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

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reputed mobster, 2nd man plead guilty to racketeering charges

Reputed mobsters Joseph Scalise and Arthur Rachel pulled off one of the more memorable heists in Chicago mob lore, donning disguises to rob the egg-shaped Marlborough Diamond from a London jewelry store.
The two were caught after an eagle-eyed accountant passing by grew suspicious at Rachel's drooping fake beard and jotted down the license plate of their rental car. By the time the two walked off their plane at O'Hare International Airporthours later, the FBI was waiting for them.
They ended up serving a 13-year sentence for the heist of the still-missing 45-carat diamond.
Wednesday morning Scalise and Rachel, now in their 70s, again stood together in a Chicago courtroom. Both faced trial on charges they plotted a series of strong-arm robberies, including the takeover of an armored car.
But this time the longtime friends would go their separate ways.
Scalise accepted an eleventh-hour plea deal from federal prosecutors, admitting his guilt and opting to close this latest intriguing chapter of his criminal life.
"It would have been a very interesting trial," said a seemingly relaxed Scalise, 73, outside U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber's courtroom. "I think I would have won … (But) you just got to be realistic."
In the rare exchange with reporters after pleading guilty to racketeering and conspiracy charges, Scalise had little to say about the missing Marlborough Diamond, worth an estimated $960,000 at the time of the robbery in 1980. A reporter asked if anyone could recover the gem.
"If Lloyd's (of London) wanted to pay enough money, maybe they could," he said with a smile in reference to the insurance company that covered the loss of the diamond. "You guys will have to wait until the book comes out."
On the other hand, Rachel, 73, determined to fight the charges, turned down the plea deal and announced he would return to the courtroom Thursday for what could be a two-day trial before Leinenweber.
"He is a tough, proud old-timer," Terence Gillespie, Rachel's attorney, said. "And if the government wants to put him in jail for the rest of his life, they are going to have to prove the charges."
A third defendant, Robert Pullia, 70, joined Scalise in pleading guilty to the same charges Wednesday. Under the deal with prosecutors, each faces about nine to 10 years in prison. Sentencing was set for May 10.
In addition to the armored car break-in, prosecutors charged that the trio targeted the residence of deceased mob leader Angelo "The Hook" LaPietra in 2010 for a home invasion. Prosecutors say the three hoped to find a hidden stash of valuables — much like the highly publicized discovery days earlier of about $750,000, stolen jewelry and guns by federal agents behind a portrait during a search of imprisoned mob hit man Frank Calabrese Sr.'s house.
From the start the case fascinated the public, in part because of their alleged mob ties and senior citizen status.
Federal agents arrested the three outside LaPietra's Bridgeport home under the cover of night in dark clothing and armed with a police scanner, drilling tools, a ladder, flashlights and a toolbox containing Mace. Weapons also were found at a separate location.
Since the late 1950s or early 1960s, the three men have been arrested numerous times and convicted of burglary and other charges, according to court documents.
"Their rap sheets read like a Who's Who in burglary and robbery in the United States," Gary Shapiro, then an assistant U.S. attorney and now the No. 2 prosecutor in the U.S. attorney's office, said in 1980 when Rachel and Scalise were arraigned in Chicago on the Marlborough Diamond charges.
The Marlborough Diamond caper remains a compelling part of Scalise's story, in part because of the lingering mystery over the missing gem and the brazen strong-arm tactics he and Rachel used.
Press reports at the time described how they threatened to use a grenade and a revolver to force staff and customers to the floor of Graff's jewelry store in London's fashionable Knightsbridge district.
Jack O'Rourke, a retired FBI agent who attended the London trial and interviewed Scalise in a British prison, recalled reports that the two had worn traditional Arab robes during the robbery.
"Scalise was a master of disguises," O'Rourke said.
The two robbers might have eluded authorities but the accountant, according to wire reports at the time, became suspicious after noticing a fake beard slip from Rachel's chin as he and Scalise entered the shop. He then followed the two when they left.
O'Rourke said a license plate noted by the accountant was traced to Scalise and Rachel because they had rented a car in their own names. Scotland Yard soon was calling the Chicago FBI office.
"Do you lads know Jerry Scalisee?" O'Rourke recalled London police asking his boss.
O'Rourke later traveled to Britain to try to interview Rachel and Scalise, but neither would talk about the case.
Rachel was more curt, refusing to even sit for the interview, O'Rourke remembered. Scalise sat down to chat, but he never answered questions about any of the ongoing FBI investigations — or about the whereabouts of the diamond.
In fact, after the visit from the agents, Scalise mailed a letter to his attorney at the time to emphasize this: He didn't say anything to anybody.
That much still rings true about the man.
After Scalise and Pullia entered their guilty pleas Wednesday, Pullia asked his attorney to convey a message to the judge.
"Mr. Pullia is not cooperating," announced attorney Marc Martin.
A few hours later, after news accounts highlighted Pullia's refusal to cooperate with investigators, Scalise sent word to a reporter through his attorney.
He isn't cooperating either.



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