wednesday 3 april 2013


operation family secrets…  by frank calabrese, jr., and co-authors

this is both the title of frank’s book and the name the fbi gave to the operation that brought down both frank’s father, and a big chunk of the chicago outfit.

because of the things that happened to me in 2008 and 2009, I have a fierce interest in true stories about mobs, their victims, and the sociopathic fbi. but I don’t want fiction. the true stories have so far been hard for me to locate, so, in my mob-story isolation, I devoured this book. after all, unlike the author, I did not have my family behind me when I was going through my own mob story, not even one lousy member. I don’t have them now. and while the people who have believed me over the years are some comfort, it isn’t the same as having someone in my family on my side, someone who is related to the family gangster just as I am. but no, I am a fruit-loop. despite the fact that it was a relative who confirmed part of matthew’s story for me, saying that family research had revealed that my grandfather was most likely a criminal and that in 1943 he suddenly disappeared, I am still a fruit-loop. no moral support for me, no nothing.

unlike me, frank knew of his father’s type of business from early in life. at age eighteen, he joined his father in such business. it makes me ask questions, this story of frank’s, questions shooting off in my mind all through the reading of the book like little fireworks, questions that no one will ever answer. for instance: my father had his mafia father for fifteen years, then my grandparents split up. by the age of fifteen, did my father know his father was a mobster? as the oldest child and a son, had he even been told by his father in a sort of macho, father-son talk? did my father know about grampa’s first family that he’d produced on the island of crete before ever coming to the u.s., the family to whom any mob earnings must have been sent, since my father and his siblings grew up in poverty? the few in my family who remain alive and might have some answers do not talk (denial and under-the-rug-sweeping are two of my family’s favorite psychological tricks). and matthew, who has the answers, will not talk either.

frank calabrese jr. finds himself of two minds in the early part of his life, and I very much understand this split. he both loves his father deeply, and is horrified by him. he follows him into organized crime, but it isn’t exactly clear to me from the book whether he does this out of fear of his father, or out of the same kind of rapacious greed that his father suffers from. or both. since I never knew my crime grandfather, since he betrayed his organization (how? matthew won’t tell) and was killed by them ten years before I was born, I have many questions about him. the stories told about him as I was growing up, few as they were, were not of a mobster. those stories were apparently mostly lies. I want to know exactly what he did for this mob of his, and who of his loved ones, both in greece and in the u.s., he put in danger with his way of life. I spent fifty-five years loving this man I never saw, loving him because he was my dad’s father and he meant something to him; loving him because he was absent, and therefore a magnetic mystery; loving him because he gave us our greek blood, of which I used to be proud. since 2008, I’m of two minds: the old me who loved this family ghost, and the newer part of me that is disgusted and ashamed.

eventually, frank, his father, his uncle, his brother, are all arrested and sent to prison on racketeering charges. while they are serving their sentences, frank decides to betray his father and get into bed with the fbi. this is not an easy choice for him, and I’ve heard him with his own voice on a radio show talking about the two separate sets of feelings he has for his father, and how very hard these things were for him. I hope that in his situation I would have done what he did, but I can’t know that for certain. he wears a wire in the prison yard and gets his father to talk about murders and all kinds of other illegal past behavior. he hands it all over to the feds. he takes their instructions. even the feds are shocked by the large role frank’s father had in the outfit, because they hadn’t known. what they had thought was going to be a relatively small mob case, taking a small but important bite out of the outfit, turned out to be, according to frank, the biggest bite out of a mob since the days of capone.

frank expresses respect for the agents he dealt with. my own attitude towards them is quite different. succinctly put, I detest them. but frank was treated one way by them, and I was treated quite another way. yet another question that popped up more than once while reading: why did frank, a criminal who was betraying his father, deserve to be treated like a human being by the feds, and I, a non-criminal, did not? why did he deserve that, and I didn’t? many criminals in the annals of the fbi have been treated with kid gloves compared to the way they treated me. I have always only been able to conclude that I was bait. matthew spoke once of big fish, when I was asking him why some of the minnows who had got me into this horror show hadn’t been arrested. big fish. and they came to greenfield in 2008, some of those big connecticut fish, believe me they did. and made themselves very obvious to me, no attempts to be clandestine. what became of them once they had been lured in? no idea. when asked, matthew wouldn’t tell. so frank respects the federal cops, and I do not.

a couple of things come up in the story that bring about a dark shiver, one of them being a method of murder favored by frank’s father and uncle. things involving strangulation and a knife. long ago when I was in college, my little cousin was murdered. the act involved strangulation and a knife, or so I was told by my aunt, the child’s mother. naturally I asked matthew about this cousin, after sitting there telling him yet another story that he already knew. the whole time I talked, he wouldn’t look at me. he stared out the window crying quietly, and only looked at me when I was finished narrating and asked my questions. he answered them in his undercover act, his pseudo-schizophrenic gibberish, and so I still do not know if the murder of my cousin came about in the way that we were told, for the reasons we were told, or if it was something completely different, and uglier, and more sinister. mobs have codes, many people have told me, and I know this. they don’t whack women and children, these people have said. and it seems that that’s true, that most of the time they leave women and children alone. but I’m a woman, and, according to matthew, they came after me because of some lies told to them by one of their lackeys (the one I call the mafia-chick). so if they would make a rare exception and come after me, why could they not also have made one forty years ago and got my cousin, a mere child? I think they could have. but I also think the killing could have been exactly what we were told it was. ad nauseam: matthew wouldn’t tell.

to me, frank jr. is a mostly brave and mostly selfless man. he does not see himself this way. he was afraid of his father, and this fear led to the betrayal. he emphasizes his fear. he betrayed him in order to be free of him. but in getting himself free of the old coot, he got many others free of him too. he did things along the way in the building of the case that were indeed courageous and selfless. he asked for no reduction of sentence, no immunity, and refused the witness protection program. in 2011, when this book came out and the radio interview was done, he said that he was not one to hide. and also, that he needed to give his father the opening for revenge. it was part of the code that his father, if released from prison, deserved to murder him, and frank felt he had to give his father that chance (part of the code is still in frank jr.). that’s brave in my book, to sit and wait for the day your father could come to kill you.

early this year (2013), frank calabrese, sr. died in federal prison. in honor of this death (or so it felt to me), that 2011 radio interview was re-aired.  hooray, the old murderer is dead. hooray, he never got released on parole to go and kill his brave son. hooray, frank never has to fear his father again. and yet I know there must be great grief for frank too, because, like me, frank continued to hope till the bitter end that his father would one day love him, one day ask forgiveness, and that even if for only a few years, if only on prison visits, they could have a somewhat normal father-son bond. he has hungered for this all his life, and I understand such hunger very, very well.

if I had a hat on, frank, I’d tip it to you many times over. all the cheap male cowards I have known. and then there’s you out there in the world. thank you for being out there in the world. a brave man. a mostly unselfish man. a man who hungers for normality and love.


read…   why did I go…   the matthew… 

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