The son had to turn against the father.
But if his father caught the plays,
the son would be dead.
Frank Calabrese Jr. wrote a book called Operation Family Secrets. How a Mobster’s Son and the FBI Brought Down Chicago’s Murderous Crime Family. He gave an interview to NPR about his own life in the mob, and how he informed on his father. Luckily, his dad taught him two reliable ways to get someone to tell the truth…
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Dave Davies in for Terry Gross. We’re listening to my 2011 interview with Frank Calabrese Jr., whose memoir "Family Secrets" tells the story of following his father into the family crime business and later informing on him. His father, Frank Calabrese Sr., died in a federal prison in North Carolina on Christmas Day. (2012)
Calabrese Jr. went to prison with his father in the late ’90s and while there decided his father was so dangerous he would have to go to the FBI and get him put away forever. After speaking with agents, he agreed to wear a wire on his father and record conversations with him in prison.
Now, your father was always very careful about talking business. Even at home, he used a lot of code words and liked cover noise. How did you approach getting him to talk about some of his criminal past?
FRANK CALBRESE JR.: I didn’t push anything. What I used was, he had this jealousy of our relationship – mine and my brothers with my uncle. And he thought that my uncle was trying to take his place as a father. And it wasn’t the case. He was just he just had our backs; my uncle had our backs. He was an uncle. And my father taught me, you know, two ways to make a guy talk. Either feed them a lot of liquor, or get them mad. So we don’t have no liquor in jail. So I figured, let me use my uncle to get my father mad – and the premise that we were working on our relationship. So all this stuff he started talking about, you know, it really wasn’t forced. If it was forced, he would have caught the play. My father was good at catching plays.
DAVIES: And so you get him to talk about a lot of stuff -murders, right?
FRANK CALBRESE JR.:In detail. In detail. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe the way he was talking.
DAVIES: Were there ever any moments when you thought he might be on to you?
FRANK CALBRESE JR.: Yeah. There was one moment during a conversation – I had gotten a tattoo, and he just got done explaining to me in detail who was there when the Spilotro brothers got killed. And I – just all of a sudden seen a funny look on his face. And he’s like, let me see your tattoo. And my tattoo was on my upper right shoulder and I got a sweatshirt on, and I’m on the yard. And that day -which was ironic, was because the recording equipment they gave me was last minute from Detroit because the stuff they brought malfunctioned. So I was wired up like a Christmas tree. If I take off that shirt or even move it, it was – he would have known right away. And I’m on the yard, and I’m standing in an area with a lot of Italian guys, a lot of Outfit guys, a lot of biker guys -a lot of everybody. If that wire is spotted and I’m friendly with everybody in that prison then, you know, I don’t think I’m making it back.
So he went to grab my shirt, and I grabbed him. And I says no, I can’t show you this. I said, there’s guards standing right there. If he sees it, I’ll go to the hole. And I says, and you’ve seen it already. So you know, I didn’t know if he really wanted to see the tattoo – and there was a lot going through my head right then. What do I do? Do I run? There is a long way, probably a couple hundred yards, to the door. I probably won’t make it. Or do I punch him? You know, and so I just stood my ground and ironically, he didn’t pursue it.
Read the transcript: Frank Calabrese Jr. On Opening His ‘Family Secrets’ NPR>>