During the 1950s, the Outfit was at the peak of its power. Supreme in Chicago, their gambling and vice activities included clubs and casinos on Rush Street (in the heart of the old North Side cabaret district), in Cicero and on the Strip in south suburban Calumet City, which was nationally renowned. Over time the mob’s vice activities had moved from outright prostitution to running striptease clubs, with the girls servicing the customers. Local gambling included the famous "Floating Crap Game", so-named because its location was changed regularly to avoid detection. Gamblers did not find it, instead they were ferried from downtown hotels by drivers to some nondescript location in the surrounding area.
But the Outfit’s biggest moves in the 1950s concerned casino gambling outside of Chicago. Chicago invested first in hotel casinos in user friendly Havana, Cuba. Although somewhat slow to jump in initially, they later went into Las Vegas in a big way and helped build the Vegas Strip. Beginning with the Stardust, by 1961 Chicago had major interests in the Riviera, the Fremont and the Desert Inn. Their Vegas holdings, partly in cooperation with Moe Dalitz, were overseen by John Roselli, while the submissive Teamsters Central States’ Pension Fund provided financing. The percentage for Chicago in Las Vegas was in skimming the casinos – making sure that significant winnings by the house were never counted as part of net income and that taxes on those amounts were never paid.
By definition, when an organization is at its peak, what follows is a decline. In the case of organized crime in Chicago it was caused primarily by the federal government, particularly the FB I. After the Apalachin meeting of the National Commission was exposed by a New York State Police raid in 1957, the Bureau instituted the Top Hoodlum Program and devoted massive resources to combating organized crime – just as Sam "Mooney" Giancana became Boss.
During the Accardo years, Sam Giancana had risen through the Outfit ranks. Accardo, recognizing him as someone with ideas when he brought the Numbers game to his attention, was Giancana’s sponsor when he was "made". Soon he was driver/bodyguard/lieutenant to Accardo, as indicated by the Chicago Police department line-up photo of the two of them in 1945. Accardo voluntarily stepped down from the day to day role of Boss in 1957, partly to lead a quieter life and partly in response to a federal probe of his income taxes, and Giancana succeeded him. But Accardo remained as the guy who Giancana reported to and who (along with Ricca) counseled him.
The Feds and the 1960s
The next decade was not kind to the Outfit. "Free love" cut into the action at their strip joints. Although it took the FBI several years to get up to speed, they quickly came to grips with the Chicago Mob. Bugs were planted in various places the Outfit used for meetings. Major Outfit guys were tailed, including the 24 hour surveillance of Giancana in 1963. Federal agents made Giancana lose his cool several times, including around his love interest, popular singer and entertainer Phyllis McGuire. They finally granted him immunity, forcing him to testify before a grand jury or be hit with contempt charges. Giancana refused to cooperate and was jailed for a year. Meanwhile, the Justice Department, under Robert Kennedy, made the first moves against corrupt labor unions, investigating the Mob dominated Teamsters Union and its national leader, Jimmy Hoffa, who was convicted of manipulating the pension fund in 1964.
Locally, Richard Ogilvie was elected Cook County Sheriff in 1962 and appointed incorruptible Chicago police officer Art Bilek as Chief of the Sheriff’s Police. For the first time in memory, the Sheriff’s Police conducted major raids on gambling games run by the Outfit, closing casinos, such as the Owl Club, all over the county. Even the Floating Crap game was hit by the Sheriffs’ Police, at a location in Cicero. At the same time, reformer O. W. Wilson was superintendent of the Chicago Police and no longer tolerated visible gambling and vice in the city. Importantly, Wilson decoupled the police department from politics, changing districts to no longer correspond with ward boundaries and centrally appointing district commanders rather than allowing the ward politicians to name them.
The pressure got to Giancana. His erratic behavior and his front page life style in return gave Ricca and Accardo fits. Thoroughly disgusted with Giancana, they deposed him in 1966 and elevated Sam "Teets" Battaglia, leader of the Battaglia-Carr gang in the early 1930s before joining the Outfit. Sam Giancana wisely left the country for Mexico and points beyond.
Battaglia was not at the helm long, however. The federal government practice of targeting the top man in the Outfit, which began with Giancana, turned the job of Boss into a revolving door. With prison on the other side of the door. Battaglia was jailed for racketeering in 1967 and replaced by Phil Alderisio, who was himself convicted in 1969. Long-time Accardo lieutenant Jackie Cerone succeeded Alderisio. In the years that followed, virtually every top mobster in Chicago, including everyone who sat in the boss’s chair, was convicted and jailed, with the exception of Tony Accardo.
A new activity for organized crime during the late 1960s was the "chop shop." The Outfit found a percentage in the wholesale theft of automobiles, by chopping them up and selling the untraceable parts rather than trying to move the entire car. This racket, centered in the South suburbs, was first subject to the street tax, with the mob later taking direct control of it.
Evolution in the 1970s and 1980s
Cerone was in turn convicted on gambling charges in May of 1970. In response to the dwindling supply of senior hoods, Accardo formed a threesome, including himself, Gus Alex and Joey Aiuppa, to run the Outfit, at least until Aiuppa was seasoned enough to be sole Boss. Within a few years Aiuppa held the reigns on his own.
The 1970s were tough on the Outfit from a business perspective. Off-track betting cut into their bookmaking operations. The state lottery cut into whatever action there was in numbers. And pressure on corrupt unions intensified.
Ethnic and political change also limited their opportunities in the city of Chicago. During most of the 1960s the Outfit was active, with the necessary political cover, in every part of the city. A side effect of the Civil Rights movement, however, was that minority groups elected new people to office who danced to a different tune. As neighborhoods changed, so did the Outfit’s ability to function in those areas. By the 1970s the Outfit’s activities were more focused on specific neighborhoods and suburbs where they had influence.
Another factor that hit organized crime was the changing nature of politics. During the 1960s, the old style, early 1900s, spittoon kicking, "I’m the boss and what I say goes" type of ward politician – who cooperated with the hoods because that was where the money was – was largely gone from the political landscape. The new, television covered, "servant of the people" type of politician was much less friendly to organized crime. Perhaps because the public was better informed about Mob activities and less tolerant of them.
Furthermore, the move into Las Vegas by legitimate operators, including large corporations, that started with Howard Hughes in the 1960s, resulted in the sale of many mob owned casinos. Law abiding individuals and corporations, because they had lower costs (relative to the hoods) due to operating efficiencies, found they could run the large Vegas casinos more profitably than the gangsters, even though they paid taxes on all their winnings. While they were able to cash out during this period rather than being forced out, this still changed the nature of the Outfit’s activities.
But the 1970s were not all bad. With increased interest in professional athletics, much of Mob bookmaking revolved around betting on pro sports, such as football and basketball. The clientele was mostly white and fairly white collar, as opposed to the traditional customers for the numbers or horse racing.
The 1970s also saw the demise of two major Chicago gangsters. Paul Ricca, who the government endlessly tried to deport (but no other country would take), died of natural causes in October of 1972. Sam Giancana, after returning to the U. S. in 1974, died of unnatural causes in the basement of his Oak Park home on June 19, 1975, after visiting with Dominic "Butch" Blasi.
During the 1980s, the Outfit’s business activities continued to evolve, while decreasing in size overall. Legal casino gaming cut into mob gambling of all types and by this decade the numbers, horse racing, slot machines and other traditional forms of illegal betting were largely a thing of the past. The Outfit was not completely but at least largely out of Las Vegas by the end of the decade, the process being hastened by federal indictments for skimming in Nevada. Video poker machines in bars, with the bartender paying winners in cash, and professional sports betting, which the Outfit quickly monopolized in the Chicago area, were the two main gambling activities. Juice loans and the related extortion were an ongoing activity, although labor racketeering was declining.
In 1983, for example, the Outfit was believed to be organized into five basic street crews (capos in parentheses) covering the North Side (Vince Solano), the South Suburbs (Albert Tocco), Chinatown (Angelo LaPietra), the West Side (Joey Lombardo) and the Western Suburbs (Joe Ferriola). A separate group, led by Tony Spilotro, oversaw their interests in Las Vegas. By 1990, the Outfit had six, much smaller crews: North Side, Chinatown, West Side, Western Suburbs, Grand Avenue and Lake County. Chris Petti was their man in Vegas, after Tony Spilotro and his brother Michael were found buried in 1986 in an Indiana corn field.
The decrease in the number of made members in Chicago was not necessarily a bad thing, although it did reflect a decrease in the scope and nature of their activities. It was also most likely a response to federal inroads and the power of the RICO statute. Less made guys, more associates, meant less guys who could cause real damage if they turned on the Outfit. In fact, to date only two higher level Chicago mobsters, and neither were major figures, have been publicly identified as federal informants: Ken Eto in the 1983 and Lenny Patrick in 1991.
Aiuppa remained at the top until he was convicted in a Vegas skimming case in 1986. Joe Ferriola replaced him and at Ferriola’s death in 1989, Sam Carlisi took over the position of Boss. In each case Accardo served as the Chairman of the Board.
The 1990s and Beyond
The 1990s saw the Outfit retrench itself around sports gambling and video poker machines. Gone was the old time gambling and Las Vegas, as well as most of the labor racketeering. Gone were the Strip in Cal City, bulldozed and redeveloped, and the joints in Cicero. Of course, they were ready to do anything that held a percentage for them, such as loot the town of Cicero (as charged in a recent indictment) or try to find a way into the legal casinos near the city.
But the Outfit became a shadow of its 1950s stature, with only three street crews in 1997. One covering the entire South Side and Southern suburbs (basically run from Chinatown), one handling the West Side and DuPage County and the third working the North Side, Elmwood Park and the north suburban Lake County areas. Recruiting grounds for future Mob members and associates include gangs of young thiefs and burglars centered in Elmwood Park and on the West Side.
Time also took its toll on mob leadership. Tony Accardo was removed, after providing leadership during six decades, from the scene by death in May 1992. Something the Feds or the local authorities were never able to do. Sam Carlisi was convicted in 1993, and was replaced around that time (or according to some accounts earlier) by John DiFronzo. Since the early 1990s, due to a multitude of successful federal prosecutions, the Outfit has again gone "underground", keeping an extremely low profile. This is reminiscent of how they responded to their top leadership being removed in the past -- either for income tax evasion or in the Browne-Bioff case. For years there were no likely Mob hits, at least until the1999 shooting of Ron Jarrett (who died in 2000). It was also rumored that street level mobsters were directed not to bother people who did not pay what they owed. Instead, they were instructed to cut them off from further betting or refuse to give them further loans.
Since about the mid-1990s even the best informed authorities have not been sure who was in charge or even if there was a central figure in Chicago. DiFronzo, Joey "the Clown" Lombardo and Joe "the Builder" Andriacci are the individuals most frequently named as Boss, Underboss or Consigliere (not necessarily in that order), but there have been a number of conflicting opinions on the subject. As this is being written, one local television station has reported that James Marcello, long-time Carlisi lieutenant who is currently in prison, is the new Boss!
With respect to narcotics, the Outfit had a long standing policy, formulated by Ricca and Accardo, that its members were not to traffic in drugs. Some defied this edict – and paid with their lives when they were found out. But most of the Outfit’s guys stayed away from the drug business. Only after Accardo’s death was this iron clad rule seemingly relaxed, with the leadership instituting a "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy. Trafficking in illegal drugs was no longer forbidden for made members, but whatever they did was outside of the Outfit, strictly free-lance. The Outfit washed its hands of the whole matter, not sharing in the profits, but also not taking any of the risks, including not helping members in legal trouble because of the drug trade. It is likely that some Outfit members have dealt in the wholesale end of the drug business, possibly bankrolling major purchases by street gangs and other dealers at the street level since 1992.
Despite the decline in its fortunes, which has happened to organized crime in all the major cities in the U. S., the Outfit is still around. They can still be found in their favorite haunts, but they have a much lower profile. However, the Outfit is ready to move any time it sees an angle for itself, as evidenced by the alleged misuse of public funds in Cicero. The Cicero case indicates that the more things change in Chicago organized crime, the more they stay the same. Something that would be appreciated by "Big Jim" Colosimo, who would certainly notice how similar the current Outfit is in its scope and structure to the gang he led before Prohibition.