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Guilty verdicts for Chicago mob

The racketeering case dates to the 1970s. Now the jury must decide if four of the five also committed murder.

September 11, 2007|P.J. Huffstutter | Times Staff Writer

CHICAGO — The first of the 18 mob-related killings -- forgotten by many amid this city's notoriously corrupt and violent history -- happened more than three decades ago. Two of the men connected to the so-called Family Secrets mob conspiracy case, designed in part to solve these cold-case killings, died before the case ever went to trial. A third was deemed too old and infirm for a courtroom.

But four other aging organized-crime figures and a retired police officer were convicted Monday on federal racketeering charges in connection with the slayings, which date to 1970.

The five men who stood trial, including Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo, 78, and Paul "The Indian" Schiro, 69, were well into their golden years. Age didn't seem to matter to the jury.

"All that matters is that those who committed the murders be brought to justice, no matter how old the files might be or how long the case takes to get to court," said James W. Wagner, president of the Chicago Crime Commission.

Wagner, who once supervised the FBI's organized crime unit in Chicago, was the first expert witness for the prosecution. His role? To dust off the history books and give the jury an idea of what the mob used to be.

In addition to the racketeering conspiracy charge, Lombardo was also found guilty of obstructing justice after eluding police for months in the wake of the indictment.

Frank Calabrese Sr., the 70-year-old convicted loan shark believed to be involved in more than a dozen slayings, also was found guilty of extortion and running a sports-bookmaking operation.

James Marcello, the 65-year-old who authorities believe led Chicago's "Outfit" in recent years, was convicted of bribery, running an illegal video-gambling business and obstructing the Internal Revenue Service.

And then there's Schiro, alleged to be the Chicago mob's key figure in Phoenix. Prosecutors believe he was involved with the 1986 slaying of Emil Vaci -- who was in his 70s when he was shot in the back of the head, wrapped in a plastic tarp and dumped in a ditch in Arizona.

The case is far from over.

On Tuesday, jurors are expected to return to court to hear arguments from prosecutors and defense attorneys on whether the men are guilty of any of the slayings connected to the racketeering conspiracy charge. If found guilty, they could spend the rest of their lives in prison.

Only former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle, 62, is not accused of being directly involved in carrying out at least one of the killings. Of the 14 men indicted in 2005, six pleaded guilty to a variety of charges.

In a city where bus tours point out mobsters' homes and the local FBI office has more units to investigate corruption than any other in the nation, the defendants retain a certain notoriety. Much of it, though, has been relegated to the memories of crime buffs who can recount the gruesome details of the 18 slayings that took place from 1970 to 1986.

The killings include a federal witness gunned down at his plastics factory in 1974 in front of his wife and 4-year-old son, and a mob hit man and his wife riddled with shotgun blasts on a deserted country road in 1980.

The chance to get a first-hand account of such long-unsolved murders lured scores of curious mob-history fans to the downtown federal courthouse this summer, where they spent the last 10 weeks listening to testimony that could have been drawn from an episode of "The Sopranos."

The prosecution's star witness was Calabrese's own brother, Nicholas W. Calabrese, who confessed to being a hit man. He also spelled out details of the slayings of Anthony "The Ant" Spilotro, the Chicago mob's chief enforcer in Las Vegas, and his brother Michael, who were severely beaten and found buried in an Indiana cornfield.

"There have been many Outfit trials in Chicago, but not with this great a number of homicides that will be cleared," said former federal prosecutor Donald Campbell, now a private attorney in Las Vegas. "The fact that people from Chicago actually convicted these guys is remarkable. They may be old, but at one time, these were very dangerous men."

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p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com

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