In a hush-hush proceeding, Nicholas W. Calabrese, the government's star witness in its prosecution of top Outfit bosses in 18 mob murders, was arraigned Friday in federal court in connection with the murders.
Calabrese's arraignment took place in public in U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel's courtroom, but authorities hadn't alerted the news media in advance--for security reasons, they said.
Randall Samborn, a spokesman for U.S. Atty. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, disclosed the court proceeding later.
The FBI has said that Calabrese, an admitted "made" member of the mob, is cooperating with law enforcement and has admitted that he took part in 15 murders ordered by Outfit higher-ups.
According to law enforcement sources, Calabrese agreed to cooperate after he was confronted with DNA evidence linking him to at least one murder. He then implicated an alleged who's who of the mob--James Marcello, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, Frank "the German" Schweihs, brother Frank Calabrese Sr. and others--in connection with 18 long-unsolved mob murders, including the 1986 beating deaths of Anthony and Michael Spilotro.
Last month those four reputed mob figures and nine others were indicted with Nicholas Calabrese on gambling, loan sharking and murder charges. Lombardo and Schweihs remain fugitives.
Calabrese's appearance in court Friday ended one of the remaining mysteries in the case: the identity of his attorney--John Theis, a veteran criminal-defense lawyer who said he has represented the mob turncoat for about four years.
Calabrese pleaded not guilty to a single count of racketeering conspiracy, but Theis, reached later, confirmed that Calabrese is expected to plead guilty at some point.
Theis said he hasn't worked out a plea agreement with prosecutors yet.
Court records show that Nicholas Calabrese was originally the lone defendant charged in the case in October 2002, though that was kept under seal until last month's indictment because of his cooperation.
At the time, Calabrese was days from completing a 70-month prison sentence from his conviction with his brother for using violence to collect several million dollars in extortionate loans.
According to court papers recently unsealed, Calabrese opted to remain in prison until the new charges against him are resolved.
Even though he still remains in custody, Calabrese appeared in court Friday in street clothes as an added safety precaution for when he was transported to and from the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, authorities said.