I-Team Report: The Safe Site

April 22, 2009 (CHICAGO) The "safe site" is a place where the most dangerous, important federal witnesses are kept while they are in Chicago. They could be mobsters, drug dealers, terrorists or just somebody who saw a big crime and knows who did it.

As the I-Team has learned, the men or women placed in the safe site have one thing in common: they all have targets on their backs.

After any high-stakes crime when federal agents locate a key witness they take extraordinary steps to protect that witness and make certain the witness makes it to trial alive.

In the most extreme cases, witnesses enter what is called WITSEC or the Witness Security Program.

The basic rule of WITSEC is that U.S. prosecutors never even acknowledge an individual is in it. They go to extraordinary lengths to shield the identity of some protected witnesses; and have been know to transport them in mail trucks, armored cars or even fishing boats.

That is why it was so unusual during the trial of Deputy Marshal John Ambrose for government officials to reveal even the existence of the safe site. Ambrose is on trial for delivering law enforcement information to Chicago mobsters.

Ambrose was assigned to protect Outfit assassin Nick Calabrese, the highest-ranking Chicago hoodlum ever to become a federal witness.

During Ambrose' trial, federal prosecutors had no choice but to disclose Calabrese was housed in the Chicago safe site because that's where Ambrose allegedly gathered information that ended up in crime syndicate hands.

It is the first time that the Chicago safe site has ever been publicly acknowledged and it was described by one lawman as "a fortified cocoon."

Surprisingly, authorities showed a floor plan of the safe site, featuring a kitchen/lounge area; a conference room with a large meeting table; and a control room, where teams of specially-assigned armed deputies work 12-hour shifts protecting the witness. There are also bedrooms in the safe house.

Some court observers presumed that the safe house was located inside the Metropolitan Correction Center in downtown Chicago. But testimony was that the armored building is not inside the MCC.

This is what we do know about the safe house:

-it may be located underground.
-technically, it features elaborate precautions, including extensive video surveillance, both inside and outside the facility.
-the facility is used "very infrequently,"generally only two to five days at a time.

The I-Team is not identifying the location of the safe site, although at one time a source familiar with WITSEC said that authorities wanted to build it underneath Lincoln Park in an old Cold War missile bunker, a plan that was never carried out.

While the current location is closely held, a 2007 audit by the U.S. inspector general called into question whether witness security was completely secure, citing inadequate staffing levels; increasing workloads, both of which resulted in a danger to witnesses and WITSEC deputies, producing low morale in the ranks.

Indeed, the I-Team has learned that Chicago hoodlum Bobby "the Beak" Siegel and Alva Rogers refused to allow U.S. Marshals from Chicago to house them in the safe site during their testimony at the 2007 Family Secrets mob murder trial.

Siegel and Rogers apparently didn't trust the Marshal service, after learning of John Ambrose leak allegations.

The deputy marshal leak case raises additional questions about witness security in Chicago, such as why Deputy Ambrose was assigned to protect a mob witness, when it was widely known that one of his closest family friends-and his late father both had Outfit connections.

The only thing federal officials will say about this is that no protected witness who follows the program rules has ever been killed in retaliation for their testimony.

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