When the FBI began carefully digging on the edge of the parking lot at White Sox park on Tuesday, they were looking for:
a) The wooden leg of the late Sox owner Bill Veeck.b) The wooden leg of the late Sox pitcher Monty Stratton.
c) An extremely late hambone.
If you picked the hambone, you're correct.
The FBI was digging for the remains of the long-missing Michael Frank Albergo, also known as "Hambone" or appropriately enough, "Bones," according to a source with federal connections.
Hambone, a large enforcer with the Chicago Outfit--who also had a good political job at McCormick Place, with health benefits--disappeared in 1970. He vanished after being charged in connection with a mob loan-sharking operation.
"We're operating under the assumption that there's only one body," said FBI Special Agent Sonya Chavez in briefing reporters at the scene Tuesday.
It is the former site of a warehouse for Standard Cos. and contained cleaning supplies for janitorial contractors, including mops, plastic mats and towels. When construction for the new ballpark began in the late '80s, Standard moved to another 11th Ward location, at 3124 S. Shields Ave.
Chavez wasn't asked about Hambone. And the FBI wouldn't say whether the federal archeology was related to information being provided by the talkative Outfit boss Nicholas Calabrese.
So if they won't, I will.
What's going on in the 11th Ward at the FBI dig is of immense consequence to the leaders of the Chicago Outfit, including the federally imprisoned boss James Marcello and his imprisoned friend Frank Calabrese, Nick's brother; to the Outfit's contacts in Chicago politics; and in local law enforcement.
Here's why: The dig is a test of Nick Calabrese's credibility.
I told you months ago that Calabrese, imprisoned for loan-sharking, had been quietly moved into the federal witness protection program.
He's been talking to the feds and is the highest-ranking mobster ever to turn.
In John Gotti's New York, there was Salvatore "Sammy the Bull" Gravano who testified against him. In Chicago, Calabrese is at that Gravano level, not in terms of publicity, but in terms of knowledge.
So, if Hambone's hambones aren't unearthed in the Bridgeport dig, Calabrese's credibility as a future potential witness may be questioned.
But if the feds find something there, federal prosecutors could someday use Calabrese as a witness in more than a dozen other unsolved Chicago Outfit murders.
One is the 1999 Outfit killing of hit man Ronald Jarrett, who was shot outside his Bridgeport home. Jarrett, sources familiar with the FBI investigation said, was a close friend of Nick Calabrese, and the Jarrett hit was a message to Nick.
The FBI is also questioning Calabrese about the Will County killings of Billy Dauber and his wife, shot as they left a courthouse. And the murders of the Spilotro brothers, and the killing of Teamster official Alan Dorfman; and the assassination of federal witness Danny Siefert in front of Siefert's 4-year-old son. And so on.
As the FBI sifted through dirt in Bridgeport, I called Jim Wagner, the former chief of the Organized Crime section in the FBI's Chicago office.
Wagner is now the chief investigator for the Illinois Gaming Commission, which has caused intense bouts of agita for the politically connected friends of Chicago's City Hall who've invested in the proposed and stalled Rosemont casino.
"Nick Calabrese as an informant is more than extremely significant," said Wagner, who spent 30 years studying the Chicago Outfit. "The FBI has never had someone at his level, who knows about the action taken on the street and how the decisions were made by the top people.
"I mean, he knows where all the skeletons are buried."
Do you mean that euphemistically?
"Yes," Wagner said with a laugh, "and no."
Calabrese's accounts are being compared to those given to the FBI by past informants, including the late Gerald Scarpeli and Jerry Scalise; and from the imprisoned Mario Rainone, who thought he was about to be extinguished in Rosemont, then ran to the FBI and talked, and abruptly stopped talking.
Not all of us are fascinated with Nick Calabrese. Attorney Joseph Lopez represents Nick's brother, Frank. The brothers are blood enemies.
"Nick is taking the feds on a wild goose chase," Lopez said. "Whatever they're looking for, I don't think they're going to find it."
So, if the FBI doesn't find anything, will defense attorneys begin criticizing Nick?
"Of course," Lopez said. "Nick and Frank are brothers, but Nick's not the prodigal son. Nick is the Fredo of the Family."