CHICAGO – Chicago's biggest mob trial in years started Thursday with a prosecutor urging the jury to forget what they know about movie mobsters and see the now-elderly defendants for who they are: men who "committed brutal crimes on behalf of the Chicago Outfit."
"This is not 'The Sopranos.' This is not 'The Godfather.' These are real people, very corrupt and without honor," Assistant U.S. Attorney John Scully told the jury.
As Scully described a blood-drenched litany of murders, he showed the jury large photos of the victims.
He talked about Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, once the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas and the inspiration for Joe Pesci's character in the movie "Casino." Spilotro and his brother were allegedly lured into a basement and beaten to death, then buried in an Indiana cornfield.
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The men on trial — reputed mob boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, 78, James Marcello, 65, Frank Calabrese Sr., 70, Paul Schiro, 69, and former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle, 62 — are accused in a racketeering conspiracy that included 18 murders.
All have pleaded not guilty.
An anonymous jury is hearing the case, with the jurors being identified only by court-issued numbers to protect their identities.
"Four of the five defendants in this room committed brutal crimes on behalf of the Chicago Outfit," Scully told the jury in his opening statement. The fifth, Doyle, protected them, he said.
Scully described Calabrese as a violent loan shark who strangled witnesses with a rope and cut their throats to make sure they were dead.
Defense attorney Joseph Lopez painted a different picture for the jury, describing Calabrese as a much-maligned, deeply religious man "who believes in peace" and loved his family.
He ripped into Calabrese's son, Frank Jr., who is expected to be a key witness for the government against his father.
"He's going to say, 'My father is a rotten S.O.B., my father never loved me' — none of this is true," Lopez said. He said the jurors would see letters between the father and son "expressing love for one another."
"You're going to hear that Frank did slap his son around on numerous occasions," Lopez said. But he said that was only because the youngster was robbing the neighbors of their jewelry and taking cocaine.
He said Calabrese's brother, Nicholas, also expected to be a key witness, once stole a rifle with a silencer from Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs, where it had been used to shoot birds that congregated on the scoreboard.
Scully described Marcello as one of the top leaders of the Chicago Outfit. He said Lombardo was the boss of the mob's Grand Avenue crew. Schiro was jailed five years ago for taking part in a jewel theft ring led by the Chicago police department's one-time chief of detectives, William Hanhardt.
Doyle, the retired Chicago police officer, also worked as a loan shark under Calabrese, according to federal prosecutors. He is the one defendant in the case not directly accused of murdering anyone. But Scully said that he aided and abetted the others in their work.
Scully was graphic in describing the killings, but it was Lopez who offered the juiciest details.
He recounted how FBI agents, acting on an informant's tip, tore up concrete in a parking lot near U.S. Cellular Field, home of the White Sox, looking for the last remains of murdered loan shark Michael Albergo. He said they found "thousands of bones" under the parking lot.
But DNA testing couldn't tie any of the bones to Albergo, Lopez said, repeatedly referring to the victim by his mob nickname of "Hambone."
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