The Chicago Syndicate: Michael Albergo
Showing posts with label Michael Albergo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Albergo. Show all posts

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Meeting Frank Calabrese Jr.

It was a tattoo that almost got Frank Calabrese killed. He'd had it etched across his back while he was in Milan prison in Michigan: a large map of America over which prison bars have been superimposed with a pair of hands reaching out through them in handcuffs. He'd designed it himself, to make a point, he says, about "how you are free in America but somehow not free".

The tattoo was drawn by a fellow inmate, against prison regulations, with the connivance of a guard whom they bribed to look the other way.

Soon after he'd had it done, Calabrese was walking around the prison exercise yard. He was wearing a wire, his torso wrapped in recording equipment like a Christmas tree. Walking beside him was one of the world's most dangerous men – a killing machine from the Chicago mob whose preferred method of assassination was the rope and knife.

Calabrese had just succeeded in enticing the other man into telling him about a succession of murders he'd committed, including that of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro and his brother Michael, immortalised by the film Casino. The unwitting confession was captured by the wire and recorded for later analysis by the FBI.

Suddenly the older man stopped and asked to see Calabrese's new tattoo. "Why've you been covering it up? Let me see it," he said. It was an instant death warrant. If Calabrese lifted up his shirt and revealed the wire, the older man, who was shorter than him but immensely powerful, would know he had been betrayed and would kill him on the spot with his bare hands. It was 300 yards to the prison door and Calabrese calculated he wouldn't make it, deciding instead to stand his ground and bluff it. He pulled his shirt down and refused, saying it would get him into trouble. The older man looked puzzled for a second, then relaxed and backed off.

Should Calabrese have been exposed at that moment as an FBI informant, it would have put an end to the largest mafia investigation in American history. As it was, he went on to hold many more hours of taped conversations with the older man that helped to blow apart the Chicago mob. The Outfit, the organised crime syndicate of Al Capone that had terrorised the city for 100 years, had finally got its comeuppance.

That exchange in the prison yard was significant for another, more personal, reason. The older man whom Calabrese was secretly recording, condemning him in the process to spending the rest of his life in prison, had the same name as him: Frank Calabrese. Senior. His father.

Hollywood revealed to Frank Calabrese Jr the truth about his father. Until he saw his own domestic life play out on screen, he'd assumed he was from a normal family.

Home life in the heavily Italian and mafia-frequented neighbourhood of Elmwood Park was dominated by his father's Sicilian roots. Three generations of Italian-Americans – his grandparents, parents and uncles, brothers and cousins – were crammed into the house they called the Compound. Frank Jr was the eldest of three sons, and his father's favourite.

What his father did all day was a mystery to the young boy. When other kids at school asked him how his dad made a living, he was nonplussed.

"Tell them I'm an engineer," Frank Sr would say.

"What, like a choo-choo-train engineer?"

"No, tell them I'm an operating engineer."

Calabrese was 12 when The Godfather came out. The Corleone family it portrayed was strikingly similar to his own. Art was imitating life, or was it the other way round? His father was friendly with Gianni Russo, who played Carlo Rizzi, the Godfather's son-in-law, in the movie. One night, Russo was being interviewed on a show and pulled out a knife he said had been given to him by a mobster.

"I gave him that knife," Frank Sr said as they sat watching TV.

Years later, in one of the taped conversations Frank Jr had with his father, Calabrese Sr remarked that Mario Puzo's account in the original book of the initiation ceremony for "made men" was spot on. "Whoever wrote that book, either their father or their grandfather or somebody was in the organisation," said Calabrese Sr, who, as a "made man" himself, knew what he was talking about.

"So you mean they actually pricked the hand and the candles and all that stuff?" Frank Jr asked.

"Their fingers got cut and everybody puts the fingers together and all the blood running down. Then they take pictures, put them in your hand, burn them. Holy pictures."

A few years after The Godfather came out, Frank Sr began to draw his son into the family business. It was a slow, almost imperceptible process. "He started to involve me in little things," Calabrese said. "It was like, 'Hey, son, do this for your dad. Go take this envelope, go deliver this to a store.'"

Calabrese was encouraged to keep a low profile. "We were taught to blend, to fly under the radar. My father told me to drive Fords and Chevies, not Cadillacs or BMWs. Wear baseball caps, not fedoras, ski jackets, not trenchcoats."

At 19, Calabrese was allowed to take part in mob activities, starting with collecting money from peep shows and graduating into keeping the books. It was an education of sorts. "I learned all my maths through the juice loan business." As he became more central to his father's racketeering and gambling concerns, the lessons became more specific. Calabrese was shown by his father how to hug someone to see if they were carrying a gun or wearing a wire.

Calabrese embraced his new life. "When I bought into it, I bought into it strong. Whatever my father told me to do, that's what I did. I didn't fear law enforcement, or jail, or death. If my father told me to walk full-speed into that wall, I would."

Then, at the age of 26, Calabrese was invited to take part in an initiation ceremony all of its own – his first gangland murder.

For a key prosecution witness in a massive mob case that took down 14 top mafia bosses, Frank Calabrese Jr comes across as remarkably relaxed. He's not in a witness protection scheme, lives under his own name, and when I visit him in a condo apartment outside Phoenix in Arizona, he readily opens the door and welcomes me in without so much as a frisking. How does he know I'm not a hit man sent from Chicago to exact revenge? "I don't," he says.

Calabrese looks the part of a Chicago hard man. His head is shaved, accentuating his large ears and piercing blue eyes. He's wearing a sleeveless vest and slacks, which display the product of hours spent pumping iron. When he speaks, though, Calabrese does so with a surprising softness and introspection. It's a bit like listening to Tony Soprano talking to his therapist (Calabrese is a big Sopranos fan – he watched the whole series with his mother and ex-wife, wincing at the parallels with his own family).

Hanging on the wall of his apartment is a framed photograph of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Sammy Davis Jr from the original Ocean's 11. His father, he explains, was friendly with Sinatra's bodyguard.

Frank Calabrese Sr – aka Frankie Breeze – was born in 1937 into a poor Italian family on the west side of Chicago. He left school at 13 and could barely read and write. By 16 he had begun to make money as a thief and later developed a "juice" loan business, extracting exorbitant rates of return. It was a lucrative enterprise: at its peak he had $1m out on loan with collections of up to 10% per week. After the trial ended and the elder Calabrese was given multiple life sentences, the FBI searched his home and found $2m-worth of diamonds and almost $800,000 in bills and property deeds.

In 1964, Calabrese Sr was "whistled in" to the Outfit by a much-feared mafia underboss called Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra. The nickname came from what LaPietra would do to anyone who fell behind with their loan repayments: hang them on a meat hook and torture them with a cattle prod or blowtorch. Cause of death – suffocation from screaming. The younger Calabrese grew up thinking of LaPietra as "Uncle Ang".

Together with LaPietra and his own brother, Nick, Calabrese Sr developed a specialist role as the Outfit's murder squad. Calabrese Jr was given an insight into that as a teenager one night when his father came home and hurried him into the bathroom. With the fan on and the water running so no one else could hear, he breathlessly recounted a hit he'd just carried out. "We got 'im… Our guy wasn't listening to the rules, so we shotgunned him."

Those who were "retired" by Calabrese Sr and his brother included Michael "Bones" Albergo; John Mendell, who rather foolishly robbed the home of the Outfit's consigliere, Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo; a business rival called Michael Cagnoni, who was blown up in his car; rogue mobster Richard Ortiz; and Emil Vaci, a Las Vegas-based gangster the Outfit feared might inform against them. Then there were the Spilotros of Casino fame. Tony Spilotro was head of the Outfit's Vegas arm, running a gambling and "skimming" business (skimming off casino profits without telling the tax authorities). He got too big for his boots, and when the bosses found out he was having an affair with another made man's wife, they wanted him gone.

Tony Spilotro and his brother Michael were lured to Chicago under the pretext that Michael would be "made" and Tony would be promoted to capo. Instead, they had ropes thrown around their necks and were strangled – the legendary "Calabrese necktie".

The younger Calabrese's own brush with murder came in 1986 when he was chosen to take part in a hit on John "Big Stoop" Fecarotta. He was to sit in the back seat of the getaway car. "I was ready to murder for my dad," Calabrese says. "You always need two guys in the car, and I was to go with my uncle Nick. If I'd crossed that line, there would have been no coming back. But my uncle talks me out of it. He tells me, 'This ain't for you. You don't want this life.' He saved me."

That was a turning point for Calabrese, in both his relationship with the mob and, by extension, with his father. When he was young, his father was loving towards him, always ready with a hug. But as Calabrese Sr came increasingly under the influence of the murderous LaPietra, he changed, growing colder and more brutal towards his son. "His temper became shorter, he would be quicker with his hands, more controlling. He didn't think twice about cracking you in the face."

The younger Calabrese came to see how manipulative his father was, switching personalities at the click of his fingers. "If you were sitting with him here right now, you'd love him. He'd charm you. But when you'd gone, he'd turn into his second personality – a controlling and abusive father. And his third personality was the killer."

To try to wriggle out of his father's tight embrace, Calabrese set up in business on his own. He opened Italian restaurants, and later began dealing cocaine. He kept that hidden from his father, knowing that if he was found out "the old man would have killed me". He also kept secret his own intensifying addiction to the drug. In a desperate move to break free and to keep his habit fed, Calabrese began stealing from a cache of about $700,000 in $50 notes his father had tucked behind a wall in his grandmother's basement.

Not a good idea. When his father discovered the losses, and who was responsible, he issued a decree. "From now on, I own you," he told his son. "The restaurants are mine, your house is mine, everything is mine."

A few months later his father asked Calabrese to join him for a coffee. They met at a lock-up garage used by the crew. "As I opened the door I realised, oh shit! He's setting me up. He slams the door, turns and sticks a gun in my cheek. Then he says: 'I would rather have you dead than disobey me.'"

Calabrese started sobbing and begging for forgiveness. "Somehow I got out of that garage. As we got back in the truck, he started punching me and back-handing me in the face. My tears were rolling down and all I could think about was how I could never trust this man again. From that day on, I have never trusted anybody. Nobody."

The decision to turn informant against his own father was taken in 1998 inside Milan prison where both Frank Calabreses were sent after being found guilty of racketeering and illegal gambling. Imprisonment was the best thing that happened to the younger man. It allowed him to kick his cocaine addiction, and to become healthy once again. Most important, it freed him from his father's control.

He became determined that as soon as he was released he would make a new life for himself. "I decided that I was going to quit the Outfit. I'd wound up in prison, on drugs. That wasn't what I wanted any more. I had to find a way to go straight when I came out."

But he knew a huge hurdle stood in his way: his father. He had a choice. Either he could wait until they were both out, then confront his father and tell him he wanted to leave the family business, in which case there would almost certainly be a showdown and one of them would end up dead. Or he could cooperate.

The FBI called their investigation Operation Family Secrets. The 2007 trial lasted three months and took into account 18 murders. In addition to his father's life sentences, long prison sentences were eventually handed out to seven other Outfit bosses. It was an extraordinary result given the history of the Chicago mob. In its 100 years, the Outfit had committed more than 3,000 murders, yet before this only 12 convictions had been secured. Until Calabrese took the stand, backed up by his uncle Nick, who had also turned prosecution witness, not a single made member had been held accountable.

During the trial, the younger Calabrese gave evidence against his father standing just feet away from him in the courtroom. "The one thing I wasn't ready for was the emotional part. I walk into the courtroom and it's the strangest feeling I've ever had. There was my dad. Part of me wanted to go over to him and hug him and say, Dad, I'm going to take care of you. It's going to be OK. Man, I wasn't prepared for that."

As he left the courtroom at the end of his testimony, "the tears just started streaming. An agent asks me, 'Are you OK?' And I say, 'No, I've just realised that's the last time I'll ever see my dad.'"

He was right about that. The elder Calabrese, now 74, is being held in a maximum security institution in Missouri where he has been kept for the past two years in almost total isolation. He is permitted no visitors, nor any contact with other prisoners in a regime reserved for a handful of the most serious terrorists and serial killers.

Calabrese left Chicago after the trial and moved to Phoenix, partly to get away from his past and partly because the hot, dry air of Arizona is good for his health. A few years ago he discovered he had MS and though he keeps it at bay with exercise, it causes him to limp.

He lives with his two children, Kelly and Anthony, and makes a living as a motivational speaker, telling law-enforcement conferences and self-help groups how he has turned his life around. He is unmarried, but his former wife Lisa lives nearby and they remain close. She is still deeply afraid, he says, that his father will seek retribution and she has pleaded with him to enter witness protection. But he continues to refuse. As he writes in his book: "I'm pragmatic. If people can kill presidents, they can kill me. Nobody is invincible and completely safe in today's world."

When I ask to see the tattoo that nearly got him killed, he pulls up his shirt to reveal that his back carries not only the drawing of the map of America with prison bars, but also seven small tattoos depicting bullet holes – like the ones you get on cowboy posters. "I feel I'm always going to have to watch my back," he explains, "so those bullet holes are a reminder to me to be alert every day."

Regrets, he has a few. He still finds it difficult to come to terms with the fact that he committed the mobster's ultimate sin by ratting on another. And though he is convinced he made the right decision, he is still deeply troubled by the outcome. "At this stage in his life, as my dad gets old, I wanted to be there for him. I wanted to be his protector, not his executioner."

Can there be forgiveness between them, the Frank Calabreses? "I can forgive him. I love my dad to this day, I just don't love his ways. But I don't think he can forgive me. I really don't. I wish he could."

Calabrese says he's resigned to the grip his father has, and will for ever have, over him. "I know in my heart that the day my father dies he'll haunt me," he says. "This will go on for eternity. I don't know what to expect in the next life, but I do know that wherever it is he will be waiting there for me. And he's not going to be happy with me."

Thanks to Ed Pilkington

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Feds Raid House of Frank Calabrese Sr. - Discover Hidden Recording Devices, Tapes, Notes, Cash, & Jewelry

Federal agents say they discovered potentially incriminating tapes and notes -- along with almost $730,000 in cash and about 1,000 pieces of apparently stolen jewelry -- stashed behind a large family portrait during a search of the family home of convicted mob hit man Frank Calabrese Sr.

Authorities said they found recordings of what they believe could be "criminal conversations" that Calabrese taped with mob associates years ago.

They seized several recording devicesFamily Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob, such as suction-cup microphones used to tap into telephone conversations, and 10 to 15 used microcassettes -- one of which appears to bear the last name of a convicted Outfit member, agents said.

There also were "handwritten notes and ledgers" that could be records of extortion and gambling activities, authorities said.

In addition, authorities discovered seven loaded firearms they believe had been used in criminal activity because they were wrapped so no fingerprints would be left on them.

In a court filing this afternoon, federal authorities said they want to seize the property to satisfy some $27 million that Calabrese was ordered to pay in forfeiture and restitution following his conviction for a series of gangland slayings and sentence of life imprisonment.

Calabrese's lawyer Joe Lopez said he was surprised to hear about the search at his client's home on Tuesday. He said Calabrese's wife and their two sons, one of whom is in college most of the year, live in the home.

He said the home had been searched on other occasions over the years by the FBI and said he was surprised the items were not uncovered in the past. "Now that this is coming up it leads one to wonder what is really going on in this case,'' said Lopez. "I was surprised, I think everyone was surprised who heard of this."

He said he did not know if family members knew about the items found in the home because he has not had a chance to speak to Calabrese's wife or his client. He said Calabrese does not have access to telephones and is "kept under lock and key."

He said that among the items that were found at the home was at least one recording that he believed was made in 1998 after Calabrese was in custody. He said that Calabrese was in brief custody in 1995 and was released on bond, and then surrendered himself to authorities in 1997 and was in federal custody in Michigan. "He's been in custody since 1997," said Lopez. "I have no idea what those recordings are. For all I know it's Frank Sinatra singing."

He said that the money is going to the government because the government went into the home to search for any assets that would go to the government as part of Calabrese's outstanding forfeiture order. "There is no recourse. The money belongs to them. They can seize assets to satisfy judgment just like any other judgment creditor,'' said Lopez.

Calabrese, 71, was one of the five Outfit associates convicted in the landmark Family Secrets trial that riveted Chicago for weeks with its lurid testimony about 18 decades-old gangland slayings.

The code name for the federal investigation came from the secret, unprecedented cooperation provided against Chicago mob bosses by Calabrese's brother, Nicholas, and his son, Frank Jr. Their testimony peeled back layers of Outfit history as they detailed hits, bombings, extortions and other mayhem by the mob's 26th Street crew.

When he was sentenced to life in prison a year ago, Calabrese denied he was a feared mob hit man responsible for more than a dozen gangland slayings. "I'm not no big shot," said Calabrese, dressed in an orange jumpsuit with a strap holding his glasses on his mostly bald head. "I'm not nothing but a human being, and when you cut my hand, I bleed like everybody else."

A federal judge didn't buy it. Saying he had no doubt Calabrese was responsible for "appalling acts," U.S. District Judge James Zagel sentenced him to life in prison at a hearing marked by emotional testimony from victims' relatives and a heated exchange with his own son.

Another of Calabrese's sons, Kurt, stepped to a lectern to tell Zagel that his father beat him throughout his life. "In short, my father was never a father," said the younger Calabrese, describing him instead as an enforcer who hurled insults as regularly as he threw punches, ashtrays, tools or whatever else was within reach when his temper exploded.

The son asked his father whether he might want to apologize for his conduct. "You better apologize for the lies you're telling," the father barked back in the crowded courtroom. "You were treated like a king for all the things I've done for you."

"You never hit me and never beat me up?" Kurt Calabrese answered incredulously before glaring at his father and stepping from the courtroom a moment later.

In another dramatic courtroom scene, Charlene Moravecek, widow of murder victim Paul Haggerty, yelled at Calabrese for cutting Haggerty's throat and stuffing him in a trunk. Her husband had no connection to the mob, she told Calabrese. "You murdered the wrong person," she said. "That shows how smart you all are."

"God will bless you for what you say," Calabrese replied calmly from the defense table.

"Don't you mock me, ever," Moravecek responded through tears.

In September 2007, the same jury that convicted Calabrese of racketeering conspiracy held him responsible for seven murders: the 1980 shotgun killings of hit man and informant William Dauber and his wife, Charlotte; the 1981 car bombing of trucking executive Michael Cagnoni; and the slayings of hit man John Fecarotta, Outfit associate Michael Albergo, and bar owner Richard Ortiz and his friend Arthur Morawski.

Zagel, using a lower standard of proof than the jury, held Calabrese responsible for six additional murders, including Haggerty's, making him eligible for life imprisonment.

Nicholas Calabrese had testified in gripping detail about how brother Frank beat and strangled many of his victims with a rope before cutting their throats to ensure they were dead. Zagel said it was that family betrayal that stuck with him as he presided over the trial.

"I've never seen a case in which a brother and a son -- and counting today, two sons -- testified against a father," the veteran judge said. "I just want to say that your crimes are unspeakable," Zagel said later.

Allowed to address Zagel before he was sentenced, Calabrese rambled for half an hour about how his family had conspired to steal from him and then falsely blamed him for mob crimes to keep him behind bars. He called his brother a wannabe gangster who collected for Outfit bookmakers. Calabrese didn't deny being a loan shark, but he said his organization never resorted to violence to collect debts.

Cagnoni's widow as well as relatives of Morawski and Ortiz testified about dealing with decades of grief over the violent deaths of their loved ones.

Richard Ortiz's son, Tony, said he was 12 when his father was shot in a car outside his Cicero bar. Ortiz said he ran to the spot where the killing had occurred.

"I remember the crunching of the broken glass under my feet," said Ortiz, who recalled that his father's trademark cigar was still lying on the ground.

"I picked it up and held onto it, knowing it was all I had left of him."

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Monday, March 15, 2010

Rudy "The Chin" Fratto's Dining Reviews

Reputed Chicago Outfit lieutenant Rudy Fratto sat in a federal courtroom, with reporters filling the jury box a few feet away.

His usual lawyer, the always snazzy Art Nasser, was unavailable. So Rudy had another attorney: Donald Angelini Jr., son of the late Outfit king of bookies, Donald "The Wizard of Odds" Angelini.

Though Angelini was pleasant and professionally buttoned down on Friday, Fratto, 66, seemed a bit lonely at the defense table, waiting for his criminal hearing to begin.

That scraggly beard hid his chin, and he was comfortably dressed in the Rudy look: black shirt, jeans, cowboy boots, just like a Hopalong Cassadicci.

I didn't want him to feel lonely, so I said hello and asked about a line in the federal charges, in which he was described as Rudy "The Chin" Fratto.

Hey, Rud? What's with "The Chin"?

"I don't know," Rudy said. "I don't know where they got that,"

Did the FBI get you early?

"Not too early," Rudy smirked.

Like 6 a.m.?

"No, they came later, for coffee," Rudy said.

He'll need his sense of humor. I've heard that last week's new charges are just the beginning of a larger tsunami coming for the Chicago Outfit and its political messenger boys.

In January, Fratto was sentenced in a federal tax-evasion case. That was his first conviction ever.

On Friday, he pleaded not guilty to the new charge, which involves alleged bid-rigging in contracts at McCormick Place and leverage by the Cleveland mob.

McCormick Place has long been the Outfit's playground. In 1974, the Tribune reported the payroll read like a "who's who of the Chicago crime syndicate."

The 1974 payroll list included mobsters such as the late Rocco Infelice (natural causes), the late Ronnie Jarrett (unnatural bullet holes) and the 11th Ward's favorite Outfit bookie, Ray John Tominello (still alive, investing in Florida real estate).

Quiet hit man Nicholas Calabrese also was on the McCormick Place payroll. He killed dozens of men and decades later was the star government witness in the Family Secrets mob trial.

Another McCormick Place payrollee was the Outfit's Michael "Bones" Albergo. Nick Calabrese and his brother Frank got rid of "Bones." They buried his body in a pit a few hundred yards from Sox Park.

The federal Family Secrets trial put mobsters in prison for life. Other reputed bosses who were not charged, such as John "No Nose" DiFronzo and Joe "The Builder" Andriacci, have gone underground.

Sources say DiFronzo refuses to see anyone. His only sit-downs take place in his Barcalounger, when he watches TV. And Andriacci has apparently been suffering from Fedzheimers, a malady that makes politicians and wiseguys forget lots of things, like how to find Rush Street.

Fratto has a scary reputation. Yet he's always been friendly and charming to me. Then again, I've never spotted him in my rear-view mirror. That happened to Outfit enforcer Mario Rainone. Mario didn't believe in coincidence and was so shaken by the sight of Rudy Fratto in his mirror that he ran straight to the FBI.

In the courtroom, Rudy's wife, Kim, dressed in a black shawl, said hello.

"It's always nice to see you, Mr. Kass," said Kim.

The pleasure is mine, Mrs. Fratto.

After Rudy was fitted with a home monitoring device, the couple took a long lunch in the newly remodeled second-floor federal cafeteria.

When they finally came down, they didn't want to talk to reporters. Then I asked Rudy a question he couldn't refuse:

Was the food in the federal building as good as it is at Cafe Bionda?

Rudy, always the jokester, couldn't resist.

"No," he said, "but it's better than Gene & Georgetti's, though."

Rudy knows how much I like Gene's, the best steakhouse in the city. Yet for years, Rudy had made Cafe Bionda, at 19th and State Street, a personal hangout. On her Facebook page, Kim Fratto lists Cafe Bionda as one of her favorites.

With such strong recommendations, my young friend Wings and I felt we had to stop there for lunch. Cafe Bionda is a short cab ride from the federal courthouse. And a long pistol shot from McCormick Place.

We were hoping to run into head chef/owner Joe Farina to ask him about Rudy's favorite dish.

Wings ordered the Linguini con Vongole. I had the signature Nanna's Gravy. It was all delicious. Sadly, Joe wasn't in, so I left a note with our server:

Dear Joe: Sorry I missed you. Rudy recommended your place to me. The food was great. John.

The coffee was great, too. And I thought of all that coffee Rudy and his friends will be drinking, and the Rush Street guys, and the politicians, buzzing on caffeine.

They might want to stay wide awake, and keep a pot of coffee on, just in case the feds come knocking some morning.

Thanks to John Kass

Thursday, March 26, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fear.

Thanks to John Kass

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Bombings and Killings Detailed by Nick Calabrese

Friends of ours: Frank Calabrese Sr., Nicholas Calabrese, James "Little Jimmy" Marcello, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Michael "Hambone" Albergo, Ronald Jarrett
Friends of mine: Michael Tadin, Michael "Mickey" Gurgone

When Frank Calabrese Sr. told his brother, Nicholas, that they were going to have to find a place to dig a hole to put a body in, Nicholas Calabrese believed his brother was joking.

When they found the spot, a factory that was being built a few blocks away from White Sox park, with no workers around over the weekend, Nicholas Calabrese figured it was only a test.

"We left and went and got a shovel and one or two bags of lime," Nicholas Calabrese told jurors this afternoon in the Family Secrets mob trial as he described the first of several mob murders he allegedly committed with his brother.

Nicholas Calabrese is the star witness of the trial. He has already pleaded guilty in the case and admitted to killing at least 14 people. He is testifying against his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., a reputed mob hitman, as well as alleged Chicago mob bosses James "Little Jimmy" Marcello and Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, and two other men in the Family Secrets case.

Nicholas Calabrese described to the jury his first Outfit murder with his brother, which was in August 1970. Nicholas Calabrese figured the hole digging was "a test to see if I had the courage to do something like this, the nerve."

Nicholas Calabrese didn't even know the name of the man to be killed, only that he could testify against his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., and cause him problems. Nicholas Calabrese had not a clue that the victim was Michael "Hambone" Albergo, a juice loan collector for Calabrese Sr.

Calabrese Sr.'s close friend, the late Ronald Jarrett, knew Albergo and lured him into a four-door Chevy that Jarrett had stolen to be used in the murder. Then Jarrett picked up the Calabrese brothers, who sat in back, while Albergo sat in front.

It was a Sunday, and Jarrett drove out to the factory construction site. Jarrett grabbed one of the victim's arms. Nicholas Calabrese grabbed the other.

"My brother put a rope around his neck and started strangling him," Nicholas Calabrese said, pausing at times during his testimony to collect himself. "Did he kill him?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars asked. "Yes," Nicholas Calabrese said.

Later, Frank Calabrese Sr. allegedly cut the dead man's throat just to make sure he was dead, Nicholas Calabrese testified.

After removing the dead man's pants, the victim was thrown in the hole at the construction site. The brothers threw in two bags of lime and started filling the hole. "At this point, I wet my pants I was so scared," Nicholas Calabrese said.

Later on, Frank Calabrese Sr., who was fond of talking in code, told his brother to never mention the murder by name. Always refer to the slaying as "It," Frank Calabrese Sr. allegedly said. "'It' could be anything," Nicholas Calabrese explained.

Earlier on in the trial, Nicholas Calabrese testified that in the 1980s he and his brother took part in bombing Marina Trucking -- owned by Michael Tadin, a longtime supporter of Mayor Daley -- the Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace and a well-known mobster hangout, Horwath's Restaurant in Elmwood Park.

Nicholas Calabrese said he took part in the bombing of Marina Trucking and another trucking company on the South Side in the early to mid 1980s. He bombed the Drury Lane Theatre before it was opened and was with a group of men who planned the bombing of two restaurants, including Horwath's.

Calabrese testified he wasn't told why he was doing the bombings. But he told jurors how the Outfit would use bombings to intimidate and extort business people.

Tadin had no comment when reached this afternoon. Marina Trucking has previously employed men associated with organized crime, including the late Ronald Jarrett, whose name has come up frequently during the Family Secrets trial as an Outfit killer and juice loan collector, and Michael "Mickey" Gurgone, a former Streets and Sanitation worker and convicted burglar. Both men are also from the Bridgeport neighborhood where Marina is based.

Nicholas Calabrese also described to jurors how his brother, Frank Sr., once lost track of $400,000 to $500,000 of his own money in the 1980s. Frank Calabrese Sr. had about $1.6 million in cash in several safety deposit boxes in banks throughout the Chicago area but forgot about one of them, Nicholas Calabrese testified. Frank Calabrese Sr. once had a late-night meeting with Nicholas Calabrese where Frank Calabrese Sr. told him, "There's a lot of money missing."

"I says, 'What's that got to do with me?'" Nicholas Calabrese testified. Nicholas Calabrese reminded his brother that Frank Sr. had two safety deposit boxes at one of the banks.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Blood and Gore Highlight Opening Statements at Family Secrets Mob Trial

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr., Paul Schiro, Anthony Doyle, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, Nicholas Calabrese, Michael "Hambone" Albergo
Friends of mine: William Hanhardt

Chicago's biggest mob trial in years started Thursday with a prosecutor urging the jury to forget what they know about movie mobsters and see the now-elderly defendants for who they are: men who "committed brutal crimes on behalf of the Chicago Outfit."

"This is not The Sopranos. This is not The Godfather. These are real people, very corrupt and without honor," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Scully told the jury.

As Scully described a blood-drenched litany of murders, he showed the jury large photos of the victims. He talked about Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, once the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for Joe Pesci's character in the movie Casino. Spilotro and his brother were allegedly lured into a basement and beaten to death, then buried in an Indiana cornfield.

The men on trial — reputed mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78, James Marcello, 65, Frank Calabrese Sr., 70, Paul Schiro, 69, and former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle, 62 — are accused in a racketeering conspiracy that included 18 murders. All have pleaded not guilty.

An anonymous jury is hearing the case, with the jurors being identified only by court-issued numbers to protect their identities.

"Four of the five defendants in this room committed brutal crimes on behalf of the Chicago Outfit," Scully told the jury in his opening statement. The fifth, Doyle, protected them, he said.

Scully described Calabrese as a violent loan shark who strangled witnesses with a rope and cut their throats to make sure they were dead.

Defense attorney Joseph Lopez painted a different picture for the jury, describing Calabrese as a much-maligned, deeply religious man "who believes in peace" and loved his family. He ripped into Calabrese's son, Frank Jr., who is expected to be a key witness for the government against his father.

"He's going to say, 'My father is a rotten S.O.B., my father never loved me' — none of this is true," Lopez said. He said the jurors would see letters between the father and son "expressing love for one another."

"You're going to hear that Frank did slap his son around on numerous occasions," Lopez said. But he said that was only because the youngster was robbing the neighbors of their jewelry and taking cocaine.

He said Calabrese's brother, Nicholas, also expected to be a key witness, once stole a rifle with a silencer from Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, where it had been used to shoot birds that congregated on the scoreboard.

Scully described Marcello as one of the top leaders of the Chicago Outfit. He said Lombardo was the boss of the mob's Grand Avenue crew. Schiro was jailed five years ago for taking part in a jewel theft ring led by the Chicago police department's one-time chief of detectives, William Hanhardt.

Doyle, the retired Chicago police officer, also worked as a loan shark under Calabrese, according to federal prosecutors. He is the one defendant in the case not directly accused of murdering anyone. But Scully said that he aided and abetted the others in their work.

Scully was graphic in describing the killings, but it was Lopez who offered the juiciest details.

He recounted how FBI agents, acting on an informant's tip, tore up concrete in a parking lot near U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox, looking for the last remains of murdered loan shark Michael Albergo. He said they found "thousands of bones" under the parking lot. But DNA testing couldn't tie any of the bones to Albergo, Lopez said, repeatedly referring to the victim by his mob nickname of "Hambone."

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