Intrigue, Brutality Mark Chicago Mob Trial

In Chicago, reputed mobster "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and four others are accused of taking part in a racketeering conspiracy. The case covers nearly 20 unsolved murders and charges of illegal gambling, loan sharking and extortion.

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This week a federal jury in Chicago begins deliberating a case that involves murder, extortion, loan sharking, and more. It's Chicago's biggest mob trial in years. Four alleged mobsters and a retired Chicago police officer are accused in a racketeering conspiracy which included nearly 20 killings.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY: Forget about those fictional drams, "The Sopranos" and "The Godfather." Ever since the days of Al Capone, there's been a public fascination with Chicago's mob. The outfit, as it's called, may not be the force it was decades ago, but John Binder, who wrote a history of Chicago mobsters, says there is a reason why this case has garnered so much attention.

Mr. JOHN BINDER (Author, "The Chicago Outfit"): You have reputedly the top two people - at least at the point when they were indicted - the top two people in the Chicago outfit on trial here, as well as some related individuals, and then you also got a case that is covering some 18 murders.

CORLEY: Murders that occurred in the 1970s and '80s. This family secrets trial, as it's called, is a collection of intrigue, brutality and infighting with an admitted hitman testifying against his brother and a son taking the witness stand against his father. In all, five men, in their sixties and seventies, have been on trial 10 weeks now.

Federal prosecutors say a former Chicago police officer worked as their messenger and says the other four defendants, reputed mob bosses, loan sharks and enforcers, conspired to commit murder. The most sensational case involved the beating death of Anthony "Ant" Spilotro, the outfit's alleged Las Vegas point man, and his brother Michael. They were buried alive in an Indiana cornfield. The case was portrayed in the movie "Casino" with Joe Pesci playing the role of a Tony Spilotro-type character.

(Soundbite of movie, "Casino")

Joe Pesci (Actor): (As Nicky Santoro) Frank, Frank, leave the kid alone, he's still breathing. He's still breathing, leave him alone.

(Soundbite of repeated thudding)

CORLEY: I'm standing in the lobby of the Dirksen Federal Building, the courthouse where this lurid case about murders, extortion, and the Chicago outfit has attracted crowds of people who filled the courtroom.

Mr. BOB KEELEY(ph): I'm Bob Keeley and I've lived in Chicago all my life.

CORLEY: Keeley had never been to a federal trial before. He sat behind relatives of the murdered Spilotro brothers.

Mr. KEELEY: So, to sit in the same room and see people who have been hurt personally by these five people on trial, that's just, well, it's kind of like being in another world.

Ms. LANA SANDERS(ph): My name is Lana Sanders.

CORLEY: An attorney and teacher, Sanders calls the trial historic since some of the defendants testified. She traveled about 100 miles each day from Rockford, Illinois.

Ms. SANDERS: I didn't intend to come every day. I only intended to come one day, but I found it so fascinating that I ended up coming for most of the trial.

CORLEY: In his office, Jim Wagner, a former FBI agent and the president of the Chicago Crime Commission, has been tracking the trial.

Mr. JIM WAGNER (President, Chicago Crime Commission): I suppose you recognize this Last Supper picture, if you will?

CORLEY: The Last Supper, as it's been dubbed, is a photo taken in 1976 showing 10 men at a restaurant facing the camera. Wagner says they are the hierarchy of the Chicago outfit at the time. Standing at the back of the table is a much younger Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, one of the defendants now on trial. All the others in the photo are dead. But Wagner says even though past its heyday, the outfit is still alive, and whatever the verdict, this trial won't end that.

Mr. WAGNER: There's too much money at stake and too much power at stake. Up and coming members of this organized criminal family want the money and they want the power, and they are already busy at work.

CORLEY: All of the defendants in the family secret's trial pleaded not guilty. The lead federal prosecutor told the jury it was time to hold accountable the four reputed mobsters who he says got away with murder, as well as the allegedly corrupt cop who tried to help them.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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