Chicago mob: From hit men to ‘Wives’ in hit TV shows
By MARK BROWN email@example.com March 3, 2012 3:44AM
Updated: April 5, 2012 8:18AM
During his long career as a mob enforcer, Frank “The German” Schweihs gained a reputation as a fearsome hit man relied upon by the Chicago Outfit to eliminate its enemies, including potential government witnesses who might talk out of school.
Schweihs, who was said to be so psycho scary that even other tough guy mobsters went out of their way to avoid him, died of cancer in 2008 while waiting to go on trial in the landmark Operation Family Secrets case.
Later this week, sources tell me, the television network VH-1 is planning to announce Schweihs’ daughter Nora will be one of the stars of the new Chicago spinoff of its hit reality series, “Mob Wives.”
Is there still any doubt in your mind that The Outfit isn’t what it used to be?
“Mob Wives,” which bills itself as a docu-soap, has never purported to spill any mob secrets during its now two season run following the exploits of a group of Staten Island women with familial ties to New York organized crime figures. “Mob Wives: Chicago” isn’t expected to be any different.
Instead, the program explores the lives of the women with the goal of showing how their mob surroundings have affected them personally—as mothers, daughters and wives. For anybody who has seen the prolific catfighting among the New York cast, the affect would appear to be pretty straightforward: it’s made them crazy.
Nora Schweihs, 48, is said to be a piece of work herself. I’ve only managed to get her on the phone a couple of times — both occasions resulting in her angrily yelling at me that she didn’t know what I was talking about and to never call again. Still, I can respect that. That’s how a real mobster’s family member is supposed to react when a newspaper reporter calls, not schedule a press conference.
The German’s daughter certainly has the bona fides for the show. Her ex-husband, Michael Talarico, was a mob bookmaker and nephew of mob boss Angelo “The Hook” LaPietra. In fact, when Talarico testified for the prosecution against Frank Calabrese Sr. in the Family Secrets trial, he told the jury he was still working as a bookie.
There’s a rather unflattering mugshot of Nora Schweihs on the Internet arising from a 2004 DUI arrest in Florida, where she and her father both used to live. She was also charged in the incident with resisting arrest and felony possession of cocaine. She was convicted on the DUI, but the other charges were dropped.
Joining Schweihs on the show will be her good friend, Renee Fowler Russo, the niece of mob loan shark and killer John Fecarotta, whose own 1986 assassination provided the break that set the Family Secrets dominoes in motion. Nicholas Calabrese, the hit man whose cooperation with authorities was at the heart of the Family Secrets case, is said to have flipped in large part because he left a bloody glove behind when he killed Fecarotta, which years later provided a DNA match.
What qualifies Russo for the show, we’re told , is that she and her mother Barbara, Fecarotta’s sister, lived with “Big John” while she was growing up. Russo, 44, now operates an eye care business in Ukrainian Village and has numerous other past entanglements that could add to the drama.
The other two women in the four-member cast are Pia Rizza, 40, daughter of Vincent Rizza, a dirty Chicago cop who doubled as a bookmaker and juice collector before he turned government witness, and Christine Scoleri, 41, daughter of a small-time Cicero-area hood described to me as a “knockaround guy.”
Rizza’s father was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 1982 for drug dealing and ended up in the federal witness protection program. Perhaps most notably, he testified against Harry “The Hit” Aleman, maybe the only Chicago mob guy of his generation more feared than Schweihs.
Scoleri’s father shows up so infrequently in our news clippings that I’m not quite comfortable mentioning him by name with the rest of this crowd. Scoleri, by the way, is her married name.
I’m told there are another one or two Chicago mob women, as yet unrevealed, who aren’t part of the regular cast but might make cameo appearances during the season with an eye toward a bigger role in the future — if our mob women prove as popular as New York’s.
Might there be a “your daddy killed my daddy” story line sometime in the future?