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Reputed Mob Figures HitWith Charges

The federal indictment cites racketeering, fraud and extortion but the prosecution says the 14 men are connected to a series of slayings.

April 26, 2005|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — Federal prosecutors on Monday indicted two former Chicago police officers and 12 reputed mobsters -- including the man the FBI believes runs the Chicago mob -- in connection with 18 murders over nearly two decades.

The murders include the unsolved 1986 death of Anthony "the Ant" Spilotro, the crime syndicate's leading figure in Las Vegas who was brutally beaten and then buried in an Indiana cornfield. In the 1995 movie "Casino," Joe Pesci played a ruthless mob hit man, a character based on Spilotro.

The 41-page complaint -- the broadest indictment of organized-crime leaders in Chicago's history -- includes charges of racketeering conspiracy against James Marcello, 68, the reputed head of organized crime in Chicago, and Joseph "the Clown" Lombardo, 75, a longtime mob leader. The two men "committed murder and other crimes" on behalf of the mob, according to the indictment.

None of the defendants was charged with murder or connected to a specific killing. Federal prosecutors used racketeering laws -- as well as charges of extortion and tax fraud, among others -- to arrest these men. The indictment states that, as part of this racketeering conspiracy, seven of the defendants either murdered someone or agreed to commit murder.

FBI and IRS agents arrested most of the defendants early Monday in the Chicago area, Arizona and Florida. Frank "Gumba" Saladino, 59, was found dead -- apparently of natural causes -- at a hotel in Hampshire, Ill., with nearly $100,000 in cash and checks.

Two men remain at large, including Lombardo.

"This unprecedented indictment puts a 'hit' on the mob," U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald said Monday. "It lifts the veil of secrecy and exposes the violent underworld of organized crime."

The arrests came after a lengthy investigation -- dubbed "Operation Family Secrets" -- into 18 old killings tied to the mob. FBI agents, joined by IRS investigators and detectives from the Chicago Police Department, used DNA samples and organized crime insiders to build cases against the suspects.

They targeted the core of some of Chicago's leading reputed crime families: Lombardo's Grand Avenue crew; the Melrose Park crew of brothers Michael and James Marcello; and the 26th Street crew of Frank Calabrese Sr. and his brother, Nicholas.

Federal officials are seeking $10 million from racketeering proceeds and are trying to seize the Marcellos' M&M Amusement, which runs video gambling machines in taverns, restaurants and clubs.

The complaint alleges that 11 out of 14 defendants were part of a racketeering conspiracy that spanned more than 40 years. It claims that the mob -- known as the "Chicago Outfit" or "La Cosa Nostra" -- was involved in crimes that included operating illegal gambling machines, extorting adult businesses, loan sharking and killing federal witnesses.

"What makes this indictment significant to us is that for the first time, we have the heads of multiple crews indicted" together, said Robert Grant, special agent in charge of the FBI's office in Chicago.

Grant said the arrests of such senior leaders would weaken organized crime in Chicago. He described the defendants and the Outfit as "a bunch of murderous thugs."

They are also old: Nine of the defendants are 60 or older. When arraigned at the federal courthouse Monday afternoon, several of the accused told U.S. District Judge James Zagel they were on medication for a variety of physical aliments. Michael Ricci, a 75-year-old retired Cook County sheriff's officer who allegedly helped collect extortion money and passed jailhouse messages to mobsters, used a wheelchair to inch his way into the courtroom.

At least one crime figure tried to distance himself from his past: After spending 10 years in prison for attempting to bribe a U.S. senator and other charges, Lombardo placed an ad in the Chicago Tribune in 1992 declaring that he was no longer a criminal. Lombardo pleaded that his parole officer be alerted by "anyone who hears my name used in connection with any criminal activity."

At a news conference Monday, Fitzgerald dismissed the ad as irrelevant, and noted that it wouldn't change what had happened in the past. "Anyone can take out an ad and say what they like," Fitzgerald said.

Investigators say the heart of their case rests on the string of murders and one attempted murder in Chicago and Arizona from 1970 through 1986. Many of the killings happened at a time when, according to the indictment, the defendants used violence and political influence to further their illegal enterprises.

One of the murders included in the indictment was the 1980 death of William Dauber, a reputed mob hit man whom officials believed may have been involved in 30 slayings.

When Dauber realized that he had been targeted by his employers, he slept with a bullet-proof blanket and put armor plating on his car. It didn't help: On a remote road in Will County, Ill., a vehicle pulled up to his car and began shooting, killing both Dauber and his wife, Charlotte.

Perhaps the most infamous of the murders is that of Spilotro. Believed to be the West Coast's chief executioner for the mob, Spilotro built and ran a criminal empire in Las Vegas in the 1970s and early 1980s.

In 1986, Spilotro was in Chicago visiting his brother Michael, 41, when he disappeared. Spilotro, then 48, and his brother were last seen alive on June 14, 1986.

Eight days later, their mutilated bodies were found buried -- one on top of the other -- in a 5-foot-deep grave in a field within Willow Slough, a remote state fish and game area just east of the Indiana-Illinois state line.

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