The Chicago Syndicate: George Ryan
Showing posts with label George Ryan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label George Ryan. Show all posts

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ditch the Al Capone Shirt and take The Chicago Corruption Walking Tour

Paul Dailing was fed up with the folksy and unaffected way people talk about Chicago corruption—think Al Capone T-shirts and the bemused smirk as people shrug and say, “That’s the Chicago way.”

The reality is corruption in Chicago has ruined untold numbers of lives and led to the untimely end of many of them. To remind people of this reality, albeit in an enlightening and entertaining way, Dailing combined his experience as a newspaper reporter, a journalism professor, and a riverboat tour guide to create a unique walking tour about political corruption in Chicago and Illinois.

“People don’t realize the actual cost of all of this,” Dailing says. “I want them to know that even though people love Richard J. Daley, if you were black, he wasn’t a great mayor. If you were gay, or a woman, or poor, or a hippie, or just not his friend, he was terrible. This stuff gets romanticized for some lousy reason.”

The Chicago Corruption Walking Tour begins aptly outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center, moving north with stops at the Dirksen Federal Courthouse, the Marquette Building, Thompson Center, one of our excessively expensive parking meters, a ritzy strip of River North that’s somehow in a tax increment finance, or TIF, district, and other downtown places to highlight key moments of unscrupulous power moves. Even people who’ve lived in Chicago their whole lives will learn something, Dailing promises.

“Capone’s men chased Octavius Granady [a black aldermanic candidate] through two wards before shooting him to death,” he says. “That was among the more disturbing stories I found while researching for the tour.”

Dailing’s topics range from seemingly outrageous (former mayor William Hale “Big Bill” Thompson threatening the king of England, the Chicago Outfit gangsters who also were aldermen) to all-too-familiar stories, like which four of our governors went to prison and which others were just criminally charged. He even uses maps to illustrate the most egregious examples of gerrymandering—like in the 4th district, where a stretch of highway where no one lives somehow connects two distinct areas.

Tours start Sunday, May 1, and spots can be reserved online. A mile-long tour is available for $15 and the full 2.25-mile tour costs $25. Half of the tour revenue goes to City Bureau, an organization that trains young journalists covering the south and west sides to create meaningful journalism that is published in local and national outlets (including this one).

One of the running themes throughout the tour is that it’s not always clear who’s bad and who’s good—"It’s a fluid issue,” Dailing says. Former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, for example, may have sent disgraced former governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich to prison, but he also threw reporters in jail during the Scooter Libby/Valerie Plame affair.

“I think Otto Kerner was a great governor, except for the fact that he took bribes,” Dailing adds. “The Kerner Commission report delved into the race riots, and it was the first time the U.S. government admitted social inequality is a real thing.”

It gets even murkier at the turn of the century when 1st ward aldermen Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna and John “Bathhouse John” Coughlin came to power. While they helped poor citizens find better jobs and services, they also gave people free drinks at a bar in exchange for votes and used their influence to line their own pockets.

“They were basically scumbags for the people,” Dailing says. “But guys like Hinky Dink and Bathhouse also made things difficult for people who didn’t fall in line and vote the way they were told. Buying beers for votes is cute, but I try to show this in terms of a larger picture where things get worse, and suddenly these people aren’t so cute.”

Dailing says he hopes people leave the tour a little angry, a little more skeptical, but ultimately more aware of the extent to which corruption shaped Chicago and Illinois. “I don’t want people to leave this thinking it’s a hopeless situation,” Dailing says. “We know these stories because these people failed. The patronage system has been whittled down from the height of where it was, same with the Chicago Outfit. People are wising up that TIFs are bad politics.”

Political satire shows like The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee are popular even though they point out sad-but-true aspects of the way the world works. With that in mind, Dailing hopes people enjoy the tour but also are upset enough to get more involved with local political processes.

“I do want people to be pissed off and to want to do something about it,” he says. “I also want people to have a different Chicago experience. It’s OK to marvel at how tall the Sears Tower is, but we have more to talk about here.

“And screw all the romanticizing of Al Capone. We don’t need an unhinged gangster killer on T-shirts.”

Thanks to Benjamin Feldheim.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Federal agents armed with warrant raid Melrose Park police station

Federal agents armed with a search warrant raided the police station in suburban Melrose Park on Thursday, an FBI spokesman said.

"We did have several agents there this morning," FBI spokesman Ross Rice said. The raid, he said, was part of an ongoing investigation but he declined to give details. He also declined to say what the agents were looking for and what, if anything, they found. "No arrests have been made and no charges have been filed," he said.

U.S. attorney spokesman Randall Samborn declined to comment.

A woman who answered the phone at the west suburban police station said that Chief Vito Scavo and his lieutenants were not immediately available to answer questions. The suburb has figured in a number of high-profile criminal cases in recent years. Former Melrose Park Mayor C. Augustus Taddeo pleaded guilty in 1999 to extortion and tax fraud and was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison.

In recent years, a federal investigation of illegal electronic gambling devices controlled by the mob found that many were installed in Melrose Park taverns and strip joints. And the FBI said recently that the mob has a street crew based in the suburb. The suburb was also the site of the first raid by federal agents in October 1998 on an Illinois drivers license testing station operated by then-Secretary of State George Ryan's office. It was the beginning of the Operation Safe Road investigation of bribes exchanged for drivers licenses and political corruption in the Ryan era.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Casino hearing expected to call reputed mobster

Reputed Chicago Outfit boss John "No Nose" DiFronzo and his brother, Peter DiFronzo, will be among those called to testify at a state hearing on whether to revoke the state gambling license once destined for Rosemont, Illinois Gaming Board sources said Thursday.

Robert CooleyWhen Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down--the corrupt lawyer turned government informant who testified in mob cases involving the nexus between the Outfit and politicians--is also expected to be called as a witness. Cooley is the author of the book "When Corruption Was King: How I Helped the Mob Rule Chicago, Then Brought the Outfit Down."

The new head of the Gaming Board said he's looking forward to the hearing but isn't talking about who will testify. "I'd rather not comment on that, because I think it's up to the lawyers to conduct the case as they see it," Chairman Aaron Jaffe told me in a telephone interview. "But I will promise you this. It will be very interesting."

What he didn't say is important here. He didn't say they weren't going to subpoena the tough guys. He didn't say that the DiFronzos and others would not be called. He could have. But he didn't.

Gov. Rod "The Unreformer" Blagojevich appointed Jaffe with the understanding that the Gaming Board was to become independent again. That's nice, since Blagojevich tried to gut the board by denying it a full set of independent investigators.

Jaffe said that to make the board truly independent, though, the governor and the legislature must allow gambling officials to hire more investigators to be led by chief investigator Jim Wagner, the retired chief of the FBI's Organized Crime task force in Chicago. Wagner helped train several current FBI agents who brought the Operation Family Secrets case, with 18 previously unsolved mob murders, to indictment last week.

The Rosemont casino license has been a political Gordian knot. Republican powerhouses have pushed it as a favor to Rosemont Mayor Donald Stephens and his ally, the indicted former Gov. George "Safe Roads" Ryan.

Last year, past board chairman Elzie Higginbottom, a longtime ally of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, led a controversial pro-Rosemont ruling. He and other board members dismissed the concerns of Gaming Board staff that Rosemont was mobbed up and approved a plan to steer a license to a new casino in Stephens' town.

One of those pro-Rosemont board members appointed by Blagojevich was Bill Fanning. After the Rosemont vote, Fanning privately told his colleagues he had neglected to inform them that he had once been related by a past marriage to reputed Outfit boss Joe "The Builder" Andriacchi. Then Fanning resigned. There was little official comment about the development. Fanning did tell colleagues, though, that he had rarely spoken to Andriacchi and hadn't seen him in years.

What surprised me was that Blagojevich hadn't asked Fanning--before appointing him--whether he knew any tough guys. But now Blagojevich says independent is a good thing. Good luck, Mr. Jaffe.

Rosemont was once the headquarters of Outfit boss Sam "Momo" Giancana. According to Illinois Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan and other law enforcement authorities, Rosemont has been mobbed up.

Mayor Stephens, who will also be called to testify, vigorously disputes this characterization and has released the findings of an investigation he commissioned that said he's never been "connected to or associated with" the Chicago Outfit.

So I mentioned to Jaffe that he might consider calling another witness--Antoinette Giancana, daughter of the murdered Sam Giancana.

Several years ago, as Stephens was railing that his was not an Outfit town, I had breakfast with the gracious Antoinette and she remembered the days when Stephens eagerly hung out with her father at the Thunderbolt motel in the 1960s. Stephens disputes this. Obviously, a hearing would be quite interesting. "We were very friendly and casual and we all had a good time at the pool," she said. "My father's friends were there too. They had their board meetings in the banquet room. And Don was at the motel too, of course."

I asked her if it was true that the daughters of Outfit bosses teased the young and anxious Stephens by ordering him to fetch them towels at poolside. Did you ever say: Hey Don, get me a towel!? "Wait a minute!" Antoinette Giancana said. "I'd never shout, `Don, go get me a towel!' That would be rude. I was ladylike. You would say, `Don? Would you please get me a towel?'"

Recently, Jaffe appointed the distinguished jurist and former congressman Abner Mikva to preside over the hearing on the Rosemont license revocation. Jaffe said he expects Mikva to set a date for the hearing sometime next week. And Mikva has said he doesn't expect the hearing to drag on forever.

With all that's going on--Operation Family Secrets, City Hall corruption cases and Unreformer Blagojevich's problems--it'd be nice to spend time near a pool. Don, would you please bring me a towel?

Thanks to John Kass

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Duff Indictments a Story You Can Sink Teeth Into

When the friends of the mayor of Chicago--friends from a family with connections to the Chicago Outfit--are about to be indicted by a federal grand jury in a $100 million affirmative-action contract fraud scheme, word gets around fast.

So last week, word about the Duffs fanned out from City Hall. But there were a couple hours to kill before U.S. Atty. Patrick Fitzgerald's Thursday news conference about the Duff financial empire. It was time for lunch; I was hungry and wanted to think this through. There was only one place to go. "You've just got to go to Gene's," said a friend and colleague. She meant my favorite steakhouse, and the Duffs' favorite steakhouse, Gene & Georgetti's.

Gene's is a hangout where information is traded, among politicians, insiders, reporters, wise-guys, salesmen, consultants, from the buttoned down to the gold chains crowd. And what makes it work is that they serve the Best Steak in the City, period. The service is impeccable without being showy and the drinks are honest. Gene's is a part of the old Chicago, the city as it was before so much of the downtown was turned into a theme park.

It's also the place where the Duffs came up to me about a year ago, their tough, hard eyes smiling. They asked me why they don't ever see my children playing in the front yard of my home in the suburbs. They asked it twice. But the columns didn't stop and neither did the news stories by the investigative reporters, or Tribune editorials about the mayor's friends. And here's why: This is not about getting personal with the mayor or the Duffs. Though the mayor has been a frequent target in my column, what drives the criticism is the obscene amounts of taxpayer dollars that go to his pals. In deal after deal after deal, the attitude is that his guys can take what they want and the people in the neighborhoods better shut up about it, while higher taxes put more and more pressure on families to pay for the deals.

It's not personal, it's business, and it's your money.

Mayor Richard Daley is an able politician and has done some good things, including taking personal responsibility for trying to improve the public schools. But he must also take personal responsibility for his friends who get rich on government contracts he controls, paid for by our tax dollars.

The Duff stories broke in 1999, when Tribune investigative reporters Ray Gibson, Andrew Martin and Laurie Cohen wrote about the Duffs' City Hall deals and their connections to Daley and the Outfit. You can find the archive of the stories available on the Tribune's Web site.

Much of what was alleged in the indictments was laid out in those stories: that the Duffs, who are white, ran phony front companies that got $100 million in city contracts that should have gone to firms owned by women or minorities.

Daley knew the Duffs were not minorities, even when he was a crime-fighting Cook County state's attorney. A Duff sits across from you, gives you campaign cash, pours a drink, it's reasonable to assume that even the mayor could tell whether the person was white or not.

Think back to how the media treated the late Mayor Harold Washington, when Washington's buddies were involved in contract scandals. Back then, even minor stories about corruption got sustained media attention, particularly from TV and radio, even if the dollar amounts were only chump change. Washington faced constant media pressure on corruption issues. TV crawled all over him for years.

"If I was white, you wouldn't be doing this to me," Washington said once, in a private moment, as he filched a smoke from me and we stood in a parking lot after a campaign stop. We argued about it, and I told him that since we were off the record, he didn't have to play the race card. "You don't know anything, do you?" he said. He was right. I was a kid, then. I didn't know. But when the Duff stories first broke, involving a white mayor and white guys getting rich, the Chicago media scrutiny wasn't as intense. TV news didn't hound Daley the way it hounded Washington. The mayor must appreciate the kindness.

I'm sure he also appreciates the new federal prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. The feds have already outflanked former Govenor George Ryan's Republicans. Ryan himself is a target. And now the feds are moving toward Daley's Democratic City Hall.

The Daley-Duff relationship is not just a Tribune story anymore. A group of citizens--sworn as federal grand jurors--looked at the evidence. They didn't find a flaw in the system, as the city claims. They found a crime.

A couple friends and I talked of this at Gene's, about the change in things, about the importance of an independent federal prosecutor, about how the bipartisan political clique that runs this state tried to stop Fitzgerald's appointment in hopes of installing one of their own.

Just then, the cell phones began chirping and word of the Duff indictments began to spread through the bar.

We had our steaks medium rare. And they were tasty.

Thanks to John Kass

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