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CHICAGO � The lead federal prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney facing off this month in what may be Chicago’s biggest mob trial have each studied the ways of “the Outfit” up close for decades. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mitchell Mars, who leads the organized crime section in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois, has been prosecuting the mobsters since the early 1980s and Rick Halprin has been defending them since the 1970s. They’re battling now at the federal courthouse in Chicago over the U.S. government’s charges that five defendants, all more than 60 years old, were part of a criminal racketeering conspiracy that included the murder of 18 men between 1970 and 1986 who might have gotten in the way of the Outfit’s gambling, loan-sharking and business fraud. U.S. v. Calabrese, No. 02-1050 (N.D. Ill.). Prosecutors say Halprin’s client, Joseph “Joey the Clown” Lombardo, was a key player in the conspiracy. For Mars, the case is the culmination of years of investigation. His career with the Justice Department reaches back to 1978 before crossing over during the 1980s into the formerly separate Chicago Strike Force that tracked only organized crime. He was the last acting chief of the strike force before the unit was merged into the U.S. attorney’s office, where he’s been ever since. “He’s just been such a steady force over the years,” said Jim Wagner, a former FBI agent who worked with Mars in the late 1990s and recently testified as an expert witness in the current Outfit trial. Intense focus Mars, 54, speaks at the court podium with the deliberate, monotone voice of a veteran, just loud enough for everyone to hear him. When he’s sitting at the government’s table, he’s almost always poring over documents, lifting his head of brown, slightly graying hair only occasionally to glance at a witness. Despite a serious focus on his work, Mars also keeps a sense of humor, said attorney Doug Roller, a former federal prosecutor who supervised Mars. When Roller once insisted sometime in the 1980s that Mars accompany him to a cross-dressing male beauty contest, Mr. Windy City, to serve a subpoena, Mars didn’t balk. “Mitch has this combination of intensity in terms of pursuing an investigation and yet he’s not hung up on himself, thinking he’s the greatest lawyer ever to come down the pike,” said Roller, now a lawyer at Helfrey, Neiers & Jones in St. Louis. Mars, who didn’t want to comment on his work during the trial, and his prosecution team, including John Scully and T. Markus Funk, brought the current indictment in April 2005 against 14 men they allege took part in the conspiracy. The five who are still alive and well enough to fight the charges (one has had his trial postponed for medical reasons) must face testimony by one of the six others who reached plea agreements with the government. Comic quips Halprin, 67, was a prot�g� of attorney Frank Oliver, who defended Lombardo in the early 1980s, but couldn’t keep him from a stint in prison. Oliver guided him through earlier Outfit cases that included bookie businesses and murder cases. During 30-some years, Halprin has also defended politicians and other lawyers. Halprin’s stance at the lectern is casual, often with his left hand in a pocket while gesturing with his right hand, but his baritone voice, perhaps helped by his affection for Marlboro cigarettes, gives him a serious presence. While he latches onto details to make his points in cross-examination of government witnesses, he’s also fond of comic quips. When a former bank robber told the jury he fled Chicago for fear of the Outfit, Halprin replied, “that’s touching.” When he’s not at the podium, Halprin is often getting in and out of his seat at the defendant’s table in an effort to ward off the stiffness he still suffers after four back surgeries. Even so, he still walks with a slight swagger. During an interview, Halprin rattled off details from the dozen Outfit-related cases he has handled, recalling in a gangster voice how one mobster, who was being secretly taped, tried to be coy in telling a cohort not to forget the “G-U-N.” Still, Halprin said the Outfit cases aren’t that interesting because the government has so much evidence on tape and many of the procedural rules are weighted in its favor. The trial becomes all about changing the jury’s “perception” of the charges, he said.

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