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 end of March they started talking about a second robbery—a home invasion—and suddenly they put preparations for it on a much faster track than the bank job. Ironically, they were inspired by the FBI’s March 23 raid of the home of imprisoned Mob boss Frank Calabrese Sr. (The feds were looking for some of the $24 million in restitution that had been ordered in the Family Secrets case.) Agents found $720,000 in cash and $500,000 worth of jewelry hidden in the wall behind a family portrait.
Upon hearing this news, Scalise wondered if Angelo LaPietra might have had a similar in-home hiding place. He told Rachel and Pullia that he considered LaPietra and Calabrese to be “the same guys,” equally distrustful and unlikely to use a bank’s safe-deposit box.
The surveillance tapes reveal that the home invasion was not just about money. Scalise called LaPietra “a miserable person,” remembering the Hook sitting imperiously in the corner of his Italian social club, eyeing all who walked in. “Every little thing made him nuts,” Scalise said; even though the soldiers had paid to join the club, “nobody wanted to go there.”
Unmoored from the Outfit, the freelance thieves were finally allowing their resentments to boil over into a measure of revenge. Of LaPietra’s daughter, Wagner says: “I have no doubt that they would have killed her if they had to.”
While Scalise and his gang did not have many fond memories of their old bosses, they also likely felt they had little to fear from the new ones. Both O’Rourke and Wagner say that the current top boss is 83-year-old John DiFronzo. (DiFronzo’s attorney, Donald Angelini Jr., declined to comment.) Known to be slick and ultracautious, DiFronzo has owned car dealerships and other legitimate businesses and has not been snagged in the feds’ biggest cases. In recent decades, he has spent just a year imprisoned (his 1993 conviction for defrauding an Indian casino was reversed on appeal).
DiFronzo has reportedly steered his remaining crew members away from rackets that involve an inordinate amount of violence, focusing mostly on gambling. Former prosecutor Funk, however, says that these days the Mob “may just outsource the dirty work of killing to street gangs.”
In any case, Wagner says, he doubts that today’s Outfit will exact retribution on the would-be LaPietra robbers. “Maybe if they had pulled it off or hurt somebody,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s just not worth the effort.”
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Pullia, Rachel, and Scalise may not fear retribution from the Mob, but they do have one formidable enemy: time. They’re unlikely to emerge from prison until their early to mid-80s. At best, they’ll have a few years of freedom left to enjoy. Why did Scalise, in particular—who has already spent a chunk of his later years behind bars—squander his last shot at a peaceful retirement? Was he desperate for money?
His lifelong friend laughs. “If Jerry was desperate for anything,” he says, “he was desperate for action.”
Director Michael Mann made a similar comment to movie critic Roger Ebert during a 2009 interview. “Jerry says you think you’re a king when you walk out of [a place] where you scored,” Mann told Ebert. “And you can’t wait to do it again.”