The Chicago Syndicate: William Petrocelli
Showing posts with label William Petrocelli. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Petrocelli. Show all posts

Monday, May 04, 2009

Unseen Victims from Mob Killings

Deputy U.S. Marshal John Ambrose -- convicted last week of passing information to the Chicago Outfit about a top mob witness -- was only 7 years old when Joe the janitor was found dead.

So he probably didn't read the small 1975 Tribune story about the body of the 33-year-old janitor found in the basement of Chalmers Elementary School on the West Side. Chicago detectives said the janitor suffered a massive heart attack. But a mortician at the Daniel Lynch Funeral Home in Evergreen Park made an amazing discovery along The Chicago Way.

There was a hole in the back of Joe the janitor's head. A heart attack didn't make that hole. A .22-caliber bullet was found lodged in the brain of the janitor.

His name? Joseph Lipuma.

A couple of weeks later, Lipuma's friend and alleged stolen-goods dealer Ronald Magliano, 42, was found shot to death in his South Side home. The home had been set ablaze, an Outfit practice to destroy evidence. Detectives figured the two murders were related, but no arrests were made.

Two years later, a friend of Joe's and Ronnie's was killed in a sensational daytime Outfit hit. Mobster Sam Annerino was chewed up by three men with shotguns outside Mirabelli's Furniture store in Oak Lawn. The Outfit had sway in Oak Lawn. The town's motto? "Be prudent, stay safe."

A few miles to the east in Evergreen Park lived Joe Lipuma's young nephew. A top student at Evergreen Park High School, an excellent athlete, he was so impressive that he was accepted as a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. But he didn't like the military life, came home after a year, went to law school, and became a federal prosecutor before becoming a criminal defense attorney.

Recently, at John Ambrose's trial, I met that man. He was John Ambrose's attorney, Francis Lipuma, Joe's nephew. I disagree with him about Ambrose, but I couldn't help admiring his skill in the courtroom.

"I was just a kid -- a freshman -- when my uncle was killed," Frank Lipuma told me the other day after the Ambrose guilty verdict. "All I really remember about it was pain. Pain and sadness throughout my house, throughout my family."

Just in case you think I'm drawing some nefarious inference about Frank Lipuma, let me be clear: I'm not.

Lipuma was an assistant U.S. attorney in Chicago. To become a federal prosecutor, applicants must undergo a rigorous FBI background check.

They reach back into your childhood, interview your friends from elementary school and scrub your family. If there were anything there, the FBI would have found it. But what they did find was a young man who felt the pain of his Uncle Joe's death but never learned why he was killed.

"I do remember the funeral home found he'd been shot, and that police thought it was a heart attack, but someone had put a gun behind his ear," Frank Lipuma told me. "It was terrible, all that pain in the family then. He was involved with people. There was just speculation. He knew Annerino, they said. I was just a kid playing baseball, trying to get to college."

Through weeks of testimony in Ambrose's trial, we heard about the Outfit informant he was supposed to protect: the deadly hit man turned star government witness in the historic Family Secrets case, Nicholas Calabrese.

Calabrese was in the federal witness protection program. Ambrose was convicted of leaking information to the mob about what Calabrese told the feds concerning dozens and dozens of unsolved Outfit murders.

One of the murders involved Annerino, the friend of Joe Lipuma and Ronnie Magliano who was known as "Sam the Mule."

The leaked information was contained in the FBI's 2002 threat assessment detailing Nick Calabrese's cooperation, a document prosecutors alleged was read by Ambrose before he leaked details of it to the mob through an Outfit messenger boy:

"Nicholas Calabrese will testify that he, along with Joseph LaMantia, Frank Calabrese Sr. and Frank Saladino, planned and attempted to murder Samuel Annerino. Ronald Jarrett, who is deceased [murdered], also participated in the planning. ... Though the attempt was unsuccessful, Nicholas Calabrese later learned that the murder was later carried out by Joseph Scalise. William Petrocelli and Anthony Borsellino also participated in the murder, but are deceased."

I asked Frank Lipuma if he became a federal prosecutor in part to find out who killed his Uncle Joe, but he wouldn't say: "I couldn't find any hard facts. I deal in facts."

The Chicago Outfit has many victims, and some might consider Ambrose to be one of them. He wanted to ingratiate himself with the bosses. He'll soon be fired from federal service and may even serve prison time. Joe Lipuma was a victim, too, and so was his family.

Murder isn't just between killer and target, especially Outfit murders. The victims are found among living survivors, legitimate folk spaced apart, often unknowing, as if on a vine reaching back through time, remembering.

Thanks to John Kass

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No Goodfellas in this Sordid Crew

Chicago mob trial exposes zero honour among thieves
By Josh Casey
Outfit enforcer 'Butch' Petrocelli before and after his alleged murder by the Calabrese brothers.


Forget about the clich├ęs and the movies, the wiseguys and their broads, the snappy suits and sharp one-liners. Most of all forget about the men of honour concept laid bare for the risible oxymoron it always was in what has been billed as the biggest mob murder trial in U.S. history.

Instead, what has been playing out in the 25th Floor courtroom in front of Judge James B Zagel is a story of men barely above the morality of hyenas, who kill each other by the most barbaric methods for the flimsiest and most debased of motives.

And even those motives, such as they are, rarely seem to be more than the crude suppositions of simple minds reacting to rumour and guesswork no more profound than fishwives gossiping on a street corner. The difference is that gossips might sometimes smear a reputation a little, but with the characters exposed in the ‘Family Secrets’ trial, it can result in medieval murder, nearly always over money, or the notion that the victim might have betrayed them or might do so sometime in the future. And if they got it wrong - so what? The guy shouldn’t have been in the wrong place at the wrong time…

And that is what separates them from civilised citizens. It was once written by a political philosopher that the rule of law succeeded not generally because of a citizen’s fear of the consequences of not abiding by it, but because the majority of citizens recognised and accepted the necessity of restraints required for civil co-existence.

That essentially is the measure of decent people as opposed to those who reject restraints and disregard the rules others accept and comply with, however resentfully from time to time. We would all rather drive at whatever speed we felt like now and then, not wear crash helmets or seat belts, even party naked in the park from time to time, and might feel like wringing the neck of that noisy neighbour on the odd occasion. But that is a figure of speech; we don’t actually plan to force men to the ground and strangle and cut their throats open for any reasons, let alone unsubstantiated reasons all rooted in greed.

The difference with the people depicted in this trial is that they just will do that and so much worse, and without regard for either the rules of society, humanity, or for life itself.

In the movies, bad guys don’t get killed, they get ‘whacked’. It is usually depicted as exciting, even sexy: the set-up, the tension, the shooting, over and done, he had it coming anyway…ratatatat! A body in the street…the screeching of tyres…Warren Beatty, Harvey Keitel, Lee Marvin, Pesci, and DiNiro have kept us appallingly entertained with their apparently cinema verite depictions of gangsters who terrify and excite in the same measure, along with other actors and film makers who have used their skills to insinuate the image of these semi-romantic outlaw figures in our minds.

The reality of the Family Secrets crew is of two men wrenching on either end of a rope looped around a man’s neck, each with a foot braced against the victim’s skull, throttling him to death and then slicing his throat open for good measure. Butch Petrocelli, himself an Outfit enforcer, forced to the ground, strangled, his throat slashed, then doused in lighter fuel and burned. Or the Spilotro brothers, again held down and strangled and beaten with fists, boots and knees, or the unspeakable murder long ago of a man hung from a meat hook pierced through his rectum, then tortured to death over three days.

This is not the territory of the Godfather or The Soprano’s, the former risibly portrayed hoodlums as noble peasants elevating themselves by the only means available through some imagined re-creation of an alternative Roman Empire (a notion re-attributed to defendant, Frank Calabrese, in the testimony of his son recently), and the latter escaping all true evaluation by rarely departing from a slick caricature in black comedy.

Better cinematic representation can be found in The Funeral, a largely overlooked almost Shakespearean tale directed by Abel Ferrara, featuring the extraordinary talents of Christopher Walken and the late Christopher Penn in whose character is distilled the despair and depravity of the gangster’s life and fate. The two actors portray siblings in a criminal family of the 1930s, but the awful moment of truth of this film is stolen in just a few seconds of masterful portrayal by Annabella Sciorra. Playing Walken’s screen wife at a time of violent crisis, she talks to a younger woman while tearfully despairing of and rejecting the inevitability and brutality of their occupations, speaking words to the effect of: “…all because they have failed to rise above their illiterate and savage origins…”

That was the message underpinning the entire film - and it serves the so-called ‘Family Secrets’ trial in Chicago also - both portray gangsters as they should be seen, as squalid, uncivilised savages, not as handsome, slick suited outlaws. Such men (whether those in the courtroom or not, the jury have yet to decide) are just sadistic thugs who commit murder not for noble cause but for squalid greed and that should never be forgotten.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

From Eating Oatmeal as a Boy to Earning for the Mob

Chicago Outfit loan shark and accused hit-man Frank Calabrese Sr. didn't have the gall to wear his First Communion suit on the witness stand. It wouldn't have fit, anyway.

Instead he wore a pale sports coat just on the edge of ivory, like an older bride with plenty of miles, still yearning for the white on her big day.

Calabrese testified in his own defense in the "Family Secrets" trial on Thursday, explaining that as a boy, his family was so poor they ate oatmeal most every night, that he had to leave school in the 4th grade to help deliver coal. And, how he grew up with an intense desire to protect the weak against the strong, even when the weak owed him money from his juice loans and couldn't pay him on time.

"I hated bullies and I still hate them today," said the knightly Calabrese, led through his story by crafty defense lawyer Joseph Lopez.

Yet when court resumes Monday, Calabrese will face cross-examination by federal prosecutors, so the jury won't see Sir Frank of Chinatown, but a different Frank, the Frank on federal tape giggling about murders.

The jury will hear about his many alleged victims, dumped into holes like so many goo-goo dolls, those yellow rubber toys of years ago. Put your thumbs on their throats, squeeze hard, and their eyes bug out, the tongues protrude, they make a strange noise, which is the way his brother, Nicholas Calabrese, described the effects of Frank's heavy work in earlier trial testimony.

"Murder? No way. No way," Frank kept telling Lopez, also resplendent in a pink shirt and electric yellow tie, as Lopez directed him through more than two hours of testimony designed to give context to Calabrese's life and have his client repeatedly deny he killed anyone.

Lopez's theory is that Frank's son and his brother Nick conspired to rip off Frank's money and keep him in prison. It's an interesting theory. But on Monday, as those tapes are played, the tapes his son Frank Jr. recorded in prison conversations with his father for the FBI, the theory will have a side effect.

Calabrese's co-defendants -- Joseph Lombardo, Paul Schiro, Anthony Doyle and James Marcello -- will look up and feel the fork in them and know they're done.

Some of my colleagues have been tempted to say that the Chicago Outfit is done, too, but it is not. Today's web was woven long ago, when Paul "The Waiter" Ricca moved here from New York and quietly allowed Al Capone to play the loud baboon in the shiny suit.

Calabrese is an example of this influence, a portly squire from the Chinatown crew, which still reaches into the 11th Ward, home of mayors. His brother-in-law was the late Ed Hanley, president of the powerful international hotel workers union, who dabbled in wiseguys and politics from Chicago to Las Vegas.

Hanley got him a city job, and later Frank got Nick a city job running McCormick Place, and depending on what testimony you believe, they either killed a lot of people together or they didn't, but they made a lot of money.

Calabrese explained on Thursday that the Outfit is dedicated to money, composed of two kinds of men, those who earn, and those who do the heavy work.

"And what is the heavy work?" Lopez asked.

"Killing people," Calabrese said, "but I didn't kill people, I was an earner ... I earned millions ... I didn't have time to do that other stuff."

He did this, he said, by loaning money at high rates to gambling addicts who couldn't go into a bank and apply for loans.

Listening to him, I wondered how lousy he must feel, in prison now, with so much opportunity outside, as City Hall pushes quietly for a giant city-run gambling casino, one that would have its own "independent" gaming commission controlled by the mayor, so it won't be subject to bothersome state regulations.

Loan sharking is part of gambling, in casinos or on Rush Street, though scary collectors aren't featured in the commercials. Calabrese testified that in his loan-sharking business, he never threatened or hurt anyone, but they paid anyway, but not from fear.

Yet it was instructive, with Calabrese explaining the meaning of "the sit down," a meeting designed to settle disputes, like the time Butch Petrocelli (one of the alleged victims) "kept sticking his nose in there" to try and take away Calabrese's card games, Calabrese said.

"It was all done diplomatically," Calabrese said. "The head of this group sits there, the head of that group sits there. And someone very important, like [late Outfit boss] Joey Aiuppa sits there."

Lopez asked: "Was there any swearing or cursing?"

"Swearing or cursing? Oh, no. It was diplomatic," Calabrese said. The way he said "oh, no" was quite odd. It was something a PTA mom would say, not some Chinatown bone-crusher who sat meekly before the boss.

The jury stopped taking notes, and stared, transfixed, as if a penguin from the zoo were sitting in front of them reading "The Divine Comedy." And Calabrese faced them, in his almost white ivory jacket, blinking.

Thanks to John Kass

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Undertaker Testifies at Mob Trial

Friends of ours: William "Butchie" Petrocelli

As both a gun dealer and an undertaker, Ernie Severino was able to serve the Chicago mob in many ways. Now he's helping the feds.

The 60-year-old Severino testified in the Family Secrets trial of five alleged mobsters. They're accused of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included illegal gambling, extortion, loan sharking and 18 murders. One of the murder victims was Butchie Petrocelli, the leader of the so-called "Wild Bunch."

Severino testified yesterday that back in 1980, he supplied Petrocelli with 100 guns. When other mobsters pressed Severino to hand over some items he'd been keeping for Petrocelli, Severino balked, fearing Petrocelli would come back and get him. On the stand yesterday, Severino said they answered: "He's not coming back." Petrocelli turned up dead.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Judge Rules Alleged Mobster, Frank Calabrese, Should Stay Behind Bars

A federal judge ordered Monday that alleged mobster Frank J. Calabrese Sr. should stay behind bars while he awaits trial on murder conspiracy charges.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said none of the suggested conditions for Calabrese's release "could reasonably ensure against attempts to obstruct justice and tamper with witnesses." Zagel sided with the prosecution, saying there was a "serious risk" Calabrese would attempt to prevent testimony from his brother and other potential witnesses "through intimidation, injury or bribery."

Defense attorney Joseph Lopez has argued that Calabrese is unlikely to flee if released on bond and won't obstruct justice by contacting witnesses. Lopez also has said Calabrese would be avoided by anyone connected with organized crime. Lopez said he does not know whether he will appeal the ruling. The U.S. attorney's office did not immediately returns calls for comment.

Convicted in a federal investigation of loan sharking and other crimes, Calabrese was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison and was due to be released this year before he was indicted on the murder conspiracy charges in April 2005.

Defense attorneys sought Calabrese's release on medical grounds. Calabrese told Zagel last year he suffers from an array of health concerns, including arthritis, nose problems and the loss of 90 percent of his pituitary gland.

During a hearing last week, prosecutors played a series of secretly recorded conversations between Calabrese and his son, Frank Calabrese Jr., that they claim show the elder Calabrese's involvement in several murders.

The government alleges Calabrese was a member of the South Side/26th Street crew and, with others, murdered 13 people in Chicago and surrounding suburbs between August 1970 and September 1986.

According to prosecutors, Calabrese's victims included reputed mob enforcer William Dauber and reputed mob hit man William "Butch" Petrocelli.

He is among 14 alleged mobsters and mob associates indicted in the federal government's Operation Family Secrets, a long-running investigation of at least 18 mob killings. Each of the men faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Calabrese's brother, Nicholas W. Calabrese, also was charged but has been cooperating with prosecutors.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Harry Aleman pleads for parole

Reputed mob hit man Harry Aleman pleaded for mercy from state parole board members Wednesday by insisting he was set up by government "stool pigeons" for a 1972 murder he didn't commit. Dressed in blue prison-issued garb and his hands curiously manicured for a prison janitor, Aleman told members of the Illinois Prisoner Review Board that he is undeserving of the 100- to 300-year prison term he received for the shotgun murder of a union official once married to his cousin.

"Serial killers get that," Aleman said in disgust, seemingly oblivious to the notion that some officials pin 20 mob killings on him, though he has been convicted of murder only once. "I caused no problems for anybody, and I'm no threat to anybody. And 27 years is a long period," Aleman said. He has spent most of the last 27 years in state or federal custody for various crimes. "That's double for what they give in this state for murder."

Aleman, 66, is locked up for the murder of William Logan, a Teamsters Union steward, on Chicago's West Side. In a 1977 trial, Aleman was acquitted of that crime, but it was later determined that the judge in the case had been bribed with the help of mob lawyer Bob Cooley, who later became a government informant. With Cooley's help, Aleman was retried in 1997 and convicted.

Aleman said his former "partner," William "Butch" Petrocelli, now dead, killed Logan in a dispute over the affections of Logan's ex-wife and allegations that Logan "used to knock Phyllis around and give her black eyes all the time."

During Wednesday's hearing at Western Illinois Correctional Center, Aleman also denied ever being affiliated with the mob, complained about having art supplies withheld from him and feigned ignorance when asked by one Prisoner Review Board member whether he had ever read Cooley's tell-all book on the mob, When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down. Pausing for a moment, Aleman asked, "Bob Cooley, the stool pigeon guy?"

"He's the lawyer who allegedly carried the $10,000 to Frank Wilson, the judge," replied board member David Frier. "Oh, now I know who you mean, yeah. No, I never read his book," Aleman said. "He's a rat. He's going to say anything they want him to say, sir. C'mon. A rat, that's what they do. Give him a script, and he reads it."

Contacted by the Sun-Times afterward, Cooley called Aleman's foggy memory about him "comical," particularly given the role he played in helping bring Aleman down. "Maybe Harry is trying to get out on a medical. He must have Alzheimer's," Cooley cracked.

The board is expected to make its determination on Aleman's parole request at its next meeting on Dec. 15.

Scott Cassidy, the Cook County prosecutor who helped put Aleman behind bars, urged the board not to show any leniency toward him because he evaded prosecution for the crime for so long, prompting Aleman to interrupt. "Look at me and say that. I got 27 years in prison, almost half of my life," Aleman snapped. Staring back into Aleman's penetrating dark eyes, the veteran prosecutor continued to say his piece.

"Harry should be denied parole because the fact he escaped justice for so many years, and he lived the best part of his life while Billy Logan was dead," Cassidy said.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Victim's sister wants mob hit man to rot in prison

Friends of ours: Harry Aleman, William "Butch" Petrocelli

Betty Romo won't be able to attend today's parole hearing for Harry Aleman, the mob hit man convicted of killing her brother. But if anybody at the Illinois Prisoner Review Board is curious about her opinion, this pretty well sums it up: "We just hope he stays where he's at and rots there." I have every confidence the Prisoner Review Board will come to the same determination, but you can never take these things for granted.

Three years ago, when Aleman first came up for parole, a state prison official was somehow persuaded to testify on Aleman's behalf, calling him a model prisoner who would pose no danger if released. One board member even voted in favor of parole. A grand jury has been poking into the matter, but no charges have been filed.

Aleman was, after all, originally acquitted of this crime, the 1972 murder of Teamsters official William Logan, only to be retried and convicted in a second trial in 1997 on the strength of testimony that Cook County Judge Frank Wilson had been bribed to fix the original case.

Romo, now 70 and living in the western suburbs, testified at both trials and attended every hearing. She said her late brother was never afraid of Aleman, despite his fearsome reputation, and she's obviously cut from the same cloth. "Listen, if he could get money to somebody, they would," she said, meaning he'd bribe his way out if he could.

Romo is not really concerned that will happen, although she was more than a little suspicious that Aleman was angling to rehabilitate his public image with an eye toward parole when he granted an exclusive interview in September to the Sun-Times' Robert Herguth. Herguth turned the interview into a two-part series, "Through the Eyes of a Hit Man," which I found to be great reading. It's not every day you get a sit-down with the guy believed to be one of the Chicago mob's most prolific hit men of the past half-century, even if he wasn't exactly spilling any family secrets.

For Romo, though, reading Aleman's continued denials along with his thoughts on everything from prison life to Jesus Christ -- only days before the anniversary of her brother's murder -- was another painful cut. "Look at what he's done to our family, all these years of stress," she said. "I'm the only one left. He tormented my family for 33 years. This has been torture. He's still doing it. How? Because he's alive, and his mouth keeps going."

"My dad died of a broken heart 14 years later," Romo said, also blaming the crime for health problems that claimed the lives of a sister and another brother.

"These have been bad, bad years for us," said Romo, who heard the gunshots the night of the murder from the second-floor apartment she shared with her brother. She raced to the street where he lay dying.

"He was still alive. He mumbled something. His keys fell. I held his head. I said, 'I'm not getting up. I don't want his head on the ground.' It was like in the movies."

In his interview with Herguth, Aleman attributed the murder to a man he referred to as his "partner," William "Butch" Petrocelli, also a mob hit man who was killed in 1980. Romo isn't buying it. "When you come from the old neighborhood, people tell you things," she said, referring to the old Italian neighborhood on the West Side, where she and her brother were raised.

Their father, also a Teamsters official, was Irish, their mother Italian. A cousin married one of the Giancanas, Romo observed pointedly. People tell you things. "[Aleman] didn't get an OK to kill my brother," she said. "We found out."

'At the second trial, Romo suggested a bitter custody dispute between Logan and his ex-wife was a possible motive in the killing. Aleman is a cousin of the ex-wife. But another witness had testified the motive was a dispute involving the Cicero trucking company where Logan worked. "This killing was personal, not business," Romo insisted, saying her brother was not involved in anything criminal.

A young mechanic, Bob Lowe, witnessed the murder and identified Aleman as the killer. Tribune reporters Maurice Possley and Rick Kogan wrote a book about Logan's murder titled, Everybody Pays, with Lowe as a central character. Romo always thought there should be a book with her brother as the central character. She has picked out a title, Tonight Brings No Tomorrow.

Aleman is serving a 100- to 300-year sentence at the Western Illinois Correctional Center in Mount Sterling, which given his eligibility for parole, was obviously a sentence devised before truth-in-sentencing laws. Aleman, 66, deserves to spend the rest of his tomorrows just like he'll spend tonight.

Thanks to Mark Brown

Monday, October 03, 2005

Profile: Harry Aleman

He's known as the ultimate iceman -- a cool, calculating mob killer whose brains and brutality are matched only by his stubborn refusal to rat out others. But to hear it from reputed hit man Harry Aleman -- whose dark, penetrating eyes once struck terror into hearts -- he's really an old softy, just trying to get by while serving a 100- to 300-year prison sentence.

He breaks into a smile at the thought of his first great-grandchild paying a recent visit ("It was something to see"), shakes his head at the hurricane devastation in New Orleans ("A f------ shame"), contemplates Jesus' suffering in the movie "The Passion of the Christ" ("This guy had balls this big") and longs for freedom and living out his final years with his family ("They sustain me").

During an exclusive interview with the Chicago Sun-Times at the Western Illinois Correctional Center, about 250 miles from Chicago, the convicted killer spoke about his personal and professional lives and admitted being affiliated with the Chicago mob -- when it existed. "It's over," he insists. "It's done."

He also says he has never killed anyone and is doing time for someone else's crime.

In fact, Aleman hints that new evidence pointing to his innocence will emerge in an upcoming court filing. One of his lawyers later explained that Aleman will be seeking a new trial based on "newly discovered evidence" that he won't yet discuss.

Authorities regard Aleman's claims of innocence and a frameup as ridiculous. "I think he's convinced himself he's a victim, which people often do when they've been locked up for as many years as Harry has," said Cook County prosecutor Scott Cassidy. "There was evidence that he was a hit man for the mob, and I think he relished that role."

In a landmark case handled by Cassidy, Aleman was convicted in 1997 of shotgunning to death a Teamsters union steward who once was married to Aleman's cousin. It remains Aleman's sole murder conviction, although he once was indicted in another case and is suspected in 15 to 20 or more slayings. "Never, never," he said, when asked if he has ever killed anyone. "And they know who killed them -- but he's dead. They don't get raises or elevated blaming a dead person."

Aleman said he was framed because he would never flip on fellow hoodlums as local and federal officials pressed him to do. He said he maintained that obstinate attitude during more-recent prison visits by investigators.

It's not totally clear why Aleman -- a thin but taut man of 66 with graying, combed-back hair and well-groomed nails -- agreed to speak. A reporter wrote him many months ago, and Aleman recently agreed to talk. He said he has never granted an interview before. But the three-hour sit-down came as Aleman lays the groundwork to get a new trial, he faces a December parole hearing, and a massive federal investigation bears down on some of his old mob associates for crimes stretching back decades.

"I could be a target; I don't know what's in the FBI's mind," said Aleman, who's prone to gesturing and raising his voice when trying to make a point.

"For all I know, they're going to keep indicting me for murders" until he flips.

Thawing out

Harry Aleman wants hot chocolate.

Technically it's still summer, but the frigid rain pelting Aleman's medium-security prison, population 1,900, indicates otherwise. Aleman suggests that the reporter who came to visit him go to the vending area and get a hot chocolate -- and a coffee for "yourself." Then he remembers: You need a special vending card, so that's not an option.

He's hungry, apparently having missed lunch for this meeting. But he's still polite and friendly. "What can I do for you?" he asks after small talk about a long-ago hunting and fishing excursion out West.

Aleman is reminded it was he who wrote the reporter earlier in the month saying he had something "exceptionally newsworthy" to discuss.

"Where's the letter?" he asks.

In the car.

"Did the FBI send you?"

No.

The meeting is taking place in a small office with a desk, typewriter, phone and a few filing cabinets. The walls are tan cinder block. The floors are pale tile. Aleman is wearing a blue button-down prison-issued shirt tucked into darker prison-issued pants. He's carrying a coat. He and the reporter are alone, but just outside the closed door is another desk and, at times, a guard. There'll be no trouble, however. Aleman isn't regarded by corrections officials as problematic.

Aleman begins speaking about himself, claiming he was "out and out railroaded" and prosecuted for no other reason than "just to get Harry."

William Logan, the Teamsters official, was murdered in 1972, and an eyewitness, Bob Lowe, testified during a 1977 trial that Aleman was the trigger man.

Aleman was acquittedWhen Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down, and later it was determined that the judge had been bribed with the help of mob lawyer Bob Cooley, who later became an informant.

Although the law bars "double jeopardy" -- trying someone for the same crime twice -- Cook County prosecutors won a new trial as the courts determined there was no "jeopardy" the first time because the case was fixed.

Aleman still is indignant over the ruling, noting that two white men who once denied killing black youngster Emmett Till in 1955 and were acquitted in his race-inspired murder later confessed in a magazine article. But they couldn't be retried because of double jeopardy.

Aleman was tried again in 1997 -- again with Lowe's help -- and convicted. A book about Lowe and his long road to justice, Everybody Pays, came out a few years ago.

Aleman, though, questions Lowe's credibility, mentioning his personal troubles and asking a "hypothetical" question: If a killer "in the movies" made eye contact with an eyewitness to a murder, what do you think would happen to that eyewitness? "You kill him," not let him go, Aleman says.

'I didn't feel nothing'

Aleman's other allegation -- raised unsuccessfully by his defense team in the 1997 trial, at which Aleman never testified -- was that William "Butch" Petrocelli really killed Logan. Petrocelli had been secretly dating Logan's ex-wife, and he and Logan had fought, Aleman said. Petrocelli also was a reputed hit man. Aleman said they once were best friends, and he described Petrocelli as "my partner." Petrocelli disappeared in late 1980, and his mutilated body was discovered several months later.

Although Aleman was jailed at the time -- he has spent most of the last 27 years in custody for various crimes -- questions have been raised about whether he ordered the hit because his old pal was holding back money meant to take care of his family.

Aleman dismisses that theory, saying, "If he was holding back money, I wouldn't have known about it because my family was taken care of."

Theories about Petrocelli's murder also have centered on Petrocelli possibly shaking down people in a mob boss' name, without his knowledge, then keeping the cash.

Aleman, though, claims Petrocelli was killed by mobsters because it was found out he was a "rat."

How was that discovered? "People in the neighborhood" began asking questions about why Aleman got sent away on a particular beef and Petrocelli didn't, Aleman said, and "it got to the right ears."

Whose?

"Whoever," Aleman says.

Aleman believes -- it's not clear exactly why he believes this -- that Petrocelli was in trouble with the law in the late 1970s, so a relative, a policeman, persuaded him to flip. And then the government didn't want to admit Petrocelli was the Logan killer, Aleman says.

Cassidy, the Cook County prosecutor, said, "I have no information to support that allegation" of Petrocelli being an informant. The feds wouldn't comment. "The government wants everybody to be a stool pigeon ... and I'm never going to become a stool pigeon," Aleman said. "I don't want to disgrace my family."

The government doesn't "respect" that stance "because they've had so much success turning over hard-core guys," Aleman says. "The guys out there [still on the street] I have to think twice about. You're not stupid."

How did he feel when Petrocelli died? "I didn't feel nothing," Aleman says. "I wish they would have got him and made him confess, then exile him. Killing him didn't help me at all. I'm still languishing in prison."

No more mob

The feds hope to solve 18 old mob hits as part of their ongoing probe. One of those is Petrocelli's murder.

The indictment fingers notorious loan shark Frank Calabrese Sr. as a participant, saying he "and others committed the murder of William Petrocelli in Cicero."

Aleman has not been implicated in any of the 18 killings, or any of the other crimes listed in the indictment, but curiously, he is mentioned in the document as being among the "criminal associates who reported at various times to [late hoodlum] Joseph Ferriola."

The feds are basing much of the information in their racketeering case on the word of mobster-turned-witness Nick Calabrese, Frank Calabrese Sr.'s younger brother. Aleman says Nick Calabrese and he served time together at the federal prison in Pekin. He describes Nick Calabrese, now in protective custody, as "a regular guy," quick to add that "I didn't pal with him or anything like that. ... You never ask a guy questions." He heard about Nick Calabrese flipping "in your paper."

Aleman doesn't know if he'll be pulled into this probe in some way, and the feds won't talk. "Who knows what Calabrese could say," he says. What could he say? "It's not anything 'on me' [that Nick Calabrese has], it's what they want him to say," Aleman says, referring to the feds.

To that point, federal prosecutor Mitch Mars later said, "We never tell any of the witnesses to say [something]. It's suicidal for us. . . . Nick will say whatever he's going to say."

Aleman looks at the floor when asked about Frank Calabrese Sr. He refuses to discuss him, changing the subject to the reporter's shoes, marveling that they had cost just $17 on sale. When pressed, he says, "Go talk to him."

Likewise, Aleman would rather not talk about reputed mob boss John "No Nose" DiFronzo, who was not indicted in the feds' current case. "I don't know what anybody does," Aleman says.

Asked about the severity of one Calabrese brother turning on the other, Aleman says, "I don't think about them things. If he did it, he did it." But he adds that the increasing number of mob informants is one of the reasons "no new people [are] coming into the mob.

"The reporters and newspapers have to keep it alive, but there ain't nothing in Chicago, no street tax, no extortion, no nothing," Aleman says. "There might be some old guys languishing around, but it's moot.

"The younger generation doesn't want no part of the mob; it's over." Aleman adds that young men would rather go to college and not take a risk they'd end up like him.

"There's no dice games, no card games, no bookmaking, if there's any bookmaking, it's just with the Jewish people on the North Side," he says, adding that even if that's happening, there's no street tax on the money changing hands.

"There's nobody who wants to do the job; this isn't the '30s or '40s," he recalls. "Is there a mob running over, putting people in trunks? . . . No, nobody wants to be part of it because of the feds. ... And these guys don't want to go to no jail like Harry.

"Whoever they locked up recently, they locked them up for their past performance, because they haven't been doing anything for the past 10 or 15 years."

While it's true the murders in the feds' case are old, authorities accuse reputed mob chief Jimmy Marcello and his brother Michael "Mickey" Marcello, among others, of running an illegal video gambling operation in recent years.

Aleman readily admits knowing the heavy hitters in that indictment. His take on the Marcellos, after being told about the alleged video gaming racket: "Mickey's a legit guy . . . his brother wouldn't make him do anything stupid like that. He has a catering business or a vending business."

Aleman said he only knew Jimmy Marcello was in trouble by catching a glimpse of the WGN-TV news one day.

Aleman also knows reputed mob overlord Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, who was accused of murder in the feds' current case but is on the lam.

Aleman says he didn't know Lombardo had taken off. "Joey ran away? Good for him," he says. "I hope they don't find him because he's a real good guy. He'd help anyone. ... He was known for helping out everyone in the neighborhood.

"He's not a monster at all; he helped more people in this area; he's the softest touch around -- 'Hey Joe, can you loan me $20?' Newspapers, what they can do to you."

Regrets? He's had . . . very few

Aleman indicated that it was the black-knight image of hoodlums that led him into the mob.

Sure, his dad was a criminal, a "regular thief," he says. But it was the guys in the shiny cars and slick suits who would act as "Robin Hoods," watching over the neighborhood and paying the grocery bills when a family couldn't, that got Aleman excited. "Some guys want to be like that; some want to be a tailor" like one of Aleman's grandfathers, he says. "I wanted to take care of my family. . . . I'd do anything to support them, anything. Like many other guys did before me."

Aleman, who says he tries to "slough it off" when people call him a cold-blooded killer, was asked several times if he has any regrets about his chosen profession or anything he might have done in the past. "The only regret I have is not being with my family and not being with my grandkids," Aleman replies the first time.

Later, when asked again, he gets a serious look -- something that often entails a clenched jaw -- and says, "The only regret I've got is I broke my mother's heart, and she died prematurely. . . . All I try to do is try to stay healthy and see my family and talk to them . . . all you've got left is family."

And lastly: "The only regret I have is not being able to sit down and eat with my family on a daily basis."

Family dinner

Family is a recurring theme with Aleman. Not "family" in a mob sense, but his family at home.

Some believe he cynically fosters this image of a devoted family man to soften his reputation -- to jurors, investigators, the public. But Cassidy, the prosecutor, believes there really is a strong mutual love between Aleman and his family. "Unfortunately, he has another side to him," Cassidy added.

Whatever the case, Aleman's family has remained devoted to him, weathering a four- to five-hour drive from the Chicago area to visit him.

Aleman has no biological children. But long ago, he married a woman, Ruth, with four kids. Their biological father, also a hoodlum, had been murdered. Aleman notes: "I didn't know my wife at the time he got killed."

Ruth died in 2000. Aleman helped her raise two boys and two girls as his own, and believes their fusion as a family unit was serendipitous.

As a teenager, Aleman had a nasty accident. While washing his dad's car in a family friend's garage, Aleman stepped on one of those sewer caps, it flipped up, and he came down hard on it, right between the legs. His scrotum was torn open, and he was rushed to the hospital. Aleman was patched up and recalls being told he still could have kids some day. But much later, he found out he was unable to have children, so finding a "ready-made" family was "destiny," he says.

Aleman emphasizes the importance of having dinner every night -- when his dad wasn't in jail -- with his family growing up around Taylor Street.

When his dad was in jail, Aleman was sent to live with grandparents and an aunt, while his brothers stayed with their mom. He lived there as a youngster. He became quite close with the aunt, Gloria, often curling up with her to sleep. And so, when she ended up marrying Joseph Ferriola, the fearsome mobster, Aleman became close with him, too.

Aleman says he wasn't really involved in anything heavy, and cites Uncle Joe as evidence. "They make me part of the mob because of my uncle . . . which is not true because the last thing he wanted me to do is join," Aleman recalls. "My Aunt Gloria, she made sure he didn't make me do anything like he was doing."

Still, there's ample evidence of Aleman's ferocity. Before being sent to state prison, he did prison time for home invasions and other racketeering-related crimes.

For years, Aleman was accused of working as an illegal "juice" loan collector, pursuing deadbeats who didn't pay what they owed the mob, said Vic Switski, the former Aleman case agent on the FBI/Chicago Police organized crime task force.

Once, Aleman was accused of shoving a woman through the glass door of a lounge, then beating a Chicago Police commander's son who tried to intervene.

Because his frame was always slight -- he's 5-foot-8, 140 pounds -- Aleman said he felt he sometimes had to fight to prove himself. In high school, he and a friend brawled against others every day one semester, he said.

'You have no idea'

Aleman once sent ripples of terror throughout the underworld, and segments of legitimate society, but his own fears appear much different. They don't seem to involve the joint because he says he has no real trouble, from guards or other inmates. People treat the older guys with some deference, he says, and he and the other old-timers are known as "pops" by the younger, mostly black prison population.

One of the few times he alluded to fear came in a childhood story involving his beloved aunt, who "dressed me up and walked me to school," he says. "I was afraid to go to school."

He admits to being scared seeing his little great-granddaughter; he was worried about the long drive and his family getting into a car accident. The wife of a fellow inmate in Atlanta once was killed that way, driving to see the inmate, he says. "It's etched in me," he adds, simmering about his 2003 transfer from Dixon, which is closer to Chicago, to this current facility in the sticks, south of Macomb.

Aleman also hints at some frightening characters in his past. "You have no idea the guys in Chicago who never got their names in the newspapers and are the most f------ dangerous guys I knew," Aleman says. He declines to identify them.

Most of all, though, as the interview with the reporter nears completion, Aleman seems worried about the impact a story might have. He says he's not optimistic about getting paroled -- at more than one point, he says he's resigned to dying in prison -- but he's clearly thinking toward the possibility of freedom. "My fate was cut out . . . to raise my four kids and to be in prison for the rest of my life," he says. "I've got the love of my kids ... what else could I ask for? Of course, it would be nice to be with them."

"Don't hurt me," Aleman later implores.

IN AND OUT OF COURT

1975: Bookie Anthony Reitinger is murdered; Aleman indicted years later, but it never goes to trial

1977: Put on trial for 1972 murder of William Logan; acquitted because judge is bribed

1978: Convicted of interstate home invasions, goes to federal prison

1980: Reputed hit man and Aleman friend William "Butch" Petrocelli is murdered

1989: Aleman gets out of prison, albeit briefly

1990: Hit with new racketeering charges, sent to prison to await trial

1992 : Convicted in that case, gets 12 years

1997: Retried for Logan murder. Convicted, sentenced to 100 to 300 years

2002: Denied parole

2005: Major mob indictment comes down, Aleman not charged; awaits parole hearing


ALEMAN'S EARLY RECORD

A snapshot of Harry Aleman's early rap sheet

YEAR ARREST/CHARGE
1960 malicious mischief
1961 gambling
1962 possession of burglary tools
1962 assault, criminal damage
1965 aggravated assault
1966 grand theft auto
1966 armed robbery
1968 criminal damage to property
1969 aggravated kidnapping
1971 violating Federal Reserve Act
1975 keeper of gambling place

Thanks to Robert C. Herguth - Chicago Sun Times

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