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Young Turks in Charge
While imprisoned in Philadelphia in 1930, Big Al Capone underwent the kind of self-reflection that is an inescapable by-product of incarceration. For Capone, it resulted in a grand scheme he bequeathed to his successors. Later, in Chicago, in anticipation of his 1931 tax conviction, Capone held one last Syndicate meeting before what he assumed would be a brief incarceration. Summoning his most loyal and indispensable soldiers to his side, Snorky presented his vision: a national crime corporation that would be run not by an all-powerful boss, but by a board of directors, a corporation of thieves partnering with the Torrio-Lansky Commission, whose goal was to make a swift transition into more legitimate white-collar scheming. Until now, this world had been dominated by the upperworld robber barons and Wall Street swindlers, whom the nation held to an infinitely lower standard of justice than the rest of the population. By encouraging his heirs to follow that path, Al Capone was orchestrating his legacy.
The new regime heeded the mistakes of the old, adopting a modus operandi that would serve them effectively well into the future. Capone's heirs apparent grasped the obvious: Al's downfall was largely due to his refusal to hide his money or to provide an explanation of what he did for a living. Capone's personal style only increased his vulnerability. Combined with his penchant for violent retaliation and a high profile fancy clothes, flashy cars, and movie-star hangers-on Capone was his own worst enemy. His heirs would contrast Capone's style withone of their own: anonymity. No effort would be spared to avoid press coverage of the new bosses.
Al Capone took every opportunity to point out the judicial double standard in rationalizing his crime wave. Although unschooled, Capone learned on the streets what respected academics such as Ferdinand Lundberg acquired in research libraries. In his seminal 1968 book, The Rich and the Super-Rich, Lundberg described how the fortunes (and social standings) of Carnegie, Whitney, Rockefeller, McCormick, and others were built on a foundation of white-collar thuggery, or as Capone called it, "legitimate rackets." Robber baron Cornelius Vanderbilt hardly recoiled at the accusation, asking, "You don't suppose you can run a railroad in accordance with the statutes, do you?"
Among the crimes Lundberg attributed to the country club set were "embezzlement; big fraud; restraint of trade; misrepresentation in advertising and in the sale of securities; infringement of patents, trademarks, and copyrights; industrial espionage; illegal labor practices; violations of war regulations; violation of trust; secret rebates and kickbacks; commercial and political bribery; wash sales; misleading balance sheets; false claims; dilution of products; prohibited forms of monopoly; income tax falsification; adulteration of food and drugs; padding of expense accounts; use of substandard materials; rigging markets; price-fixing; mislabeling; false weights and measurements; internal corporate manipulation, etc."
The victims of white-collar crimes numbered in the millions, many of whose lives were destroyed in stock market swindles and labor abuses. At the time of his 1931 pretrial proceedings, Capone gave an interview to Liberty magazine, in which he recalled:
Why, down in Florida, the year I lived there, a shady newspaper publisher's friend was running a bank. He had unloaded a lot of worthless securities upon unsuspecting people ... One day his bank went flooey. The crooked publisher and the banker were urging bankrupt depositors who were being paid thirty cents on the dollar to put their money in another friend's bank. Many did so; and just about sixty days later, that bank collapsed like a house of cards too. Do you think those bankers went to jail? No, sir. They're among Florida's most representative citizens. They're just as bad as the crooked politicians. I ought to know about them. I've been feeding and clothing them long enough. I never knew until I got into this racket how many crooks there were dressed in expensive suits and talking with affected accents.
Another robber baron who may have fueled Capone's rationale was Boston-based banker/political patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy. According to numerous reports, Al Capone had known Kennedy since they cut a bootlegging arrangement in 1926. By the time Capone was imprisoned, Kennedy was widely known to have been one of the most offensive robber barons of the era.
Fueled by such rationalizations, Capone's heirs set about engineering their version of the American Dream. Such an enterprise required distinct divisions of labor and brainpower, and in his preprison powwow, Capone installed an executive team with the requisite talents. Virgil Peterson, who headed the Chicago Crime Commission for three decades, later remembered that a friend of his was offered a $25,000-a-year job to direct a "new corporation." Further investigation revealed that the "corporation" was in fact the Capone Syndicate. Peterson's friend passed up the offer, but the Syndicate continued their head-hunting, and Capone's eventual appointment of a CEO-type successor incorporated a deceit characterized by a stealthy brilliance.
In naming forty-two-year-old Frank Nitti (né Nitto) to the top post, Capone employed a strategy that has been largely ignored in discussions of Chicago crime: the boss is quite often a lightning rod, intentionally positioned to deflect attention from the real power, i.e., the lower-profile board of directors. Nitti's appointment was also predictable given his Sicilian birth and seniority over the other members of the Outfit, as they now called themselves, most of whom were barely thirty when Capone was collared.
Nitti was never the tommy-gun-wielding "enforcer" that has been depicted. He earned his sobriquet The Enforcer because his role mandated enforcement of the internal rules adopted by the board of directors. This responsibility did not entail gunfire, only arbitration. Born Francesco Raffele Nitto in Augori, Sicily, in 1889, Nitti was in fact a smallish, introspective gangster, but like Capone's other successors, he appreciated the effect of the occasional show of power. Within two months of Nitti's installation as "CEO," bombs went off in forty warehouses and offices in and around Chicago. No one was hurt, and little actual stock was destroyed. The attacks were a forceful announcement to Chicago's citizens that the Outfit was now in charge.
Virtually every mass media portrayal of Frank Nitti has bordered on the fallacious. Most recently, in the 1987 film The Untouchables, Nitti was depicted as the villainous archenemy of the equally misrepresented "heroic" prohibition agent Eliott Ness. In the film's dramatic climax, the intrepid Ness pushes Nitti off a rooftop to his death. In fact, nothing like that ever occurred. Nitti's death had absolutely nothing to do with Ness, who ironically was a womanizing, antibooze enforcer who ultimately drank himself to death.
Nitti's parents brought him to America when he was three years old, settling in Brooklyn, the New York borough that had given rise to so many Chicago bosses. It is not known if he associated with Capone, Torrio, et al., during this period, although it is highly likely, given where he would soon end up. After learning the barber trade, Nitti entered the New York to Chicago gangster pipeline around 1920. In the Windy City, Nitti quickly made his name as one of Chicago's premier "fence" operators. With his extensive network of shady buyers for stolen goods, Nitti was perfectly positioned in 1920 to make the transition to bootlegging with Torrio's Syndicate. Nitti made his bones with Torrio-Capone as a successful smuggler of top-shelf whiskey from Canada to Chicago and, in 1930, was convicted of lesser tax charges than his boss, Capone, who was jailed one year later. With his loyal wife, Anna, spearheading his early-parole petition, the prison received character references from, among others, a mortuary owner who was a longtime friend of the gangster's one can only wonder how much business the Syndicate had sent his way. Nitti himself promised the parole board that, if paroled, he would immediately move to Kansas City and accept a position in the dairy business. He would of course do neither. Granted parole soon after the Big Guy "went away," Nitti instead returned to Chicago and accepted the leadership post bequeathed to him by Capone.
With Nitti in place to draw the flak, the board of directors the Outfit was free to forge the consummate gangster "think tank," devising schemes that allowed their enterprise to flourish for decades. More important, their stewardship effectively granted their descendants a seamless merge with the upperworld, old-money tribe. Beyond doubt, the most significant member of this board was the twenty-five-year-old referred to by his associates as Joe.
Accardo has more brains for breakfast than Al Capone ever had all day.
George Murray, Chicago American columnist
Antonino Leonardo Accardo was born in Chicago on April 28, 1906, the son of a Sicilian immigrant shoemaker. The youngest of five siblings with three brothers and a sister he grew into a five-foot-nine-inch, two-hundred-pound barrel of muscle. As a teenager raised in Little Sicily on Chicago's Northwest Side, he got his parents' assent to join the workforce instead of enrolling in high school. Little is known about Accardo's youth. The young Antonino held various jobs, among them grocery clerk/ delivery boy and truck driver. Those were his day jobs. By night, the teenaged Accardo made a rapid ascent up the ladder of crime, starting as a pickpocket, graduating to house burglar and then car thief. Although he was hit with numerous arrests, the youngster never spent a night in jail and as an adult he never would. Years later, FBI agents would describe his language as laced with profanity, while grudgingly admitting that he was never a braggart or a liar. After the excesses of his youth, Accardo would become renowned for his fairness.
When Volstead passed, Accardo's parents, like many of their Sicilian neighbors, joined the cottage industry of alcohol home cooking. Their son, along with his punk chums, gravitated to Claude Maddox's Circus Café, located on North Avenue. Maddox was on the periphery of the Torrio bootlegging Syndicate, tithing the requisite percentage to the gang from Cicero. Young Antonino's pals at the Circus included Vincenzo Gibaldi, aka the infamous "Machine Gun" Jack McGurn, Capone's chief hit man. With such liaisons, Accardo was brought under the Torrio umbrella, where he functioned as an enforcer, compelling the Syndicate's "franchised" bar owners and loan-shark debtors to pay up. He wielded his baseball bat so forcefully at human heads, not baseballs that he soon acquired the moniker Joe Batters. His closest friends addressed him as Joe so regularly that his given diminutive, Tony, was all but forgotten even years later by his own wife.
At the height of the Chicago beer wars, with Capone forced to swell the ranks of his personal army, young Accardo first came to Capone's attention. According to some accounts, Joe was brought to Capone by one of the Big Guy's bosses, "Tough" Tony Capezio. Still others believe McGurn suggested the young muscle. In any event, the seminal first meeting between Capone and Joe, as deduced by the FBI, occurred in early 1926, when the twenty-year-old youngster was ushered into one of Capone's headquarters the Four Deuces, the Lexington, or the Metropole Hotel. His enlistment procedure was quite simple by Italian mob standards: There was no elaborate East Coast Mafia ritualism, melodrama, and symbolism. Most likely, there was a quick oath of loyalty to Capone and the Syndicate, with the young capo-to-be swearing to uphold the most intrinsic Sicilian beliefs: respect for wives and families, and contempt for "stoolies."
Joe Accardo thus became a fixture in the lobbies of Capone's headquarters, where the young tough often sat guarding the entrance, "Chicago typewriter" in his lap. Completely loyal to the Syndicate, Joe made his bones with Capone-Torrio by eliminating traitors to the regime. When the North Siders' convoy of assassins fired on Capone on April 26, 1926, it was Joe who pulled his boss down and shielded him with his twenty-year-old body. Capone was rightfully impressed and elevated Accardo to the role of his personal driver and chief bodyguard. (It will be seen that the role of driver for the boss often presaged a future leadership post.)
Accardo's star rose quickly, and it is widely assumed that he was a key player in the notorious St. Valentine's Day massacre in 1929. Former Chicago FBI agent and Accardo biographer Bill Roemer held that Accardo was actually one of the gunmen, along with John Scalise, Albert Anselmi, and Jack McGurn. Accardo also matched the description of the man using the name James Morton who rented the getaway car, which had been disguised as a police car. Four months later, when two of the assassins (Anselmi and Scalise) were murdered in Indiana by Capone after plotting a mutiny, they were beaten to a pulp with a baseball bat. Agent Roemer is among those who believe Accardo wielded the stick. Subsequently, Capone was heard to say about Joe, "This guy is a real Joe Batters."
After the madness of that spring, Joe accompanied Capone as his personal bodyguard when the boss and a dozen other Syndicate members attended the 1929 Atlantic City mob convention. During a break, Accardo went to a tattoo parlor and had a bird emblazoned on the back of his right hand. The creature appeared to flap its wings when Joe opened and closed his fist. Unimpressed, Capone chastised his young soldier, "Kid, that will cost you as much money and trouble as it would to wear a badge with the word thief on it." Despite the thoughtless act, Joe remained close with the Big Guy. Later that year, Joe was arrested for vagrancy in Florida while golfing with Capone and Jack McGurn. When Capone's archenemy, temporary president of the Unione Siciliana Joey Aiello, was murdered in October 1930, Joe was considered the prime suspect.
In 1934, three years after the Outfit assumed control, twenty-eight-year-old Joe Accardo wed Clarice Porter, twenty-two, a beautiful blond chorus girl and the daughter of Polish immigrants. As best as can be ascertained, Joe was a faithful husband, as well as a doting father to their two sons and two daughters. In a short time, Accardo became a capo, a young boss with his own crew of ten. Among his chief responsibilities was overseeing the Outfit's gambling operations. Attempting to put a veneer on his image, Joe insisted that his associates refer to him as JB, a moniker more befitting the country club set. But try as he might, the name Joe stuck.
Years earlier, as a teenaged runner for the Torrio-Capone organization, Joe had often worked side by side with with a young man nine years his senior named Felice De Lucia, better known as Paul Ricca. They became each other's lifelong best friends. Their fellowship would span decades; their shared stewardship of the Capone regime's residue would become the stuff of local legend.
Felice De Lucia was born in 1897 in Naples, Italy, making him thirty-four years old when Al Capone was convicted of tax evasion. In Italy, Felice committed his first murder at age eighteen, when his sister Amelia was disgraced by the family of a boy she was dating. In a fit of rage, Felice murdered the suitor, Emilio Perillo. After serving two years, Felice tracked down and murdered the witness who had fingered him. On the run, De Lucia stole the identity of fellow Neapolitan Paul Maglio and made his way to New York and the New York to Chicago gangster pipeline. In the Windy City, De Lucia assumed the name Paul Ricca and took work as a waiter, a job that would earn him the appellation Paul 'the Waiter' Ricca.
Excerpted from The Outfit by Gus Russo. Copyright © 2001 by Gus Russo. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.