Showing posts with label Sam Giancana. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sam Giancana. Show all posts

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Revisiting the Mob Career of Tony Spilotro

Tony Spilotro, who would eventually be portrayed by Joe Pesci in the Martin Scorcese film "Casino," was born and raised in “The Patch,” a near west side Chicago neighborhood that was a haven for Italian immigrants in the 1940s and 50sTony Spilotro. Spilotro entered high school at Steinmetz, but when his father had a stroke and died the next year, he dropped out and started a full-time life of crime. All but one of his five brothers, along with a number of neighbors, became members of the Chicago mob, and a few played starring roles.

During the 1970s, Tony Spilotro was fronted in Las Vegas by childhood friend Frank Rosenthal (portrayed by Robert DeNiro in "Casino"), who ran numerous mob-backed gambling operations, to become the enforcer for Chicago. Spilotro was already known for his brutality and quickly established an embezzling scheme that took a cut for mob families in Kansas City, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Los Angeles.

Leo Foreman was the first brutal murder that Spilotro was accused of, supposedly in retribution because the loan shark (Foreman) had disrespected Chicago mob boss Sam DeStefano. Spilotro also is thought to have murdered Tamara Rand, a California real estate broker, in 1975, because she was suing over an unpaid $2 million loan to Spilotro’s Las Vegas associate Allen Glick.

When Tony was blacklisted by the Nevada Gaming Commission in 1979, which barred him from being physically present in a casino, Spilotro’s role of enforcer was curtailed. By that time, he had branched out into other activities like fencing stolen property and conducting a burglary operation with his brother Michael. The first Chicago mob informants flipped by the FBI named Spilotro in the murder of Leo Foreman, and a half dozen other close associates who accused Spilotro of ordering or carrying out mob murders.

By the early 1980s, Spilotro had already broke with Rosenthal after he had an affair with Rosenthal’s wife. When Frank Cullotta, a childhood friend who had remained an insider, began to fear that Spilotro was going to kill him, Cullotta began talking to the FBI.

Spilotro was acquitted in Chicago on a murder charge stemming in part from Cullotta’s testimony, but by 1986 the mobster had been implicated in about 22 murders and had lots of enemies in and out of jail.  Among other high-profile killings, Spilotro was suspected of being involved in the murder of his mentor Sam DeStefano and mob kingpin Sam Giancana.

There are several theories about how Tony and his brother Michael were lured to a summit meeting likely in Bensenville or North Riverside, Ill., and subsequently beaten and killed on June, 14, 1986.

About 10 days after the murders, the partially decomposed bodies of Tony and Michael Spilotro were found buried in a cornfield within the 12,000-acre Willow Slough preserve, in Newton County, Indiana. The farmer who spotted the site of the burial investigated at first because he thought a poacher had buried a deer killed out of season. The coroner noted that the bodies appeared to have been beaten to death by several people, and numerous people were eventually convicted. Of the 7-8 suspects in the Spilotro killings, several were convicted, others flipped and received lighter sentences in later cases, but everyone who was known to be at the meeting where the brothers were murdered, went to jail or died.

Thanks to Pat Collander.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Bringing Down the Mob: The War Against the American Mafia

Thomas Reppetto is a former Chicago commander of detectives and has been president of New York City's Citizens Crime Commission for more than 20 years. Few people know as much about the American Mafia as Reppetto.

"Bringing Down the Mob: The War Against the American Mafia" is the sequel to his critically acclaimed "American Mafia," and once again he provides a rare inside look into one of this country's most notorious organizations. Drawing from a lifetime of experience as a member of the Chicago Police Department, Reppetto recounts the stories of the Mafia's 20th-century leadership, detailing how men such as Sam Giancana and John Gotti became household names.

According to Reppetto, during the 1980s, government crusaders and scores of ordinary cops and U.S. marshals began to gain the upper hand. As anti-racketeering laws took hold, the battles between the feds and the Mafia moved from the streets to the nation's courtrooms, where celebrity criminals such as Gotti began to receive stiff sentences.

In vivid, fast-paced prose, Reppetto writes that organized crime is far from dead. In fact, he claims that, given the right formula of both connections and shrewd business decisions, a new generation of multinational criminals could assume the role of the old Mafia and redefine itself. Unless stopped, this new criminal group could erase all of the gains made by the government during the past two decades. It's a grim prospect.

Thanks to Larry Cox

Friday, July 10, 2015

Sam Giancana Ordered JFK Whacked!!

"Mafia Princess" Antoinette Giancana, daughter of the late Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana, claims in her book that her father ordered the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. If true, this would make Sam Giancana guilty of one of history's worst crimes. But that doesn't trouble Antoinette Giancana. "The Kennedys were not kind to my father," she said. "They were just as evil and corrupt as any mafioso."

Giancana teamed up with two University of Illinois at Chicago doctors to write JFK and Sam: The Connection Between the Giancana and Kennedy Assassinations. The 217-page book was published by Cumberland House Publishing. Giancana's co-authors are Dr. John Hughes, a neurologist, and Dr. Thomas Jobe, a psychiatrist.

Jobe earlier wrote Lyndon Baines Johnson: The Tragic Self, a Psychohistorical Portrayal. He and Hughes then teamed up on a book about the JFK assassination, and enlisted Giancana's help. Hughes said he did the bulk of the research and writing. But he said Giancana is getting top billing in the list of authors because she's better known.

Giancana's best-selling 1984 memoir, Mafia Princess, was made into a TV movie starring Tony Curtis as Sam and soap opera star Susan Lucci as Antoinette. Now 70, Giancana lives in Elmwood Park. She's a sales associate for a retail chain and markets Giancana Marinara Sauce ("Just Like Dad's, Maybe Better").

Hughes said he read more than 40 books on the JFK assassination and spent almost every weekend for 13 years writing and rewriting the book. He wrote that he used his expertise in neurology to analyze how Kennedy's body moved after he was shot. This led Hughes to conclude that there must have been a shooter on the infamous grassy knoll to Kennedy's right.

The mafia, Hughes wrote, helped Kennedy carry Illinois in the close 1960 election, assuring his victory. In return, JFK was supposed to go easy on the mob. Reneging on the deal, Kennedy unleashed his brother Bobby, the attorney general, on organized crime, the authors claim.

In 1975, Sam Giancana was gunned down while cooking sausage in the basement kitchen of his Oak Park home. The book says the CIA killed Sam Giancana to prevent him from telling a congressional committee about his role in CIA plots to assassinate Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

These theories, scoffs Sam Giancana biographer Bill Brashler, "are as old as the Easter bunny. It's just silliness." Brashler said Kennedy owed his election to the first Mayor Daley, not to the mob. And even if Sam Giancana felt betrayed, it wasn't the mob's style to murder politicians, much less the president. Finally, it was a trusted bodyguard who killed Sam Giancana, not the CIA. "It was a classic mob hit," Brashler said. Brashler said he interviewed Antoinette Giancana for his book, The Don: The Life and Death of Sam Giancana. He concluded she knew next to nothing about her dad's business.

Antoinette Giancana said that for her book she was able to recall long-buried memories during extensive interviews conducted by Jobe.

Conspiracy buffs have proposed 250 theories to explain what "really" happened Nov. 22, 1963, said Ruth Ann Rugg of the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, a JFK assassination museum in Dallas. But Rugg said the only credible explanation is that Lee Harvey Oswald alone shot Kennedy. Conspiracy theorists simply can't accept that such an insignificant drifter changed history by himself. "We want to believe that there was more to it, that there were huge forces involved," Rugg said.

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Bringing Down the Mob: The War Against the American Mafia

Longtime business associates Allen Dorfman and Irwin Weiner frequently lunched together. On a day in January 1983, they emerged from Dorfman's Cadillac onto the icy parking lot of a suburban Chicago restaurant, ten minutes late for their one o'clock reservation. According to Weiner, they were walking between parked cars when two men ran up behind them and yelled, "This is a robbery." One of the men fired a .22 automatic at least half a dozen times. Only Dorfman was hit. He fell to the ground in a large pool of blood that quickly froze into red ice. When the paramedics arrived, he showed no signs of life.

At fifty-nine, Dorfman was a nationally known figure, and his death would be reported across the country. His murder was news, but it was not a surprise. He had been a key figure in the world of organized crime for more than thirty years. Beginning with Jimmy Hoffa, successive presidents of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) had allowed him to use his position as head of the pension fund to provide sweetheart loans to mob figures, money that bankrolled the Mafia's control of several Las Vegas casinos. The union itself, which had access to top business leaders and politicians right up to the White House, was run as a virtual subsidiary of the American Mafia. A month before his murder, Dorfman, Teamsters president Roy Williams, and a top Chicago mob figure, Joe Lombardo, had been convicted of attempting to bribe U.S. senator Howard Cannon of Nevada. After his conviction in December 1982, Dorfman was released on $5 million bail pending sentencing. He stood to receive as much as fifty-five years in prison.

In addition to the bribery case, the government was also conducting an investigation of money skimming in mob-backed Vegas casinos. Dorfman knew the secrets of both the Teamsters and Vegas. If he decided to cut a deal with prosecutors, talking in return for a more lenient sentence, many gangsters-and supposedly legitimate businessmen and officials-would end up in prison. The head of the Chicago Crime Commission told The New York Times, "There's no doubt in my mind that Mr. Dorfman was killed to keep him quiet ... if he ever coughed up to investigators ... this country would be shaking for a month." Someone with access to the crime scene apparently decided to ensure that at least some of Dorfman's secrets did not die with him. He made a photocopy of the dead man's memo book and sent it to the Chicago Crime Commission.

Though he was only an associate member, Allen Dorfman's life provided a window into the world of the American Mafia at its highest levels. Beginning in 1949, it took him just five years to rise from physical education instructor to millionaire, thanks to Hoffa's largess and the connections of his racketeer stepfather, "Red" Dorfman. At the time of his death he headed a financial empire that included insurance companies, condominium developments, resorts, and other projects, and he maintained homes in four states. He was a major contributor to various charities and was frequently honored by civic associations. Yet over his career he had been denounced by congressional committees and constantly pursued by federal law enforcement officers. He was indicted on several occasions, though he usually managed to win acquittals. In 1972 he was convicted of conspiring to facilitate a loan from the Teamsters Pension Fund in return for a kickback of $55,000, but he served only nine months in jail.

After his latest conviction, Dorfman should have been wary of his former associates. He might have known that the bosses of the Chicago mob would be worried that a man long accustomed to the affluent life might not be able to face spending the rest of his days in prison. True, Dorfman had not rolled over following any of his previous arrests. But in the Mafia world that was irrelevant. Chicago mob bosses Joey Aiuppa and Jackie Cerone, who were also caught up in the Vegas skim, had followed very different paths from Dorfman's. Their rise to the top had been slow, prefaced by years spent doing the dirty work with guns and blackjacks. Unlike Dorfman, they could not pose as businessmen and civic benefactors. Instead, they lived by a hard code that mandated that all doubts must be resolved in favor of the organization. They could not take the chance that someone who had so much potential to hurt them would stay silent. Since it was standard mob procedure to eliminate witnesses, Weiner's survival and his tale of attempted robbery caused some investigators to speculate that he had set Dorfman up.

The fact that Dorfman was not Italian had prevented him from becoming a "made" member of the Mafia. Still, he was well aware of its rules, though perhaps he did not think they applied to a big shot like him. The same lack of understanding had undoubtedly cost his old boss Jimmy Hoffa his life eight years earlier. Then again, a lot of people on both sides of the law had always found it hard to comprehend the culture of the American Mafia.

Books about mob life often end up on the true-crime shelves of bookstores, alongside biographies of serial killers and accounts of last year's "heist of the century." In some respects it is the appropriate place for the colorful criminals of the American Mafia. Each generation has brought forth an Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, Frank Costello, Sam Giancana, or John Gotti, all of whom have fascinated the public, as have their big and small screen counterparts: Scarface, The Godfather, and The Sopranos.

Yet the American Mafia is more than just another group of criminals. Since the 1920s it has been the heart and soul of American organized crime. As such it has exercised significant influence on the political and economic life of the country. In American Mafia: A History of Its Rise to Power, I told the story of the organization up to the early 1950s. I described how the Mafia managed to acquire all the trappings of an independent state, flouting the authority of the United States government. It promulgated its own laws, not infrequently imposing the death penalty; it even maintained diplomatic relations with foreign countries, such as Cuba. And perhaps most critically, in both politics and business it managed to link the underworld to the upper world. That an organization that never had more than five thousand full-fledged members could exercise such immense power is one of the most phenomenal accomplishments in the history of the United States. It was not, however, a lasting achievement. The present work, an account of events from the 1950s into the twenty-first century, is the story of a declining power. Essentially it is a domestic military history, in that it describes the fifty-year war that law enforcement has waged on the American Mafia.

Words like "organized crime" or "Mafia" lack precision. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, who crusaded against the organization, told his subordinates, "Don't define it, do something about it." Over the years, "Mafia" has come to be used as a shorthand for the leading element of American organized crime. Like "Hollywood" as a synonym for the movie industry, or "Wall Street" for high finance, it has become so embedded in the national consciousness that it is impossible to avoid using it. Attempts by official bodies to define the Mafia often fell short, or were misleading. In 1950-51 a U.S. Senate committee chaired by Estes Kefauver of Tennessee exposed the face of organized crime in a score of American cities. In its final report the committee declared that a Mafia, descended from the Sicilian original, controlled the most lucrative rackets in many major cities and tied together criminal groups throughout the country. A 1967 presidential commission described organized crime as "underworld groups that are sufficiently sophisticated that they regularly employ techniques of violence and corruption to achieve their other criminal ends." They explained that the core group of organized crime in the United States consist[s] of 24 groups operating as criminal cartels in large cities across the nation. Their membership is exclusively Italian, they are in frequent communication with each other, and their smooth functioning is insured by a national body of overseers.

In fact the Mafia in the United States was not an offshoot of the Sicilian version. While only men of Italian lineage could be "made" full-fledged members, the organization was not entirely Italian. Nor was the national "commission," as its body of top overseers was called, ever as clearly defined or powerful as it was sometimes portrayed.

In the nineteenth century, some people blamed the newly immigrated Italians for the prevalence of vice and crime in urban areas. But organized crime was well established in the New World long before Italian Americans arrived. Gamblers, saloon keepers, brothel madams, and other criminals paid off the police, who in turn funneled a large share of the take to their political masters. A few immigrants who came to the United States had been members of Old World criminal bands, such as the Neapolitan Camorra and Sicilian Mafia. It is clear, though, that the Italians who would turn to crime in this country (a tiny fraction of the whole) simply took advantage of what they found when they arrived. Even after Mussolini's crackdown on the Mafia in the 1920s propelled some genuine Sicilian mafiosi to the United States, the forms of organized crime they adopted were essentially American.

The Mafia in America produced bosses like Calabrians Frank Costello and Albert Anastasia, as well as Neapolitans Al Capone and Vito Genovese. For practical purposes it also included Jews such as Meyer Lansky and Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel of New York, Abner "Longy" Zwillman of Newark, and Morris "Moe" Dalitz of Cleveland, and these men often exercised power equivalent to that of the Italian bosses. Lansky (nÈ Maier Suchowljansky) was generally ranked among the top three or four mobsters in the country. His success was the result of his financial skills and his ability to forge alliances with key leaders such as Lucky Luciano and Frank Costello. For similar reasons, Moe Dalitz would become a major figure in Ohio, Kentucky, and Nevada. Irish Owney Madden, though confined to the resort town of Hot Springs, Arkansas, after his exile from New York City, managed to reinvent himself as an elder statesman of the American Mafia. Welshman Murray "the Camel" Humphreys (nÈ Humpreys) was always near the top of the Chicago mob hierarchy, as were Jake Guzik and Gus Alex, who were Jewish and Greek, respectively. To emphasize the organization's American origins and its frequently multiethnic makeup, I refer to it as "the American Mafia," though to avoid constant repetition of the term, I will usually refer to it simply as "the Mafia," sometimes only "the mob(s)," or in individual cities by its local equivalent, such as "the Chicago Outfit" or the name of a particular New York family.

One clear indicator that the American Mafia was homegrown was its organizational structure. The American gangs replicated the political machines in the areas where they operated. Chicago, for example, was dominated by the Democratic county organization, though certain ward bosses were given considerable latitude. The Chicago mob controlled the metropolitan area but allowed some of its leading figures to operate with a high degree of autonomy. New York was too large to be ruled by one political organization. Tammany controlled Manhattan, but Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Queens had their own machines. The New York Mafia's five-family structure dispersed mob power similarly across the five boroughs. In Tammany days, a "commission" made up of a powerful politician from Manhattan, another from Brooklyn, a boss gambler, and a representative of the NYPD regulated organized crime. After 1931, a local Mafia commission composed of the heads of the five families performed the same function. At the same time, a national "syndicate" also developed, directed by a commission that included the New York families and representatives from other cities. The national commission reflected prevailing political practices as well. The Republican and Democratic national committees were dominated by big states, such as New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. In the national syndicate, the New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Detroit mobs called the shots (sometimes literally).

The internal arrangements of the families (borgattas or simply gangs) also resembled that of the political machines. The Tammany and Cook County party chairmen and the Mafia family heads were all called "boss." Both Tammany and the Chicago organization often had number two men; in the Mafia they were called underbosses. Tammany had leaders over every assembly district, while Chicago had a party committeeman in charge of each ward, and the Mafia had its middle managers too. In the post-Apalachin period, law enforcement began referring to mob sub-bosses by terms such as "capo" (head). While neat on paper, it did not always conform to local practice. In Chicago, instead of being called capos, sub-leaders were usually referred to by the territory they controlled: boss of the Loop, the Near North Side, the Far South Side, etc. In other places they might be known as captains or crew chiefs. The Tammany wise men were called sachems; the Mafia families' equivalent was consigliere, or counselor, though the job began as a sort of ombudsman to whom aggrieved gang members could appeal. Since "Tammany" was an Indian name, its rank and file were accordingly known as braves. On law enforcement charts, the lowest ranked members of the Mafia were called soldiers, a term that might also encompass crew members who were not "made." While it is sometimes claimed that any Italian made man outranked any non-Italian, this was not the case. A mob soldier, even a crew chief, had to be very respectful around "Bugsy" Siegel or "Shotgun" Alex, men whose nicknames alone indicated their temperament and propensities.

Even the boss title could sometimes be misleading. Some who bore it were no more than titular leaders. Gaetano Gagliano was formally boss of what became the Lucchese family from 1931 until his death in 1951, when he was succeeded by his underboss, Gaetano "Tommy" Lucchese. Yet during the period when Gagliano was supposedly in charge, there was virtually no mention of him, while Lucchese was well known, just as European kings and presidents have often been overshadowed by their prime ministers. Sometimes it was unclear who was actually running a particular Mafia gang. In the 1980s the federal government prosecuted "Fat Tony" Salerno as head of New York's Genovese family even though he was actually the number two man.

The key to the American Mafia's success was its ability to buy or neutralize public officials. Until the 1920s, organizations such as Tammany Hall or Chicago's First Ward had the final say over organized crime. Then Prohibition- rich gangsters turned the tables and began to act as the partners or, in some instances, controllers of the politicians. As one criminal justice official told historian Arthur Sloane, "The mobsters have always been wedded to the political system. That's how they survive. Without that wedding they would be terrorists and we'd get rid of them." The decline of the Mafia began after the 1950s, when the mobs could not muster the political influence to protect themselves from the law enforcement assault led by the federal government.

In the present work I have adopted a broad approach, as opposed to a more narrow focus on a particular mob family or individual leader. Sometimes police or journalists have labeled gangs such as New York's Gambinos or the Chicago Outfit the premier mob families in America. Such assessments are like rankings of college football teams. The view of one expert is not always shared by another or borne out on the playing field. A similar practice is to designate an individual gangster such as Vito Genovese or Carlo Gambino "Boss of Bosses." For a long time, law enforcement followed the same narrow approach in its war on the Mafia: Go after an individual Mr. Big. The turning point in the war came in the 1980s, when the federal government broadened its targets and took down most of the leadership of all five New York families in one fell swoop.

Thanks to Thomas Reppetto

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The JFK-Marilyn Monroe Blackmail Hoax

IT WAS AN INVESTIGATIVE reporter's dream come true: a trove of documents apparently marked up with John F. Kennedy's distinctive scrawl, showing that Marilyn Monroe had blackmailed the late president. According to a series of signed agreements between March 1960 and January 1962, the Kennedys paid the actress more than $1 million for her silence--not just about a long-rumored sexual affair between Kennedy and Monroe, but about JFK's purported relationship with mobster Sam Giancana and, in the document's phrase, other ""underworld figures.'' The papers even hint, says a source who has read them, that Kennedy asked J. Edgar Hoover to arrange Monroe's murder (the actress committed suicide in 1962). For months the documents, obtained by legendary reporter Seymour (Sy) Hersh, have been a subject of gossip in media circles. The papers helped Hersh snare a $2 million TV package. If true, they would not only further tarnish the Kennedy myth but, as Hersh has claimed, ""change some elements of the history of my time.''

If true. Last week ABC News, which had bought the rights to Hersh's upcoming Little, Brown book, "The Dark Side of Camelot," admitted that the documents were fakes. ABC's ""20/20'' played the story as an expose; Peter Jennings confronted the man who had given Hersh the documents--Lawrence (Lex) Cusack Jr.--with an accusation of forgery. Visibly shaken, a trickle of sweat rolling down his face, Cusack denied the charge--and did so again to NEWSWEEK. But the documents were clearly forged by someone.

""Big deal,'' Hersh told NEWSWEEK. Plenty of good reporters chase promising leads that fail to pan out; Hersh says he has cut the phony story from his book and from a TV documentary scheduled to appear in November. Maybe so, but Hersh made an awful lot of money before he began entertaining serious doubts, and how he parlayed the documents into a multimillion-dollar media package reveals a great deal about the continuing fascination with the Kennedy legend and the unrelenting pressure for the big score in the worlds of both publishing and TV. The tale of Hersh's failed scoop has enough intrigue to fill a made-for-TV movie--and will be the source of big-name recriminations for years to come.

Sy Hersh, 60, is, aside from The Washington Post's Bob Woodward, the most famous name in investigative journalism. Beginning with his Pulitzer Prize-winning revelations about the massacre of Vietnamese civilians by U.S. troops at My Lai in 1970, Hersh has broken a number of big stories about spying and international intrigue, including the full account of how the Soviets shot down KAL 007 in 1983. Like many investigative reporters, he has an interest in conspiracy theories, but he is extremely persistent--so much so that his sources sometimes complain he browbeats them. In August 1993 Hersh signed a million-dollar contract with Little, Brown to do a book on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. The focus of the book shifted, however, when he found Lex Cusack, a New York paralegal who had a cache of truly explosive papers--and, as Hersh would later discover, a severe credibility problem.

The son of a lawyer who represented the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, Cusack told Hersh that he had found a store of 300 documents in his father's files. According to Cusack Jr., his dad did some work for Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of the clan. The elder Cusack's most interesting duty: cover up JFK's trysts with Marilyn Monroe, as well as family ties to the mob. In March 1960 the actress agreed to keep quiet about Kennedy's relationship with ""any political or underworld personalities.'' Over time, according to the papers, the deal was amended and enlarged. Frequently mentioned is Sam Giancana, the Chicago mob boss who was being used by the CIA in a failed attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro. On Jan. 7, 1962, for instance, Monroe and JFK purportedly signed an agreement requiring Monroe to surrender to a ""designated representative'' (supposedly Robert Kennedy) ""any and all notes and letters'' about any meetings she may have observed between Kennedy and Giancana. Other notes--apparently in Kennedy's handwriting--refer to ""Chicago friends'' and ""meeting with Sam G.'' And in one document, Hoover threatens to blackmail Kennedy after discovering that father Joe had deducted $600,000 of the Monroe payments from his income tax.

Historians have long speculated about ties between Kennedy and the mob. FBI wiretaps indicate that JFK, while president, was having an affair with Judith Campbell Exner, who was a Giancana girlfriend. From his bootlegging days in the 1920s, Joseph Kennedy was said to have kept connections to the Chicago mob, which supposedly helped Jack Kennedy steal both the West Virginia primary in April 1960 and, in the general election, the state of Illinois. But Cusack's documents would have been the first tangible proof that Kennedy and Giancana had actually met. By the same token, though Kennedy clearly flirted with Monroe, who seductively sang ""Happy Birthday, Mr. President'' to 20,000 people in Madison Square Garden in 1962 while wearing a sequined dress--and little else--no one has ever been able to say for sure whether the relationship was consummated. Probably the most responsible account, by Monroe biographer Donald Spoto, indicates that JFK and Marilyn met four times between October 1961 and August 1962; Monroe later told her closest confidant that she and the president had had one sexual encounter in that period. Despite years of rumors, Spoto says there is no evidence that Robert Kennedy and Marilyn ever had a tryst.

Throwback to October, 1997, courtesy of Evan Thomas, Mark Hoseball and Michael Isikoff.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

US Attorney General and the Director of the FBI Battle over the Mob

In Washington, turf warfare can be blood sport. Colin Powell versus Dick Cheney in the W years. Nancy Reagan versus Don Regan in the 1980s. Henry Kissinger versus everyone in the Nixon and Ford days. But eclipsing these power feuds is the titanic clash between Robert Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover. This grudge match entailed much more than personality or policy. It was, in a way, a fight over the meaning of justice in America.

In “Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America,” Burton Hersh, a journalist and historian, chronicles a struggle that began years before Bobby Kennedy became attorney general in his brother’s administration and — in nominal terms — Hoover’s superior. The story is familiar. While Jack Kennedy thrived in the 1950s as a sex-crazed, drug-dependent, ailment-ridden party-boy politician, Bobby, the family’s complicated sourpuss, hooked up with the redbaiting Joe McCarthy, then spun off as a crusading and corners-cutting scourge of labor corruption. He pursued mobsters and was obsessed with Jimmy Hoffa. But there was a problem. Bobby’s father had built a fortune the old-fashioned way — by hook and by crook. As a banker and bootlegger, Joseph Kennedy had nuzzled with the not-so-good fellas Bobby wanted to hammer.

There was another problem as well. Hoover, the entrenched F.B.I. chieftain and pal of McCarthy, was not so keen on catching mobsters. He even denied the existence of organized crime and kept his agents far from its tracks, partly because, Hersh contends, Hoover knew too well that the mob had infiltrated the worlds of politics and business. Hunting the thugs could have placed Hoover and the F.B.I. on a collision course with the powerful. Communists were easier prey. So when Jack became president and appointed his ferocious brother attorney general, combat was unavoidable.

As Hersh describes it, this duel of leaks, blackmail and power plays occurred against the backdrop of Kennedy excess and pathos. The stakes were higher than the individual fortunes of Hoover and Bobby Kennedy. America was racked with crisis: the civil rights movement was challenging the nation’s conscience, a war was growing in Vietnam and an arms race was threatening nuclear war. Bobby may have had presidential prerogative on his side, but Hoover could wield files full of allegations about Jack and others. How this pas de deux played out helped define the nation at this transformational moment.

It was quite a story, with a supporting cast that was A-list — Martin Luther King Jr., Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Sam Giancana, Gloria Swanson, Lyndon Johnson, Roy Cohn — history as a Don DeLillo novel. But sad to say, Hersh, who years ago wrote a much-regarded book on the origins of the C.I.A., fails his material.

Bobby and J. Edgar: The Historic Face-Off Between the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover That Transformed America” is little more than a recycling of previously published books. Hersh lists 54 people he interviewed, but about a quarter of them are authors and journalists who have tilled the overworked Kennedy field. The rest offer little that is new. Worse, Hersh appears to regard all sources as equal. If an assertion, particularly a sleazy one, has ever appeared in a book, that’s apparently good enough for him. Some eye-popping tales of Kennedy sex and corruption have indeed been confirmed by reputable authors. (Yes, Jack shared a mistress with Sinatra and the mob man Giancana. Yes, Bobby bent to Hoover’s request to wiretap King.) But mounds of Kennedy garbage have also been peddled over the years, and Hersh does not distinguish between the proven and the alleged (or the discredited). Did Bobby really tag along on drug busts in the 1950s and engage in sex with apprehended hookers? Well, one book said he did. Covering the death of Marilyn Monroe, Hersh maintains that she and Bobby were lovers and that the Mafia had Monroe killed hours after Bobby was in her company in order to frame him. For this, Hersh relies on two unreliable books, one written by Giancana’s brother and nephew, the other by a deceased Los Angeles private investigator. Monroe’s death remains an official suicide, and as Evan Thomas notes in his biography of Bobby, “all that is certain” regarding his interactions with Monroe is that he “saw her on four occasions, probably never alone.” But it’s when the book reaches Nov. 22, 1963, that it truly jumps the rails. The assassination of John Kennedy is the black hole of contemporary American history, and Hersh doesn’t escape its pull. He repeats the well-worn claims of the it-wasn’t-just-Oswald partisans and brings nothing fresh to the autopsy table. Citing one book of uncertain credibility, he claims former President Gerald Ford publicly confessed he had covered up F.B.I. and C.I.A. evidence indicating that Kennedy “had been caught in a crossfire in Dallas” and that two Mafia notables “had orchestrated the assassination plot.” An Internet search I conducted turned up no confirmation of such a momentous confession.

Hersh fares better when it comes to the bigger picture. Hoover and Kennedy, he notes, possessed profoundly contrasting views of midcentury America. For Hoover, Hersh writes, “America amounted to a kind of Christian-pageant fantasy of the System” that was threatened by “Commies and beatniks and race-mixers ... hell-bent to eradicate this utopia.” Kennedy saw “gangsters” undermining unions, corporate America and, yes, even politics. Here was the nub of their quarrel: subversion versus corruption. Though Hersh goes soft on Hoover toward the end, his book renders a clear judgment: Bobby Kennedy was closer to the mark than his rival. That he did not live long enough to better Hoover and, more important, prove the point compounds the tragedy of his sad death.

Thanks to David Corn

"The Go-Between: A Novel of the Kennedy Years" by Frederick Turner

It is important that the reader recognize this is presented as a work of fiction, although there will always be a tremendous and probably natural temptation to treat all the details it presents as historical fact, for they certainly ring true.

The author's method is an exceedingly verbose and sometimes even tedious monolog. In sympathetic fashion he tells the story of the young woman who became notorious as the mistress of not only handsome young President John F. Kennedy and singer Frank Sinatra but also, significantly, of Chicago mob boss Sam Giancanna. Sinatra and other entertainers owed considerable loyalty to Giancanna, who was also was carrying on an affair with popular singer Phyllis McGuire.

Judith Campbell Exner also is remembered as the woman who, innocently or otherwise, served as the courier between the newly elected Kennedy in Washington and the mobster in Chicago. JFK and his brother, Robert - his attorney general - thought Giancanna could help dispose of the threat to national security posed by the revolutionary Fidel Castro in Cuba.

By the time Exner - who was a household name in the early '60s - died of breast cancer in 1999, she had long vanished from the nation's headlines. She's remembered as a woman who knowingly and willingly had a sexual relationship with a married president - a glamorous president at that. Hers was a shadowy presence at Camelot, although when that era is remembered the dominant female figure is always Jackie Kennedy, barely present in this novel.

If this fictional account is to be believed, Exner's liaison with JFK and her courier role preceded and contributed to his election. There has long been speculation that the vote results in Illinois and West Virginia, results that helped Kennedy win the Democratic primaries in those states and ultimately propelled him into the Oval Office in 1960, may have been "arranged" by the Chicago mob.

Giancanna and his goons were enlisted (if this novel is to be believed, the transaction was carried out in a Chicago courtroom) on the candidate's behalf by his father, former ambassador Joseph Kennedy, a notorious wheeler-dealer with heavy political ambitions for Jack. His first hope had been that an older son, Joseph, would become president; Joe, however, died in a World War II airplane crash in England.

The author's approach is deceptively simple and effective (despite his verbosity and his excessive use of the first person singular): He imagines he is a down-on-his luck newspaper hack who accidentally gains access to Exner's diaries. As he pores over them, he tells his readers, as if he's talking across a dinner table, what he thinks her sometimes cryptic entries in those diaries must have meant. The result is a narrative that will appeal to readers who have an interest in national politics and in particular the Kennedy administration.

Thanks to Al Hutchison

The Crazy Story Of Frank Sinatra Playing A Club For A Week Straight Because Sam Giancana Was Mad At JFK

The Mafia detested the administration of John F. Kennedy as Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy raised the number of mob convictions from 35 in 1960 to 288 in 1963. But there may be a much deeper connection between the Kennedys and the mob, and legendary entertainer Frank Sinatra reportedly served as a key intermediary and whipping boy in one case.

According to "The Dark Side of Camelot" by Seymour Hersh, Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. (JFK's father) set up a meeting with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana to obtain Giancana's support for Jack Kennedy's run for the White House — thereby combining the sway of Chicago crime syndicate with that of Mayor Richard J. Daley's Democratic machine.

Hersh also reported, along with others, that Giancana also helped funnel cash to buy votes and endorsements for the West Virginia Democratic primary election in May 1960.

The book "The Kennedy Half-Century: The Presidency, Assassination, and Lasting Legacy of John F. Kennedy" by University of Virginia professor Larry Sabato highlights the connection by citing the story that Joseph Kennedy asked for Giancana's help over a dispute with another mobster, Frank Costello, and offered "the president's ear" in return.

Sabato also writes that "when JFK began having an affair with a black-haired beauty named Judith Campbell while he was still a U.S. senator, Giancana slept with her as well, reportedly so that he would eventually have a direct link to the White House."

It turns out, according to Sabato, that Sinatra introduced Senator Kennedy to Judy Campbell and also "served as the go-between for the West Virginia primary shenanigans."

After JFK reached the White House, however, the mob boss was not welcome near the president's ear. And Sinatra was the one that ultimately paid for it.

From "The Kennedy Half-Century":

When the Kennedys turned on Giancana once they were in the White House, Sinatra had to work hard to deflect the mobster's wrath at Sinatra on account of the Kennedys' unfaithfulness. In atonement, the singer played at Giancana's club, the Villa Venice, with his "Rat Pack" of fellow entertainers, for eight nights in a row.

Sabato notes that "Sinatra worked his way back into Giancana's good graces, but the Kennedys never did."

Thanks to Michael Kelly.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

MAFIA-PEDIA - The Government's Secret Files on Organized Crime

The government has opened an old treasure trove of information on some 800 gangland goons who wielded power during the Mafia's Golden Age - a virtual Social Register of the worst sociopaths to have packed a silenced pistol, wielded an ice pick or driven a getaway car in a sharkskin suit.

The dossiers, complete with black-and-white photos, chronicle the backgrounds of wiseguys ranging from mob bosses Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, Sam Giancana and "Crazy Joe" Gallo to lesser lights like Al Capone's two-bit hoodlum brothers.

The files read like single-page snapshots of the mobsters' lives - their aliases and detailed physical descriptions, from distinguishing scars, tattoos and facial tics to styles of dress, home addresses, arrest histories and family trees - and even the names of mistresses.

Also revealed are the legitimate businesses they owned and their preferred leisure haunts - racetracks, prizefights, nightclubs and favorite restaurants - as well as an overview of the criminal status each man held within the larger Mafia firmament.

The 944 pages of material - featured in the book "Mafia: The Government's Secret File on Organized Crime,"from HarperCollins - was mined from the raw intelligence gathered by agents of the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Narcotics, a forerunner of today's Drug Enforcement Administration.

The cavalcade of hoods includes two men named Frank Paul Dragna, the son and nephew of one-time Los Angeles Mafia kingpin Jack Dragna.

The first Frank is known as "One Eye," the second "Two Eye," to distinguish the cousin with the glass right eye.

Entrants are listed by state, and New York, with more than 350 wiseguys, overwhelmingly leads the pack. A multitude of others resided in California, Florida, Illinois, New Jersey and Michigan. There are groupings of gangsters from Canada, France and Italy, as well.

The index cross-references each racketeer by nickname, many of them hilarious.

There's "The Old Man" (there are, actually, three), "The Bald Head," "Hunchback Harry," "Schnozzola" (he has a large nose), "Mickey Mouse" (he has large ears), "Slim," three people dubbed "Cockeyed," as well as four "Fats" and a "Fat Artie," "Fat Freddie," "Fat Sonny" and "Fat Tony" for good measure.

There's "Big Al," "Big Frank" (two), "Big Freddy," "Big John," "Big Larry," "Big Mike" (two), "Big Nose Larry," "Big Pat," "Big Phil," "Big Sam," "Big Sol," "Big Yok" - even a "Mr. Big."

Thanks to Phillip Messing

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sam Giancana Memorabilia Subject of Courtroom Fight in Las Vegas

A defunct Mafia museum claims an auction house sold dozens of articles once owned by Sam Giancana, though the museum owns them - having bought them from the late Chicago boss's daughter.

The Mafia Collection LLC sued Munari Auctions and William Woolery on Monday, in Clark County Court. The Mafia Collection claims that it warned Munari that it owned the Giancana collection, but Munari auctioned them off on Nov. 22 anyway. It's a rather tangled tale.

The Mafia Collection claims in the lawsuit that it paid $23,300 to buy the artifacts from Giancana's daughter, Antoinette McDonnell, in 2009, and that has the bill of sale. It bought the articles for the now-closed Las Vegas Mob Experience, which featured artifacts from many prominent gangsters. The artifacts include photographs, court documents, furnishings and personal effects once owned by Giancana and passed on to his daughter.

McDonnell initially was a paid consultant for the Las Vegas Mob Experience, which was owned and operated by Murder Inc., according to a Las Vegas Review article on a previous lawsuit 2011.

The Las Vegas Mob Experience was an interactive exhibit housed in the Tropicana Las Vegas hotel and casino from 2011 to 2013. It featured artifacts from Giancana, Bugsy Siegel, Anthony Spilotro and others.

Before that exhibit opened, McDonnell sued Murder Inc. and the Mafia Collection in Clark County Court. McDonnell claimed the Mafia Collection never paid her for Giancana's items and that the selling price was too low.

In the present lawsuit, the Mafia Collection calls that lawsuit "frivolous," and says that a judge ruled against McDonnell in July this year and ordered her not to get rid of the artifacts in question. But McDonnell turned over the stuff to Munari Auctions, according to the lawsuit, and Munari sold some or all of them in November.

The Sam Giancana Estate Auction featured 152 "lots," including photos, documents, furniture and police and coroner reports about the mobster's 1975 murder in his Chicago home, according to the auction catalog.

The Mafia Collection claims that Munari's auction was "reckless and done in circumvention of the law, court order and the directive of the artifacts' owner" and done "for the gain and profit of both McDonnell and itself."

Some or all of the artifacts are housed and controlled by McDonnell's "appointed agent in fact," William R. Woolery, according to the lawsuit.

Mafia Collection seeks declaratory judgment that it owns the articles, possession of it, and damages for conversion.

Giancana was boss of the Chicago mob from 1957 to 1966. His alleged ties to President John F. Kennedy and the CIA are the stuff of legend. The CIA allegedly sought his help to assassinate Fidel Castro. Giancana was shot in the head in his Chicago home in 1975. He was 67.

Thanks to Mike Heuer.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Review of "A History of Violence: An Encyclopedia of 1,400 Chicago Mob Murders"

From his boyhood memories of the raid on a bookie joint under the Chicago apartment where he grew up to the murder cases he worked on as an officer with the Chicago Police Department's organized crime division, Harper College professor Wayne A. Johnson has been steeped in the violence of mobsters.

Isolated murders, such as the infamous Valentine's Day Massacre or the beating deaths of brothers Anthony "Tony the Ant" and Michael Spilotro, have become scenes in mob movies. "But nobody ever put it in one place before," says Johnson, who has done that with his new book, "A History of Violence:: An Encyclopedia of 1400 Chicago Mob Murders.1st Edition."

From the stabbing death of Harry Bush during the newspaper "circulation war" on July 6, 1900, to the Aug. 31, 2006, disappearance of 71-year-old Anthony "Little Tony" Zizzo of Westmont, Johnson has used court documents, police records, newspaper accounts and 14 years of personal research to compile more than a century of suspected mob murders.

"You know what makes it so insidious? Their ability to get into places that affect every aspect of our lives," says Johnson, who notes cases where politicians, judges and police officers cooperated with mobsters. "Once you are into these guys, they own you."

Appearing in countless articles and TV shows as an expert on the mob, Johnson spent 25 years as a Chicago police officer and served as chief investigator for the Chicago Crime Commission before getting his doctoral degree in education. He's now an associate professor and program coordinator of law enforcement programs at Harper College.

The stereotype of the Chicago mob as the Italian Mafia known as Cosa Nostra is a myth, says Johnson, who says organized crime boasts a diverse collection of people, including many immigrants, who learned how to make money through illegal methods. The criminal groups formed partnerships and cut deals with each other, he says.

Of the 1,401 murders Johnson details, he lists only 278 as "solved," and the number of people convicted of those murders is even lower. "Just because they weren't charged doesn't mean it's not solved," says Johnson.

In teaching his "Organized Crime" class, Johnson tells the Harper students that reputed mob boss Tony "Big Tuna" Accardo, who died in 1992 at the age of 86, lived the last years of his life just a short drive away, on Algonquin Road in Barrington Hills.

Student Jackie Cooney, 30, of McHenry wrote a research paper that ended up adding early 20th-century murders to Johnson's book.

"I logged 108 murders, and, of those murders, a portion of them were mob murders," says Cooney, who says she's been interested in the mob since she got her bachelor's degree in history from Roosevelt University in 2008. "I find it fascinating how people make alternative choices to provide for themselves and their families."

Studying A History of Violence: An Encyclopedia of 1,400 Chicago Mob Murdersto become a physical anthropologist while excelling in her art classes at Harper, Daniella Boyd, 21, of Wheeling responded to Johnson's request to draw a grisly scene for the cover of his book. "I did some research," says Boyd, who spent about 12 hours making a graphite drawing of the toe tag on the left foot of mobster Sam Giancana, who was gunned down in his Oak Park home in 1975.

The suburbs are home to some of the most infamous mob murders. On Feb. 12, 1985, the body of 48-year-old Hal Smith of Prospect Heights was found in the trunk of his Cadillac in the parking lot of an Arlington Heights hotel. Suspected of being a sports bookie who had run afoul of the mob, Smith was lured to the Long Grove home of his friend William B.J. Jahoda and was tortured, had his throat cut and was strangled. Jahoda, who became a friend of Johnson's before his death of natural causes in 2004, testified against the mob and helped send reputed mob leaders including Ernest Rocco Infelice and Salvatore DeLaurentis of Lake County to prison.

Another gambling operator who angered the mob, Robert Plummer, 51, was found dead in a car trunk in Mundelein in 1982. He was murdered in a Libertyville house already notorious before it was purchased by a mobster and turned into an illicit casino. In 1980, in a crime that went unsolved for more than 15 years, William Rouse, 15, used a shotgun to murder his millionaire parents, Bruce and Darlene Rouse, in a bedroom of the family home.

"Some people romanticize the mob," says Johnson, who adds that he hopes his book not only makes people recognize the heinous brutality of mobster killings, but might also help solve some of the remaining mysteries. "I hope they read my book and say, 'Yeah, it was 20 years ago, but I know who killed so-and-so.' Maybe we can still do something."

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Book Launch Reception for A History of Violence: An Encyclopedia of 1,400 Chicago Mob Murders

From Chicago's original gangsters to the Outfit's decline in recent years, Dr. Wayne Johnson is well-versed in the organized crime that long ensnared the city.

After 25 years with the Chicago Police Department - his last assignment supervising a unit within the Organized Crime Division - Johnson was appointed Chief Investigator for the renowned Chicago Crime Commission.

Now coordinator of Harper College's law enforcement programs and widely considered a top authority on organized crime, Johnson has written "A History of Violence:: An Encyclopedia of 1400 Chicago Mob Murders.1st Edition." The 300-plus page tome is the product of painstaking research into newspaper articles, police reports, coroners' reports and other archives over a 14-year period.

"Coming from someone who has fought in the trenches against Chicago's wise guys, Johnson's new contribution will be the go-to reference on Outfit violence for years to come," said Gus Russo, author of "The Outfit" and "Supermob."

Harper will host a public reception celebrating Johnson's book launch at noon Tuesday, April 15, in the lower level of the library on the College's main campus, 1200 W. Algonquin Road, Palatine. Johnson will give a presentation on the state of organized crime in Chicago followed by a brief question-and-answer session and book signing.

Johnson, who also served as the only Superintendent of Police/Inspector General for the town of Cicero before entering academic fulltime, credited two Harper students for their contributions. Daniella Boyd designed the cover art for "A History of Violence" by reproducing in charcoal a real morgue photo of Sam Giancana, one of the most notorious mob bosses in history. Jackie Cooney wrote a research paper that led Johnson to discover a group of killings that fit the criteria for the book.

"I really wanted to dig in on this because every one of these cases deserves to be investigated and solved," Johnson said. "To let them just disappear into history would be a disservice to everyone involved."

Harper student Daniella Boyd designed the graphite drawing cover art for "A History of Violence" by reproducing a real morgue photo of Sam Giancana, one of the most notorious mob bosses in history.

Wayne A. Johnson served on the Chicago Police Department for 25 years and in his last assignment, supervised the Analytical Unit of the Intelligence Section, Organized Crime Division. He was then appointed Chief Investigator for the legendary Chicago Crime Commission, holding the position originally created by celebrated criminal investigator Virgil Peterson.

Johnson investigated and monitored the Chicago Mob during his five years at the Commission. The national recognition he received led to his recruitment as the only Superintendent of Police/Inspector General for Cicero.

Johnson earned his Doctor of Education degree from Northern Illinois University and Master of Science degree in Criminal-Social Justice from Lewis University in Romeoville. He is as an Associate Professor and Program Coordinator of Law Enforcement Programs at Harper College.

Johnson is a nationally recognized investigative and educational consultant for law enforcement and the security industry and has lectured extensively on organized crime, homicide investigations, criminal profiling, violence in the workplace and gang crimes.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Mistress of JFK & Sam Giancana to be Portrayed by @ChristinaBLind in the "Ride the Tiger" Play

Christina Lind will change dresses often as she brings Judith Exner to life on a New Haven stage. She also aims to change how history views the mistress of both JFK and the don of the Chicago mob—to get beyond the wardrobe and the good looks.

Lind plays Exner in Ride the Tiger, which premieres Long Wharf on March 27 and runs through April 21. Willilam Mastrosimone’s play, directed by Gordon Edelstein, explores how sex and roughhouse politics intersected in the once-storied Camelot of JFK’s brief presidency.

Exner remained quiet for 15 years about her love affair with JFK. When it was revealed in the context of Senate hearings on U.S. intelligence gathering in the 1970s, Lind says she was character-assassinated as a gold-digging slut.

Lind doesn’t buy that character-assassination for a moment. Nor have other writers who have subsequently frayed the JFK myth.

This is Exner’s first posthumous trip on a major theatrical stage, Lind intends to seize the opportunity. She’s on a mission to change the way history views Exner. "She was vilified for being caught up in a river she couldn’t control,” Lind said in an interview a week into rehearsals, when the many dresses she’ll be wearing were not yet quite finished.

The play goes back and forth between Joe Kennedy’s plotting the rise of his senator son into the presidency; Frank Sinatra’s gigs in Las Vegas, where his pal JFK takes note of Exner; and Sam Giancana’s various digs as he murders his way through the drug trade and maybe trying to help JFK and the CIA knock off Fidel Castro with exploding cigars. By some accounts, Exner carried messages between the mobster and the president.

Mastrosimone’s play is a whirlwind of intrigue. It offers a behind-the-scenes look at the 1960 presidential campaign, where Giancana allegedly fixed union support for JFK in the expectation that the young prez’s brother Bobby would take off the Department of Justice heat. When that didn’t happen, Giancana allegedly expected some other kind of payback or threatened to retaliate.

For example: In the second act, Sam says to Judy: “Bobby wants to fight organized crime, he should indict his fuckin’ brother. The Bay of Pigs was a crime. And it was organized.”

Or Jack to Judy in a moment of post-coital truth-telling:  “You know, Judy, we’re more alike than I thought. We ride the tiger just to say we did it.”

There’s a lot of history mixing with racy, messy, and intriguing might-have-beens.

The through line is Exner, a rich young California woman who early on married an actor and whose social circle was the wealthy and the powerful. In other words, Lind points out, she was no poor social climber.

Actors are always looking for windows that let them inside a character. Lind (pictured) is a young actress who’s best known for her work as Bianca in the daytime soap All My Children. Exner is the first real character she has portrayed. Lind said she feels a sense of artistic “responsibility” to portray the character’s complexity, not the black and white.

Lind read in Exner’s biography, Judith Exner: My story, that Exner absolutely never let the powerful men in her life pay for her. “She was self-sufficient, wouldn’t let people buy her stuff. She booked her own flights.”

Those would be airplane flights for her cross-country trysts with the young new president, who is portrayed in this play as a sexual athlete who needs Exner—or Marilyn Monroe or any number of other women—either to distract him from his presidential burdens or to relieve the extreme back pain from his PT-109 wartime injuries.

“She wanted what everyone wanted, to be loved. And they used her. And before she knew it, she was used up. Affairs with powerful people are not black and white. She had power herself,” reflected Lind.

That power was perhaps rooted in Exner’s beauty. In her intense dark eyes and, in the view of some, a Jackie look-alike quality. “She was not a slut or easy. I feel she had a great personality, a charisma too. She had a sway over these men. JFK was a prince, and he had something like love for her,” Lind argued.

Lind noted that her colleagues [Douglas Sills as playing JFK, John Cunningham as Jack’s dad Joe, Jordan Lage as mobster Giancana] have a different challenge: to portray with freshness characters people already know.

Exner is different. In the received history as well as in the play, “all the other characters characterize her as a certain thing,” Lind observed. She called it “a great privilege for me to reveal her in this way. These details about her have been ignored by history, as is the case for many women, especially those who were in submissive position with powerful men. It’s easier to call them home-wreckers than to examine their psychology.”

Lind was asked how she would want Exner, who died at age 65 in 1999, to respond to the play if she were in the audience. “I would want her to tell me, ‘Thank you for understanding me,’” Lind responded. “That’s my greatest wish.’”

The young actress, who is about the age Exner was in the 1960s, splits her time between Brooklyn and L.A. She has several other roles percolating for her next steps in her career, she said. She declined to name them, to avoid hexing her chances. Then she went back to her colleagues to resume running lines for Judith Exner.

Thanks to Allen Appel.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

New Kings of Organized Crime Said to Support Al-Qaeda

Although they are organized, the new mob in town doesn't look like the old one.

The new faces of organized crime in Chicago, according to law enforcement officials, are not necessarily from the traditional Italian mob. "Organized crime is not limited to one sort of ethnic group, it's an equal opportunity corrupter," said Jack Blakey, CCSA chief of special prosecutions.

Chicago's new kings of crime are more likely to hail from Eastern Europe, South America, Mexico or the Middle East- unlike their predecessors in the traditional Italian mob.

Their end game is the same: profits. They are making box loads of money- including cash seized in a recent Cook County raid.

Authorities say there are two primary schemes. The first is retail theft, but not large expensive items. The new mobs steal necessities such as bottled water- enough to fill a warehouse that was recently busted.

"Baby formula is always a hot product, razors, anything that everybody needs that is expensive...we have cases where they are bringing in tons and tons, literally tons of property and then shipping it in containers," said David Williams, Cook County Organized Crime Task Force.

Some stolen goods are sold in the US, and some are sent overseas- all undercutting legitimate Chicago merchants and driving up prices. The Assistant Cook County States Attorney, who leads a regional organized crime task force, says the loss of state sales tax hurts everyone. "In Illinois last year, approximately $77 million could have gone to firemen, policemen, hospitals, teacher," said David Williams, Cook County Organized Crime Task Force.

The second racket according to investigators is food stamp fraud. It involves loose networks of convenience stores that allow recipients of Illinois link cards to use them for cash. "It's not hard to cash in a link card, it's not hard... That's been going on forever but that's common in every neighborhood," said Eric Burns, Englewood resident.

In November, three suburban men were arrested and their South Side stores were shut down for allegedly taking kickbacks from cashing out link cards. "The store owner will swipe the card for a hundred dollars, as a ruse that they're purchasing groceries. They'll give the individual recipient $50 back and then keep $50 for their own profit& The government is the one that is funding the program, so these are our tax dollars that are flowing out of these stores for this fraud," said Williams.

In Al Capone's day, the flow was illegal liquor. From Tony Accardo and Sam Giancana through Joey the Clown Lombardo and current boss John DiFronzo, the traditional mob's rackets were labor union corruption, gambling and other lucrative public vices.

As a rule, victims were only those involved with the mob. This is not the case for the new kings of crime. "The ability of these groups to target some of our most vulnerable communities is something that we can't let stand," said Jack Blakey, CCSA chief of special prosecutions.

Fourty-six million Americans are on food stamps. For these new organized crime groups, that provides an almost endless cash stream.

Other rackets operated by the new kings of crime are vexing authorities: from pilfering ATMs to forgery and ID theft. With federal law enforcement focused on terrorism, Cook County prosecutors have taken the lead with their task force that now includes the Midwest.

There is a connection between terrorism and the new kings of crime. Authorities say some of their profits support Al-Qaeda.

Thanks to Chuck Goudie.

Monday, September 24, 2012

October "There Goes the Neighbor Hood" Gangster Tour

John BinderThe Chicago Outfit, Mob historian and author of The Chicago Outfit (IL) (Images of America), conducts the popular "There Goes the Neighbor Hood" tour of gangster history in Oak Park and River Forest. This exterior tour visits 15 houses in these two suburbs which were previously owned by major hoodlums, including Tony Accardo, Paul Ricca, Sam Giancana, "Tough Tony" Capezio, and "Machine Gun Jack" McGurn. John will discuss the criminal careers of the former owners, the interesting features of each home, the family's time there, and answer all questions from the audience. The tour lasts two hours and is a deep immersion into the history of organized crime in Chicago from Prohibition to the present day. It is by minibus with no walking required.

Date/Time/Details:
The bus departs from (and returns to) the Oak Park Visitor Center at 1010 Lake St. in Oak Park at 11:00 a. m. and 1:30 p. m. on October 14.  Please call the Visitor Center at 708-848-1500 (or www.visitoakpark.com) to purchase tickets.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Renee Fecarotta Russo and Nora Schweihs of Mob Wives Chicago Sued by Manager

Call it a “Mob” contract gone bad.

Two cast members of “Mob Wives Chicago” are being sued by film producer and talent manager Nick Celozzi Jr., who says both women owe him a cut of their pay for appearing on the new VH1 reality TV show.

The lawsuits, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, accuse Renee Fecarotta Russo and Nora Schweihs of breaking their contracts with Celozzi.

He says his company, Family Ties Management, arranged for both women to attend a casting call with the show’s production company, JustJenn Productions. The women hired Celozzi to be their manager for two years, according to copies of contracts that appear to have been signed by Russo and Schweihs in December.

As their manager, Celozzi was supposed to collect 15 percent of what the women get paid to be on the TV show — a figure listed in the lawsuits as $6,000 for each of the season’s 10 episodes. That makes Celozzi’s cut $900 an episode for Russo and the same for Schweihs.

Looks like it was an offer they could refuse.

To date, Russo has forked over $500 while Schweihs has paid $900, according to the lawsuits, which say the women each owe a total of $9,000 for season one — plus interest and legal costs.

“I do believe a lot of people who are new to this business … when they realize that there’s a lot of costs to being involved in this type of industry, they change their minds about what decisions they wanted to have made several months prior,” said Celozzi’s attorney, James Pesoli.

The management contracts call for disputes to be settled before the American Arbitration Association in New York. But Pesoli said that “due to the size of the claim being relatively minimal, under $10,000, it’s in both parties’ best interest to attempt to settle it locally.”

Pesoli, who appeared in court with Russo’s attorney earlier this week, said discussions are under way to potentially settle out of court. He said things haven’t progressed as much in the case of Schweihs, whom they’ve had “a great amount of difficulty” in serving with the lawsuit.

Attempts to reach Schweihs, Russo and Russo’s attorney Wednesday were unsuccessful.

“Mob Wives Chicago,” a spinoff of the popular “Mob Wives” series, debuted June 10 and airs Sundays on the cable network. The show follows the lives of five women related to Chicago mobsters.

Russo is the niece of late loan shark and Outfit hit man “Big John” Fecarotta.

Schweihs is the daughter of Frank “The German” Schweihs, an alleged mob enforcer who died shortly before going to trial in 2008 in the city’s historic Family Secrets case. Nora Schweihs made headlines last week when she had father’s remains exhumed from St. Mary Cemetery in Evergreen Park — part of her purported quest to find out what really happened to her dad.

Celozzi, a former actor, used to appear in his father Nick’s commercials for Celozzi-Ettleson Chevrolet in Elmhurst. Dividing his time between California and the western suburbs, Celozzi has several mob-related entertainment projects in the works, including a documentary on his grand-uncle, notorious Outfit boss Sam “Momo” Giancana.

Thanks to Lori Rackl Irackl

Monday, April 02, 2012

"Momo: The Sam Giancana Story"

"Momo: The Sam Giancana Story" is the story of the legendary Chicago mob boss whose 1975 murder in his Oak Park kitchen remains unsolved. There are many questions about this 1950's and 60's successor to Al Capone, and Giancana's great nephew Nicholas Celozzi has produced a feature length film with the cooperation of Giancana family members, that he says finally reveals the reality behind the rumors.

"Momo: The Sam Giancana Story" is a nearly two hour film that may be shortened for a future airing on cable. Producers are hoping they can release the full version theatrically some time this year.

Friday, March 30, 2012

5 West Coast Mob Travel Spots

With a roster of names like Jimmy the Weasel, Tony the Ant, and Flipper Milano, you might think of characters from a kids cartoon. Well, fuhgeddaboudit. They're all West Coast mobsters. And, while cement shoes and "made men" are typically associated with New Jersey, New York and Chicago, plenty of Cosa Nostra action went down in the West. Here are five hideouts where you can get a piece of the "family" business.

1. The Mob Museum, Las Vegas
Located in the former federal courthouse where mobsters such as Tony Spilotro and Lefty Rosenthal were prosecuted, this museum tells the story of organized crime and the authorities who tried to shut it down. Listen to wire-taps of mobsters, join a police lineup and wince at graphic photos of mob hits. 300 Stewart Ave., (702) 229-2734, www.themobmuseum.org.

2. Romolo's Cannoli, San Mateo
After icing Paulie in "The Godfather," Peter Clemenza turns to Rocco and says, "Leave the gun. Take the cannoli." Drop in and bump off a couple of these rich Sicilian pastries. Filled with bourbon vanilla bean ice cream, or ricotta cream blended with sugar and spice, this is an offer you can't refuse. Closed Monday and Tuesday. 81 37th Ave., (650) 574-0625, www.romolosfactory.com.

3. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood
When Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was suspected of skimming money from the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, his East Coast pals gave him the Moe Green Special - death by bullet in the eye - at his girlfriend's Beverly Hills home. Come pay your respects at the tomb where Bugsy is taking a permanent "dirt nap"; the inscription reads "In loving memory from the family." 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., (323) 469-1181, www.hollywoodforever.com.

4. Capo's, Las Vegas
Knock on the door; a peephole pops open, and a heavy Italian accent asks if "You gotta reservashun?" With blood-red booths, chandeliers dripping crystals, and live Sinatra music daily, this "luxury mafia-chic" restaurant is the perfect spot for a couple of goodfellas and their molls to grab a bite. 5675 W. Sahara Ave., (702) 364-2276, www.caposrestaurant.com.

5. Cal Neva Resort, Crystal Bay, Nevada
Looking to hide out? Head for the tunnels below Cal Neva, the first legal casino in the United States. When Frank Sinatra owned this pad in the '60s, he dug tunnels from the casino to private cottages, so he and his favorite guys and dolls - including Marilyn Monroe, Joe Kennedy and Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana - could move about discreetly. Tour the tunnels Tue.-Sun. 2 Stateline Road, (800) 233-5551, www.calnevaresort.com.

Thanks to Diane Susan Petty

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI's Reputation Soared with High-Profile Arrests of Gangsters

It is fitting to begin in the heart of Washington D.C., where J. Edgar Hoover lies at rest.

He was a local kid who grew up on Capitol Hill, just a few blocks away.

He's buried in his family plot, but Rebecca Roberts, program director at Congressional Cemetery, says former FBI agents built the fence and added a bench - creating a memorial that draws new recruits. "Every now and then some young men in dark suits with little wires coming out of their ears come in the front gate of the cemetery, coming to pay their respects to the director," Roberts said.

The director for an astonishing 48 years, starting in 1924, J. Edgar Hoover became one of the most powerful men in American history - a man who collected secrets and knew how to use them.

He made the FBI a symbol of professional law enforcement and a source of pride for Americans: "The Federal Bureau of Investigation is as close to you as your nearest telephone," Lowell Thomas said in a 1930s newsreel. "It seeks to be your protector in all matters in its jurisdiction. It belongs to you." But Hoover also turned the Bureau into his personal fiefdom: "Presidents were afraid of firing Hoover," said author Ron Kessler. "Congress didn't want to do any oversight. The FBI was a law unto itself."

Kessler has written three books about the FBI. He says that, ironically, in the beginning Hoover, a young Justice Dept. lawyer, was charged with cleaning up a corrupt division. "Hoover emphasized the need for professionalism, not hiring people just because they were friends of someone or family members," Kessler said. "He established the fingerprint operation, he established the indexing system with files."

He also established the FBI Academy, to train agents in crime-busting techniques - making sure he got the credit. In fact, the Bureau's reputation (and Hoover's) soared with high-profile arrests of gangsters like John Dillinger. But out of the spotlight, the director was consolidating his power in another way - collecting dirt. "Hoover, for one thing, would tell for example the head of the Washington field office, 'I want material on Congressmen,' and that would include affairs that they might be having, or they were picked up for seeing a prostitute the night before," said Kessler. "And then he would make sure that they knew that he knew what they had done."

Hoover kept files on celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Elvis Presley, and even Albert Einstein - "In part because he wanted to have little gossip items to impart to presidents," said Kessler, "or on the other hand, just to maintain his aura as being this powerful person who knew everything."

"That is complete fabrication," said Cartha "Deke" Deloach, now 91, who was one of Hoover's top lieutenants. He insists that if the FBI kept files on public figures, it was for legitimate reasons.

Case in point: The information that President John F. Kennedy was sharing a girlfriend, Judith Campbell Exner, with Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana. "That came to our attention because of a wiretap and microphone that the Attorney General approved, the White House knew about them, that we had on Giancana," said Deloach. "As a result, the White House sometimes would call Exner and it would be overheard by a wiretap."

As for the bugging of Martin Luther King Jr., who feuded with Hoover over the Bureau's enforcement of civil rights, the FBI's alleged justification for tapping King was an investigation into two of his advisers who were said to be Communists. But the taps ended up recording evidence of King's extramarital affairs.

"Hoover was outraged that King was having affairs and projecting himself as a minister, but at the same time Hoover also was jealous of King because he got the Nobel Prize, and that really infuriated Hoover," said Kessler. "Hoover just totally went after him. He would even write letters to people who wanted to give awards to King saying, "You know, we shouldn't do that.'"

Hoover may have amassed information on the sex lives of many prominent figures, but his own personal life has long been the subject of speculation. "There were for years reports and rumors that Hoover used to cross-dress," said Braver.

"Yeah, the rumor that Hoover cross-dressed and wore a red dress to the Plaza was a concoction of someone who actually had been convicted of perjury and was quoted in a book," said Kessler. "It didn't happen."

But how about Hoover's relationship with his top deputy, Clyde Tolson? "Tolson and Hoover would go on vacations together, would take adoring pictures of each other, would have lunch and dinner together almost every single day," said Kessler. "There is no actual evidence of a sexual relationship, but I believe he was homosexual, and that he had a spousal relationship with Tolson."

"Deke" Deloach says he never saw anything other than friendship between the two men, but that Hoover was aware of rumors. "He's actually said to have agents go and visit people and say 'I understand you're talking about the director,'" said Braver.

"I did," Deloach said. "I was told to do it, saying, 'You have made remarks concerning Mr. Hoover being a homosexual. Give me the evidence.' And they'd always back down."

Through the years, under eight presidents, Hoover became so entrenched that he was all but untouchable.

LBJ allowed Hoover to serve beyond the 70-year age limit. He signed an executive order exempting him from compulsory retirement for an indefinite period of time. And Richard Nixon didn't fire him, either. "Nixon was afraid to do it," Deloach said.

"Were people afraid to do it because they were afraid Hoover would go ballistic on them and start leaking out bad stuff about them?" Braver asked. "That was part of it. They were afraid of him."

Hoover died in 1972 at age 77.

His funeral was a state occasion. But shortly after his death, details began leaking of a controversial domestic spying program, known as COINTELPRO, and of Hoover's own personal abuses - for example, using FBI agents to work on his home.

"What do you think happened to Hoover along the way?" asked Braver.

"Hoover, being as powerful as he was and having all this adulation all the time, did think he was God," said Kessler. "Initially he was very far-sighted. He did create this great organization. But as time went on, he became a despot."

Shortly after Hoover's burial, Clyde Tolson, who inherited Hoover's entire estate, bought the closest available plot. And almost 40 years after J. Edgar Hoover's death, we are still wondering about his secrets - Those he used, and those he kept.

Thanks to Rita Braver

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Peter Bart's "Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob (and Sex)"

He was a tall, silver-haired man, square-jawed with a military bearing, always impeccably attired in a dark blue suit. It was only a few weeks into my Paramount job when I came to understand that His visits were a daily occurrence, but did not linger or chat with anyone other than (Paramount head of production) Bob Evans, nor did anyone on staff ever refer to him or acknowledge his visits. Korshak was the ghost who was always there but never there.

Evans had talked earlier about him once or twice, always in a manner that betrayed not only respect but near-reverence. Sidney Korshak was not so much his personal attorney (he never paid him) or even his mentor as he was his consigliere. And when Korshak arrived for an Evans audience, all other plans would be set aside. Whoever happened to be in the reception room would have to wait until the big man had come and gone from Evans' sanctum sanctorum. And this procedure was replicated by other power players at other offices in town, as I was to learn.

Sidney Korshak, it seemed to me, was the man who knew everything -- the big corporate deals as well as the personal peccadilloes. It was some time before I also realized that Korshak was the man who knew too much.

It was Korshak's role in life to dwell simultaneously in two separate and distinct worlds which, in his grand design, would remain hermetically sealed against each other. There was his celebrity world -- he liked to drop names like Kirk Douglas or Dinah Shore or Debbie Reynolds, or to casually mention that he'd just had dinner with Sinatra in Las Vegas, or with Nancy and Ronnie Reagan in Beverly Hills. But he would never mention his other friends, like Tony Accardo or Sam Giancana from the Chicago mob or Jimmy Hoffa from the Teamsters or Moe Dalitz from Vegas.

Korshak would allude to the corporate deals he made on behalf of Lew Wasserman or Howard Hughes, but he never confided what he knew about Bugsy Siegel's murder or Hoffa's disappearance.

Korshak's life was built around a web of secrecy, and he was convinced that he would always be able to move effortlessly from one world to the next. It was only later in his life that he, too, found himself trapped. As the dangers in his nether life became more ominous, Korshak was unable to extricate himself from his underworld bonds. The celebrities would continue to decorate his life, like glitzy toys, but the bad boys would always be hovering out there with their furtive demands and threats. …

Over the years my relationship with Korshak remained distanced but cordial. He never directly asked anything from me nor subjected me to his power games. When his son, Harry, began to produce movies at Paramount -- I never figured out precisely how this deal came about -- Korshak said to me he would "appreciate it" if I were to "look out" for Harry and provide advice if he began to stray. But when young Harry's career did not go well, Korshak was the first to inform his son that he would do well to pursue other career possibilities.In observing Korshak's superbly surreptitious maneuverings over time, I began to accept a reality none of us wanted to openly address. Sidney Korshak was a gangster, albeit a very civil and well-groomed gangster. The bad boys had achieved major clout in the entertainment industry, and Korshak, despite all his secrecy, represented the embodiment of that clout.

Ironically, while Korshak yearned for the trappings of "respectability," his pals in Hollywood venerated him, not for his cool or his great wardrobe or even for his lawyering skills, but rather for his fabled underworld ties. …Bob Evans, for one, had always romanticized the lore of the gangster -- hence his lifelong ambition to make the movie about the mythic, mobster-owned Cotton Club, which ultimately came to haunt him. Charlie Bluhdorn,founder of Gulf + Western, which owned Par, had a longstanding flirtation with the shadow world out of fringe financiers in Europe and ended up doing deals that resulted in prison sentences for his partners and almost for himself. (Paramount president) Frank Yablans subscribed to mobster mythology to such a degree that he even agreed to play the role of an underworld thug in a movie titled "Mikey and Nicky." He was in rehearsal on the film before an apoplectic Bluhdorn vetoed his participation (even the often reckless Bluhdhorn realized the potential jeopardy to his corporate image).

Thanks to Peter Bart


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