Restitution payouts slated for victims
Decades after the Chicago Outfit carried out gruesome slayings by remote-control bomb, strangulation and shotgun blasts, the many victims' relatives are finally receiving $1.7 million in restitution.
The money is coming from the assets of Chicago Outfit boss Frank Calabrese Sr., who died in December in federal prison while serving a life sentence for his conviction in the landmark Operation Family Secrets trial. He was found responsible for 13 murders dating to the 1970s.
Much of the loot was discovered by federal agents in 2010 hidden in a secret compartment behind a family portrait on the wood-paneled basement wall of Calabrese's Oak Brook home. Agents found envelopes stuffed with $644,000 — mostly $500 and $1,000 bills — and hundreds of pieces of jewelry, many still in display boxes or containing store tags.
Victims are expected to receive the money in the next month after U.S. District Judge James Zagel recently approved the payout, according to court filings.
Veteran law enforcement officials said they can't recall such a large amount of restitution being released to victims' families in an organized crime case.
"They never find the money, and if you find the money, are never able to get your hands on it," said U.S. Attorney Gary Shapiro, who said the restitution was another remarkable step in the Family Secrets investigation, a massive takedown of Chicago's mob that resulted in solving 18 murders. "Just solving all these cold cases … Then to be able to prove it. To be able to find assets of mobsters. Every step of this is something that I never thought I would see."
The federal trial in summer 2007 riveted Chicago with lurid testimony about some of the most notorious gangland slayings in the last four decades, 18 in all. The tales read more like Hollywood scripts, and a mob turncoat — Calabrese's brother, Nick — gave chilling inside details of 14 of the murders.
Top mob bosses James Marcello and Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo were among those convicted in connection with the gangland slayings.
The $1.7 million is coming from the assets of Calabrese alone — although he was not the only mobster ordered to pay restitution.
Shapiro credited the collection of the money to prosecutors and agents who followed it.
The proposed payout hit a snag this week. Prosecutors want to block a $30,000 payout to Michael Morawski, whose father, Arthur, was among Calabrese's victims. Prosecutors believe the money instead should go to the victims of Morawski's Ponzi scheme in which hundreds of investors lost $18 million. Morawski pleaded guilty to the fraud in federal court in Chicago and was sentenced in April to 10 years in prison.
In recordings played at trial, Calabrese told his son — who was secretly taping his father in one of the investigation's most intriguing twists — that he and two others test-fired shotguns in the west suburbs before using them to kill Arthur Morawski and his friend Richard Ortiz outside a Cicero tavern in 1983. Calabrese also explained that the hit was ordered on Ortiz, a drug dealer who had at one time paid street tax to the mob but had started making juice loans without approval.
Arthur Morawski was just a bystander, Calabrese said on the recording.
On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Gary Feinerman listened to brief arguments from prosecutors and Michael Morawski's attorney, who maintains that his client is due the money as a victim of Calabrese's murder of his father. Feinerman held off on ruling, telling both sides he had much to weigh, including the financial hardship to Morawski's fraud victims but also "the extremely unique nature of why Mr. Morawski is getting this money."
The sensitive nature of the issue was evident at the hearing when Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Wilson noted for the record that the restitution was formally ordered for Arthur Morawski's widow, not his son.
"That's kind of cruel," countered Morawski's attorney, Jeffrey Levine. "His father was gunned down with a shotgun."