The Chicago Syndicate: Ku Klux Klan
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Showing posts with label Ku Klux Klan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ku Klux Klan. Show all posts

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Gangbuster: One Man's Battle Against Crime, Corruption, and the Klan

As gripping as it is prescient, Gangbuster: One Man's Battle Against Crime, Corruption, and the Klan, is the first-ever history of the battle waged by one rookie District Attorney, Philip Van Cise, against the KKK, organized crime, and government corruption at the highest levels throughout the 1920s. One century later, in the face of contemporary society’s divisiveness and fearmongering politics, the personal courage of this maverick’s battle against underworld figures and a mainstream white supremacist movement is more relevant and inspiring than ever.

At the height of the roaring 1920s, the ex-frontier town of Denver, Colorado, emerged from the postwar boom as the future of the American city. But the slick façade of progress and opportunity masked a murky stew of organized crime, elaborate swindles, and widespread government corruption. One man risked everything to alter the course of history.

Rookie district attorney Philip Van Cise was already making national headlines for a new brand of law enforcement. Employing military intelligence tools he’d developed during the Great War—wiretapping, undercover operatives, communication intercepts—Van Cise crippled the criminal empire of Lou Blonger, an ex-lawman who had risen from petty scam artist to master of the Big Con. But Van Cise had even darker, more malevolent forces on his radar.

The Ku Klux Klan had emerged as a shockingly mainstream middle-class movement, employing anti-immigration scare tactics, encouraging vigilantism, and instigating culture wars, all while claiming to protect true American values. Van Cise saw the toxic ideology for what it was: a new version of the Big Con sold as populism. Utilizing his pioneering surveillance techniques, Van Cise was determined to expose the Invisible Empire from within.

Gripping and exhaustively researched, this prescient chronicle of Philip Van Cise’s spectacular career as a feared gangbuster taking on organized crime, the KKK, and corruption at the highest levels of government is a cautionary tale that mirrors our tumultuous times

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Bloody Vendetta of Southern Illinois By Milo Erwin & Jon Musgrave

The Bloody Vendetta of Southern Illinois covers the deadly family feuds and Ku Klux Klan activities during the decade following the Civil War focused in the counties of Franklin, Jackson and Williamson.

Milo Erwin wrote the first major account of the Vendetta during its immediate aftermath in 1876 as part of his History of Williamson County, Illinois.

Now, Jon Musgrave takes Erwin's account and expands upon it with additional material from surrounding counties and further research into the characters who left such a mark on the region.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Mafia Suspected of Starting Race Wars

More than a thousand African workers were put aboard buses and trains in the southern Italian region of Calabria over the weekend and shipped out to immigrant detention centers, following some of the country’s worst riots in years.

The clashes began Thursday night in Rosarno, a working-class city amid citrus groves in Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, after a legal immigrant from Togo was lightly wounded in a pellet-gun attack in a nearby city. It is not clear who pulled the trigger — the authorities said they were investigating whether organized crime had provoked the riots — but the consequences were severe.

Blaming racism for the attack, dozens of immigrants burned cars and smashed shop windows in Rosarno in two days of riots, throwing rocks at local residents and fighting with the police. More than 50 immigrants and police officers were wounded, none seriously, and 10 immigrants and locals were arrested before the authorities began sending the immigrants to detention centers elsewhere in southern Italy on Saturday.

The images emerging from Calabria over the weekend — of torched cars and angry African immigrants hurling rocks — were the most vivid example of the growing racial tensions in Italy, which have been exacerbated by an economic crisis whose depth has only recently been acknowledged in the national dialogue. Both the official and underground economies increasingly rely on immigrants, while Italy remains torn between acceptance and xenophobia.

The riots also shone a bright light on a side of the country rarely seen in tourist itineraries. On Sunday, the authorities began bulldozing the makeshift encampments outside Rosarno where hundreds of immigrants live in what human rights groups describe as subhuman conditions. They are often paid less than $30 a day picking fruit, a job that many Italians see as beneath them. Organized crime syndicates are known to have a strong grip on every level of the Calabrian economy.

“This event pulled the lid off something that we who work in the sector know well but no one talks about: That many Italian economic realities are based on the exploitation of low-cost foreign labor, living in subhuman conditions, without human rights,” said Flavio Di Giacomo, the spokesman for the International Organization for Migration in Italy.

The workers live in “semi-slavery,” added Mr. Di Giacomo, who said, “It’s shameful that this is happening in the heart of Italy.”

Pope Benedict XVI veered from his prepared remarks in his Angelus message on Sunday to denounce the violence in Calabria. “An immigrant is a human being, different in origin, culture and tradition, but he is a person to respect, with rights and duties,” the pope said. He also criticized the “exploitation” of immigrants.

It was not entirely clear if all the immigrants left willingly for the detention centers, or if some were forced to leave. In a reconstruction of the days of violence, the police said they were protecting the immigrants against would-be assailants, at least one of whom brandished a pistol.

Some immigrants told the Italian news media that Calabrians had shot at them and beaten them with sticks in the riots, and a front-page editorial in La Repubblica on Sunday compared the situation to Ku Klux Klan violence in the United States in the 1960s. But other news reports said that many immigrants had fled their encampments in haste before the police began clearing them with bulldozers.

Not all immigrants appear to have left the city, but those who are in the immigration centers with regular residence permits, or who had requested political asylum, are free to go, the interior minister, Roberto Maroni, said Sunday in a television interview. The others, he said, will be identified and deported.

The riots in Rosarno were a rare instance in which an entire city was engulfed by immigrant violence. In September 2008, Italy sent 400 members of the National Guard to Castelvolturno, outside Naples, after violent protests broke out over the shooting deaths of six African immigrants in clashes with the Camorra, the Neapolitan Mafia. Last February, immigrants set fire to the detention center on the island of Lampedusa, where many had been held awaiting deportation.

There are 4 million legal immigrants in Italy, out of a population of 60 million, and even more illegal immigrants. And while many Italians rely on them to work in their businesses and take care of their young children or elderly parents, many Italians see the new arrivals as a threat.

In television interviews, some Rosarno residents said they had lived peacefully alongside the immigrants and tried to give them work and food. But others were more hostile. “We’ve put up with them for 20 years,” one man shouted in a television interview on Sky TG24.

In recent years, the center-right government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has issued strong anti-immigrant statements. Mr. Berlusconi, who is recovering after being struck in the face with a statuette of the Milan cathedral by a mentally unstable man last month, has not commented on the riots.

But in his interview on Sunday, the interior minister, Mr. Maroni, called the situation in Rosarno “the fruit of the wrong kind of tolerance.” The day before, he had been quoted as saying the riots were the fruit of “too much tolerance.”

A member of the powerful Northern League Party, known for its anti-immigrant language, Mr. Maroni also defended a proposal introduced by his party last week to cap the number of immigrant students in public school classes at 30 percent. “Sometimes they speak different languages, and there’s no common balance in the classroom,” Mr. Maroni said.

Human rights groups say that many African immigrants come to Italy with what appear to be legal offers of work in the agricultural sector in the south, often by paying middlemen more than $10,000 for the opportunity. When they arrive, the rights groups say, the immigrants often find that the agricultural outfits refuse to honor their end of the bargain, instead compelling the migrants to work under the table at wages far below the legal minimum wage. Often, the outfits that hire them have links to organized crime.

Mr. Maroni has said in the past that the ’Ndrangheta, or Calabrian Mafia, is the most powerful organized crime group in Italy because its members are bound by strong blood ties, making it difficult to cultivate informants. Last week, two bombs were found at the main courthouse in Reggio Calabria, in what was widely seen as a message by the ’Ndrangheta to prosecutors trying to dismantle clans.

Mr. Maroni also said that the notion that the ’Ndrangheta had provoked the riots was “one possible hypothesis” that the authorities were examining.

In an interview in La Repubblica on Saturday, Roberto Saviano, the author of the bestseller “Gomorrah,” about organized crime near Naples, called the immigrants in Rosarno courageous. “Immigrants are always braver than we are against the clans,” Mr. Saviano said.

Thanks to Rachel Donadio

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Carlos Marcello, New Orleans Mafia Don, Played Roll in JFK Assassination According to Lawsuit by Forensic Intelligence Analyst

A New Jersey paralegal with a longstanding interest in government corruption filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department and the F.B.I. on Monday, seeking the release of the full case file on a murderous Brooklyn Mafia informant — papers she believes may shed light on the possible involvement of a dead New Orleans crime boss in the killing of President John F. Kennedy.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Washington by the paralegal, Angela Clemente, asks the Federal Bureau of Investigation to make public any documents it may still hold related to the mobster, Gregory Scarpa Sr., who for nearly 30 years led a stunning double life as a hit man for the Colombo crime family and, in the words of the F.B.I, a “top echelon” informant for the bureau.

In her suit, Ms. Clemente asked the bureau to release all papers connected to Mr. Scarpa (who died of AIDS in 1994 after receiving a blood transfusion), especially those related to Carlos Marcello, a New Orleans don suspected by some of having played a role in the Kennedy assassination on Nov. 22, 1963.

Ms. Clemente filed a Freedom of Information Act request for Mr. Scarpa’s file in April, and the F.B.I. acknowledged her request in a letter on June 9, saying that bureau officials would search their records for relevant papers. Ms. Clemente’s lawyer, James Lesar, said that the F.B.I. had not yet told her if it would release the file or not, but that under federal law, a lawsuit can be filed compelling the release of records 20 working days after such a letter is received.

John Miller, a spokesman for the F.B.I., did not return phone calls on Monday seeking comment on Ms. Clemente’s suit. Dean Boyd, a Justice Department spokesman, said officials would review the suit and respond if needed in court.

In pursuing the Scarpa file and its potential to flesh out Mr. Marcello’s possible role in the Kennedy killing, Ms. Clemente is following a trail blazed in part by G. Robert Blakey, a professor of law at the University of Notre Dame who also served as the chief counsel and staff director to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, which from 1977 to 1979 investigated the killings of President Kennedy and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

While the Warren Commission said there was no link between Mr. Marcello and the president’s death, Mr. Blakey’s report to the House was considerably more circumspect, saying the F.B.I.’s “handling of the allegations and information about Marcello was characterized by a less than vigorous effort to investigate its reliability.”

Ms. Clemente is in possession of several heavily redacted papers from the Scarpa file, which suggest, however vaguely, she said, that Mr. Scarpa, who spied on numerous gangsters for the F.B.I., may also have spied on Mr. Marcello.

Professor Blakey, reached by phone at his office at Notre Dame on Monday, said he had seen the papers, adding that no matter what the unredacted versions might eventually reveal, he was convinced that he should have seen them 30 years ago, while conducting his Congressional investigation. “The issue here is not what’s in them,” Professor Blakey said, “so much as that they seem to have held them back from me. I thought I had the bureau file on Marcello — now it turns out I didn’t, did I? So I’m not a small, I’m a major, supporter of what Angela is trying to do.”

Ms. Clemente, 43, often refers to herself as a “forensic intelligence analyst.” She has been researching Mr. Scarpa for nearly a decade as part of a broader project on the improper use of government informants. The Brooklyn district attorney’s office has said her work on Mr. Scarpa was instrumental in helping the office file quadruple murder charges against Mr. Scarpa’s former F.B.I. handler, Roy Lindley DeVecchio.

The charges against Mr. DeVecchio were dropped midtrial in October when Tom Robbins, a reporter for The Village Voice, suddenly showed prosecutors taped interviews he made years ago with the main prosecution witness, Mr. Scarpa’s mistress, suggesting that she had changed her account and damaged her credibility.

Faced with the sudden demise of years of investigative work, Ms. Clemente went back, she said, to the redacted papers she already had. She said she was intrigued, after additional study, to discover references to Mr. Scarpa’s apparent involvement in F.B.I. projects in New Orleans in the late 1950s and early 1960s — well before his publicly acknowledged role in helping the Kennedy administration learn the whereabouts of three slain civil rights workers by traveling to Mississippi to threaten a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

She said the F.B.I. had fought her “tooth and nail” in her efforts to obtain the full Scarpa file for Mr. DeVecchio’s trial. The F.B.I. did not return phone calls seeking comment on that allegation as well. “And that,” she said, “is what really piqued my curiosity.”

Thanks to Alan Feuer

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

How to Love a Mobster

Nobody had a ready explanation for the origin of “moll,” the slang term applied to women of the Mafia. In a courtroom filled with marquee crime writers, men identifying themselves as interested parties from Bensonhurst, retired federal agents and at least one éminence grise of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office, the best etymology offered was: “It goes back to the ’20s.”

Still, the morning’s tabloid newspapers had promised a legendary moll in Brooklyn Supreme Court yesterday, and Linda Schiro did not disappoint. As the star witness in the murder case against a onetime Federal Bureau of Investigation supervisor, she entered the courtroom from the back, shielded from the gang of cameramen and photographers staked out in the hall.

Her testimony was billed as the pillar of a sensational trial. The defendant, R. Lindley DeVecchio, has been charged with helping a prized informant commit four killings in the 1980s and early 1990s by revealing confidential information.

The accusations had lain dormant for more than a decade, ever since an internal federal investigation failed to turn up sufficient evidence. Ms. Schiro’s newfound willingness to testify gave state prosecutors the means to secure an indictment.

After two weeks of testimony meant to establish her credibility, Ms. Schiro was finally summoned to the stand yesterday, a sunken beauty in a plain suit and a gold pendant, thinning hair draped to the jaw.

Right away, she began to recount famed passages of Mafia lore from the moll’s vantage. She told of life with Gregory Scarpa, a notorious Colombo crime family capo known as the Grim Reaper, beginning with a trip to Mississippi in the 1960s.

There, she said, Mr. Scarpa began his work for the F.B.I., threatening a member of the Ku Klux Klan with a gun and learning the whereabouts of three slain civil rights workers. Though the tale had made the rounds in published accounts for years, it sounded fresh coming from Ms. Schiro in open court.

After that dizzying start, a prosecutor, Michael F. Vecchione, slowed Ms. Schiro down. Under his questioning, she recounted her path to Mafia association: As a teenager living with her parents, she married a man named Charlie Schiro. “I wanted children, and Greg was married, so I married Charlie,” Ms. Schiro said, adding, “to have Greg’s kids.”

Giving birth out of wedlock, she explained, was considered unacceptable at the time. The marriage ended when Mr. Schiro learned its full dimensions. Ms. Schiro later moved in with Mr. Scarpa, who by all accounts tolerated her affairs, including one with a grocery worker. “I just told Greg there was this really nice delivery boy, and you know.” Ms. Schiro said, her voice trailing off for a second. “We had this relationship where whatever made me happy. ...”

Mr. Scarpa, she said, spoke openly of crimes including murder, loan-sharking and bank robbery, and let her attend meetings with Mr. DeVecchio.

The judge overseeing the case, Gustin L. Reichbach, questioned that account. “What was your initial reaction, having grown up in this environment, when he told you he was an informer for the F.B.I.?” Justice Reichbach asked.

Ms. Schiro replied: “He didn’t say he was an informer. He said he worked for the F.B.I. I said, ‘What, do you mean you’re a rat?’ He said, ‘I just work for them.’ So I was surprised at first.”

She told of cash payments to Mr. DeVecchio, supplemented by gifts of wine, jewelry, a Cabbage Patch doll (this was the 1980s) and meals. To prepare for his visits, she said, she would draw the blinds and lock the doors.

In 1984, she said, Mr. DeVecchio identified a woman who had been dating a member of the Colombo family as an informer, prompting Mr. Scarpa to kill the woman. In 1986, she said, Mr. DeVecchio raised concerns about one of Mr. Scarpa’s closest friends, a Mafia associate who had become a born-again Christian. “Lin said, you know, ‘We can’t keep a guy around like this,’” Ms. Schiro said, “‘because he’s going to end up to start talking.’”

After a failed effort to “smarten him up,” Ms. Schiro said, Mr. Scarpa killed that man, too. A similar end befell the best friend of one of Mr. Scarpa’s sons, she said.

During the war for control of the crime family in 1992, Ms. Schiro said, Mr. DeVecchio provided the address of a rival, whom Mr. Scarpa also killed. Mr. Scarpa himself died in 1994 after contracting H.I.V. from a blood transfusion.

In the intervening years, Ms. Schiro passed up several opportunities to recount her knowledge of the killings. Several writers interviewed her for book proposals, and federal investigators questioned her during their unsuccessful inquiry. Until now, Ms. Schiro said, she had kept silent about Mr. DeVecchio.

“If I had a problem, I could always call Lin,” she said, “because he was my friend.”

Thanks to Michael Brick

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Accused of Helping the Mob, FBI Agent Gets His Day in Court

The rumor was explosive, hard to believe: Gregory Scarpa Sr., a ruthless Colombo crime family capo known as the Grim Reaper, was receiving tips from a mysterious source inside law enforcement, a man he called “the girlfriend.”

The confirmation was devastating: Prosecutors working to cripple the family in the mid-1990s said that the source was their own Roy Lindley DeVecchio, a Federal Bureau of Investigation supervisor, the man assigned to lead the Colombo investigation.

In May 1995, an assistant United States attorney, Ellen M. Corcella, was prosecuting a murder conspiracy case on the brutal war for control of the family. She practically begged jurors not to be distracted by the role prosecutors said Mr. DeVecchio played.

“He’ll get his day in court,” Ms. Corcella told the jury.

Though Ms. Corcella lost that case, her prediction eventually came true. More than a decade later, Mr. DeVecchio arrived in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn yesterday for a trial on murder charges. By the account of state prosecutors, he traded information with Mr. Scarpa from 1980 through 1993, directly causing four Mafia killings and failing to stop several others.

Mr. DeVecchio tried several legal maneuvers — including claiming immunity from prosecution as a federal agent — but each failed, and he appeared in court yesterday in a drab gray suit, ragged crew cut and crinkled features, watched from the gallery by rows of agents dressed nearly identically.

Prosecutors say Mr. DeVecchio accepted cash, wine, the services of a prostitute and jewelry stolen from bank safe deposit boxes. They say he billed the federal government for more than $66,000 in payments to Mr. Scarpa, then kept the money himself. But his greatest rewards were the least tangible, prosecutors say: Through years of handling his prized mole, Mr. DeVecchio grew his legend in the annals of law enforcement.

After helping supervise the famed Commission Case in the 1980s, when top leaders of the city’s five crime families were jailed, Mr. DeVecchio was honored by the Police Department and called to lecture at training academies.

So to Mr. DeVecchio’s lawyers and supporters, among them five agents who signed for his $1 million bail, the charges unfairly smear an exemplary career. Motivated by political gain, they say, state prosecutors have built a flawed case on the word of Mr. Scarpa’s common-law wife, Linda Schiro, a woman intent on selling her story to publishers.

Yesterday, there was a lot of history in the room, all the way up. The judge overseeing the case, Gustin L. Reichbach, was investigated by the F.B.I. in the 1960s when he was a student at Columbia University.

Despite a warning and a reminder that he could have a jury hear the case, Mr. DeVecchio waived his right to a jury trial and left his fate to a man that his F.B.I. colleagues had once described as a dangerous student protest organizer.

Absent an audience of jurors, an assistant district attorney, Joseph P. Alexis, opened his case with a stark, unemotional recounting of the charges. In a trial expected to last more than a month, he said Ms. Schiro would testify that Mr. DeVecchio had visited her home, taken cash payments and told Mr. Scarpa whom to kill.

The witness list includes several Mafia associates, including Mr. Scarpa’s namesake son, who is in prison for racketeering.

By the prosecutor’s account, Mr. DeVecchio identified informers. “Scarpa used this information,” Mr. Alexis said, “to devastating effect.”

Mr. Scarpa shot Mary Bari, the girlfriend of a Mafia figure who was suspected of crossing Mr. Scarpa, while his son held her down, Mr. Alexis said. Mr. DeVecchio eventually investigated possible informers on request.

“Shockingly, DeVecchio used his F.B.I. resources, looked into the matter and faithfully reported back,” he said.

A lawyer for Mr. DeVecchio, Douglas Grover, said Ms. Schiro’s testimony had been concocted to sell books. Several of the victims, he said, were killed before they ever had a chance to cooperate with the F.B.I.

Mr. Grover said Mr. DeVecchio’s relationship with Mr. Scarpa was proper, required to make big cases against secretive Mafia families. “Gregory Scarpa, as ugly and miserable a human being as he was, a made member of the Colombo crime family, was a top echelon F.B.I. source,” Mr. Grover said.

For Mr. DeVecchio, 67 and retired, the trial will render final judgment on a career marked as maverick from the start.

After joining the F.B.I. in 1965, Mr. DeVecchio worked in New York, a city traditionally unpopular among agents for its weather, cost of living, field office bureaucracy and large, ambitious Police Department. His Italian family background led to assignments investigating the Mafia, supporters say.

Mr. DeVecchio first came to prominence in the early 1980s. Posing undercover as a hit man, he helped convict a former intelligence agent of plotting to kill prosecutors and witnesses.

By then, in the parlance of the F.B.I., he had opened Mr. Scarpa, contracting him as a confidential informer to gather insight on Mafia doings and hierarchy.

Mr. Scarpa was something of a legend himself, a compact, muscular man of 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds. In the 1960s, the F.B.I. engaged him to travel south, meet Ku Klux Klan members and use his powers of persuasion to find the bodies of slain civil rights workers. Back home in Brooklyn he reputedly oversaw Colombo loan-sharking operations, hijackings, weapons sales and killings.

Much of Mr. Scarpa’s reputation derived from an uncanny ability to avoid prison through a series of indictments. In 1993, he finally pleaded guilty to murder and racketeering charges. The next year, at age 66, he died in a prison hospital of complications from AIDS, which he had contracted in a blood transfusion from a member of his crew.

The relationship between Mr. DeVecchio and Mr. Scarpa first drew scrutiny in 1994, when F.B.I. agents voiced their suspicions to supervisors, but an inquiry failed to find enough evidence. Taking the witness stand at a hearing in 1997, he strongly denied giving Mr. Scarpa investigative information.

Still, the accusations persisted, taking the form of defense motions, rumors, Mafia lore and, not least, book proposals. In 2005, state prosecutors got their break from Ms. Schiro, who had lived with Mr. Scarpa for years, bearing sons who followed their father into the Mafia.

By Ms. Schiro’s account, Mr. DeVecchio warned Mr. Scarpa of surveillance, impending arrests and other government informers. Prosecutors accused him of helping Mr. Scarpa kill a teenage murder witness, rivals for power and suspected informers, including a woman who had dated a family consigliere.

In his opening, Mr. Grover said the new charges reprised accusations long laid to rest, tacitly acknowledging the long, strange arc of Mr. DeVecchio’s career at the F.B.I. “Watch this one play out,” Mr. Grover told the judge. “It’s going to be quite interesting.”

Thanks to Michael Brick

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Family Secrets Mob Trial Has Bomb Scare

Friends of ours: Frank Calabrese Sr., Ernest Rocco Infelice, Junior Gotti, Anthony Doyle, Nicholas Ferriola, 32, Joseph Venezia, 71, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello, Paul "the Indian" Schiro

A fake explosive device was found outside a suburban home owned by a son of a defendant in the Family Secrets mob conspiracy trial hours after jury selection began Tuesday, prompting a federal investigation, authorities said.

Investigators said a "hoax device" was left on the back porch of a house in Kenilworth and was discovered about 1 p.m.

A defense lawyer in the case, Joseph Lopez, said the object was found at the home of a son of his client, reputed mob boss Frank Calabrese Sr., on trial for racketeering conspiracy in connection with more than a dozen mob slayings. Public records show the home belongs to one of Calabrese's sons, Kurt, but not the son who is expected to testify when a jury starts hearing evidence in the case. The son who recorded conversations with his father and is expected to take the witness stand is Frank Calabrese Jr.

Investigators said the device was not a working explosive. It was too early to know whether it was a prank or a message, but the authorities are concerned because of its timing as jury selection began in the landmark trial.

Lopez said he was worried that opening statements, which could begin as soon as Thursday, might have to be delayed. "It's shocking, and it shouldn't have happened," Lopez said. "My client loves his children."

Earlier Tuesday, at least eight people had been chosen so far as potential anonymous jurors as the trial began in the much-anticipated mob conspiracy case. U.S. District Judge James Zagel, sorting through a large pool called for jury duty, dismissed some, and lawyers used peremptory challenges to remove others.

Zagel asked potential jurors general questions about their occupations, whether they have any connections to law enforcement and if they think they could be fair. He didn't ask their names, ages or other identifying information—such as where they live.

In a rare move, Zagel decided weeks ago to seat an anonymous jury. Although the jurors will not be shielded visually by a partition, the five men accused of racketeering conspiracy for their alleged roles in controlling the Chicago Outfit will know who is deciding their fates only by court-assigned numbers.

Today, 24 possible jurors were questioned in sessions lasting more than three hours. Several were removed for cause, including a medical physicist who performs cancer treatments and a man who said he has difficulty with English. The process will continue with possible jurors led into the courtroom for questioning in groups of about 25 until 18 are picked. Twelve will be permanent jurors, the rest alternates.

Zagel agreed an anonymous jury was the best course after the prosecution filed a sealed motion citing the safety of jurors for keeping their identities secret, even from defense lawyers in the case, lawyers said.

Experts say seating an anonymous jury is a controversial practice. Judges must weigh juror safety against a defendant's right to an impartial panel. The risk is that the need for their anonymity could leave jurors thinking the defendants must be dangerous. Lawyers in the Family Secrets case said they strongly objected for just that reason.

"Now, of course, the jury can infer that these must be pretty nefarious people," said Ralph Meczyk, the lawyer for Anthony Doyle, a defendant in the case. "That puts in their mind the belief that we're dealing with very, very dangerous defendants."

In seeking to seat anonymous juries, prosecutors typically argue that panel members could be at risk, or at least that the nature of a case could leave jurors apprehensive if the defendants know who they are and where they live.

This is believed to be the first use of an anonymous jury in Chicago's federal court in 15 years, but there is precedent for the move here and across the country, particularly in organized-crime prosecutions.

The last time it was used here was at the trial of mobster Ernest Rocco Infelice, who was convicted in 1992 of racketeering and murder conspiracy.

Recently, an anonymous jury heard a Ku Klux Klan trial in Mississippi, and another decided the fate of reputed mobster John Gotti Jr. last year in New York.

Meanwhile, two more defendants from an original group of 14 pleaded guilty Monday in the Family Secrets case. Nicholas Ferriola, 32, admitted he was part of the criminal conspiracy, while Joseph Venezia, 71, pleaded guilty to being part of an illegal gambling operation. Left to stand trial in the conspiracy that allegedly included 18 slayings are reputed mob bosses Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello and Frank Calabrese Sr. as well as Paul "the Indian" Schiro and Doyle, a former Chicago police officer.

The 6th Amendment guarantees all defendants the right to "a speedy and public trial." But as some organized-crime and terrorism defendants have learned, that doesn't necessarily include the right to know who is sitting in judgment on the jury.

Judges can seat anonymous juries for safety reasons and to prevent juror tampering, though the move usually draws cries of unfairness from the defense.

"From the defense side, you worry that the signal it sends is: We've got to be really careful here. These are dangerous individuals," said Andrew Leipold, a law professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "That's not the mind-set you want jurors to start a case with."

But the judge could have taken into account, Leipold said, that Lombardo, for example, is accused of killing a government witness—an allegation that, if true, shows a willingness to use violence to subvert the justice system. He is blamed for the 1974 killing of Bensenville businessman Daniel Seifert, who was scheduled to testify against Lombardo in a Teamsters pension-fraud trial.

For judges, Leipold said, "it's difficult in that so much of this is predictions. What's the likelihood the jury will be tampered with? How likely is it that jury will be biased against the defense?"

Judges also must factor in the right of the public and media to an open proceeding, Leipold said. In the George Ryan corruption trial last year, for example, reporters at the Tribune used publicly available juror information to discover that two jurors had misled the court about their criminal backgrounds. A federal judge dismissed the jurors as a result.

In the Family Secrets case, it's unclear exactly what evidence persuaded Zagel to keep the jury anonymous. Prosecutors made their arguments in a Feb. 16 motion that was filed under seal. But anonymous juries are more common when defendants are allegedly part of a large criminal organization, with members outside the courtroom who have a strong interest in the trial's outcome.

The process to select the Family Secrets jury began earlier this year when prospective jurors in a special pool had their backgrounds checked and were sent questionnaires that asked for in-depth personal information. In addition to personal data, the jurors were asked dozens of questions about their opinions and perceptions of the justice system, the FBI and organized crime.

Jurors were asked what they read and listen to as well as what TV shows they might watch that touch on the mob. One prospective juror listed "The Simpsons," apparently a tongue-in-cheek reference to the character "Fat Tony" and his band of hoodlums from fictional Springfield's underworld.

Also among the questions was whether the prospective juror had ever written to the editor of a newspaper, and on what topic.

Some of the defense attorneys in the case said because of the detailed questionnaire, they may wind up knowing a bit more about each juror than they would have otherwise. Still, it's a handicap not to know such basics as a person's name or where they live.

Marcello's lawyer, Marc Martin, said he, too, objected to the anonymous panel. He noted he has practiced law for 20 years and has never heard of a case of jury tampering in Chicago's federal court.

Openness in government is important, and jury tampering—in real life, as opposed to Hollywood films—is exceedingly rare, agreed Shari Seidman Diamond, law professor at Northwestern University. "I'm not persuaded that [anonymous juries] are required or that they're useful or that they contribute to justice," Diamond said. "We prefer to have the jury be a source of light, not shadow."

But Lombardo's lawyer, Rick Halprin, said he's sure the judge has plenty of reasons to want the jurors' identities withheld in such a high-profile case. "Frankly, I think the gravest danger the judge perceives are crank phone calls and media scrutiny," Halprin said. "He doesn't want the same kind of fiasco they had in the Ryan trial."

Thanks to Jeff Coen and Michael Higgins


Affliction Sale

Flash Mafia Book Sales!