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

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Prosecutors say 3 men, now in their 70s, plotted robberies, home invasions

The topics captured on the government bugs were pretty typical for strong-arm robbery suspects with reputed links to the Chicago Outfit — coppers, feared hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. and lock-picking.
But then, Joseph Scalise, based on government transcripts of the recordings, seems to start reminiscing with longtime pal Arthur Rachel about an unusual chapter in their lives — how they learned years ago from a fellow inmate in a British prison how to conceal a break-in by using toothpaste to cover up holes drilled into a wall.
The two Chicago-area residents did a 13-year stint for the brazen 1980 robbery of a 45-carat diamond and other gems from a London jeweler. They had donned disguises and took over the shop with a revolver and a hand grenade before fleeing back to Chicago.
The egg-shaped Marlborough Diamond, then valued at $960,000, has been missing ever since.
The chatter is part of a cache of recordings the government seeks to use to prosecute Scalise, Rachel and a third confidant, Robert Pullia, this week as they face charges that bring a whole new kind of intrigue. The three, all now in their early 70s, planned strong-armed robberies and home invasions, even in their sunset years, authorities alleged.
Angelo J. LaPietra
"I can't believe he's going to trial," retired FBI agent Tom Noble, who investigated Scalise years ago and also interviewed him in Britain, said when he heard last week about the alleged new caper. "It's like a flash from the past, that's for sure."
The three were arrested on a spring night in 2010 outside the stately brick family home of deceased mobster Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra. Prosecutors said they had targeted the Bridgeport residence for a home invasion. Small holes had already been drilled into one window, according to authorities.
Scalise, 74, was wearing all black — including a baseball cap, windbreaker and fishing vest with flashlights and gloves tucked into the pockets, according to court documents. He had a bandanna around his neck. Pullia, 70, also wore black pants, a shirt, knit hat and gloves, while Rachel, 74, who sat in a car the three had used to allegedly case the house, wore black gloves and a knit cap.
"What is this all about?" Rachel allegedly asked the federal agents who arrested them. He denied any interest in the LaPietra house.
Meanwhile, agents searching the car and the area heard the chatter of police dispatches and found a scanner, authorities said. Also recovered were glass cleaner, three battery-powered drills, tools, blades, a six-foot ladder, tool bags, black tape and flashlights, according to prosecution filings.
Inside a locked toolbox, authorities found handcuffs and Mace — evidence, they said, that the men had plans to "overpower a woman within the LaPietra residence before she went to sleep for the night, and rob the contents of the house."
That the crew had allegedly targeted another mob figure — although deceased — came as a bit of a surprise to Noble and Jack O'Rourke, a former FBI agent who investigated organized crime in Chicago for about 25 years.
Both recalled a spate of Outfit-ordered slayings of burglars and thieves after mob boss Tony Accardo's River Forest home was burglarized years ago. It was meant to send a message.
Prosecutors argue that Scalise, Pullia and Rachel were motivated by the recent discovery by authorities of three-quarters of a million dollars and thousands of jewels at the home of Calabrese, a mob hit man now serving a life sentence. The treasure was hidden behind a family portrait in the basement of his suburban home.
Among the undercover recordings expected to be played at trial, the suspects allegedly talked about the Calabrese seizure, wondering aloud how long the cash had been hidden and discussing the small drill holes behind the portrait that led federal agents to the loot, according to government filings.
The government also seized two stolen vehicles and three firearms. One of the vehicles, a van, had been modified in a way that would make it easier to fire at anyone trying to stop them, authorities said.
The alleged LaPietra break-in plot is just one of several of which the three defendants stand accused. Oscar D'Angelo, the so-called mayor of Little Italy and onetime confidant of former Mayor Richard M. Daley, allegedly was another potential target. Prosecutors said they also have evidence that the three did surveillance at the First National Bank of LaGrange as part of a plot to rob an armored car.
The three looked on — Scalise from a nearby elevated train track — as an armored car arrived at the bank and loaded cash on Dec. 17, 2009, according to government filings. They left shortly afterward.
In another instance, Pullia and Scalise allegedly followed an armored car from the bank to other locations.
All three men have denied that they committed any crimes. Their attorneys have called the charges nonsense.
Scalise — no stranger to interviews with federal agents — also allegedly gave a statement after the arrests outside the LaPietra home.
"I can't help you there," he allegedly said to the agents, who had asked him about casing the La Grange bank. "It's a long way from committing a crime."
Those words might sound vaguely familiar to Noble and O'Rourke, who traveled to Britain in the late 1980s to interview Scalise and Rachel while they were imprisoned for the Marlborough Diamond heist.
By then, Scalise and Rachel had been tried and convicted at London's Old Bailey Central Criminal Court at a trial that O'Rourke attended.
"They fail to see the humor in England when you use a gun," O'Rourke said of the proceedings.
O'Rourke had returned with Noble to talk to Scalise and Rachel in the wake of a federal investigation involving mobster Gerald Scarpelli and the discovery of a shallow grave in a DuPage field close to Scalise's home.
Rachel said nothing at all, refusing to even sit. But at the cold and dank prison on the Isle of Wight, Scalise greeted his guests somewhat warmly — seemingly happy to spend time with folks from back home, the agents recalled. Scalise said he missed Chicago and baseball. He called the prison food "gruel" and noted the dampness. He said he liked the Irish Republican Army inmates and did some gardening.
"He was his old self," O'Rourke recalled. "He actually seemed glad to see us. … I had known him from interviewing him before."
But he wouldn't talk about anything he knew, if at all, about Scarpelli, the agents said.
Nor did he talk about what ever happened to the Marlborough Diamond.
"He claimed he didn't know," Noble said. "And … there was no way he could get it back."
O'Rourke recalled a report that Scalise had sent the diamond to a relative in New York. At the time, the Associated Press reported Scalise and Rachel were believed to have mailed a small package marked "jewelry" to New York.



Post a Comment