The Chicago Syndicate: Michael Spilotro
The Mission Impossible Backpack

Showing posts with label Michael Spilotro. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Spilotro. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Spilotro Brothers Leave Court

Friends of ours: Anthony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

Anthony Spilotro, left, and his brother, Michael, leave the federal building in Chicago.Reputed mobster Anthony Spilotro, left, and his brother, Michael, leave the federal building in Chicago after a bond hearing in this June 17, 1986 photo. Anthony Spilotro was known as the Chicago Outfit's man in Las Vegas and inspired the Joe Pesci character in the movie casino. He and his brother were beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield in June 1986.

On Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2007, a forensic pathologist who did autopsies on the Spilotros, testified at the trial in Chicago of five men charged with taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included 18 murders. He said there was no evidence that the two men were buried alive.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Dentist and Lawyer in Heated Courtroom Exchange

Friends of ours: Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Anthony Spilotro, James Marcello, Nicholas Calabrese
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro, Michael Marcello

Joey "the Clown" Lombardo spent months eluding federal authorities after he was indicted in the Family Secrets mob-conspiracy case, but he couldn't outrun the pain of an abscessed tooth.

So in January 2006, he quietly made arrangements to see his dentist, Patrick Spilotro, after Spilotro's Park Ridge practice had closed for the night. But Lombardo didn't know that Spilotro was an FBI tipster, hoping to help solve the murders of his reputed mobster brothers, Anthony and Michael Spilotro.

Testifying Tuesday at the Family Secrets trial, a sometimes tearful Patrick Spilotro said he told the FBI about a second clandestine appointment a few days later with the fugitive -- this time to adjust a bridge.

"They knew the exact time" of the visit, he testified in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, providing the most complete account yet of how Lombardo was captured after nine months on the lam. The reputed mob boss was arrested in Elmwood Park that same day.

Lombardo is one of five men on trial in the sweeping conspiracy case involving 18 previously unsolved murders, including the Spilotros' killings in 1986.

During the visit for dental work, Spilotro said he pressed Lombardo again about what had happened to his brothers. Lombardo, who was in prison when the slayings occurred, had always told him the slayings wouldn't have happened if he had been free, Spilotro said. But this time the answer changed. "I recall his words very vividly," Spilotro testified. "He said, 'Doc, you get an order, you follow that order. If you don't follow the order, you go too.'"

Lombardo occasionally leaned over on his cane to talk with a lawyer during Tuesday's testimony.

Upon cross-examination, Lombardo's lead attorney, Rick Halprin, asked Spilotro whether the person he treated was simply an old man with a bad tooth. Lombardo, whose defense strategy suggests he is preparing to testify on his own behalf, contends he is only a mob-connected business man, not an Outfit boss.

U.S. District Judge James Zagel is expected to ask each of the five defendants whether they plan to testify as soon as Wednesday.

Spilotro also testified that his brother, Anthony, was in his office on June 12, 1986, just two days before he vanished. While there he had access to a phone, and apparently called the home of defendant James Marcello, according to phone records displayed Tuesday.

Marcello, the reputed leader of the Chicago Outfit, already has been blamed in the Spilotro killings by the trial's star witness, mob turncoat Nicholas Calabrese. And Michael Spilotro's daughter has testified that Marcello called her father at home the day he and his brother disappeared.

Patrick Spilotro's testimony Tuesday led to one of the most heated cross-examinations to date in the trial.

Marcello's lawyer, Thomas Breen, asked Spilotro about his decision to clean out Anthony Spilotro's hotel room before he had been reported as a missing person and before police had searched the room for fingerprints.

"It's what I did at that time," said Patrick Spilotro, who seemed to struggle with his emotions throughout his testimony. "I really didn't have my whole head on at that time."

Breen asked what would have happened if the Spilotro brothers had returned to the room and thought there had been a burglary. They had been missing for barely 24 hours when Patrick Spilotro cleaned out the room.

"That would've been a blessing for me then," said Spilotro, who said he knew enough at the time to guess that his brothers would never be coming back. His sister-in-law, Ann, had told him that her husband, Michael, believed he could be in danger.

"She told me where they went," Spilotro said, raising his voice slightly. "They went with Marcello."

At that remark, Breen paced around the lectern, then walked up to Spilotro. Breen told Spilotro his sister-in-law never mentioned Marcello by name during her testimony. "You were the first person to ever share that, doctor," Breen said sarcastically. "Ever report that to the FBI?"

"The FBI was aware that Marcello had called there and [my brothers] went to meet him," Spilotro answered.

"Yeah, right," Breen shot back. "That's the problem when somebody does [their own] investigation."

Prosecutors ended the day by playing recordings made while Marcello was being visited by his brother, Michael, at a federal prison in Michigan. The men, who did not know they were being recorded, spoke about the Family Secrets investigation with code and hand gestures.

Allegedly referring to Nicholas Calabrese as "Slim," authorities said the men can be heard speculating about whether Calabrese is cooperating with them.

In a later video from January 2003, the brothers are seen sitting side-by-side in a prison visiting room. They are heard discussing a source -- who authorities contend was a U.S. marshal (John Ambrose) working a witness security detail. The source had confirmed for the brothers Calabrese's cooperation with the authorities.

The source had seen a summary from Calabrese outlining the participants in some 18 homicides, including the slayings of the Spilotro brothers, which the Marcellos referred to in code as "Zhivago."

"All your names are on that [expletive]," Michael Marcello could be heard to say.

"You're kidding," his brother replied.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Monday, August 06, 2007

Mistress Faces Reputed Mobster

Friends of ours: James Marcello, Tony Spilotro, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

The reputed mob boss did his best to keep a poker face Thursday.

First, the daughter of one of the Spilotro brothers tried not to cry as she indirectly blamed James Marcello for luring her father to his violent death.

Then a second witness, a slim, woman with shoulder-length brown hair testified against him in a quiet voice he knows well.

Connie Marcello, 53, who changed her name after becoming Marcello's mistress, said she met him while she was tending bar in Cook County strip clubs such as Michael's Magic Touch and The Hollywood. James Marcello, who was married to another woman, gave her thousands a month in cash for more than 20 years, she told jurors at the Family Secrets mob conspiracy trial in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse.

The gifts are important because prosecutors allege Marcello ran an illegal, cash-based gambling empire that saw video poker machines placed in bars around the Chicago area. If she was ever asked where her money came from, Connie Marcello testified, she was supposed to say her mother gave it to her.

Her testimony came during the continuing trial of five men—including Marcello—for a conspiracy that allegedly included 18 previously unsolved murders, including the killings of brothers Anthony and Michael Spilotro.

Connie Marcello calmly said she lied to Marcello in 2005 after she appeared before a grand jury, telling him the subject of the money never came up. "I just said it was things about the '80s," she said she told him.

She was still getting money from him as late as June, she said. His brother or a friend would hand her an envelope or a coffee cup stuffed with $100 bills, she said.

Marcello paid for her lawyers, she said, and when she ran up $15,000 in gambling debt, Marcello's cash made it go away. If she was forced to testify at the Family Secrets trial under a grant of immunity, as she did Thursday, she was expected to say nothing and go to jail, she said.

On cross-examination, she was asked if Marcello was being kind to her and her two children, one of whom was adopted and has special needs. That, she said before leaving the courtroom, was true too.

Connie Marcello's testimony followed an earlier session where Michelle Spilotro, the daughter of mob figure Michael Spilotro, talked about working as a hostess at her father's restaurant in the 1980s. She watched him whisper with mobsters in the back room, she said, and told jurors she watched in her house as her dad and alleged mob leader Joey "the Clown" Lombardo wrote each other notes on a child's toy instead of talking out loud.

It was a board that could be written on and then erased by pulling a plastic sheet away from its backing. "You'd see scribbling and they'd lift it up," she said. And she received directions from her father about taking phone calls, especially when a man she knew as "Jim" rang the house.

"Jim," who authorities allege is James Marcello, had a distinct voice with a thick Chicago accent.

Spilotro, 38, now a homemaker, fought tears on the witness stand as she thought about the day in June 1986 when her father disappeared. Her father and uncle were waiting for "Jim" to call, and she answered the phone. After that, she said, the Spilotro brothers got dressed to leave the house.

She said her father left his jewelry in a Ziploc bag on the kitchen counter, and told her to tell her mother to bring it to a graduation party they were attending that night.

Years later, an FBI agent sat her in a car and played her a "voice lineup" of five investigators and Marcello reading a couple of paragraphs from an item in a Chicago newspaper.

When Marcello's voice came on, Spilotro told agents she didn't need to hear anymore, she was sure it was the caller.

On cross-examination, Spilotro acknowledged she hadn't heard "Jim's" voice for three years before listening to the tape. Spilotro's testimony followed that of her mother, Ann Spilotro, who told jurors her husband had once told her that he and his brother "were going to be No. 1" in the hierarchy of the Outfit. The men eventually were targeted for death because Anthony Spilotro, the mob's Las Vegas boss, was attempting unauthorized hits.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mistress of Mob Boss to Testify

Friends of ours: James "Little Jimmy" Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr., Nicholas Calabrese, Anthony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Mike Spilotro

A one-time mistress of reputed top Chicago mob boss James "Little Jimmy" Marcello is scheduled to be called today as a witness for the prosecution in the Family Secrets trial, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

It could not be determined what Connie Marcello will tell jurors. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars referred to her only as "Miss Marcello" when asked by U.S. District Judge James Zagel Wednesday for a list of witnesses who are expected to appear today.

While there is a marital privilege that generally prohibits prosecutors from calling wives to testify against their husbands, there is no mistress privilege. Connie Marcello adopted James Marcello's last name, but the two never married.

It's the latest twist in the Family Secrets case, in which one defendant, reputed Outfit killer Frank Calabrese Sr., saw his son, Frank Jr., and brother, Nicholas, testify against him.

Also expected to appear today as witnesses are the widow and daughter of Michael Spilotro, who was killed in a brutal gangland beating in 1986 with his brother, Anthony Spilotro, who oversaw the Outfit's interests in Las Vegas.

Michael Spilotro's daughter, Michelle, is expected to testify that James Marcello called her home twice looking for her father, who left for a meeting and never returned. Spilotro's daughter said in an affidavit that she had heard Marcello's voice many times before. She later identified his voice from an FBI recording.

On Wednesday, a forensic pathologist testified Michael and Anthony Spilotro died from blunt force injuries and could not breathe because blood filled their airways or lungs. There was no evidence they were buried alive or hit with baseball bats -- a version popularized in the 1995 movie "Casino."

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Forensic Pathologist Details Spilotro's Autopsies

Friends of ours: Tony Spilotro, James Marcello, Nick Calabrese
Friends of mine: Michale Spilotro, Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal

A forensic pathologist who took part in the autopsies of mobsters Anthony and Michael Spilotro gave testimony on Wednesday that upended the Hollywood version of their deaths, which had the men beaten to death with bats and buried alive in an Indiana cornfield.

Dr. John Pless said at the Family Secrets trial that there was no evidence that the men had been buried alive. The grisly detail was popularized in the 1995 mob movie, “Casino.” Pless said the injuries the men received were more likely from fists than bats.

Pless riveted jurors with a detailed list of the injuries both men received. The Spilotros both died from multiple blunt trauma injuries and from having their lungs or airways so filled with blood from their wounds that they couldn't breathe, according to Pless’ testimony.

The men had been lured to the basement of a Bensenville area home in June 1986 after a mob hit squad had unsuccessfully tried to kill Anthony Spilotro in Las Vegas, according to earlier trial testimony.

Spilotro had tried to blow up a mob associate (Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal) without Outfit permission, had slept with that associate's wife and had committed unauthorized murders, according to evidence at trial.

Mob officials lured the men to the basement on the promise that Tony Spilotro was to be promoted to a capo position in the mob, and Michael Spilotro was to be a “made” member of the Outfit. Instead, a dozen killers were waiting for the men in the basement and jumped them as they came down.

Earlier in the trial, Outfit killer Nicholas Calabrese, who is testifying for the government, described his own role in the murders. Calabrese testified he held Michael Spilotro while another man strangled him. Calabrese said he did not get a good look at how Anthony Spilotro was killed.

The forensic pathologist testified that he found abrasions around the neck of Michael Spilotro that could have come from a rope, but noted that the corpses had decomposed after being buried for at least a week in the cornfield, and it was difficult to find markings.

The attorney for reputed mob boss James Marcello jumped on the lack of clear strangulation marks. Defense lawyer Thomas Breen hammered home that point to the jury and will likely use it to bolster his argument that Nicholas Calabrese wasn’t even at the Spilotro murders and made up his account of them.

Calabrese’s testimony is important to Marcello because Calabrese contends Marcello took part in the murders by driving him and other killers to the Bensenville area home.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

The Dentist Who Drilled the Mob

Friends of ours: Tony Spilotro, Nick Calabrese, Frank Calabrase Sr., James Marcello, Joseph "Joey The Clown" Lombardo, Frank "The German" Schweihs
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro, Frank Calabrese Jr.

It is the stuff of novels: a dentist on the trail of his brothers' killers who learns to extract more than teeth.

When Patrick Spilotro, 70, takes the stand this week in the federal "Family Secrets" mob trial, the gruesome odyssey of a brother thirsty for justice will unfold with a few shocking surprises.

In an interview last week, Spilotro detailed his obsession with bringing his brothers' killers to justice.

Spilotro told Michael Sneed: "I promised my mother 21 years ago I would find the men who did it; who butchered my brothers and tortured her sons. We talked about it before she died in 1995. You never get over something like that. But I told her I would never give up."

Sneed is told mobster Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, who was hiding in Chicago in hopes of not becoming part of the "Family Secrets" trial, was captured as a result of a visit to Spilotro's office for dental problems. A tooth abscess led the feds to the flamboyant mobster.

The story of how Spilotro, a suburban dentist, helped break the backbone of the old Chicago mob syndicate is the detritus of two decades spent searching for 12 men who beat and strangled his brothers, reputed mobsters Tony and Michael Spilotro. The menburied them in an unmarked grave in an Indiana cornfield in 1986.

It was the flipping of mobster Nick Calabrese and his nephew, Frank Calabrese Jr., that cracked the "Family Secrets" case. And it was Spilotro, who began working with the feds 21 years ago, who helped them do it.

Secretly taping Nick Calabrese while in prison for extortion, Spilotro primed the pump of redemption with the help of his dental patient, Nick's wife, Nora. And it was Spilotro who tracked down Frank "The German" Schweihs, a reputed mob killer, in his Kentucky lair by tracing multiple cell phones used by Schweihs' son, Sneed hears.

Many of these men and their wives and kids and grandparents were patients of Spilotro over a 35-year span.

Spilotro did not know Calabrese was one of his brothers' murderers, and told Sneed that it would have been impossible for him to talk to Calabrese had he known.

Spilotro's intention was to get Calabrese to tell him what happened that night when a mobster named James Marcello, described in 2005 as the boss of the Chicago outfit, allegedly called Michael Spilotro's home and summoned him to the meeting that led to his death. Michael's daughter, Michelle, will reportedly testify that it was Marcello's voice she heard on the phone that night.

It was the flipping of Nick Calabrese that broke the case. But during Spilotro's meeting with the underworld kingpin, Spilotro discovered Calabrese hated his brother, Frank, whom he considered a dangerous psychopath. Spilotro also told the feds Frank Calabrese's son, Frank Jr., hated his father; important information for the feds to build a scenario to subsequently flip them, sources said.

Armed with Spilotro's information, and subsequent DNA evidence linking Calabrese to a mob hit, the feds were able to flip Calabrese -- whose wife, Nora, had urged him to cooperate.

Spilotro never knew of Nick Calabrese's involvement in his brothers' demise.

"They never told him that they did it," a source said. "But there's no honor amongst these men," said Spilotro. "No respect. They are all a different breed. Money and power are their gods, nothing else."

Thanks to Michael Sneed

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Nick Calabrese Blasted by Attorney on Cross Examination

Friends of ours: Nick Calabrese, James "Little Jimmy" Marcello, Sam Carlisi, Frank Calabrese Sr., Anthony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

An attorney for James "Little Jimmy" Marcello, the reputed head of the Chicago Outfit, today blasted a star witness' account that Marcello was made into the mob in a 1983 ceremony.

Marcello is half Irish, and according to the testimony of Outfit killer Nicholas Calabrese, only men who are fully Italian can be made members of the Chicago Outfit.

Marcello's attorney, Thomas Breen, asked Calabrese on the witness stand if he had met Marcello's "lovely mother Mrs. Flynn," referring to her maiden name.

"And Mrs. Flynn is as Irish as Paddy's pig, isn't she?" Breen said.

"Then Jimmy Marcello lied," Calabrese shot back, apparently a little rattled. "[Marcello's sponsor] Sam Carlisi lied, they lied to the boss."

Nicholas Calabrese gave a detailed account of how he, Marcello and Calabrese's brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., were made with several other men in a ceremony in a closed Chicago area restaurant in 1983.

Breen suggested through his questioning that Calabrese was lying about many details he gave to FBI agents and told jurors from the stand.

Breen asked Calabrese about the making ceremony.

"They serve food?" Breen asked.

"No," Calabrese said.

"No corn beef for Mr. Marcello?" Breen jabbed.

Calabrese has admitted to taking part in at least 14 murders for the mob. As part of his plea agreement with prosecutors, he is avoiding the death penalty and hoping to get something less than life in prison. He's testifying against his brother Frank Calabrese Sr., Marcello and three other men on trial.

Earlier in the trial, Breen scored a point when he was able to get Nicholas Calabrese to say he did not recognize the photo of one of the men that he took part in killing, Nicholas D'Andrea, in Chicago Heights in 1981.

Calabrese said he had only seen the man briefly. The mob was interested in grilling D'Andrea about the attempted murder of a south suburban mob boss but beat D'Andrea so badly that he died before questioning.

The attorney for Calabrese's brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., revealed during his questioning earlier in the day that a family member of one of Nicholas Calabrese's murder victims secretly recorded Nicholas Calabrese during a prison visit.

Nicholas Calabrese took part in the murders of the mob's man in Las Vegas, Anthony Spilotro, and his brother, Michael Spilotro. Their brother, Dr. Pat Spilotro, a dentist, was a friend of Nick Calabrese and also did his dental work, Nicholas Calabrese testified. The dentist visited Nicholas Calabrese in prison once and recorded him, but Calabrese told him nothing about the murders.

In 2001, Nicholas Calabrese sent Pat Spilotro a Christmas card from prison, telling him that he had made a decision he never believed he would have made. Nicholas Calabrese was referring to cooperating with the FBI, according to court testimony.

"God willing, I'll be home next Christmas," Calabrese wrote.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Monday, July 09, 2007

Mobster, Tony Spilotro, Fought Killers to Death

Friends of ours: Tony "the Ant" Spilotro, Frank Calabrese Sr., Nick Calabrese, James Marcello, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Paul "The Indian" Schiro, Anthony Doyle
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro, Frank Calabrese Jr.

A mobster who inspired a movie character warned his attackers before they beat him to death that they would get in trouble, an organized crime insider testified Monday.

Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, and his brother, Michael, had been lured to a basement on the pretext that Michael would be initiated as a "made guy" into the mob, Frank Calabrese Jr. said.

"He came into the basement and there were a whole bunch of guys who grabbed him and strangled him and beat him to death," Calabrese said at Chicago's biggest mob trial in years. "Tony put up a fight. He kept saying, 'You guys are going to get in trouble, you guys are going to get in trouble,'" the prosecution witness said.

Five defendants, including Calabrese's father, reputed mob boss Frank Calabrese Sr., are charged with taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included 18 killings, gambling, loan sharking and extortion. The slayings of the Spilotro brothers - Michael was killed the same night - were among the murder charges.

Despite his graphic narrative, Calabrese was not a witness to the June 1986 death of Tony Spilotro, known as the Chicago Outfit's man in Las Vegas and inspiration for the Joe Pesci character in "Casino."

Calabrese testified that he heard what happened from his uncle, Nicholas Calabrese, who has pleaded guilty and also is expected to testify at the trial. The younger Calabrese testified he was told Tony Spilotro would be killed because he was engaging in unauthorized activities in Las Vegas.

Calabrese Sr., 69, is on trial along with James Marcello, 65; Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78; convicted jewel thief Paul Schiro, 70; and former police officer Anthony Doyle, 62.

Prosecutors on Monday began playing tapes made secretly by Calabrese Jr. in talks with his father when they both were imprisoned for loan sharking. Calabrese Jr. said he wrote to an FBI agent volunteering to make the tapes because he wanted to change his life and get away from his father, whom he described as manipulative and unwilling to give up crime. The father sat expressionless as his son, who now runs a carry-out near Phoenix, said he wanted to "expose my father for what he was."

Also Monday, convicted bookie Joel Glickman, who went to jail rather than testify against Calabrese Sr., told jurors he paid thousands in "street tax" to the mob and once got a "juice loan" from Calabrese.

Glickman, looking haggard after spending a week behind bars for contempt because of his earlier refusal to testify, said he paid as much as $400,000 in "street tax" over 25 years of working as a bookmaker.

If he hadn't paid the mob for permission to do business, he would have lived in a state of fear, he said.

"Fear of what?" asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Markus Funk. "Fear of getting hurt," Glickman said.

Glickman said that he stopped working as a bookie for six years in the 1970s and went into the insurance business, but that while doing so he got a $20,000 loan for his boss from Calabrese.

"A juice loan?" Funk asked, using a mob term for usury.

"I'd say so," said Glickman, testifying under immunity from prosecution.

Calabrese attorney Joseph Lopez tried to soften the impact of that testimony, asking Glickman whether "Calabrese ever threatened you."

"Never," Glickman said. He agreed with Lopez that Calabrese had always been polite and diplomatic with him.

Thanks to Mike Robinson

Monday, June 18, 2007

Murder, Juice Loans, Pornography, Street Gambling, All Part of Mob Family Secrets Trial

Friends of ours: Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr., Paul "the Indian" Schiro, Anthony Doyle, Tony Spilotro, Frank "the German" Schweihs, Nick Calabrese, John Fecarotta, Rocco Infelice, William Hanhardt
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

With the sweeping "Family Secrets" conspiracy trial just days from starting, reputed mobster Joey "the Clown" Lombardo was looking pretty relaxed. If not for the orange jumpsuit and the federal courtroom, he could have been passing time in a coffee shop or one of his favorite Grand Avenue restaurants.

As he sat in a wheelchair with his legs crossed, he gestured and chatted with court personnel and lawyers about the clothes he'll wear when a jury hears allegations that he and several co-defendants ruthlessly steered the Outfit through years of vice and violence. "Do I get a haircut too?" he said with a smile, drawing a laugh.

Even in a city as heavy with mob history and lore as Chicago, the landmark trial set to begin Tuesday with the selection of an anonymous jury promises to be a spectacle.

There will be veteran prosecutors who have made careers targeting wiseguys. There will be flamboyant defense lawyers unafraid to make a joke in court and wear pink socks while doing it. And there will be Lombardo and at least four other defendants, a group accused of forming the backbone of the Chicago Outfit for much of the 1970s and '80s. The trial will lay bare secret ceremonies, 18 long-unsolved gangland slayings and the mob's grip on the city's dark side -- street gambling, juice loans and pornography.

They are now shadows of the men who have stared coldly out of mug shots. They have limped into court using canes, the 78-year-old Lombardo leading a geriatric assortment of characters that has complained of bad backs, poor eyesight and heart trouble in the months leading up to the trial.

Federal prosecutors have targeted individual Outfit street crews and their leaders in the past, but Family Secrets will essentially put on trial the structure and enterprise that was the Chicago mob during the last few decades.

Expected to go on trial with Lombardo for racketeering conspiracy will be James Marcello, named as the boss of the Chicago mob at the time of his arrest; Frank Calabrese Sr., a made member of the Outfit's 26th Street crew and once Chicago's reputed top loan shark; Paul "the Indian" Schiro; and former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle.

The case started with a bang when the indictments came down in the spring of 2005. Lombardo and reputed hit man Frank "the German" Schweihs -- now too sick to go on trial -- were on the lam for months.

While a fugitive, Lombardo wrote letters to the judge in the case, signing some "an innocent man" and promising to swallow truth serum to prove he wasn't involved in the murders. He vowed to turn himself in if he would be released on bail and tried separately. He was arrested in suburban Elmwood Park in January 2006.

As the case finally goes to trial, interest is expected to cause it to be moved to the ceremonial courtroom on the 25th floor of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, the building's largest.

Prosecutors will tell the jury that Lombardo, Marcello and others helped control the organization born with Al Capone, which has persisted and flourished in all manner of illicit business, and has protected itself through murder when necessary. The most sensational of the 18 killings are the 1986 beating deaths of Anthony and Michael Spilotro, who were found buried in an Indiana cornfield and whose murders were featured in the movie "Casino."

"This ranks up there with the great cases ... based on the number of people and the high-profile crimes involved," said Lee Flosi, a former FBI agent who was the supervisor of Chicago's organized crime task force in the early 1990s.

It could even be the last great mob case, Flosi said, as the FBI devotes fewer resources to taking on a somewhat downtrodden Outfit. "It'll be many years before there's anything that rivals it," he said.

Observers are calling the case the most important involving the Chicago mob since Lombardo and three bosses were convicted in 1986 of skimming millions of dollars from a Las Vegas casino.

The trial, expected to last as long as four months, will feature high-ranking turncoats, including a made mob member, Nicholas Calabrese, who will testify against his brother, giving the case its Family Secrets code name. It will include undercover recordings of prison meetings between the incarcerated Marcello and his brother, Michael, and even a government expert dubbed a "mobologist" by the defense to try to tie it all together. A parade of prosecution witnesses that includes hit men, pornographers, bookies, career burglars, gamblers and other mob associates are expected to testify about their dealings with the Outfit.

As the government attacks the mob as a racketeering enterprise, the case will attempt to close the books on the Spilotro killings and a series of other hits that for years sat among the hundreds of unsolved mob slayings in Chicago. Prosecutors will use the rarest of tools to take jurors inside organized crime -- a member of the Outfit's inner circle.

Billed as the most significant witness against the Chicago syndicate in decades, Nick Calabrese has the insider's knowledge to name names. Associated with the Outfit since 1970, he has admitted taking part in 14 Outfit killings and has information on many more, prosecutors have said.

A made member of the 26th Street crew, he began cooperating in 2002 after being confronted by authorities with DNA evidence that linked him to the 1986 killing of mob hit man John Fecarotta. Calabrese recently pleaded guilty.

He also will supply firsthand information about mob business, the Outfit's structure and its customs. And he will explain the backdrop and motives for many of the slayings. He is expected to directly link James Marcello to the murders of the Spilotros, according to prosecutors' documents. The brothers were beaten and strangled in a home near Bensenville after running afoul of the Chicago Outfit while heading its Las Vegas operation.

Calabrese is expected to tell jurors about an underworld ceremony in 1983 when he was welcomed into the mob's leading ranks with Marcello and Frank Calabrese Sr. Calabrese will describe how each inductee was joined by his crew boss and how the highest-ranking Outfit leaders had them pledge absolute allegiance.

To fight Calabrese and his testimony, defense lawyers said they will attempt to show the motives for many of the murders were unrelated to the mob, or that their clients were not directing the conspiracy. According to the defense, the government's case is built on the idea that the Outfit was structured from the top down. "In past cases, the government has shown all of this thuggery, and then asked the jury to reasonably infer that it was done on behalf of the mob," said Rick Halprin, Lombardo's lawyer and a veteran of the federal courthouse. "This case is the reverse. They will be proving that there was organized crime."

Halprin, an ex-Marine who was wounded in Vietnam, has a booming courtroom voice and is quick with a quip. Halprin intends to portray Lombardo as a lifelong working man. "He doesn't have a home in River Forest," he said. "He doesn't drive fancy cars."

Frank Calabrese Sr.'s lawyer, Joseph Lopez, who has defended other mob figures as well, is known for his sharp suits, occasionally accented with pink socks. He said he agrees the team of prosecutors on the case must show that the orders for the killings came down the mob's chain of command.

It doesn't matter, Lopez said, that his client has previously pleaded guilty to being in the Outfit. Prosecutors have to prove the slayings were mob hits. "The question is, were these killings sanctioned by the mob," Lopez said. "People get killed for a variety of reasons."

Lopez said he will present evidence to show that two individuals who have no connection to the mob killed Richard Ortiz and Arthur Morawski, one of the mob hits with which his client is charged. "We're not charged with murder. We're charged with conspiracy," Lopez said. "If we were charged with murder down at 26th Street [the Criminal Courts Building], this would be a different story."

"They can't show these [murders] were done to protect the Outfit," he said. But leading the prosecution team are two of the most seasoned, savvy assistant U.S. attorneys, Mitchell Mars, the office's organized crime chief, who headed the prosecution in the early 1990s of mobster Rocco Infelice, and John Scully, who prosecuted William Hanhardt, a former Chicago police chief of detectives convicted of running a mob-connected jewelry theft ring.

To be sure, they won't be in a joking mood, even though Lombardo might be. "You know he doesn't want to just sit there silently with his hands folded," Flosi said of Lombardo, who once famously covered his face with a newspaper -- a hole cut out for him to see -- as he left a 1981 court appearance. "Maybe he'll come to court in his pajamas," Flosi said. "Who knows?"

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Michael Spilotro P.I.?

Friends of ours: Tony Spilotro, Frank Cullotta
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

The Spilotro Hollywood moment is that scene in "Casino" with the cornfield and the baseball bats that the critics loved, though it really didn't happen that way.

That's how America remembers the Chicago Outfit's Anthony Spilotro and his brother Michael, whose famous murders are among 18 Outfit killings comprising the historic federal "Family Secrets" mob trial set to begin this week. But there is another Spilotro Hollywood moment, long forgotten. In this one, actors don't play the Spilotros. Rather, Michael Spilotro played a tough FBI agent on the hit TV show "Magnum, P.I.," starring Tom Selleck.

Special Agent Spilotro appeared in the 1981 episode "Thicker than Blood." And you thought only Christopher from "The Sopranos" had a Hollywood urge.

Michael was the little brother of Tony, the Chicago Outfit's overseer in Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s. Michael received bit parts on "Magnum" and other shows. (I've got that "Magnum" DVD, but don't ask to borrow it.)

"Magnum" was a private-eye show set in Hawaii with a fancy red Ferrari and beautiful girls, gunplay, more beautiful girls, more gunplay and beautiful girls. That was when TV was TV. In the episode, a gang of wisecracking French drug dealers try to import loads of heroin. But G-man Michael Spilotro won't stand for such shenanigans.

Rather than wear a tie, Agent Spilotro wears a sports coat and an open shirt, but no gold chains. And Agent Spilotro did an interesting thing when he met Magnum in a parking lot in broad daylight. He reached for his gun. How rude.

Did Agent Spilotro think he was in some parking lot at Grand and Harlem?

Magnum was worried about his friend, TC, who'd been set up by the evil drug lords, so Magnum approached Spilotro to find out what happened to his buddy. "He doesn't wanna talk," Spilotro informed Magnum and Rick (played by native Chicagoan and Michael's boyhood friend Larry Manetti).

Spilotro unleashed his lines in an unmistakably thick Chicago accent, about as thick as mine, with the same flat vowels.

Later, FBI Agent Spilotro is hiding outside a warehouse, peering through a window, clenching a bullhorn while watching the drug dealers unload their heroin. One of the villains, in a thick French accent, says quite sarcastically, "$10 million worth of heroin, courtesy of zee United States Coast Guard."

Just then, Agent Spilotro springs into action: "This is a federal officer! The building is surrounded!! Come out with your hands in da air!!"

"Magnum" action music—including wailing guitars—pulsates to a disco beat. Agent Spilotro charges in, cornering the evildoers by firing his pistol into the air.

They surrender, and wisely. They didn't know if "Family Secrets" prosecution witness and Outfit enforcer Frankie Cullotta might have been hiding nearby, supporting Spilotro, with a vise that would fit several French heads. The vise thing was in "Casino," but it was drawn from Chicago Outfit war stories and, no wonder, since Cullotta was a technical adviser on "Casino" and knew what a vise could do to a head.

Spilotro may have been trying to increase his Hollywood profile for business reasons, but I don't think the old guys back home who ran things were too pleased about Michael raising his profile on TV. But others disagree, including Manetti, who ran a Chicago construction company that helped build Rush Street clubs before getting into acting. Manetti says he's developing several projects, including a TV comedy about burned-out cops working the night shift and a movie about Cuban refugees.

"I didn't know Michael as a gangster, I knew him as a guy I grew up with in the neighborhood," Manetti said. "Michael wanted to be on TV, that's all. Who wouldn't? It was a top show. He had fun. He wasn't trying to be a movie star or an actor, he was having fun."

Common wisdom is that Tony was the tough guy and Michael was the innocent victim, though some law enforcement sources suggest Michael may have been more devious than his brother. But that's not how Manetti saw his friend, who visited him in Hawaii and was offered a bit part.

"I loved Michael. I don't know what the rumors are, he wasn't a bad guy. Everybody has aspirations of being a movie star. We thought about it. It was funny, you know, Spilotro, FBI agent. . . . With us, it was all fun, no bad stuff. I think we talked about him playing a guy named Zookie the Bookie once, you know, just fun stuff. He was OK as an actor, he wasn't so stiff."

Manetti, who lives in California, said he'll read the Tribune to follow the "Family Secrets" trial. "I miss him. Listen, if it's about the guys who killed Michael, let them burn."

Some who ordered the murders have already been burned, and are likely burning still. And though Michael Spilotro may have had fun on TV, I've got a feeling that a few Chicago critics who could make him or break him didn't like his performance as a crime-fighting fed.

They gave it two broken thumbs down.

Thanks to John Kass

Spilotro's Daughter to Testify at Family Secrets Mob Trial

Friends of ours: Tony Spilotro, James Marcello, Joseph Lombardo, Frank Schweihs
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

The daughter of executed mobster Michael Spilatro will testify that the day her father disappeared, he received two calls from James Marcello of Lombard, the man prosecutors call the head of the Chicago Outfit, it was revealed in court today.

Michelle Spilatro’s identification of Marcello in a “voice line-up” was being opposed by Marcello’s attorney, Marc Martin, who called an expert in court to testify that the way the lineup was conducted was faulty and was suggestive to her that she identify Marcello.

Martin is opposing the use of the identification for use at trial. U.S. District Judge James Zagel held off on ruling on its admissibility after a hearing today.

Prosecutors contend Anthony and Michael Spilatro were lured to a DuPage area home - reportedly near Bensenville - and beaten to death on June 14, 1986. Their bodies were later found in an Indiana corn field.

That day, prosecutors said Michelle Spilatro will testify, she answered two calls from Marcello asking to talk to Michael Spilatro. They said she will also testify that she heard Marcello’s voice around 80 times over several years that way, and is “100 percent” certain it was Marcello who called that day.

Prosecutor Marcus Funk also intimated through questions of the defense witness that Michelle Spilatro can clearly ID Marcello’s voice because she at one point recognized it in a phone conversation and confirmed with him that he was the man who always called for her father.

Defense attorneys contend Michelle Spilatro cannot possibly identify the voice because she was asked to perform the voice lineup more than three years after the day her father was murdered.

Jury selection begins Tuesday in the mob case, which features not only defendant Marcello, but such legendary mob figures as Joey “The Clown” Lombardo and Frank Calabrese, Sr. Also Friday, Zagel granted a motion from lawyers for Frank “The German” Schweihs to release him from trial for now because he is severely ill and under the care of a doctor. Schweihs reportedly has cancer.

Opening arguments in the case are expected to begin June 25.

Thanks to Rob Olmstead

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Ruthless Rise of Mobster Joey "The Clown" Lombardo

To neighbors, Joseph Lombardo was a beloved family man and respected boys baseball coach in his West Side neighborhood -- "more liked than the priest" in the community, according to one friend.

To the feds, Lombardo is the man who had a factory owner slain in front of the man's wife and 4-year-old son.

To investigators, he's the man who knows no loyalty, signing off on the murders of three close friends.

When he appears in federal court these days, for updates on the trial starting June 19 that could put him in prison until his dying days, he's the wisecracking senior citizen. At 78, he's the oldest of a mostly geriatric bunch of mobsters in what likely will be the last great Outfit trial in Chicago history -- the Family Secrets case.

He's "the Clown," known for his quick wit. When the cops stopped him once in the 1980s, after he fled a gambling raid, he had $12,000 in cash on him and a book filled with jokes. But the wisecracks, investigators say, only mask the brutality of one of the last of the old-time Chicago mobsters.

Interviews with people who have known and investigated Lombardo, as well as a review of thousands of pages of court records and law enforcement documents, reveal the story of the ruthless rise of Lombardo in the Chicago Outfit.

"He was vicious and a killer," said retired FBI Agent Jack O'Rourke. "He was their prime enforcer."

Lombardo has denied hurting anyone. Now behind bars at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, he declined an interview request.

In court in 1983, Lombardo said: "I never ordered a killing, I never OKd a killing, and I never killed a man in my life."

His attorney, Rick Halprin, says his client has never been a mob leader. But investigators say Lombardo was a top mobster for years, thanks to his criminal versatility.

He allegedly went from busting heads and two-bit burglaries to orchestrating a bribe attempt of U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon. He was convicted in that case in the 1980s, as well as another one for skimming millions from Las Vegas casinos for the mob. He allegedly controlled millions of dollars in Teamster pension funds through his friend, insurance magnate Allen Dorfman, and was responsible for getting the skim from Las Vegas casinos to Chicago mob bosses.

As a child, Lombardo never knew such wealth, growing up poor in Depression-era Chicago, one of 11 children, the son of a printer. A graduate of Wells High School, he worked as a paperboy, plucked chickens, shined shoes, loaded boxcars at Union Station for 69 cents an hour and handled room service at the Blackstone Hotel.

He was also quite the athlete, playing on wrestling, basketball, fencing and swimming teams and even taking square-dancing lessons. He found a passion for golf and caddied for top Chicago gangster Jackie Cerone. He was also quite the gin rummy cardshark. But he didn't have to rely on cards for cash. His criminal work was apparently quite profitable, authorities said. In recent years, while Lombardo pleads poverty, his family trust benefitting his ex-wife, son and daughter has sold real estate for millions. Authorities believe the trust was set up to keep the feds from seizing assets.

Lombardo's success was punctuated by violence. He has been a suspect in numerous murders but never convicted. What's more, authorities say, he had control over the most allegedly vicious hit man around, Frank "The German" Schweihs. Schweihs is charged in the Family Secrets case with Lombardo. Schweihs would talk about doing an Outfit killing like he was taking out the garbage, court records show.

Even before Lombardo was a somebody in the Chicago Outfit, he was "the Clown."

It was 1964, and Lombardo was on trial in Chicago with other alleged loan sharks for beating a man who owed the mob money. The case was making headlines, and so was Lombardo. When police took his mug shot, he opened his mouth into a cavernous yawn to stop the cops from getting a good photo of him.

Even then, Lombardo -- then going by a variation of his birth name, Joseph Lombardi -- was referred to in the press as the Clown.

The other notable twist: Lombardo was innocent of the charge. But he was part of a clever plot to scotch the case, authorities said. When police rounded up the loan sharks, they arrested the wrong Joseph Lombardi. At the time, two Chicago gangsters had that name and looked similar. Defense attorneys for the men realized the error but kept silent to spring a trap on prosecutors, authorities said. It worked. When the victim took the stand, he could identify all the defendants as his attackers, all except the Clown.

"Talk about having your jaw drop and your case collapse," said attorney Louis B. Garippo, who prosecuted the case. Lombardo walked out a free man. His fellow mobsters walked too, after a jury acquitted them.

Lombardo's antics would be only his first of many public displays.

After he was arrested in 1980 for leading police on a chase, he left the courthouse one day, past the press corps, hidden behind a newspaper with a peephole cut out for his eyes. He was tripped up, though, as he went through the revolving door.

When Lombardo got out of prison in 1992, the FBI in Chicago began getting strange phone calls from a man identifying himself as Long John Silver. The caller would let agents know when he was going to call through newspaper ads.

The caller provided good info about the Outfit's hierarchy but was anxious to steer agents away from one person -- Lombardo's son, Joseph Jr., whom agents were investigating but never charged. Agents traced the calls as coming from pay phones near Lombardo's home, sources said.

The phone calls never amounted to much, and the agents never proved they were coming from Lombardo. But there was a tantalizing clue. Flip the initials for Long John: you get J and L. Short for Joseph Lombardo? Lombardo could pull that stunt, agents figured.

To get into the Chicago Outfit as a made member -- to have the full rights of membership -- a candidate must murder for the mob. Lombardo's qualifying kill was allegedly the 1965 hit of mob associate and hotel owner Manny Skar, according to court records. Lombardo allegedly shadowed Skar for two days before Skar was killed as he exited his car to enter his apartment on Lake Shore Drive.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Lombardo was on the move, wearing multiple hats for the Outfit and allegedly signing off on the murders of three close friends.

The first was in 1974 -- the slaying of businessman Daniel Seifert. Seifert ran a fiberglass business in the suburbs and was an unwitting front for Lombardo. Lombardo and Seifert were so close that Lombardo baby-sat Seifert's kids. But when the feds came calling and Seifert decided to cooperate, Lombardo decided his friend had to go, authorities charge. On Sept. 27, 1974, Seifert was gunned down outside his Bensenville factory as his wife and 4-year-old son watched. With Seifert dead, the charges against Lombardo evaporated. Lombardo is charged in connection with Seifert's murder in the Family Secrets case along with racketeering.

The next to go was insurance magnate Allen Dorfman, who went on Hawaii golf vacations with Lombardo. Lombardo was close to Dorfman, a clout-heavy insurance broker. Lombardo and Dorfman allegedly schemed to control the Teamsters' pension funds, which loaned millions to build Vegas casinos. Lombardo would allegedly muscle people for Dorfman.

In one conversation, secretly tape-recorded by the feds, Lombardo spoke to mob lawyer and casino investor Morris Schenker, who wasn't coming up with the money Dorfman believed Schenker owed the Outfit.

"Now, it's getting to the point now where you either s - - - or get off the pot," Lombardo said to Schenker, who was 72 at the time of the 1979 conversation. "If they come back and tell me to give you a message and if you want to defy it, I assure you that you will never reach 73," Lombardo said.

Schenker died of natural causes. Dorfman did not, getting gunned down in 1983 in Lincolnwood after Outfit leaders worried he'd turn stool pigeon.

Three years later, another Lombardo friend, mob killer Anthony Spilotro, was beaten to death along with his brother, Michael Spilotro. Lombardo allegedly oversaw Spilotro, who was the Outfit's man in Las Vegas. The Spilotros and Lombardo were close. Their families came over on the same boat from Italy.

In the end, though, Anthony Spilotro had to die, Outfit leaders decided. He was causing too much heat in Vegas, including taking out a contract on an FBI agent.

The Spilotro brothers were lured to a Bensenville area home on the ruse they were getting promotions. Instead, when they went down to the basement, several mobsters surrounded them and beat them to death. They were buried in an Indiana cornfield.

In recent years, Lombardo has kept a low profile. He has been seen hanging out more at the Italian restaurant La Scarola than with other mobsters.

His defense -- unique but possibly workable -- is that he has moved away from the mob life.

In short, he's retired.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Monday, May 21, 2007

Will Mob Family Secrets be Revealed?

Friends of ours: Tony Spilotro, James "Little Jimmy" Marcello, Nick Calabrese, Sam "Wings" Carlisi, Louie "The Mooch" Eboli, James LaPietra, John Fecarotta
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

Tony Spilotro and his brother Michael were heading to a meeting with top mobsters, and they were worried.

Tony Spilotro, already a made member of the mob and the Outfit's man in Las Vegas, was told he was going to be promoted. Michael was to become a "made" member. But they weren't acting like men in line for promotions, recently released court records show.

Michael gave his daughter his rings, a phone book and a cross to give to his wife. Tony gave the girl a briefcase containing money, rings and a phone book to pass on to his family in case he didn't return. The men never came back from the June 1986 meeting. It was a setup for them to be killed.

Fresh details about the murders could come to light this week when a federal judge will hold a hearing on evidence from the Spilotro murders that could become part of the Family Secrets trial.

It's one of 18 murders charged in the case, which involves some of the top mobsters in the Chicago area.

Top mob boss James "Little Jimmy" Marcello doesn't want jurors to hear from a member of the Spilotro family, who would testify he called Michael Spilotro at home regarding the meeting where the brothers were killed. The family member has not been named in court records but apparently can recognize Marcello's voice.

Marcello also didn't want jurors to hear from one of the Spilotro brothers' widows, who can testify about statements the men made before they left for the meeting.

The brothers' brutal murders are easily the best known among the murders charged in the case. In the mob movie "Casino," the Spilotro brothers -- with Joe Pesci playing the character based on Tony Spilotro -- were beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield.

In real life, they were slain in a basement in a Bensenville-area home and later buried in a cornfield.

Several top mobsters were waiting in the basement and attacked the Spilotro brothers as they entered. Among the attackers waiting downstairs were several mobsters, now dead, including top mob boss Sam "Wings" Carlisi, Louie "The Mooch" Eboli, James LaPietra and John Fecarotta.

The FBI learned the details of the murder from one of the men who was there, reputed mob hitman Nick Calabrese, who now is cooperating with the feds and is expected to testify at trial.

Marcello is charged in the murders and allegedly drove the Spilotro brothers to the Bensenville-area home and their deaths.

Tony Spilotro asked his killers if he could say a novena before he died. His request was denied, and the killers strangled the brothers.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir

Friday, May 18, 2007

Spilotro Brothers Murder Not in a Cornfield?

Friends of ours: Tony "the Ant" Spilotro, Nick Calabrese, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Rocco Lombardo, Joe Ferriola, James Marcello, Frank Cullotta, John Fecarotta
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro, William "Slick" Hanner

It's been 21 years since Tough Tony Spilotro, the reputed rackets boss of Las Vegas, was murdered along with his brother, presumably by members of "The Outfit" in Chicago. But the best-known version of how the men were killed is simply wrong, according to federal prosecutors in Chicago, who are preparing to out away the men responsible.

Operation Family Secrets is the name of the FBI probe that led to the indictment of 14 Chicago mobsters, charged with 18 gangland murders, including those of the Spilotro brothers. The trial, slated to begin in two weeks, will challenge widely held views of what really happened to "Tough Tony."

Movie fans around the world are familiar with the bloody end met by Las Vegas mob boss Tony "The Ant" Spilotro and his brother Michael. In the film "Casino," the characters based the Spilotro brothers were taken to an Indiana cornfield, then were beaten to a pulp, one at a time, with baseball bats, and then buried while still alive.

In Chicago, federal prosecutors are prepared to make the Spilotro murders a centerpiece of the massive prosecution of 14 mob figures. The case that will be presented at the Dirksen Courthouse lists 18 murders in all, along with many other crimes, but because of their movie notoriety, the Spilotro's are likely to get top billing.

Rick Halprin, Chicago defense attorney, said, "The event is depicted in a movie, and anybody sitting on a jury, or most of the jury, is going to associate the two. The judge is going to have to deal with that when we select a jury."

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp: "But the movie version is wrong. Mobster-turned-informant Nick Calabrese is ready to testify that the Spilotro brothers were killed, not in Indiana, but instead, here in a quiet suburb of Bensenville."

Why should a jury believe Nick Calabrese about the Spilotro murders? Because Calabrese admits that he was one of the killers. He's also fessed up to participating in 14 other mob murders and is ready to tell all he knows about the Chicago outfit, including his own brother Frank.

This is the story told by Calabrese and corroborated by the FBI with other sources. Tony Spilotro, who was facing three indictments in Las Vegas, returned to Chicago in the belief that he might be in line for a promotion in his hometown.

Former mob associate "Slick" Hanner said, "The reason they got killed was because they were going back to Chicago to take over The Outfit. He was telling his crew we're going back to Chicago."

Acting boss Joe Ferriola, now deceased, saw it differently and ordered the murders. Spilotro's presumed boss, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, allegedly signed off on the hit. The Spilotro brothers were wary about going to a meeting, but changed their minds about taking guns along, presumably because someone close to them put their minds at ease.

According to Calabrese, the Spilotro's were picked up by James Marcello, currently listed as boss of The Outfit, and were driven to a house in the Bensenville suburb. Tony was supposed to get a promotion. Michael was to become a made member. When they got to the house, they were taken to the basement for the ceremony, and that's where Marcello, Calabrese, and four other men beat them to death.

At least two men, including hitman John Fecarotta, put the bodies in a car and jumped on the highway. As the I-Team learned, one of the first signs they would have seen directs them toward Indiana and the cornfield. Former Spilotro underling, hitman Frank Cullotta, tried to put Spilotro away, but is still bothered by the imagery.

Cullotta said, "If I had to kill him, I couldn't kill him that way. I'd a just shot him. I couldn't beat him to death like that, let his brother watch. I just assume they were showing one or the other, you're not such a tough guy after all."

The bodies were never supposed to be found, but were. For botching that job Ferracotta was murdered by Nick Calabrese. Years later, DNA evidence from that murder allowed the FBI to turn Calabrese into a witness, which led to the indictments of all the others.

Defense attorney Rick Halprin ridicules the government for going after men whose average ages are 75. He says his client, Joey Lombardo, was in prison when the Spilotro murders took place and had nothing to do with it.

It's decades later, but the trial will still be watched in Las Vegas where family ties run deep.

This year, when Rocco Lombardo, brother of Joey "The Clown," appeared in federal court, he was defended -- ironically enough -- by Attorney John Spilotro, the nephew of Tough Tony.

A lot of Spilotro family members still live in Las Vegas, including Tony's wife Nancy. They generally don't speak about those days long ago but have told the I-Team they feel some relief that the government is finally prosecuting someone for the murders.

Thanks to George Knapp

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Slick Hanner Challenges Frank Cullotta's Credibility on Family Secrets

Friends of ours: Frank Cullotta, Tony Spilotro, Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Nick Calabrese
Friends of mine: William "Slick" Hanner, Michael Spilotro, Frank Calabrese Jr.

Chicago's still powerful Mafia family, known as "The Outfit," is about to be pummeled by Operation Family Secrets, an FBI probe aimed at fourteen top mobsters.

The Outfit once had considerable control of casinos and street rackets in Las Vegas. Now, the remaining bosses will be prosecuted for eighteen unsolved murders. Among the witnesses will be former mob soldiers, including one time Las Vegas hitman Frank Cullotta.

Will Cullotta be credible when he takes the stand? Other "wiseguys" aren't so sure.

Frank Cullotta told Chief I-Team Reporter George Knapp, "I would think it's the end. I don't think it will ever be as strong or as organized as it was."

Admitted hitman and thief Frank Cullotta was raised on the mean streets of Chicago. He robbed people, boosted cars, and ran with a bad crowd, including his future boss, tough Tony Spilotro. In the late '70s, Cullotta joined Spilotro in Las Vegas as part of a burglary ring known as The Hole in the Wall Gang.

Cullotta committed at least one murder on orders from Spilotro, eventually joined the witness protection program and testified against Spilotro and other former associates. Now, he is listed as a likely witness in the prosecution of what remains of the Chicago outfit -- 14 alleged mobsters charged with 18 murders -- including those of Spilotro and his brother Michael. "There's guys who killed guys that have been killed for murders. Jesus, there's a lot of guys," Cullotta said.

Defense attorneys found out what Cullotta might say in court by obtaining a preview copy of his soon-to-be released book about his life of crime. A former federal prosecutor who helped turn Cullotta thinks he's a credible witness.

Don Campbell explained, "Certainly Frank knew what was going on in Chicago. How intimate his knowledge might have been on any particular crime, it depends on the crime. Clearly he was in the loop on an awful lot of criminal activity."

But others, including Spilotro's defense attorney, now Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman, have complained for years that Cullotta isn't believable. Oscar Goodman said, "He's a liar, he's a pimp, he's a thief."

Another Cullotta critic, former mob associate, William "Slick" Hanner said, "What can he say that they don't know?"

Hanner, who grew up in the same Chicago neighborhoods, ran with the same crowd, but even before Cullotta. Hanner said, "I ain't saying I'm better than him. I'm not a killer, but I don't embellish things. He said Tony sent for him. Tony never sent for him. He came out here to put a girl to work. She was a prostitute. Then he went to Tony and said he's gonna bring his crew out."

Hanner, who ended up working in licensed casinos despite his long criminal record, has written his own book about the bad old days, entitled "Thief." He admits to being a participant in skimming millions from the mob-tainted Stardust casino but feels Cullotta is exaggerating his own importance "I would have never given him witness protection, never. He's as bad as the ones he's testifying against," Hanner continued.

Cullotta is expected to testify that his boss, Spilotro, reported to longtime reputed outfit kingpin Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, the best known of the fourteen defendants in the Operation Family Secrets case. Two other mobsters, Frank and Nick Calabrese, are ready to tell what they know about the other defendants. Lombardo's lawyer thinks those two will be tough witnesses, but he sounds like he will be ready for Cullotta.

Rick Halprin, Lombardo's defense attorney, said, "Even though I've seen tapes of Cullotta, I don't know what he's gonna be like until I see him on the stand. I don't think he'll be what I've seen on the tapes. I really don't."

Anyone who's seen the movie "Casino" probably believes the Spilotro brothers were murdered in a cornfield. Not so.

Thanks to George Knapp

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Chicago Mafia Figures on Trial For Spilotro Murders

Friends of ours: Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Al Capone, Frank Cullotta
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

Federal prosecutors are ready to drive what may be the final nail into the coffin of the country's most powerful Mafia family. It's the most significant prosecution of the Chicago outfit in history.

Fourteen suspected Mafia leaders are charged with numerous crimes, including the murders of suspected mobsters who controlled street rackets in Las Vegas.

This week marks what would have been Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro's 69th birthday. He was a feared man in the '70s and '80s, but was murdered in 1986 along with his brother Michael. Murders that were made famous by the movie "Casino." The case was never solved but now federal prosecutors are going after some of the men they believe were involved, men whose criminal enterprises are inextricably linked to Las Vegas.

On the wall of defense attorney Rick Halprin's Chicago office is a newspaper cartoon, which pokes fun at how Joey "The Clown" Lombardo got his nickname. While in federal court one day, and to avoid being photographed, Lombardo made a mask out of a newspaper. People thought it was clownish.

In the big-shouldered city of Chicago, where organized crime has been a fact of life since before Al Capone, everyone knows Lombardo's name. For more than 30 years, the word "reputed" has been attached to it.

Rick Halprin, Lombardo's defense attorney, said, "Without question, when you walk down the street, if you ask a citizen about the case, the mob case, the only name they know is Joey Lombardo." Defense attorney Rick Halprin knows that overcoming Lombardo's longstanding reputation, as a top boss of Chicago's outfit will be his major challenge in the upcoming trial based on the FBI's "Operation Family Secrets."

Lombardo is one of fourteen Windy City Mafia figures charged with a vast assortment of serious crimes, including eighteen unsolved murders. More than 1,000 murders have been attributed to the Chicago outfit over the years. Fewer than twenty have been solved. This massive indictment represents the most serious assault on the mob since Capone was put away.

Rick Halprin continued, "The interest is intense, and the pressure -- it's very, very big 'cause you're talking about Chicago. You're talking about an indictment that goes back 63 years."

A document known as a Santiago Proffer outlines the government's case. It reads like a Mario Puzo novel. Much of the information is so sensitive, involving protected witnesses, which the government blacked it out. What's clear from the case is the symbiotic relationship between mob bosses in Chicago and their emissaries in Las Vegas.

Loans from the Mafia-controlled Teamsters pension fund built much of Las Vegas. The loans came with strings attached. The mob not only used Nevada casinos to launder money from illicit businesses, they skimmed tens of millions of dollars from the countrooms, money that found its way back to Chicago. In the 1980's, Joey Lombardo was one of several mobsters convicted in a federal skimming case. Those prosecutions spurred many of the murders that only now might be resolved.

John Flood, a former Chicago lawman, said, "Any outfit murder out of Chicago, Lombardo would have been involved in it."

John Flood spent more than 30 years chasing mobsters in Chicago. He says Lombardo once tried to kill him by running him down with a car. He and others believe that Lombardo would have had to okay all of the murders mentioned in the indictment, including those of brothers Tony and Michael Spilotro.

Tony was Chicago's main man in Las Vegas. He protected the skim and allegedly oversaw a criminal operation known as the Hole-in-the-Wall Gang. The murders of the Spilotro brothers were immortalized in the movie "Casino." One man who agrees that Lombardo played a role is Frank Cullotta, a Spilotro soldier who turned government witness and who is likely to be called in the Chicago trial. Cullotta gave the I-Team an exclusive interview earlier this year.

Chief Investigative Reporter George Knapp: "Joey Lombardo?"

Frank Cullotta: "He was Tony's boss and he was my boss."

George Knapp: "You guys reported directly to him."

Frank Cullotta: "Tony did. I reported to Tony, so Joe relayed messages to Tony. Do I think Joe Lombardo was involved in it? I think they would have to go to him for an okay."

Cullotta has written a book about his life with the mob. It's due out in a matter of weeks. Rick Halprin thinks Cullotta is a flawed witness. However, he admits the government has stronger witnesses, including two members of the Calabrese family, made members of the mob who agreed to testify.

They've already given tips that led to the search for buried remains of murder victims. But don't count the Cagey Lombardo out. He's ready to spring a unique strategy called the withdrawal defense. After his release from prison in the '90s, he took out an ad in a Chicago paper announcing his formal withdrawal from the mob. It's not a joke.

Rick Halprin said, "So, ultimately we have to let the jury decide whether: a) Lombardo was involved in a conspiracy at all, which we say he wasn't, and b) if he was, did he withdraw from the conspiracy? And the government would like to prove that he did not."

The trial was scheduled to begin Tuesday, May 15th but has been delayed for another two weeks. The notoriety of the Spilotro murders means those slayings will play a central part in the government's case. But the version we've all seen is not how the murders went down at all.

Thanks to George Knapp

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Family Secrets Jury to be Anonymous

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

An anonymous jury will be seated in the upcoming trial of reputed Chicago mob leaders accused of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included 18 murders, a federal judge said today.

"I do intend to empanel an anonymous jury," Judge James B. Zagel said at a hearing in the case of Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and 10 other reputed members of The Outfit -- Chicago's organized crime family.

Zagel refrained from saying why he decided to seat an anonymous jury. But he may have acted to insulate the jurors from outside pressures.

Some of the defendants could spend the rest of their lives in prison if convicted of taking part in the racketeering conspiracy.

Eight of the 11 defendants are charged with participating in a long-running conspiracy involving 18 murders, including those of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, The Outfit's one-time man in Las Vegas, and his brother, Michael. The Spilotro brothers were beaten and buried in an Indiana corn field in June 1986.

Besides the eight charged with racketeering conspiracy, the indictment names three other defendants on gambling charges.

Originally, 14 people were charged in the case. One was found dead when FBI agents went to arrest him. Another has since died. A third isn't going on trial, but is expected to be the government's star witness.

The defendants have pleaded innocent and jury selection for their trial is scheduled to begin June 5. That could be postponed if pretrial skirmishing now before a federal appeals court is dragged out.

Thanks to Mike Robinson

Sunday, March 11, 2007


Friends of ours: Tony Spilotro, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, James Marcello
Friends of mine: Frank Cullotta, Michael Spilotro

Frank Cullotta first met Anthony Spilotro when they were rival shoeshine boys on Grand Avenue in Chicago.

Spilotro's introduction went something like this: "What the f--- are you lookin' at?"

The volatile pair nearly brawled that day, but they became friends after realizing Cullotta's gangster-father had helped Spilotro's dad out of a jam once. The boys also became associates in crime, beating up enemies, sticking up bank messengers and -- as Spilotro rose to power as the Chicago mob's Las Vegas overseer -- robbing and killing people.

Cullotta's life is the subject of a soon-to-be-released autobiography titled Cullotta, from Nevada's Huntington Press Publishing.

The book is slated to hit stores this summer, possibly during the Family Secrets trial. The case aims to solve a host of old mob hits, including the 1986 murders of Spilotro and his brother Michael.

By the time of the Spilotros' demise -- they allegedly were killed by reputed mob boss James Marcello and others -- Cullotta already had flipped for the government, entered witness protection and begun testifying against fellow hoodlums, including Spilotro.

Cullotta, a hit man and burglar who ran Spilotro's infamous "Hole in the Wall Gang," left the mob 25 years ago this May as the law was bearing down and his relationship with Spilotro deteriorated to the point that Cullotta feared getting whacked.

Now, Cullotta might be called by the government to testify in the Family Secrets trial, expected to get under way in May.

Cullotta's book -- co-written with former cop Dennis Griffin with help from Cullotta's former FBI handler, Dennis Arnoldy -- is light on many details but does offer some nuggets for mob buffs, saying:

• • Cullotta had a strong inclination that associate Sal Romano was a snitch, and didn't want him along on the 1981 heist of Bertha's furniture and jewelry store that led to the gang's capture. But Spilotro reportedly insisted, and Romano indeed was an informant. Then Spilotro didn't bail out Cullotta or help him much in his legal troubles, slights that further soured Cullotta on Spilotro.

• • Reputed mob leader Joey "The Clown" Lombardo allegedly settled a dispute between Cullotta and another alleged mobster by letting the man beat Cullotta with a brick. Lombardo allegedly handled the matter this way because he feared the retribution would be worse when mob boss Joseph Aiuppa returned from vacation. Lombardo's attorney, Rick Halprin, however, called the story "fantasy" and said it had been discredited at a long-ago court hearing.

• • Cullotta befriended members of the Blackstone Rangers while in jail, and Spilotro once considered enlisting the gang to kill Las Vegas cops in retaliation for an earlier police shooting, the book says. The scheme never materialized, but Cullotta says he was hired by the gang to blow up a South Side business so the owner could collect insurance.

• • When Cullotta was in prison and wanted a plum assignment, he reached out to then-Chicago cop William Hanhardt to intervene because they knew each other from the street and Hanhardt was friendly with the warden. Cullotta ended up getting the assignment, he said. Years later, Hanhardt was convicted of running a jewelry theft ring with alleged ties to the mob.

• • Cullotta's father, Joe, a now-dead robber and getaway driver, allegedly helped Spilotro's restaurateur-dad Patsy out of a "Black Hand" extortion scheme. The elder Cullotta "and his crew hid in the back room of the restaurant until the Black Handers came in for the payoff," according to the book. "Then they burst out and killed them. After that Patsy wasn't bothered anymore."

If the book gets across one point, it's that Cullotta, 68, is a survivor -- because of his cunning, and luck. At least 44 pals or cohorts were killed by the mob or police.

Today, he has a new identity and lives out "west." He owns a business that leaves him "well off," although the book doesn't go deeply into the present day. He also is a partner in a new Las Vegas tour group that -- what else -- visits old mob haunts. He'll be making cameo appearances on the tour bus, but they won't be announced in advance.

Thanks to Robert C. Herguth

Monday, January 15, 2007

Feds Learn of 38 Hits and Chicago Mob Hierarchy from Mobster

Friends of ours: Nick Calabrese, Jimmy Marcello, Frank Calabrese Sr., Tony Spilotro
Friends of mine: Michael Spilotro

Made mobster Nick Calabrese has told the FBI more about mob hits than any other witness in Chicago history.

He should know. He took part in 16 of them, the feds say. And filled the feds in on 22 more.

Apart from the murders, Calabrese described to the FBI the secret ceremony mobsters underwent to get "made" into the organization -- promoted to its top echelon. He told them what other mobsters were made with him in 1983. And he outlined the hierarchy of organized crime in Chicago.

So it's little wonder the reputed head of the Chicago mob, Jimmy Marcello, had a great deal of curiosity when he heard in prison that Nick Calabrese was cooperating with the feds.

Calabrese, who has no deal with the feds, is one of the key witnesses in the upcoming Family Secrets mob trial in May -- one of the most important ever in the federal effort to wipe out the Outfit in Chicago.

Calabrese is testifying against his brother Frank Calabrese Sr., a brutal loan shark and alleged mob hit man. Calabrese Sr. and Marcello are charged along with other top mob leaders in a case that pins 18 previously unsolved murders on the Outfit.

Frank Calabrese Sr. will also have to face his own recorded words at trial. His son Frank Jr. put his life on the line by secretly recording his father while both were in prison on another matter. Frank Calabrese Sr. allegedly talked about mob hits and other matters he never should have spoken about.

Nick Calabrese can tell jurors about allegedly taking part in mob hits with both his brother and Marcello.

Nick Calabrese, for instance, can relate to jurors how Marcello allegedly drove mobsters Anthony and Michael Spilotro to a home in the Bensenville area in June 1986 on the ruse that they were to be promoted in the Outfit.

Instead, they were beaten and strangled to death in the basement, with Tony Spilotro, the mob's man in Las Vegas, denied his last request: to say a novena before he was slain.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir, Natasha Korecki, and Frank Main

Lawyer Says US Marshall is no Hoodlum

A deputy US marshal is charged with revealing information about a mob informant in the witness protection program. The ABC7 I-Team has learned there are serious questions about the deputy's background. He has family ties to the Marquette 10 Chicago police scandal back in the 1980s.

The deputy charged is John Thomas Ambrose. His father Tom Ambrose served prison time in the Marquette 10 police scandal.

There is a hit movie out right now called "The Departed" starring Jack Nicholson as a mob boss. It centers on a cop who is actually working for the mob. It is fictional story. But in Chicago that same scenario is playing out in real life, with a 9-year veteran lawman accused of helping the outfit by secretly leaking information that might have compromised the biggest outfit case in Chicago in 20 years. "No system is perfect. Much of what we do depends on trust and confidence and honor," said Gary Shapiro, US. state's attorney.

According to federal prosecutors, 38-year-old John Thomas Ambrose broke the trust, compromised that confidence and dishonored his oath to uphold the law. Ambrose appeared Thursday afternoon before US Magistrate Michael Mason on federal theft charges.

According to the FBI, Ambrose fed Chicago organized crime bosses, including Jimmy "the Man" Marcello, a steady diet of "highly sensitive, confidential information" about a key witness in the federal investigation of more than a dozen unsolved Chicago mob killings. "The breach could have put at risk the life of one of the most important witnesses ever developed in Chicago against the Chicago Outfit. It could have put at risk US Marshal's, and family members of that witness," said Robert Grant, FBI special agent in charge.

Conversations between Marcello and his brother at the federal prison in Milan, Michigan, had been secretly recorded by the FBI. The conversations included coded references to "the status, substance of cooperation and travel" of Nicholas Calabrese, a defendant and key witness in the FBI's Operation Family Secrets.

Federal agents say they had to break the mob code, deciphering that Ambrose was "the babysitter." The FBI was "polizia." Mob leader Joey "the Clown" Lombardo was Pai-Achi, the name of a clown in a famous Italian opera. The Spilotro brothers who had been tortured and buried alive in a cornfield were "shivago," and the code for wife, "moolieri."

Ambrose's lawyer contends, he's no hoodlum. "He is not connected to the mob at all. It rests on impressions and opinions of an FBI agent who wrote that affidavit. She said so herself and she is interpreting what they are saying," said Frank Lipuma, Ambrose's attorney.

Ambrose's father Thomas was a disgraced Chicago cop, a key figure convicted in the Marquette 10 police corruption case 20 years ago.

Authorities believe that while the father was serving time at the downstate Marion penitentiary, he renewed a boyhood friendship with Chicago mob king John "No Nose" DiFronzo , and that after Thomas Ambrose died, his son john, the deputy US marshal, struck up a relationship with DiFronzo , all leading to questions about why Ambrose was hired in the first place.

When interviewed by the FBI, Ambrose said he understood he made a mistake but that his intention was to ingratiate himself to DiFronzo and others to help his career. He thought they might help him locate fugitives including the recently captured Joey "the Clown" Lombardo.

Ambrose has been on leave from the US Marshal's Office since September and faces a maximum of 10 years in prison. He is out on $50,000 bond.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie


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