Feature Articles

September 2001

Cleaning Up With The Duffs

By John William Tuohy

     The Duff family of Chicago owns a janitorial firm that gets 100 million dollars in city government contracts.

     The family patriarch, John Duff Jr., is a savvy former union boss and a regular at the mobbed hang out, the Como Inn on Chicago's Northside. Duff is also a former city investigator, who in 1960 testified on behalf of mob boss Anthony Accardo, who faced income-tax fraud charges. Duff testified that he purchased beer from Accardo, who claimed that he was a salesman for a local beer distributor.

     Accardo eventually walked away from the income tax charge but Duff lost his city post when his supervisors learned he was holding two jobs at once.

      Twenty years later, Duff was secretly recorded by federal authorities bragging about his friendship with mobsters Anthony Spilotro and Frank Buccieri. Shortly afterwards he pleaded guilty to federal charges of embezzling union funds in Chicago and Detroit and began serving 17 months in prison.

      The Duffs are also under federal investigation in Florida, where they are suspected of running a gambling operation with New York's Gambino crime family. The investigation fell apart because the lead FBI agent undermined the probe to cover his own gambling problems. That agent was eventually convicted and sentenced to 5 years in prison.

     Duff's son, Patrick, is president of Local 3 of the Liquor and Wine Sales Representatives, Tire, Plastic and Allied Workers Union.

      John Duff III, also a Local 3 executive, has been associated with organized crime and testified in 1992 that gangster Ernest Rocco Infelice gave him a break on a gambling debt.

      One time when a Florida police officer arrested one of Duff's sons, John Duff III, for soliciting a prostitute, the arresting officer recorded that "Duff stated that if I did not remove his handcuffs immediately and let him go, he was going to find this officer and my family and kill them, one by one, while this officer watched, (Duff) stated to this officer that I better listen to what he was saying because he has connections with organized crime in Chicago," the report said.

      So how did the Duffs get 100 million in city janitorial contracts?

      It appears that the answer is politics.

     The family has held at least two fundraisers for Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and provided workers on Election Day for Daley-backed candidates, and among the family members, the union and the businesses, the Duffs have contributed about $32,000 to Daley's campaigns.

      Although he denies it, as soon as Richard M. Daley, Jr., the son, was elected to office in 1989, he allegedly instructed a top aide to make sure that the Duffs got a share of the city cake.

     Shortly afterwards, the Mayor's Office of Special Events handed Windy City Maintenance a no-bid contract in 1990 to clean up after Taste of Chicago. They still have the contract, which now covers most of the major in-city festivals and brings the Duffs about $500,000 a year.

      In 1990 there was a minor change to a city ordinance which allowed the special events director to negotiate contracts directly with vendors without bidding.

     Ahhh, Chicago!

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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