Cicero's History of Corruption
The trial of Cicero Town President Betty Loren-Maltese and several others on racketeering and fraud charges is the latest turn in the storied history of corruption in the west Chicago suburb.
From the early days of mobster Al Capone running city elections in the 1920s to Loren-Maltese’s run-ins with the 1990s police administrations, allegations of organized crime have continued for decades in Cicero.
Al Capone and Johnny Torrio set up headquarters in Cicero after Chicago officials begin to crack down on liquor and gambling. During the 1924 election, Capone sends out 200 armed men to oversee voting; police kill Capone’s brother Frank, in one of several shootouts that day.
Though Capone is imprisoned in 1932, mob influence continues as Capone’s brother Ralph, the “Beer Boss,” keeps a strong hand over Cicero’s liquor establishments. Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti becomes Capone’s successor.
Gambling and vice flourish with scores of liquor, gambling and strip joints scattered throughout the city. Nitti commits suicide in 1943 after he is indicted for labor racketeering, and Tony “Big Tuna” Accardo steps in as one of organized crime’s bosses.
Corruption has become so rampant that the town considers changing its name to improve its reputation. County and city crackdowns on gambling houses and strip clubs are largely unsuccessful. Accardo moves aside for Sam Giancana; future boss Joey “Doves” Aiuppa continues to climb the ranks.
“The Walled City of the Syndicate,” as Cicero is known, becomes famous for its lax law enforcement. The police chief, Erwin Konovsky, admits that he made only one vice arrest between 1963 and 1964.
News accounts report that owners of Cicero’s 190 liquor-serving establishments are often pressured to make payoffs of liquor and cash to police. Deputy liquor commissioner Robert Mengler pleads guilty in 1975 to taking payoffs for granting liquor licenses; he is the first town official with reported links to organized crime to be charged in 40 years.
Federal raids lead to gambling conspiracy charges against Frank Maltese, a town assessor who denies allegations of links to the Ernest Rocco Infelice crime family. Aiuppa and four other reputed mobsters go to prison in 1986 for gambling conspiracy charges.
Betty Loren-Maltese, Frank Maltese’s wife, takes control of Cicero politics after she is appointed interim president in 1993. She wins three elections, fires a succession of police chiefs for various reasons and is the target of federal investigations.
Former police chief David Niebur and his deputy win a $1.7 million federal lawsuit against Cicero and Loren-Maltese, who fired Niebur in 1998. Longtime federal probes bring a 17-count indictment against Loren-Maltese, two former town officials and seven others.
Source: Tribune archives
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