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

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.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia - A Quality Work by @NateHendley

From the James gang to Nicky Barnes to John Gotti, the American gangster has become an iconic outsized American archetype, with the real criminals sometimes rivaling their fictional counterparts—like the Corleones and the Sopranos—for their ability to captivate the public and attain genuine folk antihero status.

A detailed compendium of American gangsters and gangs from the end of the Civil War to the present day.

American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia, ranges from Western outlaws revered as Robin Hoods to the Depression’s flamboyant bootleggers and bank robbers to the late 20th century’s drug kingpins and “Dapper Dons.” It is the first comprehensive resource on the gangster’s historical evolution and unshakable grip on the American imagination.

American Gangsters, Then and Now: An Encyclopedia, tells the stories of a number of famous gangsters and gangs—Jesse James and Billy the Kid, the Black Hand, Al Capone, Sonny Barger and the Hell's Angels, the Mafia, Crips and Bloods, and more. Avoiding sensationalism, the straightforward entries include biographical portraits and historical background for each subject, as well as accounts of infamous robberies, killings, and other events, all well documented with both archival newspapers and extensive research into the files of the FBI. Readers will understand the families, the places, and the times that produced these monumental criminals, as well as the public mindset that often found them sympathetic and heroic.

Features

  • Comprises 50 alphabetically organized entries on American gangsters and gangs from the post-Civil War era to the present
  • Offers a wealth of primary sources, including newspaper articles dating back to the 1880s and FBI files obtained by the author
  • Includes photographs of prominent American gangsters and the aftermaths of their crimes
  • Presents a glossary of gangster slang, past and present
  • Provides a comprehensive index

Highlights

  • Spans the whole history of the gangster in the United States, from the post-Civil War era to the present
  • Features the insights and writing skills of an accomplished author of crime books
  • Makes the connection between gangsters from different eras
  • Dispels a number of misconceptions about gangsters and the destruction they cause

Nate Hendley is a freelance writer living in Toronto, Canada. His published works include Greenwood's Bonnie and Clyde: A Biography, Crystal Meth: North America's #1 Drug Problem, Al Capone: Chicago's King of Crime, Dutch Schultz: The Brazen Beer Baron of New York, and Edwin Alonzo Boyd: Life and Crimes of Canada's Master Bank Robber.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Mob Fest '29: The True Story Behind the Birth of Organized Crime

Bill Tonelli arrives on the scene with his brilliantly subversive Byliner Mob Fest ’29: The True Story Behind the Birth of Organized Crime. Tonelli investigates the long-standing myth of the mob’s founding—a legendary week in May 1929 in which a who’s who of American crime (Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky, and Frank Costello, among many others) were said to have assembled in Atlantic City, the hedonistic Playground of America, to make peace and divvy up the country’s illegal enterprises. But what really happened that criminally star-studded week on the Jersey Shore?

At this informal summit, mobster bosses allegedly gathered to invent the concept of “organized crime” in America. Prohibition had transformed all of them from two-bit thugs into underworld bigwigs, and they had a vested interest in keeping illicit booze flowing easily across state lines. In Atlantic City, these hoods played as hard as they worked—if indeed they worked at all. “As legend has it,” writes Tonelli, “as many as thirty top gangsters [enjoyed] wild parties and heroic feasts, with fancy ladies provided for any who hadn’t brought his own. In short, this was nothing like the office meetings you and I have been made to attend.”

How many of these accounts are actually true, and why do they vary wildly in their retelling? Did the mobsters really wheel around the Boardwalk in rolling chairs, smoking cigars and cutting deals? Did they threaten one another in swank conference rooms in the Ritz-Carlton? Did they force Al Capone, fresh from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago, to turn himself in to the cops in order to take the heat off everyone else? And what about the infamous photo of Nucky Johnson—“the benevolent but undisputed king” of Atlantic City, better known as Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire—strolling the boards arm in arm with Capone? Was this a staged shoot caught by early paparazzi or a Prohibition-era Photoshop job designed to ignite conspiracy theories that would thrive for years to come?

At a time when the early mob days are all the rage, Tonelli sifts the facts from the malarkey and in so doing shows that when it comes to the birth of organized crime, a good lie is hard to beat.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Did Al Capone use the Hammond Distillery to Super Charge His Empire During Prohibition?

When the nation went dry, the Hammond Distillery went belly up. But is there truth to the rumors that gangster Al Capone moved the distillery’s product across the state line to help fuel his organized crime empire?

Rich Barnes, former president of the Hammond Historical Society, said he heard Capone purchased the distillery’s existing inventory when Prohibition began and sneaked it across the state line.

Before Prohibition killed the Hammond Distillery, it was arguably the second largest in Indiana, cranking out 25,000 to perhaps 50,000 gallons of alcoholic beverages daily.

The distillery was such a big operation in Hammond that its owner, John E. Fitzgerald, had a seat on the Chicago Board of Trade, allowing the distillery to make large grain purchases to fuel production, Barnes said.

The early days

The Hammond Distillery was on the southeast corner of Calumet Avenue and 150th street, just north of the Grand Calumet River. It began operations in December 1901, according to Barnes.

In The Lake County Times’ first issue, on June 18, 1906, the Hammond Distillery said it had a capacity of 25,000 gallons daily, offering Hammond Bourbon, Hammond Sourmash, Hammond Rye Malt Gin, Hammond Dry Gin, Cologne Spirits and Refined Alcohol.

In 1909, Fitzgerald built a $50,000 plant that would eliminate the need to keep cattle at the distillery to consume the byproduct. Instead, the new building would have enormous evaporates that, it was said, would use 700 to 800 tons of copper. That would dry the slop so it could be shipped to farms for cattle feed.

On Dec. 16 1911, the distillery paid $40,742 in excise taxes to the federal government for a record-breaking shipment of whiskey, taxed at $1.10 per gallon. “Three revenue days like today would pay the cost of building the splendid Hammond federal building,” The Times reported that day.

Drying up

The push for Prohibition began before the Civil War, but accelerated in the progressive era, fueled by the push for women’s suffrage.

Jason Lantzer, assistant director of the University Honors Program at Butler University in Indianapolis, is considered one of the state’s top experts on the alcoholic beverage industry. “The temperance pledge card, there were several of those large national campaigns starting before the Civil War that (would) sweep the country,” Lantzer said. But a card in the wallet won't protect you from lure of saloons, the thinking at the time went, so Prohibition was needed to enforce abstinence.

“Until we remove the temptation, good people are going to (be) hurt by Demon Rum, and King Alcohol and John Barleycorn and all the other wonderful names they had for alcohol,” Lantzer said.

Finally, in 1917, the reformers succeeded in Indiana. “Indiana goes dry ahead of the nation, so we actually enact Prohibition in April 1917, giving brewers, distillers, saloons, everybody a year before they have to close down,” Lantzer said.

“We are not the only country to do that. Just about every nation has some sort of restriction on alcohol, and the rational is twofold — one is on the battleground that soldiers are not drunk, and the other is that grain can be better used for foodstuffs. So there is a definite slowing down on the national level,” Lantzer said.

Business shifts

The Hammond Distillery was hit hard by Prohibition, although World War I kept it in business. It got a government contract to produce alcohol for use in making smokeless gunpowder.

On Dec. 27, 1917, Peter W. Meyn, president of the Lake County Savings & Trust Co., bought the distillery for $65,500 “as an investment to locate a new industry,” The Lake County Times reported. Before Prohibition, the plant was worth five times that price.

Former saloons, a majority owned by breweries by the time Prohibition is passed, become ice cream parlors, selling ice cream and soft drinks, Lantzer said.

A lot of the breweries switched over to other products, whether near beer, which has such a low alcohol content that it didn’t violate Prohibition laws, or medicinal alcohol, or milk and other nonalcoholic beverages. “A lot of the breweries own their own canning and bottling infrastructure, so they switch over to canning and bottling, or at least try to,” Lantzer said.

Organized crime

Barnes said he heard that “Scarface” Al Capone moved alcohol across the state line to fuel his criminal empire. That has Lantzer intrigued.

“There’s this mythology that organized crime in the greater Chicago area, in Northwest Indiana, had to all been linked to Capone,” Lantzer said. “And there’s enough truth to that in that you do have definite Capone-owned or -operated outfits and purchases of different things, and it became very easy to mythologize that that was also by Capone. Whether or not we ever will be able figure out it was or not. But if had to do with organized crime it must have been linked to Al Capone.”

Here’s how it works: “This building was around in the 1920s, so it must have been used by Capone, or there are these stories that they were used by organized crime. Whether that actually happened, I don’t know, but that’s what I’ve been told, or that my uncle’s cousin told him that Capone came here on vacation or something,” Lantzer said of the mythology

Lantzer has heard the rumors, too.

“There’s a story that Capone owned or ran bootleg liquor out of the Paramount Theater in Hammond. Whether or not that’s true, I have no idea.”

May 8, 1929, brought the Capone empire into Hammond if it wasn't there already. That’s when the bodies of three gangsters were found in what is now Douglas Park. Two of them, Giovanni Scalise and Alberto Anselmi, had been implicated in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Right across the state line, in Calumet City, known then as West Hammond, the Capone gang or his organization owned several establishments.

Bootleggers

Could the Hammond Distillery have been in clandestine use during Prohibition? It’s feasible, Lantzer said.

Unless the distilling apparatus was scrapped, it would be easy to continue production, Lantzer said. “So if you’re Capone, you don’t have to bring all that malt in from, say, Canada, and you definitely don’t have to rely on people who were sort of figuring it out on their own, a sort of bathtub gin and moonshine and whatnot.”

What the Hammond Distillery had that other would-be producers didn’t was the know-how to make good alcoholic beverages. “The problem wasn’t the availability of things. If you’ve got corn, yeast and some sugar and can fashion a still, you can make yourself some alcohol. The problem was whether it would be good. Or whether you would kill your customers, because that doesn’t really breed a lot of confidence and repeat confidence when it gets around that Joe down the street bought from you and he’s dead now because he drank what you made,” Lantzer said.

Former alcoholic beverage sites were a target of frequent federal, state and local enforcement agencies. “They knew where those were. So it’s not uncommon for those places to get visited.”

“Maybe it’s fun to attach it to Capone, but maybe it’s a way to say that wasn’t really us, that was an outside element. I think that is something for the 1920s that we need more study on," Lantzer said.

Attacks at the distillery

The distillery saw repeated attacks.

In 1919, The Lake County Times reported, 10 barrels were stolen. In 1921, “whiskey bandits” stole 2,000 gallons after attacking the guards. In 1922, a barrel of whiskey was found in the gasoline tank of a new Auburn Six automobile at the distillery. Thirty bandits cleaned out the distillery in September 1923, and there had been other thefts earlier that year.

Prohibition agent Robert Anderson was shot to death at the Hammond Distillery on April 16, 1923. He had been stationed there less than a year. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has a page dedicated to him on its website.

On Jan. 28, 1924, The Lake County Times published a banner headline, “Rob Hammond Distillery As Guard Gets Drunk.” Twenty armed bandits stole thousands of dollars worth of whiskey before the Prohibition agents could move it to another location.

After Prohibition

In 1933, Prohibition was repealed. The distillery was incorporated in December 1933 with 100,000 shares of stock to be listed at $10 apiece on the Chicago Board of Trade. The plan was to resume distiling operations at the building then occupied by Nowak Milling Corp., with Nowak moving its feed mill to another site.

In March 1934, the distillery was delisted from the Chicago Board of Trade, and plans were made to seek private financing.

On Aug. 15, 1934, the plug was finally pulled on the plan to restart the distillery.

When the plan to restart the distillery was announced, whisky was selling at $1.25 to $1.75 a gallon. A year later, the price had dropped to 40 cents as additional capacity came on line.

Nowak operated at the site until February 1938, when owner Maxwell M. Nowak told The Times he couldn’t afford to pay high taxes and still expect to make a profit.

Thanks to Doug Ross.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

DUAL LIVES: from the Streets to the Studio - "Teacher of the Year" becomes Mob Artist

In DUAL LIVES: from the Streets to the Studio, renowned American artist and 3-time national award-winning “Teacher of the Year” Michael Bell has written an inspiring and brutally candid memoir that chronicles his meteoric rise to becoming one of the most highly decorated public school teachers in America, all the while, living out a storied and often controversial professional painting career as “Mob Artist” to America’s most infamous.

Go behind the scenes with his intriguing clientele on how these friendships also fueled his career—from John Gotti to Al Capone’s great-nephew, Dominic Capone to numerous actors from “the Sopranos”, “Goodfellas”, “A Bronx Tale”, and more. Then, take a roller coaster crusade through the ever-changing, volatile landscapes of the art world and a US public education system that has begun placing more of an emphasis on "data mining" than on "building relationships."

This is the ultimate story of overcoming extreme adversity and being a true champion for today’s youth from someone still in the trenches, still at the top of his game. And, in the education arena, Bell has done the unprecedented. His students have earned tens of millions in scholarships; 7 back-to-back NAEA Rising Star Awards in art—an award presented to just one student artist in the entire nation annually; and 8 Scholastic Art National Medalists 3 years straight.

Bell also discusses the impact of his family life on his art—on the tragic stillbirth of his sister; on his lifelong relationship with his Grandmother, Violet, a self-taught artist from Lyndhurst, New Jersey; on his inspiring son, Carmen, (“Lil' C”), and his battles with Autism while on his quest to become a Golden Gloves boxing champion. Then there's Bell's notorious cousin Vinnie, who was part of the longest double-murder trial in the history of the State of New Jersey. Learn how Bell, himself, went from being a troubled youth once facing twenty-years-to-life to saving one of his own students from a similar fate nearly two decades later.

DUAL LIVES: from the Streets to the Studio, is passionately written, and just as courageously vulnerable as the compelling narratives found within Bell’s paintings. So, ride shotgun alongside Michael Bell throughout his meteoric rise across two very different worlds—from the streets to the studio.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

Examining the Crimes of the Calabrese Family #FamilySecrets

Why are we so fascinated by the mob? Well, there's violence: garroting, shooting, stabbing; the thrill of men hunting men. Money: While most of us sweat for our daily bread, gangsters take what they want. The unknown: Gangster stories give us special knowledge of dark, hidden places in the city and in the human heart.

That last point is important, because half the fun is pulling back the veil. The author strips away the pretenses and pleasantries of daily life and reveals how the world really is. Which is to say that force reigns supreme, not intelligence or character or merit. But part of the popularity of gangster lit is the assumption that the veil is only ever half-raised. Mob stories feed our most paranoid fears by implying that so much more remains to be told. Because we really can't see the subject whole, never know the limits of the mob's influence, we can imagine it as all-powerful, with cops, politicians and businessmen bought and paid for. Authors let us in on the secrets, but the thrilling question always remains, just how big is this menace?

That is one of the reasons that Chicago Tribune reporter Jeff Coen's "Family Secrets: The Case That Crippled the Chicago Mob" is so refreshing. He never reaches beyond his story, sticks close to his evidence, lets the carefully gathered wiretaps and eyewitness testimony and reporter's notes do the talking. Like Nicholas Pileggi's classic "Wiseguy," on which the film "GoodFellas" was based, Coen keeps it at street level, focusing on his distinct cast of characters, the gangsters and their victims, the federal agents, local cops and attorneys who played out the drama.

During the 1970s, '80s, and '90s, Frank Calabrese Sr. operated a lucrative loan-sharking business on Chicago's South Side. He had ties to higher-ups in the "Outfit," as the Chicago mob is known, men like Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, and James "Jimmy Light" Marcello. Calabrese was not a nice man. In the late '90s, his son, Frank Jr., musing on his father's abusiveness, decided to turn state's evidence against the old man. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, young Frank's uncle Nick (Frank Sr.'s brother) also decided to cooperate with the feds.

With that the Outfit's cover unraveled, and the case finally came to trial in 2007. Coen gives us fine-grained pictures of the loan-sharking and extortion, and, above all, at least 18 killings.

Nick Calabrese, a reluctant hit man, committed multiple murders at brother Frank's behest. Nick told the feds that his sibling would willingly kill him had he failed to carry out a hit. Frank Calabrese himself specialized in garroting his victims, then cutting their throats to make sure they were dead. Coen gives us gruesome accounts of the murders and burials in corn fields and at construction sites.

"Family Secrets" isn't for everyone. It is a complex narrative of a long case that resulted in several convictions. The devil is in the details, there are a lot of them, and they thoroughly de-romanticize the mob.

This is a well-written and researched book, but its subject might disappoint some readers. Unlike the East Coast mob, Coen tells us, "Chicago had been unified for much of the century, since the days of the infamous boss Al Capone. ..." That statement is true but a bit deceptive. This late 20th Century crew seems a little pathetic. They're not exactly the gang that couldn't shoot straight, but they're certainly not Capone's Outfit either. When we pull back the veil, we get a strange blend of Don Corleone and the Three Stooges.

Thanks to Elliott Gorn, who teaches history at Brown University. He is author of "Dillinger's Wild Ride: The Year That Made America's Public Enemy Number One," published this year by Oxford University Press.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

The Making of the Mob: Chicago

The Making of the Mob: Chicago, is an eight-episode docu-drama chronicling the rise and fall of iconic gangster Al Capone, as well as the story of his successors, collectively known as “The Chicago Outfit.” Spanning the better part of a century, the series begins with Capone’s early days in New York and continues through his move to Chicago - to work with his childhood mentor in the underworld. When Prohibition hits, battles break out as the city’s gangs rush to set up bootlegging operations and Capone decides to go up against his rivals. As he consolidates power, he achieves legendary status for his ruthless tactics and over-the-top lifestyle that attracts the wrath of President Herbert Hoover.

Episode 1
Capone’s First Kill
Capone gets a taste of the underworld in Brooklyn with Johnny Torrio. Reuniting in Chicago, they start bootlegging and anger local Irish gangsters.

Episode 2
A Death in the Family
A new mayor forces Torrio and Capone outside Chicago to nearby Cicero. There, Capone's brother Frank fixes an election, placing himself in jeopardy.

Episode 3
Blood Filled Streets
A betrayal destroys peace in Chicago, and Torrio and Capone seek revenge against the Irish gangs. The "Beer Wars" make Capone Chicago's top gangster.

Episode 4
St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
Capone uses the St. Valentine's Day Massacre to assert his power over his enemies. President Hoover takes notice, and Eliot Ness takes on Capone.

Episode 5
Judgment Day
Al Capone outwits Eliot Ness, but Capone's criminal empire remains in jeopardy when the IRS plants an undercover agent in his gang.

Episode 6
New Blood
With Capone in jail, Frank Nitti, Paul Ricca and Tony Accardo take over. A Hollywood scandal presents Sam Giancana with a chance to prove himself.

Episode 7
Sin City
Tony Accardo sets his sights on Las Vegas, but when Sam Giancana incurs the wrath of young attorney Robert F. Kennedy, The Outfit is threatened.

Episode 8
Last Man Standing
Tony Accardo and Sam Giancana have a falling out, and the fate of the Outfit rests on the outcome. Tony Accardo cleans up loose ends before retiring.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Touhy vs. Capone: The Chicago Outfit’s Biggest Frame Job

Touhy vs. Capone: The Chicago Outfit's Biggest Frame Job.

When beat cop Don Herion and his partner responded to shots fired on December 16, 1959, they didn’t know that they had heard the final, fatal salvo in one of the most contorted conflicts in the history of organized crime. A canny bootlegger, Roger Touhy had survived a gang war with Al Capone, false imprisonment for a faked kidnapping, a prison break and recapture. His story dragged in all the notorious men of his day: Frank Nitti, John “Jake the Barber” Factor, Mayor Cermak, Melvin Purvis, J. Edgar Hoover, Baby Face Nelson, Dan “Tubbo” Gilbert, FDR and JFK. As Touhy’s life was ending on his sister’s front porch, Herion’s quest to unravel the tangle of events that led to his assassination had just begun.

A native of the Windy City, Don Herion joined the Chicago Police Department in 1955. On a cold winter night in 1959, he was called to the scene of Roger Touhy’s murder. Herion retired after forty-eight years on the job, including two years of undercover work for the Chicago Crime Commission. He is the author of Pay, Quit, or Die: Chicago Mob Ultimatum, and The Chicago Way.

Touhy vs. Capone: The Chicago Outfit's Biggest Frame Job.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Using Witness Protection Programs to Break the Mob

It must be one of the worst choices to have to makeWitsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program ; to choose between decades behind bars or a life in hiding. But that is what confronts accused drug mule Cassie Sainsbury, now languishing in a Colombian prison. She has been asked to either inform on the people who supplied the cocaine found in her luggage at an airport back in April this year and go into witness protection, or spend 30 years in a Colombian jail.

Witsec: Inside the Federal Witness Protection Program.

If she takes the deal to turn informant she will be joining a long list of people who testified against organised criminals only to lose their identity and liberty under witness protection. Programs to protect people who testify against organised criminals only came into existence in the 1960s and ’70s, even though the need for such a program goes back centuries.

Intimidation of witnesses is at least as old as courts, but it was only in the 19th and early 20th centuries that laws were passed against tampering with witnesses or that witnesses were detained so that they couldn’t be intimidated or killed.

In the US in the late 19th and early 20th century the Black Hand gangs, formed among Italian migrants, often scared away people from reporting crimes or testifying against gang members. In Chicago between 1910 and 1920, police were able to secure prosecutions in 21 per cent of homicides, but in cases relating to Black Hand killings they could only secure convictions in 4 per cent of cases.

The Black Hand: Terror by Letter in Chicago.

In the 1920s and ’30s people such as Chicago mob boss Al Capone were able to literally get away with murder by threatening or killing witnesses. But when authorities found bookkeeping ledgers meticulously detailing Capone’s ill-gotten profits, Leslie (some sources say Louis) Shumway, one of the men responsible for keeping the ledgers, was hidden away and brought to court under police guard. He became a material witness in a case for tax evasion. Capone was convicted in 1931 and sent to prison, after which police broke his control of his crime organisation, freeing Shumway of any fear of retribution. Shumway lived the rest of his life in seclusion but by the ’40s Capone was losing his mind due to late stage syphilis. Capone died in 1947 in Florida and Shumway died in 1964, also in Florida.

In 1963, mobster Joe Valachi testified at a US senate hearing about the dealings and structure of the mob. Valachi, who was already in prison, had organised his own protection. (In 1962 he beat to death an inmate he thought had been sent to collect a $100,000 bounty put out by mob boss Vito Genovese.) Valachi died in prison of a heart attack in 1971. Valachi Papers by Peter Maas.

The US Justice Department’s Gerald Shur, frustrated by not being able to get people to testify in big organised crime cases pushed for a more formal system of looking after witnesses.

In 1970 the Organised Crime Control Act provided for the relocation and protection of witnesses, a role that was taken on by the US Marshals Service under the orders of the US Attorney-General.

Since then thousands of people have entered the Federal Witness Protection Program, or Witness Security Program (WITSEC for short).

Some of the more notorious people given protection include New York City mobster Henry Hill, who was arrested in 1980 on a narcotics charge but turned informant and his testimony helped secure 50 convictions. His story was told in the book Wise Guy: Life in a Mafia Family, by Nicholas Pileggi and later turned into the award-winning Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas (4K Ultra HD) [Blu-ray].



Hill was thrown out of witness protection after he repeatedly revealed his true identity to neighbours. He died in 2012 from heart problems.

Sicilian-born mafia boss Tommaso Buscetta also made headlines in 1992 when he became the first major crime boss to turn informant. He testified into links between organised crime and politicians in Italy. He died while in WITSEC in the US in 2000.

A national witness protection program was also established Australia in 1990 under the Australian Federal Police. It gained notoriety when Reginald “Mick” O’Brien, a small-time criminal with links to crime boss Robert Trimbole, became a protected witness.

O’Brien had been arrested in relation to the importation of cannabis resin, but had made a deal with the National Crime Authority to give evidence against Trimbole. When the NCA became dissatisfied with the quality of his evidence he was dropped from witness protection. O’Brien was shot dead in Granville in January 1992. No one has ever been convicted of his murder.

Thanks to Troy Lennon.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Al Capone's Diamond Pocket Watch Sold for Over $84K at Gangsters, Outlaws & Lawmen Auction

Al Capone's diamond-studded, platinum pocket watch went for $84,375 during an auction Saturday featuring other artifacts that belonged to some of America's most notorious gangsters.

Al Capone Diamond Pocket Watch


Capone's watch as well as a musical composition he handwrote behind bars in Alcatraz were among the items up for bid in the "Gangsters, Outlaws and Lawmen" auction by RR Auction, an auction house headquartered in Boston. The auction was held Saturday afternoon at the Royal Sonesta hotel in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Capone, who was born to Italian immigrants in New York City, headed a Chicago-based crime empire during the Prohibition era that raked in millions of dollars through bootlegging, gambling, racketeering and other illicit activities. He was dubbed Scarface by the press after his face was slashed during a fight, a nickname he apparently disliked.

"Unlike his more maligned moniker of ‘Scarface,’ Capone preferred that those closest to him call him by ‘Snorky,’ a slang term which meant ‘sharp’ or ‘well-dressed,'" according to a description accompanying Capone's watch on RR Auction's website.

According to the auction house, the rounded triangular pocket watch was personally owned and used by Capone. The timepiece is on its original chain made of 14-karat white gold. The exterior of the case features 23 diamonds shaped to form Capone's initials, "AC," which are encircled by 26 additional diamonds. Another 72 diamonds circle the watch's platinum face and gold-tone impressed numerals.

Online bids for Capone's watch had surpassed $17,000 prior to the live auction Saturday afternoon. Experts estimated the item would sell for more than $25,000, according to RR Auction.

A musical piece entitled "Humoresque," written in pencil by Capone when he was incarcerated in Alcatraz in the 1930s, was also up for grabs. The musical manuscript shows Capone's softer side, containing the lines: "You thrill and fill this heart of mine, with gladness like a soothing symphony, over the air, you gently float, and in my soul, you strike a note."

Experts estimated the sheet will sell for over $20,000, according to RR auction. it went for $18,750.

Also up for auction was a letter written by gangster boss John Gotti, two life-size death masks of gangster John Dillinger, a brick from the scene of the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, and jewelry that belonged to infamous crime duo Bonnie and Clyde.

Thanks to Morgan Winsor.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Untouchables Tours to Celebrate Milestone of their Live Action @GangsterTour

Beverly-based Untouchable Tours is preparing to celebrate a significant milestone as one of the top-rated downtown bus tours. With its distinct black bus and cast of theater-trained guides, the company credits its nearly 30-year success to a unique entertainment philosophy.

“The production level of our tour is second-to-none,” said co-owner Craig Alton of his gangster theater-on-wheels. “Our guides are talented actors who have studied Chicago crime chronicles and Prohibition society and conventions. They have truly perfected their personas and offer plenty of laughs while providing a knowledgeable voice on the rise of the Chicago mob.”

This formula has proven a hit since Alton, along with his sister and brother-in-law, Cindy and Don Fielding, first launched the concept.

“The three of us worked individually for not-for-profits,” said Cindy Fielding. “But with a shared interest in theater and design, we quickly slipped into a life of crime.”

The one hour, 45 minute live action tour continues to sell out regularly and reflects an unwavering interest in Chicago mob history. From Dion O’Banion’s flower shop to Holy Name Cathedral, the 18-mile journey takes passengers on a comprehensive and compelling trip back in time to Al Capone’s Chicago. With guides including “Johnny Three Knives” and “Matches Malone,” the tour company enjoys multi-generational appeal and repeat customers.

In addition to their regular public tours, the company also offers private tours to groups.

“The tone of the tour is light and fun. We book many private tours including school-aged children as well as seniors,” said Don Fielding. “We felt it was important to reiterate how the ultimate result of crime is prison or worse. This is the reason we embraced the word ‘Untouchable.’ Eliot Ness and his colleagues did incredible work in ridding Chicago of organized crime. We wanted to tip our hats to them.”

To commemorate its 30th year anniversary, Untouchable Tours is offering a special discount code to Beverly residents who book any tour online before Thursday, June 15. Simply enter the code: beverly and receive $2 off a seat.

Bookings can be made online at gangstertour.com or by calling (773) 881-1195.

Thanks to The Beverly Review.

Friday, June 02, 2017

The First Vice Lord: Big Jim Colosemo and the Ladies of the Levee

My tendency to either skim books or proofread them (from early magazine days) has encountered a new one from former Cook County police chief Art Bilek that I can’t put down: The First Vice Lord: Big Jim Colosemo and the Ladies of the Levee.

This is a masterpiece of writing and excruciatingly accurate research that describes how Big Jim Colosimo rose from a lowly street-sweeper to the most prominent operator of whorehousesThe First Vice Lord: Big Jim Colosemo and the Ladies of the Levee, gambling joints, and low-life restaurants in the days leading up to Prohibition, with the collusion of the police and politicians and the managerial skills of John Torrio and Al Capone. When his increasingly notorious Colosimo’s Café combined with his growing desire for respectability, love for a young songbird, and failure to exploit the opportunities afforded by Prohibition, Torrio (we must presume) had him murdered in the vestibule of his elegant restaurant in 1920—and the band marched on.

Nowhere has Chicago’s graft and corruption been so carefully and entertainingly documented, with special attention to the backgrounds of Torrio and Capone, who worked hard to weld the new and competing bootlegging gangs into the greatest illicit booze empire the country has ever known--one that did not factionalize into Chicago’s bloody Beer Wars that began with the killing of North Side mob-leader Dean O’Banion four years later. My own work has concentrated on the years following Prohibition, so I’m especially happy to report that Bilek’s book explains what made the Roaring Twenties possible.

Reviewed by William J. Helmer, courtesy of On the Spot Journal.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Chicago Outfit Boss Rudy Fratto Stiffs Feds

Chicago Outfit boss Rudy Fratto has stopped paying restitution from a federal court tax evasion conviction and the government is going after him for more than $130,000, the ABC7 I-Team has learned.

The last time Rudy "The Chin" Fratto made news, he'd just been sentenced to prison for rigging $2 million in forklift contracts for a pair of trade shows at McCormick Place. That followed a tax evasion conviction-and court ordered restitution of $141,000. But the I-Team has learned Mr. Fratto still owes most of that. In newly filed court records, U.S. prosecutors say Fratto stopped paying his hefty bill more than a year ago.

Because of it, they say the government is "entitled to 25% of Fratto's disposable earnings for each pay period...until the debt is paid in full." Fratto claims he should only be paying 10 percent and there will be a federal court hearing on May 24.

Mr. Fratto is currently employed at a small electrical firm in Bartlett, "running pipe and wire," according to the company owner.

Such legit work may seem out of sync for someone considered prone to violence and over the years suspected by law enforcement in numerous crimes, including murder. Fratto has managed to avoid prosecution for acts of Outfit violence.

The hoodlum's jovial and engaging demeanor in public and outside court is in sharp contrast to the cut-throat position authorities say he holds in the mob. The west suburban Darien resident is an understudy of Outfit elder John "No Nose" DiFronzo, the mob's statesman of Elmwood Park, who is said to be in failing health.

Fratto has the mob in his DNA. He is the nephew of Louis "Cock-Eyed Louie" Fratto, so-named because his eyes were out of kilter. Cock-Eyed Louie, an associate of Al Capone and the Chicago Mob's emissary in Des Moines, Iowa Mob from 1930 until 1967.

Even if Fratto ponies up and starts paying his federal bill at garnishment rate he wants per week, it will take a while to whittle down what he owes. At 10 percent from his paycheck, he wouldn't pay off the debt for 25 years, at age 98.

Mr. Fratto's attorney has not responded to messages left by the I-Team. A spokesman for the United States Attorney in Chicago declined to comment on the case.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie.

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