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A summer sizzler: The case of the mob's missing diamond
By Chuck Goudie | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 4/12/2010 12:04 AM

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As Chicago's summer tourist season approaches, and the imported palm trees begin to take root along Oak Street Beach, Michigan Avenue will once again be crammed with bewildered visitors.

They will wander Boul Mich, bathed in sweat and belly-to-butt, wondering what has become of the famous Chicago Mob.

Cheap souvenir stores will still sell Al Capone bumper stickers and rat-a-tat street signs with mock machine-gun holes. (Real bullet-riddled signs exist in some, non-tourista parts of the city, but that is an entirely different story.)

First-timers from Tokyo, Ames and Omaha will be disappointed when some Chicago native tells them that "the Mob is dead."

The story of the Mob's demise has been told and retold so often, sometimes backed up by know-nothing talking heads, that it has been accepted as fact.

The truth is that in the past 50 years there have been few Outfit assaults on innocent bystanders or Tommy guns displayed by patrons on Rush St.

The murders have all been within the Mob, sometimes between the hoodlums themselves or a person who made the unwise choice of doing business with Organized Crime.

Also, you may have noticed, that the killings don't happen nearly as often as they once did. The sharply reduced level of violence since 1985 is probably one reason that the "Mob is dead" myth has become accepted.

Outfit experts and investigators say the core Organized Crime rackets have actually changed little during that time period. The Mob remains into illegal gambling - mostly sports wagering - loan sharking, business extortion, prostitution and drug trafficking.

The Mob also attempts to infiltrate labor unions where possible, trying to take slices of lucrative pension funds. Chicago Outfit bosses still put burglary crews on the street to rob trucks and railroad cars as they did in the Capone days and, as we saw last week, to hit banks and armored cars.

"I was surprised to see these guys still in business" said Jim Wagner, former FBI Organized Crime agent and head of the Chicago Crime Commission, commenting on the arrest of three suburban men in an alleged Mob burglary crew.

"It proves what we showed in the Family Secrets trial. Age is not a factor with these men. No matter how old, they can still pull a trigger and remain dangerous forever," said Wagner, a tireless pursuer of the truth who has just taken a job as general manager of Investigations and Audit for the Illinois Tollway where he will have his hands full.

Two of the men arrested last week have long arrest and prison records. Joseph "Jerry" Scalise of Clarendon Hills, known in mob circles as "Witherhand" because he is missing four fingers on his left hand, was arrested with his right-hand man, Art "the Genius" Rachel.

For now, the men are named in a federal criminal complaint alleging they were plotting to rob a bank in LaGrange. A future grand jury indictment is expected to lay out a much broader scheme.

The geriatric pair (Scalise is 73, Rachel, 71) is notorious for having stolen the Marlborough diamond from a London store in 1980. The 45-carat gem, once owned by Winston Churchill's cousin, has never been found.

The FBI arrested Scalise and Rachel last Thursday night, along with their younger partner Robert Pullia, 69 of Plainfield. The men were found dressed in black, carrying burglary tools and camped outside the Chicago home of their former Outfit boss, the late Angelo "the Hook" LaPietra, according to FBI agents.

Prosecutors said the men were arrested to prevent a home invasion as LaPietra's daughter was home at the time.

The next day, an interesting car was also seen at the LaPietra home. It was registered to Kurt Calabrese, a son of the infamously brutal Mob boss Frank "the Breeze" Calabrese Sr.

Kurt, who is married to Angelo LaPietra's granddaughter Angela, made a break from his Outfit father and has gone straight.

But Calabrese, LaPietra & Scalise may be more than just a good name for a Sicilian law firm.

Last month, when the feds raided Frank Calabrese Sr.'s Oak Brook home, they found gems, guns and cash along with 14 audiotape recordings made by Frank of conversations with his Outfit underlings.

Some mobologists suspect those tapes include information about the location of the stolen Marlborough diamond and that the location is the home of the late boss, LaPietra.

If true, then Scalise and Rachel would know that because they stole the sparkler. They would certainly want to get to the diamond before the feds.

Now that would be a story for the tourists.

• Chuck Goudie, whose column appears each Monday, is the chief investigative reporter at ABC 7 News in Chicago. The views in this column are his own and not those of WLS-TV. He can be reached by e-ail at and followed at