Centerpiece out of Chicago
Story and layer
'Family' album The "Family Secrets" racketeering defendants have pleaded not guilty. They are: n Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 77, reputed mob boss. n James Marcello, 65, alleged member of the Melrose Park crew and "made" Outfit member. n Frank Calabrese Sr., 70, reputed to be a "made" member from the South Side crew. n Paul Schiro, 69, a.k.a. "The Indian," an alleged associate of "made" Outfit members. n Anthony Doyle, 62, a retired Chicago police officer who allegedly assisted Calabrese. Publicly disclosed documents from case - including courtroom exhibits -- are available online through the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago. Go to www.usdoj.gov/usao/iln/hot/familySecrets.html. MAINBAR CHICAGO - The "Family Secrets" trial of a group of alleged Chicago mobsters has drawn attention to the Windy City's gangland heritage and raises questions about the strength of today's "Outfit." Is the shadowy organization - the modern-day legacy of Al Capone -- on its last legs, or is it as strong as ever? Observers disagree. Retired reporter John Drummond, who chronicled organized crime for WBBM-TV for decades, said the Outfit has been weakened through recent federal crackdowns and the aging of kingpins. Reputed mob boss Joseph "the Clown" Lombardo, one of the Family Secrets defendants, is in his late seventies. "I think they are pretty much in disarray," Drummond said. "Nobody wants to take over the mantle of leadership because of the scrutiny that they'd be under." Jim Wagner, president of the Chicago Crime Commission, was less optimistic. The ex-FBI agent said the Outfit's influence remains as pervasive as ever and includes illegal activities such as gambling and prostitution as well as legitimate white-collar businesses that launder dirty money. "My concern is that people have the misunderstanding that this trial, as important as it is, represents an end of the Outfit, and nothing could be further from the truth," Wagner said. "The money's still there, and therefore the influence is still there." All Illinoisans are affected by organized crime, Wagner said, because the Outfit's participation in any enterprise adds a layer of cost that is passed on to taxpayers or consumers. The Illinois Gaming Board's 2001 decision to block a casino from being built in Rosemont centered on allegations that the project was tainted by mob influence. Late Rosemont mayor Donald Stephens was dogged for years by allegations that he had associated with Chicago mob chief Sam Giancana, but Stephens denied any connection beyond purchasing property from him in the early-1960s. The sweeping Family Secrets trial that began in June in U.S. District Court is expected to offer an insider's view into the Chicago Outfit's past misdeeds. The alleged racketeering conspiracy at the heart of the case includes 18 long-unsolved murders and a myriad of crimes ranging from extorting "street taxes" from businesses to making "juice loans," or loan-sharking. Probably the most notorious killing is that of Anthony Spilotro, who was found buried with his brother in an Indiana cornfield in 1986. In the 1995 mob movie "Casino," actor Joe Pesci's character -- and his grisly end -- is based on Spilotro. Such displays of brutality generally are a thing of the past for the Outfit, author and crime historian Richard Lindberg said. He said that's because mob hits tend to attract the attention of law enforcement. "The lesson that (mobsters) learned is that violence is bad for business," he said. "Once you stop seeing bodies being found in trunks at the airport or in ditches on the side of country highways, then the mob becomes invisible." Even if the traditional Italian-American mob may be on the wane, experts say other kinds of gangs have moved into the Chicago region, possibly with the Outfit's blessing. They include ethnic crime organizations from Eastern Europe and Asia. The new gangs are even more discreet, Lindberg said. "What's happened, some people will tell you, is that the government has put too much priority on the traditional mobs, and the other ethnic groups are probably doing very well for themselves," Drummond, the retired reporter, said. Chicago cannot shake its underworld history, particularly the lingering image of Capone (1899-1947), whose bootlegging empire was the precursor to today's Outfit. Image-conscious city officials have tried to downplay that era, but it refuses to die. Few Capone-related sites even survive today, but Don Fielding said his "Untouchables" bus tour continues to thrive. He said guides hit the highlights of Scarface's career. "I hope the trial goes on for years," Fielding said. "It gives people this little sense of intrigue." In its central exhibit about the city's origins, the Chicago History Museum acknowledges the power that Capone wielded but frames him in a negative context. The display includes a graphic photograph of the 1929 St. Valentine's Day Massacre, in which several of Capone's rival gang members were sprayed by machine-gun fire. "Part of what the museum is about is to promote a fuller understanding of the history of Chicago," museum historian Sarah Marcus said. "If you are choosing to erase portions of history, first of all, people are going to know you're doing it. And second of all, you have a responsibility to confront some of the less pleasant and disturbing aspects ... It's not all sunshine and roses." Mike Ramsey can be reached at (312) 857-2323 or email@example.com.