Son’s tapes reveal mob boss spilling secrets
October 9, 2005
BY STEVE WARMBIR Staff Reporter
Reputed mob killer Frank Calabrese Sr. was taking a walk with his son in the prison yard at the federal detention center in Milan, Mich., uttering words that should never have left his lips.
During that walk and others, Calabrese Sr. spoke of mob slayings — ones the FBI says he was involved in, according to sources familiar with the matter.
He discussed who was a made members of the Outfit and who wasn’t.
And he described his own initiation rites into the Chicago mob, where he was a reputed “made” man.
Under Outfit rules, talking about any one of those topics would be enough to get a mobster killed.
Tapes help feds build case
But what was worse for Calabrese Sr. was that his statements were being secretly tape-recorded, by own his son, Frank Jr., who was in prison with him at the time, several years ago.
During those strolls around the prison yard, Calabrese Sr. spilled decades of mob secrets, details he should have never told anyone, even his own flesh and blood.
Now those indiscretions are coming back to haunt him.
Calabrese Sr.’s secretly recorded statements helped federal prosecutors build their case against him and other alleged mobsters, including the reputed head of the Chicago Outfit, James Marcello.
The tape recordings are vital to the case and expected to be played at the trial next year of Calabrese Sr., Marcello and others, and should be a highlight. The trial will mark the culmination of the most significant prosecution federal authorities have brought against the Chicago Outfit, charging top leaders with 18 murders. Frank Calabrese Sr. alone has been accused of taking part in 13 of the slayings.
‘It’s all very good theater’
Calabrese Sr.’s attorney, Joseph Lopez, downplayed the importance of the tape-recorded conversations on Friday and questioned how the feds could properly interpret them.
“My client doesn’t know anything about any murders,” Lopez said. The feds “gave the son the script, and he followed it. It’s all very good theater.”
Lopez contended that no fresh details about the slayings pop up on the tapes, and some conversations show “a father puffing up his chest for his son.”
“They are talking about facts that people ‘in the know’ would know,” Lopez said. “When you hear the tapes in court, everyone will be able to draw different conclusions as to what was said.”
Frank Calabrese’s son, Frank Jr., put his life on the line every time he secretly tape-recorded his father, who was always cagey, always suspicious. The men were in prison together on a loan-sharking case the feds had brought against Calabrese Sr. and his crew. Calabrese Sr., who ran the crew, got nearly 10 years in prison. His son, Frank Jr., who had much less involvement in the matter, got more than 4 years.
Frank Calabrese Sr. was known for his brutality and ruthlessness, both on the streets and at home, ruling his family with fierce intimidation. To this day, Calabrese Sr. still tries to reach out and rattle family members, whether by getting messages passed out to relatives from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago, where he is being held, or having rats put on the porch of another family member, sources said.
Frank Calabrese Sr. was extremely leery of even his closest associates, much less family, making it that much more of a challenge for the younger Calabrese to get him talking.
Son risked life to tape dad
Frank Calabrese Jr. not only had to get his father chatting about matters that his father would be extremely reluctant to talk about. The son also had to get his father to discuss those matters clearly, with enough detail, to be useful to federal prosecutors.
If Calabrese Sr. or any other prisoner found out the younger Calabrese was wearing a listening device in the prison yard, his life would have been in peril.
But somehow, Frank Calabrese Jr. exceeded all expectations.
Despite all the danger to Calabrese Jr., he received no major benefits from the FBI. His main motivation was trying to ensure his father would stay behind bars for the rest of his life, law enforcement sources said. Calabrese Jr. was released from prison in 2000.
One recording Calabrese Jr. made even helped persuade his uncle Nick to cooperate with the feds.
Frank Calabrese Sr. and his brother Nick Calabrese had a long history together and were tight. They would often do mob killings together, authorities said. But what was once a close partnership is now a blood feud, with Nick Calabrese confessing to 15 mob hits and helping the FBI.
Frank Calabrese Sr.’s own words helped turn his brother Nick into one of the FBI’s most valuable informants.
The key conversation came one day when Frank Calabrese Sr. and Frank Jr. were in prison and discussing Nick Calabrese and whether he was cooperating with the feds. Nick Calabrese was not cooperating at the time, but relations were tense between the two brothers. Frank Calabrese Sr. was refusing to have his underlings send money to help support his brother’s family, according to court testimony. And Nick Calabrese was still sore over how Frank Calabrese Sr. had treated his own sons, Frank Jr. and Kurt, in the loan-sharking case, effectively hanging them out to dry.
Frank Calabrese Sr. assured his son on the recording that he had gotten word out of the prison that if Nick Calabrese was helping investigators, then he would have no objection to his brother being killed.
Frank Calabrese Sr. said that this was the life he and his brother had chosen.
When the feds played that tape for Nick Calabrese, he began cooperating.
But that wasn’t the only factor contributing to Nick Calabrese’s change of heart.
On another recording with his son, Frank Calabrese Sr. scoffed about a mob hit that his brother Nick nearly botched and talked about it in detail.
Calabrese Sr. told his son how Nick Calabrese had been assigned to kill fellow mob hit man John Fecarotta in 1986.
Brags about murders
Fecarotta had messed up an attempt to kill Tony Spilotro, the Chicago Outfit’s man in Las Vegas, and mob bosses decided that Fecarotta had to go.
According to court records and law enforcement sources, Fecarotta was set up on the ruse that he and other mobsters were going to drop off a bomb. Fecarotta apparently never figured out that the device they were carrying was fake, made up of flares taped together to look like dynamite.
Nick Calabrese and Fecarotta were heading to the job site in a stolen Buick. As they pulled up near a bingo hall on West Belmont, Calabrese pulled his gun to kill Fecarotta. But Fecarotta fought him off, struggling with Calabrese until the gun went off, wounding Calabrese in the forearm.
Fecarotta ran for his life, and Nick Calabrese bolted after him, knowing if Fecarotta escaped, it would mean Nick Calabrese’s own death sentence from the mob.
Nick Calabrese shot and killed Fecarotta, but Calabrese made a critical error. He left behind a bloody glove, which investigators recovered and kept. Years later, DNA tests tied Nick Calabrese to the glove and the murder.
On the secret tape recordings, Frank Calabrese Sr. spoke of other murders involving him and his brother.
In one instance, Frank Calabrese Sr. bragged how he had orchestrated a shotgun slaying in Cicero of two men, Richard Ortiz and Arthur Morawski.
They were sitting in a car outside Ortiz’s bar on Cermak when eight shots were pumped into the 1983 Mercury, killing both men. Ortiz was killed over drugs, law enforcement sources say. Ortiz’s family has denied Ortiz had anything to do with drug dealing. Morawski was killed by accident.
‘Casino’ slayings corrected
Calabrese Sr. also discussed his role in the 1980 slayings of mob hit man William Dauber and his wife, Charlotte, in Will County. Calabrese Sr. implicated his righthand man, the late Ronald Jarrett, as being involved, too. Jarrett was slain in a mob hit in 1999.
Calabrese Sr. even talked about mob hits he had no involvement in — the murders, for instance, of Tony and Michael Spilotro.
Martin Scorsese’s celebrated Las Vegas gangster movie, “Casino,” had the men being beaten to death with baseball bats in an Indiana cornfield.
But the movie got it wrong.
Tony Spilotro, the Chicago Outfit’s man in Las Vegas, had been lured back to the Chicago area. Spilotro, a made man, was told he was going to be promoted and that his brother was going to be made into the Outfit.
James Marcello, now the reputed head of the Chicago mob, allegedly drove the Spilotros to a Bensenville-area home and their deaths, according to court testimony.
On tape, in the prison-yard conversations with his son, Frank Calabrese Sr. names the mobsters who were there to kill the Spilotro brothers, including his brother, Nick.
As the men surrounded Tony Spilotro, he begged for time to say a prayer, a novena, sources said.
His killers declined and proceeded with their work.