Friday, June 01, 2007

The Chicago Outfit is the Smartest Mob in the Country

In an exclusive interview with Sean Chercover, Cameron Hughes touched on a number of topics including the mob in Chicago. Of particular interest, is Chercover's view of the past and current condition of the Chicago Mob.

Sean Chercover's first novel, Big City, Bad Blood, was a surprising debut. Just when I thought the Private Investigator sub-genre was on life support, along came this gritty, realistic story. Sean Chercover used his real experiences as a PI to make his writing better and I got a kick out of it. He knows and loves the genre well and had some interesting things to say about cliches, character development, and more.

CHUD: Obviously Chicago is famous for the Mafia, but ever since the RICO Act, is it still a noticeable presence there, or is it just amped up in the book to give it more color?

SC: Organized crime is alive and well and still extremely powerful in Chicago. Extremely. The Chicago Outfit was (and is) the smartest mob in the country. First, they're the only mob that stayed true to the "no narcotics" rule. Second, they divested themselves of street-level prostitution over the last 20 years or so. And third, they've made huge investments in legitimate "upperworld" industries.

Staying out of narcotics and getting out of street-level prostitution (they still run the high-end sex trade, mind you) has had two major consequences. First, it takes the heat off, because drug dealers and prostitutes on the streets are the things that the civilians get riled up about. Second, it has made the black and latino street gangs very, very powerful, because they run the narcotics and street prostitution. Consequently, the cops focus mostly on the street gangs, because that's what the civilians are upset about.

Anyway, the mob in Chicago showed a great deal of discipline by not getting into narcotics and by getting out of street prostitution, and it has allowed them to stay clear of a lot of police attention that would otherwise be directed at them. The other thing - investing heavily in legitimate businesses - has given them the stature to buy their way into positions of political power. They own way more than you might suspect, and they use the legitimacy as a front, to funnel money where it can buy influence. Unions, politics, and so on.

Anyone who thinks that the Outfit is ancient history should read the books by investigative reporter Gus Russo. Start with The Outfit. Great overview. And everyone with an interest in current organized crime and how it corrupts the political process should visit the website The Illinois Police and Sheriff's News. An incredible resource. I go there regularly.

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