The origins of the Mob in Hollywood: The origins of the battle for Hollywood between New York and Chicago began in 1920 when Tommy Maloy, a union thug, took over the motion picture projectionist union local 110 in Chicago. Before the First World war Maloy had been a chauffeur to labor boss Mossy Enright but left just before Enright’s murder in 1920. It was at that point that Maloy went into the movie business. Maloy didn’t take it over exactly, it was called an inheritance.
Meaning that Maloy, as tough a customer as they come, inherited the right to terrorize the membership through the untimely death of another thug named Jack Miller who was killed when a bullet took out his right eyeball through the back of his head. Jack Miller had taken over the union from its first owner, a thug named Elmer Miller who made his collection rounds on a bike. It was Miller who formed the union by bringing in all the operators through threats of violence. Miller sold out his ownership in the union to Maloy so that he could open his own theater. At that point some hoods were trying to muscle in on the union; Maloy spread the story he beat up hoods who tried to climb into his booth where he was a projectionist. What really happened was that he was running a gambling game and they came to rob him. He really did beat them up and chase them out of the room at gunpoint. During the election, when he was spreading this story, a man named Williams ran against Maloy. Maloy’s goons grabbed Williams, beat him and threw him out on the street and in five minutes he was elected business agent for the local 110.
Maloy carried the formal title of business agent, but he controlled hiring and legally collected monthly dues as the business agent, but for the most part Maloy ruled through blackjack and the Tommy gun and if a union member refused to pay dues he was replaced. Maloy had carte blanche to dip into the union till whenever he wanted. Maloy was also known for his skill as a blackjack, with brass knuckles.
He had no problems about cracking a man’s skull, anyone who refused to sign up for his union, or of members who asked too many questions. Any projectionist who complained about the union books being closed to new members (yet having an empty till) was put out of work for ever if a theater refused to hire Maloy’s members. He burned the film first, then beat the theater owner and finally burned the place down but in most cases he simply killed the theater owner and gave the place to a family member or gang crony to run.
Maloy was an ambitious little crook. Right after he took the projectionist union, he started working with Umbrella Mike Boyle of the electricians union. Their goal was to corner the entire building trades’ business in the city, unfortunately for them they were both indicted for conspiracy by a grand jury in 1921 and charged with extorting money from builders to avoid labor troubles. Boyle refused to testify and the judge tossed him in jail for contempt but Boyle had been paying protection for years to the very corrupt Governor Len Small who granted him a pardon. In all, Small sold 8,000 pardons in the eight years that he was governor.
The Capone’s never bothered with Maloy, who stood only five feet six inches and never carried a pistol, because he was a one man operation, and movies didn’t become very big business until the later twenties, so it was assumed that Maloy was a small timer in a business that was interesting, but going nowhere. However, Maloy had alliances with the Capone, Moran and Saltis organizations, and other gangs. In order to keep them from taking over his union, he gave their men licenses and put them on payrolls to explain their incomes.
In one sense, Capone was correct, the movie business racket was small time, or at least it was until the advent of sound into film changed everything. As a result, movie theaters exploded in growth, yet membership didn’t increase in Maloy’s union, so he invented a scheme that called for theater owners to hire two of his men; one to run the film and one to synchronize the sound on the film. When Hollywood figured out a way to synchronize the sound with the film, Maloy agreed to let go of the second man in the booth for $1,100. That was less expensive than paying the projectionist on the payroll, so the owners agreed.
In his next ploy to raise cash, Maloy issued work permits to nonunion members and then closed the union to new membership. Regular union members had enough, and stormed the union hall in 1924, but Maloy’s men defused the situation by firing machine-guns into the ceiling of the union hall. The members quickly took their seats and Maloy laid out his game plan for hiring non-union men as day workers with a permit.
Maloy explained that since the union members paid only $3.00 a month in dues, the permit workers would pay 10% of their pay check back to the union. This at a time when the average worker was making as little as $7 a week, Maloy’s day workers were earning $175.00 a week, the 10% taken from them would be kicked back to the unions to help the membership buy more benefits and help those who were out of work.
The manufacturer’s guide to projection machines bragged that “any intelligent young man can learn to run our machine in less than an hour” and went on to say that they were almost completely automated. Maloy made sure that they weren’t and as a result theater owners in Chicago were years behind the rapidly advancing technology of the day and theater goers in the Windy City paid an average of 25% more for tickets than anywhere else in America.
There were problems, of course. In 1923 Maloy’s office was at Harrison and Wabash where other labor skates like Con Shea of the teamsters and Steve Kelliher of the theater janitors had offices and together ran a gambling pallor on the first floor under their offices and shared the profits between the three of them. Maloy and Kelliher had a falling out over the proceeds of the gambling den. Maloy hired an up and coming O’Bannion goon named Danny McCarthy and invited Kelliher to join him and McCarthy for a drink at Tierneys resort on Calumet and 25th next to a theater where Maloy ran a theater. As soon as they were seated an argument began and McCarthy drew his gun and killer Kelliher. McCarthy pleaded self defense and a dozen witnesses swore to it and he walked away from the murder rap Maloy took his union.
Just days before that, a hood named Big Tim Murphy decided that he wanted Maloy’s union but when Kelliher was dead Murphy changed his mind. After Dan McCarthy shot labor leader Steve Kelliher dead at Maloy’s behest, McCarthy took the plumbers union and sided with Dion O’Bannion and his boys. They shared the same lawyer, Michael Ahern, who also represented Roger Touhy. To close the deal, McCarthy took $150,000.00 from the plumber’s union treasury and split it with O’Bannion and Weiss.
In 1927 Pete and Frank Gusenberg wanted their younger brother Henry placed on Maloy’s payroll but he refused, sensing that the Gusenbergs might be trying to muscle in on his territory. In retaliation, they ran Henry for president of the union against Maloy. The cops were called out in droves for the election, which was very violent. Four operators who came out for Maloy in the election had their car pulled over a curb and sprayed with machine-gun fire. Eventually a compromise was reached and Henry was placed on the payroll at $175 a week and he never had to appear at work. A few months later, on August 29, 1927, the city’s theater owners locked out Maloy’s union. Across the city only seventy-five theaters, all small ones, were opened in the entire city. Jack Miller, the original owner of the projectionist union, led the revolt but not for idealistic reasons. He wanted to lead the owners and the projectionists as one. It didn’t work, Maloy and his goons loaned out by Bugs Moran broke the lock out.
Maloy was rolling in cash, yet he was known to be one of the tightest hoods in the business. It was known that Maloy kept $100,000 in cash in a safe in his house. One time, independent kidnappers snatched Maloy’s black housemaid and, by placing a pistol in her mouth in a car outside the house, convinced her to give them the keys to the house. But neighbors had witnessed the entire episode and called police.
Hearing the sirens approaching, the hoods took the key but released the maid unharmed. When some of Roger Touhy’s boys kidnapped Maloy’s bodyguard, Georgie Graham, they thought they had snatched Maloy. It was a humiliated Roger Touhy that had to call Maloy with the news: “Tommy, we got Georgie Graham, is he worth ten G’s to you?” Maloy didn’t pause a second, “Naw, he ain’t worth a plug nickel to me.” Touhy released the bodyguard unharmed.
Thomas J. Reynolds, Maloy’s president, was on the payroll of Western Electric Company at $143.00 a week as a “consultant.” He had been taken on by Western Electric in 1927, right after the company synchronized sound machines. It was that sort of blatant abuse that brought Maloy and his entire operation to the attention of the Internal Revenue Agency.
The IRS was out to get Maloy, and started by questioning Jack Miller about Maloy’s income. When Miller refused to answer the question, Judge John P. Barnes locked him up for contempt of court. As instrumental as the I.R.S was in getting Maloy out of power, it was insurgents from inside the unions had provided the tax men with the information they needed to nab Maloy.
It wasn’t the first time the membership had revolted. On two other occasions the rank and file stepped behind to insurgents who went up against Maloy and both times those men were found shot to death on the streets. Jacob Kaufman was a dedicated union organizer who had tried for years to have the courts get Tommy Maloy and his thugs tossed out of the unions. Maloy had warned Kaufman to back off but in June of 1931 Kaufman entered another suit against Maloy and announced that he would run against Maloy in an open election. Kaufman’s candidacy meant trouble for Maloy since Kaufman had a reputation for honesty and was well liked by the rank and file.
On the night of June 20, 1931, Kaufman heard a can fall inside of his garage on Princeton Street. He told his wife to phone the police and walked from the house into the garage. When he opened the garage door somebody fired six shots into his head, killing him. Murray Humphreys was strongly suspected by police as being the killer for hire.
Another dissident who had caused problems for Maloy was 60-year-old Paul Oser who had brought Maloy to court several times in an effort to unseat him. In legal salaries, Tommy Maloy made $300 a month, O’Hara $150 a week for his services to the union. O
ser had sent out anonymous letters to the members stating that Maloy had grafted $50,000 a year from the union. Oser’s letter said that Maloy made $50,000 a year on the “permit men” as well. Oser had six children to feed but Maloy had denied him work for three years at a time when operators were making $90 to 150 a week.
When Oser went to New York to complain to the national union President, Fred Green, Emmert Quinn and his sluggers met Oser at the train station and beat him senseless in front of newspaper reporters and then Maloy fined each member in the party $5,000 each, to be paid at a rate of $5.00 a week. “Some of them,” said Maloy, “got families. Just shows you I ain’t all business.” When Oser entered another suit against Maloy he and Maloy met in Judge John Patrick McGoority’s chambers.
Oser thought that perhaps this was his moment of truth, the moment when the judge would force Maloy out of the union. But all Judge McGoority did was to encourage them “to met privately and work out their troubles like true gentlemen.” After that, Maloy had enough of Oser and decided to kill him. He called in Thomas O’Hara to do the dirty work. O’Hara had been a dance hall operator before the First World War, then organized the piano tuners into a union and in 1919 became the business manager for the Chicago Federation of musicians but was tossed out for beating up the president of the national union. It was shortly after that O’Hara hooked up with Maloy.
Oser had been summoned to the office by Tommy Maloy for a peace conference although Maloy later denied that there was an appointment to see Oser and said that Oser simply showed up and said, “Let’s work this out between us and to hell with them lawyers.” They walked into to the inner office, Maloy said, when Oser suddenly drew a gun out of his pocket, forcing O’Hara to shoot him dead.
O’Hara said the same thing and Police did find a gun next to Oser’s dead body, but it was not fired and it turned out that it belonged to O’Hara anyway. Maloy disappeared after the killing, hiding out at the Congress Hotel in a suite paid for by the union. Tubbo Gilbert, the State’s Attorneys chief investigator, learned that Maloy was lying since he had interviewed Maloy’s secretary, who said that her only words to Oser were: “Yes Mister Oser, you’re at 2:30, please go right in.”
But Gilbert may have had his own plan for the union as well. Right after the shooting, Gilbert seized all of the union’s records, with orders to do so from his boss, the state’s attorney. Those records ended up in Frank Nitti’s possession, who took control of the union shortly afterwards. Remarkably, even in corrupt Chicago, a jury ruled that killing Oser was justifiable since there were no other witnesses to say otherwise. Judge Fardy agreed. Members of the jury were professional jurors selected under a political patronage system. After the trial, Coroner Frank J. Walsh issued an order forever banning the six jurors from ever serving on a jury again.
On January 1, 1933, members of Maloy’s unions lost a court battle to have Maloy and his thugs tossed out of the union by having the 1932 election results overturned and to have Maloy account for $230,000 in lost dues. The membership was shocked when the judge refused to grant a restraining order against Maloy, coming after the members who had sued because the membership had not proven Maloy to be a threat to them or anyone else. Then, on March 25, 1933, Ralph O’Hara, a 37-year-old “organizer” for Maloy, was shot and killed in his office by rebel fractions of the union in the afternoon as he sat in room 620 at 596 South Wabash Avenue. Maloy was losing his grip. He knew that if he wanted to retain control he would have to turn to the syndicate for help.
Frank Nitti had known Tommy Maloy for years. In 1934 Maloy called Nitti to ask for two favors. Maloy was a man of respect; he had nerve and he had guts, and he was tough, so Nitti listened. Maloy said the Treasury Department was all over him for a tax evasion case. They say he owed $81,000 in back taxes and it looked like he was going to jail. He needed Nitti to use the influence he had built up with the Treasury to have the case thrown off the books.
Secondly, Maloy said he wanted Nitti and the organization to back him for the presidency of the I.A.T.S.E. Nitti explained that he was already backing George Browne for the position, so Maloy asked for the Vice Presidency. He said that in exchange for the position, he would give Maloy a road map to I.A.T.S.E.
Maloy never figured that Nitti would double-cross him, but he did. Nitti told Maloy he would have to think it over and get back to him but actually Nitti figured that Maloy would get convicted on his tax evasion charges and the syndicate would waltz into the projections union and take it over. But, in November of 1934 it looked like Tommy Maloy would walk away from his tax case. It looked like he had worked out a deal by turning in Billy Skidmore, an independent gambler and bagman, over to the IRS in exchange for his own freedom. That was a problem for Nitti.
If the syndicate was going to take over the movie industry they needed control of Maloy’s union. But Maloy wouldn’t give up his union without a fight, and the tiny Irishman was a force to be reckoned with.
On Christmas Eve, 1934, Nitti held a party for the outfit’s top management and invited Browne and Bioff. During the evening the topic of Tommy Maloy came up. Nitti remarked that he needed control of Maloy’s union to continue his domination of all the unions that ran the entertainment business. Anybody with ears knew what that meant. Nitti wanted Maloy’s union for himself and Maloy was expendable. He was a dead man. They met again at Harry Hochstien’s house in Riverside. Hochstien was a political leader from the 20th ward who owed his political rise to Frankie Rio. Also present at the dinner party was Charlie Fischetti, Frankie Rio, Frank Nitti and Paul Ricca. They had drinks and then plates of hot food served from chafing dishes, followed by Italian espresso coffee and a wedge of spumoni ice cream. After the meal, and puffing on gigantic Cuban cigars, Nitti mentioned Tommy Maloy’s union and said that they should take it over as soon as possible. Bioff reported later that there was a silence at the table. They all knew Maloy and liked him. According to Bioff, Frankie Rio turned to Nitti and said “Will Maloy stand for partners moving in on him?” Nitti said “Not Maloy.”
Ricca said, “Can we scare him?”
Nitti answered “not at all.”
There was another long pause and Nitti broke it and said, “We really ought to have the projectionists.” Rio said, “I’ll take care of it right after the first of the year.”
Two months later on February 4, 1935, a bitter cold, icy Chicago morning, Maloy was speeding down the street with Doc Quinlan, a dentist and renowned union racketeer. They were on their way to visit Maloy’s mistress that he had been keeping for the past two years, a beautiful chorus girl. As they pulled Maloy’s Cadillac in front of the deserted building that was to house the century of progress exhibition, a car pulled alongside Maloy’s Cadillac on Lake Shore Drive and fired machine guns into Maloy’s body.
They fired enough shots to almost take off the entire left-hand side of Maloy’s face. What was left of him was slumped over the steering wheel of his car which had smashed into a fire hydrant. He was 42 years old. George Browne was a pallbearer at Maloy’s funnel. Two thousand people, curious onlookers mostly, lined the frozen streets to watch the hood get buried. The Mob was on its way to Hollywood.
Bioff Willie His name is barely known today, but for almost a decade he was at the forefront of what remains the largest extortion case in the history of American criminal justice, that set the foundation of modern organized crime. When the national depression knocked the bottom out of Chicago’s once enormous prostitution racket, Bioff, a pimp, started to shake down Fulton Street shopkeepers, restricting himself to the Jewish stores and thus allowing George Brown, another goon whom Bioff knew only in passing, to work the Gentile side of the street. Since Brown and Bioff collected their payoffs from Fulton Street at the same time of the day, on the same day of the week, they starting talking and soon formed a partnership dubbed B&B, for Brown and Bioff.
Together, Brown and Bioff merged their shake down operations on Fulton Street and expanded their control of the stagehand’s union by increasing dues by $5.00, and then pocketing the increase for themselves. Since that plan worked out so easily, over dinner one night they came up with another plan to raise more money, by threatening the theaters with a strike. Bioff came up with an even better idea. Instead of collecting money once from the theater owners, they would sell them a "a no strike guarantee," which they would collect monthly. The two hoods approached Barney Balaban, owner of Chicago’s largest and most successful movie house chain, Balaban and Katz theaters. Sam Katz, who would go on to own MGM Studios, and Barney Balaban, who would one day run Paramount, had begun operating nickelodeons as teenagers, and in 1916, were among the very first to produce silent films. Balaban was a tough, two fisted, self-made man and when Bioff and Brown showed up with their extortion threats, he personally threw them out of the building, no small chore.
Bioff and Brown talked about it and decided that they entered into the shakedown the wrong way because they were unsure of themselves and nervous, and it showed. A few days later, they went back, more self-assured, and promised Balaban that if they didn’t get their way, there would be a strike, it would last for months . . . unless Balaban gave $20,000 to B&B Enterprises.
To soften the blow, Bioff told Balaban that the money was to go directly to unemployed union members, for emergency help, like a soup kitchen. It was a lie of course. They intended, in fact they did, steal every penny of the money. But Bioff was smart enough to know that if Balaban gave the $20,000 to a charitable cause, like a soup kitchen, then the company could write the money off of their corporate tax bill and win public admiration at the same time.
Barney Balaban was also a shrewd dealer. He quickly figured out that neither Bioff nor Brown would keep any written documents of the transaction since they intended to steal the money anyway. That meant that Balaban and Katz could fork over $20,000 to Bioff and Brown’s "soup kitchen" and tell the government they had donated $100,000 and then pocket the additional $80,000 for themselves. The beauty of it was, Bioff and Brown would swear that they had been given any amount Balaban said they had been given. They had to. They had no other choice. Brown and Bioff got the twenty grand. In cash. It was delivered by Balaban’s lawyer Leo Spitz, who, before handing the money over, reached into the suitcase and pulled out $1,000 and stuffed it in his pocket "for carrying charges," he explained.
Like the small timers they were, after the payoff, Bioff and Brown went out on the town and gambled away thousands of dollars in a mob-run casino inside the Loop, a place called the Club 100, run by Nick Circella, a surly hood who worked directly for syndicate boss Frankie Rio, a former Capone bodyguard. Rio and Circella were in the club that night, both of them had known Bioff for twenty years. As they sipped their espressos from the owner’s table, and watched Bioff lose another grand on the roulette wheel, Circella wondered aloud, "where two losers like Willie and Brown would get that kind of cash." Rio was thinking the same thing and ordered Circella to find out what the two had been up to. Two days later, Frankie Rio called Bioff and Brown, and told them they were going to see Frank Nitti’s home.
After the federal government railroaded Al Capone off to prison and out of power forever, his place was taken by Frank "The Enforcer" Nitti, who got the position more out of attrition due to thinning mob ranks than anything else. Bioff and Brown, dressed in their best suits, waited in the drawing room of Nitti’s twenty-room mansion, having arrived 15 minutes early. George Brown was terrified. He was certain the summons to Nitti’s place was the kiss of death, although he didn’t know what he done to deserve it. But Bioff, always the smarter of the two, saw the summons for what it was, the opportunity. Otherwise, he reasoned, if they had crossed Nitti in some way they didn’t realize, they would have been dead already, left in a back alley in the loop someplace, not waiting in a living room on a Saturday morning.
After a half hour, a young, smartly dressed thug they didn’t recognize came out and led them into a large, formal living room where Phil D’Andrea, former Capone bodyguard, Paul Ricca, Charles "Cherry Nose" Gioe, a top executive in the outfit and Louis "Little New York" Campagna were waiting. The boss himself, Frank Nitti, sat in his desk chair, glaring up at Brown and Bioff. "Where’d you get the money?" Nitti snapped. "And don’t you fuck’n lie to me."
George Brown was too terrified to speak, so Bioff did all the talking, explaining the entire shakedown in a matter of minutes, but blaming everything on his partner, George Brown. Nitti understood everything, even before Bioff had finished talking. He also saw the big picture at once. There were hundreds of movie theaters in pre-television Chicago, thousands in Illinois and tens of thousands across the United States.
The potential was endless. Nitti leaned back in his oversized leather chair and declared that he was cutting the outfit in on B&B’s deal for 50%, although he would later increase that to 75% and then 90%. From that amount, 10% of the gross went into the mob’s general treasury and the rest was divided up among those who had invested in the scheme. Furthermore, Nitti said, he was taking the stagehand’s union from Bioff and Brown and reducing them to his bagmen within the union. They, Brown and Bioff, would handle the day-to-day problems in the local, but if they had any serious troubles, they were to report them to Nick Circella. When he was finished talking, Nitti leaned up towards his desk and said, "All right, now get out."
The Chicago outfit had always had its eye on Hollywood. It started with Capone. Just before he went to jail forever, Big Al had called a general meeting of the boys and told them he intended to extend his power westward to Los Angeles and ordered Nitti to draw up a plan to look into taking over Chicago’s enormous entertainment industry. Then the Taxmen came around and slammed away Capone for good, but Nitti never forgot the plan to invade Hollywood. Now, in 1933, Nitti looked at Hollywood and its stars and producers with skeletons in their closets, and said, "The goose was in the oven waiting to be cooked."
He was right, too. Los Angeles was a wide-open city. Disputes were settled in gunshots, wildcat gangsters simply moved into town and bribed politicians, elections were rigged by competing gangs. The district attorney, Baron Fritts, was already on his way to becoming one of the country’s most corrupt lawmen and the police chief, Jim Davis, was a loudmouth clown who carried two six-gun revolvers, and, was so corrupt that a detective’s badge could be purchased for five dollars. The Mayor, Frank Shaw, admitted to newspapers that he rigged elections and placed his brother in charge of a spy squad within the police department that kept track of, and intimidated, his enemies. Compared to Los Angeles, Frank Nitti’s Chicago was a bastion of order. But that was Los Angeles. Hollywood was a different place, hell it was a different planet.
An avid reader of the daily financials, Nitti learned that the movie business was ripe for extortion, for a wage increase shakedown, because the depression had hit the industry hard, and profits were off. The danger in low profits for the studios, was that the entire motion picture business was only 15 years old. Other, older and more established businesses might be able to withstand a drain on its cash, but the Hollywood studios weren’t ready for the same trial. Still, even with sagging profits and a shaky foundation, movie pictures were one of America’s top ten grossing industries. Every day, tens of millions of dollars poured into its bank accounts, and Nitti and the syndicate wanted a piece of the cash. With control of the national union entertainment unions, they would get it, just the way Capone had planned it back in 1929. A few days after the meeting with Brown and Bioff, Frank Nitti met with his council at the Capri restaurant inside Chicago’s loop so he could introduce his plan to take over the entire union on a national level.
Over lunch, Nitti pulled out the newspaper clipping he had on Balaban’s nationwide operation and said he had spent the morning on the phone with Lucky Luciano in New York. He told the boys, Paul Ricca, Louis Campagna, Frankie Rio and Nick Circella, that he and Luciano had decided that their mobs, New York and Chicago, would work together to take over the movie business across America.
The entertainment business was too big, Nitti explained, and covered too many miles, for Chicago to try and take it alone. Besides, he added, Luciano and the other New York families already controlled the East Coast Stage Workers and projectionists’ locals whose control was vital to a successful takeover. Nitti said that he and Lucky had decided that the first place to start was with Barney Balaban. They would send Bioff back into Balaban’s office with a demand for a 20% increase for the projectionists. Nitti said that he expected Balaban to refuse to pay. When he did, the New York syndicate, working the Chicago syndicate, would arrange a general strike against all of Balaban’s theaters on the East Coast and the Midwest.
Nitti said that the projectionists would be out of work for a few weeks and the theater chain would close down. Then, at the last minute, Nitti would send in George Brown to act as peacemaker and stabilizer who would end the strike through peaceful negotiations, while at the same time getting the projectionists a small raise. With that done, the mob would run him for the Stagehand Union presidency in the next election. That’s what they did and it worked. The strike ended and George Brown was the hero of the working man and the studios alike.
In June of 1934, the union held its national election in Louisville, Kentucky. With the weight of the entire national syndicate behind him, George Brown was elected national President of the IATSE, the union that, effectively, controlled the entertainment business, and Willie Bioff was appointed Brown’s "Special Representative", at a salary of $22,000. The Chicago mob’s takeover of a giant American industry had begun. After the convention, Frank Nitti called Bioff and Brown into his office and told them that he had decided that it was best if they, Bioff and Brown, moved out to California where they would be closer to the studio’s offices and production centers. The pair did as they were ordered, and while Brown spent most his time locked behind his office doors drinking beer, Willie Bioff made himself busy. In less than three months, he took $250,000 in cash from the movie moguls at Warner, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, everybody paid, all of it in cash, wrapped in brown paper bundles.
When the Chicago outfit moved in on Hollywood, the only person out west who was truly happy about the move was Johnny Roselli, because finally, after fifteen years of being exiled to the West coast, Roselli's star was starting to shine. Roselli was Chicago's sleeper agent out west, having been sent there in late 1924, to develop gambling, extortion and vice rackets for the outfit, and to help set up a national wire service, which was run by Moses Annenberg, whose family would later publish TV Guide.
The outfit's choice (actually it was Al Capone's decision) to send Johnny Roselli to Hollywood was a smart one, because Johnny was a real hustler, an "earner," with movie star good looks, an easy charm and a smooth but phony style that fit right into the Hollywood scene of the fifties and sixties. But despite his polished manner, expensive suits and practiced dialogue, Roselli was nothing more than a slicked-back hood, an antisocial punk with deep, psychological problems that put a permanent chip on his shoulders. Prison doctors labeled him an extreme paranoid.
An illegal immigrant into the United States, Roselli always claimed he didn't know his birth date, instead celebrating his birthday on July 4, since it was "easy to remember and comes around at the same time every year." He said he thought he was born in 1905, but he couldn't remember where; it was all a lie of course, because when it came to his personal business, Johnny Roselli lied all the time. Roselli knew exactly when he was born, June 4, 1905, and where he was born, as Filippo Sacco in Esteria, Italy.
He came to Boston, illegally, when he was 6 years old. His first brush with the law came on September 14, 1922, when Roselli was trailed by federal narcotic agents as he delivered a quarter ounce bag of morphine to a drug addict named Fisher who was also a government informant. Roselli was arrested, but made bail. The case was eventually dropped because the state's witness, Fisher, had disappeared and was believed to have been killed. He was also an arsonist. After his drug arrest, Roselli and his step father, hoping to finance a trip back to their native Italy tried to burn their house down to collect on the fire insurance but the Fire Department reacted too quickly and put the fire out. After that, Roselli went to New York and started running bootleg booze and acting as a guard, protecting beer wagons as they rolled through the streets of Manhattan. It was at that point, probably in or about the middle of 1923, that Roselli was recruited out to Chicago by the Capone organization which was in the middle of yet another territory war. Likable, smart and handsome, Roselli eventually managed to get close to Al Capone's inner circle, at one point he was even reported to be Capone's cousin, which is how other hoods explained the relationship, but the connection may have been Roselli's ability to provide Capone with a steady flow of cocaine out of New York.
While in Chicago, Roselli leafed through an encyclopedia and found the name Cosimo Roselli, a fifteenth-century painter who contributed frescoes of Moses on Mount Sinai and the Last Super on the walls of the Sistine Chapel. Impressed, and in need of a new name anyway, Roselli kept his first name, John, and took on the last name, Roselli. Eventually. Capone shared his lifelong dream with Roselli, to move west to Los Angeles, then still a mostly rural but growing community, and rebuild the mob out there. Roselli had always wanted to move to California, in fact when he was a boy he had dreams of settling their with his mother, so when Johnny Torrio, the leader of the Chicago outfit in 1925, and Al Capone, talked to Roselli about spearheading their move out west, Johnny was all for it.
Roselli's first two years out west were rough. He was sick and gaunt from tuberculosis, and penniless since all that the Chicago outfit had going out in California were high hopes and big plans, but no money producing operations. Then, in 1926, Roselli went to work for Anthony "The Hat" Cornero a colorful if slightly off-balance southern California bootlegger and gambler. Prohibition had made Cornero rich and Roselli profited as a result.
For the first time in his life, Roselli had enough money to rent a house outside of the Italian ghettos he had known since moving to America. He bought a car, started to dress better, and, as the bootlegger and bookmaker to a growing number of movie stars, he started to move in higher circles.
It was Cornero who recommended Roselli to Longy Zwillman, the New Jersey labor rackets boss who had expanded his criminal empire into the most successful rum-running enterprise on the East coast. Zwillman was a Hollywood regular and met with Roselli often, grew to like him and came to rely on him as his primary West coast contact and even assigned Roselli to watch over the various starlets that Zwillman dated. In turn, Zwillman put other big name East coast hoods in touch with Roselli as the man to see when they went west, and when Capone traveled to Los Angeles in 1927, Roselli showed him around the city and introduced him to movie stars, which impressed the movie stars and Capone, and gave Roselli a lot of prestige around town. Roselli also remembered Capone's visit and talked about it often over the years. He said that even for California's laid-back lifestyle of the twenties, Capone's banana yellow suits and shocking pink silk shoes, "pimp gear" he called it, were outrageous. He remembered that the press, crowds and the police hounded them everywhere and Capone seemed to love all the attention. Roselli would remember it for the rest of his life and the smart crook that he was, he learned from it.
He shunned Capone's type of flamboyance. He learned to fit in with the Hollywood crowd, but to keep a low profile, and aside from an arrest in Los Angeles in 1925 for carrying a concealed weapon, Roselli was virtually unknown to law enforcement.
After Capone went to jail, Roselli was still out in Los Angeles, exiled as he saw it, and considering a career in films. Then Frank Nitti called and told Johnny that his moment had come, the outfit was moving in on Hollywood and Roselli would lead the attack on the West Coast, the so-called Bioff scandal, that extorted millions out of the Hollywood studios in the mid-1930s. Convicted in scam, Roselli did a few years hard time and strutted out of jail on August 13, 1947.
The slick little hood leaped right back into the rackets and the center of Hollywood. Even while he was in prison, Roselli kept in touch with the Hollywood community by way of his friend, talent agent Danny Winkler, who wrote to him with the latest gossip, and from the 250 letters he received from a bit-part actress named Beatrice Ann Frank, who, in 1947, became Roselli's fiancée, but nothing ever came of it.
Eventually, Johnny did marry a promising young actress named June Lang, born June Valasek, who was 12 years younger than Roselli, was madly in love with him and had no idea that he was a gangster, because Roselli had told her he was an aspiring movie producer. But, with time, the truth came out, and Johnny promised her he would leave the rackets. But what he said, and what he did were two different things and soon, Lang came to see that Roselli would never change and divorced him. After that, Johnny dated actresses Betty Hutton, Lana Turner and Donna Reed, among many others, and still managed to find time to have an affair with Bugsy Siegel's girlfriend, Virginia Hill, but that may have been ordered by Paul Ricca back in Chicago, so that Hill and Roselli would spy on each other.
Amazingly, producer Joe Schenck, just out of prison himself as a result of the Bioff mess, sponsored Roselli for a job at Eagle Lion Studios, a small, British owned production company, where the hood worked with Brian Foy, Vice President in charge of production. Eagle-Lion churned out a dozen true life, fast paced, low budget crime related semi-documentary films, which Foy clipped out of the tabloid papers.
The Docudramas were popular with critics and fans alike, and lead the way for television police dramas like Dragnet. Roselli would work at Eagle Lion, on the records anyway, as a purchasing agent for $50 a week and would be "promoted," by Foy of course, through the ranks, to associate producer. It was the only legitimate job Roselli ever had and apparently he had a knack for the business, and produced several hit films for Eagle-Lion, including the dark gangster dramas, which now have a cult status, "He Walked By Night," "T-Men," and "Canon City."
Roselli's other official source of income, outside of the Studios, was as an agent for Nationwide, the only wire service into California and wholly owned and operated by the mob, although he was supplementing his income by replacing Willie Bioff as the DuPont Film Corporation's representative to Hollywood. Actually, Roselli probably knew nothing at all about film stock, but the outfit still controlled large parts of the studios and if DuPont wanted to remain a dominant force in Hollywood, it had to cooperate and leave Roselli on the payroll. DuPont never complained since Roselli had so much influence with the studio bosses and the company wanted to take the Hollywood film market from Eastman-Kodak, who had a virtual lock on the market.
Roselli was also the Chicago outfit's West Coast executioner of choice, and since territory battles for control of Los Angeles continued on into the early 1970s, Roselli did, as Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno, an LA mob boss turned informant said, "a lot of work when he was a kid. He did a lot of fuck'n work, don't worry." Otherwise, Roselli kept his standard low profile and shunned publicity. But, flush with cash, Roselli allowed himself one little bit of color, he moved into Hollywood's famous Garden of Allah, then a swinging bungalow complex that was home to dozens of stars, from Humprey Bogart to Edward G. Robinson. But Roselli's move into the heart of stardom was no mistake either.
Johnny was also one of Hollywood's leading loan sharks, was ordered by Chicago to spread out as much mob influence among the stars and the people who ran the studios as he could, either with money or drugs, and since most of the big stars were constantly overspending themselves, his loan sharking business grew at phenomenal rates.
Over three decades, Roselli estimated that he had loaned out at least five million dollars in cash to some of Hollywood's leading stars and producers, from Ronald Reagan to Ed Sullivan and dozens of others. Roselli was also the Chicago outfit's talent scout, finding promising actresses or actors, and then sponsoring their careers in Tinseltowns. According to Johnny, it was the Chicago outfit that sponsored the Marx Brothers, George Raft, Jimmy Durante, Marie McDonald, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper, Jean Harlow, Gary Grant and Wendy Barrie and as a result were awarded extravagant contracts by the studios. The next logical step was to control the talent outlets, so in the late 1940s, when the mob's Vegas casinos discovered that live entertainment brought in the crowds, Roselli and the mob opened a talent booking agency called Monte Prosser Productions, which was the only agency used by all Vegas casinos. Roselli ran the company of his apartment at the Desert Inn, and had such a firm grip on Vegas' entertainment, that he even had the contract to represent the company that put the ice machine in all the hotels.
Roselli and Foy, despite Foy's financial success at Eagle-Lion studios, were both let go because of Foy's brash, confrontational style that annoyed the studio brass, and when his three-year contract expired in 1950 he was released and Roselli was booted out with him. Foy bounced over to Warner Brothers studios but couldn't take Roselli with him since the studio had, officially anyway, barred Johnny from the lot. But Foy remained close with Roselli: "They were like the Rover boys," Foy's niece said, "they went everywhere together."
The pair spent most of their weekends at Foy's house, where there was also a party. At one of those weekend parties, Foy introduced Roselli to one of his favorite contract players at Warner, Bill Campbell, who lived in the same apartment complex as Roselli. Campbell was married to a stunning young actress named Judy Campbell, who was born Judith Eileen Katherine Immoor in Pacific Palisades in 1934. She had met Campbell when she was 16, and married him two years later in 1952. Bill Campbell became fast friends and Campbell introduced Roselli to his wife. Like most men who met her, Roselli was awestruck at Campbell's beauty and taken with her quick wit and disarming charm.
After Judy divorced Campbell in 1954, Roselli introduced Judy to Frank Sinatra in late 1959 and a year later, Sinatra introduced Campbell to both John Kennedy and Mob Boss Sam Giancana. It was about this same time, in 1960-61, that Roselli became embroiled in the Mafia-CIA-White House plots to kill Cuba's Castro. It was interesting that one day in early 1975, film producer Bernie Foy called Johnny Roselli with the idea of doing a remake of the movie "The Exorcist." In the new version, a nun would be possessed by the devil who would then drive her to acts of sexual depravity. Roselli read the script, but rejected it as sacrilegious. However, Roselli then pitched his own idea for a film. The story concerned a patriotic mobster who becomes entangled in a White House-CIA plot to assassinate Fidel Castro. However, the scheme backfired when Castro hires his own mobsters to kill the American President. Foy and his financial backers heard out the Roselli pitch and then rejected it as too implausible.
In 1966, Johnny Roselli arranged for St. Louis Mafia Don Anthony Giordano and the caporegime in Detroit, Anthony Zerilli, to buy hidden assets in the Frontier Hotel. It was an otherwise uneventful, commonplace underworld deal. Johnny collected his $100,000 finder fee and that was the end of it. Then a Federal grand jury called Roselli in for questioning about his years in Las Vegas. Roselli refused to testify on the grounds that he could incriminate himself, so the grand jury gave him immunity, and Roselli talked, although in the end, he really didn't give the jury anything against anybody.
Unfortunately for Roselli, his testimony was stamped secret, so when Giordano and Zerilli were convicted of hiding their assets in the Frontier Hotel, the sale that Roselli had arranged, it looked like Johnny had talked. After that, he was a dead man. But before anything could be done, Roselli and four others were indicted for running a card cheating hustle at the Friars Club in Beverly Hills, where Roselli was a member, having been sponsored by the club's founder, Georgie Jessel, Dean Martin, and, of course, Frank Sinatra. Roselli thanked them by setting up a high stakes gin rummy game that included Phil Silvers, Zeppo Marx, and Tony Martin, the millionaire husband to Debbi Reynolds. Unknown to them Roselli had a "peeper" hidden behind a wall at the tables who transmitted the players' hands electronically to Roselli. When the scam was exposed, one of Roselli's spotters in the game, George Sears, turned informant.
Roselli was arrested, found guilty and sentenced to five years at McNeil Island. In the meantime, the Organized Crime Unit within the Justice Department was planning to have him deported if he didn't start talking about his life in the outfit. This time Roselli talked. He was released from prison, but he was broke and borrowing money to get by and in the last half of 1974, he was forced to move into his sister's house in Florida and that's where they caught up with him.
Johnny Roselli was last seen in the company of the two men getting aboard a private yacht for a cruise. As he sat on the deck sipping a drink, one of the men slipped behind him and choked him to death with a white nylon rope. Then they taped a washcloth over his mouth, sawed off his legs at the thigh with a hand saw, stuffed him into a 55 gallon drum that was weighed down with chains. The coroner figured that the killer also shot him and then decided to dig the bullet out of his body before they dumped him in the barrel and then dumped it into the bay. Body gases pushed the body onto the surface ten days later. Several weeks later, during a meeting with the boys, Chicago's acting boss, Joey Auippa summed up the measure of Roselli's life with the outfit: "You remember that guy from the old days, that guy … what the fuck was his name … that guy they found in the barrel down there inside of Florida? What do you think of that?" There was a moment's silence until somebody across the room cracked, "Johnny in a drum."
When Bioff arrived in Hollywood, Roselli met him at the train station and gave the little pimp an orientation tour of the city and the industry he was about to bring to its knees. As they drove through Beverly Hills, Roselli stopped in front of Joan Crawford’s mansion and told Bioff an interesting story. Roselli said that right after he had landed a job for himself as a staff investigator for the Hay’s office, he was given a case to look into by MGM Studios. It seemed that when one of their rising stars, a real beauty named Joan Crawford, was a starving 19-year-old actress, she had appeared in several pornographic films. Now in 1935, some freelance extortionists said that they had a print of the film and were shaking down MGM for $100,000 to hand over the film negative.
The bosses over at MGM considered the investment they already had in Crawford, added that with her box office appeal and potential, and decided that it would be less expensive to pay the extortionists off, but not for $100,000. The bosses handed the case over to Roselli and told him to contact the hoods and offer them $25,000 in cash to back off. The studio would write the money off of their taxes as a business expense.
Roselli contacted the hoods, a group of small timers, and explained that he represented not only MGM Studios but the Mafia as well. He told them that if they ever contacted the studios or Crawford again, he’d kill them. Case solved. Roselli pocketed the studio’s $25,000, produced the film negative and the threats stopped.
A few years later, Roselli and Bioff met again. After a complicated series of federal wage laws and disputes with the movie studios over a 20% increase in salaries, the independent entertainment unions decided to strike on April 30, 1937. A strike by these unions could close down film production across California. If that happened, the syndicate would never collect on their control over the unions. The studios wanted the strike broken and they wanted the syndicate to break it. Frank Nitti argued against any involvement, but this time things were reversed, the studios pressured the outfit, and took their case to Lucky Luciano and Longy Zwillman in New York. Luciano and Zwillman talked to Nitti and, reluctantly, Nitti agreed to break the strike. Nitti handed the job to Johnny Roselli who hired a squad of twenty leg-breakers from Chicago and San Francisco and marched them to the Hollywood police station where they were given gun permits and then brought them to the studio gates where the striking union membership was gathered. Armed with baseball bats and steel chains, Roselli’s goons threw themselves at the striking union members who took a severe beating that first day but were back on the strike line the next morning.
The outfit goons continued to dole out beatings for several more weeks before the union brass imported its own sluggers, some hired from local gyms, others brought in from the Long Shoreman’s union in New York. Herb Sorrell, a labor organizer for the union recalled that "there were numerous fights, and it was a rough strike. In the six weeks that it lasted, there were several killed and I didn’t know how many injured. In fact it was the roughest strike I ever participated in." Realizing that brute force wouldn’t win the strike, Roselli told George Brown and Willie Bioff to call a press conference with the studio bosses and declare the striking union’s leadership as "communist infiltrated." Then all-powerful Screen Actors Guild voted to ignore the union’s picket lines and eventually the smaller unions either disbanded or became a part of the larger organizations.
The Federation of Motion Picture Crafts was destroyed, the outfit’s union reigned supreme. Nitti, who always expected the worst in everything, was amazed to find out that he didn’t need a ramrod to knock down Hollywood’s golden gates. He just knocked gently and they sprung open for him. The reason for that was that Hollywood, as Nitti would quickly learn, was, like him, all about money.
Although it later became known as the Bioff and Brown extortion scandal, it wasn’t really extortion, at least not in the classic sense, because the studio heads, by paying off Bioff and Nitti’s not to raise prices, were actually saving money, perhaps millions of dollars over what they would have to have paid a legitimate union in wage increases. Furthermore, the scandal benefited the studios in other ways because the mob, for everything that was evil about it, usually kept its word once it was paid, and the mob had agreed not to raise labor prices.
That promise assured the studios that productions would finish without stoppage or a problem from IATSE’s 12,000 members, and as result of a toothless union, the studios fired workers at will and pushed others to work over time without compensation; as a result, films were made for less money because not as many people were needed. In fact, the payoffs to the mob, saved the studios about $15,000,000.00 in what they would have paid out in wage increases.
With the mob behind them as a working partner, the studios no longer had to deal with Communists who had infiltrated the locals and stirred up trouble, or the small time thugs who kept coming back for more nickels and dimes or the weak labor leaders who couldn’t keep their promises because they had no real control over their membership. Producers knew that with the mob in charge, they could get a picture wrapped up on schedule because there would be no strikes and as an added bonus the mob ordered Bioff & Brown to raise prices for live theater, opera, plays and concerts, which were competing with the movie business. Everybody, except the membership, was happy.
Joe Schenck was one of the founding Fathers of Hollywood. Joe Schenck got involved with, in fact he almost helped to design, the mob’s shakedown of the Hollywood studios in April of 1936. Unlike the gangsters who lived from day to day on their incomes, the studio heads relied on budgets. Bioff’s surprise visits were starting to tax the bottom line. The studio heads gathered together and decided to let Nick Schenck come up with a plan that would satisfy the outfit and the studios.
Schenck was about to pay Bioff anywhere near a million dollars, however, he did a quick take on Bioff and decided that he could be bribed. Schenck told Bioff that the DuPont representative in California wanted to increase his raw film business with MGM and the other studios. He said that DuPont was willing to pay Bioff a 7% commission to act as the designated "agent" between DuPont Chemical and the Hollywood studios; better yet, all of the actual footwork would be done by a "sub agent" assigned by DuPont, all Bioff had to do was cash the checks.
Bioff agreed to the deal under the conditions that his income never fell under $50,000 a year and that Schenck was not to mention the commission deal to anyone else, meaning Frank Nitti, or his west coast boy, Johnny Roselli. Schenck called the other studio heads, explained the situation and all of them agreed, reluctantly, to switch their business from Eastman Kodak raw film to DuPont. In the last part of 1937, the raw film commission deal that Schenck had put together gave Bioff $159,025 in commissions, an enormous amount of money for that time.
Flush with more cash than he ever dreamed possible, Willie Bioff "went Hollywood." He started to wear expensive clothes and carried three diamond-studded, solid gold, union business cards in his wallet. Using mostly union funds, and by applying yet another special collection on the studios, Bioff was able to raise enough funds to buy a massive ranch. Here, he grew alfalfa and flowers and relaxed in his mahogany-paneled mansion where, although he could barely read, Bioff had a pine-knot library filled with the world’s greatest books and rare and expensive volumes.
He bought a Louis XV bedroom and rare Chinese vases and fancied himself a connoisseur of rare vases and had a kidney shaped swimming pool built in the back yard for his seven children. Willie Bioff’s new ranch and the unusual methods he used to finance it weren’t missed by Montgomery Clift, the Screen Actors Guild President, who had his own informants within the studios. Clift figured, correctly, that the ranch was a payoff from Schenck to ensure Bioff’s secrecy. Then, one of Clift’s informants provided him with a copy of the check that Schenck had made out to Willie Bioff for $100,000. Clift reported the deal to the IRS and eventually Schenck was secretly indicted for tax evasion. When questioned about the check he had written to Bioff, Schenck said it was a loan. Later on, he made the mistake of testifying to that under oath. When the government was able to prove that Schenck paid Bioff the money as a means to avoid taxes, he was indicted on several counts of tax evasion. Schenck, always the businessman, decided to cooperate with the government in exchange for his a light sentence.
The government agreed and Joe Schenck sat before the grand jury and outlined the entire scam. The grand jury eventually found Schenck guilty of tax evasion and he was sentenced to five years at a federal prison, but Joe Schenck wasn’t just anybody. He wasn’t going to serve out his term in jail and the whole world knew it.
He served just under a year, was granted a Presidential by Harry S. Truman and then went to running his studios as though nothing had happened. Based on Schenck’s testimony, the federal grand jury issued subpoenas for all the major studio heads, but still, up until almost the very end, the government had no real clear understanding of the extent of Bioff’s extortion scam or the fact that the mob, New York and Chicago, were involved. Then Harry Warner stood before the grand jury and filled in the gaps. Warner’s evidence was enough to put everybody involved behind bars.
On May 23, 1941, Brown, Bioff, Paul Ricca, Frank Nitti, Nick Circella, Charlie Gioe, and Phil D’Andrea were indicted for extortion and tax evasion. Willie Bioff had no intention of doing any jail time. He called US Attorney Boris Kostelanetz from a jailhouse visitor’s phone and opened the conversation by saying, "This is Bioff . . . Okay, Boris, what do you want to know?" Bioff laid out the entire scheme for Kostelanetz, times, dates, places, names and amounts; of course he worked a good deal for himself first. In exchange for his testimony, the government agreed to let Bioff keep the money he had stolen over the past decade, furthermore, he would walk away from any charges against him.
After three weeks, Bioff finished giving his testimony to the grand jury, and when he was finished talking, indictments were handed down for Johnny Roselli, Frank Nitti, Paul Ricca, Louis Campagna, Charlie Gioe, Phil D’Andrea, Ralph Pierce and Frankie Diamond. There was a trial, but none of the outfit members took the stand in their own defense, the case against them was that overwhelming. On December 30, 1943, the verdict against them was returned. They were each found guilty and sentenced an average of ten years in federal prison plus $10,000 fine and were liable for the back taxes owed. It was, as the Chicago Herald American wrote, "The total demolition of the Chicago syndicate."
Frank Nitti never went to trial on the Bioff charges, because a day before he was indicted, he took a .45 and blew his brains out, just as he had always promised he would if he ever faced another long prison sentence. Paul Ricca decided he wasn’t going to do any jail time either. Working through Campagna’s wife they were put in touch with a Missouri legislator named Edward "Putty Nose" Brady who in turn placed them in contact with a St. Louis lawyer named Paul Dillon who wasn’t new to the mob.
He knew Murray Humphreys, the Chicago outfit’s collector, very well and had defended two IATSE union officers at Humphreys’ request, after they were caught beating up a movie theater owner in St. Louis in 1939. Dillon, then 68, also had strong political connections to the Missouri underworld including Johnny Lazia, the Kansas City gambling king who was killed in 1934 and Tom Pendergast, the boss of Kansas City. But, what Ricca needed Dillon for was his close, personnel relationship with President Harry Truman.
In 1934, at the personnel request of Missouri crime king, Boss Pendergast, Dillon had acted as Harry Truman campaign manager in his race for the senate. Dillon had also worked as a lawyer for Boss Pendergast, and represented Pendergasts’s chief lieutenant, "Smiling Johnny" Lazia, on an income tax fraud charge. Dillon loved the power, the money and the clout working with these clients gave him. He bragged, often and loudly, that he could visit Truman at the White House whenever he wanted to.
In October of 1945, Dillon met "Putty Nose" Brady, who had ties to the Chicago outfit that went back to the Capone organization. With Brady at the meeting was an ex-prizefighter, and occasional Brady business partner, James Testa. Dillon, according to Testa, provided them with a price list with a set amount of money he would need to have each of the Chicago hoods released by using his influence in Washington with the Truman White House. While Dillon was collecting his bribe money from Testa and Brady, another lawyer named Maury Hughes of Dallas, traveled to Washington and met with Attorney General Clark. The two men had grown up together. Shortly after the meeting, the Attorney General requested the gangsters transfer to Leavenworth.
For decades no one in law enforcement was clear on what hand Clark had played in the transfer or where Hughes fit in until Murray Humphreys summed it all up when he, knowingly or unknowingly, told an FBI microphone on October 16, 1964. "Attorney General Tom Clarke was, he always was, 100% for doing favors . . . the guy Maury Hughes who went to Clarke was an ex law partner (from Dallas) and then the scandal broke." Humphreys also said that another lawyer they hired, Bradley Eben, was paid the astounding fee of $15,000, an enormous amount of money in 1945, to "consult" on the case. Eben’s mother was a Truman White House employee who worked as a liaison between Attorney General Clarke and the President.
On August 6, 1947, Dillon, made an application for parole for Ricca, Gioe, Campagna and D’Andrea. The application was strongly opposed by Boris Kostelanetz, the special assistant attorney general, even the federal judge who passed sentence wrote to the attorney general Clark objecting to the application for parole. But, on August 13, 1947, exactly one week after the application for parole had been placed, Ricca, Campagna, Gioe and D’Andrea were released on parole. A three man, federal parole team voted unanimously to release the hoods and acted so quickly and quietly on their decision, that the parole office in Chicago didn’t have time to submit its standard analysis of the case, which meant that the parole team reached its decision having seen only a fraction of the inmates’ records.
The public, especially in Hollywood and Chicago, were outraged over the hoods’ release, and Representative Fred E. Busbey confronted the Parole Board members and asked them, directly and without mincing words, if it was true that they had accepted a $500,000 bribe to grant paroles to the hoods. Remarkably, not one of the parole board members denied accepting the money, nor would they admit to it.
The House Expenditures Committee recommended that the four hoods be sent back to prison and that their paroles be revoked. The carefully worded report held that the paroles had been given under highly questionable circumstances, and identified Dillon and Hughes as being personal friends of President Truman and Attorney General Clark. It concluded, however, that it could find no grounds to indict the President, Clarke or Hughes and could find no evidence that anyone had been bribed but concluded that "A good Samaritan" had spent big money to get the hoods released.
That "good Samaritan" turned out to be Tony Accardo, who ordered each of his capos to visit the attorney’s office and drop a specific amount on the desk to free Ricca and the others. They were to say nothing except, "This is for Paul Ricca," drop the money on the desk, and leave. By the end of the day, Ricca’s lawyers had the $200,000 needed to pay off his tax lien. Now the hoods’ Attorney could truly say that "a bunch of strangers and good and concerned citizens donated the money." When Louis Campagna was called before committee he said he didn’t know who any of the estimated forty-two men were who dropped the money on the lawyer’s desk or what their motivation was.
"Do you believe in Santa Claus?" Representative Hoffman asked Campagna.
"Yes, Yes. After all this," Campagna said "I suppose I do . . . I mean if you were me, wouldn’t you?"
In its final report, the Congressional Committee charged to look into the entire mess wrote: "The syndicate has given the most striking demonstration of political clout in the history of the republic."
Willie Bioff moved to Arizona, where he lived under the name Willie Nelson, Nelson being his wife's maiden name. Contrary to what's usually written, Willie Bioff wasn't hiding out in Arizona. In fact, he worked at the Riviera Casino in Vegas as the entertainment director for Gus Greenbaum, Chicago's man in Nevada.
Outgoing, likable and very rich, Willie was a natural for politics, and was soon popular within the golden elite of Phoenix society, which is how he met Barry Goldwater, in November of 1952. The two men became fast friends. Goldwater, a brigadier general in the Air Force Reserve, flew Bioff and his wife all over the state to attend various parties, and Willie landed a steady flow of cash into Goldwater's political campaign chest. Bioff even loaned Bobby Goldwater $10,000 for a farming investment in Southern California.
A month before the Mafia killed him, Willie Bioff and his wife, Barry Goldwater and his family, vacationed together in Las Vegas. In 1955, Peter Licavoli and Paul Ricca, boss of the Chicago mob, started to shake Bioff down for cash. Willie paid off for a while, but then remarked that he might go to the federal government for help. The next morning, Bioff stepped into his Ford pickup, stepped on the gas and was killed instantly by a bomb planted under the hood of the truck. Both of his legs and his right arm was blown off.