CHICAGO — Arthur Rachel was not ready for reform — or retirement.
The 74-year-old reputed mobster was sentenced Thursday to almost 8½ years in prison for plotting to rob an armored truck and the former home of a mob boss, likely ending one of the longest careers in the annals of Chicago crime.
Standing before U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber, Rachel reminded the judge that he had gone 17 years without an arrest since his release from a British prison for stealing the 45-karat Marlborough Diamond from a London jewelry store more than three decades ago.
“What possessed you to get involved in this caper after you (already) spent half your life in prison?” asked Leinenweber, interrupting Rachel’s remarks.
His hands clasped behind his back, Rachel shrugged.
“Nobody takes it seriously, your honor. It’s the way we are,” he said. “We were bored. We got nothing better to do. We sit around talking.
“I know, your honor, I could do better. I’m sure of that. What’s past is past.”
The eight-year, five-month sentence came on top of a combined 27 years he had served over about a half-century.
FBI agents arrested Rachel in 2010 as he sat in the back of a van outside the Bridgeport residence of the late mob boss Angelo “the Hook” LaPietra’s family. Co-defendants Jerry Scalise and Bobby Pullia, who were also in the van, pleaded guilty and are set to be sentenced next month, while Rachel was convicted in January after a short trial before Leinenweber.
Rachel met his co-conspirators growing up on Chicago’s South Side, one of five siblings in the public housing projects, said his attorney, Terence Gillespie.
A brother and a sister wrote letters to Leinenweber, stating that Rachel became head of the family after their mother died of cancer. In another letter, a childhood friend said Rachel’s father was an alcoholic who walked out on the family when Rachel was a boy.
In 1956, when he was around 18 years old, Rachel notched his first of eight federal felonies, a conviction for armed robbery that was followed by a succession of convictions ranging from bank robbery to forgery.
Rachel had been out of prison about a year when he and Scalise went to London, making off with the strawberry-sized Marlborogh Diamond. FBI agents arrested the pair as they got off a plane in Chicago. They were sentenced to 14 years in prison in Britain. The Marlborough was never recovered.
In the spring of 2010, federal agents put Rachel, Scalise and Pullia under surveillance, tailing them and listening in on bugging devices as the trio cased banks and armored cars. News reports that federal agents had found $750,000 in cash and stolen jewelry hidden in the home of imprisoned mob hit man Frank Calabrese Sr. inspired the crew to target LaPietra’s old home in Bridgeport, according to court records.
The night of their arrest, the three had already drilled holes into windows leading into the basement.
Assistant U.S. Attorney. Amarjeet Bhachu noted that decades in prison had done little to change Rachel’s desire to commit crimes.
“Age has not been an impediment,” he said. “So long as he is able to breathe, he’s going to commit crimes.”
©2012 Chicago Tribune