The historic Family Secrets trial began 10 years ago this week in Chicago, finally bringing to justice Midwest mobsters responsible for an alleged 18 combined gangland murders. Among the murders solved as a result of the near decade-long investigation and subsequent high-profile, emotionally-charged courtroom drama was the famous double-homicide of Tony (The Ant) Spilotro, the Chicago mafia’s point man in Las Vegas, and Spilotro’s younger brother and protégé Michael, a gruesome execution depicted in the movie Casino.

The indictment, filed in April 2005, named a total of 14 defendants, only five of who made in front of a jury at trial in the summer and early fall months of 2007. Four of those five men, however, were some pretty notable figures in Chicago mob circles at that time: acting boss James (Little Jimmy) Marcello, consigliere Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo, southside crew leader Frank (Frankie the Breeze) Calabrese and the crime family’s west coast representative, Paul (Paulie the Indian) Schiro, stationed in Arizona since the 1970s. All of them were found guilty and sentenced to hefty prison terms.

Operation Family Secrets was jumpstarted in the summer of 1998 when imprisoned Chicago wiseguy Frank Calabrese, Jr. wrote a letter to the FBI offering to help the government build a case against his father, mob hit man and Southside crew chief Frank Calabrese, Sr., who he was locked up with in a federal correctional facility in Michigan as they both served time for racketeering. Placing a wire in his portable Walkman, the feds had Frank, Jr. record his dad telling gangland war stories for more than two years while the pair exercised in the prison yard.

By 2002, Frankie Breeze’s baby brother, Nick (Nicky Slim) Calabrese, also a seasoned mob executioner, joined Team U.S.A. in its effort to dismantle the Chicago mafia and the Calabrese street crew in one fell swoop. Nicky Slim was the first made member of the Chicago “Outfit” to ever become a witness for the government and proved the key to Operation Family Secrets being a resounding success. He admitted to carrying out more than a dozen mob-related slayings with his older sibling, as well as copping to participating in the 1986 killing of the Spilotro brothers and the follow-up murder of Giovanni (Big John) Fecarotta three months later in which evidence left behind at the scene authorities would use to leverage his cooperation in the future.

Diminutive, yet equally ferocious and ambitious, Tony Spilotro had angered his bosses “back home” with his loud, insubordinate behavior overseeing Vegas and on June 14, 1986 he and his brother were lured to a basement of a house in Bensenville, Illinois and viciously beaten, stomped and strangled to death. Big John Fecarotta found himself marked for death in the months that followed for botching the burial of the Spilotros (they were discovered within the week in a shallow grave in Northwest Indiana) and for sharing too much sensitive Outfit intelligence with his wife and girlfriend.

Tony Spilotro & his so-called “Hole In The Wall Gang” in the early 1980s

The Calabrese brothers received the Fecarotta murder contract and in the process of killing him in the vestibule of a bingo hall, Nicky Slim was shot in the shoulder and dropped a bloody glove as he fled to a getaway vehicle driven by Frankie the Breeze. Upon Frank Calabrese, Jr. flipping, he told the FBI that it was his uncle who left the glove at the Fecarotta murder scene and taped his dad telling him that he had signed off on the Outfit’s decision to kill Nicky in prison to keep him from talking.

Both Nicky and Frank Calabrese, Jr. took the stand at the 2007 Family Secrets trial, delivering riveting, heartfelt testimony, admitting their own wrongs and implicating Frank Calabrese, Sr. in a myriad of heinous acts of violence. Throughout most of their testimony and the whole trial, Frankie the Breeze didn’t appear all that phased by the proceedings going on around him, frequently chuckling and breaking into a wide grin whenever he was tied to a beating or murder by a witness or prosecutor.

Frank Calabrese, Sr. died of natural causes in 2012 at 75 years old. Frank, Jr. and his uncle Nicky Slim currently reside under new identities in the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Little Jimmy Marcello of the Outfit’s Cicero crew was convicted of driving the Spilotro brothers to the Bensenville home of another mobster so they could be slaughtered. The colorful and quip-loaded Joey the Clown Lombardo, the Windy City’s longtime “Godfather of Grand Avenue,” testified on his own behalf at the trial to no avail and was convicted of killing Danny Seifert, a former close friend and business associate-turned-government informant, in 1974, to prevent his testimony in a pension fraud case. During Tony Spilotro’s reign in Las Vegas in the 1970s and 1980s, he reported directly to Lombardo, then the capo of Chicago’s Westside.

Lombardo, 88, and Marcello, 73, are doing their life prison terms in a Colorado “supermax” federal correctional facility. Marcello was behind a thwarted attempt by the Chicago mafia to locate the now 74 year-old Nick Calabrese and kill him before he could reach the witness stand in the Family Secrets case.

Nicky Calabrese


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