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Feds: Priest leaked sensitive info about star ‘Family Secrets’ witness

Frank Calabrese Sr.

Ever since the feds indicted a Catholic priest for plotting with Frank Calabrese Sr. to snatch the prolific mob killer’s rare Stradivarius violin from his Wisconsin vacation home, attorneys for the priest have mocked the case. 

But prosecutors made a far more serious accusation Monday: They said former prison chaplain Eugene Klein passed sensitive information to Calabrese about the location of his brother, Nicholas Calabrese — the star witness in the landmark Family Secrets trial who helped put Frank Calabrese in prison for the rest of his life. 

The revelation was slipped 15 pages into a document calling for U.S. District Judge John Darrah to sentence Klein to five years in prison at a hearing Thursday. Klein acted as a secret messenger for the feared hit man, delivering the contents of notes the mob boss had written in solitary confinement, and hidden in religious books, to associates on the outside. 

“(Klein) revealed information to Frank Calabrese, Sr., about the location of his brother, Nicholas Calabrese — knowing that Nicholas Calabrese had cooperated against his brother and that Nicholas Calabrese was in grave danger as a result of his cooperation,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amarjeet Bhachu wrote. 

Klein pleaded guilty in February 2015 to violating the strict security surrounding Frank Calabrese. His attorney, Thomas Anthony Durkin, rejected the government’s argument Monday, saying “once again the government has chosen to go completely over the top because of Frank Calabrese. They recommend no more than six months for Dennis Hastert and 10 times that amount for Father Klein. That is absurd.” 

Durkin previously blasted then-U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald for bringing the case against Klein, telling reporters in 2011, “now that we don’t have a governor to prosecute, we can waste time and money on this. Apparently, he couldn’t find any rabbis or nuns.” 

But Bhachu pointed out that Frank Calabrese had been placed under “the strictest conditions of confinement available in the federal prison system” after he allegedly threatened the life of a federal prosecutor. Klein was among the select few trusted to meet with him alone. 

Frank Calabrese allegedly told Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Markus Funk he was a “f——— dead man” during closing arguments in the Family Secrets trial. 

“If the government cannot trust its own employees within the United States Department of Justice to maintain institutional security and guard against a mob killer from communicating with the outside world, then there is little hope of effectively preventing hardened criminals and their associates from engaging in further acts of violence,” Bhachu wrote. 

Former Deputy U.S. Marshal John Ambrose, who held the No. 2 position in the Chicago office of the marshal’s fugitive task force, was sentenced in 2009 to four years in prison for leaking information that Nicholas Calabrese was cooperating with authorities in the Family Secrets case. 

Frank Calabrese Sr. died on Christmas Day 2012 — his favorite holiday — in a federal prison in North Carolina. 

Convicted at the landmark 2007 mob trial, Frank Calabrese, then 70, was sentenced to life behind bars and ordered to pay $4 million in restitution to the families of his victims by a judge who said he was responsible for 13 mob hits. The government seized his homes in Oak Brook and Williams Bay, Wis., and held him under “special administrative measures,” an extreme form of solitary confinement typically reserved for the most dangerous terrorists and organized crime figures. 

His contact with the outside world was limited to legal discussions with his attorney, closely monitored meetings with a select group of close relatives, and Klein. 

As the prison chaplain, the feds say, Klein knew the rules. But in March 2011 he was caught on a security camera pocketing what he said was a candy bar that Frank Calabrese had passed him through the slot in his cell door. Challenged by the feds, he “confessed,” shared the note about the violin and said he had met with an associate of Frank Calabrese’s at a restaurant called “Zsa Zsa’s” in Barrington, the feds say.          

At that meeting, Klein told the associate that Frank Calabrese had told him the violin was a Stradivarius worth millions that at one time had belonged to Liberace, that Liberace’s lover had sold the violin, and that “somehow Calabrese had ended up with it,” the feds alleged.      

Durkin has argued “there is virtually no evidence that an expensive Stradivarius violin owned by Liberace existed and considerable evidence that it did not.” Meanwhile, Durkin has also provided the judge with records detailing break-ins at the Wisconsin vacation home in April and May 2004.                              

“There is significant evidence that if the Calabrese family owned an expensive violin, it was long since gone from the Wisconsin residence before Calabrese was indicted and the government could be said to have legal ownership of the home and its contents,” Durkin wrote. 

Klein’s plot to recover the violin was challenging because the vacation home was being sold to pay Frank Calabrese’s victims, the feds say. Klein and two associates of the mobster allegedly planned to pose as potential buyers so that they could take a “tour” of the property, then distract a realtor for long enough to grab the violin and run. 

At one point, Klein and the associates even discussed trying to buy the house themselves, the feds say. The three allegedly believed the violin was worth as much as $26 million, some of which Klein planned to use to hire an attorney for Frank Calabrese, and some of which he allegedly intended to keep for himself.

Prosecution filing on Eugene Klein