Witness Protection Failed
The story of John T. Ambrose
Merry Christmas Wiretappers. I am here in the studio alone today, and while noodling around, I found an interesting Chicago Outfit story that I had never heard. A U.S. Marshall named John Ambrose was assigned to help protect a government witness named Nick Calabrese. He revealed the location of this important witness in the Family Secrets trial.
Venmo me @ganglandwire
U.S. Marshall’s Office
The well-respected U.S. Marshal’s office is responsible for the security of government witnesses. The Mob and the Chicago Outfit, in particular, are well known for witness intimidation and even murder. So, WitSec (Witness Security) is a dangerous job on one hand while being boring on the other.
According to the U.S. Marshals Service website, that agency is the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement entity, serving our country since 1789. President George Washington appointed the first 13 U.S. Marshals. At that time, Congress tasked them with arresting fugitives, the housing and transport of prisoners after arrest, before conviction and sentencing, plus witness security. The Marshals must protect all federal judges and their courtrooms. To the present day, they are a little-known but very active law enforcement agency. In the fiscal year 2010 alone, the Marshals Service arrested more than 36,100 federal fugitives. They are often assigned to Federal Task Forces in large cities for drug investigations when they are not out chasing criminals.
The most sensitive function of the Marshals Service is the WITSEC or Witness Security Protection Program. The Marshals Service provides for the security, health, and safety of government witnesses and their immediate family members when there is evidence they are in danger because of their testimony. Most of their protectees were witnesses in organized crime, drug trafficking, terrorism, and other significant criminal enterprises prosecutions. The program started in 1971, and Marshals have relocated and protected more than 8,300 witnesses and 9,800 of their family members since that time. So far to date, no WITSEC participant who followed security guidelines was harmed while under the active protection of the U.S. Marshals. But there have been leaks, and today I am going to tell you about one.
One of the most crucial witnesses against the Chicago Outfit was Nick Calabrese. We have interviewed his nephew Frank Calabrese Jr, and I suggest you go back and listen to that for more on the Calabrese crew. But Nick worked under the direction of his brother Frank Calabrese Sr. as part of a murder team and juice loan collection service. They were part of the 26th Street crew or Chinatown crew under a capo named Angelo The Hook LaPrietra. The headquarters was a social club called the Old Neighborhood Italian American Club at 26th and Princeton.
On July 28, 1995, the federal government indicted Nicholas Calabrese and nine other organized crime figures using threats, violence, and intimidation to enforce the loan-sharking racket from 1978 until 1992. The other defendants were Frank Calabrese, Sr., Frank Calabrese, Jr., Kurt Calabrese, Robert Dinella, Philip J. Fiore, Terry Scalise, Kevin Kudulis, Louis Bombacino and Philip Tolomeo.
Nick Calabrese eventually was found guilty of racketeering. On August 27, 1997, a Federal judge sentenced Calabrese to 70 months in federal prison. Now that is only five years and ten months. At his sentencing, Nicholas Calabrese apologized to the court, saying, “I caused a lot of problems for a lot of people.” I assume he had made his deal by then. As part of the plea arrangement, Calabrese admitted taking part in 14 murders ordered by The Hook LaPietra.
The Chicago Tribune reveals the Secret
After Nick Calabrese agreed to testify, the F.B.I. interviewed him in a federal correctional facility in Milan, Michigan. In 2003, an enterprising Chicago Tribune reporter named John Kass learned that he had disappeared from Milan and that all his prison records were missing.
On February 21, 2003, The Chicago Tribune published Kass’s story that Calabrese was talking to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and noted that Calabrese had disappeared from the federal prison in Milan, Michigan. They also published that Calabrese’s federal prison records had disappeared altogether. The Outfit knew that Calabrese had entered the United States Federal Witness Protection Program. Following this story, F.B.I. agents also had spread out across the country with search warrants, collecting D.N.A. evidence, hair cuttings, and oral swabs from many reputed Chicago Outfit members.
On April 25, 2005, federal prosecutors indicted 12 Chicago Outfit figures and two former police officers for n murder, illegal gambling, and loan sharking. Agents named this investigation “Operation Family Secret.” The prosecution based their case on Calabrese’s cooperation. Soon it would come out that the F.B.I. turned Calabrese when they confronted him with D.N.A. evidence that connected him to the 1986 mob hit of mob enforcer John Fecarotta.
John T. Ambrose U.S. Marshall
I want to tell you a side story from that investigation about the corruption of a US Marshall named John T. Ambrose. When they learned about Calabrese’s betrayal, the Outfit desperately searched for Nick Calabrese to murder him. They knew he held many Outfit secrets because he had been one of their most prolific killers.
The five other defendants — Joseph Lombardo, James Marcello, Frank Calabrese, Sr., Paul Schiro, and Anthony Doyle are deceased now except for Paul Schiro, who I noticed is applying for compassionate leave because of the CVOD 19. The judge denied this release.
At trial, the jury learned that in January 2002, federal investigators confronted Nick Calabrese with a bloody glove containing his D.N.A. that he had inadvertently dropped at the scene of the John Fecarotta slaying. Calabrese acknowledged that he murdered Fecarotta, and his brother Frank Calabrese, Sr., and now-deceased mobster John Monteleone had assisted. He explained that the Outfit ordered him to kill John Fecarotta because he had been responsible for disposing of the murdered Anthony and Michael Spilotro. They believed that Feracotta and his men ruined the job because a farmer found those bodies shortly after being buried. Ranking Outfit men had noticed that Fercarotta had committed other violations of Outfit protocol, like bringing a girlfriend along on stakeouts of potential murder victims
During the trial, the Marshall’s Service deputies brought Nick Calabrese to Chicago on two occasions in 2002 and 2003 to testify. While there, he stayed at a “safe house.” Deputy Marshal John T. Ambrose was one of his guards.
During this trial, the government listened on court-authorized audio and visual recordings made between Michael Marcello and his brother James; Outfit members incarcerated at a federal prison. Agents heard the Marcellos discussing some location information about the whereabouts of a protected witness, Nick Calabrese. The mobsters said a “babysitter” provided this information. At the time, the authorities had not ascertained the identity of the “babysitter.” The Marcellos spoke in code and sometimes used gestures in place of words. The agents had to piece together interpretations of the conversation from the audio and visual tapes.
For example, in audio and video they taped on January 30, 2003, Michael Marcello indicated to James that “the big thing with them is the Zhivago deal.” From prior experience, the federal investigators had ascertained that “Zhivago” was used to reference the unsolved murders of Michael and Anthony Spilotro. James replied, “he said something about that, they said? I thought it was in another direction?” to which Michael responded, “We don’t know what he said about that․ But I’m telling you, you’re in there. You know, how far, whatever. I don’t know. The guy can only do what he can do. You know what I’m saying?” James then asked, “well, that’s all he saw was names?” to which Michael replied, “the guy had the notes (putting hands out as if indicating a pad of paper and writing on it as if someone were writing notes.
The threat assessment that was part of Calabrese’s WITSEC file indicated that he participated in 16 murders and had knowledge of 22 other murders. The investigators overheard talk about similar numbers mentioned by the Marcellos during a prison visit. Michael Marcello said, “he didn’t say that he did nineteen of them things.” No one outside the investigation knew how many murders that Calabrese had admitted. While the numbers are not exact, they are close to the actual numbers Calabrese had claimed to have participated in or committed.
In a later conversation, they heard talk about “the guy” who was giving information as “the babysitter.” Michael asked James if he knew Tony DeRango, who was a “copper,” and James stated that he “grew up with him” in “our old neighborhood, that district.” Michael then explained in typical cursory fashion, “Marquette, the Marquette Ten,” and that DeRango was friends with “this guy.” Michael also said, “another guy by the name of Guide and Guide was close to this guy.” Michael continued, “They knew him from Marion Camp (a reference to the Federal Prison Camp in Marion, Illinois)․This kid’s father was with them on that beef and everything. He went down with them. He died though․ The kid’s father died. So they like, you know, the kid comes down. You know what I mean?”
On June 12, 2003. Michael told James, “you know that kid that, that kid that handles him once in a while? You know, he was there. He was there for a week. A little over a week. Right in front of the thing. They were driving him all over the city. He took ’em there, down east by Pagliacci (clown in Italian) that way.’’ The agents thought that Pagliacci was a reference to Chicago Outfit member Joseph “the Clown” Lombardo]. Michael also revealed that they knew that agents had taken Calabrese to the Bridgeport area near U.S. Cellular Field, the stadium for the White Sox. Michael continued, “Now this is, this is from like yesterday․ Oh, the Moulieri (Italian slang for “wife”) ․ The video showed one of them gesturing with his hand to head and dialing a phone. They then said, “dialed the phone number himself, the kid. He said the kid dialed the phone number.” the agents knew that a few weeks before that conversation, Calabrese had traveled to Chicago from his safe house. The agents had driven him around the city to identify the locations of murders and sites where the Outfit had buried bodies, and U.S. Cellular Field was one of the locations. They knew that Calabrese called his wife from the safe house at least twice during that time.
After they heard the reference to “Marquette Ten,” they researched into an old corruption case against ten Chicago police officers that had made the headlines as “The Marquette 10.” The F.b.I. had investigated and brought charges and convicted ten Chicago police officers for shaking down bars, drug dealers, and illegal gambling locations. One of the Chicago Police Officers was named Thomas Ambrose, who had died in prison. The clue they picked up was that someone connected to the Marquette 10 had died in prison. They learned that two of the co-defendants were police officers William Guide and Frank DeRango. The agents connected these former officers to the Chicago Outfit. In particular, Frank DeRango was close to Joey “the Clown” Lombardo from their time in prison. They soon learned that John T. Ambrose, the son of Thomas Ambrose, was one of the U.S. marshals assigned to guard and escort Calabrese and had access to the safe house.
The Investigation of John T. Ambrose
They did a fingerprint examination of Calabrese’s WITSEC file from the safe house. They found two prints matching Ambrose, one on a facsimile cover sheet atop the application and one from his right ring finger on the inner side of the last page.
In light of that information, the government believed it had enough evidence that Ambrose had conveyed information to the Chicago Outfit that it could charge him with the crimes of theft of government property and unauthorized disclosure under 18 U.S.C. §§ 641 & 3521. However, the government did not know the extent of the breach and who else was involved in the matter. As a result, it sought to gain Ambrose’s cooperation in the hopes of identifying any persons engaged in passing the information from Ambrose to the Marcellos. Although the agents knew that Ambrose had revealed information, they had not ascertained whether the revelation was purposeful or accidental. The agents determined that Ambrose would respond most positively if persons higher in law enforcement rank whom he respected were the ones who approached him. Ambrose himself held a high position in the U.S. Marshals Service, serving as a deputy and the second in command of the Great Lakes Regional Fugitive Task Force. Accordingly, they decided that the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, and the F.B.I. Special Agent in Charge (“S.A.C.”) Robert Grant would conduct the initial interview. The plan was to confront Ambrose with the evidence. Once he decided to cooperate, they would turn him over to investigators who were more familiar with the intricate details to conduct any interrogations.
The government officials were concerned, however, as to how Ambrose would react. The agents were aware of a genuine danger of a violent response, particularly the potential for “suicide by cop.” They made sure that John Ambrose would give up his weapon before this confrontation. They used the ruse whereby Ambrose’s supervisor directed Ambrose to report to the F.B.I. building for a meeting concerning a fugitive. The F.B.I. office had heavy security through which all visitors had to pass. They required all visitors to pass through a metal detector and to secure their weapons and cell phones.
On September 6, 2006, John Ambrose and his supervisor deposited their weapons and cell phones in lockboxes maintained for visiting law enforcement. The protocol required an agent to escort visitors through the building, and an agent guided them to a conference room. Once they were seated, the Marshall’s Service supervisor left Ambrose alone, and agents entered the room. They brought the recordings of the Marcello brothers to play for Ambrose.
The agents later testified that they informed Ambrose that he was not under arrest but that prosecution was possible. The agents presented their evince to Ambrose, and he was visibly shaken but did not break. Ambrose claimed he never accessed any files until the agents confronted John Ambrose with his fingerprints on the file folder and an inside page. When he heard this, Ambrose started breaking down. He said he may have “screwed up” and he may have “shot his mouth off” but that he “would never take money.”
The agents discussed this situation with Ambrose for about an hour when John Ambrose said he might cooperate. He asked to talk to the U. S. Marshal Kim Widup, Jerry Hansen (Ambrose’s uncle and a courtroom security officer), and his immediate supervisor, Chief Inspector Jeff Shank. The agents granted that request.
After Widup, Shank, and Hansen arrived, Ambrose met privately with each of them individually. He did cooperate with the agents to a certain extent but not enough to get charges against him dismissed. A jury found him guilty of disclosing information regarding Calabrese but acquitted him of the false statements charges. They sentenced Ambrose to a four-year prison sentence, followed by three years of supervised release.
The appellant court judge will rule against his appeal and stated, “The men and women who serve our citizenry in the U.S. Marshals Service are deeply dedicated, intelligent and extraordinarily courageous public servants,” the 48-page decision states. “It is no exaggeration to say that they are a bulwark of our democracy. It is an honor and a privilege to serve as a U.S. marshal. Thus, the actions of John T. Ambrose are beyond comprehension. His conviction and sentence are affirmed.”
Show notes by Gary Jenkins
To go to the store or make a donation click here
To rent Brothers against Brothers, the documentary, click here.
To rent Gangland Wire, the documentary, click here
To buy my Kindle book, Leaving Vegas: The True Story of How FBI Wiretaps Ended Mob Domination of Las Vegas Casinos.
To subscribe on iTunes click here, please give me a review and help others find the podcast.