Tuesday, August 21, 2007

It's Still the Chicago Way, New Books Prove Nothing Changes

“Here is the difference between Dante, Milton, and me. They wrote about Hell and never saw the place. I wrote about Chicago after looking the town over for years and years.”

Those were the profound words of Carl Sandburg, published in his book of “Chicago Poems: Unabridged (Dover Thrift Editions)” in 1916.

Ninety-one years later, Chicago’s landscape may have changed, but the sordid souls, who poisoned Sandburg’s time, live here in infamy.

That much is evident after sitting through last week’s Operation Family Secrets trial in federal court in Chicago. Five elderly men connected to the Chicago Outfit are charged with running mob rackets and torturing and killing 18 people the past four decades by strangulation, beating and shooting, with ropes, ball bats, blowtorches, shotguns, fists and feet. But the five hoodlums with witty nicknames such as the Clown, the Breeze, Little Jimmy and Twan, didn’t operate without help from outside their secret organization.

Just as in Sandburg’s day, when the hell-bent were called Big Jim and the Fox, the mobsters of our era admit they bribed police and public officials to protect their illegal businesses.

Two new books prove that nothing has changed. Despite the modernization of Michigan Avenue, lakefront beautification and regular police department announcements that crime is declining, the dirty business of public corruption at the behest of the Outfit thrives.

InSin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul her book “Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America's Soul.” author Karen Abbott writes about the open sex trade in Chicago’s Levee District on the near South Side in the early 1900s. It focuses on the turn-of-the-previous-century whorehouse, the Everleigh Club. The story amounts to a blueprint for the modern rackets that the Calabrese/Lombardo Outfit is now on trial for allegedly running.

In 1900, dance hall operator Ike Bloom was in charge of making sure the police allowed bordello operators, call girls and pimps to freely conduct their business. "So integral was Bloom to the web of Levee graft that his portrait, handsomely framed, hung in a prominent place of honor in the squad room of the 22nd Street police station,” writes Abbott.

Below Bloom’s picture was a price list of the appropriate bribes to be paid to police: “Massage parlors: $25 weekly; Larger houses of ill fame, $50-$100 weekly, with $25 additional each week if drinks are sold; Saloons allowed to stay open after hours, $50 per month; Sale of liquor in apartment houses without license …”

The architects were First Ward Alderman “Bathhouse” John Coughlin and Democratic Party boss Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna.

In a second new book, “The Tangled Web: The Life and Death of Richard Cain - Chicago Cop and Mafia Hitman,” author Michael J. Cain reports on the devilish work of his brother Dick. In the late 1950s and ’60s, Dick Cain was a Chicago police vice detective and then chief investigator for the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.

Author Cain says his brother was also “a made Mafia soldier and a protégé and informer for legendary mob boss Sam Giancana.”

Dick Cain was a Chicago mobster, groomed by the mob to be a Chicago cop. “Dick was one of a very small number that reported directly to Sam ‘Momo’ Giancana,” writes Michael Cain.

Dick Cain distributed weekly mob bribes to other cops, according to his brother, and tipped Outfit bosses to gambling and prostitution raids. When independent, non-mob rackets were raided, Cain would be seen in the next morning’s newspapers posed with a Tommy gun, a la Eliot Ness.

Cain’s mob work stretched to Mexico and Cuba and probably included murders, admits his brother. Dick Cain was killed in 1973, five days before Christmas. Two gunman ambushed him in a West Side sandwich shop.

Richard Cain and Sam Giancana’s corrupt DNA was the same that Ike Bloom and his ilk had in 1900. And now a century later, the bad genes are on display in Operation Family Secrets.

Testimony revealed that modern-day Chicago cops were on the Outfit payroll. Mob informants testified they were tipped off by dirty cops about upcoming raids.

An alleged Chicago mob boss testified about his cozy relationship with politically connected labor union bosses and with the late First Ward Alderman Fred Roti, who was convicted of corruption.

Another accused mob boss, who once bribed a U.S. senator, last week implicated all 50 Chicago aldermen in a payoff scheme to allow illegal gambling in their wards.

An admitted Outfit hit man pinned a suburban firebombing on one of Mayor Daley’s close friends.

So nothing changes. We just keep writing about Chicago, after looking the town over for years and years.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie

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