Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Weakened by convictions, Chicago mob still running schemes, experts say

The Spilotro family gravesite at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside includes the names of brothers Anthony and Michael.
It has been a quarter-century since the two brothers were found, one on top of the other, buried in a shallow grave in a freshly planted Indiana cornfield.

The June 1986 slayings of Las Vegas mob chieftain Anthony Spilotro and his brother, Michael, captured national attention and became part of mob lore.

The movie "Casino" immortalized their deaths — albeit incorrectly — and the "Family Secrets" trial detailed their final moments of life, including Anthony Spilotro's request to say a prayer before being beaten and strangled in a Bensenville basement.

On the 25th anniversary of the Spilotro slayings, the mob in Chicago has been weakened by dozens of convictions within its hierarchy, but it has not faded away, according to organized-crime experts. It keeps a lower profile, issuing high-interest loans and running illegal betting games but shying away from attention-getting mob hits, they say.

"It is safe to say with complete certainty that (the Outfit's) size, scope and sphere of influence is much smaller today than it was 25 years ago," FBI spokesman Ross Rice said.

In fact, the Outfit has become so secretive that mob watchers are no longer sure who the top boss is. Joseph "the Builder" Andriacchi, John "No Nose" DiFronzo and Michael "The Large Guy" Sarno are considered three of the Outfit's top-ranking members, according to the Chicago Crime Commission.

The Chicago mob once had as many as seven street crews, but is down to two or three, Rice said. It has found a steady source of revenue by controlling video poker machines, but authorities are catching on.

In December, Sarno and four co-defendants were found guilty of running a video poker racket, pulling off a string of armed robberies that spanned three years and four states, and protecting their gambling franchise by planting a bomb in front of a Berwyn business that encroached on their turf.

Furthermore, the landmark Family Secrets mob conspiracy trial in 2007 pulled back the curtain on murder after murder, including the slayings of the Spilotro brothers. Mob hit man Nicholas Calabrese's testimony led to the conviction of five men, including mob bosses James Marcello, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo and his brother, Frank Calabrese Sr.

In 2009, Marcello, Lombardo and Calabrese Sr. were each sentenced to life in prison.

But while the Family Secrets case dealt a major blow to organized crime in Chicago, the Outfit has not been eliminated and probably never will be, said James Wagner, former president of the crime commission and former chief of the Chicago FBI's organized-crime section.

Wagner said the Outfit corners a market that will always be in demand — vice. Whether it's providing loans to borrowers who can't get them through banks or taking bets from gamblers who don't have money, the mob provides a service — albeit an illegal one, Wagner said.

"There will always be somebody to purchase the goods they sell," said Wagner, now inspector general of the Illinois Tollway. "I don't see us ever eliminating it."

The last suspected instance of foul play within the Chicago mob was in September 2006, when mob boss Anthony Zizzo, 71, disappeared. His Jeep was found two days later in the parking lot of a Melrose Park restaurant. He has never been found.

The proposed expansion of casinos in Illinois could be a golden opportunity for organized crime to make a comeback, said Art Bilek, executive vice president of the crime commission.

The state's gambling legislation does not provide additional regulatory personnel, which could allow the Outfit to enrich itself by infiltrating thousands of new gambling positions, Bilek said.

The plan lawmakers approved includes a Chicago casino and four others in Danville, Rockford, Lake County and southern Cook County. Gov. Pat Quinn continues to review the proposal, a spokeswoman said.

It's possible, Bilek said, that the Outfit could regain influence in a business once ruled in Nevada by Anthony Spilotro, one of its most notorious members.

At the time of his murder, Anthony Spilotro, 48, oversaw the Chicago mob's interests in Nevada. He was scheduled to stand trial a second time in Nevada on charges he ran the Hole-in-the-Wall gang, a Las Vegas burglary ring. Meanwhile, Michael Spilotro, 41, was under indictment in Chicago on federal extortion charges.

The brothers were targeted because they were bringing too much heat to the mob's Las Vegas arm, according to Nicholas Calabrese, a made member of the mob and the government's star witness during the Family Secrets trial.

In addition, Anthony Spilotro was rumored to be involved in moving drugs with a motorcycle gang and having an affair with the wife of Chicago bookmaker and reputed mob associate Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, Calabrese testified.

But in a recent interview, their brother, Patrick Spilotro, 74, a retired dentist who aided federal authorities in the Family Secrets investigation, said he remains unsure why his brothers were targeted. Much of Anthony Spilotro's notoriety was overblown, he said.

"They put (Anthony) in their cross hairs," Patrick Spilotro said of the Outfit. "I don't know why. Jealousy, envy, hate, you name it. Whether it was deserved or not, I can't answer that. But I know a lot of it is made up. I don't say my brother (Anthony) was an angel, but he's not all they depicted him to be."

On June 14, 1986, the Spilotro brothers left Michael's Oak Park home, lured to a Bensenville basement under the ruse they were to be promoted within the Outfit, Calabrese testified.

Instead, they were jumped by a hit team, beaten and strangled.

In February 2009, James Marcello was sentenced to life in prison for the deaths of the Spilotro brothers. But Patrick Spilotro said he will never find peace until reputed Outfit boss DiFronzo is also put behind bars.

Calabrese testified in 2007 that DiFronzo was among the dozen or more men who fatally beat Anthony and Michael Spilotro in 1986, but he was never charged.

"We've tried to heal over the years," Patrick Spilotro said by phone from Arizona, "but there's still one person out there — John DiFronzo — who has not been indicted or convicted."

DiFronzo did not return a call seeking comment.

Calabrese's testimony also dispelled the popular belief — depicted in the 1995 Martin Scorsese movie "Casino" — that the Spilotro brothers were beaten with bats in a farmer's field.

On June 23, 1986, their bodies were found buried in a wildlife preserve in Enos, Ind., about 70 miles southeast of Chicago. The brothers — clad only in undershorts — were identified by dental charts supplied by Patrick Spilotro.

Their discovery was an embarrassment for the Outfit. Three months later, John Fecarotta, a longtime muscleman for the 26th Street Crew, was shot to death in a doorway of a bingo hall on West Belmont Avenue. Informants said he was killed for botching the burials of the Spilotro brothers, according to court documents.

The bodies were found by a farmer who thought the freshly turned earth hid the remains of a deer killed out of season and buried by a poacher.

Deland Szczepanski and Dick Hudson, who both worked at the time for the Indiana Division of Fish and Wildlife, drove to the scene and began digging.

Hudson hit something soft with a shovel, then Szczepanski dug deeper with his hands until he uncovered short hairs that he initially thought belonged to a hog, he said in an interview. But he soon realized they were from a man's abdomen, Szczepanski said.

Szczepanski called law enforcement. A few days later, he learned the two men he dug up were no ordinary victims but notorious mobsters.

"We realized we had uncovered somebody who wasn't supposed to be found," said Szczepanski, who is now 46 and a conservation officer with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. "It's one of those instances I'll probably never forget."

In the days that followed, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago denied the Spilotro brothers a public church funeral because of their links to organized crime, and more than 2,000 mourners attended their visitation.

They were buried at Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, where the Spilotros regularly visit to maintain the family plot, Patrick Spilotro said.

"We don't forget our relatives," he said. "We're a very close family."



Post a Comment