The Chicago Syndicate: Marshall Caifano
Showing posts with label Marshall Caifano. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marshall Caifano. Show all posts

Monday, October 02, 2017

Hugh Hefner Politely Declined Chicago Mob Overtures in Both Windy City and Sin City

The powerful Chicago mob twice made overtures to partner with Hugh Hefner and his Playboy clubs, including one in Las Vegas, Hugh Hefner revealed. Both times, Hefner said, he "politely declined."

10 years ago, Hefner, in Las Vegas for his 81st birthday weekend celebration at the Palms, told me the Chicago mob "very much wanted to invest in the Playboy Clubs." The first contact came during a Playboy party when Marshall Caifano, "a heavy hitter in the Chicago mob ... collared me during a party and said he wanted to talk with us." "I kind of backed away and said I didn't want to talk about business in a social setting. So he made a date to come over the next afternoon, and I sat down with my guys and said, 'What do we do with this guy. We can't be doing business with the mob.'" Hefner said he told Caifano, "'I don't know what kind of business you are in,' and he got kind of flustered and embarrassed and said, 'Gambling.' I said, 'Well, you've got your enemies and we've got ours, and I think it would be a big mistake to combine the two.'"

Later, reps from the mobbed-up Chez Paris, "probably the most famous nightclub in Chicago," said Hefner, leaned on him to collaborate on a club in Las Vegas. Again, Hefner held his ground.

Thanks to Norm!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

My Kiddo, Joe Batters

Tony Accardo, is, without a doubt, the most successful, the most powerful, most respected and the longest lived Boss the Chicago syndicate, or probably any criminal syndicate for that matter, has ever had. During his long tenure, Accardo's power was long reaching and frightfully vast.

He was so respected and feared in the national Mafia that in 1948 when he declared himself as the arbitrator for any mob problems west of Chicago, in effect proclaiming all of that territory as his, no one in the syndicate argued.

He was the boss pure and simple. Unlike Johnny Torrio, Frank Nitti or Paul Ricca, Tony Accardo looked exactly like what he was, a mob thug who could and did dispatch men and women to their death over money or the slightest insult. He was a peasant, even he said that. But he was a reserved man and a thinker, unlike Big Jim Colosimo or Al Capone or Sam Giancana and all those who came after Giancana.

Unlike the other bosses, Accardo knew his limitations. He consulted often with Ricca, Murray Humpreys and Short Pants Campagna because he recognized their intelligence and wisdom and he used it.

He admitted to not having the outward intelligence of Ricca or Nitti or Torrio or even the flare and occasional self-depicting wit of Capone or Giancana. Yet it was Accardo who expanded the outfit's activities into new rackets. It was Accardo who, recognizing the dangers of the white slave trade, streamlined the old prostitution racket during the war years into the new call girl service, which was copied by New York families even though they laughed at the idea at first.

Two decades after prohibition was repealed Accardo introduced bootlegging to the dry states of Kansas and Oklahoma, flooding them with illegal whiskey. He moved the outfit into slot and vending machines, counterfeiting cigarette and liquor tax stamps and expanded narcotics smuggling to a worldwide basis. He had the good sense to invest, with Eddie Vogel as his agent, into manufacturing slot machines and then placed them everywhere, gas stations, restaurants and bars. When Las Vegas exploded, Accardo made sure the casinos used his slots and only his slots.

Watching someone as clever as Paul Ricca and as smart as Frank Nitti go to jail over the Bioff scandal, Accardo pulled the organization away from labor racketeering and extortion. Under Accardo's reign the Chicago mob exploded in growth and grew wealthy as a result.

The outfit grew because, outside of the Kefauver committee, there wasn't a focused attempt on the part of any law enforcement agency to bust up the Chicago syndicate. The FBI was busy catching cold war spies and they didn't acknowledge that the Mafia or even organized crime existed anyway.

Under Accardo's leadership, the gang set its flag in Des Moines Iowa, down state Illinois and, Southern California and deep into Kentucky, Las Vegas, Indiana, Arizona, St. Louis Missouri, Mexico, Central and South America. Accardo's long reign highlighted a golden era for Chicago's syndicate. But it also ushered in the near collapse of the outfit as well. In 1947, as Tony Accardo took the reins of power from Paul Ricca, the outfit produced $3,000,000 in criminal business per year with Accardo, Humpreys, Ricca and Giancana taking in an estimated $40 to $50 million each per year.

Accardo pensioned off the older members of the mob and gave more authority to the younger members of the mob, mostly former 42 gang members like Sam Giancana, the Battaglias and Marshal Caifano.

The money poured in, in hundreds of thousands of dollars every day from all points where Chicago ruled. The hoods who had survived the shoot-outs, gang wars, intergang wars, purges, cop shootings, the national exposés and the federal and state investigations now saw what they had hustled so hard for.

They had more money then they knew what to do with. Like any set of super rich men they hired the best crooked investors money could buy, not the Jake Guzak-Meyer Lansky types either, real investment experts with law and accounting degrees from Harvard and Yale who taught them all sorts of legal tax loopholes to get their cash out of the rackets and into legitimate businesses.

By the time he died in 1992, Tony Accardo, the son of illegal immigrant parents from an Italian ghetto in a Chicago slum, had legal investments in transportation as diverse as commercial office buildings, strip centers, lumber farms, paper factories, hotels and car dealerships, trucking, newspapers, hotels, restaurants and travel agencies.

He dictated to his men that "when things are in order at home, it's easier to concentrate on business" so although he allowed them their mistresses and girlfriends, it was his rule that his men spend times with their wives and children. Accardo himself was said never to have cheated on his wife of many years, Clarice.

He declared that no one in the organization could ever threaten or harm a cop or member of the media, no matter how annoying they were. In so long as they were honest and doing their job, they were to be left alone. Yet when an honest Chicago beat cop named Jack Muller ticketed Accardo car for double parking outside the Tradewinds, a mob salon on Rush Street, Accardo made sure that officer Muller was made an example of by his superiors. From that day on, it became commonplace to see hoods park their cars whereever they pleased along Rush street and other places.

Like his mentor Paul Ricca, it was Accardo's firm belief that in order to avoid the tax men, that the outfit should conduct itself as meekly as possible to avoid public attention. Accardo decided that he would keep the lowest profile a mob boss could have and he directed his underbosses to follow the same route. They did, except for Sam Giancana.

Like Ricca, Accardo preached moderation, low profile and patience in all things but unlike Ricca, Accardo seldom practiced what he preached. His estate in exclusive River Forrest, outside of Chicago was extravagant. Far more extravagant then he would allow for any of his men.

Accardo bought the place in 1943 when he started to roll in wartime profits. It had twenty-one rooms, a built in pool...in the house...a black onyx bathtub that cost $10,000 to install in the fifties, and a bowling alley.

The baths were fitted with gold inlaid fixtures, the basement had a large gun and trophy room that sometimes doubled as a mob meeting hall. It had vaulted ceilings, polished wood spiral staircase, a library full of hundreds of volumes of books, pipe organ and a second bowling alley. In the rear of the house stood a guest house.

His backyard barbecue pit, a status symbol in gangdom, was the largest in the outfit only because nobody was stupid enough to build a larger one than the bosses. The half-acre lawn was surrounded by a seven foot high fence and two electrically controlled gates. "It was," wrote Sam Giancana's daughter Annette, "almost obscene the way he flaunted his wealth."

His penchant for showing the world his wealth was in contradiction to his self-effacing ways. In fact, Tony Accardo lacked any real personal flamboyance at all.

A powerfully built man, Accardo was taken with loud clothes, expensive white on white dress shirts, and conservative suits that cost $250, four and half times the average amount for the price of a good wool suit in 1959.

An ardent fisherman, he often spent long weekends fishing the waters off Florida or Bimini or Mexico, most of the time taking Sam Giancana along as his bodyguard.

Over time, he made real efforts to improve himself. He traveled with his wife, or Frank Nitti's son or sometimes alone to tour the great museums and churches of Europe. When Clarice joined a group of educators and traveled around the world to study the living customs of other societies, Accardo sometimes joined her.

Otherwise, Accardo's attempts at respectability were often bumbling. Once, friends managed to have him brought into a private and very exclusive golf club. Everything was fine until Accardo called his thugs to a general meeting on the links. The boys brought no clubs and instead sped across the course in golf carts, ramming into each other and had a picnic on the sixth fairway. The membership was appalled and requested that Accardo resign, which humiliated him no end.

Accardo was a compulsive gambler and was one of his own best customers at his club in Calumet city; the Owl Club. Even towards the end of his life, when he wasn't able to get around as freely, Accardo phoned in his bets. He once said that if he died at the crap tables, he would die a happy man.

He enjoyed his role as the big boss, he liked having his men gossip about him, having them bow and fall all over themselves trying to keep him happy. Accardo made no secret of the fact that he looked down on them and made sure they understood that they were subordinate to him. However he was careful not to act superior around Paul Ricca, the man who had trained him for his position.

Unlike any that came before him or after him, Tony Accardo was totally in charge of his organization, from top to bottom, in large measure due to the fact that Accardo was a feared man and he ruled by fear, and he delighted in his reputation for brutality. But his ruthlessness was probably unneeded, since he was seldom challenged in his position, in large part, because Chicago is ruled by one family, unlike New York, which is ruled by five families. As a result, the control of the organization was easier.

He could be extremely moody and sullen and took offense easily and seldom overlooked even the most delicate of slights against his powerful, and he was powerful, position. "Tony," said one of his acqaintances, "could have the disposition of a rattlesnake, it depended on his mood."

When he snapped, the most accurate way to describe his temper tantrums, the stone cold facade of a businessman, and the thin veneer of respectability dropped away and the world got a peek at the real Tony Accardo.

He could be charming when he had to be, in so long as it wasn't for long periods of time, but otherwise he was surly, rude, crude, and foul-mouthed. "Basically," an FBI report read, "Accardo is a rather simple and often crude and surprisingly cheap individual."

Once, when a teenage waiter was too slow to serve him his hamburger in a restaurant, Accardo sat and fumed. When the teenager arrived with the hamburger, Accardo grabbed a knife off the table and slashed the child's arm open.

On another occasion, Accardo ordered the death of a lawyer for the Chicago Restaurant Association to be killed when the two had an argument over disclosing to the IRS Accardo's $125,000 retainer.

Only the pleading of the always level headed Murray Humpreys saved the lawyer from Accardo's gunners.

Accardo was born to Francisco and Maria Accardo, Sicilian immigrants, on April 28, 1906. He was baptized at the infamous Holy Name Cathedral, seven blocks away from his home on 1353 West Grand Avenue, near Ogden, on the West side.

However, there is some evidence that he may have been born in Italy, in or near Palermo, Sicily. His mother would later file a delayed birth affidavit with the federal government stating that Tony was born in 1904 in Chicago, a full year before she arrived in the United States.

One of six children, Accardo dropped out of the Holy Name Cathedral School in the fifth, or possibly the sixth grade, and took to petty street crime, working mostly in the loop.

While still only a child, he came to the attention of Vincenzo de Mora, AKA Machine Gun Jack McGurn, who was then the leader of the Circus gang, which was run out of the Circus Café at 1857 North Avenue. Both operations, the gang and the café, were owned by Claude Maddox. Maddox would later play a pivotal role in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Among the tens of thousands of young and impressionable poor Italian boys who survived in the teaming slums of Chicago, Jack McGurn had an almost godlike stature, so, when McGurn chose Accardo to act as his Gofer, it was an honor.

On March 22, 1922, a young Tony Accardo was arrested for the first time, just six weeks before he turned sixteen, for a motor violation. Several months later, in 1923, Accardo was arrested for disorderly conduct inside a pool hall. He was fined $200 plus court costs. According to court records, Accardo said that he was still living with his parents, which is doubtful, and that he was employed as a delivery boy for a grocery store in Little Italy and later as a truck driver which apparently was true.

Most professional crooks kept a full time job, if in name only, to appease any judge that they might stand before. At that point in his very long criminal career, Accardo was restricted to muggings and pickpocketing inside the loop during the day and stalking on drunks and old people at night.

Like so many other Chicago mobsters who came up through the ranks, Accardo drove a Capone beer truck part time. He graduated to look-out status and then burglaries in the west side.

In 1923, when McGurn left the circus gang to join the Capone operation, Accardo was 17 years old and already an experienced and reliable full time criminal and a big time member of the Circus gang.

By 1925, Tony Accardo had been promoted from daylight muggings to driving for Jack McGurn around town. It signaled to everyone that Accardo was on the way up.

In the summer of 1926, when Al Capone was locked in yet another beer war, he told McGurn the operation needed new gunmen and to "go out and find somebody." The somebody that McGurn got was Tony Accardo who now had a first rate reputation as an enforcer due to a bloody incident that had happened at the start of the year.

In January of 1926 that year the Circus gang, almost exclusively Italian in its makeup, was having a problem with an equally tough Irish street gang called the Hanlon Hellcats, which made its headquarters at the Shamrock Inn. The Hellcats were creeping in on the Circus gang's territory and Accardo was dispatched to take care of the problem any way he saw fit.

At midnight on January 20, Accardo and at least three others blasted the hellcats to kingdom come with shotguns as they left the Shamrock. A police squad from the Austin district was nearby and gave chase but Accardo was shrewd enough to know the law, he ordered the guns to be tossed away just a few minutes before the cops collared him. They were released on bail and eventually the case was dropped, due to lack of evidence.

Now McGurn rushed Accardo over to Capone's office at the Lexington Hotel. Capone, still in his fire-engine-red pajamas at five in the afternoon looked Accardo over and said, "McGurn likes you, so I make you. So you are now one of us, if you fuck up, we take it out on McGurn. He is your sponsor. Fuck up, it's his ass. You work in his crew, he is your capo."

Accardo was assigned to be a hall guard for Capone, spending most of his time in the Lobby at the Lexington, a shotgun on his lap covered by a newspaper.

Capone took a liking to Accardo. Once, the story goes, after Accardo beat a Capone enemy senseless with a baseball bat, Capone saw him in the lobby of the Lexington and yelled, "There's my kiddo, Joe Batters!"

Joe Batters. The name stuck and Accardo loved it. Even years later when he was running the mob, Accardo, who insisted on being called "Mr. Accardo" by his people and their families, allowed a select few to always refer to him as Joe Batters.

Accardo was eventually assigned, with his partner Tough Tony Capezio, whom Accardo had brought into the organization, to kill Hymie Weiss of the Moran gang. Accardo knew Weiss from his childhood. They had attended the same schools and were both regular parishioners of the Holy Name Cathedral and that was where, on October 11, 1926, Accardo and Capezio killed Weiss as he entered his headquarters at 740 North State street near the Holy Name Cathedral.

Right after that Capone decided that it was time for Mike the Pike Hietler, a pimp from the old days of the Levy, to go too, after Capone learned that Hietler had been talking to the authorities.

On April 29th 1931, Heitler was found in the town of Barrington, his car still on fire and the only way they identified Mike the Pike was by his dental remains. He had been strangled and shot before he was set afire. Tony Accardo on has long been considered one of Mike the Pike's killers.

Accardo is also strongly suspected of having been the trigger man behind the Jake Zuta murder as well. It was Accardo who killed gangster Teddy Newberry after Newberry made an attempt to corner organized crime in Chicago.

Accardo may also have been assigned to the St. Valentines Day hit squad. Authorities believe that Accardo was the killer dressed as a Chicago policeman and armed with a double-barreled shotgun.

It was Accardo who set up and supervised the hit on union hustler Tommy Maloy. When Frankie Yale, Al Capone's old boss from back in his days as a Brooklyn thug, tried to take over the powerful Sicilian Union, it was again Accardo who was called in for his firepower.

By early 1940, Accardo was a power in Chicago and in the national Mafia.

Tony Accardo managed to have a 1944 arrest for gambling withdrawn, when he told the court that he intended to join the army. Accardo's lawyer, the legendary mob mouthpiece, George Bieber, told the court: "This young man is eager to get into the fight, don't deny him that right."

The judge released Accardo on the agreement that Accardo would report to his draft board, which he did. But, by then, Accardo was running the Chicago outfit since Paul Ricca was in jail. He already had a 21-room mansion, and an estimated income of $2,000,000 a year, and he wasn't about to give it up for the $21 a week paid to an army private.

Two days later Accardo appeared before the draft board, explained his background in crime, his position in the organization and was summarily rejected by the Army as morally unfit.

The gambling charges were dropped because Accardo had done as he was ordered by the court. In 1945, after he was instrumental in the release of his boss, Paul Ricca, from federal charges for his role in the Willie Bioff scandal, Ricca resigned as the outfit's leader, and promoted Accardo to the top spot.

Accardo held the position, off and on, for the next forty years but in 1958, Big Tony called the boys together at the Tam O'Shanter restaurant and introduced Sam Giancana as the new boss with the simple sentence: "This is Sam, he's a friend of ours."

Thanks to John William Touhy

The Week that Frank Sinatra Performed at the Villa Venice for the Chicago Mob

In 1962, at the height of his fame, Frank Sinatra gave a benefit performance at the behest of a British princess. He gave another for the head of the Chicago mob.

In February, he sang at a ritzy London fundraiser for a children's charity favored by Princess Margaret. Later that year, he did a week's gig at the Villa Venice, a gaudy but financially ailing nightclub near Northbrook in which mafioso Sam Giancana had a piece of the action.

Will Leonard, the Tribune's nightlife critic, reported that Sinatra and his pals, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr., "croon, carol, caper and clown to the biggest cabaret audiences this town has seen in years." And no wonder.

Gossip columnists had bestowed the honorific "Chairman of the Board" on Sinatra, whose 100th birthday on Dec. 12 is opening a floodgate of nostalgia. Giancana was the flamboyant face of the Chicago Outfit. The linking of the two luminaries turned those seven days in November and December into a requiem for an older show-biz era.

Chicago's entertainment scene was changing. Comedian Lenny Bruce had brought his obscenity-leavened act to the Gate of Horn, a hip club where the Chad Mitchell Trio also appeared. Their kind of folk music was already sufficiently popular for the Smothers Brothers to satirize it at the State-Lake Theater. The Rat Pack, Sinatra and his friends, were strictly old-school but still a magnetic draw to nightlife veterans of a time when Rush Street was home to celebrated nightclubs, not dating bars.

"The old Chez Paree crowd has yanked itself loose from the TV sets just once more," Leonard observed in another account of the goings-on at the Villa Venice. "The old waiters and doormen are back, showing the same old palms of the same old hands. There's a great big band on the stand, playing great big music. The chairs are pushed so closely together you can't shove your way between them. Flash bulbs pop in the audience during the show. All that's missing is the girl selling the Kewpie dolls and giant sized postcards."

Herb Lyon, the Trib's gossip columnist, proclaimed the hordes of screaming fans "Madness at the Villa." He quoted Sinatra and his buddies (or perhaps their publicist) as saying: "We've never seen anything like it anywhere — Vegas, New York, Paris, you name it."

Indeed, the Villa Venice had been tricked out in a style imported from Las Vegas. Giancana reportedly spent upward of $250,000 to restore it and its canals plied by gondolas. The showroom seated 800, was furnished with satin ceilings, tapestries, and statuesque, lightly clothed showgirls. Nearby was the ultimate accouterment of a Vegas-like operation: a gambling casino in a Quonset hut a few blocks from the Villa. High rollers were whisked between the supper club and the dice and roulette tables in a shuttle supervised by Sam "Slick" Rosa, identified by the Trib as "the syndicate's chief of limousine service," and his assistant, Joseph "Joe Yak" Yacullo.

The Tribune reported that among the mobsters on hand for Sinatra's opening night were Willie "Potatoes" Daddano, Marshall Caifano, Jimmy "The Monk" Allegretti and Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio. It was noted that "Sinatra's gangland fans from other cities appeared too." For a week, the Rat Pack's presence turned Milwaukee Avenue at the Des Plaines River into the hottest address in show biz.

Shortly before the Sinatra show closed, the casino shut down under belated pressure from law enforcement authorities who told the Tribune that the gambling operation had grossed $200,000 in two weeks. That threw a monkey wrench into Giancana's business plan, which depended on recouping his investment by attracting gamblers with a parade of big-name acts. But how could he hope to book stars like Sinatra and his buddies into a scarcely known venue in the hinterlands of Chicago? What kind of money did he dangle in front of them? Wondering if there might have been a nonmonetary enticement, the FBI interviewed the Rat Pack during their engagement. Perhaps the feds took a clue from Dean Martin's rewording of the old standard "The Lady is a Tramp":

I love Chicago, it's carefree and gay

I'd even work here without any pay.

According to James Kaplan, author of the recently published "Sinatra: The Chairman," the question was put to Davis. "I got one eye, and that one eye sees a lot of things that my brain tells me I shouldn't talk about," Davis told the agents. "Because my brain says that, if I do, my one eye might not be seeing anything after a while."

Kaplan's verdict was that it was unclear whether the Rat Pack got paid. As a favor to Giancana, Sinatra had previously persuaded a reluctant Eddie Fisher to play the Villa Venice, reportedly for chicken feed. Sinatra owed Giancana for lending his muscle in the critical state of West Virginia when John F. Kennedy ran for president in 1960, according to Giancana's daughter Antoinette's memoir "Mafia Princess: Growing Up in Sam Giancana's Family."

Still, the Rat Pack's Villa Venice appearances were wildly successful, as the Tribune's Lyon reported: "It is now estimated that the total Villa loot for the seven-day Sinatra-Martin-Davis run will hit $275,000 to $300,000, a new night club record." But Dinah Shore, the next scheduled performer, canceled at the last minute, and Sheilah Graham, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrote: "I've been told that Sinatra picked up the hotel tab for his group, to the tune of $5,000. The whole business sounds somewhat odd."

In fact, the Villa Venice never again hosted big-name stars, operating thereafter as a catering hall, with a new management taking over in 1965. Two years later, it was destroyed by a spectacular, if mysterious, fire. The spot is now a Hilton hotel.

Giancana was gunned down in his Oak Park home in 1975.

To the end of Sinatra's days, he sang the Windy City's praises. But fellow Rat Packer Peter Lawford reportedly said the song was an encomium not to the city but to Giancana, calling the song "his tribute to Sam, an awful guy with a gargoyle face and weasel nose."

Either way, "Chicago" was Sinatra's theme song:

I saw a man and he danced with his wife in Chicago

Chicago, Chicago that's my hometown.

Thanks to Ron Grossman.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bust-out Loser Testifies Against Joey the Clown

Friends of ours: Marshall Caifano, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo
Friends of mine: Alva Johnson Rodgers, Anthony Pellicano

Alva Johnson Rodgers walked slowly into the Family Secrets trial Wednesday with a criminal record as long as his Texas drawl.

As Rodgers swore to tell the truth, he raised his left hand before quickly catching his mistake and thrusting his right hand into the air.

He's been in prison almost of third of his 78 years, Rodgers said with a hint of pride. There were auto thefts in Arkansas, Arizona and California; a bank robbery in New Jersey; the counterfeiting case in New Orleans; fake stock certificates in Florida; and a plan to bring "a boatload" of marijuana from South America. But he had never met a Chicago mobster until he helped free one from federal prison in Georgia. Rodgers, a jailhouse lawyer, said his legal research found a flaw in the sentence of his cellmate, reputed Outfit hit man Marshall Caifano.

"The Appellate Court believed us and turned him loose," Rodgers, testifying under immunity from prosecution, told a federal jury. Caifano didn't forget the favor, paying for the lawyer who was able to get Rodgers out too. It was 1973, and Rodgers was soon on his way to Chicago to start working for Caifano and his friends, including reputed mob boss Joey "the Clown" Lombardo, he said.

Lombardo and four others are on trial in an alleged conspiracy to carry out Outfit business that included 18 gangland slayings decades ago. Rodgers was called by the prosecution to tell what he knows about Lombardo's control over the mob.

Dressed in a dark suit, peach shirt and dark teal tie, the gray-haired Rodgers sometimes had to lean forward on the witness stand to hear questions. He was asked if he saw Lombardo in court Wednesday. "Yeah, I see him. He just stood up," Rodgers said. Lombardo then sat back down, leaned forward and rested his chin on one hand, appearing to pay close attention.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Atty. John Scully, Rodgers said his first memory of Lombardo was when Lombardo was promoted within the Outfit ahead of his friend Caifano. Soon he and Caifano were taking orders from Lombardo, Rodgers said. Rodgers said he sometimes drove Lombardo around town when Lombardo had a police scanner in his car. Once, he said, they realized they were listening to their police tail. "Apparently, they considered him to be 'the Clown,' and me 'the Rabbit,' " Rodgers said. "We heard every word."

Within a year, Rodgers said, Lombardo allowed him and Caifano to try to take over the porn industry in Chicago. Rodgers said he opened a fictitious business to make peep-show booths and among the visitors were Lombardo and Lombardo's friend Anthony Pellicano, who went on to become a Hollywood private investigator who is awaiting trial in a highly publicized wiretapping case.

The peep-show business was located just a few blocks from a Catholic church, Rodgers said. "When Lombardo found out about it, he came around and told me not to put the store there," Rodgers told jurors. He said he eventually was sent to to take a cut of the profits from a business being opened on North Wells Street by William "Red" Wemette who also testified against Lombardo this week.

Rodgers said he went on to give Lombardo the idea of setting fire to a rival's giant warehouse of pornography as part of the bid to take over the distribution in Chicago. Rodgers also said he set a house fire for Pellicano and delivered cryptic messages to movie production companies to "join the association." A lawyer for Pellicano did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the allegations.

On cross-examination, Lombardo's lawyer, Rick Halprin, mocked Rodgers and his alleged connection to the reputed mob heavyweight. Rodgers again leaned forward to try to hear. "I know I'm not the government, so maybe you should lean back," said Halprin, who then asked whether Rodgers was involved only in minor crimes.

"You were just a bust-out loser?" asked Halprin, quickly saying he meant no insult.

"I did 11 years in prison for that bank robbery," Rodgers said.

"I'm glad you're not modest," the lawyer shot back.

Halprin asked Rodgers where he was planning to get $2 million to replace the pornography he planned to destroy in the warehouse.

"Your good credit?" said Halprin, who feigned a talk Rodgers might have with a loan officer. "Oh, 'And I met Joey Lombardo in a sandwich shop?' "

Halprin scoffed at Rodgers' claim that his dealings with Wemette were on behalf of the mob. He suggested the two were just close friends and noted that Rodgers had once driven Wemette's car to California. Even some jurors smiled as Rodgers said that had been a stolen car -- with Wemette's plates on it.

Also Wednesday, prosecutors played for jurors undercover audio recordings of Lombardo from a 1979 investigation into labor racketeer Allen Dorfman. Lombardo could be heard threatening the life of a casino owner who failed to repay a loan.

And defense lawyers cross-examined Wemette, who had testified about paying street tax to the Outfit from his adult bookstore. Halprin asked Wemette when he had given the FBI information on the sensational 1955 murders of young brothers John and Anton Schuessler and their friend Robert Peterson. In a bid to undercut Wemette's credibility, the defense brought out that Wemette claimed that Kenneth Hansen had confessed to the triple murder in 1968 and that he tipped off the FBI in 1971. Yet Hansen wasn't charged and convicted until the 1990s.

"The people I did speak to about it were really not interested in what I had to say." Wemette said.

Prosecutors repeatedly objected, and Halprin was forced to drop the matter.

Thanks to Jeff Coen

Monday, June 11, 2007

Warming Up for The Sopranos' Swan Song

With the end coming for Tony Soprano, wanna bet on his last words? I figure one word will do:

Mama.

If he says "Mama," the Oedipal gangster is ending where he began, though I'm not wagering money. Placing bets about the end of "The Sopranos" with offshore Internet gaming companies would be too ironic, even for me.

Or, Tony might offer up a pathetic "I'm sorry," after he's been betrayed by a friend, the universe contracting in that last moment of excruciating clarity, when there's so much to say but no time left to say it. But the only one he could tell is Paulie Walnuts, so why bother?

Then again, Tony might live. And his last words could be, "I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," as he sits in the witness stand, ballooning out of his suit, staring glumly at old colleagues at the defense table.

He'd have something in common with real-life Chicago mobster Nick Calabrese and his old pals, who will show up soon in the federal building in Chicago for the upcoming and historic Outfit trial, to the dismay of those who simpered that the Outfit was dead and that Chinatown tough guys are the stuff of fiction.

Either way, it's been a fine ride, and I've loved it and laughed along with it, and tonight it's over, with "The Sopranos" final episode on HBO after an eight-year run.

I'm old enough to have witnessed other pop-culture spasms of ritual mourning for television shows, and loathed them all, cringing at words like "iconic" and "touchstone" being applied to what escapes the idiot box. I've been nauseated by eulogies of comedy/dramas about sex-crazed Army doctors in Korea or sex-crazed alcoholics in Boston sports bars where everybody knows your name, even the drunken mailman. But here I am, in ritual, reeking of incense, and I can't help it, because "The Sopranos" was great drama and great TV.

What a premise: the dysfunctional suburban gangster family and the boss undergoing therapy, appraising the legs of his psychiatrist week after week, and the whiny children and the wife who made her bargain with blood money and decided to keep it. And the guys, Paulie and Big Pussy and Bacala, and Christopher seduced by Hollywood like others before him, and Silvio, who ran the strip club, yet was appalled that his teen-age daughter could be seen as a sexual object by a soccer coach.

The hook was a natural, and for years we sat safely in our living rooms, enjoying characters offered up as the last unrepentant white males, saying what they wanted, grabbing what they wanted, smoking, drinking. And we remain locked on the other side of the screen, in an increasingly bureaucratic, timid and politically correct modern American landscape.

No wonder Tony Soprano's crew stood out like broken thumbs on the hands of a mannequin in a window.

Corruption was the constant theme, not only the pimping and the muscle stuff and the gambling, but corruption with the stain of legitimate business upon it. It was realistic, too, in its analysis of politics. Organized crime can't survive without the support of politicians and judges and police officials, in those towns where billions of dollars in public works and development deals are skimmed. We viewers understood all this, if not in our bones, then somewhere in the inarticulate ligaments of our wrists, as we signed our names on tax forms. But millions were also turned off by the show when one of the gangsters had his questionable sexuality challenged by a dimwitted stripper, and he beat her to death in the parking lot of the Bada Bing. A woman at work was visibly shaken by the scene of the stripper's murder and could not believe they could be so cruel. But that's what they are, I told her. That's who they are. They're criminals.

They run suburban abortion clinics and rely on our respect for privacy to shield them. They're shot down in the vestibules of fried chicken restaurants at morning meetings, pawing the glass doors as they fall. And if they're lucky enough to die shriveled with age, as did the ruthless Chicago Outfit hit man Marshall Caifano, then their children fill their coffins with crucifixes asking Jesus to save them.

"The Sopranos" creator David Chase told the truth and created characters that are aped by the wise guys, and the guys who ape wise guys on Rush Street, much as their grandfathers aped the fictional persona of Edward G. Robinson's "Little Caesar," a case of life imitating art.

It was art, as Chase allowed his characters to reveal themselves. "The Godfather" films glamorized the wise guys, and though many Italians know the lines from those films, many -- including my wife who is now hooked on the show -- felt insulted by Tony Soprano, and argued that he glorified crime. But in the end, is Tony glorious? In the episode preceding the finale, he was hiding out in a dump, on a bed without sheets, in his clothes, staring at the ceiling in the dark, cradling a gun, waiting to be betrayed.

I expect he calls on his mother when, and if, he goes. But don't bet on it. Gambling's illegal -- unless it's government-approved.

Thanks to John Kass

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ice Bar Has Mob Links

Friends of ours: Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo, Ernest "Rocky" Infelice, Kenneth Bratko, Marshall Caifano

An owner of Ice Bar -- the site of the slaying of Chicago Bear Tank Johnson's bodyguard -- once invested in a mob-tied casino and is the daughter of an associate of Outfit boss Joseph "Joey the Clown" Lombardo.

Bar owner Anna Marie Amato also pleaded guilty to a felony drug possession case in 2005 but under the special probation she received, she did not have a felony conviction entered on her record, allowing her to keep her liquor license, according to court records and a city spokeswoman. Amato, 50, has not returned phone messages requesting comment in recent days.

Amato is the daughter of Kenneth Bratko, a longtime associate of Lombardo and a convicted felon. Bratko was convicted in February 1970 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for taking part in the hijacking of more than $300,000 in cameras from a truck headed to Melrose Park. Bratko was charged with Ernest "Rocky" Infelice, the late Cicero mob boss whose conviction was later thrown out.

Five years before, Bratko was acquitted along with top Chicago gangster Marshall Caifano in a $48,000 insurance fraud scheme in Chicago.

Bratko was the subject of a confidential 1975 memorandum by an investigator from an Illinois state commission looking into an organized crime takeover of the truck-hauling industry. Bratko was accused of initiating the takeover while he was still in federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., but never charged. Bratko did not return phone messages on Tuesday.

Bratko's daughter, Amato, and another Bratko family member were among the investors in the mob-tied casino, the Curacao Caribbean Hotel & Casino, according to an investor list from 1989 obtained by the Sun-Times. The casino operation, suspected of washing money for the Outfit, was the subject of an IRS criminal investigation, but no charges resulted, sources said. The hotel later declared bankruptcy.

As for Amato, she pleaded guilty last year to possession of crystal meth after police caught her paying $400 for 3.2 grams of it. Amato received a special two-year probation for first-time drug offenders that allowed her to avoid having the felony entered on her record as long as she successfully completes her probation. Without a felony on her record, the city did not have grounds to revoke her liquor license, said Rosa Escareno, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Business Affairs and Licensing.

Thanks to Steve Warmbir and Fran Spielman

Monday, January 01, 1990

Jury Hears of Payoffs to the Mob

For 14 years, until he disappeared in 1988 and was feared slain, the owner of an Old Town pornographic video store allegedly paid thousands of dollars in protection money, or ``street taxes,`` to the Chicago mob. On Tuesday, William ``Red`` Wemette, reappeared in public for the first time. From a witness stand in U.S. District Court, he recounted how he gave the money and dealt with six mob money collectors or their bosses. Four of them are dead or in prison. The other two, reputed mob figures Frank Schweihs, 59, formerly of Lombard, and Anthony Daddino, 60, a Rosemont building inspector, are on trial before Judge Ann Williams on charges of attempted extortion. The conspiracy in which they are charged does not include actual extortion, despite Wemette`s contention that he paid Schweihs and Daddino a total of $19,800. That`s because the 40-year-old Wemette was a paid informant for the FBI, and the money he paid was not his but that of the FBI.

A jury hearing the case was told in opening statements Tuesday that beginning in the 1970s, Wemette led two seemingly contradictory lives-one as a merchant of pornography, the other as a government mole. During the two years ending last September, when he dropped from sight by plan, Wemette recorded the alleged Schweihs-Daddino payoffs with FBI cameras and audio equipment hidden in his apartment above his X-rated video shop at 1345 N. Wells St.

``Since 1971, I provided information to the FBI and got some monetary gain, about $10,000,`` Wemette acknowledged under questioning by special attorney Thomas Knight of the Justice Department`s Organized Crime Strike Force. Knight told the jury that the evidence includes video and audio recordings made on 23 dates from May 1, 1987, until Sept. 15, 1988. Wemette testified that he began making extortion payoffs to various mobsters in 1974, when he opened his Old Town porn shop, then known as ``The Peeping Tom, and that the initial payoff sum of $250 a week was set by mob street boss Joseph Lombardo, now in prison. Others who figured in the shakedowns, he said, included Marshall Caifano, also now in prison, and two now-dead individuals, Louis Eboli and Albert ``Obbie`` Frabotta. He said Daddino and Schweihs increased the sum to ``a nice round`` figure of $1,100 a month in 1985. The increase, he explained, came after he complained to Schweihs that another collector wanted to start taxing the video porn dealer on a hot dog stand he also owned in Old Town. That collector never bothered him again, Wemette said.

He said Daddino, whom he knew as ``Jeeps,`` once sought his help to bribe police officers, saying that too many bookmakers whom Daddino collected protection money from were being arrested. Defense attorneys Allan Ackerman and John L. Sullivan contend that Wemette suffered no economic loss because of the use of FBI funds and that the FBI recordings show nothing but friendship between the three men.


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