Thursday, May 9, 2013

Frank Calabrese Jr. On Family Secrets

Operation Family Secrets
By his own account, Frank Calabrese, Jr. had reached a crossroads. There were two choices he could make. He could be a rat or he could be a murderer. He chose the former.

Operation Family Secrets: How A Mobster’s Son and the FBI Brought Down Chicago’s Murderous Crime Family is the story of how Frank Jr. came to that crossroads and the repercussions that his choice would ultimately have not only on his family, but also on the very face of organized crime.

As Frank Jr. tells it, his multigenerational Italian-Irish family could have been like thousands of other middle class families in Chicago. However, some members of his family were also members of another family known as “the Outfit,” Chicago’s feared crime syndicate. Frank Jr.’s dad, Frank Calabrese, Sr., was far more than a participant. He was a central figure known as Frankie Breeze, a loan shark and a vicious hit man known to strangle his victims before slashing their throats.

Operation Family Secrets is a rare inside look at a mob family.

As the story unfolds, it is clear that Frank Jr. and his brothers desperately sought the attention and approval of their dad. But Frank Sr. was a complicated man and had many facets to his personality (perhaps even multiple personality disorder, as Frank Jr. suggests). There was his loving side, his abusive and controlling side and his vicious side.

At the age of 18, Frank Jr. entered the family business and began his own “career” of labor racketerring, exortion, loan sharking, and plotting murders. The Outfit’s way of doing business made them feared by other mobsters and a target of interest by the FBI. Eventually Frank Sr., Frank Jr. and Nicholas Calabrese (Frank Sr.’s brother) found themselves behind bars, convicted of racketeering. Father and son were sent to the same federal penitentiary in Michigan.

While behind bars, Frank Jr. had plenty of time to think — his proverbial crossroads. His father had lied to him time and time again, promising he’d take a step back from The Outfit, which of course he never did. Their dad never watched out for Frank Jr. and his brothers. And Frank Jr. says that he knew when they both got out of prison, one of them would end up dead.

Frank Sr. could have been free at 70, but Frank Jr. made a life-altering decision.

Frank Calabrese, Sr.
He wrote a letter to the FBI, saying: “I feel I have to help you keep this sick man locked up forever.” After that, Frank Jr. would wear a wire while having prison yard conversations with his father.

For six months, he was not monitored and he received no protection. Frank Sr. freely discussed details about his life of crime and it was those father-to-son conversations that toppled one of the most notorious crime families in Chicago history.

The Family Secrets trial took place in 2007, and Frank Jr. didn’t ask for immunity. Uncle Nick testified as did Frank Jr.’s brother Kurt, who painfully recounted years of his father’s threats and beatings. Frank Sr. never denied being a loan shark, but he vehemently denied being involved with any murders.

Denials aside, the evidence was overwhelming and Frank Sr. went down along with 14 members of the Chicago mob, convicted of a wide variety of crimes, including 18 murders. The case also helped to solve an additional 40 murders and is considered one of the most extensive mob-murder racketeering cases in the nation’s history.

Frank Sr. received a life sentence and died in prison at the age of 75. He had a history of heart disease and other ailments. Uncle Nick received a reduced sentence for his cooperation and testimony, but he also received a prison sentence for his role.

Frank Calabrese, Jr.
Frank Jr. worked in a pizzeria before becoming an author with the release of this book. Incidentally, he is not in the witness protection program. Co-authors and twin brothers Keith and Kent Zimmerman have worked on 16 books, including Hell’s Angel, the story of Ralph “Sonny” Barger. Co-author Paul Pompian has produced more than 50 movies and television productions, including Velocity.

With a cast of real-life characters with names such as Joey the Clown, The German, The Indian, and The Hook, Frank Jr.’s story gets a bit mired down at times due to the sheer volume of players. Things even out a bit once the setting moves to prison.

Operation Family Secrets: How A Mobster’s Son and the FBI Brought Down Chicago’s Murderous Crime Family By Frank Calabrese Jr. et al. Guns 8.5 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.

In all, Operation Family Secrets is a riveting, gritty read that provides a truly insider’s glimpse into the world of organized crime. Although the book came out in 2011, interest is growing in the story. A movie based on the book is said to be in the works with Nicholas Pileggi (who wrote Goodfellas and Casino) signed on as executive producer.

The audiobook is narrated with just the right amount of grit (especially when he's doing Frank Sr.) by Todd McLaren, who has voiced more than 5,000 TV and radio commercials plus documentaries for Discovery and the History Channel. You can also find Operation Family Secrets on Amazon, order the book from Barnes & Noble or download it for iBooks.
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