The Chicago Syndicate: Al Capone
Showing posts with label Al Capone. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Al Capone. Show all posts

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Former Home of Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn, Suspected St. Valentine’s Day Massacre Mastermind, is for Sale

There’s no shortage of historic homes in suburban Oak Park. After all, it’s the city where Frank Lloyd Wright launched his career, inspiring a generation of architects to develop what’s widely considered to be the first true brand of American architecture, the Prairie school. But Oak Park also has a seedier history, one tracing back to the bootlegging days of Al Capone’s Chicago Outfit.

At 1224 Kenilworth Avenue, a double-wide bungalow stands among historic homes built at the advent of the Prairie school. And while it’s certainly unique for its double bay windows, the structure is better known as the former home of Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn, a ruthless hitman and Capone confidant.

Legend has it, says Berkshire Hathaway agent and local radio personality Cara Carriveau, that McGurn was one of the masterminds behind the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, which left seven Capone rivals dead on the North Side.

While police suspected McGurn to have been a key player in the attack, an alibi — spending the day with his girlfriend, Louise Rolfe — kept him from trial. Rolfe, dubbed “The Blonde Alibi” by the press, would eventually marry McGurn and share the house with him.

“I’m sure there’s a good reason why his nickname is Machine Gun,” Carriveau says. “There’s a gangster bus tour that goes through Oak Park and this is one of the stops.”

The house has even made an appearance on the small screen. In 2014, National Geographic visited 1224 Kenilworth with its show Diggers, on which co-hosts George Wyant and Tim Saylor perform archeological searches for relics at historic sites.

Beyond its small role in Chicago Outfit lore, the 3,349-square-foot bungalow has a much longer history with the family who currently owns it. Pauline Trilik Sharpe grew up in the house, which her parents bought 55 years ago, and fondly remembers sharing the space with friends and family.

“As a child, it was great with my grandfather living here … when my parents were at work, I could go upstairs and visit [him],” Trilik Sharpe recalls of the multi-generational household. “It’s a large home and we’d have gatherings and parties with up to 50 people.”

Given the home’s sprawling first floor, it made sense for Trilik Sharpe’s parents to stay there into old age. But with her folks gone, Trilik Sharpe says she feels increasingly like a caretaker of the house, and is ready to let another family build memories there.

She adds that she’s happy to share as much of the home’s past with its next owners as they’d like. Because, she believes, “people are interested in the history of the houses they own.”

The home is listed for $584,900.

Thanks to AJ Latrace.

Tuesday, May 07, 2019

Nick Bosa and Joey Bosa are the Great-Grandsons of the Most Powerful American Mob Boss of the 20th century

In the first round of the 1987 draft, the Dolphins used the 16th pick to select John Bosa, a defensive end from Boston College. Miami again drafted 16th the following year, choosing Eric Kumerow, a linebacker from Ohio State whose father and uncle had been NFL offensive linemen. In ’93, Bosa married Kumerow’s sister, Cheryl, and they had two sons, Nick and Joey. Joey, of course, is a Pro Bowl edge rusher for the Chargers. Meanwhile, Jake Kumerow, son of Eric, is a receiver who went undrafted in 2015 but caught on with the Packers, starting two games last season.

So it is that when Ohio State defensive end Nick Bosa was taken last week in the 2019 draft, second overall by the 49ers, he become the seventh player in the family, over three generations, to join the NFL. Yet none of them could ever hope to be considered the most feared and fearsome member of the clan. Not by a long shot.

Tony Accardo didn’t get the mob handle Joey Batters for his proficiency at baking muffins. And the same ruthlessness that earned Accardo his nickname and a place on Al Capone’s organization chart was on full display a half-century later. In early 1978, Accardo was in California to escape the Midwest’s biting cold when robbers broke into his suburban Chicago home. The 71-year-old Accardo seethed, less for rage over property lost than over the breach of respect.

At the time, he passed his days playing with his grandkids, including his daughter Marie’s thick-shouldered son, Eric, then 12. Still, Accardo wasn’t beyond demonstrating who was boss. Using his connections to identify the thieves, he betrayed no mercy. Within the year, 10 men were dead. According to the Chicago Tribune, “Each was found with his throat cut; one was castrated and disemboweled, his face removed with a blow torch, a punishment imposed, presumably, because he was Italian and should have known better.” As another account in The Guardian put it, Accardo “avenged insult with interest.”

This was business as usual. Accardo was born in Chicago in 1906, the year after his parents emigrated from Sicily. Though he was later believed to have a photographic memory, Tony dropped out of school at 14, in 1920, not coincidentally the first year that the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcohol was made illegal by the Eighteenth Amendment. Short on formal education but long on street smarts, he went to work for local crime syndicates and neighborhood bootleggers, executing muggings and serving as a lookout, before graduating to armed robbery.

In the mid-’20s he caught the eye of the real Scarface. In John Kobler’s definitive biography Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone, the author writes that Accardo became a bodyguard “and was sometimes seen in the lobby of the Hotel Lexington with a tommy gun across his knee.” He was having lunch with his boss in 1926 when members of Chicago’s North Side Gang opened fire. According to mob lore, Accardo splayed his body over Capone to thwart the hit.

Accardo would not only take bullets for Capone, but also deliver deadly blows. By some accounts he helped plan the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, when Capone’s soldiers, dressed as police, killed seven members of Bugs Moran’s rival bootlegging gang. Days later Accardo figured prominently at a dinner that had been arranged both to celebrate Capone’s consolidation of power and to deal with two troublesome capos. In a scene later bastardized in the 1987 film The Untouchables, Accardo took the men out back before the main course was served and bashed their skulls in with a baseball bat. “Boy, this kid is a real Joey Batters,” Capone allegedly enthused about his protégé. The nickname stuck.

Despite these acts of violence, Accardo was, really, more brain than muscle. His specialties: understanding legal loopholes, expanding the mob’s reach and prospecting for new revenue streams. He was particularly involved in the gambling racket around Chicago, at one point overseeing an estimated 7,500 mob-controlled businesses that offered games of chance.

While Capone was a model of public flamboyance, Accardo cut the opposite figure, never granting interviews and living by the credo “keep your head down.” On the rare occasion when he appeared in public, he typically wore a hat pulled low and sunglasses shrouding his face.

After Capone’s conviction for tax evasion in 1931, Accardo became a leader in the Chicago operation, gaining power when Frank (the Enforcer) Nitti committed suicide in ’43 and Paul (the Waiter) Ricca was convicted on extortion charges nine months later. By the late 1940s, Accardo was in full control of the Chicago mafia. (Not that he ever admitted it. For decades he was invariably described as an alleged or reputed mob boss.)

“Accardo may not have had Capone’s mystique, but he was extraordinarily powerful,” says Rich Lindberg, a Chicago author and historian. “Remember, you’re talking about a time when the Chicago Outfit”—as Illinois’s multiethnic crime syndicate was known—“was so powerful that the newspapers had reporters whose only beat was covering the mob.”

In 1934, Accardo married Clarice Pordzany, a chorus girl. They adopted two sons, Joseph and Anthony; had two biological daughters, Marie and Linda; and moved into a sprawling home in River Forest, Ill., replete with an indoor pool and bowling alley. Tony would hold lavish Fourth of July parties that drew the most prominent mob figures throughout the country. In a scene cribbed for The Godfather, the FBI would come and survey the cars, matching license plates with names. Reportedly, Frank Sinatra showed up at the house to sing for Accardo on one of his birthdays.

Under Accardo the Chicago Outfit moved from bootlegging and assorted acts of violence to more sophisticated ventures. (As Ricca once put it, “Accardo had more brains for breakfast than Al Capone had in a lifetime.”) By penetrating labor unions, expanding gambling ties and establishing a beachhead in a newly minted city of sin, Las Vegas (with an equity stake in the Stardust Hotel), the Chicago Outfit came to resemble a conventional business. And Joey Batters was the unquestioned CEO. When mob historians refer to him as perhaps the most powerful American underworld figure of the 20th century, it is not hyperbole. New York City may have had a bigger organized crime scene, but that was split among five families. In Chicago, for all intents, there was just one boss.

Despite 30-plus arrests, Accardo never spent a night in jail. Not that there weren’t close calls. In 1946, Irish gangster James Ragen tried to inform on Accardo to the FBI—until Ragen died suspiciously of mercury poisoning. In ’51, Accardo was called to testify before Congress about organized crime. Wearing sunglasses, he invoked the Fifth Amendment 172 times. And in ’59 he was indicted for tax violations after he listed his occupation as “beer salesman” and tried to write off his Mercedes-Benz as a business expense. A jury overturned his conviction after a protracted appeal.

Accardo spent most of the 1960s and ’70s in what the Tribune called “semiretirement and serving as a counselor to underworld figures.” Marie, meanwhile, married Palmer Pyle, a guard with the Colts, Vikings and Raiders. (His brother Mike played nine seasons at center for the Bears and won a championship alongside Mike Ditka.) Palmer and Marie divorced, and she wed Ernest Kumerow, a former Chicago union boss, who adopted Eric and his sister, Cheryl, raising them both as his own. At Oak Park–River Forest High, Eric was a three-sport star, a 6' 6" 228-pound mauler whose grandfather often watched him play, inconspicuously, from the bleachers.

During pre-draft interviews after Eric’s junior year in Columbus, NFL teams asked about Accardo, concerned that he might influence games. (According to the Tribune, William Roemer, a former senior agent on the FBI’s Organized Crime Squad in Chicago, told teams Accardo would never put his grandson in that position.) After Eric ended up a Dolphin, a Miami Herald reporter told him that Joey Batters had been named No. 2 on Fortune magazine’s ranking of American gangsters, to which Kumerow replied, “To me, he’s just my grandfather, and I love him. He’s a great man, a caring man. I remember him coming to ball games and being with us. I never had an opinion when I would see articles in the paper. I don’t believe them. Half of what you read in the paper isn’t true.”

Eric was a pallbearer in 1992 when Accardo died at age 86, an event that occasioned a front-page obituary in the Chicago Sun-Times. In the ultimate testament to Accardo’s savvy, he died of natural causes. “If you’re a mobster and you don’t die with your shoes on, you must have been doing something right,” says Lindberg. “Just consider his span. He was in power for six decades. Capone was in power for six years.”

Joey Bosa was born three years after Accardo died; Nick, two years after that. Both tend to smile when their great-grandfather’s name comes up, but neither is inclined to talk about him. (Both Eric and Cheryl Kumerow declined to comment for this story.)

Today, the Chicago Outfit is essentially defunct, organized crime in the city having been replaced by street gangs. Inasmuch as the Outfit exists at all, there are believed to be fewer than 30 members remaining. Tony Accardo is a figure frozen in lore, a star in a game that, at least locally, is no longer played. Still, you suspect he’d be pleased that, in a more public and permissible line of work, his family has risen to the top.

Thanks to Jon Wertheim.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Big House Red Wine Inspired by Al Capone from the Bootlegger's Series

Big House 2016 Prohibition Red Blend - Red Wine.

So dark, so delicious, so dangerous-Big House Prohibition Red showcases notes of blackberries and raspberries, with hints of leather and spices.

The palate is clean, exhibiting flavors of cranberries, roses and a touch of rhubarb. This finish lingers, leaving you with flavors of vanilla and dark cherries.

Prohibition Red walks the line between soft and smooth and powerful and vicious; it’s as infamous as Al Capone himself.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Al Capone's Soup Kitchen

Chicago shivered through a particularly bleak November in 1930. As the U.S. economy plummeted into the Great Depression, thousands of the Windy City’s jobless huddled three times a day in a long line snaking away from a newly opened soup kitchen. With cold hands stuffed into overcoat pockets as empty as their stomachs, the needy shuffled toward the big banner that declared “Free Soup Coffee & Doughnuts for the Unemployed.”

The kind-hearted philanthropist who had come to their aid was none other than “Public Enemy Number One,” Al Capone.

Capone certainly made for an unlikely humanitarian. Chicago’s most notorious gangster had built his multi-million-dollar bootlegging, prostitution and gambling operation upon a foundation of extortion, bribes and murders that culminated with the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in which he ordered the assassination of seven rivals.

Many Chicagoans, however, had more pressing concerns than organized crime in the year following the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Long lines on American sidewalks had become all-too familiar sights as jittery investors made runs on banks and the unemployed waited for free meals.

In early November 1930, more than 75,000 jobless Chicagoans lined up to register their names. Nearly a third required immediate relief. “The Madison Street hobo type was conspicuously absent from these lines of men,” reported the Chicago Tribune, which noted that many of the unemployed were well-dressed.

A week later the Chicago Tribune reported the surprising news that the mysterious benefactor who had recently rented out a storefront and opened a soup kitchen at 935 South State Street was none other than the city’s king of booze, beer and vice. Capone’s soup kitchen served breakfast, lunch and dinner to an average of 2,200 Chicagoans every day.

“He couldn’t stand it to see those poor devils starving, and nobody else seemed to be doing much, so the big boy decided to do it himself,” a Capone associate told a Chicago newspaper. Inside the soup kitchen, smiling women in white aprons served up coffee and sweet rolls for breakfast, soup and bread for lunch and soup, coffee and bread for dinner. No second helpings were denied. No questions were asked, and no one was asked to prove their need.

On Thanksgiving in 1930, Capone’s soup kitchen served holiday helpings to 5,000 Chicagoans. Reportedly, Capone had planned a traditional Thanksgiving meal for the jobless until he had heard of a local heist of 1,000 turkeys. Although “Scarface” had not been responsible for the theft, he feared he would be blamed for the caper and made a last-minute menu change from turkey and cranberry sauce to beef stew.

The soup kitchen added to Capone’s Robin Hood reputation with a segment of Americans who saw him as a hero for the common man. They pointed to the newspaper reports of the handouts he gave to widows and orphans. When the government deprived them of beer and alcohol during Prohibition, Capone delivered it to them. When the government failed to feed them in their desperate days, the crime boss gave them food. For anyone who felt conflicted about taking charity from a gangster, hunger trumped principles. As the Bismarck Tribune noted, “a hungry man is just as glad to get soup and coffee from Al Capone as from anyone else.”

Writing in Harper’s Magazine, Mary Borden called Capone “an ambidextrous giant who kills with one hand and feeds with the other.” She noted the irony that the line of jobless waiting for a handout from Chicago’s most-wanted man often stretched past the door of the city’s police headquarters, which held the evidence of the violent crimes carried out at Capone’s behest.

Every day, the soup kitchen served 350 loaves of bread, 100 dozen rolls, 50 pounds of sugar and 30 pounds of coffee at a cost of $300. It was a sum that Capone could easily afford since on the same day that news of his soup kitchen broke, Capone bookkeeper Fred Ries testified in court that the profits from Capone’s most lucrative gambling houses cleared $25,000 a month.

Although he was one of the richest men in America, Capone may not have paid a dime for the soup kitchen, relying instead on his criminal tendencies to stockpile his charitable endeavor by extorting and bribing businesses to donate goods. During the 1932 trial of Capone ally Daniel Serritella, it emerged that ducks donated by a chain store for Serritella’s holiday drive ended up instead being served in Capone’s soup kitchen.

Although the press never spotted Capone in the soup kitchen, newspapers ate up the soup kitchen story. Some such as the Daily Independent of Murphysboro, Illinois, expressed displeasure at the adulation bestowed upon its operator. “If anything were needed to make the farce of Gangland complete, it is the Al Capone soup kitchen,” it editorialized. “It would be rather terrifying to see Capone run for mayor of Chicago. We are afraid he would get a tremendous vote. It is even conceivable that he might be elected after a few more stunts like his soup kitchens.”

However, prison, not politics, would be in Capone’s future. No amount of good publicity could save Capone from the judgment of a jury that found him guilty of income-tax evasion in November 1931.

Thanks to Christopher Klein.

Friday, March 22, 2019

A Century of Chicago Mob Bosses

A thumbnail history of Chicago's mob leaders. Dates are approximate.

1910
"Big Jim" Colosimo (1910 to 1920). Chicago's vice lord runs brothels and nightspots, shot dead in 1920 at his popular restaurant. Death cleared way for Capone

1920
Johnny Torrio (1920 to 1925). Reserved boss, eschews violence, retires in 1925 after a fouled-up hit leaves him barely alive.

1925
Al Capone (1925 to 1932). Made Chicago mob famous. Perhaps the most successful mob boss ever, the subject of countless books and movies, done in by the IRS for tax evasion.

1932
Frank Nitti (1932 to 1943). With help from Jake Guzik, rebuilds the Outfit after Capone's departure. Commits suicide after he's indicted in 1943.

1943
Paul "the Waiter" Ricca (1943 to 1950). Has a son who's a drug addict and decrees no Outfit member can have anything to do with narcotics trafficking.

1950
Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo (1950 to 1957). Considered the most capable Outfit leader ever. Never spends significant time in jail. Always plays key role as adviser, but facing a tax case, he officially hands reins over to ...

1957
Sam "Mooney" Giancana (1957 to 1966). Attends the infamous Apalachin, N.Y., meeting that draws national attention to organized crime, draws even more focus on the Outfit with his flamboyance, shared a girlfriend with JFK, flees country for eight years, slain in 1975 at his Oak Park home.

1966
Sam "Teets" Battaglia (1966). Tough leader who is convicted in federal court same year, dies in prison.

1966
John "Jackie" Cerone (1966 to 1969). Considered one of the smartest underworld figures, a strong leader, then the feds pinch him.

1969
Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio (1969 to 1971). The mob killer is an unpopular leader, then he's convicted of bank fraud.

1971
Joseph "Joey Doves" Aiuppa (1971 to 1986). A Cicero mobster who ran gambling and strip clubs and grows into the job, with help from Accardo, Gus Alex and, later, Cerone. He is convicted of skimming profits from a Las Vegas casino.

1986
Joseph Ferriola (1986 to 1989). Heads the Outfit for only a few years before succumbing to heart problems.

1989
Sam Carlisi (1989 to 1993). Protege to Aiuppa and mentor to James "Little Jimmy" Marcello. Carlisi and his crew are decimated by federal prosecutions.

1997
John "No Nose" DiFronzo (1997 to 2018). Called mob boss by Chicago Crime Commission, but other mob watchers disagree.

2018
Salvatore "Solly D" DeLaurentis (2018 to Current?) Although not official, Solly D is considered by many mafia experts to be one the highest ranking mobster on the streets in Chicago although he has long denied these claims. It is said that his 2nd in command could be convicted mob enforcer, Albert "Albie the Falcon" Vena. Time will tell.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Al Capone's Rumored Hideout is Remodeled

Al Capone, sometimes known as ‘Scarface,’ was an American gangster and businessman who attained notoriety during the Prohibition era. He was co-founder and boss of the Chicago Outfit. His seven-year reign as crime boss ended when he was 33.

In 1986, “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults” was a two-hour television special. It was broadcast April 21, 1986, hosted by Geraldo Rivera. The much-anticipated event turned out to be an anticlimactic and legendary flop. After almost two hours of teasing viewers, Rivera opened the vault to reveal … nothing!

Nevertheless, South Florida is still filled with Al Capone legend and lore. The Miami mansion where he died is easily located via any search engine. Almost every restaurant and bar established in Capone's time seems to have a story about how “Al Capone drank here.” But Capone’s reputed riverside hideout in Fort Lauderdale remains more of a mystery.

Al Capone Fort Lauderdale Hideaway


The only mention of this Fort Lauderdale house we could find was in a 2014 PBS special entitled “Al Capone: Icon.” Whether or not Al Capone used this home as a hideaway remains to be seen.

It was a very interesting home that was a joy to design,” says Interior Designer Perla Lichi. “We began our remodel by selecting white background materials. We wanted white walls and specified reflective white ceilings and shiny white floors that would make the rooms appear larger than they are and with higher ceilings. White was also the perfect background for hanging the client’s modern artwork.

“We added a feature wall in a backlit, wall-to-wall mural. The faux turquoise and onyx mural—one of my specialties—establishes a color palette that flows throughout the home: living room, family room, master bedroom, and kitchen. Custom LED lighting in a random geometric pattern within reflective white ceilings visually connects the living room, dining room, and family room.“ A white counter that extends almost the full length of the kitchen is the perfect casual dining area. Grey ceramic mosaic tile with silver accents creates a perfect kitchen backsplash. This same tile is repeated under the long counter, where four white leather stools make it easy for family and guests to join the conversation when someone is cooking. Windows along the front of the house allow water views from every room that faces the river. One can just imagine Capone’s boat pulling up to unload a shipment of bootleg whisky!

This vintage Fort Lauderdale classic style house and rumored hideout of legendary gangster Al Capone was recently remodeled by Perla Lichi Design. The new interiors feature a fusion of modern styling. Perla Lichi is a Florida licensed interior designer with offices in Coral Springs, Florida.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

The Untold Story of the Gangland Bloodbath That Brought Down Al Capone

Thanks to Art Bilek for sharing with us a deep account for the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. It will make a nice addition to any Mobologist's library: The St. Valentine's Day Massacre: The Untold Story of the Gangland Bloodbath That Brought Down Al Capone.

During Prohibition, Chicago’s Beer Wars turned the city into a battleground, secured its reputation as gangster capital of the world, and laid the foundation for nationally organized crime. Bootlegger bloodshed was greater there than anywhere else.

The machine-gun murders of seven men on the morning of February 14, 1929, by killers dressed as cops became the gangland "crime of the century." Since then it has been featured in countless histories, biographies, movies, and television specials. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, however, is the first book-length treatment of the subject. Unlike other accounts, it challenges the commonly held assumption that Al Capone decreed the slayings to gain supremacy in the Chicago underworld. The authors assert the deed was a case of bad timing and poor judgment by a secret crew from St. Louis known to Capone’s mostly Italian mob as the "American boys."

The target of the murder squad was indeed Bugs Moran, but the "American boys," who were dressed as policemen and arrived in two bogus police cars, arrived early at the garage where the massacre took place. When no one in the garage would admit he was Bugs Moran, the bogus cops stupidly killed them all. Much of the evidence to this effect emerged shortly after the massacre but was deftly ignored by law enforcement officials. It began to resurface again in 1935 with a manuscript written by the widow of one of the gunmen and a lookout’s long-suppressed confession. Indeed, law enforcement tried very hard not to solve the crime, for under any rock the cops turned over there might be a politician, and under the St. Valentine’s Day rock they would have found several. In the end, the machine gun bullets heard ’round the world marked the beginning of the end for Al Capone.

Friday, January 11, 2019

THE OUTFIT'S GREATEST HITS

The Chicago Outfit's Greatest Hits from 1920 to 2001.

1920: Big Jim Colosimo is slain in his popular Wabash Avenue restaurant, making way for the rise of Al Capone. Largely credited with taking the steps to create what would become known as the "Chicago Outfit"

1924: Dion O'Banion is shot dead in his flower shop across from Holy Name Cathedral. Chief suspects are his beer war enemies, the Genna brothers. Started hijacking whiskey right before the start of prohibition kicked in.

1929: Seven members of the Bugs Moran gang are gunned down, allegedly on orders of Capone, at 2122 N. Clark in the infamous St. Valentine's Day Massacre. Moran himself, lucky man, is late for the meeting at the S.M.C. Carting Co.


38 Detective Special1930: Jake Lingle, a Chicago Tribune reporter in the mob's pocket, is slain in the Illinois Central train station. He had crossed many mobsters, including Capone. Shot behind the ear with a 38 caliber detective's special on the way to the racetrack, Lingle was given a hero's funeral. It was only later that it was learned that he was really a legman for the mob.


1936: Capone gunman and bodyguard "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn is gunned down at a Milwaukee Avenue bowling alley, the day before Valentine's Day. Given the timing, the Moran gang was suspected. In addition to his skill with a machine gun, McGurn was also considered a scratch golfer who considered going pro and boxed as a welterweight where he was known as Battling Jack McGurn. He is credited with over 25 mob kills and McGurn was also suspected of being the principal gunner and planner of the St. Valentines Day Massacre.


1975: Mob boss Sam Giancana is killed, while cooking sausage, in the basement of his Oak Park home after he becomes a liability to the Outfit. "The Don" calls Giancana the Godfather of Godfathers - The Most Powerful Mafioso in America. Started as a hitman for Capone. Rose to boss of the Chicago crime family. Friend of celebrities such as Frank Sinatra & Marilyn Monroe. Rigged the Chicago vote for John F. Kennedy in 1960.


Joe Batters1978: Six burglars who struck at mob boss Anthony Accardo's (AKA Joe Batters by the FBI and THE Big Tuna by the Chicago media) house are found slain across the city.


1983: Worried he will sing to the feds, mobsters gun down crooked Chicago businessman Allen Dorfman outside the Hyatt Hotel in Lincolnwood. Dorfman had already been convicted under operation Pendorf: Pentration of Dorfman, along with Teamsters President Roy Williams and Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, when he was hit by the Outfit afraid he would look to reduce his sentence.


1983: Mob gambling lieutenant Ken Eto is shot three times in the head. Miraculously, he survives and testifies against old pals.


1986: The mob's man in Vegas, Anthony Spilotro, and his brother Michael Spilotro are beaten and buried alive in an Indiana cornfield. Glamorized in the movie Casino in which Joe Pesci played "Tony the Ant". Opened up a gift shop at the Circus-Cirus Hotel and Casino where he based his operations. The Family Secrets Trial revealed that the two were originally murdered by a crew led by James Marcello in a house in Bensonville. 


2001: Anthony "the Hatch" Chiaramonti, a vicious juice loan debt collector, is shot to death outside a restaurant in suburban Lyons by a man in a hooded sweat shirt. Chiaramonti had been caught on a tape played at the trial of Sam Carlisi, grabbing a trucking company owner, Anthony LaBarbera, by the throat, lifting him in the air and warning him not to be late in paying juice loan money. LaBarbera was wearing an FBI body recorder at the time. Interesting enough, the restaurant where he was shot was a Brown's Chicken and Pasta, where I have had lunch a handful of times.

Thanks to the Chicago SunTimes and additional various sources.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

How "Handsome Johnny" Roselli Infiltrated Hollywood for the Mob, Pulled Off a Major Scam, and Got Whacked

On July 28, 1976, “Handsome Johnny” Rosselli, a mobster who rose up through the ranks with Al Capone, had brunch with his sister in Miami before borrowing her car and driving to the marina. There, he boarded a private boat with two men, one of them an old friend. But when they got out to sea, the third man—someone Rosselli didn't know from Chicago—strangled the 71-year-old gangster to death. He wasn’t even on the vessel an hour and he was dead, rubbed out by a Mafia hitman who sawed off his legs, stuffed his body into a 55-gallon oil drum, and threw the barrel overboard into Dumfoundling Bay.

The barrel didn’t sink, and fishermen found it ten days later lodged on a sand bar in a canal, as the New York Times reported the following February.

It was an ignoble end for Rosselli, a self-styled playboy who acted as the Mafia’s ambassador both in Los Angeles in the 1930s and Las Vegas in the 1950s. A charming racketeer who held company with infamous mafiosos, Hollywood moneymen, stars and starlets, Rosselli even had some encounters with members of Congress before it all unraveled for him in Miami.

In the new book, HANDSOME JOHNNY—The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin, Lee Server explores the life and times of the man who helped bridge the gap between the movies and the mob. VICE talked to Server to find out how Rosselli made it into the organized crime mold—and how he brought mafia muscle to bear in Hollywood, at least for a while.

VICE: Was there one moment that you suspect kind of set Johnny Rosselli on a course to organized crime?
Lee Server: Rosselli had been drifting across America as a young man. He’d settled in Los Angeles in the 1920s, become a bootlegger, then a gambler and racketeer. A fortuitous encounter brought him to the attention of Al Capone, whose eye for criminal talent was second to no one. He recognized something in Johnny at a time when Capone was in need of a liaison between Chicago and the West Coast. He became a kind of honorary consul for the Chicago Outfit in LA

I think we all had a vague sense that the mob might have been involved in Hollywood productions, but this wasn't just a question of peripheral dabbling—it went to the top.
Part of Rosselli’s "assignment" in Los Angeles was to cultivate relationships with the film industry hierarchy. He knew everybody, dated movie stars, played golf with studio heads. His closest industry friend was the boss of Columbia Pictures, Harry Cohn. They socialized together, and Johnny was often at the studio advising the mogul on his gangster pictures. When Cohn needed a large loan in a hurry it was Johnny who put him together with East Coast mobster [Abner Zwillman]. This had its own complications, as the mobster maintained his secret piece of Cohn’s studio for many years, until he died suddenly, tortured to death or by his own hand, depending whose story you believe.

Rosselli's meddling eventually spun out of control, right?
He collaborated with Frank Nitti—Capone’s successor in the Chicago mob—on a plot to take down the entire Hollywood movie business. They did this through gaining control of a labor union, and then demanding huge under-the-table payoffs from each studio, threatening to close down all movie production if they didn’t pay. The mobsters made millions. It came undone in the end, and many of the perpetrators ended up in prison.

He did actually co-produce films like He Walked By Night and Canon City later in the 1940s—so his wasn't just a criminal gig. Did you take that as a deliberate choice, to find traditional work?
When Rosselli got out of prison on parole, he had to find legit employment. Most ex-cons usually met this parole requirement by taking day-labor jobs, working as dishwashers or similar. Rosselli being Rosselli, he got a job as an associate producer at a movie studio. He formed a production company with Bryan Foy and produced two noir crime pictures in a row. My research revealed how important Rosselli’s contribution was to developing these two great films.

I was struck by just how many public friendships he had with such big names—it was pretty brazen stuff, even after his stints in prison.
Johnny met Marilyn Monroe through the producer (and felon) Joseph Schenck. They were close for a while, lovers according to some. I could not confirm it, but the rumor was that he helped get Monroe her first prominent part in Ladies of the Chorus at Columbia.

As the virtual godfather of Las Vegas in the 50s and 60s, Rosselli knew most of the big showbiz stars who played the showrooms. Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were personal friends. They partied together. Frank and Dean sponsored Johnny’s membership in the Friar’s Club.

This guy clearly had a flair for the dramatic. Was there one episode you think captured that?
The Kefauver Hearings in the early 1950s was the first in-depth government investigation of nationwide organized crime. Few people in America knew just how far-reaching was the spread of what was known then as the Mob and the Syndicate, corrupting every area of the country. The Kefauver group from Washington hauled in every top gangster, including Johnny Rosselli. Unlike most of the mobsters, who tried to play it tough and not say anything (and some went to jail for it), Rosselli answered every question, but with a strategic skill that ultimately gave nothing away.

But what got him killed if not his (repeated) Senate testimony?
I’ll echo the words the homicide detective who found his body said to me: he had pissed off a lot of people.

Thanks to Seth Ferranti.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

HANDSOME JOHNNY—The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin

A rich biography of the legendary figure at the center of the century’s darkest secrets: an untold story of golden age Hollywood, modern Las Vegas, JFK-era scandal and international intrigue from Lee Server, the New York Times bestselling author of Ava Gardner: Love is Nothing…

A singular figure in the annals of the American underworld, Johnny Rosselli’s career flourished for an extraordinary fifty years, from the bloody years of bootlegging in the Roaring Twenties--the last protégé of Al Capone—to the modern era of organized crime as a dominant corporate power. The Mob’s “Man in Hollywood,” Johnny Rosselli introduced big-time crime to the movie industry, corrupting unions and robbing moguls in the biggest extortion plot in history. A man of great allure and glamour, Rosselli befriended many of the biggest names in the movie capital—including studio boss Harry Cohn, helping him to fund Columbia Pictures--and seduced some of its greatest female stars, including Jean Harlow and Marilyn Monroe. In a remarkable turn of events, Johnny himself would become a Hollywood filmmaker—producing two of the best film noirs of the 1940s.

Following years in federal prison, Rosselli began a new venture, overseeing the birth and heyday of Las Vegas. Working for new Chicago boss Sam Giancana, he became the gambling mecca’s behind-the-scenes boss, running the town from his suites and poolside tables at the Tropicana and Desert Inn, enjoying the Rat Pack nightlife with pals Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. In the 1960s, in the most unexpected chapter in an extraordinary life, Rosselli became the central figure in a bizarre plot involving the Kennedy White House, the CIA, and an attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. Based upon years of research, written with compelling style and vivid detail, Handsome Johnny: The Life and Death of Johnny Rosselli: Gentleman Gangster, Hollywood Producer, CIA Assassin, is the great telling of an amazing tale.

Hollywood and the Mafia

Bollywood's connections with the underworld are common knowledge. There is a certain level of romanticism attached to the lives of the mafiosi and their molls. But, the fact remains that even Hollywood greats like ol' blue eyes Frank Sinatra and the original bombshell Marilyn Monroe were rumored to have underworld links. Here's a look at some of the folklore:

The ChairmanFrank Sinatra, actor-singer:

Special agents from the CIA and FBI had kept tabs him on the since 1947 when he took a four-day trip to Havana. He had painted the town red with a gaggle of powerful Cosa Nostra members. Sinatra's other rumored criminal associates included Joseph and Rocco Fischetti, who were cousins of Al Capone and reigning Chicago boss Sam Giancana. When Giancana had been arrested in 1958, the police found Sinatra's private telephone number in Giancana's wallet.

In the summer of 1959, Sinatra allegedly hosted a nine-day, round-the-clock party at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City where Chicago wise guys rubbed elbows with top East Coast mobsters, including Vito Genovese and Tommy Lucchese. Charges like these plagued Frank Sinatra throughout his life, and he repeatedly and vehemently denied having any association with the mafia.


MarilynMarilyn Monroe, actress:

The extensive influence the Chicago mafia had over Hollywood is best illustrated in 1948 when Chicago Mafia boss Tony Accardo had told John Rosselli to force powerful Columbia Pictures' president Harry Cohn into signing then-unknown actor Marilyn Monroe to a lucrative multi-year contract. The usually highly combative Cohn quickly complied without opposition, mainly because Cohn had obtained control of Columbia through mob funds and influence provided by both Accardo and Rosselli.


Bugsy SiegelBugsy Siegel, mobster:

Siegel had a number of mistresses, including actor Ketti Gallian and Wendy Barrie With the aid of DiFrasso and actor friend George Raft, Siegel gained entry into Hollywood's inner circle. He is alleged to have used his contacts to extort movie studios. He lived in extravagant fashion, as befitting his reputation. The highly fictionalized motion picture Bugsy was based on his life with Warren Beatty in the title role.


Lana TurnerLana Turner, actor:

After acting in 'Johnny Eager', a mafia flick, Lana began her own involvement with a real life mobster, Johnny Stompenado, a crew member for the Hollywood mob organisation headed then by Mickey Cohen. Stompenado had confronted several of Turner's screen co-stars, including a celebrated tiff with Sean Connery.


Mickey Cohen
Mickey Cohen, mobster:


He begun his mafia career as a thug for Vegas boss Ben Siegel before moving to Hollywood. Cohen inherited Siegel's racing interests and operated a small haberdashery in Los Angeles that served as a front for a book making enterprise. Always high profile, he dressed lavishly and flaunted his money and friendships with Hollywood heavy-weights.


Steve BingSteve Bing, producer:

Best know for being the father of Elizabeth Hurley's son Damian, Bing's friends are said to include Dominic 'Donny Shacks' Montemarano, a felon and one time capo in the mafia.


Thanks to After Hrs.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Remembering Sidney Korshak - Fabled Fixer for the Chicago Mob


Sidney R. Korshak, a labor lawyer who used his reputation as the Chicago mob's man in Los Angeles to become one of Hollywood's most fabled and influential fixers, died on Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills. He was 88.

His death came a day after that of his brother, Marshall Korshak, a longtime Chicago politician who died in a hospital there at the age of 85.

Although the two brothers shared a law office in Chicago for many years, their careers diverged considerably. Marshall Korshak led a distinctly public life as a glad-handing Democratic machine politician, serving, among other things, as State Senator and city treasurer and dispensing thousands of jobs as a ward boss. But Sidney Korshak pursued power in the shadows.

It was a tribute to Sidney Korshak's success that he was never indicted, despite repeated Federal and state investigations. And the widespread belief that he had in fact committed the very crimes the authorities could never prove made him an indispensible ally of leading Hollywood producers, corporate executives and politicians.

As his longtime friend and admirer, Robert Evans, the former head of Paramount, described it in his 1994 book, "The Kid Stays in the Picture," Mr. Korshak could work wonders with a single phone call, especially when labor problems were an issue.


"Let's just say that a nod from Korshak," Mr. Evans wrote, "and the teamsters change management. A nod from Korshak, and Santa Anita closes. A nod from Korshak, and Vegas shuts down. A nod from Korshak, and the Dodgers can suddenly play night baseball."

Sometimes, to be sure, it took more that one call. At one point when police had him under surveillance, Mr. Korshak, who was careful not to make business calls on telephones that might be tapped, was seen entering a public phone booth carrying a paper bag full of coins.

Although Mr. Korshak generally made his calls to solve major problems faced by clients like the Los Angeles Dodgers, Gulf and Western, M.C.A., Las Vegas hotels and other large corporations, he also used his clout on lesser matters.

Among the stories circulating yesterday, for example, was one about the time the comedian Alan King was turned away at a plush European hotel by a desk clerk who insisted that there were simply no rooms available. Mr. King used a lobby phone to call Mr. Korshak in Los Angeles and before he hung up, the clerk was knocking at the door of the phone booth to tell Mr. King that his suite was ready.

The son of a wealthy Chicago contractor, Mr. Korshak graduated from the University of Wisconsin and received a law degree from DePaul University in 1930. Within months of opening his law practice, according to extensive research conducted by Seymour M. Hersh and Jeff Gerth for The New York Times in 1976, he was defending members of the Al Capone crime syndicate.

His reputation was made in 1943 when a mobster on trial for extorting millions of dollars from Hollywood movie companies testified that when he had been introduced to Mr. Korshak by a high-ranking Capone mobster, he had been told, "Sidney is our man."

That became even more apparent in 1946, when a Chicago department store chain faced with demands for payoffs from rival unions engaged him, and the problem almost magically disappeared.

Within months, Mr. Korshak, who had been shunned by the city's business elite, was in demand for his services as a labor lawyer who could stave off demands from legitimate unions by arranging instant sweetheart contracts with friendly unions, often the teamsters.

Mr. Korshak, who sometimes boasted that he had paid off judges, solidified his standing among Chicago's business, civic and social leaders by giving ribald late-night parties featuring some of Chicago's most beautiful and willing showgirls."Sidney always had contact with high-class girls," a former Chicago judge told The Times in 1976. "Not your $50 girl, but girls costing $250 or more."

Mr. Korshak moved to California in the late 1940's and found Hollywood executives as eager as Chicago businessmen to hire him to insure labor peace.

He added to his reputation and his usefulness when it became known that he could arrange loans of millions of dollars from the teamsters' infamous Central States Pension Fund, which, among other things, helped finance the growth of the Las Vegas casino industry, often with Mr. Korshak serving as the intermediary and sometimes as silent partner.

It was a reflection of his power that when Mr. Korshak showed up unexpectedly at a Las Vegas hotel during a 1961 teamsters' meeting, he was immediately installed in the largest suite, even though the hotel had to dislodge the previous occupant: the union's president, Jimmy Hoffa.

In an era when mob figures were forever being gunned down by rival gangsters or sent to prison by determined prosecutors, Mr. Korshak seemed to lead a charmed life. That was partly because his mansion was protected by extensive security measures, partly because he was adept at using his role as a lawyer as a shield against probing grand jury questions and partly because he was careful to distance himself from the fruits of his own activities.

He never, for example, served as an officer of the various corporations formed to carry out his complex schemes. Even his legal work left no paper trail. Never licensed to practice in California, he maintained no Los Angeles office and had bills mailed from Chicago. He was famous for never taking notes or even reading contracts.

As a result, he became so valuable to the mob and its corrupt union allies that lower-level mobsters were ordered never to approach him, lest they tarnish his reputation for trust and integrity.

At the same time, he was so valuable to more or less legitimate businesses that the executives who hired him would never breathe a word against him.

Mr. Korshak is survived by his wife, Bernice; three children, Harry of London, and Stuart and Katy of Beverly Hills, and five grandchildren.

Marshall Korshak is survived by his wife, Edith; two daughters, Marjorie Gerson and Hope Rudnick of Chicago; four grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

Thanks to Robert McG Thomas Jr. on January 22, 1996

Monday, July 09, 2018

Where the Mob Bodies, Bootleggers and Blackmailers are Buried in the Lurid History of Chicago’s Prohibition Gangsters

In 1981, an FBI team visited Donald Trump to discuss his plans for a casino in Atlantic City. Trump admitted to having ‘read in the press’ and ‘heard from acquaintances’ that the Mob ran Atlantic City. At the time, Trump’s acquaintances included his lawyer Roy Cohn, whose other clients included those charming New York businessmen Antony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno and Paul ‘Big Paul’ Castellano.

‘I’ve known some tough cookies over the years,’ Trump boasted in 2016. ‘I’ve known the people that make the politicians you and I deal with every day look like little babies.’ No one minded too much. Organised crime is a tapeworm in the gut of American commerce, lodged since Prohibition. The Volstead Act of January 1920 raised the cost of a barrel of beer from $3.50 to $55. By 1927, the profits from organised crime were $500 million in Chicago alone. The production, distribution and retailing of alcohol was worth $200 million. Gambling brought in $167 million. Another $133 million came from labour racketeering, extortion and brothel-keeping.

In 1920, Chicago’s underworld was divided between a South Side gang, led by the Italian immigrant ‘Big Jim’ Colosino, and the Irish and Jewish gangs on the North Side. Like many hands-on managers, Big Jim had trouble delegating, even when it came to minor tasks such as beating up nosy journalists. When the North Side gang moved into bootlegging, Colesino’s nephew John Torrio suggested that the South Side gang compete for a share of the profits. Colesino, fearing a turf war, refused. So Torrio murdered his uncle and started bootlegging.

Torrio was a multi-ethnic employer. Americans consider this a virtue, even among murderers. The Italian ‘Roxy’ Vanilli and the Irishman ‘Chicken Harry’ Cullet rubbed along just fine with ‘Jew Kid’ Grabiner and Mike ‘The Greek’ Potson — until someone said hello to someone’s else’s little friend.

Torrio persuaded the North Side leader Dean O’Banion to agree to a ‘master plan’ for dividing Chicago. The peace held for four years. While Torrio opened an Italian restaurant featuring an operatic trio, ‘refined cabaret’ and ‘1,000,000 yards of spaghetti’, O’Banion bought some Thompson submachine guns. A racketeering cartel could not be run like a railroad cartel. There was no transparency among tax-dodgers, no trust between thieves, and no ‘enforcement device’ other than enforcement.

In May 1924, O’Banion framed Torrio for a murder and set him up for a brewery raid. In November 1924, Torrio’s gunmen killed O’Banion as he was clipping chrysanthemums in his flower shop. Two months later, the North Side gang ambushed Torrio outside his apartment and clipped him five times at close range.

Torrio survived, but he took the hint and retreated to Italy. His protégé Alphonse ‘Scarface’ Capone took over the Chicago Outfit. The euphemists of Silicon Valley would call Al Capone a serial disrupter who liked breaking things. By the end of Prohibition in 1933, there had been more than 700 Mob killings in Chicago alone.

On St Valentine’s Day 1929, Capone’s men machine-gunned seven North Siders in a parking garage. This negotiation established the Chicago Outfit’s supremacy in Chicago, and cleared the way for another Torrio scheme. In May 1929, Torrio invited the top Italian, Jewish and Irish gangsters to a hotel in Atlantic City and suggested they form a national ‘Syndicate’. The rest is violence.

Is crime just another American business, a career move for entrepreneurial immigrants in a hurry? John J. Binder teaches business at the University of Illinois in Chicago, and has a sideline in the Mob history racket. He knows where the bodies are buried, and by whom. We need no longer err by confusing North Side lieutenant Earl ‘Hymie’ Weiss, who shot his own brother in the chest, with the North Side ‘mad hatter’ Louis ‘Diamond Jack’ Allerie, who was shot in the back by his own brother; or with the bootlegger George Druggan who, shot in the back, told the police that it was a self-inflicted wound. Anyone who still mixes them up deserves a punishment beating from the American Historical Association.

Binder does his own spadework, too. Digging into Chicago’s police archives, folklore, and concrete foundations, he establishes that Chicago’s mobsters pioneered the drive-by shooting. As the unfortunate Willie Dickman discovered on 3 September 1925, they were also the first to use a Thompson submachine gun for a ‘gangland hit’. Yet the Scarface image of the Thompson-touting mobster was a fiction. Bootleggers preferred the shotgun and assassins the pistol. Thompsons were used ‘sparingly’, like a niblick in golf.

Al Capone’s Beer Wars is a well-researched source book. Readers who never learnt to read nothing because they was schooled on the mean streets will appreciate Binder’s data graphs and mugshots. Not too shabby for a wise guy.

Thanks to Dominic Green.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition

Al Capone's Beer Wars: A Complete History of Organized Crime in Chicago during Prohibition.

Although much has been written about Al Capone, there has not been--until now--a complete history of organized crime in Chicago during Prohibition. This exhaustively researched book covers the entire period from 1920 to 1933. Author John J. Binder, a recognized authority on the history of organized crime in Chicago, discusses all the important bootlegging gangs in the city and the suburbs and also examines the other major rackets, such as prostitution, gambling, labor and business racketeering, and narcotics.

A major focus is how the Capone gang -- one of twelve major bootlegging mobs in Chicago at the start of Prohibition--gained a virtual monopoly over organized crime in northern Illinois and beyond. Binder also describes the fight by federal and local authorities, as well as citizens' groups, against organized crime. In the process, he refutes numerous myths and misconceptions related to the Capone gang, other criminal groups, the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and gangland killings.

What emerges is a big picture of how Chicago's underworld evolved during this period. This broad perspective goes well beyond Capone and specific acts of violence and brings to light what was happening elsewhere in Chicagoland and after Capone went to jail.

Based on 25 years of research and using many previously unexplored sources, this fascinating account of a bloody and colorful era in Chicago history will become the definitive work on the subject.

Monday, May 14, 2018

How the Law Finally Caught Up With Al Capone

In the "roaring twenties," he ruled an empire of crime in the Windy City: gambling, prostitution, bootlegging, bribery, narcotics trafficking, robbery, "protection" rackets, and murder. And it seemed that law enforcement couldn't touch him.

The early Federal Bureau of Investigations would have been happy to join the fight to take Al Capone down. But they needed a federal crime to hang their case on—and the evidence to back it up.

In those days, racketeering laws weren't what they are today. They didn't have jurisdiction over prohibition violations; that fell to the Bureau of Prohibition. Even when it was widely rumored that Capone had ordered the brutal murders of seven gangland rivals in the infamous "St. Valentine's Day Massacre," they couldn't get involved. Why? The killings weren't a federal offense.

Then, in 1929, they got a break.

On February 27, Capone was subpoenaed at his winter home near Miami, Florida, to appear as a witness before a federal grand jury in Chicago on March 12 for a case involving a violation of prohibition laws.

Capone said he couldn't make it. His excuse? He claimed he’d been laid up with broncho-pneumonia for six weeks and was in no shape to travel.

That's when the FBI got involved. They were asked by U.S. Attorneys to find out whether Capone was on the level. Their agents went to Florida and quickly found that Capone's story didn't hold water. When he was supposedly bedridden, Capone was out and about—going to the race tracks, taking trips to the Bahamas, even being questioned by local prosecutors. And by all accounts, his health was just fine.

On March 27, Capone was cited for contempt of court in Chicago and arrested in Florida. He was released on bond, but from there on, it was downhill for the notorious gangster:

* Less than two months later, Capone was arrested in Philadelphia by local police for carrying concealed weapons and was sent to jail for a year.
* When he was released in 1931, Capone was tried and convicted for the original contempt of court charge. A federal judge sentenced him to six months in prison.
* In the meantime, federal Treasury agents had been gathering evidence that Capone had failed to pay his income taxes. Capone was convicted, and on October 24, 1931, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. When he finally got out of Alcatraz, Capone was too sick to carry on his life of crime. He died in 1947.

In the end, it took a team of federal, state, and local authorities to end Capone's reign as underworld boss.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

U.S. Northern District of Illinois Court Opens Court’s First Museum and History Center in Dirksen U.S. Courthouse

This past week, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois opened its new museum and history center in the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse in Chicago at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“It is an exciting day for our court to dedicate public space that allows members of our community to learn about and reflect upon the profound impact this court has made on our district and nation,” said Chief Judge Rubén Castillo.

Chief Judge Castillo; U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer; U.S. District Judge Charles P. Kocoras; Clerk of Court Thomas G. Bruton; Martin V. Sinclair, Jr., President of the Northern District of Illinois Court Historical Association; and Gretchen Van Dam, Northern District of Illinois Court Historical Association Vice President/Archivist, cut the ribbon to the twenty-first floor public museum. Through artifacts, art, documents, and interactive video presentations, the museum highlights the court’s history as it approaches its 200th anniversary in 2019. Chief Judge Castillo presided over a ceremony in which he and former Chief Judges Marvin E. Aspen and Charles P. Kocoras and U.S. District Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer offered brief remarks.

For almost 200 years, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois is where key cases on civil rights, public corruption, organized crime, and other important issues have been decided. Famous trials include that of mob boss Al Capone, the trial of the “Chicago Seven,” the Greylord Cook County judicial corruption trials, and the trials of four Illinois governors. James Benton Parsons, the first African-American to serve as a federal judge in U.S. District Court, served in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, including service as the district’s chief judge.

The new museum has space to host lectures, with a number of upcoming lectures planned to celebrate the court’s 200th anniversary. Each year the court welcomes thousands of visitors including Chicago area high schoolers, law students and lawyers, and international delegations of attorneys and judges.

With twenty two authorized district judgeships, the U.S. District for the Northern District of Illinois is the third largest district court in the U.S. The Northern District of Illinois stretches across 18 counties, covering an area of nearly 10,100 square miles, with a population of 9.3 million people.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Very Persuasive Story that James Comey Has to Tell

In his absorbing new book, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” the former F.B.I. director James B. Comey calls the Donald Trump presidency a “forest fire” that is doing serious damage to the country’s norms and traditions.

“This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values,” Comey writes. “His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.”

Decades before he led the F.B.I.’s investigation into whether members of Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election, Comey was a career prosecutor who helped dismantle the Gambino crime family; and he doesn’t hesitate in these pages to draw a direct analogy between the Mafia bosses he helped pack off to prison years ago and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

A February 2017 meeting in the White House with Trump and then chief of staff Reince Priebus left Comey recalling his days as a federal prosecutor facing off against the Mob: “The silent circle of assent. The boss in complete control. The loyalty oaths. The us-versus-them worldview. The lying about all things, large and small, in service to some code of loyalty that put the organization above morality and above the truth.” An earlier visit to Trump Tower in January made Comey think about the New York Mafia social clubs he knew as a Manhattan prosecutor in the 1980s and 1990s — “The Ravenite. The Palma Boys. Café Giardino.”

The central themes that Comey returns to throughout this impassioned book are the toxic consequences of lying; and the corrosive effects of choosing loyalty to an individual over truth and the rule of law. Dishonesty, he writes, was central “to the entire enterprise of organized crime on both sides of the Atlantic,” and so, too, were bullying, peer pressure and groupthink — repellent traits shared by Trump and company, he suggests, and now infecting our culture.

“We are experiencing a dangerous time in our country,” Comey writes, “with a political environment where basic facts are disputed, fundamental truth is questioned, lying is normalized and unethical behavior is ignored, excused or rewarded.”

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” is the first big memoir by a key player in the alarming melodrama that is the Trump administration. Comey, who was abruptly fired by President Trump on May 9, 2017, has worked in three administrations, and his book underscores just how outside presidential norms Trump’s behavior has been — how ignorant he is about his basic duties as president, and how willfully he has flouted the checks and balances that safeguard our democracy, including the essential independence of the judiciary and law enforcement. Comey’s book fleshes out the testimony he gave before the Senate Intelligence Committee in June 2017 with considerable emotional detail, and it showcases its author’s gift for narrative — a skill he clearly honed during his days as United States attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The volume offers little in the way of hard news revelations about investigations by the F.B.I. or the special counsel Robert S. Mueller III (not unexpectedly, given that such investigations are ongoing and involve classified material), and it lacks the rigorous legal analysis that made Jack Goldsmith’s 2007 book “The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration” so incisive about larger dynamics within the Bush administration.

What “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership" does give readers are some near-cinematic accounts of what Comey was thinking when, as he’s previously said, Trump demanded loyalty from him during a one-on-one dinner at the White House; when Trump pressured him to let go of the investigation into his former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn; and when the president asked what Comey could do to “lift the cloud” of the Russia investigation.

There are some methodical explanations in these pages of the reasoning behind the momentous decisions Comey made regarding Hillary Clinton’s emails during the 2016 campaign — explanations that attest to his nonpartisan and well-intentioned efforts to protect the independence of the F.B.I., but that will leave at least some readers still questioning the judgment calls he made, including the different approaches he took in handling the bureau’s investigation into Clinton (which was made public) and its investigation into the Trump campaign (which was handled with traditional F.B.I. secrecy).

A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” also provides sharp sketches of key players in three presidential administrations. Comey draws a scathing portrait of Vice President Dick Cheney’s legal adviser David S. Addington, who spearheaded the arguments of many hard-liners in the George W. Bush White House; Comey describes their point of view: “The war on terrorism justified stretching, if not breaking, the written law.” He depicts Bush national security adviser and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as uninterested in having a detailed policy discussion of interrogation policy and the question of torture. He takes Barack Obama’s attorney general Loretta Lynch to task for asking him to refer to the Clinton email case as a “matter,” not an “investigation.” (Comey tartly notes that “the F.B.I. didn’t do ‘matters.’”) And he compares Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to Alberto R. Gonzales, who served in the same position under Bush, writing that both were “overwhelmed and overmatched by the job,” but “Sessions lacked the kindness Gonzales radiated.”

Comey is what Saul Bellow called a “first-class noticer.” He notices, for instance, “the soft white pouches under” Trump’s “expressionless blue eyes”; coyly observes that the president’s hands are smaller than his own “but did not seem unusually so”; and points out that he never saw Trump laugh — a sign, Comey suspects, of his “deep insecurity, his inability to be vulnerable or to risk himself by appreciating the humor of others, which, on reflection, is really very sad in a leader, and a little scary in a president.”

During his Senate testimony last June, Comey was boy-scout polite (“Lordy, I hope there are tapes”) and somewhat elliptical in explaining why he decided to write detailed memos after each of his encounters with Trump (something he did not do with Presidents Obama or Bush), talking gingerly about “the nature of the person I was interacting with.” Here, however, Comey is blunt about what he thinks of the president, comparing Trump’s demand for loyalty over dinner to “Sammy the Bull’s Cosa Nostra induction ceremony — with Trump, in the role of the family boss, asking me if I have what it takes to be a ‘made man.’”

Throughout his tenure in the Bush and Obama administrations (he served as deputy attorney general under Bush, and was selected to lead the F.B.I. by Obama in 2013), Comey was known for his fierce, go-it-alone independence, and Trump’s behavior catalyzed his worst fears — that the president symbolically wanted the leaders of the law enforcement and national security agencies to come “forward and kiss the great man’s ring.” Comey was feeling unnerved from the moment he met Trump. In his recent book “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” Michael Wolff wrote that Trump “invariably thought people found him irresistible,” and felt sure, early on, that “he could woo and flatter the F.B.I. director into positive feeling for him, if not outright submission” (in what the reader takes as yet another instance of the president’s inability to process reality or step beyond his own narcissistic delusions).

After he failed to get that submission and the Russia cloud continued to hover, Trump fired Comey; the following day he told Russian officials during a meeting in the Oval Office that firing the F.B.I. director — whom he called “a real nut job” — relieved “great pressure” on him. A week later, the Justice Department appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel overseeing the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.

During Comey’s testimony, one senator observed that the often contradictory accounts that the president and former F.B.I. director gave of their one-on-one interactions came down to “Who should we believe?” As a prosecutor, Comey replied, he used to tell juries trying to evaluate a witness that “you can’t cherry-pick” — “You can’t say, ‘I like these things he said, but on this, he’s a dirty, rotten liar.’ You got to take it all together.”

Put the two men’s records, their reputations, even their respective books, side by side, and it’s hard to imagine two more polar opposites than Trump and Comey: They are as antipodean as the untethered, sybaritic Al Capone and the square, diligent G-man Eliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s 1987 movie “The Untouchables”; or the vengeful outlaw Frank Miller and Gary Cooper’s stoic, duty-driven marshal Will Kane in Fred Zinnemann’s 1952 classic “High Noon.”

One is an avatar of chaos with autocratic instincts and a resentment of the so-called “deep state” who has waged an assault on the institutions that uphold the Constitution.

The other is a straight-arrow bureaucrat, an apostle of order and the rule of law, whose reputation as a defender of the Constitution was indelibly shaped by his decision, one night in 2004, to rush to the hospital room of his boss, Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, to prevent Bush White House officials from persuading the ailing Ashcroft to reauthorize an N.S.A. surveillance program that members of the Justice Department believed violated the law.

One uses language incoherently on Twitter and in person, emitting a relentless stream of lies, insults, boasts, dog-whistles, divisive appeals to anger and fear, and attacks on institutions, individuals, companies, religions, countries, continents.

The other chooses his words carefully to make sure there is “no fuzz” to what he is saying, someone so self-conscious about his reputation as a person of integrity that when he gave his colleague James R. Clapper, then director of national intelligence, a tie decorated with little martini glasses, he made sure to tell him it was a regift from his brother-in-law.

One is an impulsive, utterly transactional narcissist who, so far in office, The Washington Post calculated, has made an average of six false or misleading claims a day; a winner-take-all bully with a nihilistic view of the world. “Be paranoid,” he advises in one of his own books. In another: “When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.”

The other wrote his college thesis on religion and politics, embracing Reinhold Niebuhr’s argument that “the Christian must enter the political realm in some way” in order to pursue justice, which keeps “the strong from consuming the weak.”

Until his cover was blown, Comey shared nature photographs on Twitter using the name “Reinhold Niebuhr,” and both his 1982 thesis and this memoir highlight how much Niebuhr’s work resonated with him. They also attest to how a harrowing experience he had as a high school senior — when he and his brother were held captive, in their parents’ New Jersey home, by an armed gunman — must have left him with a lasting awareness of justice and mortality.

Long passages in Comey’s thesis are also devoted to explicating the various sorts of pride that Niebuhr argued could afflict human beings — most notably, moral pride and spiritual pride, which can lead to the sin of self-righteousness. And in “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” Comey provides an inventory of his own flaws, writing that he can be “stubborn, prideful, overconfident and driven by ego.”

Those characteristics can sometimes be seen in Comey’s account of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation, wherein he seems to have felt a moral imperative to address, in a July 2016 press conference, what he described as her “extremely careless” handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information,” even though he went on to conclude that the bureau recommend no charges be filed against her. His announcement marked a departure from precedent in that it was done without coordination with Department of Justice leadership and offered more detail about the bureau’s evaluation of the case than usual.

As for his controversial disclosure on Oct. 28, 2016, 11 days before the election, that the F.B.I. was reviewing more Clinton emails that might be pertinent to its earlier investigation, Comey notes here that he had assumed from media polling that Clinton was going to win. He has repeatedly asked himself, he writes, whether he was influenced by that assumption: “It is entirely possible that, because I was making decisions in an environment where Hillary Clinton was sure to be the next president, my concern about making her an illegitimate president by concealing the restarted investigation bore greater weight than it would have if the election appeared closer or if Donald Trump were ahead in all polls. But I don’t know.”

He adds that he hopes “very much that what we did — what I did — wasn’t a deciding factor in the election.” In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 3, 2017, Comey stated that the very idea that his decisions might have had an impact on the outcome of the presidential race left him feeling “mildly nauseous” — or, as one of his grammatically minded daughters corrected him, “nauseated.”

Trump was reportedly infuriated by Comey’s “nauseous” remark; less than a week later he fired the F.B.I. director — an act regarded by some legal scholars as possible evidence of obstruction of justice, and that quickly led to the appointment of the special counsel Robert Mueller and an even bigger cloud over the White House.

It’s ironic that Comey, who wanted to shield the F.B.I. from politics, should have ended up putting the bureau in the midst of the 2016 election firestorm; just as it’s ironic (and oddly fitting) that a civil servant who has prided himself on being apolitical and independent should find himself reviled by both Trump and Clinton, and thrust into the center of another tipping point in history.

They are ironies that would have been appreciated by Comey’s hero Niebuhr, who wrote as much about the limits, contingencies and unforeseen consequences of human decision-making as he did about the dangers of moral complacency and about the necessity of entering the political arena to try to make a difference.

Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Former Mob Boss of Colombo Crime Family, @MichaelFranzese, to speak at @Penn_State Berks Arts and Lecture Series

Former mob boss Michael Franzese will speak about his life in organized crime at 7 p.m. March 21, in Perkins Student Center Auditorium at Penn State Berks. This event is free and open to the public.

Franzese grew up as the son of the notorious Underboss of New York’s violent and feared Colombo crime family. He made his own mark, generating an estimated $5 to $8 million per week from legal and illegal businesses. In 1986, Vanity Fair named Franzese one of the biggest money earners the mob had seen since Al Capone. At the age of 35, Fortune Magazine listed him as No. 18 on its list of the “Fifty Most Wealthy and Powerful Mafia Bosses.”

Despite his success, he wanted to make a change and today he is the only high ranking official of a major crime family to ever walk away, without protective custodies, and survive. Determined to use the compelling experiences of his former life for the benefit of anyone seeking the inspiration to beat the odds and make positive changes in their lives, he has become a highly regarded motivational speaker and a source of invaluable information.

He speaks about how he engaged bankers, corporate executives, union officials and professional and student athletes in a wide variety of financial scams. His open and honest true stories of his personal experiences in organized crime captivate audiences.

Penn State Berks reserves the right to limit the photography and/or recording of any program. The permitted or prohibited activities during a particular program will be announced at the beginning of the event and/or included in the printed program. All media requesting interviews and/or access to photograph and/or tape any program must contact the Office of Strategic Communications at 610-396-6053.

This event is sponsored by the Penn State Berks Arts and Lecture series. For more information, contact the Office of Campus Life at 610-396-6076.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend

At the height of Prohibition, Al Capone loomed large as Public Enemy Number One: his multimillion-dollar Chicago Outfit dominated organized crime, and law enforcement was powerless to stop him. But then came the fall: a legal noose tightened by the FBI, a conviction on tax evasion, a stint in Alcatraz. After his release, he returned to his family in Miami a much diminished man, living quietly until the ravages of his neurosyphilis took their final toll.

Our shared fascination with Capone endures in countless novels and movies, but the man behind the legend has remained a mystery. Now, through rigorous research and exclusive access to Capone’s family, National Book Award–winning biographer Deirdre Bair cuts through the mythology, uncovering a complex character who was flawed and cruel but also capable of nobility. At once intimate and iconoclastic, Al Capone gives us the definitive account of a quintessentially American figure.

Al Capone: His Life, Legacy, and Legend.


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