CHICAGO - Jury selection got under way Tuesday in the city's biggest organized crime trial in years, a racketeering conspiracy case that includes at least 18 murders, among them a killing that inspired a character in the movie "Casino."
Alleged mobster Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and four other men face charges stemming from the FBI's "Operation Family Secrets" investigation of long-unsolved mob murders allegedly tied the Outfit, Chicago's organized crime family.
"This will hurt the mob," says Gus Russo, author of "The Outfit," and other books about organized crime. "But it won't end it."
"They always find a way to redefine themselves and bounce back," Russo said.
Over the objections of some defense attorneys, U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel has ordered an anonymous jury with lawyers having only limited information about its members.
Questioning of jury prospects got under way at late morning. The trial is expected to take four months and could cause considerable strain on jurors
Defendants along with Lombardo, 78, are James Marcello, 65; Frank Calabrese Sr., 70; Paul Schiro, 69; and Anthony Doyle, 62.
Lombardo, Marcello and Calabrese are alleged to be members of the Outfit's hierarchy and are being held in federal custody. Schiro was convicted five years ago of taking part in a jewel theft ring run by the Chicago police department's former chief of detectives, William Hanhardt. Doyle is a former Chicago police officer.
All five men have pleaded not guilty.
The star witness is expected to be Calabrese's brother, Nicholas Calabrese, who has pleaded guilty to the charges and is being closely guarded by federal lawmen to prevent mobsters from getting anywhere near him.
Nicholas Calabrese says he has been a "made guy" in the Outfit for decades and knows who is responsible for many of the mob murders.
Among those killed was Tony "The Ant" Spilotro, once the Chicago mob's man in Las Vegas. Spilotro and his brother Michael were beaten to death and buried in an Indiana cornfield in 1986, victims of an internecine feud inside the mob. The case was an inspiration for the plot to the 1995 Martin Scorsese film "Casino," with Joe Pesci playing the Spilotro character.
The number of defendants in the case has dwindled steadily since the first day the indictment was unsealed.
One of those charged was found dead of natural causes in his suburban hotel room. Last week, Marcello's brother, Michael, pleaded guilty along with two other men. And Zagel severed alleged mob extortionist Frank "The German" Schweihs from the trial for health reasons.