Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2007, 12:00 am

Loan shark's self portrait: money maker, not throat slicer

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CHICAGO (AP) -- The self portrait was anything but pretty.

As a kid, Frank Calabrese would steal 'anything I could get my hands on.' Bankrolling a bookie operation, hanging out with mobsters and a long stretch in the pen for loan sharking would come much later.

But the husky, white-bearded Calabrese, now 70 years old and looking at a possible life sentence, insists he drew the line at murder.

'Did you strangle Paul Haggerty and slice his neck?' attorney Joseph Lopez asked Thursday as Calabrese took the witness stand in his own defense at Chicago's Family Secrets racketeering conspiracy trial.

'No way!' snapped Calabrese as if the mere suggestion were outrageous.

Federal prosecutors say otherwise.

They claim that when not attending to his loan sharking business Calabrese doubled as a hit man for the Chicago Outfit. They aren't alone.

Calabrese's own brother, Nicholas, an admitted hit man for the Outfit, testified earlier that brother Frank specialized in strangling victims with a rope then cutting their throats just to make sure they were dead.

Either way, Calabrese's high-stakes gamble that federal prosecutors won't be able to destroy him on cross examination lifts the curtain a bit more on the hidden world of the Chicago Outfit.

His testimony followed two days of testimony from wisecracking Joseph (Joey the Clown) Lombardo _ the 78-year-old alleged capo of the Outfit's Grand Avenue street crew who claimed he was merely a dice-game hustler.

On trial with Calabrese and Lombardo are James Marcello, 65, convicted jewel thief Paul Schiro, 70, and retired Chicago policeman Anthony Doyle, 62.

They are charged with taking part in a racketeering conspiracy that included extortion of street tax _ similar to protection money _ gambling, loan sharking and 18 mob murders that went unsolved for decades.

Calabrese is charged in a dozen deaths, beginning with that of convicted loan shark Michael (Hambone) Albergo in August 1970.

He said he had no idea what happened to Albergo, although he admitted he was tipped off that Albergo might squeal to a state commission investigating loan sharking.

Calabrese said the tipoff came from his brother-in-law, Edward T. Hanley, the late general president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union and once a member of the AFL-CIO's national board.

Calabrese quoted Hanley as saying: 'I think you should take a sneak.'

Calabrese said he did exactly that and hid out in Arizona for a few weeks. By the time he got back, Albergo was missing, he testified.

Nicholas Calabrese testified that Frank Calabrese strangled Albergo with a rope in a construction area near the present site of U.S. Cellular Field and then slashed his throat to make sure he was dead.

Nicholas Calabrese said a similar fate befell Haggerty, whose murder was ordered by mob higher ups and was code named 'Doo-be-doo.'

He said Haggerty frantically clung to the roof of a car while a huge Calabrese henchman known as 'Goombah' stuffed him into the back seat.

Frank Calabrese testified that in his circles there were two kinds of people _ those who were 'earners' and those who engaged in 'heavy work.'

'What does heavy work mean?' Lopez asked. When Calabrese seemed hesitant to give jurors a precise definition, Lopez urged: 'Tell them.'

'It means killing people,' Calabrese said.

Lopez asked if Calabrese were an earner or did heavy work.

'My earnings speak for themselves,' Calabrese said. 'I made millions.'

Calabrese said _ as did Lombardo _ that he never joined the mob. He did admit he did business with Outfit members and hung around with them.

One screwball moment came when Lopez asked Calabrese to name the members of 'The Wild Bunch,' a group of mobsters.

Calabrese couldn't come up with one name _ Jimmy Inendino, pronounced eye-nen-DEEN-oh. Apparently offering a hint, Lopez pointed to his eye, bringing federal prosecutor John J. Scully to his feet with an objection.

Throughout two hours on the stand, Calabrese seemed intent on telling his life story in elaborate detail.

'Can I say something?' he asked repeatedly only to be ordered to wait until Lopez asked him a question. U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel several times asked the attorney to curb his client's long windedness.

'He loves to talk,' Lopez said.

While denying he was an Outfit member or a murderer, he seemed remarkably candid in talking about other matters. Asked about a longtime associate, Ronnie Jarret, he said: 'He was a nice fella.'

'He liked to steal and was real good at breaking into safes,' he said.

'Safecracker?' asked Lopez casually.

'Yes,' Calabrese said.