Chicago Mob Trial Yields Flurry of Convictions

Jurors cap the 10-week trial of five reputed Chicago mobsters with five guilty verdicts. The numerous charges in the case were related to nearly 20 murders that occurred in the 1970s and 1980s.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Jurors have reached a verdict in one of the biggest mob trials in Chicago in years. They found five men guilty of taking part in a decades-long conspiracy, which included nearly 20 murders. Over the course of 10 weeks, the trial revealed the inside of Chicago organized crime known as The Outfit. Testimony ranged from detailed accounts of murders to tales of initiation rituals that could have been taken straight from Hollywood.

NPR's Cheryl Corley was at the courthouse when the verdict was announced. She joins us now. Cheryl, most of these defendants were in their 60s, in their 70s. Were these crimes, cases where they reached back several years?

CHERYL CORLEY: Yes, they were crimes that occurred decades ago, mostly in the 1970s and the 1980s. In fact, prosecutor Mitchell Mars said this trial was essentially about the history of organized crime in Chicago. But these men in their heyday - men with names like Joey "The Clown" Lombardo - were ruthless members of the Chicago mob, according to the prosecution. Two of them are reputed mob bosses, another a convicted loan shark, another a jewel thief.

The fifth, a retired police officer who is considered a messenger boy, taking back information between mobsters in prison and those still out on the street. And specifically, the five were accused of conspiring to shake down businesses, give out juice loans, those sorts of things, and also conspiring to commit 18 murders - the most sensational, including the deaths of two brothers, Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, reportedly the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas. He and his brother, Michael, were beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield.

NORRIS: Now, this trial was known in Chicago as, quote, "family secrets," and I understand that that's just because the mob is considered a criminal family, but in this case, actual family members testified against each other.

CORLEY: Yes, it was a real family drama, a very strong testimony from the star witness, in this case, an admitted hit man whose name is Nicholas Calabrese. Typically, members of The Outfit are sworn to secrecy, but Calabrese pleaded guilty to 14 murders, apparently worked out a deal with the government to avoid the death penalty.

He testified against his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr., who is a convicted loan shark. And it wasn't just the brother, though. Frank Calabrese's son also testified against him. Both had served time in prison on the loan shark convictions. And Junior wore a wire for the government while he was in prison, recording conversations with his father and then translating some of the codes for the jury in court, saying, for instance, that when his father said keep 10 boxes of Spam ham, he was telling him to keep a thousand dollars a month for himself.

NORRIS: Yeah. So just curious, how difficult was it for the defense to fight the charges when admitted members of the so-called Outfit testified against the defendants?

CORLEY: Well, I think it was pretty difficult especially with, you know, a made member, I guess, of the mob testifying, as we say, what they said was the new mobsters but weren't mobsters themselves, and were victims of the mobsters who were trying to save themselves. And for instance, Joey "The Clown" Lombardo argued that he withdrew long ago from any criminal activity that he might have engaged in.

NORRIS: The mafia in Chicago essentially began with Al Capone and his legendary - the men in this case are, as you said, quite old. Is there some speculation that this could be the end of the Chicago Outfit?

CORLEY: I don't think so. I think everybody believes that the Chicago mob is considered a diminished version of its older self. But there are still lots of young people moving up in the organization, we're told, and still on the lookout for all the money and power associated with The Outfit.

NORRIS: Thank you, Cheryl.

CORLEY: You're quite welcome.

NORRIS: That was NPR's Cheryl Corley speaking to us from Chicago.

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