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Mob secrets go on trial

With the sweeping "Family Secrets" conspiracy trial just days from starting, reputed mobster Joey "the Clown" Lombardo was looking pretty relaxed.

If not for the orange jumpsuit and the federal courtroom, he could have been passing time in a coffee shop or one of his favorite Grand Avenue restaurants.As he sat in a wheelchair with his legs crossed, he gestured and chatted with court personnel and lawyers about the clothes he'll wear when a jury hears allegations that he and several co-defendants ruthlessly steered the Outfit through years of vice and violence.

"Do I get a haircut too?" he said with a smile, drawing a laugh.

Even in a city as heavy with mob history and lore as Chicago, the landmark trial set to begin Tuesday with the selection of an anonymous jury promises to be a spectacle.

There will be veteran prosecutors who have made careers targeting wiseguys. There will be flamboyant defense lawyers unafraid to make a joke in court and wear pink socks while doing it.

And there will be Lombardo and at least four other defendants, a group accused of forming the backbone of the Chicago Outfit for much of the 1970s and '80s. The trial will lay bare secret ceremonies, 18 long-unsolved gangland slayings and the mob's grip on the city's dark side -- street gambling, juice loans and pornography.

They are now shadows of the men who have stared coldly out of mug shots. They have limped into court using canes, the 78-year-old Lombardo leading a geriatric assortment of characters that has complained of bad backs, poor eyesight and heart trouble in the months leading up to the trial.

Federal prosecutors have targeted individual Outfit street crews and their leaders in the past, but Family Secrets will essentially put on trial the structure and enterprise that was the Chicago mob during the last few decades.

Expected to go on trial with Lombardo for racketeering conspiracy will be James Marcello, named as the boss of the Chicago mob at the time of his arrest; Frank Calabrese Sr., a made member of the Outfit's 26th Street crew and once Chicago's reputed top loan shark; Paul "the Indian" Schiro; and former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle.

First indictments

The case started with a bang when the indictments came down in the spring of 2005. Lombardo and reputed hit man Frank "the German" Schweihs -- now too sick to go on trial -- were on the lam for months.

While a fugitive, Lombardo wrote letters to the judge in the case, signing some "an innocent man" and promising to swallow truth serum to prove he wasn't involved in the murders. He vowed to turn himself in if he would be released on bail and tried separately. He was arrested in suburban Elmwood Park in January 2006.

As the case finally goes to trial, interest is expected to cause it to be moved to the ceremonial courtroom on the 25th floor of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, the building's largest.

Prosecutors will tell the jury that Lombardo, Marcello and others helped control the organization born with Al Capone, which has persisted and flourished in all manner of illicit business, and has protected itself through murder when necessary. The most sensational of the 18 killings are the 1986 beating deaths of Anthony and Michael Spilotro, who were found buried in an Indiana cornfield and whose murders were featured in the movie "Casino."

"This ranks up there with the great cases ... based on the number of people and the high-profile crimes involved," said Lee Flosi, a former FBI agent who was the supervisor of Chicago's organized crime task force in the early 1990s.

It could even be the last great mob case, Flosi said, as the FBI devotes fewer resources to taking on a somewhat downtrodden Outfit. "It'll be many years before there's anything that rivals it," he said.

Observers are calling the case the most important involving the Chicago mob since Lombardo and three bosses were convicted in 1986 of skimming millions of dollars from a Las Vegas casino.

The trial, expected to last as long as four months, will feature high-ranking turncoats, including a made mob member, Nicholas Calabrese, who will testify against his brother, giving the case its Family Secrets code name. It will include undercover recordings of prison meetings between the incarcerated Marcello and his brother, Michael, and even a government expert dubbed a "mobologist" by the defense to try to tie it all together.

A parade of prosecution witnesses that includes hit men, pornographers, bookies, career burglars, gamblers and other mob associates are expected to testify about their dealings with the Outfit.

Slayings a central issue

As the government attacks the mob as a racketeering enterprise, the case will attempt to close the books on the Spilotro killings and a series of other hits that for years sat among the hundreds of unsolved mob slayings in Chicago. Prosecutors will use the rarest of tools to take jurors inside organized crime -- a member of the Outfit's inner circle.

Billed as the most significant witness against the Chicago syndicate in decades, Nick Calabrese has the insider's knowledge to name names. Associated with the Outfit since 1970, he has admitted taking part in 14 Outfit killings and has information on many more, prosecutors have said.

A made member of the 26th Street crew, he began cooperating in 2002 after being confronted by authorities with DNA evidence that linked him to the 1986 killing of mob hit man John Fecarotta. Calabrese recently pleaded guilty.

He also will supply firsthand information about mob business, the Outfit's structure and its customs. And he will explain the backdrop and motives for many of the slayings. He is expected to directly link James Marcello to the murders of the Spilotros, according to prosecutors' documents. The brothers were beaten and strangled in a home near Bensenville after running afoul of the Chicago Outfit while heading its Las Vegas operation.

Calabrese is expected to tell jurors about an underworld ceremony in 1983 when he was welcomed into the mob's leading ranks with Marcello and Frank Calabrese Sr. Calabrese will describe how each inductee was joined by his crew boss and how the highest-ranking Outfit leaders had them pledge absolute allegiance.

Defense strategy

To fight Calabrese and his testimony, defense lawyers said they will attempt to show the motives for many of the murders were unrelated to the mob, or that their clients were not directing the conspiracy. According to the defense, the government's case is built on the idea that the Outfit was structured from the top down. "In past cases, the government has shown all of this thuggery, and then asked the jury to reasonably infer that it was done on behalf of the mob," said Rick Halprin, Lombardo's lawyer and a veteran of the federal courthouse. "This case is the reverse. They will be proving that there was organized crime."

Halprin, an ex-Marine who was wounded in Vietnam, has a booming courtroom voice and is quick with a quip.

Halprin intends to portray Lombardo as a lifelong working man. "He doesn't have a home in River Forest," he said. "He doesn't drive fancy cars."

Frank Calabrese Sr.'s lawyer, Joseph Lopez, who has defended other mob figures as well, is known for his sharp suits, occasionally accented with pink socks. He said he agrees the team of prosecutors on the case must show that the orders for the killings came down the mob's chain of command.

It doesn't matter, Lopez said, that his client has previously pleaded guilty to being in the Outfit. Prosecutors have to prove the slayings were mob hits.

"The question is, were these killings sanctioned by the mob," Lopez said. "People get killed for a variety of reasons."

Lopez said he will present evidence to show that two individuals who have no connection to the mob killed Richard Ortiz and Arthur Morawski, one of the mob hits with which his client is charged. "We're not charged with murder. We're charged with conspiracy," Lopez said. "If we were charged with murder down at 26th Street [the Criminal Courts Building], this would be a different story."

"They can't show these [murders] were done to protect the Outfit," he said.

Experienced prosecutors

But leading the prosecution team are two of the most seasoned, savvy assistant U.S. attorneys, Mitchell Mars, the office's organized crime chief, who headed the prosecution in the early 1990s of mobster Rocco Infelice, and John Scully, who prosecuted William Hanhardt, a former Chicago police chief of detectives convicted of running a mob-connected jewelry theft ring.

To be sure, they won't be in a joking mood, even though Lombardo might be.

"You know he doesn't want to just sit there silently with his hands folded," Flosi said of Lombardo, who once famously covered his face with a newspaper -- a hole cut out for him to see -- as he left a 1981 court appearance.

"Maybe he'll come to court in his pajamas," Flosi said. "Who knows?"

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The judge

U.S. District Judge

James B. Zagel

A Reagan appointee, Zagel is generally considered a good draw for the prosecution and one of the brightest judges on Chicago's federal bench. He is also among the most experienced, marking his 20th year on the federal bench this month. Zagel, 66, was once married to TV investigative reporter Pam Zekman, wrote "Money to Burn," a fictional thriller about a plot to rob the Federal Reserve Bank, and played a judge in the 1989 movie "Music Box."

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Who's on trial

Fourteen alleged mobsters and associates were indicted in the case in 2005, but only five are expected to go on trial. Two of the original defendants died, one is too ill to face trial, four have pleaded guilty and two more are set to plead guilty as soon as Monday.

Joey "the Clown" Lombardo

A reputed capo in the Grand Avenue street crew, Lombardo has been alleged to be a mob leader who committed murder while controlling pornography and other Outfit business in the city. Known for his alleged penchant for violence and an odd sense of humor, he once took out a newspaper ad to publicly announce that he was officially retired from the mob. He is charged in connection with the murder of Daniel Seifert in September 1974. He was separately convicted of attempting to bribe a U.S. senator and conspiring to skim $2 million from the Stardust casino in Las Vegas along with mob bosses Joseph Aiuppa, John Cerone, and Angelo LaPietra.

James Marcello

Marcello, 65, was described by Chicago's top FBI agent as the boss of the Chicago Outfit when the Family Secrets indictment came down in the spring of 2005. The Lombard resident had previously been convicted in 1993 on federal charges of racketeering, gambling, loan-sharking and extortion. Authorities have alleged he passed on money to the family of mobster Nicholas Calabrese to try to buy his silence on gangland slayings. Federal agents recorded conversations he had with his brother, Michael, while James was in a federal prison in Michigan. The men allegedly discussed gambling operations and Calabrese's possible cooperation with law enforcement.

Frank Calabrese Sr.

The one-time street boss of the mob's South Side or 26th Street crew, the 70-year-old Calabrese once was alleged to be the city's top loan shark. He is charged in connection with the 1980 murder of hit man William Petrocelli in Cicero as well as a dozen other slayings. Calabrese pleaded guilty in 1997 to using threats, violence and intimidation to collect more than $2.6 million in juice loans. He was in prison when the Family Secrets indictment came down. His brother, Nicholas, is the key turncoat witness in the case, and Calabrese's son, Frank Calabrese Jr., also is expected to testify against his father.

Paul "the Indian" Schiro

A 69-year-old mob enforcer who is charged in one of the gangland killings, Schiro was an alleged associate of murdered mobster Anthony Spilotro. At the time of his Family Secrets indictment, he was in prison for taking part in a jewelry-theft ring headed by William Hanhardt, a former Chicago police chief of detectives.

Anthony Doyle

Doyle, also known as "Twan," is a former Chicago police officer. He is charged in the conspiracy for allegedly passing messages from the imprisoned Frank Calabrese Sr. to other members of the Outfit. Calabrese was trying to find out if his brother was cooperating with authorities, and Doyle allegedly was keeping him up to date on a law enforcement investigation into the murder of mob hit man John Fecarotta, authorities alleged. The 62-year-old was arrested at his home in Arizona as federal prosecutors and the FBI were announcing the Family Secrets case.

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