Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=40443
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Local pizza chain owner testifies that Outfit shook him down for $270,000

by Elisabeth Kilpatrick
July 03, 2007


Connie's- Outfit timeline

Timeline of Connie's Pizza owner Jim Stolfe's relationship with the Chicago Outfit, according to statements made during the Family Secrets trial Tuesday.

  • 1960's: Calabrese and Stolfe meet through Stolfe's brother in law, Larry Steubich.
  • 1963: Stolfe opens the first Connie’s Pizza location on 26th Street. He raised the money to open the restaurant by selling his 1962 Olsmobile Starfire.
  • 1970s: Connie’s chain grows to include restaurants - previously Connie’s was takeout and delivery.
  • 1980 or 1981: Two unidentified men come in to “shake down” Stolfe for $300,000. Calabrese  gets the amount reduced to $100,000, paid to him.
  • 1980s: Stolfe begins paying Calabrese $1,000 a month in "street tax".
  • November 1990: Stolfe testifies to a grand jury that he paid Calabrese for work Calabrese did as a Connie’s employee. 
  • 1990s: Calabrese goes to prison and Stolfe's street tax payments to Frank are lowered to $500 a month.
  • 2002/2003: Stolfe stops making payments to Calabrese because he couldn’t afford it.
  • 2004: Stolfe testifies again to a grand jury that Calabrese extorted a street tax from him for years. He is given immunity from prosecution for lying previously in exchange for his testimony.  
  • 2005: Calabrese arrested on current charges of murder, extortion and conducting an illegal gambling business.
  • Tuesday: Stolfe testifies against Calabrese in court.

 


Reputed mobster Frank Calabrese Sr. shook down Chicago-area restaurant chain Connie’s Pizza for hundreds of thousands of dollars over more than two decades, testified Connie's owner James Stolfe Tuesday in federal court. 

Stolfe, who started the Connie’s chain in 1963, is the latest witness to testify in the trial against Calabrese and four others.

Dubbed the “Family Secrets” trial, the federal prosecution’s case hinges on key testimony from Calabrese’s son Frank Jr., expected to testify Monday, and his brother Nicholas. Frank Jr. testified only briefly Tuesday, delayed by the defense’s lengthy cross-examinaiton of Stolfe, before the court recessed for the Fourth of July holiday.    

Calabrese, along with Joseph “the Clown” Lombardo, James Marcello, Paul Schiro and Anthony “Twan” Doyle, are on trial in federal court on charges that include 18 murders, extortion, racketeering and other mob-related activity as members of the “Chicago Outfit.” 

Stolfe, 67, said that he met Calabrese, 70, through his former brother-in-law, Larry Steubich, in the 1960’s, but that he and Calabrese weren't friends. Stolfe estimated that, starting in the early 1980s, he had made about $270,000 in "street  tax" payments to Calabrese and to the Outfit. He testified that he feared for his business and his life if he didn’t meet their demands.

Calabrese’s lawyer, Joseph Lopez, attempted to poke holes in Stolfe’s credibility by pointing out that Stolfe lied to a grand jury in 1990 about Calabrese when he claimed that his monthly payments to Calabrese were paychecks from Connie’s.

Stolfe acknowledged he had lied about Calabrese’s employment at Connie’s, but said he “didn’t feel like I had a choice in the matter. I thought, if I didn’t lie, I might possibly get hurt.”     

Stolfe testified again to a grand jury about Calabrese's extortion in 2004, and was given immunity from prosecution for lying in 1990 in exchange for his testimony.

The first Connie’s Pizza opened on 26th Street, in the heart of the Outfit’s turf. In 1980 or 1981, Stolfe testified, two men walked into the restaurant and asked to speak to Stolfe. Stolfe thought they were salesmen, he said, and told them he didn’t have the time to speak to them. 

“They said, ‘Find time,’” Stolfe testified.

The men, whom Stolfe has not been able to identify to this day, demanded $300,000 in street tax. Connie’s ran a legitimate business, Stolfe testified, and the men offered nothing in return for the money. Ironically, Calabrese had shown up 10 minutes earlier to pay Stolfe a visit when the two men came to extort the money, Stolfe said. He said he hadn't seen Calabrese in a decade before that day.

Stolfe testified that Calabrese said at the time that he would talk to the men, and then told Stolfe two weeks later that he had talked down the amount to $100,000. After Stolfe paid the initial sum, he paid $1,000 monthly in street tax to Calabrese himself until 1990, and then $500 a month until 2003, he testified.

Stolfe cut paychecks to Calabrese as if he were a Connie’s employee, and told no one about the payments, not even his wife, he testified.

When asked by Lopez about spending time with Calabrese and his family, Stolfe testified that he felt intimidated into accepting Calabrese’s social invitations. “I thought, whatever he wanted, if he wanted to go play handball, I would do it,” he said.

Stolfe did testify under cross-examination that Calabrese never threatened him, though federal prosecutor John Scully quickly reasserted during additional questioning that Calabrese’s continued extortion was a kind of threat in itself.

Stolfe spoke in a soft, lilting voice, and often replied, “I don’t know,” or “I can’t remember,” to questions.

“After the two men came to speak to you, you were furious, weren’t you?” Lopez asked about Stolfe’s initial shakedown.

“I never get furious,” Stolfe responded.

Lopez’s lengthy and repetitive questioning riled up Scully, who was on his feet voicing objections for much of Lopez’s second hour of questioning.