Feds: Prison chaplain passed messages for mobster

A prison chaplain has been charged in an alleged scheme to help imprisoned Chicago mobster Frank Calabrese, who is serving a life sentence for 13 murders, recover a valuable violin reportedly hidden in a Wisconsin house to keep the government from selling it, federal prosecutors announced Thursday.

Catholic priest Eugene Klein, 62, of Springfield, Mo., was indicted late Wednesday on charges of conspiracy to defraud the United States and attempting to prevent seizure of Calabrese's personal property, the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago said.

Prosecutors said Klein ministered to Calabrese at a federal prison in Springfield, Mo., where he allegedly agreed to illegally pass messages to people outside of the prison and then participate in a scheme to recover the violin, which Calabrese claimed was a Stradivarius worth millions of dollars, from a home Calabrese once owned in Williams Bay, Wis.

A spokeswoman with the Springfield Diocese says Klein is a priest of the Diocese of Winona in Minnesota and under contract with the federal prison system as a chaplain in Springfield. She said he served as an assistant pastor within the Springfield Diocese from 2004-2005.

It was not clear whether Klein had an attorney. An arraignment date has not yet been set. Each of the two counts carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

According to the indictment, Calabrese told Klein in March that he had hidden the violin in the house and passed notes to Klein through the food slot in his cell with questions that Klein was to ask an unnamed third person, called Individual A in the indictment, and disclosing the location of the violin.

Klein drove to Barrington, Ill., in April to meet with Individual A, who told Klein the government was selling the house as part of an attempt to recover $4.4 million in restitution that Calabrese owed to his victims' families, according to the indictment. Klein then allegedly met with Individual A and a second person, called Individual B in the indictment, to plot a way to get the violin.

Klein allegedly called the real estate agent posing as a potential buyer, with the plan that one person would distract the agent while Klein and the other person looked for the violin.

Prosecutors say the government has since searched the Wisconsin residence but found no violin. They also say that during a March 2010 search of Calabrese's home in Oak Brook, Ill., a suburb west of Chicago, they found a certificate for a violin made in 1764 by Giuseppe Antonio Artalli, not Antonius Stradivarius.

It was during that same search that federal agents found loaded guns, nearly $730,000 in cash and tape recordings that officials said could contain "criminal conversations" hidden in a basement wall behind a large family portrait. The stash also included jewelry, recording devices and handwritten notes.

Agents also found about $26,000 in bundled cash in a locked desk drawer in the bedroom of his wife, Diane, according to court documents.

Calabrese, 74, was sentenced to life in prison in 2009 after being convicted with several other reputed members of the Chicago Outfit in a racketeering conspiracy that included 18 murders that had gone unsolved for decades; Calabrese himself was found responsible for 13 mob murders.

Calabrese's brother, Nicholas Calabrese, was the government's star witness. He testified that his brother carried out mob hits, sometimes strangling his victims with a rope and then slashing their throats to make sure they were dead. Two victims were killed in a darkened Cicero restaurant while the Frank Sinatra record of "Strangers in the Night" was playing on the jukebox, he said.