Friends In High Places
November 3, 2001
On December 30, 1943, a federal grand jury returned a guilty verdict against the hierarchy of the Chicago mob for their role in a massive extortion scam aimed against the leading Hollywood motion picture studios. The organized crime figures had threatened the entertainment industry with a nationwide work stoppage through the syndicate-controlled projectionist’s union unless a $1 million dollar extortion demand was satisfied.
Syndicate boss Paul “the Waiter” Ricca, former Al Capone body guard Phil D’Andrea, Johnny Roselli, Willie Bioff, who had masterminded the extortion, and several lesser mobsters were convicted and sentenced to ten years each at hard labor plus $10,000 in fines plus court costs.
Ricca was an arrogant little man who ordered his underboss Tony Accardo, to pull out all stops to get him out of jail. In 1944, the Atlanta penitentiary where Ricca was incarcerated, was run by Warden Joseph W. Sanford, a loud, belligerent, redneck who shaved his head and encouraged white inmates to join the prison Ku Klux Klan chapter that he headed. Sanford didn’t much care for Italians and he especially hated Catholics.
When Phil D’Andrea decided he didn’t like the prison diet, he complained to a guard that he was ill and needed his food brought into him.
An orderly conducted a urine test, but D’Andrea threatened his life unless the results came “out alright.” The orderly reported the threat to the enraged Warden Sanford who marched down to D’Andrea’s cell and beat the hood senseless. “It’s more dangerous,” said Johnny Roselli “being inside the prison then being on the outside.”
The FBI reported that Ricca and Louis “Little New York” Campagna continued to exert influence in prison, but after D’Andrea’s beating, “the mobsters have realized then that they could expect no assistance in Atlanta.”
Ricca decided that he wanted to be transferred to Leavenworth prison since it was closer to Chicago, and probably safer, so the three influential Chicago hoods filed for an application.
The warden denied the request because “one considers the fact that the prisoners would be better able to direct the activities of the syndicate from Leavenworth as grounds for transfer” Ricca wasn’t used to be told no in such a cavalier fashion, so he went directly to the Bureau of Prison affairs in Washington, but they denied the transfer as well.
Working through Campagna’s wife, Ricca was put in touch with a Missouri legislator named Edward “Putty Nose” Brady, who in turn contacted St. Louis lawyer Paul Dillon, who wielded political clout.
In 1934, at the personal request of Kansas City political boss Thomas Joseph Pendergast, Dillon agreed to serve as Harry Truman’s campaign manager in his race for the U.S. Senate. Mayor Pendergast, a staunch Truman backer since 1922 when he promoted Harry for a county judgeship, was also a willing participant in variety of shady deals, contract killings, and assorted underworld operations through his right-hand man and sidekick, Kansas City crime boss, Johnny Lazia.
After Truman entered the White House following Franklin Roosevelt’s sudden death in 1945, Dillon became fast friends with T. Webber Wilson, the chairman of the parole board, a man who Washington columnist Drew Pearson reported to be “crooked.” Pearson knew of at least two cases involving Wilson where “money changed hands in connection with the granting of paroles”
Wilson would later admit to having met with Dillon twice to discuss Ricca and the other Chicago gangsters. The first time they discussed the transfer from Atlanta and once more in 1947, a week before their release, by Wilson’s board. He denied, without ever being asked, that he accepted money from Dillon, but then clarified his position by saying, “in relation to the Hollywood extortion case”
In October of 1945, Dillon met “Putty Nose” Brady, a Missouri State Senator with ties to the Chicago outfit that went back to the days of Capone. Also at the meeting was an ex prize fighter and occasional Brady business partner named James Testa.
Dillon, according to Testa, provided them with a price list with a set amount of money he would need to have so that each of the Chicago hoods could released through his influence in Washington with the Truman White House.
Testa told of the meeting and Dillon’s price list to the FBI who recorded the information but never provided it to the Congressional investigators and never bothered to follow up on the lead.
While Dillon was doing his part, another lawyer named Maury Hughes of Dallas traveled to Washington to meet with Attorney General Ramsey Clark. Shortly after the meeting, the Attorney General requested the gangsters be transferred to Leavenworth.
Another attorney hired by the Chicago mob to smooth things over was Bradley Eben, who was paid the astounding fee of $15,000.
Eben’s mother was a loyal White House employee. Sometime in mid-1944, Dillon called Frank Loveland the assistant director of the Bureau of Prisons and explained that he, Dillon, had direct access to the White House and that he wanted to see Paul Ricca transferred.
Loveland hung up on him because he already had a letter in hand from the Atlanta warden which read: “money is being paid to obtain the transfer of these men to Leavenworth, and I do not believe they should be transferred.”
Undeterred, Dillon simply went over Loveland’s head.
In May, 1945, Campagna, D’Andrea, Charles “Cherry Nose” Gioe, and Ricca, all millionaires, formally requested that they be shifted to nearby Leavenworth prison because their families were cash strapped and the trip to Atlanta was too great of an expense for them to bear.
The heads of both prisons protested the move, but the hoods were granted their wish. In July of 1945, they were moved to Leavenworth. No records were left to explain who was responsible for this action, or from where the order originated.
Comfortably situated inside his Leavenworth cell, Ricca was back in business, directing Chicago operations from inside the prison. Although it was against the rules, Tony Accardo, who was running things on the outside, visited Ricca in jail, using the alias “Joe Bulger,” who in fact was a lawyer and head of the Chicago Italo-American Union.
Accompanying Accardo on these forays was Eugene Bernstein, a tax expert who had been with the IRS for ten years. Bernstein brought Ricca wonderful news after talking with his former employer about a possible tax settlement. He said that the IRS wasn’t opposed to an out of court settlement with the gangster.
Even though the IRS was aware of Ricca’s legitimate cash worth pegged at $300,000 and his $500,000 in real estate in Kendall County, Illinois, and that Campagna admitted to owning $225,000 worth of property with an annual income of $100,000 from the gambling rackets, the government settled for $126,000 plus interest. Both Ricca and Campagna would later say that they had no idea who had lowered the amount of the fine or who had paid it.
“Its an act of God!” gloated Campagna.
The third stroke of good fortune came from Harry Truman himself. President Truman, a product of the notorious Pendergast gang, was elected in large part to the political “pull”of the powerful Kelly-Nash-Arvey Democratic machine in Chicago. As a result of the pressures brought to bear on the White House through the Kelly-Nash organization, a functionary in the Truman administration saw to it that the boys walked free from their prison sentences.
On August 6, 1947, Dillon made his application for the parole of 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 on the group, wrote to Attorney General Clark objecting to their 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.
“The syndicate had given the most striking demonstration of political clout in the history of the republic,” a Congressional committee later wrote.
The three-member federal parole team voted unanimously to release each one of the hoods. Their decision was acted on so quickly and so quietly that the parole office in Chicago didn’t have time to submit its standard analysis of the case, meaning, that the parole team reached its decision without review of the inmate records.
Afterwards, Representative Fred E. Busbey, confronted the Parole Board members directly and asked them if it were true that they had accepted a $500,000 bribe from the Mafia. Remarkably, none of the parole board members denied accepting the money but no-one would confirm it either.
Later, a Congressional committee investigating the matter called Dillon in to make a statement after it was learned that he was a personal friend of the parole board chairman and had dinner at his house on a regular basis. When asked why he had not come forth with this information, Dillon said he “forgot we were friends.”
Their release caused a national scandal with two Chicago newspapers launching their own investigation into the case. This was followed by a full Congressional investigation launched in September of 1947 and headed up by Republican Claire Hoffman of Michigan.
The committee learned that at the request of Chicago mob mouthpiece Sidney Korshak, that Harry Ash, superintendent of the State Division of Crime Prevention offered to act as Charlie Gioe’s parole supervisor.
The media alleged that Chicago rackets boss Jake Guzik had been in touch with New York Mafia leader Frank Costello. Costello was said to have promised Postmaster of the United States Robert Hannegan $250,000 if he would use his influence inside the Truman administration to secure the release of the Chicago mobsters. To sweeten the offer, Guzik was supposed to have set aside $300,000; $250,000 for Hannegan and $50,000 for incidentals.
By June 1947, neither the newspapers nor the House committee were able to find incendiary evidence of corruption by either the hoods or any member of the Federal Government. However, the Department of Justice, with the eyes of the world upon them, denied that an actual parole had been granted, but said that the men were only given “passes.”
The public wasn’t buying it and the wheels of justice in Washington were once again forced to turn. The hoods were rounded up by federal marshals and sent back to Atlanta to serve out their remainder of their terms. Several months later, the FBI reluctantly joined into the investigation but only after receiving orders by the house investigators to do so. Even then Director J. Edgar Hoover whined.
When the case was closed, Hoover ordered that the records be cleared to protect the Bureau’s image because as Hoover noted, “we have had so many blunders and failures” in the investigation.”
Attorney General Clark ordered Hoover to seal the records of the investigation. It was Clark, acting in his capacity as Attorney General, who appointed the members of the parole board in the first place.
Representative Hoffman demanded that the FBI turn over its files on the case, but Hoover balked, saying that he only took orders from the Attorney General. Hoffman demanded that Clark ordered the Director to open the records. Clark managed to hold off Hoffman for four months, long after press attention had dwindled. When he did release the records for the investigation it amounted to 1,000 pages of useless information.
Paul Ricca served less than three years in prison. He ran the Chicago mob continuously from 1941 until 1957, when immigration problems forced him to turn over day-to-day control of the syndicate to Sam Giancana. Avoiding deportation, Ricca took back control of the outfit in 1965 with Tony Accardo and continued to run its affairs as a kind of “elder statesman” until he died of natural causes in 1972.
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