Wednesday, October 21, 2009

My Crime Beat Column: The Outfit's Family Secrets, The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob

In Martin Scorsese's great crime film Casino Joe Pesci plays a vicious mob enforcer and hit man in Las Vegas who reports to the bosses "back home," as Pesci's character describes them in the film's voice-over narration.
The bosses are portrayed in the film as a group of elderly and infirm men who hang around eating, playing cards and collecting money from their criminal underlings.
Pesci's character, based on on a very real gangster named Anthony "Tony Ant" Spilotro, is brutally murdered, along with his brother Michael, in a mid-west cornfield in the film. Their murder, along with several other murders, were ordered by the bosses back home.

Back home is Chicago, home of the criminal organization known as "the Outfit."
Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob (Chicago Review Press) covers the Spilotro murders and much more in this revealing look at organized crime. The book, written by  Chicago Tribune reporter Jeff Coen, covers the trial of the outfit bosses in 2007.
"The scale of the case was unprecedented, for the first time naming the Chicago Outfit itself as a criminal enterprise under federal anti-racketeering laws and alleging a conspiracy that was born with Al Capone and flourished from the 1960s forward," Coen wrote in the book. "The case included fourteen defendants, eighteen murders and decades of bookmaking, loan sharking, extortion and violence."
The investigation of the Outfit began in 1998 when the FBI received a letter from Frank Calabrese, Jr., son of one of the Outfit's most violent bosses, Frank Calabrese, Sr.
Due to a sour relationship with his father, the son told the FBI that he was willing to wear a wire and gather evidence against his father while they were incarcerated together. The father enjoyed explaining how the Outfit worked to his son. He also allowed his son to observe how he conducted business from the prison yard.
The FBI was later able to turn Nicholas Calabrese, a hit man for his brother Frank Calabrese, Sr., into a key witness against the Outfit bosses.
The FBI called the seven-year investigation "Operation Family Secrets." According to the FBI, the list of those charged read like a "Who's Who" of the Chicago mob.
After several mobsters pleaded guilty, the remaining five defendants were Frank Calabrese, Sr., James "Jimmy Light" Marcello, the reputed boss of the Outfit, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, a tough, old-school mob boss, Anthony "Twan" Doyle, a former Chicago police officer accused of leaking information to Frank Calabrese, Sr., and Outfit enforcer Paul "the Indian' Schiro.
In September of 2007 the jury convicted the five men on broad conspiracy charges.
Jeff Coen does a fine job of covering the trial and he offers vivid descriptions of the defendants, the witnesses and the prosecutors, who are as colorful as the gangsters.
Reading the book makes you feel like you are sitting in the courtroom. This is a very good true crime book.
Note: The above column originally appeared at 

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