December 18, 2005
The union boss slipped into a booth in a restaurant on Jackson Boulevard. He was wearing a federal wire, trembling, as the waitress brought over some ice water.
The man he was to meet entered the restaurant, sat down and started glaring at him. The meeting didn't last long."The union boss, our potential witness, got scared. He started talking quickly, he started rushing, he blew it he was so scared. Frank Schweihs figured something was wrong. He got up, leaned over and said `I'll see you later' to our witness. The guy almost had a heart attack right there. He was that terrified. That's Frank Schweihs for you," said former FBI agent Jack O'Rourke. "He was a scary guy."
That's the effect Schweihs, known in Chicago Outfit circles as "The German," had on almost everybody he met professionally. He not only terrified witnesses; even Outfit bosses were afraid of him.
But someone wasn't afraid of $20,000 and tipped the FBI on Friday that Schweihs, 75, was hiding out in Berea, Ky., some 35 miles south of Lexington. The tipster likely will accept the reward in private.
"Our people drove over to assist, but by the time they got there, the FBI agent had arrested him without incident," said Berea police Lt. Ken Clark.
"I guess when the agent asked if he was Frank Schweihs, he said he wasn't, then he played some old mob trick and started grabbing at his chest, saying he had chest pains. But he refused transport to a medical facility. I guess he'll be back in Chicago before long."
The German had been running since before he and 13 other top Outfit figures were indicted in April as part of the FBI's Operation Family Secrets, the most significant and far-reaching investigation of organized crime in the city's history.
With Schweihs' capture, there's only one clown remaining out there. Mob boss Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo still has not been found, though he has the use of his fingers, since he's written letters to his attorney, Rick Halprin, and those letters have all been postmarked in Chicago.
I told you about Family Secrets as it broke, almost three years ago now, when imprisoned mobster Nick Calabrese was quietly whisked into the federal witness protection program and began connecting the dots on at least 18 unsolved mob murders.
Calabrese's decision to turn government informant stunned the Outfit and the Outfit's allies in local law enforcement and politics, the three sides of the iron triangle that has strangled this region since the 1920s.
When word began trickling out that Calabrese had started talking, the bosses panicked, went underground and weren't about to help their allies in politics.
By then, the politicians had their own problems, with unprecedented federal investigations into City Hall corruption, from trucking and phony affirmative action contracts to political hiring.
For the first time in decades, the sides of the triangle couldn't support each other as they had when they were strong. And that alone makes Family Secrets important.
Unlike corruption, there is no statute of limitations on murder. Schweihs has been charged with two killings, and Lombardo was charged with one.
The life they allegedly had in common belonged to Danny Seifert, whose testimony in a federal case on the bilking of Teamsters pension funds could have put Lombardo in prison.
But Seifert didn't testify, because he was shotgunned to death in front of his wife and 4-year-old son in 1974. When the gunmen approached him outside his Bensenville plastics factory, he started running and was knocked to the ground by the first blast. One of the killers walked up to him, put the shotgun muzzle against Seifert's head, and pulled the trigger. The federal government's pension fund case fell apart.
O'Rourke recalled that in the 1980s, he was contacted at home by a worried Chicago police officer in the East Chicago Avenue District, after two other cops arrested Schweihs for battery. He allegedly kicked their car because it was parked too close to his home.
"The young cops were full of muscles and Schweihs was angry and they all went at it and took him in, but Schweihs had political people in the station, some guys involved in Streets and Sanitation," O'Rourke said. "And they were arguing to let him loose and police dropped the charges.
"Those two young cops were angry. That was typical Chicago," he said, meaning that the Outfit was taken care of by politicians and cops when it was necessary.
I can't say things have changed much since. A white-owned company with Outfit connections gets $100 million in fake affirmative action contracts and the mayor says they're a hardworking family.
The city's budget director said he wasn't surprised that the city's Hired Truck Program was mobbed up, and for that bit of truth, he was canned for poor management.
But it's encouraging when guys like Schweihs are brought in, when Lombardo and 12 others get indicted for unsolved killings. It tells me that things are changing, as the triangle is slowly pried apart.
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