August 30, 2007
There was a break in the courtroom action at the Chicago Outfit trial called Family Secrets, so I took a walk outside the federal building, wondering how to explain my obsession to you.
Recently, a few readers have asked me to switch gears, to give you all a break from endless murders, political corruption and the Outfit's proficiency in putting key people in key spots, including City Hall and the Police Department.
But I can't walk away. Not now. Not yet. Not until Friday, with Family Secrets almost at the end.
I'm compelled to cover it, having broken the story about hit man Nicholas Calabrese disappearing into the federal witness protection program in 2003, in a column that explained how the Outfit panicked, with Nick talking, foreshadowing a few of the 18 unsolved Outfit murders that have now been solved.
Yet there's more to this than a reporter following an old story. I stood out there on Dearborn, thinking, with traffic rolling past, when a big truck from the Rosebud Restaurants squealed its brakes, the sound piercing me, and there it was, the reason for being there:
Family Secrets is the whole ballgame in Chicago. It's not merely some interesting trial with colorful gangsters and flamboyant lawyers in wild ties. It is more than mere drama, more than some nice read.
Family Secrets reveals the infrastructure of a great metropolis, illuminating part of the iron triangle that runs things, with the Outfit at the base of the triangle. Certain politicians who pick judges and who influence development and zoning, and certain cops form the protective sides.
This iron triangle won't be approved as the 2016 Olympic logo at City Hall, where the mayor keeps losing his hair as the inner workings of the Chinatown crew in his old neighborhood opens like clams at Cafe Bionda or Tavern on Rush.
We've heard witnesses talk about murders and extortion. But we've also seen something amazing -- mob bosses such as Joey "The Clown" Lombardo and Frank Calabrese Sr. explaining their worldview from the witness stand.
There is no Outfit, they insist. But Calabrese did explain how sports bookmaking and loan sharking -- the Outfit's lifeblood -- works, with millions upon millions at play.
He lectured on how to build a sports book, using layers and layers of buffers, intermediaries, an organizational web that reaches into the pockets of every person who places a bet on a ballgame, on Rush Street and beyond.
We've learned how critical it is for the Outfit to nurture public servants, alleged sleepers like defendant Anthony "Twan" (Passafiume) Doyle, who worked the evidence section in the Police Department, and who is on federal tape talking in a prison visit with Calabrese Sr. about murder evidence and cattle prods for those who betray Outfit secrets, like Frank's brother Nick.
Are there any more secrets? Sure, a few.
Secrets about Bridgeport money finding its way to Rush Street; building inspectors who help bar owners, providing the right occupancy permits; and links between nightclubs that stretch from Bellevue and Rush to Springfield.
Other secrets have bubbled up from the witness stand, names of other men not charged, like Joe "The Builder" Andriacci and Frank "Toots" Caruso, referred to by the feds, but not by Chinatown, as "The Doctor."
Still, there are other stories I could work on, such as the lame excuse by Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs' on how he trashed his Lamborghini after spending hours recreating at the Rush Street club Level, which is a mere sneeze away from Carmine's.
Or that one about the Republican Senator from Idaho, waving a sensuous, anonymous hello to a stranger at an airport washroom in the next stall; or Senate Democrats cringing now that the boss of Iran has all but thanked them for giving him the chance to fill the power vacuum in Iraq.
Family Secrets was overshadowed weeks ago by the story about a Channel 5 reporter in a pink bikini top at a pool party. And Chicago's Outfit trial will be washed from broadcast memory soon, with that tape in a county courtroom, the one of R&B singer R. Kelly allegedly having sex with an underage girl.
Local TV will gorge on that sex tape, promoting it at 5, 6 and 10 and the next morning, and the national networks that have ignored Family Secrets will feast on the sex tape, the face of the girl obscured, but not her body and not his, in the name of journalism, and of providing us an embrace that we can't live without.
But Family Secrets is important, too, an embrace Chicago's lived with for decades.
"As you know, this case involves the history of organized crime in Chicago, for over 40 years," said Assistant U.S. Atty. Mitchell Mars, the lead prosecutor, told the jury.
"The Outfit has survived and prospered with greed, depravity, corruption. People are hurt. People die," said Mars, delivering the beginning of a closing argument he's waited almost his entire career to give.
Mars will finish on Thursday, and I'll be there.
I just have to see this one through.
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