Tuesday, May 17, 2016

How Al Capone's Successors Built a National Syndicate & Controlled America

He was dubbed with one of the all-time greatest gangland nicknames, The Fixer. The tag fit Sidney Korshak like a calfskin glove.

Born to immigrant parents, Korshak beamed his bright light on a law career and - with the connections of several underworld mentors - got his start representing wiseguys against criminal charges. But his real value to the Chicago Outfit, as the inheritors of Al Capone's criminal empire came to be called, was as a labor consultant and negotiator.

With Korshak in the foreground, Gus Russo's "Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers" tells the story of how a tightknit claque of mostly Russian Ashkenazi Jews rose from the rough-and-tumble rackets to seats of influence and power in some Fortune 500 companies.

In their heyday, around 1960, the gang had long tentacles in Hollywood, controlled an interest in the Hilton hotel chain and held sway over ally Jimmy Hoffa's Teamster's union. That's to say nothing of their outright, if well-hidden, ownership of several Las Vegas casinos, including the Desert Inn - the high roller's haunt where Frank Sinatra made his Sin City debut.

Organized crime's ultimate objective is to make the lucre go in filthy and come out clean, through investments in legitimate businesses. In this, the Supermob had no equal.

Their most sophisticated scheme involved buying property that Japanese-Americans were forced to sell during World War II. Korshak, his cronies and their man inside the Roosevelt administration's Office of Alien Property, turned this land grab into a dandy cash-washing machine. Their exertions were so diabolically intertwined with legal maneuvers that the exact details have eluded two generations of investigators.

The complete story, the author admits, is still unknown. This complex trail is also difficult to follow, and though germane to the work, makes for some glacially paced reading.

When he wasn't perverting a union or arranging a sweetheart loan, Sidney's activities were far more entertaining. The Fixer hustled Dean Martin out of Chicago in one piece after Dino's roving eye locked on the moll of one of the Outfit's boys. Korshak also hot-wired a hooker-filled hotel room with an infrared camera, blackmailing a Senate investigator into going easy on his Chi-town pals.

"Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers" is chocked with anecdotes like this. The gangland gossip and Hollywood scuttlebutt ultimately outweigh Russo's dissection of Byzantine financial chicanery, and in the end, the book adds up to an exhaustive Who's Who of the dark power players of 20th century America.

Thanks to Peter Pavia

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