By Lee Coppola
The business card haunts me. It rests on my desk, staring at me, evoking memories best left forgotten
Next to the symbol of the scales of justice it reads, “Inter-Tel Detective Agency, Patrick 'Paddy' Calabrese, Licensed and Bonded, State of Washington.”
The agency purports to protect against corporate theft and civil frauds, to provide surveillance and to find missing persons, all with “state of the art electronic equipment.”
A perfectly normal solicitation from a detective agency, except this agency was run by a convicted felon, a convicted felon who brazenly held up the treasurer's office in the City of Buffalo in 1964 and unwittingly helped give birth to what is known today as the Witness Security Program.
Calabrese gave me the business card to show how he had progressed from a hoodlum, a member of Buffalo's Mafia, to a respected businessman in the Pacific Northwest. I've kept it for years, even though his death in 2005 rendered it obsolete.
I often wonder why I've kept it. Perhaps because of the memories it unleashes. Or, perhaps because of the story behind it, the significance of how Calabrese avoided death from the vengeful hands of those he helped put behind bars.
The story was loosely--very loosely--told in the 1979 movie “Hide in Plain Sight,” which starred James Caan and was filmed in Buffalo. The movie was based on the plight of Thomas Leonard, a cement mason whose divorced wife married mobster Patty Calabrese and had custody of the two children she bore with Leonard.
Leonard had visitation rights, but when Calabrese agreed to testify against his underworld cohorts, he, his wife and her children were spirited away and given new identities by a government task force. Leonard was left out in the cold, and legal efforts to help him find his children ended at the United States Supreme Court.
Calabrese was as brazen in his supposed life of hiding as he was in holding up the City Hall treasurer's office. He wanted nothing to do with government admonitions to keep a low profile, of never returning to his hometown. “If they want me, they know where to find me,” he once told me about the supposed Mafia death contract on him. It was during a luncheon conversation in a Hertel Avenue restaurant while he was living in “secret” far from the eyes of the Mafia.
That secret place was Reno, Nev., a gambling mecca frequented often by mobsters. There, Calabrese started his private detective agency. And, somehow, he obtained a license to carry a handgun, a feat he bragged about often. It was his braggadocio, coupled with his wily street smarts, that kept him alive and allowed him to stay alive even as a man wanted by the mob.
But was he really wanted? Despised, no doubt, but wanted? Maybe not.
So, was the concern of mob reprisal all a charade? Not likely. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the crime family Calabrese belonged to, like others throughout the nation, was still a force to be be feared. That's no longer true today, where the once-powerful criminal network known at La Cosa Nostra, has all but disappeared.
Calabrese survived, whether it was out of guile or fortitude or, for whatever reason (Fear of retribution? Fear of unwanted attention?) the mob didn't want him killed. He worked undercover for government entities to catch criminals; he appeared in a Canadian documentary where he dealt with underworld figures while hidden cameras rolled; he was a willing participant in a story about his “secret” life that was broadcast on a Buffalo television station, and, all the while, he carried that legal handgun.
Calabrese eventually settled in Seattle, where he died . . . of natural causes.
Lee Coppola wonders why he kept this particular business card.