'Family Secrets' Revealed in Chicago Mob Trial In Chicago last week, a jury handed down the verdict for the so-called "Family Secrets Mob Trial," one of the largest mob cases in the city's history. Though the case resolved some of Chicago's most high-profile cases, authorities are unsure of the future of organized crime in the city.
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'Family Secrets' Revealed in Chicago Mob Trial

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ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

Right now, family secrets and the Chicago Outfit. When we talk about the mob, it's usually Tony Soprano or "The Godfather." People are fascinated with gangster stories. But the real thing played out in Chicago this summer in the form of a federal trial. The case was based on old mob hits - dirty cops and inside informants all told the family secrets trial, took down five guys who should be collecting pension checks but instead were on trial for murder. The final verdict came down last week, and now the question is, is this really the end of the Chicago Outfit?

If you have questions about what the mob looks like these days, if it's still a threat, or about this particular trial in Chicago, give us a call 800-989-8255 or drop us an e-mail at talk@npr.org.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass has covered the Chicago Outfit for years and he joined us now from the studios of WGN Radio in Chicago. And thanks for being with us, John.

Mr. JOHN KASS (Columnist, Chicago Tribune): Thanks for having me.

BROOKS: It's good to have you. So, who were these five guys and how far up the food chain did they go?

Mr. KASS: They're pretty high up. I mean, these are bosses - to use vernacular, bosses of the Outfit, several of them. One is Joe "The Clown" Lombardo.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm.

Mr. KASS: Another is named - a fellow named Frank Calabrese. Then there was Jimmy "The Man" Marcello. These are the three bosses - one of which, Frank Calabrese, operated in the Chinatown bridge port area, famous for producing mobsters and Chicago mayors. Then, there was Paul "The Indian" Schiro and another former Chicago police officer Anthony Acciofume(ph), who changed his name to Doyle so that he could work in the evidence section of the Chicago Police Department and tip off the mob bosses to the evidence in a 1986 murder that led to this whole thing. The murder was of the man named John Feccarata and he was involved in the killings of the Spilotros, which it…

BROOKS: And in all - we're talking about 18 murders, correct? I mean, this were the original…

Mr. KASS: Eighteen murders. Right. Two of them - two of the murders, many of the people outside Chicago, if they have seen "Casino" - the movie "Casino" -Scorsese film…

BROOKS: Right.

Mr. KASS: …depicted Las Vegas and the Outfit and Chicago's control of Las Vegas and the murders of Anthony and Tony Spilotro - Michael Spilotro, excuse me.

BROOKS: Right. In one of your columns last week, you talk about a letter that started this whole operation. Who wrote the letter? What was in it?

Mr. KASS: This is a job for psychiatrists, I think, or for Greek playwrights, but the letter was from the son, Frank Calabrese Jr., who wrote the FBI and said he was willing to take down his father and his uncle Nick. And that started off the investigation. The FBI in Chicago went to - visited Mr. Calabrese in prison, he wired up, they compromised the uncle, Uncle Nick, who confessed to killing I don't know how many people - 18 - 16 at least, and implicated the others, and put his father, Frank Calabrese, on federal tape and the rest is history.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm. Does this spell the end of the Outfit in Chicago or is this just a big blow against them?

Mr. KASS: It's a blow against the Outfit. But there can't - Chicago, like most big cities, has organized crime and the organized crime cannot prosper or continue without the active help of local politicians and local police. I mean, it's just impossible to run a criminal organization that deals with betting and municipal contracts and the pouring of asphalt and concrete without having politicians in your pocket. And what it does reveal is the connection between Chicago politics and the Outfit.

BROOKS: Mm-hmm. That's what I wanted to ask you about because, I guess, out of this trial came a lot of - I mean, it shows the sort of connection between local Chicago government and the mob - hundreds of hits in 40 years not solved until now.

Mr. KASS: Thousands…

BROOKS: Thousands.

Mr. KASS: …not solved. And - well, look, the national media - the way the national media treats Chicago - is if some network - I don't think NPR is guilty of this, but I'm sure the others are.

BROOKS: I'm sure we're not.

Mr. KASS: The networks come in. They interview the mayor and he points to putting some sod on the roof where you could, you know, the green tree, the green mayor and somebody drives a Prius around with a City of Chicago logo on it, and the media applauds Mayor Daley for being progressive. But in point of fact, this mayor gave $100 million a few years ago in affirmative action contracts to white guys he drinks with. And those guys are connected to the mob.

BROOKS: Hmm.

Mr. KASS: So, you have a disconnect between the national media's insistence that one Daley is not the old Daley. And I think the spin - I can't really explain how the spin happens except either through stupidity or laziness on the part of national media types.

BROOKS: Very interesting. We're…

Mr. KASS: In fact…

BROOKS: Yeah. Go ahead, John.

Mr. KASS: …the fact is you've got judges elected by political organizations that are tied to the Outfit. We had a police officer, the chief of detectives for the Chicago Police, not just a regular - the chief, the one who puts other detectives in spots. He was charged and he's now serving prison time for running an Outfit-sponsored jewelry high spring that went all over the country.

BROOKS: Hmm.

Mr. KASS: So this is the kind of city we have.

BROOKS: John Kass. We're talking to John…

Mr. KASS: But we love it, you know? We love the town. It's a great city. But it's just not all green roofs and hybrid cars as…

BROOKS: I understand.

Mr. KASS: …the networks want you to believe.

BROOKS: We're talking to John Kass, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, about the family secrets trial that took down five members of the Chicago Outfit last week.

And let's take a call. You can join the conversation: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. If you have questions about organized crime in Chicago, or perhaps, anywhere else.

Let's go to Nathan(ph) who's calling from Athens, Pennsylvania. Hi, Nathan. You're on the air.

NATHAN (Caller): Hello. I was wondering what else do they do other than just, well, kill each other?

BROOKS: You mean what's their business?

NATHAN: Yeah. Exactly, like drugs or - I know they hire off, you know, to do hits and stuff like that, but is there deeper run like drug business or other things like that?

Mr. KASS: Do you ever look at the news - sports pages on Thursday? Do you ever read sports?

NATHAN: No. No, I don't.

Mr. KASS: Well, I think on Thursday - Thursday is when the NFL comes out with its injury reports, right? And those injury reports for every NFL team tell them the calculations about who's going to win Sunday's game. And those calculations end up in terms of the line, the betting line, and millions and millions and millions of dollars bet illegally in Chicago and elsewhere.

BROOKS: Hmm. So is that the main - their main line of business, the betting lines?

Mr. KASS: There is the betting. I'm sure there's narcotics. There's also, you know, fronts, Outfit fronts that get public works contracts, bridge building contracts, janitorial contracts. We had an Outfit boss years ago, just a few years ago - Anthony Centracchio, in the western suburbs - who ran an abortion clinic. And the abortion clinic was his place of operations.

And given the privacy issues that are raised by pro-choice folks, you know, people stay away. Government, law enforcement stays away. And there he is running the criminal enterprise right out of your abortion clinic. So they're pretty good at what they do. And they make a lot of money.

BROOKS: John, how big is the Chicago Outfit or what's left of it? Any idea? Any - do we have any idea?

Mr. KASS: There were numbers that were circulating last week that they've identified through this trial is going to spill out into other trials and other investigations. But they've identified 28 known Outfit members, hundreds of associates, and four families. It's a smaller enterprise in, say, New York, which has literally hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers in organized crime. And that's not even counting the street gangs.

The reason why I don't count the street gangs in this is in city after city, we're seeing a pattern in which street gangs will eventually begin to elect -if they already have or not - elect local politicians to local municipal offices. And then, begin a pattern of electing judges or installing judges in their local criminal court systems.

As that happens, they become incredibly more powerful. And that's why the Outfit, the Chicago Outfit, even though small in terms of numbers, is very potent. I mean, the city - the organized crime in this city, traditionally, reach through Kansas City, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Detroit, all the way up to - not New York, but around there, Florida, Louisiana. You know, this was the center of it. And one of the ways you could know this is that you've seen a lot of movies about Al Capone.

BROOKS: Right.

Mr. KASS: Have you ever heard of Paul Ricca?

BROOKS: The name doesn't ring a bell for me but…

Mr. KASS: Paul "The Waiter" Ricca was Al Capone's right hand man and actually the brains and nerve behind building this criminal enterprise. He's never, you know, they never made a movie out of him in Hollywood.

BROOKS: We're talking to John Kass, columnist for the Chicago Tribune, about the family secrets trial that took down five members of the Chicago Outfit last week.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's take a call from Queens, New York. Ben(ph), you're on the air.

BEN (Caller): Yes, good afternoon, Sir. I wanted to ask you about inroads of other ethnic groups into organized crime. I don't know much about Chicago. But a few years ago, there was quite a lot of talk about - along with the decline of the old-standing New York City mafia inroads of Russians and Albanians. And I'm wondering if you could talk about that briefly.

BROOKS: John Kass?

Mr. KASS: A general is only as good as his soldiers. And as the federal government begins chopping away, you see communications and other logistical problems with the Outfit, and other groups come in, like the Russians, the Pols, the Eastern Europeans, Albanians, who basically have muscle and connections overseas. And they want a part of this. And once the - what the Outfit's been able to do in New York and elsewhere is incorporate these people…

BEN: Really?

Mr. KASS: …as long as they have - see, the whole thing is you can't do - if you just have a bunch of tough guys with guns, they can't really survive long.

BEN: Sure.

Mr. KASS: Other tough guys with guns will kill them or they'll lose out. But if they have political control and contracts and judges, local judges and law enforcement support with rural gauge inside law enforcement. You saw that -we've seen that Even the FBI in - not in Chicago, thank God, but in New York and elsewhere have been compromised by organized crime by the mafia. As long as they have that, then the other groups won't be able to threaten them for control…

BEN: Correct.

Mr. KASS: …because it's the use of government, local governments that make them powerful.

BROOKS: Hmm. Ben, thanks for the call.

BEN: Thank you.

BROOKS: I appreciate it. Let's go to Constance(ph) who's calling from Punta Gorda, Florida. Hi, Constance.

CONSTANCE (Caller): Good afternoon, John Kass. Eighteen years Chicagoan, moved to Punta Gorda to retire. Spilotro brothers, were they the ones that were found in the cornfield outside of Chicago?

Mr. KASS: Yes. And I hope you're still reading the Tribune from where you were because it is the world's greatest newspaper.

CONSTANCE: And I'm wearing my Cubbies T-shirt right now.

Mr. KASS: I'm a Sox fan, but I'm sorry for you in that sport. But…

CONSTANCE: And is Peter Schivarelli connected with the mob? Has that been identified clearly?

Mr. KASS: There has been some speculations on that, but I haven't seen any indictments or anything to that regard.

CONSTANCE: Okay.

Mr. KASS: But as far as the - your question earlier which was - what again? I'm sorry. What was that?

CONSTANCE: Spilotro brothers found in the cornfield.

Mr. KASS: Oh, the Spilotros. Yeah. They were the ones who were in the movie "Casino," where their characters were murdered, found in the cornfield. But what we've learned in the trial was that the movie and our earlier understandings was wrong. They weren't killed in the cornfield. They were killed in a basement suburb in Chicago, invited there as part of the mob-making ceremony and were - strangled basically and beaten to death, then dumped in the cornfield.

When they were - they weren't to be discovered. When they were discovered, people that helped, you know, bungle that operation, like John Fecarrotta, ended up getting killed.

BROOKS: Hmm. Constance, thanks for the call. I think we have time for at least one more call. Let's go to Rich(ph) who's calling from - no, sorry. Let's go to Rich who's calling from Oak Brook, Illinois. Hi, Rich. You're on the air.

RICH (Caller): Hello. I'm actually traveling by DeKalb right now but and…

BROOKS: Close enough.

RICH: …I'm picking up your station.

BROOKS: Sure. You're on the air. Do you have a question?

RICH: Yes. I was wondering is the reason - I'm assuming the mob still needs to launder money through other facilities basically other than the companies they run. Is that because the government latches the incomes of those companies and see if they jump higher than other ones that are in similar business?

Mr. KASS: Well, do you have some - you want to call me later and give me some tips on columns that you do or - it sounds pretty good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KASS: Now, you're calling from Oak Brook, you said.

RICH: Actually, I'm in - out by the DeKalb but I live in Oak Brook.

Mr. KASS: Okay. So…

RICH: But…

Mr. KASS: …let's - we should let the listeners of National Public Radio know that when a guy says he's calling from Oak Brook these days, it's like you were saying years ago, I'm calling you from Chinatown.

BROOKS: Oh, really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. KASS: And it's sort of like a guy who is in the know, who knows something, so please call the Chicago Tribune and speak to me about this. I'd like to learn more about it.

BROOKS: All right. Rich, thanks for the…

RICH: You don't have a comment on that, then?

Mr. KASS: What specific, Rich?

BROOKS: You know what, Rich? We're really out of time so you just…

RICH: Okay.

BROOKS: …you better do what John suggest and get in touch with him afterwards. But we thank you for the call.

Mr. KASS: It's 2223232.

RICH: Thank you.

BROOKS: John, we only have just a few seconds less but - left. But I noticed your column today wasn't about the mob. It was about the Chicago Cubs. Now, you said you're a Southsider, a White Sox fan, not a Cubs fan.

Mr. KASS: That's right.

BROOKS: But you made some predictions for the Cubs in the playoff series. We can't let you go without letting you…

Mr. KASS: Back in June, when all the Cub fans were losing their heads and blaming, you know, everyone else, I became Mr. Predictor and predicted that they would win the division and go on to the World Series. And I still feel that way. People think that I'm just giving them a Greek evil eye by predicting this way as most Cub fans would contest or say. And my editor just put out a staff memo prohibiting me from going to Wrigley Field and that if anyone sees me there, they can have my job.

BROOKS: Well, John Kass, thank you so much for joining us today. I appreciate it.

Mr. KASS: Go Cubs.

BROOKS: Go Cubs. John Kass, a columnist with Chicago Times. You can find links to his recent columns at our blog.

This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Anthony Brooks.

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