CHICAGO - Federal agents rounded up 11 reputed Chicago-area organized crime figures yesterday on charges of running an outfit based on illegal gambling, loan sharking and murder.
In a city where mob killings are rarely solved, the men were indicted in 18 long-unsolved killings going back to 1970.
The killings were some of Chicago's most notorious, including the 1986 beating deaths of Anthony and Michael Spilotro, whose bodies were found in a shallow grave in an Indiana farm field.
Agents swept up reputed career mobsters including James Marcello, 63, the suspected boss of the mob in Chicago, early yesterday.
At large last night were two of those charged, including Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, once the reputed bosses of Chicago's mob.
Another suspected mob hit man, Frank Saladino, was found dead in a hotel room by the federal agents who arrived to arrest him yesterday morning. He apparently died of natural causes hours before he was to be picked up, prosecutors said.
At a hearing in federal court, Marcello, identified by the FBI's Grant as Chicago's top mob boss, and six other defendants were questioned briefly by U.S. District Judge James Zagel before each pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The charges amount to an unprecedented attack on the Chicago mob.
"This is the first indictment that I can recall that involves so many murders, which really gets to the heart of what the LCN is, and that is a bunch of murderous thugs," said Robert D. Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI in Chicago.
At a packed news conference, U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald identified the suspects in one killing, saying Frank Calabrese Sr. and his brother, Nicholas, were charged with taking part in the killing of John Fecarotta, a mob enforcer who reportedly was killed for botching the burial of the Spilotros.
A key break in the investigation came after Nicholas Calabrese was confronted with DNA evidence that purportedly implicated him in the Fecarotta killing. Calabrese agreed to cooperate with law enforcement and fingered his brother and others in many of the killings, according to law enforcement sources.
Squabbling within the Calabrese family led police to name the investigation Operation Family Secrets.
Grant said the indictments deliver a significant blow to the Chicago mob.
In addition, two retired Chicago police officers, Anthony Doyle and Michael Ricci, were charged with passing messages from the imprisoned Frank Calabrese Sr. to other mob members in a bid to find out whether Nicholas Calabrese or another mob associate was cooperating with the FBI.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.