By David Heinzmann
Where do you break a thousand-dollar bill?
That might have been my favorite detail the other day from the news about an FBI raid of Frank Calabrese’s house in Oak Brook. Calabrese has been behind bars for several years, and now he’s serving life for his convictions in the 2007 Family Secrets case. But members of his immediate family still live in the hulking brown brick house in an Oak Brook gated community, and the feds went there with a search warrant last week.
Frank’s brother Nick, the Outfit hit man who was the star witnesses at the Family Secrets trial, had told authorities that his brother had treasure and evidence stashed in secret compartments all over the place. Nick’s testimony put Frank, Joey the Clown Lombardo, James Marcello, and a few other Outfit bigshots behind bars for life. Frank was a bookie and hit man. Nick said his brother’s favorite method of killing people was to beat them, strangle them with a piece of rope and the cut their throats to make sure the job was done.
He’s also about 70 and the chances he’ll ever get out of prison and be able to return to his Oak Brook basement, take down the large frame of family photos, unscrew the secret panel and use his stash of money and guns is pretty slim.
But it was there just in case. Agents also found a roll of $26,000 upstairs in a desk drawer used by the current woman of the house. So maybe the family was dipping into the stash here and there, as needed. Given that a federal judge had ordered Calabrese to pay $27 million in restitution for his crimes, it's unlikely any of the stash will be returned to Oak Brook.
Among the valuables the FBI found stashed behind a false wall in the basement was nearly $730,000 in cash… mostly in thousand- and five-hundred-dollar bills. Crisp stacks in Ziploc bags and manila envelopes.
Many thought the most intriguing detail of the FBI raid on Calabrese’s house was the discovery of a trove of small cassette tapes and recording equipment. Calabrese liked to record conversations, apparently. Whether the contents of those tapes will lead to new cases remains to be seen.
But I like the thousand-dollar bills adding up to three-quarters of a million bucks. The photos the FBI released were of such neat, crisp stacks. Did the money come from a bank? Which bank around Chicago is supplying bosses of the Outfit with crisp bundles of …Grover Clevelands. Yes, Grover Cleveland is the president on the $1,000 bill.
Here’s another weird thing, those bills are pretty rare. According to the U.S. Treasury web site, the $1,000 bill and the $500 bill (William McKinley) were discontinued in the late 1960s. They’re still legal tender, of course, but bills that big haven’t actually been printed since the 1950s, apparently.
The FBI also found ledgers of mob financial dealings, a few guns wrapped and taped in towels, and a 1,000 pieces of jewelry that appeared to be the fruits of jewelry store heists—most of it was still in boxes with price tags. I’m guessing that pile would take the whole stash well over a million dollars.
Maybe down the road a bit we’ll hear what was on the tapes, and what was in the ledgers. Perhaps even which jewelry stores were ripped off. But I want to know where Calabrese got those Clevelands and McKinleys.