When mob bosses suspected that William "Butch" Petrocelli, an up-and-coming mob thug, had skimmed collection money and shaken down a group of robbers without permission, they resolved to teach him a lesson, court documents say. According to a federal informant, Petrocelli was called to a meeting in December 1980, questioned, tortured and murdered. His body was found three months later wrapped in a sleeping bag in the backseat of his car on a Southwest Side street. His face had been charred with an acetylene torch.
Later, according to court documents, an informant told agents the 26th Street Crew had been involved and LaPietra had done the actual killing.
Chicago went without an apparent Outfit hit for at least five years in the late 1990s, until Ronald Jarrett, a reputed lieutenant in the South Side Crew and friend of Nick Calabrese, was shot as he walked to his car in front of his Bridgeport home on Dec. 23, 1999. He died about a month later.
The Jarrett slaying, which sources said will be part of the indictment, could implicate a number of high-ranking mob associates because of the enemies Jarrett had earned within the Outfit. Known as one of the syndicate's more vicious thugs, Jarrett had a penchant for assaulting police officers and for luring women away from men at bars, O'Rourke said.
Around the time he was shot, Jarrett had been clashing with other Outfit members, including top leaders of the 26th Street Crew, he said.
"Everyone hated him," O'Rourke said. "When he was killed, we had more suspects than we could count."
In recent years, investigators say the crew has been headed by Frank "Toots" Caruso (Skids' son and a nephew of the late Ald. Fred Roti, who was convicted of federal racketeering and extortion charges in 1993) and Frank and Nick Calabrese, according to federal sources.
Caruso, his brother Bruno and other Outfit members had also infiltrated the Laborers unions in Chicago and its district council that controlled a billion-dollar union pension fund, according to testimony at federally monitored union hearings. After prompting from federal prosecutors and reformers in the union, union leaders removed them from their locals.
As its leaders have lost their previous jobs in unions and government, law enforcement officials said the 26th Street Crew today has become a lot less visible--though still operative--organization.
LaPietra died in 1999 of natural causes after serving 11 years in a federal prison for skimming money from a Las Vegas casino.
Old habits die hard
Yeong Shun Video and DVDs now occupies the storefront of the former Old Neighborhood Italian-American Club. New riverboat casinos have stolen a lot of the bookies' business and the last-known gangland murder occurred in November 2001, when Anthony "the Hatch" Chiaramonti, a 26th Street associate, was shot outside Brown's Chicken & Pasta in Lyons.
Enforcement officials said much of the Outfit, including the 26th Street Crew, have become more sophisticated, investing in legitimate businesses and curbing their violent impulses.
But some habits--threatening competitors, leaning on customers, pulling political connections--still linger, officials said.
"The minute things get tough, when business starts slipping," said one longtime Outfit investigator, "they go back to their old ways."
Tribune staff reporters Ray Gibson and Art Barnum contributed to this report.