Aging mobster Paul Schiro asks for compassionate release from prison

Lawyer says COVID-19 has “accelerated the urgency “ of the request.

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Paul Schiro

AP Photo/Chicago Crime Commission

Acknowledging that he “did not live an admirable life” and “was not a very good person” decades ago, a man convicted as part of the historic Family Secrets mob prosecution is asking for compassionate release under a law signed by President Donald Trump.

Though the request from Paul Schiro is not based on the COVID-19 outbreak, his lawyer wrote in a filing this week that, “the epidemic has accelerated the urgency and necessity” of the request from the 82-year-old man who has been in custody since 2002. 

Schiro’s attorney, Daniel Hesler, pointed to changes in the law created by the First Step Act, which was signed by Trump in 2018.

“(Schiro) is not a danger to the community or anyone in it,” Hesler wrote. “He is far beyond bearing grudges or resentments to anyone about anything. He does not do much of anything independently now, so there would be little ability for him to cause any trouble even if he wanted to. And he does not want to. His only hope is to simply spend a little time with his family while he is still here.”

U.S. District Judge James Zagel sentenced Schiro in 2009 to 20 years in prison, commenting that the sentence would be “lenient” except for the fact that Schiro was 71 at the time. Now, Hesler wrote that Schiro has fought lung cancer and even had part of a lung removed, uses a walker to travel more than 10 feet, has deteriorating vision and has trouble breathing, among other health issues.

Hesler suggested Schiro does not have long to live. “One cannot live without breathing.”

Schiro is being held in an administrative security medical center in Butner, North Carolina, according to federal prison records. He is not due to be released until April 2024, though Hesler calculated that Schiro has served about 76 percent of his sentence. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has confirmed a staff member in Butner has tested positive for COVID-19.

Schiro is hoping to leave prison to live with his daughter, who is willing to care for him. 

“There might have been a time when society was safer with Paul Schiro locked up,” Hesler wrote. “That time is long past. He may have done bad things, albeit a long time ago, but his incarceration, as a very old and sick man, is simply no longer necessary.”

One of Schiro’s co-defendants, Joey “the Clown” Lombardo, died last fall at the age of 90. Another reputed mob hit man, Anthony Calabrese, was shot down for clemency by Trump in 2018 after his lawyer, Joseph “The Shark” Lopez, sought compassionate release. 

Lopez said Thursday that Calabrese wound up dying in prison. He said the feds wouldn’t agree to release him unless he gave a proffer on his deathbed. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office declined to comment.

A jury found Schiro guilty of racketeering but couldn’t decide whether Schiro had participated in the 1986 Outfit slaying of Schiro’s close friend, Emil Vaci. At sentencing, Zagel decided the prosecution had proven Schiro’s role by a preponderance of the evidence and took the murder into account.

Vaci was killed in Phoenix outside the restaurant where he worked because the Chicago mob feared he was cooperating with a federal criminal investigation into the disappearance of a man who had helped the Outfit skim millions of dollars but then ripped off the mob. 

Schiro did not pull the trigger on his friend but was in a nearby car, acting as a lookout and listening to a police scanner, according to court testimony.

Nick Calabrese, the mob killer who became a government witness, testified at trial that Schiro took part in the planning of Vaci’s killing. Calabrese said he and an accomplice pulled Vaci into a van, then Calabrese shot Vaci several times in the head and dumped his body in a canal.

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