updated 1/27/2009 11:55:28 AM ET 2009-01-27T16:55:28

A longtime organized crime figure accused by the government of helping to murder a friend to keep him from talking was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a judge who called the punishment lenient.

Paul Schiro, 71, of Phoenix was the first to be sentenced among five men convicted in September 2007 at Chicago's biggest organized crime trial in decades.

"When somebody said we want you to help us kill your friend there was no evidence of hesitation," a stern U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel told Schiro at Monday's sentencing.

Schiro, described by prosecutors as a career criminal, was sentenced to 5 1/2 years just seven years ago after pleading guilty to being part of a gang of jewel thieves led by the Chicago police department's former chief of detectives, William Hanhardt.

The Family Secrets trial was a major effort by the federal government to knock out some of the leaders of the Chicago Outfit, as the city's organized crime family calls itself, and bring them to justice for 18 murders that went unsolved for years.

'Street tax'
The jury found Schiro guilty of being part of a racketeering conspiracy that included murder, gambling, loan sharking and squeezing business for "street tax."

Jurors, however, deadlocked on whether Schiro was to blame for the June 1986 murder in Arizona of Emil Vaci, the maitre d'hotel at a Phoenix restaurant. Vaci was a potential witness in an organized crime investigation, prosecutors said.

Star witness Nicholas Calabrese testified that Schiro served as a lookout while Vaci was pulled into a van, shot three times in the head and dumped in a canal.

Calabrese said he pulled the trigger himself.

Calabrese was the only witness to tie Schiro to the Vaci killing. But Zagel said that testimony was convincing enough to warrant a 20-year sentence. He called it lenient since Schiro helped in the murder of someone who had been a friend.

Prosecutors pointed to Schiro's history of crime.

"He has spent nearly two decades as a career criminal and associate of the Chicago Outfit," Assistant U.S. Attorney T. Markus Fund told the court.

Frank Sinatra soundtrack
On Wednesday, Zagel is due to sentence convicted loan shark and hit man Frank Calabrese Sr., brother of Nicholas Calabrese.

Nicholas Calabrese testified that his brother carried out mob hits, sometimes strangling his victims with a rope and then slashing their throats to make sure they were dead. Two victims were killed in a darkened Cicero restaurant while the Frank Sinatra record of "Strangers in the Night" was playing on the jukebox, he said.

Due for sentencing next week: wisecracking mobster Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo and James Marcello, once described as the boss of the Outfit's day to day operations. Anthony Doyle, a former Chicago police officer also convicted at the trial, is to be sentenced later as is Nicholas Calabrese himself.

More on organized crime

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