By Mike Robinson
CHICAGO — A deputy U.S. marshal was convicted Tuesday of violating the secrecy of the federal government's witness protection program by leaking information about a key witness cooperating in a Chicago mob investigation.
Deputy marshal John T. Ambrose, 42, stared straight ahead as jurors returned the verdict after almost three days of deliberation. He was acquitted of two charges of lying to federal agents, and sentencing was set for Sept. 9.
Defense attorney Francis C. Lipuma promised an appeal. "This is far from over, we're going to keep up the good fight," the attorney said.
Ambrose, a veteran fugitive hunter with a sterling record until now, is the only person in the 39-year history of the ultrasecret Witness Security Program to deliberately violate its security safeguards.
"This is a real tragedy for federal law enforcement and for Deputy Marshal John Ambrose," said Gary S. Shapiro, first assistant U.S. attorney.
The program was established to protect witnesses against mobsters and terrorists who would want to silence them with threats or violence, and Shapiro said the government's ability to get such witnesses to testify depends on their feeling safe from retaliation.
Lipuma argued Ambrose was an innocent man who may have "shot his mouth off" in boasting about his job to a family friend but never betrayed his oath as a lawman. Prosecutors say the person Ambrose told was a former police officer with known mob ties.
FBI agents first realized there was a leak in the program when they heard two mobsters in a prison visitors room talking about a mole in federal law enforcement.
Witnesses including U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald and the head of the FBI's Chicago office, Robert D. Grant, testified that when they confronted Ambrose with evidence he had leaked witness security information he admitted doing so.
Lipuma argued Ambrose was an innocent man who may have "shot his mouth off" in boasting about his job to a family friend but never betrayed his oath as a lawman. Prosecutors said the person Ambrose told had known mob ties and the secrets made their way to a reputed mob boss.
The protected witness whom the leak involved, Nicholas Calabrese, was the only so-called made member of the Chicago Outfit, as this city's organized crime family calls itself, to switch sides and tell what he knew about mob murders, prosecutors said. Calabrese admitted to taking part in 14 murders himself.
Ambrose was twice assigned to guard Calabrese at a so-called safe site. His testimony in the government's landmark Operation Family Secrets investigation that ultimately sent three mob bosses to prison for life.
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Prosecutors have not alleged that Ambrose endangered Calabrese's life but said passing the information effectively delivered it to the mob.