Some made ladies make their entrance on “Mob Wives Chicago”
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org March 7, 2012 9:18PM
Shooting of the reality series "Mob Wives Chicago" outside Cassidy Tire, 344 N. Canal st. (from left) Leah DeSimone, Renee Fecarotta Russo, Pia Rizza, Christina Scoleri and Nora Schweihs. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Updated: April 10, 2012 11:30AM
A warehouse loading dock by the river seems like an unlikely location to film the intro for a TV show.
Unless that show is “Mob Wives Chicago.”
This gritty backdrop was where five glammed-up cast members gathered Wednesday to shoot the opening of VH1’s upcoming reality show, a spinoff of the New York original, now in its second season.
Decked out in fur and leather, dripping in jewelry and wearing stilettos that could double as lethal weapons, the ladies strutted down the cement catwalk of Cassidy Tire in River North while a giant fan blew their long locks — sometimes into one another’s faces.
“She grabbed my hair!” yelled Pia Rizza, when one of the women almost took a tumble and reached for something to hold onto during the umpteenth take. (It took the New York cast close to 30 tries to get their opening just right.)
Filming in Chicago for the docu-soap began in December and is likely to wrap in May. The network announced the names of the cast members this week.
“Allegedly my dad was the most feared hit man in Chicago, but he was never proven guilty, so to me, it’s hearsay,” Schweihs said.
Her father, Frank “The German” Schweihs, died of cancer in 2008, just months before he was slated to go on trial in the infamous Operation Family Secrets case.
“Innocent until proven guilty,” said Schweihs, who has had a few charges of her own — such as resisting arrest in Florida — dropped.
Raised in Riverside and now living in Bridgeport, Schweihs literally was a mob wife. (The show’s creator, Jennifer Graziano, said the “Mob Wives” title is meant to be figurative, with the women being married to a Mafia lifestyle.)
Schweihs’ ex-husband, Michael Talarico, was a mob bookie and nephew of crime boss Angelo “The Hook” LaPietra. She and her ex haven’t spoken since 1993.
This summer, Schweihs is set to graduate with a master’s degree in business management from Robert Morris University.
“I like being part of the show because for once in my life . . . I get to tell my story,” she said, “and it’s the truth.”
A big reason Pia Rizza signed on to do the show: revenge.
She hopes her father, who went into the federal witness protection program and disappeared from her life when she was 10, will see the program. And “see how his actions impacted my life,” she said.
Vince Rizza was a crooked Chicago cop who doubled as a bookmaker and juice collector before turning government witness.
“He kind of just left me out there to dry,” said Rizza, a cosmetologist from Edison Park. She has a 15-year-old daughter who doesn’t know if her grandfather is alive or dead.
“It’s been pretty difficult to share my story,” Rizza said. Difficult and a tad nerve-wracking. “I didn’t know who might be upset from 30 years ago. Being a rat isn’t a good thing.”
This self-described “Daddy’s little girl” lives with her father, William “Wolf” DeSimone, on Taylor Street in Little Italy.
“I lived a very sheltered life,” said DeSimone, whose hair is as big as her personality.
Growing up, she said she had no idea what her dad did for a living.
“He’d leave in a suit and come home in street clothes,” she said. “I still don’t know what my father does.”
This X-ray and nail technician said she’s not worried about being on a Mafia-related program.
“What’s there to worry about?” she said. “There is no Chicago mob.”
No Outfit at all?
“The outfit is what I’m wearing,” she said, pointing to her clingy black dress.
DeSimone describes herself as a jokester with “a very wicked tongue.”
When this divorced Downers Grove mom was approached about being on the show, her first thought was, “No way.” But she came around, partly because she would be joined by her BFF Leah DeSimone. The two grew up together on Taylor Street in a neighborhood “where everybody knew your business.”
A currently unemployed aspiring fashion designer, Scoleri remembers her father — “an alleged fence for the mob” — being in and out of jail during her youth.
“It was a roller-coaster childhood,” said Scoleri, who has a 9-year-old daughter.
She said her father, Raymond Janek, came clean in 1987 and started working as an electrician.
“He’s being supportive,” she said.
Renee Fecarotta Russo
The sole blond in the bunch, Russo is an optician and owner of Eye Candy Optics in Wicker Park. She’s the “happily divorced” mother of two daughters, ages 20 and 10.
Her uncle, “Big John” Fecarotta, was a loan shark and hit man for the Outfit. Before being gunned down in 1986 by fellow mobster Nick Calabrese, “Big John” played a big role in Russo’s life while growing up in Lombard. “He taught me how to read people and to be loyal,” she said.
What would her uncle think of her starring in “Mob Wives Chicago”?
“He probably wouldn’t want me to be on the show,” she said. As for the rest of her family, “I’m getting mixed reviews. Some are happy, some are not.”
Russo said being on a reality show has been harder than she thought.
“My biggest hurdle is I want to be respectful of my family and my cousins,” she said, adding that “there’s a lot of drama” between the cast members.
“We are definitely hot and cold,” she said, describing herself as a peacemaker — with one caveat: “You really don’t want to cross me.”