I-Team

45-carat Marlborough diamond thieves arrested on new charges

Monday, April 12, 2010

Two career jewel thieves in the Chicago Outfit, who are among the mob's most prolific pilferers, have been arrested again-- this time eyeing the home of their former boss, according to a federal complaint filed Friday afternoon.

During a short appearance in court, U.S. Magistrate Judge Nan Nolan ordered Joseph Jerome "Jerry" Scalise, Art Rachel and another hoodlum, Robert "Bobby" Pullia, held at the MCC without bond until a detention hearing next week. They were represented by high profile attorneys Terry Gillespie and Marc Martin. After court, Mr. Gillespie said that all three defendants would enter pleas of not guilty. He said questions about the existence of the Marlborough diamond would best be asked of the federal authorities, who declined to comment.

The men were arrested as they tried to hit the one-time home of Chinatown boss Angelo "the Hook" LaPietra. "The Hook," known for a fondness of hanging wayward gamblers on meat hooks, died in 1999. The arrests reportedly happened late Thursday night in the 3000-block of South Princeton, near LaPietra's former estate. For years Scalise lived in the Bridgeport neighborhood and reported to LaPietra.

The three men, still attired in the dark clothes they were wearing while allegedly staking out LaPietra's home, looked more like they were ready for a shuffleboard game then a burglary. Scalise is 73, Rachel is 71 and Pullia is 69 - and they told the judge about medications they are on, to insure adequate treatment at the MCC.

"I'm not sure exactly what they were expecting to get when they broke into the residence. The residence was occupied last night so it would have been a home invasion. Whether it was a robbery, whether they hoped to get ransom money, a kidnapping, we don't know," said Ross Rice, FBI spokesman.

"I heard a blast, like an M80 going off, like a firecracker. I said, 'who the hell is shooting firecrackers off this time of year?'" said Dan Bujas, neighbor.

The suspects ran a three-man crime wave for the past several years, according to the FBI, whose agents began following the trio last December and listening in on their phone calls after obtaining wiretap approval from a federal judge. An FBI affidavit filed with Friday's criminal complaint reveals cell phone conversations between the men that were intercepted by federal agents.

According to the affidavit, Pullia says, "while we are there we will grab it." Authorities are uncertain if the "it" they were going to grab was the long-missing Marlborough diamond. One theory has been that Scalise and Rachel handed off the stone in London or actually mailed to someone in the U.S., possibly their mob crew boss at the time, LaPietra.

Authorities say they watched the men conduct surveillance on several banks, including the First National Bank of LaGrange where they were allegedly plotting to overtake an armored car delivery of cash by spraying mace in the face of the guards. That hold-up, and others allegedly planned by the Outfit crew, were not actually carried out during the time that federal agents watched the men.

They are, however, suspected of numerous other unsolved bank robberies since 2007, according the federal investigators.

Scalise and Rachel are best known for the Sept. 11, 1980 theft of the famous Marlborough diamond from Graff Jewelers in London. The men were arrested at O'Hare Airport returning on a flight from the UK. They both served long stretched on the Isle of White prison of the UK. The 45 carat stone, once one of the Crown jewels, was never found.

The attempted break-in at LaPietra's former home is certain to spark speculation that the 45 carat sparkler was stashed somewhere in the home. The three men were arrested late Thursday night outside LaPietra's former "fortress" on the south side, carrying an elaborate supply of burglary tools according the feds. Investigators also say they had discussed abducting LaPietra relatives who still reside in the home and taking them hostage.

"All my client has told me so far is it's nonsense. I don't know any of the particulars as of yet," said Terry Gillespiel, defense lawyer.

The Marlborough heist in 1980 was pulled off by Scalise and Rachel, armed with a revolver and a hand grenade. They got away in less than a minute with millions of dollars in gems.

No one was hurt during the morning raid, and customers on the other two floors of the three-story shop were unaware of anything taking place.

A security guard let the first well-dressed thief into the exclusive store shortly after opening, thinking he was a customer.

Once inside the man - dressed in blue check pants, a jacket and a hat- pulled out a gun and ordered the staff and customers to lie down on the floor.

The second robber then walked in brandishing a hand grenade.

The Marlborough diamond, was packed into a briefcase with other jewels by the robbers before they fled to a getaway car parked about 50 yards away.

One of the store clerks followed the men and noted the registration number of the Fiat Mirafiore they used to escape.

The profanity-riddled affidavit also reveals discussions between Scalise and Rachel about potential mob murders, including the killing of a key witness from the Operation Family Secrets prosecution two years ago that resulted in numerous convictions of top mob bosses.

(Copyright ©2014 WLS-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved.)

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