Welcome back to our Family Secrets mini-series. My husband Tom and I will be doing a little duet blogging over the next couple of weeks to share our unique story. In case you missed the last post, please read it before continuing so this makes sense. You can also subscribe for email updates.
“Hey, can you do me a favor and Google ‘Calabrese’?” Tom asks me over the phone.
“Sure, let me get the Internet up.”
Unlike my country husband, I grew up on the Northwest side of Chicago and consider myself somewhat street smart and sleaze savvy. But that name did not ring a bell.
I enter the search and my eyes and brain try to focus as page after page of Google results came back:
Operation Family Secrets trial
The Chicago Outfit
18 long-unsolved gangland slayings
Chicago’s top loan shark
Son testifying against father
Brother testifying against brother
My stomach sank. “This is bad. You gotta get out of this,” was all I could mutter.
My kids had to fend for themselves that day as I sat transfixed in front of the computer. My husband was moved to the next round as a juror for the biggest organized crime trial in Chicago.
I learned that Frank Calabrese’s son, Frank Jr., sent a letter to the FBI while both men were in jail: “I feel I have to help you keep this sick man locked up forever.” He offered details about his father’s role in organized crime that involved murders, extortion and loan-sharking.
The son wore a wiretap that implicated his father along with his uncle and finally revealed the mobsters who were behind 18 brutal murders that took place in the 1970s and 80s. Two of the victims, the Spilotro brothers, were immortalized in the movie Casino. They were found dead in Indiana cornfield with speculations that they were buried alive.
A total of five men were going to trial. Two other defendants had already died. One was too sick to stand trial.
I was scared shitless. Tom was completely intrigued.
During the jury selection, a fake bomb was found outside of Kurt Calabrese’s house, the other son of Frank, Sr. At this point, Judge Zagel decided that the jurors should remain anonymous for their protection. This was first use of an anonymous jury in Chicago’s federal court in 15 years.
Although they would be referred by their court-assigned numbers, the jurors would not be shielded visually by a partition. Everyone in the courtroom — the defendants, the witnesses, the victims’ families, the spectators and the media — would see the jury’s faces.
Tom’s a big 6’ 3” dude and sports a flat top haircut.
He would not be easy to hide.
“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.
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