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Nicholas Calabrese, Mob Hitman Turned Government Witness, Gets 12 Years

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CHICAGO — An admitted hit man who became the star witness in one of the city's biggest mob trials was sentenced Thursday to 12 years and four months in federal prison as a reward for his testimony.

Nicholas Calabrese, 66, who admitted to committing 14 gangland murders, told the court he was sorry for his life of crime.

"I can't undo what I done," he said. "If I could I would. Not a day goes by that I don't think about what I did. It's there every day and it never goes away."

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel said Calabrese was entitled to a break for the information about the mob that he provided to prosecutors and his testimony at the Operation Family Secrets trial _ Chicago's biggest mob trial in years.

But Zagel made it clear that the relatively lenient sentence was mainly because Calabrese became a key witness and that he otherwise deserved far more time for his crimes.

Relatives of his victims said they believed he merely agreed to talk because he dropped a pair of bloody gloves at the scene of one of his murders and feared DNA evidence could send him to the execution chamber unless he made a deal.

"I have no faith in the justice system," Anthony Ortiz said after the hearing. "He shot my dad nine times in the head with a shotgun."

Gary S. Shapiro, first assistant U.S. attorney, said if he were a victim, he would be "totally unsatisfied with this sentence."

"But as a professional law enforcement officer I recognize that you have to offer that leniency" that encourages others with inside information to come forward, he said.

Calabrese, who has been behind bars since November 2002, will get credit for time served and for good behavior. Prosecutors said he could be released in about five years.

The judge said the mob would hunt the renegade member for the rest of his life and that Calabrese would always be living with anxiety. The sentencing was attended by FBI agents and federal marshals to protect Calabrese against mob retaliation.

Calabrese's testimony resulted in life sentences for three of the biggest names in the Chicago mob: mob bosses Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and James Marcello, and his own brother, Frank Calabrese Sr.

Two other defendants accused of tipping off the mob about an investigation, convicted jewel thief Paul Schiro and former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle, got lesser sentences as a result of Nicholas Calabrese's testimony.