September 28, 2007
Is the Chicago Outfit dead, now that the historic Family Secrets trial has ended?
No.How can you kill a thing that has lived for almost a century in this town, wrapping itself throughout the city's infrastructure, developing arteries for nutrients, nervous systems for intelligence, muscle and bone for protection and support?
"The Outfit isn't dead, the Outfit isn't going to go away, just like we aren't going to go away," said the lead Family Secrets prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Atty. Mitchell Mars, after the murder verdicts were read Thursday. "But they have been damaged. And they know it."
The Chicago Outfit isn't some tumor to be removed by one amazing trial. It has been nurtured by crooked politicians who pick compliant judges, by bad cops in the right places, by businesses and real estate developers who play ball with the guys behind the guys.
But Family Secrets has clearly hurt them. And there will be more prosecutions and investigations to come.
I remember Patrick Spilotro, dentist brother of slain gangsters Anthony and Michael Spilotro, denouncing convicted Outfit boss Joseph "The Clown" Lombardo from the witness stand, and saying he helped the FBI on murder investigations and other matters.
"And other things!" Spilotro insisted a few weeks ago. "And other things."
That's what to look for. The other things.
So expect probes into payoffs to City Hall building inspectors that help control the lucrative nightclub business on Rush Street with the issuance of formerly obscure occupancy permits; investigations into Rush Street sports gambling, the Outfit's life source; and investigations into other unsolved murders that have been cold for years because in Cook County, with the Democratic Machine politics we have here, only the FBI can solve such crimes.
"What makes the Chicago Outfit different from most street gangs and other organized criminal organizations that we go after is that 100 years or so of building up connections among politicians and cops and judges and businessmen," said Gary Shapiro, the first deputy U.S. attorney and a lifer when it comes to fighting the Outfit in Chicago.
"And every time one of these old-timers is convicted and locked up forever, he takes those connections with him," Shapiro said. "And those connections cannot easily be restored, the trust that a corrupt politician has for a particular mob leader can't be restored, when that mob leader goes to jail."
"That's what we are really about here," Shapiro continued. "We are about taking them out. Taking the people with the most power and the most connections and the most influence, knocking them out, and that's why apparently small numbers [of defendants] have such significance in a place like Chicago."
What Shapiro was describing, standing there in the lobby of the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse, is the iron triangle that runs this town.
Yet there are others out there, according to what authorities said in court during the trial, reputed Outfit bosses like Joe "The Builder" Andriacci and John "No-Nose" DiFronzo and Frank "Toots" Caruso. They have not been charged. But they're smart fellows, and I'm sure they have lawyers ready for round two of all this.
The old men didn't look very imposing Thursday, and watching them in court before the stern U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel, a child might think the Outfit was infirm.
There was Frank Calabrese Sr., 70, with old man fuzz on his ears, head down, mumbling silent prayers at his defense table, as he was tabbed with seven brutal, previously unsolved Outfit hits that will keep him in prison for life.
And Lombardo, 78, holding his head in the palm of his right hand, right elbow crooked on the table, his black shoe-polish hair oozing through his fingers, getting nailed with the murder of his former business partner and government witness Daniel Seifert.
Jimmy "The Shamrock" Marcello seemed upbeat at first, learning the jury had not reached verdicts on all the previously unsolved 18 killings. He stopped smiling when the jury slapped him with the murders of the Spilotro brothers.
Paul "The Indian" Schiro, 70, walked on the only murder charge against him -- ironic for the most dangerous man in the room -- but he is still facing 20 years for racketeering. He's already serving federal time for robbing jewelry with the former chief of detectives of the Chicago Police Department.
They might be old, but there are others coming up behind them, getting their hands kissed all over Rush Street, from Chinatown to Oakbrook and beyond.
"This town has always been a political town," Mars said. "It's got a culture, at least in the past, of political corruption married up with organized crime. It's a horrible combination."
I was reminded of the mayor's favorite fashionista, trucker and Tavern on Rush real estate investor Fred Bruno Barbara, mentioned in trial testimony as the driver for Chinatown boss Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra, and how this city didn't want to deal with it.
See no evil. Hear no evil. Speak no evil. That's how the Outfit survives.
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