Calabrese Street Crew Closed Down by Feds

Adding to the recent miseries of the Chicago “Outfit” in the 1990s, comes the sweeping indictment of Frank Calabrese and his crew of juice loan extortionists.

A Federal grand jury returned a sealed 11-count indictment charging Calabrese and eight others with operating a loan sharking racket that flourished in the Western Suburbs for at least 14-years. The indictment caps off a coordinated nine- year investigation by the Justice Department, the F.B.I. and the I.R.S.

These are brutal times for the mob. Calabrese is the sixth major organized crime figure to go down for the count in the 1990s. Sam Calisi, Rocco Infelise, Lenny Patrick, Gus Alex, and Marco D’Amico were previously convicted and are serving time. In the 1980s, key Federal prosecutions put away Joey Aiuppa, Jackie Cerone, and Joey Lombardo. It appears that no-one within the upper echelon of the Chicago Outfit is safe any longer, and to be labeled a “boss” invites intense Federal heat and courts disaster for the “wise guys.”

“Running a loan shark racket and using legitimate businesses as “fronts” for illegal activity are two of the oldest and most profitable methods used by organized crime in this city,” commented U.S. Attorney James B. Burns. “This indictment is the latest in a series of prosecutions by this office and Federal agencies intended to locate and to eliminate organized crime elements operating in the City of Chicago and neighboring suburbs.

Frank Calabrese, Sr., A.K.A. “Frankie Breeze” is a veteran mob figure attached to the 26th Street Crew. Local law enforcement has had their eye on him for years. He has been active in loan sharking since the 1960s, with an arrest record dating back all the way to 1954 when he was busted for possession of stolen cars in Interstate Commerce. The stolen car rap occurred after he was prosecuted by the U.S. Army and incarcerated in the Army Stockade in Missouri for going AWOL. In the 1980s, Calabrese said he was “self-employed” and in the “rehabilitation of houses.”

The enterprise that Calabrese and his son Frank, Jr. ran in the 1980s, traded on fear, intimidation, and the desperation of borrowers – many of them small time bookies and compulsive gamblers who had no other recourse but to seek cash loans from the syndicate sharks.

Until his death in 1985, day to day operation of the Calabrese crew were carried out with numbing efficiency by Frank Furio who oversaw the work of the street collectors. Philip Fiore, a career burglar and loan collector from Berwyn took over these duties in the mid-eighties, supervising cash distributions to customers of Philip T. “Philly Beans” Tolomeo, a former Chicago Police officer who went to work for the crew in 1978. Tolomeo’s client list swelled to just over 100 juice loan borrowers. Business was good and Tolomeo prospered. Thus, he was obliged to turn over some of these individuals to other members of the street crew who were named in the indictment: Terry Scalise, 39; Frankie’s brother Nicholas W. Calabrese, 52 of Norridge; Louis Bombacino, 52; the son, Frank Calabrese, Jr., 36; and Philip Fiore, 59.

In 1983, Calabrese enforced the outfit’s rigid code of discipline by assaulting Tolomeo and then compelling him to sign over his mother’s Elmwood Park home as collateral for moneys he had taken without authorization from the juice loan business. The property was placed in a trust which listed as beneficiary, Salvatore Tenuta – the father-in-law of Nicholas W. Calabrese.

“Philly Beans” Tolomeo voluntarily entered the witness protection program after providing the feds with enough evidence of this and many other crimes, to prosecute the entire crew whose day to day activities speak volumes about how the extortion racket works in Chicago.

The crew set up their command post at M & R Auto and Truck Repair Service, located in the 2400 block of Thatcher Avenue in River Grove. Beginning in April 1990, the owner, Matthew A. Russo, Jr., was coaxed into a scheme to bilk three area car dealerships by filing false invoices for repair work that was never performed.

Taking over a juice victim’s business if he is delinquent in his payments, or is in so deep with his creditors that he will never see the light of day is a common practice.

It is the easiest was for the outfit to muscle its way in to a “partnership” with an otherwise legitimate business enterprise like M & R – now out of business.

A secret code was devised and imprinted on the back of each check in order for Calabrese to know just how much money he was receiving from the auto agencies. Russo was instructed to tack on an extra $100 to each bill submitted to the dealerships.

A separate bank account was opened for the purpose of depositing the checks, while under-the-table payments were funneled to employees of one of the dealerships for their continuing cooperation. Matthew Russo had borrowed $20,000 from the crew to pay off an old bank loan. Collateral was provided in the form of two vehicles on the lot at M & R. Then about a year later, Russo was instructed to transfer the title of his Elmwood Park home to Calabrese ad his elderly mother for $195,000 with the understanding that he would rent the dwelling and then buy it back from Calabrese for the current market value within two years. The monthly rental fee was affixed at $1,000 to go along with his $750.00-per-week juice payments.

Russo will provide key testimony for the government prosecution team headed by Assistant U.S. Attorney Rocco De Grasse. Presiding over this latest mob case is U.S. District Judge Brian Barnett Duff who brought smiles to the faces of the Calabreses and their lawyers by scolding the government for portraying Italian-Americans in an “unfair light.” Duff demanded that the language of the indictment be scrubbed clean of negative descriptions including the universal designation “street crew.”

A street crew is after all…a street crew. And the indictment itself is a rather straightforward document containing no derogatory phrases designed to impugn the character of the Italian community. In light of all this, the judge’s court room upbraiding to a prosecutor of Italian- American descent is both mystifying and troubling.

Ken Eto, whose testimony in a number of other mob cases helped slam shut the jail house doors on ranking outfit bosses, will likely tell the court of this own involvement with Calabrese, at a time when the Japanese gambler was still an active player in the game. Eto received $10,00 in loans from the Calabreses in a three-year period ending in 1983. He entered the witness protection program and has been telling all ever since outfit bullets grazed harmater.

The nine-year investigation revealed that Calabrese crew members charged their clients 1% to 10% per week in interest. Over a 12-month period a juice loan borrower was expected to pay annual rates of 52% t 520%, depending on what Frankie Calabrese deemed “appropriate” relative to their situation. Ken Eto was forced to pay 5% a week in interest on his $10,000 loan. That’s at least twice the rate enforceable under Illinois law.

Deadbeats were kept in line through the usual scare tactics but when all else failed crew members resorted to acts of overt violence. Using the moniker “Preston Hanenberg,” Chicago Police officer Ellwood C. Egan, acting in an undercover capacity, was physically assaulted by Mark Reader, who was acting under the orders of crew member Louis Bombacino, who is facing a possible 100-year prison term for tampering with a prospective grand jury witness.

After he had become aware of the pending grand jury investigation, Bombacino approached a female juror or inveigle her to provide false statements to the F.B.I. concerning her juice loan. The woman was ordered to tell the FBI that her indebtedness resulted in the previous purchase of some flowers from a sham floral business Bombacino concocted to cover his tracks. To other potential witnesses were “advised” that it was in their best interests to repeat the same story to the feds.

Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming federal trial this latest round of indictments has dealt another permanent blow to organized crime in Northern Illinois and criminal usury – a racket whose ancient roots date back to the 15th Century when the principal character in one of Shakespeare’s plays, the Merchant of Venice, admonished a borrower: “If you repay me not on such a day, in such a place, let the forfeit be nominated for an equal pound of flesh, to be cut off and taken in what part of your body pleaseth me.” The character’s name was “Shylock.”

Nowadays, Chicago’s post-Shakespearean “Shylocks” (a term most commonly used in New York City mob circles), drive Cadillacs, dine at a certain well known eating establishment on Lawrence Avenue where the wise guys go to see and be seen while trying to remain one step ahead of the feds. But lately that hasn’t been very easy.

“This indictment continues our efforts to systematically address the various criminal enterprises operating within the Chicago organized crime syndicate,” commented F.B.I. (Acting) Special Agent in Charge Brian P. Carroll. “Eradicating mob influence on the lives of people in the greater Chicago area remains a priority of the F.B.I.”