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With Chicago arrests, Mafia takes a hit

A major attack on organized crime sheds light on 18 murders.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / April 27, 2005



CHICAGO

The indictment of 14 Chicago Mafia members might well be an episode of The Sopranos, complete with nicknames, "made" mobsters, family intrigue, crooked detectives, murders that go back decades, and a detailed explanation of a structure that includes capos, sotto capos, and a consigliere.

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The indictment, announced Monday, charges the likes of Joseph "the Clown" Lombardo, Frank "Gumba" Saladino, and Paul "the Indian" Schiro with racketeering conspiracy and connects them with 18 previously unsolved murders dating back to 1970.

Along with being a colorful description of "The Chicago Outfit," the indictment is one of the biggest attacks yet on organized crime in the city of Al Capone - and a reminder that the Mafia, while weaker, still exists beyond the TV screen.

"They're alive and well," says Thomas Kirkpatrick, president of the Chicago Crime Commission, a citizens watchdog and advocacy group. The arrests, he says, are a big blow to the outfit. "I don't know that you can ever completely destroy it, but it certainly takes a major part of their leadership out and disrupts what's left in terms of people thinking they can trust each other."

The government has cracked down on organized crime since the late '70s, and has weakened groups that used to operate relatively openly. But such a far-reaching indictment, charging so many upper-echelon leaders with so many crimes, is extremely rare.

Since 1919, according to the Chicago Crime Commission, only 14 of 1,111 mob-related murders have been solved. This indictment would solve 18 more, including the much-publicized 1986 murder of Anthony "the Ant" Spilotro and his brother Michael, mob figures who were found buried in an Indiana cornfield and whose murders were portrayed in the movie "Casino."

Beyond the murders, the charges paint a picture of mob-related activities that range from using extortion and threats to collect "juice loans" to running illegal gambling operations and collecting "street taxes."

Several of those indicted are "made" members of the Outfit - individuals who had committed murders for the organization or had otherwise proven themselves trustworthy, and who swore allegiance in a ceremony.

The FBI made numerous arrests in three states - Illinois, Florida, and Arizona - Monday, arresting James Marcello, the alleged boss of the Chicago mob, at his home. They discovered one alleged hit man, Frank "Gumba" Saladino, dead in a motel, apparently of natural causes. Two more - Joseph Lombardo, also known as "the Clown" or "Lumpy," and Frank "the German" Schweihs remained at large at the time of publication. Eleven of the defendants were charged with conspiracy, and two are retired Chicago police officers.

In the past three or four decades, "this is the largest indictment of its type in the Chicago area," says Frank Bochte, spokesperson for the Chicago FBI Office. "We're not fooling ourselves into thinking we've eliminated the problem, but we're hoping this sends a message that the FBI is still actively investigating these crimes."

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