Calabrese Street Crew Cops a Plea (IPSN 97-4-28)

Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News

Calabrese Street Crew Cops a Plea

IPSN Newspaper, April 28, 1997

Seven Loan Sharks and an Automotive Service Writer Admit Shakedowns, Fraud

The loan sharking activities of the Frank Calabrese street crew (detailed in the Fall 1995 issue of the Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News and on our new web site, www.ipsn.org), ended with a thud after seven of the Chicago outfit’s most efficient extortionists entered into a plea agreement with U.S. Attorney Jim Burns in order to reduce their prison time and related fines in return for full cooperation with the government.

The plea agreements between Frank Calabrese, Sr., his son Frankie, Jr., Frank Senior’s brother, Nicholas Calabrese of Norridge; Kurt Calabrese; Terry Scalise; Philip “Philly Beans” Tolomeo, a former Chicago Police officer now in witness protection, Louis Bombacino, and the U.S. Attorney provides some degree of closure to the victims of this vicious extortion racket which flourished in the Western Suburbs in the late 1970s up through the early 1990s.

Frank Calabrese, Sr., whose arrest record dates back to 1954, oversaw the day-to-day activities of the crew which provided juice loans to hundreds of customers at interest rates that varied from one per cent per week up to 10 percent or higher. The government estimates that crew brought in more than $2,600,000 in revenue during the life of the operation. Crew members were instructed by Calabrese Sr. to “do anything you have to do” to collect from debtors defaulting on their loans. Violence was a way of life.

Calabrese enforced an unbending code of discipline. And those who strayed? Let’s consider the case of Philly “Beans” Tolomeo. His nose was broken by Calabrese, and the title of Tolomeo’s mother’s home in Elmwood Park was placed in trust – to Nicholas Calabrese’s father-in-law Salvatore Tenuta, when it was learned that Tolomeo had embezzled funds from the crew.

During the time of his employment, Tolomeo was paid a 25 per cent commission on most juice loan payments which he personally collected. He met directly with Calabrese Sr. up until 1983, when he fell out of favor with the boss and was required to turn over some of his “accounts” to Terry Scalise, John Rainone, and Phillip J. Fiore. After that he was paid a weekly salary of $100 per week.

The ex-cop was boiling in a cauldron of hot water, a mess of his own making, cutting deals here and there with other wise guy loan sharks, while slipping further and further into the abyss. In 1990, two years after Tolomeo left the crew and the rest of his juice loan “accounts” to Louis Bombacino, he took his act on the road, to the District of Delaware to be precise, where he conspired with John Stanfa, Larry Veach, and Ronald Mazzone to extend usurious lines of credit to East Coast borrowers. Stanfa and his associates provided Tolomeo with $100,000 in lending money which they reasonably expected to be repaid at some future point.

Back in Chicago, Louis Bombacino maintained 35 separate juice loan accounts given to him by his mentor Philly Tolomeo. Ironically it was Tolomeo who “sponsored” Bombacino to the Calabreses when he came looking for a job. Bombacino’s segue into organized crime was a fait accompli after Louie “the Mooch” Eboli, a syndicate loan shark who taught him the ropes, passed away.

Bombacino threatened the deadbeats, advised them to lie to the feds when he became aware that there was government heat on the operation, but kept his appointments during these difficult days with Philip Fiore, whom he simply knew as “Pete.” Together they reviewed the debit and credits on the juice loan ledger. The records were maintained in code to conceal the nature of the transactions.

Meanwhile, life had become increasingly complicated for Phil Tolomeo who next approached Mario J. Rainone, a ruthless street enforcer for Lenny Patrick’s street crew about the possibility of making juice loans to potential borrowers who had been denied a line of credit by Frank Calabrese, Sr.

Rainone agreed to provide Tolomeo with $230,000 in cash – the money came from outfit overseers Sam “Wings” Carlisi and Jimmy “the Man” Marcello with the expectation that Tolomeo would make 35 juice loans. Instead, he made only three or four, and used to rest of the money to pay off his debt to the Calabrese crew.

Borrowing from “Petie” to pay “Paulie” is never a very good idea in mob circles. Tolomeo probably counts his blessings that the only loss he suffered as a result of this bit of duplicity was a broken nose and the title to his mother’s house.

It has become somewhat of an axiom in gangland these days to seize homes, and automobiles as payment from deadbeat borrowers. Matthew A. Russo, Jr., the owner of M & R Auto and Truck Repair Service in River Grove was instructed to surrender the title of his home to Calabrese when he fell behind on a $20,000 juice loan. The auto repair shop became the crew’s “command post” where all the crooked deals were hatched.

In 1990, Frank Calabrese, Sr., obtained an agreement with Celozzi-Ettleson, a prosperous and entrenched car dealership located in West Suburban Elmhurst, to send their re-sale vehicles requiring repair work to M & R.

Robert Dinella, who was then in charge of the used car department at Celozzi-Ettleson met with Calabrese, his son, and Matt Russo at the M & R garage on May 11, 1990 to discuss the ways and means of bilking the dealership and its customers for fraudulent or inflated repair charges. Unbeknownst to Dinella and the Calabreses, the conversation was being secretly taped by Matthew Russo who had agreed to become a government informant.

While the tape rolled and as the Feds listened in, the unwitting Dinella showed Russo how to prepare invoices for repayment by Celozzi-Ettleson and the strategies for padding bills, or charging for non-existent repair work. From May until November 1990, the scheme netted the crew $5,702.70. Dinella was also promised free automotive repairs from M & R for his friends and family members. Celozzi-Ettleson, whose TV advertising slogan “Where you always save more money!” is famous throughout the suburban and metro area, unknowingly picked up the tab.

Robert Dinella and seven Calabrese crew members pled guilty and will receive sentences set within the guidelines established by the U.S. Attorney. Philip Fiore the defiant one refused to cooperate, and is presently standing trial before U.S. District Judge James Holderman.