Chicago mob enforcer Giovanni (Big John) Fecarotta was executed 30 years ago this week, his slaying setting off a chain of events eventually resulting in the landmark Operation Family Secrets case that charged 14 Windy City wiseguys with 18 gangland homicides in the mid-2000s and wound up taking down a number of key Outfit powers. The 58-year old Fecarotta was shot to death by Outfit hit man Nicholas (Nicky Slim) Calabrese in front of a Northside Chicago bingo hall on September 14, 1986 after upsetting his superiors in the mafia with his sloppy work and increasing lapses in judgement.

Wounded himself in the Fecarotta hit, Calabrese was the government’s star witness in the 2007 Family Secrets trial. He flipped in 2002 faced with the fact that the FBI had finally matched previously-unknown blood splatters left at the murder scene to him via a tip from his nephew.

“The whole Family Secrets case can be traced to the John Fecarotta murder, everything spawned from there….it might have taken 20 years to crack the thing, but the tipping point was solving that homicide,” one former Chicago mob buster said. “Nick Calabrese gets jammed up in that hit and all of a sudden the floodgates open up, we get over a dozen more cold case murders off the books and cleared. The Fecarotta hit, that’s where it all started.”

Fecarotta’s murder was one of the 18 charged in the case that sent acting boss James (Jimmy the Man) Marcello, consigliere Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo and crew leader Frank (Frankie Breeze) Calabrese, Nick’s older brother, to prison for the rest of their lives. Frank Calabrese died behind bars of cancer in 2012 – he can be seen pictured with his son in this article’s feature image.

Both Calabrese brothers and Big John Fecarotta came from the Chicago mob’s Southside crew, sometimes called the Chinatown crew or 26th Street crew. Exactly three months earlier Fecarotta and Nick Calabrese took part in the high-profile assassination of brazen Outfit lieutenant, Anthony (Tony the Ant) Spilotro, the crime family’s crew boss in Las Vegas, and his younger brother Michael, a grisly double homicide recreated for the silver screen in the 1995 Martin Scorsese movie Casino.

Nick Calabrese was one of the Spilotros actual killers, part of a hit team that beat, stomped and strangled their victims to death in the basement of a suburban Chicago home on the afternoon of June 14, 1986, while Fecarotta was tasked with arranging a disposal squad for the Spilotros’ bodies after the deed was done. Fecarotta assigned burial duties to Chicago Heights captain Albert (Caesar the Fox) Tocco and his crew, who botched the job. Tocco was stranded by his men in the midst of digging the hole in Northwest Indiana and the bodies themselves were found in a shallow grave just days later.

Already on thin ice with Outfit brass for past indiscretions such as being thought to be possibly skimming gambling and loansharking proceeds he was responsible for collecting and bringing his hairdresser girlfriend with him on muscle jobs and murder “scouting assignments,” according to Chicago Crime Commission documents, the burial fiasco was the final straw for Big John Fecarotta. He had a hit put on his head and the Calabrese brothers were given the murder contract.

Nick "Nicky Slim" Calabrese

Nick “Nicky Slim” Calabrese

Telling their target that they were going to bomb the office of a local dentist that owed them money, Nick Calabrese and Big John drove in one car and Frank Calabrese followed in another. When they got to the parking lot of the dentist’s office, Nick turned to shoot Fecarotta at close range, but Big John grabbed the gun and as the pair struggled, Nick was shot in the shoulder instead.

Fecarotta bolted from the stolen Buick across Belmont Avenue, hoping to take refuge inside Brown’s Banquet Hall, which was hosting its weekly bingo night. It was a futile effort. Nicky Slim sprinted after him and shot him twice in the back of the head in the banquet hall foyer in front of a handful of stunned witnesses. As Nick Calabrese ran to his brother, Frank’s getaway car back in the dentist’s office parking lot, he left behind a trail of his own blood leaking from his shoulder and a leather glove he had worn on his shooting hand. Well over a decade later, it would be his and several other Midwest mobsters’ undoing.

In early 1997, Nick and Frank Calabrese were sent to prison for racketeering. Doing time in a Michigan federal correctional facility alongside Frank Calabrese was his son, Frank, Jr., busted with his dad and his uncle for loansharking and extortion. Frank Jr. reached out to the FBI in the summer of 1998 to offer his cooperation in building a murder case against his father. During his initial conversations with the feds, he told them of what he knew of the Big John Fecarotta murder, specifically how he had heard first-hand accounts of how his uncle Nick was shot in the process of bumping off Big John.

Armed with a court order to x-ray Nick Calabrese’s shoulder and take a sample of his DNA to link to the blood found at the Fecarotta hit scene, the FBI leaned on him heavily for years before he finally broke and joined Team USA in early 2002. Audio surveillance presented to him of his brother Frank basically signing off on his murder pushed him over the edge, sending him scurrying for cover with the government.

“That x-ray lit up like a Christmas tree, you could see that damage from the bullet wound as clear as day,” retired FBI agent Tom Bourgeois recalled in a past interview. “He knew he had nowhere else to turn. The walls were closing in on him. Even his brother was turning his back on him…..He held out as long as he could…..it was the smart move.”

Operation Family Secrets landed in April 2005. The FBI uncovered a plot by the Chicago mob to find out where Nick Calabrese was being hidden so he could be rubbed out prior to taking the witness stand. Nonetheless, Calabrese still made it to court in the summer of 2007 to point the finger at his smirking elder sibling at the defense table. Nicky Slim has been free since 2013 and currently resides in the Federal Witness Protection Program.

Giovanni "Big John" Fecarotta

Giovanni “Big John” Fecarotta

Big John Fecarotta grew up on the Windy City’s Westside. He was connected to the local labor unions and accumulated an arrest record of 17 collars and two felony convictions (armed robbery, burglary) from an early age. His first arrest came at 14 years old. Frequenting the area’s horse-track and betting parlor scene, wagering large sums of cash watching the ponies run and on sports action, he made a fast reputation on the streets as a tough guy and ace strong arm. He’d be booted from the Industrial Workers Union in 1982 due to his links to the underworld.

Authorities in both state and federal law enforcement considered Fecarotta a suspect or person of interest in at least a half-dozen mob murders at the time of his own death in 1986. That spring he had been jailed for contempt following refusing to answer certain questions in organized crime hearings being held on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. Chicago Crime Commission charts from the 1980s listed Fecarotta as a collector for Southside capo Angelo (The Hook) LaPietra and Northside capo Vincent (Innocent Vince) Solano, tapped to work as personal muscle for Outfit gambling whiz Ken (Tokyo Joe) Eto.

Like Calabrese, Eto became a witness for the government. Eto survived being shot in the head in a mob hit gone haywire in the winter of 1983 on the verge of being sentenced in a gambling case. The two hit men that botched the Eto hit were each killed shortly thereafter.

Per Calabrese’s testimony, Big John Fecarotta was the set-up man in the gory 1978 “Strangers In The Night” double homicide of Chicago cop-turned-Outfit-thief Vince Moretti and Moretti’s friend Don Renno, an innocent bystander. Fecarotta lured Moretti and Renno to a Chicago area tavern where they were beaten to death as the Frank Sinatra tune played on the bar’s jukebox. The Moretti and Renno murders were charged in Family Secrets.

Moretti was a member of a prolific burglary crew that infamously robbed the house of legendary Outfit Godfather Tony Accardo when Accardo was on vacation with his family for the Christmas holidays in California and were all heinously slain in the ensuing year, some within weeks. On the street in the 1970s, Moretti was known as one of Chicago’s top fences of stolen property.

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