The Chicago Syndicate: Frank Nitti
Showing posts with label Frank Nitti. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Frank Nitti. Show all posts

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Cermak tale teaches more than history

Friends of ours: Al Capone, Frank Nitti, Giuseppe Zanagara, Paul "The Waiter" Ricca

It felt strange giving a history lesson to a potential mayoral candidate about the Chicago Outfit and Chicago politics. And I probably should have kept my mouth shut. But when did that ever happen?

U.S. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the Chicago Democrat, and I were talking politics over the phone Wednesday. He explained the importance of coalitions and how other Chicago mayors have put such coalitions together. "If I don't organize Latinos, who will?" he said. "How do I challenge others to be fair and just and more equitable, if I don't organize that voice? If that leads people to seeing me purely in a very myopic way, well, you and I both know that's not representative of my life's work." What is a politician's life's work? This is an eternal question.

I'm more interested in the immediate, like: Will Gutierrez position himself as a viable alternative to Mayor Richard Daley as the feds hammer City Hall? Or, is it more likely that a three-way mayoral campaign between Gutierrez, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson (D-Ill.) and Daley would split the vote and keep Daley in office? Consider it the Incumbent Protection Committee. We'll see. These can't be answered in a day, and Gutierrez was talking about coalitions.

"My life's work has been about immigrants. If you came to my office, you'd see Polish people, right? Irish people, Greek people, others, my office is rich in the immigrant history of Chicago. You go to my rallies, you see Asians, from China and the Philippines. That's been my history, but that's kind of the history of Cermak, wouldn't you agree? He kind of put together a coalition of those that were not part of the Thompson machine." Anton Cermak? "Yes," Gutierrez said.

Some of you have probably driven on the street named after Cermak but not known what happened to the former mayor. Gutierrez is correct. Cermak was a masterful coalition builder.

This is how I understand what happened: Back in the 1920s, the puppet mayor was William "Big Bill" Thompson, a blowhard who once threatened to punch English King George "in the snoot." But one snoot he'd never punch belonged to Al Capone. Thompson couldn't even think about touching Capone's snoot. That would have been more painful than punching himself in the nose hard, every day for a lifetime.

After doing the Outfit's bidding for years, Thompson was used goods. The boys found another politician--Anton "Pushcart Tony" Cermak, who was elected mayor in 1931 on the reform ticket. Foolishly, he decided to double-cross the Capone gang by siding with Capone rivals and sent police to exterminate Capone successor Frank Nitti.

Unfortunately for some, Nitti survived. So Cermak decided to take an extended vacation and hang out with President-elect Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Florida. On the night of Feb. 15, 1933, a former Italian army marksman, Giuseppe Zangara, was waiting in a crowd at Bayfront Park in Miami. Zangara had three things going for him as an Outfit assassin. He had an inoperable disease, he had a family and he had a gun. From about 30 feet, he popped Cermak in the chest. Roosevelt was not injured because he wasn't the target. Zangara was later executed.

By this time, Capone was in federal prison, slowly going insane as the result of a little something he picked up in his earthier travels between Chicago hotel rooms. His illness is well known to people who've watched the many movies made about Capone.

As I've written before, Hollywood never made a movie about Paul "The Waiter" Ricca. He was too shy. And he wisely let others pretend they were the boss and grab all the publicity. But he knew how to send a message. There was a main Chicago thoroughfare leading from the Capone headquarters at the Lexington Hotel on 22nd Street to the Outfit's hangouts in Cicero. This road was renamed Cermak Road. Every hood traveled it. They laughed. And every politician understood. But that's such ancient history.

On Wednesday, Chicago was still the reform capital of Cook County. And Gutierrez was talking on the phone about coalitions. "Cermak put together a coalition of those who were not part of the Thompson regime, right?" Gutierrez asked. Right. "And he put together a great coalition, of disparate people," Gutierrez said. And what happened to Cermak? There was a silence. "Oh, I know," Gutierrez said. "He got assassinated." I explained how Cermak was honored with his own street.

"Oh, I never thought of that," Gutierrez said. "I didn't know about that. I guess my point is, I look at the history of the city of Chicago, I look at the turn of the century, you know the Bohemians came together. It was a revolution in Chicago politics. Ask all the Irish politicians that have been elected ever since."

Gutierrez would make an entertaining candidate and might become mayor someday. He's smart enough. And besides, he likes history.

Thanks to John Kass

Wednesday, April 05, 2000

Is Cicero Still a Mob Town?

In the 1920s, Al Capone and his gangsters, looking for a safe and protected place, moved their headquarters from Chicago to Cicero, Ill., a small town just west of the city. Some people, including a recent police chief there, say the mob never left. Carol Marin reports for 60 Minutes II. Cicero is a blue-collar town: Very few people in this suburb of about 70,000 ever get rich. But one group there has made money, for the better part of 80 years: a group known simply as "The Outfit."

Since Capone, other big-name bosses controlled the Cicero rackets: Frank Nitti, Capone's enforcer and handpicked successor; Sam "Momo" Giancana, who befriended John Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, among others; and Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo, the most feared and respected of all mob bosses.

Nearly 40 years ago, Cicero was described by Cook County State's Attorney Dan Ward as "a walled city of the syndicate."

In 1989, that wall began to crack. The break began with Cicero native Bill Jahoda, who for 10 years was one of the mob's top bookies. He probably made about $10 million for the mob, he says. "I was in the gambling department," he says. "I [was] in the mob's hospitality wing, or the entertainment division. But let me tell you, gambling is a very dangerous and competitive line of work. There were three murders on my shift that I was aware of that related to gambling. In two of those cases I was what would be considered the setup guy. I steered the men to the place where they were ultimately killed."

Not long after that, Jahoda became a government informant, and his testimony helped convict 20 members of a gambling crew headquartered in Cicero. When his work was done, Jahoda left town a marked man. "The mob controlled town hall," Jahoda says. "It wasn't necessarily who was in there; it was who the mob put in there." The police department knew that it shouldn't interfere with the mob's businesses, Jahoda says.

"Any time there's a dollar there, the mob wants a piece of it," he says. "Whether it's coming out of protection, whether it's coming out of graft, whether it's coming out on contracts, whether it's coming out of unions, any time there's a dollar, the mob wants to get about 90 cents on it."

In the 1980s and 1990s the mob's man at town hall was Trustee Fank Maltese, according to Jahoda. Maltese and Betty Loren were married in 1988, with some of the mob's top men in attendance. Three years later a federal grand jury indicted Frank Maltese on gambling and racketeering charges. Maltese pled guilty to the federal charges.

Maltese died before he could be sent to prison, but not before pulling off what some consider his best political fix. In a closed-door meeting with other town trustees, Maltese had his wife, who had never been elected to any office, named Cicero town president. Betty Loren-Maltese, a tough politician with a penchant for big hair and false eyelashes, is still town president. When she took office, she would change Cicero's image, she said.

Cicero doesn't deserve its reputation, she says. "Every community has a problem but apparently we get the notoriety because everybody knows the name Cicero," she says. "Some people in Southern states say, 'Oh my God, Cicero.' They assume that there's hit men with machine guns on the street."

Since 1993 Loren-Maltese has closed down strip joints and taken on street gangs. Three years ago she set out to reform Cicero's police department, which by her own account was corrupt. After a nationwide search, she found David Neibur, at the time the police chief in Joplin, Missouri.

At first Neibur didn't want the job. But then Loren-Maltese promised him that he could root out corruption wherever he found it.

Neibur took the position and began trying to clean up the town. He took a look at Ram Towing, which had the exclusive, lucrative contract to tow cars in Cicero. Ram Towing got that contract after being in business just one week. Over the next two years Ram Towing, along with its sister company, gave more than $30,000 to the political campaign of Loren-Maltese.

Neibur says he had other questions, especially about how some companies were servicing police department vehicles. His department was paying to have cars tuned up that had just been tuned up weeks before, and paid for tires that never arrived, he says.

Neibur told Loren-Maltese about these allegations, he says. He also cited poker machines he says were making illegal payoffs in bars and restaurants. He asked his boss to outlaw the machines, which have been used by the mob as a way to make money. She refused, he says.

The FBI was also interested in the town's operations. It had bugged town hall as part of a corruption investigation with Loren-Maltese as one of the targets. The FBI wanted Neibur's help in its investigation, which is still going on, Neibur says.

Through an attorney, Ram Towing said it has done nothing wrong. When Neibur made his allegations of corruption, Cicero's special legal sounsel at the time, Merrick Rayle, investigated and said he found no wrongdoing. "I didn't hear about any, and I certainly didn't see it," Rayle says. "And it's not my sense, having worked with these folks, that they were corrupt in any fashion.

Rayle served as Cicero's special legal counsel for a year and a half. Besides investigating Neibur's claims, his other principal job was to catch and fire police officers who violated Cicero's residency requirements. His bill was $1.5 million. He did a lot of work for the money, Rayle says. He also contributed around $34,000 to Loren-Maltese's political fund during that time. There is no correlation between the donations and his hiring by the town, Rayle says. Rayle says Loren-Maltese fired him because his bills were too high. His replacement, a personal friend of the president, charged even more.

Even though he was fired by Loren-Maltese, Rayle says that he still likes her. "I think she has done a tremendous job as president of the town of Cicero," he says. "Lesser people would walk away from that job because of the constant turmoil, the constant bad press."

Four and a half months after Loren-Maltese hired Neibur to reform the Cicero police department, she fired him. Neibur is now suing. He was dismissed after turning over documents to the FBI alleging a pattern of fraud, he says. "[One] night, five members of the police department showed up at my house, seized my car, uniforms, ammunition and served me with a letter from Betty saying that I could no longer represent myself as a employee of the town of Cicero in any capacity," he says.

Loren-Maltese refused to comment on any of these matters. In a written statement the town's attorney said: "The exclusively negative nature of the topics submitted for discussion could only serve to harm the improving image of the town of Cicero." But in 1998, she did speak to a local TV station: "Does the town have a problem? Are there investigations going on? Yes. Will there always be? Yes, because we are Cicero."

Loren-Maltese dedicated the town's public safety building to the memory of her husband, the late mob felon.

Jahoda's testimony, which helped convict Maltese, was a blow to the outfit, but it was hardly fatal, he says. The man who now runs the day-to-day operation of the Chicago mob, is a former Cicero resident, Johnny "Apes" Monteleon, according to authorities. "I learned the hard way that Al Capone really never left Cicero," Neibur says. "I believe the organization still exists in Cicero.

Thanks to Carol Marin

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