federal prison sentence. But getting a sentencing extension because your lawyer needs a Palm Springs vacation? Wimping out like that surely will not earn Rudy Fratto a place in the Outfit's Hall of Famous Ploys, Tricks and Tactics.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

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, June 01, 2009

Illnois General Assembly Scholarships Have Mob Association Now

If the Tribune's series on political clout influencing University of Illinois admissions hasn't made you angry enough, try this one:

Kurt Berger is a corrupt former Chicago Buildings Department supervisor now in federal prison for taking bribes. A couple of years ago, he had a problem. It wasn't just the FBI.

In 2007, Berger's son was a student at a state school, as Berger was facing time in the federal pen. The feds shut down his bribe operation, and he needed some extra cash for the tuition. But he didn't have enough. So he gladly accepted the gift of your cash. That's right, yours. And who helped him to your cash?

Why, none other than state Sen. James DeLeo (D-How You Doin?), the eminent philanthropist.

Under a little publicized program called the Illinois General Assembly Scholarships, DeLeo provided a year's free tuition for the son of the bribe-taker at Northern Illinois University.

The program is available to all Illinois legislators. Each lawmaker receives the equivalent of two four-year scholarships (actually tuition waivers) for state schools every year. Legislators may parcel these out in any way they wish.

State records show that in 2008, DeLeo handed out eight one-year scholarships, including the one to the Bergers.

Other recipients were the son of Chicago Fire Department Battalion Chief Edward Doherty, whose son attends the University of Illinois at Chicago. Chief Doherty is the brother of Far Northwest Side Ald. Brian Doherty (41st).

Another DeLeo waiver went to the son of James McKay, the chief of death penalty prosecutions at the Cook County state's attorney's office.

Berger doesn't have much of an income in prison. But Chief Doherty makes $120,000 a year, city records show. The county lists McKay's salary at $150,000 a year.

McKay said that he hardly knew DeLeo and that his position had nothing to do with it. He said his son, whom he described as an A student, applied on his own. "I don't have any clout," McKay said. "He's not the son of some politically connected person."

Doherty said his son has received the tuition waiver from DeLeo for the last two years. The chief has known DeLeo for years, and Doherty's wife, Gina, is an aide to state Rep. Michael McAuliffe (R-Chicago). "My son's achievements got him the scholarship. He excels," Doherty said. "It's open to anybody who lives in the district and it's up to DeLeo. Were we happy? Absolutely."

The political tuition program has been around for decades, dispensing millions of dollars each year. Those who receive the tuition waivers are eager young people who want to go to college. But some are also clout kids.

The Tribune investigative series "Clout Goes to College" -- by reporters Jodi Cohen, Tara Malone, Stacy St. Clair and Robert Becker -- has been detailing a different aspect of political influence in higher education. Politicians, lobbyists and university trustees frequently use clout to win admission to the U. of I. for students who wouldn't otherwise qualify. But what of high school seniors with top grades and exceptional ACT scores who aren't accepted at U. of I. because somebody's somebody who doesn't belong got their spot? DeLeo and his obedient sidekick, state Rep. Angelo "Skip" Saviano (R-Jimmy), are big players in the admissions game. Sunday's "Clout Goes to College" installment shows that in the last five years alone, the two have backed at least 50 students who ended up on the admissions clout list.

That list is called "Category I." But the one I'm writing about today -- the money part -- also needs a cool name. How about we call it the "We Don't Want Nobody Nobody Sent Scholarship Fund?"

I figure that, for some clout kids, the two lists intersect.

It's nothing new for DeLeo. A few years ago, he helped the daughter of one of the Chicago Outfit's favorite law enforcement officers, corrupt former Cook County Undersheriff James "The Bohemian" Dvorak. With Dvorak in prison, DeLeo waived tuition for Dvorak's daughter at Eastern Illinois University, though she didn't live in Jimmy's district.

Records show that in the past, DeLeo has accepted campaign donations from mob-controlled businesses. In 2001, the Sun-Times asked him if this meant he was connected.

"What does that mean, mob-associated?" he said. "In the year 2001 is there really a mob in Chicago?"

That was years before DeLeo was mentioned in the recent Family Secrets trial of Outfit chiefs, when mob widow Annie Spilotro testified that DeLeo and zoning lawyer James Banks purchased her husband Michael's restaurant, in a building owned by mob boss Joey "the Clown" Lombardo.

On Friday, we called DeLeo. But not at the casino in Aruba. Instead, we called his Springfield office to ask about both of the clout lists. But no word from Jimmy. And Kurt Berger? He'll spend the summer in Duluth, Minn., as inmate No. 19350-424, and is scheduled for release in September.

That's an exciting time, when students are eager to buy new school supplies, the crisp notebooks, pencil sharpeners, snazzy book bags. And school begins anew, the Chicago Way.

Thanks to John Kass

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chicago Mob Boss Dies

One of Chicago's oldest, most powerful mob figures has passed away.

ABC-7's I-Team has learned that Alphonse Tornabene died on Sunday. ABC7 investigative reporter Chuck Goudie was the last reporter ever to question Tornabene.

In mob ranks Tornabene was known as "Pizza Al" because of the west suburban pizzeria that he'd owned for decades. But federal authorities say Al Tornabene was also into another kind of dough as an overseer of the crime syndicate's books.

By the time he died on Sunday at age 86, Pizza Al had risen to the upper crust of the Chicago Outfit.

When the I-Team first met the outfit octogenarian in 2007, he was a relative unknown to the public and even to federal agents. Authorities had been surprised to learn of Tornabene's high-ranking position in the mob hierarchy.

Former hitman and federal informant Nick Calabrese had told U.S. investigators that Tornabene was one of two men who administered the initiation rites of Outfit.

The so-called making ceremony was just like Hollywood showed it, complete with bloodmixing and burning holy cards, according to Calabrese, with Tornabene co-officiating the proceedings with Joey "Doves" Aiuppa, the late mob boss.

Such an assignment would have made Tornabene one of the mob's top men.

His house in Summit and a summer outpost in William's Bay, Wisconsin, were both modest by top hoodlum standards.

The pizzeria that Tornabene founded is open for business on Monday but a sign announces the sad news that "due to a death in the family" they will be closed Wednesday for the funeral.

Mobwatchers say Tornabene's true legacy is in another family, one that the ailing pizzaman laughed off in his final interview.

GOUDIE: "The Crime Commission is saying that you run the mob?"
TORNABENE: (laughs) "I can't even move..."

He managed to get around for almost two more years after we met him that day.

The wake for Al Tornabene will be Wednesday and his funeral will be Thursday morning.

With Tornabene gone and wisecracking mobster Joey "the Clown" Lombardo in prison for life, that leaves the reigns of the Chicago Outfit in the hands of just one man, according to federal agents: John "No Nose" DiFronzo.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Highlights from the John Ambrose Trial

*Brother Patrick Martin was the last defense witness, called to tell of Ambrose's character. He had coached Ambrose on the wrestling team at St. Laurence High School in Burbank and had remained in regular contact with him. When Assistant U.S. Attorney Diane MacArthur addressed Martin as "Father," he corrected her, saying "My name is 'Brother.'" She was about to resume questioning him, when he interrupted her with, "I'm sorry, I don't know your name." It might've been the one time MacArthur was thrown off her game.

*The jurors asked many questions during the trial via notes they submitted to U.S. District Judge John Grady, mostly wanting to ask something else of a particular witness.

*Grady is a judge who apparently thinks this is a good idea. One of the jurors' questions elicited one of the more interesting revelations of the trial - that two witnesses at a major mob trial in 2007 did not want to be protected by marshals after hearing of Ambrose's alleged security breach. They were guarded instead by FBI agents.

* Also, a juror requested a transcript from the opening arguments and closing statements of the trial. Grady laughed as he turned that one down.

* During his time on the witness stand, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald kept talking about his habit of not wearing a watch. "I should wear a watch," he concluded after the third reference.

* A large gray partition was used during the testimony of some deputy marshals to protect their identities from the public - even for one who retired in January and another who has a different job now. They were identified only as Inspector Four and Deputy Six.

* The trial did not have a lot of drama. No shouting by attorneys. During the prosecution's closing argument, Grady told Ambrose to stop "wagging his head" back and forth. When his attorney gave his closing arguments, Ambrose wept silently when his father, Thomas, was mentioned - a former Chicago police officer who was convicted in the famous "Marquette 10" police corruption trial in 1982 and imprisoned. The man to whom Ambrose allegedly leaked the critical information was a former Chicago cop who was convicted with Ambrose's father.

One of the Chicago mob's more colorful figures, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, was "smitten" with Ambrose's mother, who would visit her husband at a federal prison that also housed Lombardo, an FBI agent testified during the trial. He said she used to go to the prison in Milan, Mich., with the wife of Frank DeRango, a fellow "Marquette 10" defendant who was Thomas Ambrose's police partner and was incarcerated with him there. After Ambrose died in prison, his wife continued to travel with Mrs. DeRango, and one day Lombardo insisted on taking a photo with her, the agent said.

Thanks to Lauren Fitzpatrick

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:


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

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

Monday, March 16, 2009

Mob Mug Shot Collection Exceeds 10,000 Photos

When mobster Lucky Luciano was being photographed by New York City police in 1936, he probably had no idea his mug shot would one day be sought after like a Babe Ruth baseball card. But to collectors like John Binder of River Forest, that's a valuable piece of... art?

These unglamorous shots and lineup photos are being accepted as art with more than just collectors seeking them. Binder said when the photos were taken, there was some consideration of composition and lighting, and the pictures were developed on photographic paper before police departments started using Polaroids and later digital cameras. Thus, he said, the art world has become more accepting of these photos as art, and there have been exhibitions in Los Angeles and New York.

"The art world has expanded dramatically in the last few years," Binder said. "The early ones used much better photography."

Binder, author of The Chicago Outfit, has amassed more than 10,000 mug shots and lineup photos of a range of crooks, from everyday petty criminals to mob bosses. Some get displayed in galleries, some get sold or traded, some never leave his collection, which includes some of the most infamous organized crime figures in history: Charles "Lucky" Luciano, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegal, Sam Giancana, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, John "No Nose" DiFronzo, Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo, and Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti.

His interest in mug shots and lineup photos began in the 1990s, when he started researching who the other people were in a photograph of Al Capone. It led to more research into the world of organized crime in Chicago and New York, which led to him purchasing crime photos.

"It's just a general interest in history," he said. "The photographs are interesting in their own right."

He started his collection with the purchase of 10,000 photos from a collectibles dealer, who bought them from a retired police officer's family. Binder has added to the collection with one or two photos at a time from various sources. He has one of the biggest collections of its kind in the United States.

He admits it's an esoteric collection. It's not like someone can just walk into a shop and say, "I'm looking for a mug shot of a ruthless criminal."

Binder said collectors of crime photos rely on word of mouth and, if they're lucky, someone will let them dig through their old photos. Sometimes police departments will have stored old mug shots and lineup photos, and put them up for sale on Ebay.

Binder sold an original 1927 Bugsy Siegal mug shot for well over $1,000, and has sold several photos of lesser-known criminals to cops and attorneys who want to use them to decorate their bars or offices.

"There is a price for most of what I have," he said. "But, some of the good stuff I keep for my own private collection."

But, he doesn't have everybody.

Wanted: An original Al Capone mug shot.

Thanks to J.T. Morand

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Is John DiFronzo Now the Undisputed Boss of the Chicago Mob

With last month's life sentences for several top hoodlums, Outfit investigators say John DiFronzo is now the undisputed boss of the Chicago mob.

He's been called "No Nose" ever since part of his nose was sliced off while jumping through a window during a Michigan Avenue burglary.

After the I-Team was told by numerous organized crime sources that John "No Nose" DiFronzo holds a regular luncheon meeting at a west suburban restaurant, we took a look for ourselves. (Video of the meeting.)

A train whistle signals the approach of noon in west suburban River Grove. Also like clockwork on this Friday is the arrival of John DiFronzo to the Loon Cafe.

The 80-year-old convicted mob boss has driven his shiny new pickup truck a few blocks from the Grand Avenue home where he has lived for years.

He is the first one at the restaurant for "Lunch with No Nose."

"Mr. Difronzo's been there on a regular basisThe Chicago Outfit. The earlier story was that he was in there like clockwork every Tuesday night. It was his local watering hole just like a lot of guys in Chicago have their local wateringhole. Rumor has it that he's in there a bit more frequently these days," said John Binder, author of "The Chicago Outfit (IL) (Images of America)."

His nose long since re-cast from the old days and more likely to be called "Johnny Bananas" to his face, DiFronzo is the first to arrive.

His brother Peter shows up next. The owner of a suburban waste-hauling firm, Peter DiFronzo is a convicted warehouse thief who did time at Leavenworth. Mob investigators say, like his brother, Peter is a fully initiated "made" member of the Chicago Outfit and believed to be his brother's most trusted lieutenant and advisor.

Then comes Marco "the Mover" Damico, a one-time bricklayer and DiFronzo protoge. Damico is a convicted mob capo with a 50-year criminal history of gambling, racketeering and toug guy intimidation. "Marco at one time was running the Elmwood Park Street Crew. I wouldn't be surprised if they found him a higher stature position if one was available right after he got out," said Binder.

Next to arrive, another DiFronzo brother, Joe, a former juice loan boss, once convicted of running the nation's largest indoor marijuana farm.

Other DiFronzo chums walk in, until the table for nine is full, for what could be a command performance.

"Anybody in the Outfit would go when they're called. It's a very hierarchical organization. A lot of these guys would spit in the face of the devil walking through the doors of Hell," said Binder.

For decades the Chicago mob has been conducting business at restaurant dining tables. One of the most famous photos in Outfit history was snapped in 1976 and was later found by the FBI during a raid. It shows a group of mobsters at a table.

Except for Joey "the Clown" Lombardo who was just sentenced to life in prison, the crime syndicate leaders seen together in the photo are all dead.

But now, there is a new family photo, taken by the I-Team just last Friday as John "No Nose" DiFronzo dishes out pizza to the Outfit's upper crust.

After the two hour pizza and wine meeting, DiFronzo was first to leave.

GOUDIE: "John...
DIFRONZO: How ya doin' buddy?"
GOUDIE: "How was the meeting?
DIFRONZO: What meeting?
GOUDIE: The pizza lunch.
DIFRONZO: Oh, yeah. that was good. That was good."
GOUDIE: You come here a lot?
DIFRONZO: No, first time.
GOUDIE: Mr. Damico in there?
DIFRONZO: I have...I don't even know who he is.
GOUDIE: I thought I saw him going into your lunch.
DIFRONZO: No, I haven't seen him. He hasn't been around."

DiFronzo was not charged during the landmark Family Secrets trial in 2007 that took down major mob bosses and solved more than a dozen gangland murders. But key witness and hitman Nick Calabrese testified that DiFronzo had a hand in the grisly, 1986 murders of Las Vegas mob boss Anthony Spilotro and his brother Michael. During a sentencing hearing last month, Park Ridge dentist Dr. Pat Spilotro challenged the government to arrest DiFronzo for his part in killing of his brothers.

GOUDIE: "Pat Spilotro said he wanted to know why the government hadn't picked you up in connection with Family Secrets.
DIFRONZO: I, uh--don't know anything about it...sorry.'

"From the federal government's point of view, the jury believed Nick Calabrese, they believed everything he said. The government convicted everybody. One of the things Nick Calabrese said was that John Difronzo was one of the guys beating on the Spilotros. He's the one guy left still alive who was identified by Nick Calabrese who hasn't been indicted and tried," said Binder.

GOUDIE: Are you concerned that you may end up in Family Secrets two?
DIFRONZO: I'm not concerned at all...bye bye...nice talkin' to you."

The pleasantries may soon be finished for John DiFronzo.

In two weeks mob informant Nick Calabrese is scheduled to be sentenced . But Calabrese' work as a government witness will probably not end. His next appearance could come against the man they call "No Nose."

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

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.

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


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