I-Team: Mob prosecutor talks Family Secrets

November 10, 2010 (CHICAGO)

T. Markus Funk recently left the United States Attorney's Office in Chicago on a high note after helping to lead the government's charge against the mob for almost a decade, including the famous Family Secrets racketeering and murder prosecution. Now working for a private law firm, Funk spoke exclusively with ABC7 Chicago's I-Team.

"I was working for the state department in Kosovo and I got a phone call from the front office in Chicago," Funk told ABC7's Chuck Goudie.

Funk on the Chicago Outfit
Funk on the USA vs. mobster Mike Sarno case
Funk on the USA vs. mobster Jerry Scalise, et al case
Funk on mobsters who become government witnesses
Funk on the Calabrese mob family
Funk on the death of Mitch Mars & John Scully

That was 2003, when University of Illinois and Northwestern graduate Funk was wrapping up his overseas legal service and the U.S. attorney in Chicago had just started working on a top-secret case called "Operation: Family Secrets."

"I called a friend of mine in the U.S. Attorney's Office and she gave me the rundown on what a great case it was and also the chance to work with John Scully, now Judge Scully, and Mitch Mars to me was in itself fantastic," said Funk. "I think it was ten minutes later that I immediately called back to the front office and said, 'absolutely, I'm interested in it.'"

It was a decision that would change his life, and if the Chicago Outfit had its way, would end it. Frank Calabrese Jr. had just become the first son of a mobster to ever turn government witness against his father, Frank "the Breeze" Calabrese, a hardened killer for the Outfit and one of the mob's top bosses.

Soon, the Breeze's mobster brother Nick would also flip, giving the government and newly-recruited prosecutor Funk, a double-barreled secret weapon.

"It was a massive case, if you think about the 40 years it did span, the 18 homicides, the number of witnesses, it was a massive, massive case," said Funk.

Near the end of the three month trial, the jury foreman told the presiding judge he heard Frank Calabrese Sr. threaten to kill Funk saying, "you're an [expletive] dead man."

"Some juror came forth and said he saw the defendant move his lips and make some type of threat to the U.S. attorney," said Joe Lopez, Calabrese's lawyer. "He was the only person in the court room, including the media. No one else saw or observed any of that conduct."

"I took his threats seriously and I have a number of reasons to take them seriously," said Funk.

Calabrese was prosecuted for ordering the murders of 13 people. He was convicted in seven of them. Funk told ABC7 that authorities determined Calabrese's threat was more than talk and there was an actual plan, but he declined to provide the details.

"There are circumstances relating to what happened in his case that provided some external validation that it wasn't just a one off comment but that there actually was an ongoing effort on his part to make that occur," Funk said.

For several weeks, Funk was moved out of his home and put under 24-hour armed guard by deputy U.S. Marshals.

"We can say he must be blustering or he might not do it, but it's difficult to convince your father or girlfriend or wife or neighbors for that matter who may not want to live near someone who they perceive to be in the line of fire of the Chicago Outfit," said Funk.

The juror didn't tell the government he witnessed the threat until the end of the trial.

"My client denied that it ever happened," said Lopez. "Certainly in between the time this juror thought he heard what he heard or saw what he thought he saw, there was no security issue with the U.S. attorney because nothing happened."

Funk had reason to believe otherwise.

"He was cruel, intentionally cruel. He went out of his way to brutalize people, to revel in the power he had, to revel in the position he had in the Outfit and to also to decide who dies and who doesn't die and to never cooperate or atone for his wrongdoings and he never tried to help rectify the situation," he said.

For Funk, who keeps a picture of himself as a boy wearing a cowboy hat, a career as organized crime prosecutor seemed a long. But after a Family Secrets sweep, Funk and his teammates were awarded Washington's top Justice Department honor, a first for Chicago prosecutors.

But the conviction of top mob bosses in the Family Secrets trial didn't put an end to organized crime in Chicago. Funk left behind three other Outfit cases in progress.

"Italian-organized crime, or the Outfit, has a whole different element to it and that is the public corruption angle the ability they have to reach the higher reaches within the government, city, state and federal," said Funk.

Today, he is working corporate corruption cases at a private law firm in Denver, where his wife has a new assignment with the FBI.

"We're fungible prosecutors. We may take ourselves seriously at times but if I left today or as I did when I left, it's not like people aren't getting prosecuted, they are people out there doing these cases," Funk said.

But Chicago, and the Outfit, are only a plane ride away.

"It would be foolish for me to say, 'no it doesn't occur to me,'" said Funk.

The "T" originally stood for Theodore, but Funk changed it legally to be just a first initial.

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