The Mob’s Last Gasp?
THE GANG THAT WOULDN’T DIE: This month three Chicago senior citizens are set to be sentenced for an audacious plot to rob a mob boss’s home. A story of thrill-seeking, revenge, and the decline of the Outfit
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By the time Scalise got out of prison, in 2006, he was 69. He had been arrested 27 times, convicted six times for serious offenses, and incarcerated for more than 20 years. He settled into the sprawling ranch house of a girlfriend 14 years his junior in the western suburb of Clarendon Hills. Together, with friends, they traveled the world, skiing in Aspen and Switzerland. From all appearances, Scalise was finally retired.
The following year, the so-called Family Secrets trial rocked what remained of Chicago’s Mob. In 2007, four elderly leaders of the Outfit, including Frank Calabrese Sr., were convicted of a range of racketeering crimes, among them 18 previously unsolved homicides. The two key witnesses: Calabrese’s younger brother Nick and his oldest son, Frank Jr.
Nick testified that when he was part of the Wild Bunch with Scalise, he had participated in hits not just on Mob enemies but also on fellow foot soldiers who had lost favor with the bosses. “The violence used by the Chicago Mob leaders against their own people since the 1970s,” says Markus Funk, one of the assistant U.S. attorneys on the case, “ultimately led to the erosion of loyalty.”
For Scalise, 2008 would bring unexpected glamour. That’s when Hollywood director Michael Mann came to Chicago to shoot Public Enemies, a movie about the bank robber John Dillinger, starring Johnny Depp. Mann, who declined to comment for this story, met Scalise and gave him the unlikely title of “technical consultant.” In a documentary about making the film, Scalise explains that his role was to help Mann and the cast get inside the head of a bank robber. “What really creates Dillinger is the ten years in prison,” Scalise tells the camera. “[He’s] rehearsing [a bank robbery]. That’s all [he’s] thinking about. . . . Day after day after day. Three weeks [after he’s out], he’s working.”
By “working,” Scalise means robbing. And as FBI agents would discover, he could have been talking about himself as well. A year earlier in La Grange, a few miles from where Scalise lived, there was a meticulously planned robbery. Two men entered a Harris Bank branch, wearing Halloween masks and waving handguns. One ordered everyone to the floor; the other stood on a plastic container to hop over the teller’s counter and grab two bags containing $119,000, which had been prepared for a weekly armored car pickup.
Moments later they ducked into a stolen minivan waiting outside, which was found abandoned a few miles away. On the gearshift there was a smear of body fluid with the DNA of a previous federal prisoner: Jerry Scalise.
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FBI agents asked Chicago’s federal court for permission to shadow Scalise, permission that was not granted until December 2009. They soon found that he was spending a lot of time with his old pal Art Rachel. According to a mutual friend, Rachel had become a “recluse” since returning from the UK, spending most of his days alone, painting, when not out with Scalise. The two had another frequent companion: bulldoglike Bobby Pullia, another career criminal.
Almost immediately Christopher Smith, the investigating FBI agent, noticed a pattern to their outings. As he wrote in his complaint: “Agents observed Scalise, Pullia, and Rachel meeting on numerous occasions and conducting extensive surveillances of banks.” They focused most intently on the First National Bank of La Grange, typically appearing on Thursday mornings to watch from various vantage points as the armored car arrived.
By March 2010, agents had seen enough to get permission from the court to bug Scalise’s van. Now that the trio’s peregrinations had a soundtrack, the FBI learned that a holdup was imminent. The three were only waiting for a day when the armored car brought so much money to the bank that the guard needed a dolly to wheel it inside. If something went awry, Scalise told the others, they had only to take off their masks and walk away because “they’re looking for some young guy.”
Even more disturbing, the three discussed two prospective hits: an informant they were looking to track down and someone else who had cheated Scalise in a drug deal. Scalise explained how easy it would be for one of them to pull it off: “[If] you want to flatten someone, put on a black sweatshirt with the hood up and baggy pants and blast. Then run [around] the block [to where you] have your work car. They’ll think it’s a kid because they all run.”