Will Fed Trial Put "Hit" On Chicago Mob?

Frank Calabrese Sr., left, and Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, who were named in new indictments released by federal prosecutors, June 2, 2005, in Chicago, which provide more details about the crimes of alleged organized figures in Chicago. AP/FBI

It seemed like a good idea at the time. A gang of burglars decided in December 1977 to break into the home of Tony Accardo, one of the most powerful men in organized crime history, and rob his basement vault.

Accardo was not amused.

Six men Accardo blamed for the heist were swiftly hunted down and murdered, according to papers filed by federal prosecutors in preparation for Chicago's biggest mob trial in years, scheduled to begin Tuesday.

And that's only one of the grisly tales jurors are likely to hear at the trial stemming from the FBI's "Operation Family Secrets" investigation of 18 long-unsolved mob murders allegedly tied to the Outfit, Chicago's organized crime family.

"This unprecedented indictment puts a hit on the mob," U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald said in announcing the charges in April 2005. "It is remarkable for both the breadth of the murders charged and for naming the entire Chicago Outfit as a criminal enterprise under the anti-racketeering (RICO) law."

Among the defendants expected to go to trial this week:

  • Reputed mob bosses James Marcello and Frank Calabrese, Sr., both "made men" in the Outfit who, court papers say, committed murder and other crimes on its behalf, and who both directed criminal activities while incarcerated; Marcello is charged with conducting an illegal gambling business, obstructing a criminal investigation and tax fraud conspiracy, Calabrese with extortion and conducting an illegal gambling business;

  • Wisecracking Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, who in the 1980s was convicted in the same federal courthouse (along with then-International Brotherhood of Teamsters President Roy Lee Williams) of attempting to bribe Sen. Howard Cannon of Nevada. When Lombardo got out of prison he took out a newspaper ad denying that he was a "made guy" in the mob and disavowing any role in future organized crime activities;

  • Anthony Doyle, a retired Chicago Police Department officer, who, while serving on the force, kept a jailed Frank Calabrese, Sr. informed of a murder investigation in which he was implicated, and helped determine whether other Outfit members were cooperating with law enforcement. He is charged with leaking the whereabouts of a prosecution witness to the mob.

    All have pleaded not guilty. Four others have already pleaded guilty in the case, and two more may today.

    Nicholas Calabrese, brother of Frank Calabrese Sr., pleaded guilty to several counts in May and admitted that he took part in 14 mob murders, including that of Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, known as the Chicago Outfit's man in Las Vegas. [Spilotro, who inspired the character played by Joe Pesci in the movie "Casino," and his brother were beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield in 1986.]

    Last week, Michael Marcello (brother of James) pleaded guilty to racketeering and other charges and admitted he paid Nicholas Calabrese $4,000 a month to keep silent about unsolved underworld murders and not tie brother James Calabrese to the killings.

    James Calabrese ended up talking to the FBI and now figures to be the prosecution's star witness. He is expected to tell an extraordinary history of the mob from the 1960s almost until now.

    Another defendant, alleged extortionist Frank "The German" Schweihs, has been tentatively dropped from the trial for health reasons.

    Another individual named in the original indictment in April 2005, Frank Saladino, was found dead in his hotel room, apparently of natural causes, when agents went to arrest him.

    Accardo, the notorious mob boss whose home was hit by the burglars, died in 1992 at age 86. He boasted that he never spent a night in jail.

    In court papers, prosecutors draw a panoramic picture of the Chicago Outfit and its trade in murder, loan sharking, pornography, illegal gambling and charging businesses "street tax" to stay in operation.

    They say the Outfit is divided into six "street crews," each headed by a capo or "street boss" and with a franchise over its sector of the city.

    Experts say the organization is so deeply entrenched that it won't be decapitated even if the government gets a clean sweep of convictions.

    Lombardo defense attorney Rick Halprin scoffs at prosecutors' claims his client is a powerful organized crime leader. "Those things just aren't true," he said.

    • Scott Benjamin

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