Joe Accardo’s reign commenced without missing a beat. Despite the temporary loss of such key players as Ricca, Campagna, and Rosselli, the tenacious Outfit licked its wounds and moved forward at full speed. At this time, the gang was meeting regularly in a backroom of the Morrison Hotel, Capone’s old haunt, on Madison Street in the heart of the Loop, using the phone in the hotel barbershop to receive cryptic messages. During one of their confabs, they were approached by a recently released ex-con from the slum area known as the Patch. This wiry, ill-mannered roughneck had owed the G some time for illegal alcohol manufacturing. Although his personal style conflicted with the corporate-like sophistication of Accardo, Ricca, and Humphreys, what he had to say blinded the dapper bosses to the man’s total lack of refinement. While “in school,” the hood had learned of a lucrative scam, called policy, that he believed might be of interest to the Outfit. The man who was championing it, and who would go on to dramatically affect the Outfit’s future, was known in his environs as Mooney.
The pitchman was born, according to the Bureau of Vital Statistics, Gilormo Giangona on May 24, 1908, in Chicago. However, baptismal records disclose that he entered the world as Momo Salvatore Giancana on June 15 of that year. In any event, his name somehow transmogrified into Salvatore “Sam” Giancana. Sam’s parents, Antonino and Antonia, or Lena, had arrived in America from Sicily in 1905, at the ages of twenty-four and nineteen respectively. As a youth, Sam frequented the streets of the Chicago ghetto known as the Patch, which the Italian immigrant community had transformed into a replica of the Old Country: Street vendors, such as Antonino, sold fruit in the open-air marketplace, while wine and song flowed in countless clusters of friendly gatherings. Outsiders came to refer to the Patch as the Spaghetti Belt.
When Sam was but two years old, he was met with unspeakable tragedy: the tragic death of his young mother at age twenty-four due to internal hemorrhaging. Thus as a child, the callow Sam was largely unmonitored and free to succumb to the temptations of the street. It was said that boys from his enclave either became hoods or saints, and those like Sam who took to the streets were the hoods. Life for street kids in the Patch consisted of daily turf battles with the numerous ethnic groups that occupied the various districts encircling the Spaghetti Belt, predominantly the Irish, French, Jews, Greeks, and Bohemians. When not defending their territory, the youngsters stole whatever was not nailed down, delivering their plunder to the vendors in the Patch street bazaar. The other chief preoccupation was more primal: The boys used abandoned buildings for “gang shags,” or gang rapes, perpetrated against the neighborhood’s young female population. This distasteful rite of passage went largely unpunished, save for the rampant and often deadly cases of venereal disease that plagued the Patch’s young male population.
When they were old enough to drive, the boys adopted street racing as a favorite pastime and show of machismo. By now, many had sided up with gangs that took measure of their virility in intergang drag racing. Coursing dangerously through crowded streets at all hours, the boys honed their skills at moves such as “whipping,” the taking of turns at high speeds, often on two wheels. Young Sam became known as one of the best wheelmen in the Patch, commandeering souped-up muscle cars that would remain a trademark throughout his life. Sam’s wild, unrestrained talent as a wheelman (among other things) earned him the nickname that would stick with him for the rest of his life: Mooney, or crazy. The danger implicit in such high-velocity antics often led to tragedy, and in at least one case, irony. In October 1926, a pedestrian named Mary ran after her four-year-old son, Charley, who had scampered into a Patch street just as a member of Mooney’s gang screeched toward him in his Cadillac. Shielding her child, the terrified woman took the full brunt of the impact, which killed her but spared the child. The woman was Mary Giancana, Mooney’s stepmother, and Charley was his stepbrother.
The gang that recruited Mooney’s talents was the most notorious in the Patch. As noted previously, the 42 Gang harbored terrorists deemed indispensable to the union organizers and politicians, as well as drivers for the bootleggers. The gang had been organized around 1925 by Joey “Babe Ruth” Colaro, a suave, smooth-talking delinquent who specialized in tire snatching, auto theft, and police bribes. Colaro was one of the prescient gang leaders who determined that the local police force was largely composed of ravenous immigrants like himself, anxious to have their palms greased. One 42 member later recalled, “When we were making so much, we thought the police were scums, shysters. They could be bought for so little; they were money hungry.”
By the time Mooney worked the streets with the 42s, Volstead had been enacted, opening up a wider variety of criminal choices for young hoodlums. While many of their parents made ends meet as alky cookers, the boys performed liquor runs for the bootleggers or assisted them in election “slugging.” These jobs were considered noble since the bootleggers were respected by most immigrants as businessmen, heroes who provided a service and gave lucrative jobs to the otherwise unemployed. Mooney quickly rose to a leadership role in the same 42 Gang that provided the muscle in the infamous 1927 Pineapple Primary and assisted Curly Humphreys and Red Barker in their tire-slashing putsch against the Midwest Garage Owners Association.
Mooney Giancana did not emerge unscathed from his illicit adolescence. The hyperactive gang member was arrested numerous times for auto theft, burglary, and attempted burglary. In 1926, the eighteen-year- old was indicted for murder, only to have the charges dropped for lack of evidence. His constant need of bail money, combined with the fines that often accompanied his convictions, kept his father in permanent impoverishment.
By the midthirties, Mooney Giancana had married and fathered two daughters. During this period Mooney and his driving prowess came to the attention of a genuine Patch big shot, Outfit boss Paul Ricca. The revered Waiter honored young Sam with the offer to become his personal driver. Although this association would open doors for Mooney in the future, Giancana had to survive in the present, and squiring the dapper mob boss did not get him any closer to the end of the rainbow in the short term. With a growing family to feed, Giancana continued to cast about for more lucrative opportunities, while still chauffeuring Ricca. He believed he had found his pot of gold when he met another Patch entrepreneur named Guido “Joe Greco” Gentile. Although Volstead had been repealed, operators such as Gentile were keenly aware that there was still a fortune to be made in illegal alcohol. During the thirteen-year era of prohibition, spoiled alcohol wholesalers had grown accustomed to buying cheap, untaxed spirits and thus continued to purchase moonshine whenever it became available. Gentile would become one of the suppliers.
After locating a suitable facility, a farm in suburban Grand Prairie, Gentile enlisted his crew from the Patch gangs. Mooney Giancana was one who answered the call, giving his name to Gentile as “Albert Mancuso.” Once set up, Gentile’s still churned out thousands of gallons of illegal alcohol per day for more than sixteen months before the IRS uncovered the operation. After the farm was successfully raided on January 17, 1939, Gentile’s crew, including Mooney, were charged with nine counts of alcohol law violations. By this time, Sam’s father was nearly insolvent, and thus it fell to the hood’s father-in-law to put up the $5,000 bail. The following spring, however, Mooney was dealt a four-year prison sentence, to be served, after an initial two months at the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, in the Terre Haute, Indiana, lockup. And like so many other convicts, Mooney Giancana used his time in school to study criminality at the feet of more experienced fellow classmates. One from whom he learned the most was an African-American policy kingpin, Eddie Jones, assigned to Mooney’s cellblock. As youngsters, Jones and his two brothers had prospered in one of the few rackets that had not been preempted by the Outfit: numbers.
The game goes by numerous names: bolita, lottery, numbers, polizza, and policy. But they are essentially all variants of one of the cheapest and simplest forms of gambling that exists. Taking a chance on a drawing of numbers has been a staple, both legal and illicit, of American culture, the concept extending at least as far back as the seventeenth century, when King James I utilized the lottery to finance the growth of the colony of Virginia. Historian Henry Chafetz has written: “The American colonies were floated on lotteries.” The proof of his statement is everywhere, given that state-controlled lotteries financed institutions such as the British Museum; universities such as Harvard, Yale, and Brown; Boston’s Faneuil Hall; and the development of the Cumberland Pass. The games were ongoing until the 1890s, when, due to widespread corruption, they were discontinued. However, the game only went underground. And like bootlegging and horse wagering, it did not need to go very deep below the surface.
The underground variant first took hold in the poor African-American communities in the South, then, much like jazz music, migrated to the North, where it took root in the European immigrant population. The African-Americans used to refer to the Italian gangs who came to control the game as “spigoosh.” In addition to being cheap (typically a 1940s bettor wagered five cents on a three-digit number combination), the outlawed version was wonderfully convenient and accessible. In most Chicago immigrant neighborhoods, young boys earned money as runners, picking up the gambler’s bets at his home or place of business. From there, the runners deposited their booty to one of Chicago’s two thousand collectors, known as drops, and from there it went to the gang that controlled the action. The most common numbers wager consisted of placing a nickel bet on a number from 000 to 999, with the winning combination being drawn from a can, or “wheel.” Each ethnic cluster maintained its own version of numbers: the Italian barrios called it polizza, Italian for “lottery ticket.” Every Friday night, the polizza winning number was supposedly drawn from a wheel in Italy by a blind boy. The winning number was then cabled to America, where it was distributed via sundry handouts and publications.
Although there were differing methods of determining the winner (such as using the last three digits in the day’s closing stock market volume or U.S. Treasury balance), the wheel variety was the most popular. The wheel, or can, consisted of a large, crank-turned tin can about half the size of an oil drum. The wheels were produced by a Chicago factory specifically for the numbers operators, who secreted the machines in remote locales where the drawings were made.
The wheel operations acquired colorful, if meaningless, names and vernacular. There were the Erie-Buffalo, the Rome-Silver, the Calcutta Green Dragon, the Whirlaway, and the Beans-Ham Gravy wheels. A player did not have a three-number choice, he had a “gig”; a winning number was not chosen, it had “come out.” Although the odds against winning were 1,000 to 1, the group controlling the action typically paid off at 600 to 1, at best. With the games often rigged, the house was estimated to keep eight of every ten dollars wagered, the rare winner seeing a payoff of about $25 for each nickel bet. Players in the black communities were further abused when they were hoodwinked into buying useless “dream books,” which assigned a number to a specific dream subject that a person may have just experienced. Black preachers were often ordered by the policy operators to give certain numbers to the faithful from the pulpit. The numbers were rarely correct, but the seeming imprimatur of the church built excitement for the game.
For years, Capone’s Syndicate had little interest in the operation, which they dismissed as “nigger pool.” With the vast riches derived from bootlegging, the nickel-per-bet policy game hardly seemed worth the time. On one occasion, when a Syndicate underling tried to muscle in on a black policy ring, Capone had the rogue offender run out of town. The Big Guy himself apologized to the threatened policy directors, saying, “That’s your racket, boys. I don’t want no part of it.” This indifference had given the Joneses free reign build their empire. Capone’s philosophy remained intact until Mooney Giancana convinced the Outfit to reconsider.
After his release from Terre Haute in December 1942, Giancana took a legit job as a salesman in his brother-in-law’s envelope company. During the height of the World War II troop mobilization, Mooney was ordered to report to the draft board, where he lived up to his moniker and then some. In a high-volume tirade, Mooney recounted to his examiner the criminal exploits of his 42 Gang in minute detail. When he was asked what he did for a living, Giancana gave a now infamous response: “I steal.” In bestowing the street thug a 4-H exemption, the draft board labeled him psychopathic. (During the same troop buildup, Jake Guzik received his notice. He informed the board that his fifteen-year record of friction with the law should render him ineligible for the draft. He further noted that if they insisted on drafting him, the board would have to come and get him.)
In short time, Mooney Giancana became restive in the straight life. After his third daughter was born, he began to consider ways to break into big-time gangsterism. Recalling the friendships he had formed in Terre Haute, Mooney Giancana decided it was time to seek out Eddie Jones. Soon, Giancana located the policy king, and together they struck a partnership, wherein Jones staked Giancana to the tune of $100,000 to oversee still another of the Jones’ rackets: jukebox distribution.
The coin-operated jukebox, a key improvement over the noncoin variety, was devised in Chicago in 1934 by David Rockola. Before his breakthrough, Rockola was employed as a slot machine inspector for the Syndicate-infiltrated O. D. Jennings slot machine manufacturing company. It was later found that Jennings had shipped thousands of his slot machines to New York Commission member Frank Costello, who had in turn flooded Southern states such as Louisiana with Jennings’ contraption. Rockola was charged in 1929 in a huge slot machine scandal, wherein he freely admitted his involvement with gangsters, corrupt politicians, and police. Although acknowledging that he had made numerous payoffs, Rockola escaped prison by cutting a deal in which he would implicate his boss, James “High Pockets” O’Brien. Now, in 1934, Rockola’s new device provided gangs an easy way to skim money: Since no one could prove how many nickels were inserted, the owner of the machine could siphon off any amount of pretax lucre he desired.
Much as they ignored the numbers game during the bootlegging era, powerful gangs like the Outfit mistakenly gave little priority to the jukebox racket, using it primarily to launder money with bar owners. The opportunistic Jones brothers once again filled the breach. They had realized that Depression-era Chicagoans would gravitate to the machines. “During the Depression, people who made three dollars a week bought a nickel beer and put a nickel in the jukebox, or seven plays for a quarter, and that was their weekend,” remembered Rockola’s assistant, Frank Shultz. “A person who made fifty dollars a week went out to hear a band.” David Rockola and the Joneses held the same philosophy: Pinball machines might go out of style, but not music.
In 1934, Rockola opened the Rock-Ola Manufacturing Company, employing thirty-two hundred workers, and covering four city blocks on Chicago’s North Kedzie Avenue. Not only did his machines take coins and play more selections, but they were priced at $198, $52 cheaper than his competitors’ versions. As will be seen, the Outfit became the largest purchaser of “jukes” in furtherance of its rackets, Under Mooney’s guidance, the jukebox racket provided a pleasant surprise for the Outfit, reaping huge profits for decades to come.
In 1945, with his income rising steadily, Mooney purchased a spacious home in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park for $32,000. Although an exponential improvement over life in the Patch, it was not enough. Giancana had seen firsthand the extravagant lifestyle of his partners for three years now, and he grew to covet the lucrative holdings they had generated so painstakingly. Despite Eddie Jones’ display of altruism toward Mooney, this greedy new partner had no qualms about betraying his benefactor. Although details are lost, it is believed that before Giancana made his move, he sought to impress the Outfit with his plan, thereby to create entree with the big boys. Obtaining an audience with Accardo, Humphreys, and Guzik at the Morrison was no small feat, especially for one so noncorporate as Mooney Giancana. Fortunately for Giancana, one of those whom he had befriended in Terre Haute was William “Billy” Skidmore, a gambler who was both close to Johnny Torrio and a former bagman for Jake Guzik. Combined with his former driver’s role years earlier for the now imprisoned Paul Ricca, Giancana’s link to Skidmore most likely paved the way for his access to the Morrison’s backroom. In the winter of 1945, Mooney made his sales pitch about the wonders of policy.
The Jones brothers’ Maine-Idaho-Ohio policy wheel, as Mooney had learned, generated over $1 million a year profit, much of which the ambitious brothers funneled into legitimate real estate investments, including department stores and four hotels. In addition to their mansions in Chicago with Lincolns in the driveways, the Joneses owned villas in Europe and Mexico. Most appealingly, from his vantage point on the inside of the Jones’ enterprise, Giancana knew that they were no match for the muscle of the Outfit. The “black belt” areas of the South and West Sides, Mooney concluded, were ripe for a takeover.
After extolling the virtues of a racket that the Outfit had given little attention, it is believed that Giancana made the Morrison confreres an offer: If he could find a way to take over the Joneses’ policy operation and provide the Outfit its cut, he would be invited into the inner sanctum of the heirs to Al Capone. The bosses possibly wondered if this uncouth thug was indeed a diamond in the rough. Perhaps former contacts, such as the prison psychiatrists at Terre Haute who had tested his IQ at a lowly 71 verbal and 93 nonverbal, had terribly misread a man with the kind of street smarts that defy measurement. He had clearly done his homework regarding policy. When the vote was taken, the decision was made to sanction Mooney’s coup attempt against the Joneses’ operation.
It wras soon reported that Mooney Giancana was now performing his driving services for Joe Accardo, much as he had years earlier for Paul Ricca. In February 1945, Mooney and Joe were arrested together for questioning in a kidnap case. During this period, Giancana’s family began seeing new visitors to their equally new Oak Park home. In her autobiography, Mafia Princess, Mooney’s daughter Antoinette wrote of the changes in her father’s lifestyle: “It was really from 1945 on that I became aware of the frequent comings and goings of Sam’s ’business associates,’ men whose names engendered fear in Chicago’s underworld for decades . . . Mother never knew how many men Sam was bringing home, but two or three times a week there were guests, and they would arrive promptly for dinner.”
Among the individuals Antoinette came to recognize was Curly Humphreys. A key topic of “business” was almost certainly the Outfit’s planned theft of the Joneses’ operation. However, for reasons unknown, the takeover did not commence for over a year. Finally, in May 1946, after months of meticulous planning, Mooney made his move. After closing his Ben Franklin department store for the night, Eddie Jones and his wife, Lydia, instructed their limo driver to also drop off the store’s cashier at her home on their way to the suburbs. Unbeknownst to the limo’s occupants, they were being tailed by two cars. After dropping off the cashier, the Joneses’ driver was prevented from driving off by two shotgun-toting men from the tailing cars, their faces hidden behind kerchiefs. With Lydia screaming hysterically, Eddie was knocked unconscious by a blow from a rifle butt and dragged into one of the kidnappers’ cars. As they screeched away, the abductors left the police, who had just arrived, with the impression that these drivers displayed talents similar to those of the notorious 42 Gang wheelmen.
For six days Jones languished in captivity while the word in the Patch was that the kidnappers were demanding anywhere from $100,000 to $250,000 for his release. The story made front-page news in Chicago and its environs. Suddenly, on the sixth day of his ordeal, the policy boss was released, but with no details divulged to the press, and no one charged. But knowledgeable Chicagoans had their suspicions. Giancana’s FBI file reflects what the word was on the streets of the Windy City: “The Chicago Police believe, but can’t prove, that Giancana was the brain in the $100,000 kidnapping of Jones, Negro policy king.” When officials tapped their sources, the truth emerged: Mooney Giancana had taken Eddie Jones to an undisclosed location, and while captive, Jones was told to surrender his most lucrative policy wheels to Giancana or face the shotgun. In addition, he was advised that it would be wise of him to relocate to his Mexican villa, where Mooney would send him a cut of the action. Within days of his release, Jones took his family to Union Station, where they boarded a train to Mexico by way of Texas. They never lived in Chicago again.
Giancana’s performance understandably impressed the Outfit’s brain trust, and his stature within the gang was elevated as he became its boss of all numbers and jukebox rackets. Thanks to Giancana’s ingenuity, the Outfit had more than made up for the loss of the Hollywood extortion gambit. By 1949, the Outfit’s Standard Golden Gate policy alone grossed over $5 million per year. Incredibly, it was estimated that there were some thirty such wheels in Chicago. The Chicago Crime Commission estimated that by 1954, Chicago’s policy racket netted some $150 million. And as per custom, Jake Guzik kept officialdom at bay by dispensing the gang’s largesse. Each month, Greasy Thumb delivered bribes to Ward Committeeman William Dawson at his office at 180 West Washington Street. ]Dawson, an appointee of the equally corrupt Mayor Ed Kelly, went on to become the era’s most powerful African-American politician, later serving eighteen years in the House, eventually becoming vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
Thanks to Dawson, the Outfit was able to spread its empire of gambling and loan-sharking into Chicago’s African-American community. Like bootlegging, numbers running ingratiated the gangsters with the downtrodden among the immigrant population. Profits were funneled, Capone-like, into charitable causes such as food and lodging for the unemployed and homeless. In his book Street Corner Society, William F. White described the impact of racketeering on the immigrant community: “In all their activities, legal or illegal, the racketeers perform the important function of providing employment for a large number of men. Most of the employees have no background of experience and skill to prepare them for jobs in private industry . . . The rackets provided them with jobs which were difficult to find by other means.”
Although the gang’s numbers success was the most obvious of Giancana’s triumphs, the jukebox racket churned on in the background, bringing in vast profits, while burnishing Mooney’s rising star.
Jukin’ with the Outfit
It was long an industry policy not to sell machines to bar owners, selling them instead to regional distributors, who in turn distributed them to operators who represented a number of storefronts in specific subregions. This modus operandi played right into the hands of crime gangs like the Outfit. Once Giancana was given the green light by Accardo and Humphreys, he brought in his own underlings, such as Charles “Chuckie” English and Bill McGuire, who together set up Lormar Distributing Company, named after a contraction of their wives’ names, Lorraine and Mary. Jake Guzik was tapped to head a jukebox distribution company called Century Music in partnership with former Capone gang lieutenant Dennis Cooney. Guzik’s son-in-law, Frank Garnett, ran Automatic Musical Instrument Company (AMI), whose machines were distributed in the East by the Runyon Sales company, owned by the notorious gangster Abner “Longy” Zwillman. Zwillman also co-owned New York’s Riverside Music Company with Mike Lascari, who fronted for Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky. In 1949, AMI was taken over by Mooney Giancana himself. The Outfit next installed Fred “Jukebox Smitty” Smith as head of the jukebox division of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 134; Jukebox Smitty’s protege, Mike Dale, became owner of the Commercial Phonograph Survey, which charged fees for jukebox permits. With all facets of the business in line, other nonaligned distributors withered away. Ted Sipiora, owner of Singers’ One-Stop Record Service, testified that his business dropped off by 90 percent, or $800,000.
As with almost every criminal endeavor undertaken by the Outfit, the jukebox operation succeeded in large measure because the underworld easily found upperworld partners to help grease the skids. Chief among their above-the-law accomplices were jukebox manufacturers, such as the Wurlitzer Corporation. When Wurlitzer’s vice president, Milton J. Hammergren, testified before Congress, his admissions to then counsel Robert Kennedy ran the gamut from shockingly candid to downright arrogant:
Kennedy: “How were you able to achieve distribution where you had difficulty in the past?”
Hammergren: “Well, let’s take Chicago. I had a very intimate friend named Goldberg . . . Al Goldberg was a very aggressive and well-connected, so to speak, individual.”
Kennedy: “What do you mean ’well-connected’? He had connections with the underworld element in the United States?”
Hammergren: “Yes, I would say so . . . In New York we weren’t so successful . . . We proceeded to reorganize and set up a more aggressive distributorship . . . We put in Eddie Smith, Meyer Lansky, Bill Bye, and I had a piece of it myself.”
Kennedy: “Were company officials upset about the use of force?”
Hammergren: “Company officials, of which I was one; yes, we didn’t like it, but we still had to sell jukeboxes.”
Kennedy: “If somebody, just in the course of trying to get your boxes distributed, if somebody was killed, that was taken as part of the trade?”
Hammergren: “That is one of the liabilities of the business.”
Kennedy: “And the people that you found, as a general rule - the only people who could get this kind of distribution achieved - were these people with underworld connections, as a practical matter?”
Hammergren: “Yes, that is true.”
Hammergren went on to admit that he had sold some 550 jukes to Jake Guzik’s Century Music Company. He also conceded that he had made “arrangements” with the Outfit’s St. Louis associate Buster Wortman, and in Miami with a strong-arm named Angelo Meli. Kennedy asked Hammergren if he was aware that at one time Meli was Public Enemy Number One. “Yes, I knew about it,” Hammergren replied. In a 1946 grand jury investigation in Detroit, a local union secretary, Eugene James, said about Hammergren: “I know what he does here, and what he does everywhere else . . . He has always used the mob wherever he goes.”
The jukes and their racket spread like wildfire across the country. In New York, Meyer Lansky, via his association with Alvin Goldberg in the Emby Distributing Company, became a major distributor for the Wurlitzer Corporation; Goldberg also teamed with Joe Accardo and Jake Guzik’s son-in-law to distribute Wurlitzers in Chicago via their Chicago Simplex Distributing Company. Sam Taran took the Florida franchise; Carlos Marcello worked the scam in New Orleans; William Bufalino lorded over Michigan. Many of the jukebox machines shipped to these locales originated in Windy City factories owned or secretly controlled by the Outfit.
From June 15 to June 21, 1947, the Wurlitzer Company staged the jukebox version of the mob’s infamous 1957 Apalachin summit. Wurlitzer’s distributors’ confab took place at Crosslake, Minnesota, and was attended by numerous “connected” individuals who were assigned to share cabins like teenagers at summer camp. Among those known to attend were Lansky’s juke partners Alvin Goldberg and Willie Bye. In another cabin were Guzik’s son-in-law Frank Garnett and Sam Taran. Other attendees included Henry Friedman of the mobbed-up Mercury Records Corporation and a partner of Chicago bookies Frank Harmon and Max Hoffman. One cabin was assigned to someone named Siegel, with no further clarification that his first name was Ben. The Chicago Crime Commission concluded: “The underworld was well-represented at the meeting. Several of the most important Wurlitzer distributorships were in the hands of notorious racketeers.”
As with its other takeovers, the Outfit’s brain trust devised numerous ways to squeeze peripheral profits from the jukebox racket. In one variation, the hoods began to cross-promote singers of its own choosing. The gang could literally turn no-talents into national sensations by manipulating the key benchmark of popularity: At the time, jukeboxes were the fastest way to promote a singer’s career, and the Outfit decided whose records were placed in the boxes, which position they occupied on the machine’s index, and the machine’s play counters. Distributors were ordered to place certain records in the coveted number one position on the box. One aspiring twenty-four-year-old vocalist, Tommy Leonetti, was personally handled by the notorious Felix “Milwaukee Phil” Alderisio, a dreaded enforcer-for-hire. A program director for a Chicago TV station reported that “the mob actually owns 150 percent of Tommy Leonetti, and Leonetti, who is actually working on an allowance, is a very, very sorry boy.” Chicago distributor Ted Sipiora recalled how he was paid a visit by a gang underling who demanded Sipiora promote a recording by Leonetti. Sipiora said the hood, John Ambrosia, doubled as Leonetti’s agent and had allegedly once managed Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Ambrosia initially stopped in to deliver fifty copies of a Leonetti single. He later returned to express his displeasure with the sales of the record. “We told him it wasn’t good enough to get on the boxes,” Sipiora said. Ambrosia then began tossing a bullet in the air, saying, “These things can be dangerous. They penetrate flesh.”
To this day, Chicagoans are quick to recount the tale of how one of their own became the beneficiary of the Outfit’s jukebox domination to become a nationwide singing sensation. Recent conversations with both the singer’s relatives and associates of Unione Siciliana president Joe Bulger demonstrate how the gang’s support could boost a nascent showbiz career. In the 1930s, Bulger was the trustee and president of suburban Melrose Park, a community largely composed of blue-collar Italian laborers and craftsmen. In 1934, Bulger appointed one Mike Laraia, a distant relative through marriage, to be comptroller of Melrose Park, a powerful position that dispensed public works contracts throughout the town’s labor force.
When not working civil projects, many of the town’s artisans serviced the homes in neighboring upscale enclaves such as River Forest. According to local lore, when River Forest’s most powerful resident, Joe Accardo, undertook the extensive renovations on his palace, Mike Laraia dispatched Melrose Park’s best carpenters, plumbers, etc. Years later, when Laraia’s talented teenaged daughter cut her first record, Bulger told Accardo to put his considerable weight behind the high-schooler, who had not an inkling of the favor about to be bequeathed her.
“It’s time we did something for one of our own,” Bulger told Accardo. Thus when Laraia’s daughter released her first record, it received prime placement in the tens of thousands of the jukes under the gang’s control, an incalculable advantage for a new talent. According to one Laraia cousin, “Everybody got behind the record. She’s a phenomenal singer, and she deserved it.”
Mike Laraia convinced his girl to change her name before going national to something more easily pronounced by non-Italians. Heeding her father’s advice, Carol Laraia became Carol Lawrence, the soon-to-be Broadway sensation of the musical West Side Story, and countless other Broadway, recording, and television triumphs. She would marry Robert Goulet, the matinee idol star of Jack Kennedy’s favorite musical, Camelot.
In addition to the power they wielded at the jukebox, the Outfit’s relationship with Jules Stein’s MCA placed it in the powerful position of starmaker for Stein’s favored musical acts. Once the chosen artist’s records were inserted, a phony measure of popularity was concocted: Soon after jukeboxes became a national fixture, Stein, perhaps with the gang’s involvement, invented the Top Ten List, which later became the Top Forty. The gang solidified its hold on the recording industry by rigging the jukes’ play count. The Outfit thus anointed Top Ten hits and created instant celebrities. They had mastered the art of “spin” in more ways than one.
Lastly, a related enterprise involved the production of counterfeit records. Some of the inferior bootlegs were made at Lormar, others at Apex Music, run by the Outfit’s slot king, Eddie “Dutch” Vogel. As with the boxes themselves, the gang’s bogus discs were marketed well beyond the borders of Illinois. In his book Brothers in Blood, Pulitzer Prizewinner David Leon Chandler recounted how the mob in Louisiana, which worked in tandem with the Outfit, used counterfeits to return a political favor.1 In the 1940s, then governor of Louisiana Jimmie Davis helped push through legislation that allowed local boss Carlos Marcello to open gambling casinos in New Orleans. At about the same time, Davis, a longtime country-western singer, recorded the umpteenth version of his classic composition “You Are My Sunshine.” Despite the public’s ennui with the overrecorded chestnut, the recording by “The Singing Governor” inexplicably turned up everywhere, especially in countless mob-controlled jukeboxes across the nation. Twenty years later, when New York authorities dredged some hundred thousand of the mob’s counterfeit records from the East River, they discovered that most of them were Davis’ recording of “You Are My Sunshine.” The cache represented a rare failed attempt by the mob to promote a recording. The FBI concluded that Davis “had done a favor for the ’Cosa Nostra,’ and in return, the mob-owned jukebox companies of America had bought the Davis recordings and placed them in tens of thousands of jukeboxes.”
Within ten years there were more than seven thousand jukes in Chicago alone, grossing $36 million annually. Nationwide, the Outfit controlled many of the half million machines, which generated a tidy $300-million cash flow. Rarely mentioned, though, were the enormous ancillary industries that descended from the Outfit-controlled coin-operated jukebox operation. Consider that in 1939 the Mills Novelty Company of Chicago invented the “visual jukebox,” in which, for twenty-five cents a play, a patron could view “soundies,” or filmed performances of a requested song. After World War II, the French improved the design and marketed their version, known as the Scopitone. The American rights to Scopitone were purchased in 1963 by a Chicago firm with rumored Outfit connections, Tel-A-Sign, which succeeded in placing tens of thousands of its machines around the country in the midsixties.
The predecessor to the music video explosion of the end of the twentieth century might have taken hold permanently had it not been for the owners’ flawed strategy of promoting middle-of-the-road talents (Debbie Reynolds, Bobby Vee, Vikki Carr, Donna Theodore, etc.), while downplaying the rock-and-roll juggernaut. Also, in the early sixties, Robert Kennedy’s mob-hunting Justice Department began looking into Tel-A-Sign’s links to organized crime. By 1966, as RFK’s quest seemed about to bear fruit, details of the inquiry were leaked to the Wall Street Journal.MOVIE JUKEBOX PROBE: GRAND JURY LOOKS INTO EVERYBODY LINKED WITH SCOPITONE: TEL-A-SIGN ASSAILS INQUIRY ran the April 26, 1966, headline. Combined with dwindling interest in their star roster, and the proliferation of television sets in public places, Kennedy’s probe caused a panic that fueled a sell-off by stockholders and distributors. By 1969, Scopitone was out of business, its machines auctioned off for pennies on the dollar, with many finding their way into the nation’s peepshow industry.
In sum, the Outfit’s championing of David Rockola’s coin-operated jukebox helped pave the way for both the Top Forty and the music video industry. It is widely assumed that many of the gang’s descendants went on to become fully legitimized participants in both of these Wall Street megaliths. Like the lottery’s, the music industry’s lineage is firmly entrenched in the legacy of Mooney Giancana and the Outfit. But the gang had many more worlds to conquer, most of which involved beating the upperworld to other treasures, such as off-track betting, motion picture production, and casino gambling in the Nevada desert.
1. FBI wiretaps obtained years later verified the links between New Orleans boss Carlos Marcello and the Chicago Outfit. The taps disclose how they worked on numerous crime operations -in consort, and how Outfit bosses cherished their fall hunting trips to Marcello’s Churchill Farms estate and Grand Isle hunting camp, both in Louisiana.