Monday, July 28, 2008

Chicago trial shatters romantic view of mob

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

By Mike Robinson, Associated Press
CHICAGO — They have described becoming "made guys" in the mob by holding burning holy pictures in cupped hands while promising a lifetime of silence.
They've spoken of the arcane arts of "peeling" safes and selling bogus stock certificates.

And they've told stories that seem straight from the movies: bombing businesses, bloody hits on FBI informants, bodies stuffed in car trunks and an oil drum stuffed with hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

But Hollywood's romantic view has been mainly missing over the last month as witnesses — from a defendant's brother to old-time crooks with rap sheets as long as bed sheets — took the stand at Chicago's biggest mob trial in years.

Vito Corleone and Tony Soprano look like tame old duffers compared to what prosecution witnesses have been saying about the alleged dons of the Chicago Outfit, as the city's organized crime family has named itself.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Chicago | Michael | Mike | Crime | Joey | Joseph | Tony Soprano | Frank Calabrese | Nicholas Calabrese | Paul Schiro | Spilotro
"They are not the romantic people who are often portrayed in the movies," says James Wagner, who fought the mob for decades as an FBI agent and now is president of the Chicago Crime Commission. "They are brutal."

Star witness Nicholas Calabrese told jurors he watched for decades as the bodies of his fellow mobsters piled up around him. He said he lived in dread that if he made just one misstep he would "end up in a car trunk."

His brother, Frank Calabrese, 69, is among the defendants along with Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78, James Marcello, 65, Paul Schiro, 70, and Anthony Doyle, 62. They are charged with taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included gambling, extortion, loan sharking and murders.

Lombardo was convicted in the early 1980s of conspiring to bribe then Sen. Howard Cannon, D-Nev. Calabrese and Marcello have both served time for mob-related activity. Schiro is a convicted jewel thief and Doyle — the only one not alleged to have killed anyone — is a retired police officer.

All but Doyle could be sentenced to life in prison if convicted.

As prosecutors Mitchell A. Mars, John J. Scully and Markus Funk dredge up evidence going back to the 1970s, Chicago's police are not faring well.

Last week, old-time burglar Robert G. "Bobby the Beak" Siegel emerged from the witness protection program to accuse Chicago's former chief of detectives, William Hanhardt, of collecting $1,000 a week and a new car every two years in return for seeing to it that mobsters weren't caught.

"Most of the police were on the payroll" in the old days, he recalled.

Hanhardt is now serving 16 years after pleading guilty to leading a band of thieves that stole some $5 million in jewelry and fine watches.

Schiro pleaded guilty to serving as a member of Hanhardt's gang.

Nicholas Calabrese testified that onetime mob boss Joey Aiuppa personally presided over the ceremony at which he became a "made guy" in the Outfit, his finger cut in the ancient ceremonial manner and a burning holy picture placed in his hand while he recited the oath of silence.

"If I ever give up my brothers may I burn in hell like this holy picture," he remembered promising.

But DNA found on a bloody glove left at a murder scene was matched to his and he has agreed to testimony in return for a promise that he won't have to die in the execution chamber.

His testimony has been the most graphic of the trial.

He told how his brother, Frank, allegedly strangled victims like loan shark Michael "Hambone" Albergo with a rope and then cut their throats to make sure that they were dead. Albergo had threatened to talk to the FBI.

Frank Calabrese's attorney, Joseph Lopez, who loves a good wisecrack and sometimes wears pink socks to court, said before the trial that Nicholas Calabrese was lying about his brother.

Since then U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel has clamped a gag order on the attorneys.

Best known on the list of 18 murder victims in the indictment is Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, the Outfit's onetime man in Las Vegas who was found in a shallow grave in an Indiana cornfield along with his brother Michael.

Tony Spilotro inspired the Joe Pesci character in the movie Casino.

Nicholas Calabrese testified that mobsters were mad at Spilotro because he was "bringing too much heat" on them and having a romance with the wife of a casino executive.

"That's a no-no," he quoted brother Frank as saying.

He testified that in June 1986 the Spilotros were lured to the basement of a Bensenville home where they were told Tony would be dubbed a "capo," or mob captain, and Michael a "made guy."

Instead, they were beaten and strangled.

Calabrese said he pulled one end of a rope around Michael Spilotro's neck while a mobster known as Louie the Mooche tugged away on the other.

With Nicholas in tow, FBI agents drove up and down Bensenville's streets searching for the house where the Spilotros died — to no avail.

Such missing elements have been fodder for defense attorneys.

Marcello attorney Thomas M. Breen pounced on a claim that the Spilotro killers all wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints, claiming that the story simply didn't sound realistic.

"Did Mike Spilotro, say, 'Hey, guys, how come everybody's wearing gloves? This looks like a hit,"' Breen asked during Nicholas Calabrese's days on the witness stand.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Posted 37d ago

Jury deliberates Chicago mob case

Jury deliberates Chicago mob case

By Tara Burghart, Associated Press Writer
CHICAGO — Jurors in Chicago's biggest mob trial in years began deliberating the fate of five defendants Tuesday in a case described by defense attorneys as built on the testimony of "a walking piece of deception."
Prosecutors said the testimony of mob hit man Nicholas Calabrese -- who linked four of the five men to a murder scene -- matched up with physical evidence at the scene and with recorded jailhouse conversations with one of the defendants.

Jurors also heard from more than 100 witnesses, listened to hours of secretly recorded audio tapes, and saw dozens of photos of crime scenes, victims and suspected members of the Outfit, as the city's organized crime family is known.

Jurors left at 2 p.m. Tuesday, despite indicating last week that they planned to work from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. The office of U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel gave no explanation for the early departure.

The defendants are all in their 60s or 70s, and one alternated between using a cane and wheelchair in court. They are accused by prosecutors of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, detailed in a 43-page indictment, that included illegal gambling, extortion, loan sharking and 18 murders between 1970 and 1986.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Chicago | Prosecutors | Jurors | Jury | Accused | Joseph | Frank Calabrese | Nicholas Calabrese | Outfit | Paul Schiro
The men on trial are reputed mobster Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78; convicted loan shark Frank Calabrese Sr., 70; convicted jewel thief Paul Schiro, 70; reputed mob boss James Marcello, 65; and retired Chicago policeman Anthony Doyle, 62. If convicted, all but Doyle could face life in prison.

Defense attorneys attacked the case as one built largely on the testimony of Nicholas Calabrese -- Frank Calabrese's brother -- who the defense said admitted lying to authorities in the past and was only cooperating with the government now to escape the death penalty.

Defense attorney Joseph Lopez labeled Nicholas Calabrese a "grim reaper," a "walking piece of deception" and a man who would "shoot you in the head over a cold ravioli."

Prosecutors said Nicholas Calabrese's testimony matched up with stories that his brother told his son Frank Calabrese Jr. while in prison. The younger man secretly wore a wire for the government.

Nicholas Calabrese linked all the defendants except Doyle to a murder scene. Doyle is not accused of killing anyone, but he is charged with being part of a racketeering conspiracy that included murder.

Taking the stand in his own defense, Doyle testified that during a secretly recorded conversation with Frank Calabrese Sr. in prison, he agreed with much of what the prisoner wanted without knowing what it was, and that the code words Calabrese used were "mind-boggling gibberish."

Lombardo lived up to his "clown" moniker by wisecracking on the stand. He told jurors he's not a member of the Outfit and learned everything he knows about the mob from James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson movies.

Frank Calabrese Sr. told jurors he did business with Outfit members but never took the oath of a made guy.

The prosecutors and witnesses detailed grisly killings, with so-called friends allegedly luring men to their deaths, and bodies buried at construction sites.

In one notorious case, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, known as the mob's man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for Joe Pesci's character in the 1995 movie "Casino," was beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield.

This is about "the history of organized crime in Chicago," Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars told the jurors in his closing arguments last week.

Prosecutors mocked many of the explanations offered by defense attorneys as unbelievable or ridiculous, and they asked jurors to disregard the claim by Lombardo's defense that he withdrew long ago from any criminal activity he might have been engaged in.

"Once you belong to the Outfit, you belong for life," Mars said. "These are people that cheat, steal and kill each other. They can make who they want, they can break who they want."

Lopez urged jurors to think of Frank Calabrese Sr.'s presumed innocence like the white cloak surrounding the cartoon character "Casper the Friendly Ghost."

"As you shut the (jury room) door," Lopez said, "he's still presumed innocent."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Chicago mob trial opens with blood and gore details


CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago's biggest mob trial in years started Thursday with a prosecutor urging the jury to forget what they know about movie mobsters and see the now-elderly defendants for who they are: men who "committed brutal crimes on behalf of the Chicago Outfit."
"This is not The Sopranos. This is not The Godfather. These are real people, very corrupt and without honor," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Scully told the jury.

As Scully described a blood-drenched litany of murders, he showed the jury large photos of the victims.

He talked about Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, once the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for Joe Pesci's character in the movie Casino. Spilotro and his brother were allegedly lured into a basement and beaten to death, then buried in an Indiana cornfield.

The men on trial — reputed mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78, James Marcello, 65, Frank Calabrese Sr., 70, Paul Schiro, 69, and former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle, 62 — are accused in a racketeering conspiracy that included 18 murders.

FIND MORE STORIES IN: Chicago | Joseph | Scully | Frank Calabrese | Outfit | Paul Schiro
All have pleaded not guilty.

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

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

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

Defense attorney Joseph Lopez painted a different picture for the jury, describing Calabrese as a much-maligned, deeply religious man "who believes in peace" and loved his family.

He ripped into Calabrese's son, Frank Jr., who is expected to be a key witness for the government against his father.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He recounted how FBI agents, acting on an informant's tip, tore up concrete in a parking lot near U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox, looking for the last remains of murdered loan shark Michael Albergo. He said they found "thousands of bones" under the parking lot.

But DNA testing couldn't tie any of the bones to Albergo, Lopez said, repeatedly referring to the victim by his mob nickname of "Hambone."

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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