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’Time to say a prayer,’ doomed mobster quoted as saying

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CHICAGO - It didn't take Chicago mobster Tony "The Ant" Spilotro long to realize his time was up.

"Time to say a prayer," government witness Nicholas Calabrese quoted Spilotro as saying moments before his fellow mobsters beat and strangled him in a suburban Bensenville basement on a June afternoon 21 years ago.

An eyewitness account of the mob hit that helped inspire the movie "Casino" emerged Wednesday as Calabrese returned to the stand at the trial of his brother Frank and four other alleged members of the Chicago Outfit.

Spilotro was the model for the Joe Pesci character in the movie.

Calabrese, an admitted mob killer, said he and two other men were driven to the scene of the crime by James Marcello, one of those on trial.

Spilotro had been lured with the promise he would become a "capo," or captain, in the Outfit - as Chicago's organized crime family is known - and his brother, Michael, would be initiated as a "made guy," Calabrese testified.

Michael came downstairs first, Calabrese testified.

"I said, 'How are you doing, Mike?' because I knew him," Calabrese testified. But he said a few seconds later "I grabbed his legs and I noticed right away that Louie the Mooch had a rope around his neck."

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While they were strangling Michael Spilotro, Calabrese said, he heard what may have been Tony Spilotro's last words.

Marcello, 65; Frank Calabrese Sr., 69; Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo, 78; Paul Schiro, 70; and Anthony Doyle, 62, are charged with taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included gambling, loan sharking, extortion and 18 long unsolved murders including those of the Spilotro brothers.

Over the last two days, Nicholas Calabrese has taken jurors through more than a dozen mob hits, mostly in gruesome eyewitness detail. On the stand Wednesday, he admitted being the trigger man in two of them.

He began cooperating with the FBI to avoid a death sentence after a bloody glove left a murder scene was traced to him through DNA evidence.

Tony Spilotro was long known as the Outfit's man in Las Vegas.

But back in Chicago, mob bosses were unhappy with him, Calabrese said. He said Spilotro's deals "were bringing a lot of heat" on the Outfit and he also was having an amorous fling with the wife of a casino executive.

A group of mobsters, himself included. went hunting for Spilotro in Las Vegas in hopes of killing him but couldn't find him, Calabrese said.

They then detoured to Phoenix where they murdered a man named Emil Vaci, whose knowledge of casino skimming made mob bosses nervous, he said.

Calabrese said after several failed attempts to kill Vaci, he surprised him outside a dress shop and pulled him into a waiting van.

"He said, 'Take my money, take my wallet,"' Calabrese recalled. "Then he said, 'Oh, no, I'm not going to say anything."'

"Did you say anything to him?" lead prosecutor Mitchell A. Mars asked.

"No," Calabrese said. Instead, he said, he shot him in the head.

A desert grave had been prepared for Vaci but the mobsters took a wrong turn and ended up dumping the body in a canal, Calabrese testified.

The Spilotro murders came a week later. One mobster even complimented him on his tan while awaiting the arrival of the victims, he testified.

Earlier, Calabrese told how he and his brother stalked a man named Richard Ortiz, who had been marked for death by higher ups in the mob.

They caught up with him on a Cicero street on July 23, 1983, only to find that a man they had never seen before and didn't know was a passenger in his car. They asked for instructions from a mob boss watching nearby.

"Go ahead, both of them," Calabrese quoted Angelo LaPietra, the now-deceased capo of the Outfit's 26th Street crew, as saying.

Calabrese said he and another man blasted away with shotguns at Ortiz and hapless passenger Arthur Morawski, while his brother used a rifle.

He said he had misgivings about murdering a man he didn't know and who had done no harm to anyone as far as he could tell. But he said he feared his brother's wrath even more.

"In my mind, I knew I had to do this because if I didn't my brother would have flattened me," he testified. "I would have been left there."

Flatten in mob slang means kill, Nicholas Calabrese said.

Calabrese also told of the ceremony at which he and his brother became made guys. He said that with LaPietra looking on, the Outfit's top boss, Joey Aiuppa, set a holy picture afire and put it in his hands.

He was then required to repeat three times: "If I ever give up my brothers may I burn in hell like this holy picture."

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