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February 2000

The Cicero Story

By Wayne A. Johnson


Wayne Johnson is the chief investigator for the Chicago Crime Commission

On June 23rd the Chicago Crime Commission’s Committees on Police and Organized Crime held a special session in the offices of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Office of International Criminal Justice. The meeting, which was highly publicized by the local press, presented two highly regarded police officials from Cicero, IL., who were suspended allegedly for their cooperation in a Federal Investigation of the town and certain town officials. By no stretch of the imagination was this scenario anything new to the Chicago area and in fact has a history as deep and rich as the City of Chicago itself. But, after this flurry of media coverage a common theme arose out of the ashes, which raised several very pointed questions. One of those questions was: How did Cicero become this Mecca for MOB activity and just when did it start? This short story about Cicero attempts to answer that question in a nutshell for those unfamiliar with the situation and MOB afficionados alike.

The storey starts like many others in America. Steeped in social changed and governmental bungling. But, what I would like to open with is a bit of Irony surrounding the towns very name, which was almost changed in an attempt to down play the MOBs presence there. The towns’ namesake, Roman Orator & Statesman Marcus Cicero lived from 106 to 43 BC, as a prominent Magistrate and Counsel to the Chief Magistrate in Rome. He developed a reputation by exposing corrupt practices of the local governor. He was a right minded leader, but made serious political mistakes that drew the wrath of Mark Anthony and his soldiers, and ultimately lead to his own murder at their hands on Dec 7, 43 BC.

Prior to 1923, William Hale Thompson as the mayor of Chicago, worked closely with the Torrio crime syndicate which incorporated the talents of a New York tough by the name of Alphonse Capone later to be known as Scarface Al. This close association allowed for the proliferation of vice and bootlegging activities throughout Chicago land and a great deal of success and wealth for the Mayor. This year also marked the beginning of the Beer Wars in Chicago, that pitted early Organized Crime factions against each other for control of the lucrative bootlegging industry since the introduction of the 18th Amendment, Volstead Act on Jan. 16th, 1920, the same year former MOB chief Big Jim Colisimo was killed.
Johnny Torrio his successor and now the most powerful gangster in the area emerged victorious through his skillful use of Gunmen and political influence, that all but eliminated his competition, not to mention his lucrative partnerships with several formerly legitimate brewery owners who were faced with ruin in light of the Volstead Act.

Upon the election of reformer William Dever, as Mayor of Chicago that year, things changed rapidly as the new mayor and his hand picked Police Chief Morgan Collins, targeted the syndicate and all it’s operations for extinction. However, the resourceful and quick thinking Torrio Syndicate, responded by shifting their base of operation for beer distribution and gambling to the town of Cicero. Cicero for over five years already had hosted numerous MOB sponsored Saloons, and accommodated the MOBs desires politically, but was now ear-marked as it’s headquarters.

This was not the MOBs only appearance in the suburbs, as towns such as: Burnham, River Forest and Stickney already hosted brothels, saloons and gambling dens of some renown. The Mayor of Cicero at that time, Joe Klenha, a former dog catcher, resisted the presence of MOB sponsored prostitution. Once that issue was settled, the mayor welcomed the MOBs increased presence and the suburb of Cicero quickly became a honky-tonk town, loaded with Gambling Dens and Saloons in open defiance to the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act.

In 1924 the Torrio MOB expanded this unlikely political association to include a former soda jerk and political hopeful from Cicero by the name of Ed Konvalinka. Mr. Konvalinka had great aspirations from the working side of the soda fountain that lead to his position as a resourceful republican precinct captain and ultimately lead to Governor Small naming him to the post of Republican Committeeman from Cicero.

This was not good enough for the now, committeeman, who aspired to be a king maker and felt that a continued alliance with the local MOB and the 800 gunman who were there to protect the 120 plus Saloons could also be helpful on election day April 1st 1924. The Torrio Syndicate while supporting a MOB friendly Republican Ticket, met and plotted out there actions the day before the election. The two principle mobsters at this meeting with Torrio were Frank and Al Capone, two of his top lieutenants.

It was an election day like no other in history, when this industrial town of 70,000 went to the polls to decide who would run the town. The options were a democratic reform ticket lead by William F. Pflaum for town clerk or the Torrio-Klenha-Konvalinka ticket. Pflaum during his campaign tried to expose this unholy alliance and hoped that election day would be the epiphany Cicero needed.

Well, when election day came, Voters were not only harassed by Torrio thugs, but armed gangsters would approach them and snatch away their ballots, changing them to the MOB candidates if necessary. Opposing poll watchers and precinct captains were beaten and abducted at gunpoint, some held hostage until the election was over. On duty policeman were chased from their posts by gunshots. Cars full of gangsters raced through the streets. The citizens were terrorized.

County Judge Edmund Jarecki seeing what was going on and feeling the Capone brothers were orchestrating these events, sent 70 extra police out to stop this mayhem. This erupted into gun battles throughout the town and Capone’s brother Frank was killed in one such foray, by the Detective Squad of Sgt. William Cusick, who by the way, was no relation to the MOBs downtown pay-off man Harry Cusick. After the Capone death, Torrio met in the Capone home and ordered all the saloons to remain in a low key, quasi closed condition until all the excitement passed. Al Capone attended his brothers inquest, but had nothing to say.

When the smoke settled the MOB ticket was in and soon over 160 taverns ran wide open serving beer from Torrio controlled breweries. Clip-Joints were the norm and handbooks, Gambling Dens, and Dog Tracks generated profits that would make any Vegas mobster proud. Within 4 months the MOB would take $200,000 a week out of Cicero.

Although, not everyone was on board. Eddie Tancl a former prize fighter and tough Bohemian saloon keeper would not buy Torrio beer or pay tribute. Eddie, a favorite in the Bohemian Community for his charity, died in a gun battle with MOB enforcers and the MOB eventually took over his saloon. Two killers were arrested and prosecuted by Assistant States Attorney William McSwiggen for the Tancl killing, but were acquitted. McSwiggen himself was later killed outside a Cicero Saloon, as he stood with 2 mob associates.

A month after the election, in May of 1924, a police raid on the Seiben Brewery, personally led by Police Chief Collins, was the bonanza law enforcement was looking for. Not only was Torrio himself arrested, but several of his top associates, namely: Dion O’Banion, Loius Alterie and Hymie Weiss. 13 truckloads of beer were there, ready for distribution, but not on this day. The case took a turn, that has been common place ever since. Instead of turning the men over to the local prosecutor, States Attorney Crowe, for the traditional whitewash, the men were turned over to a federal prosecutor by the name of Olson, who pledged prompt action on this case. That action led to the indictment of 38 men.

Over the next several months as the largest Volstead case to date, played out, gangsters, subordinates, and policemen alike were convicted or plead guilty for their involvement in bootlegging activities and ultimately received stiff sentences. Dion O’Banion northside rackets boss, suspected of 25 murders by Chief Collins, and who boasted a string of legal victories in the courtrooms of States Attorney Crowe, ended the string, but not in the courtroom. He was killed in his northside flower shop in November of 1924, allegedly at the behest of the Genna Brothers his MOB rivals.
It was these events and the wounding of Torrio himself that marked the demise of the MOB as it was known. It became clear that Mayor Dever and Chief Collins were not under the control of the MOB and their continued onslaughts weakened Torrio’s ability to control his forces. After serving 9 months from the Seiben conviction, Torrio stepped down leaving control of the MOB to his top lieutenant Scarface Al Capone. The MOB was weakened, but not out of business as the tide turned in their favor. That turn again came on the heels of a local election, but not in Cicero this time. The election was in Chicago!

In 1927 Mayor William Hale Thompson made another run at the Mayor’s office in Chicago with the same, but more subtle MOB support, than that displayed in Cicero in 1924, and he won. Had the voters not learned anything or was the availability of liquor more important that the security of a law abiding citizenry. MOB Boss Capone almost immediately moved headquarters back into the city but never relinquished the MOBs interests in Cicero. It appeared true what was said over the years: “Chicago ain’t ready for reform yet” but neither was Cicero.

During the 1930s the Chicago Crime Commission produced it’s first Public Enemies list that contained the names of 28 of the MOBs most notorious gangsters starting with Al Capone but including many names familiar to the town of Cicero. Capone’s brother Ralph remained in Cicero as the Beer Boss, that included a Cicero Brewery. He also kept tabs on Night Clubs and Gambling establishments which included a Dog Track. Al was finally imprisoned in 1932 after the Crime Commission urged then President Hoover to use the Treasury Department and Tax law to bring down the once impervious gangster. Frank Nitti took over the reigns in Capone’s absence and in 1933 the Eighteenth Amendment was repealed, but the saloons kept operating at a healthy clip concentrating on vice revenue to fill MOB coffers.

During the 1940s under the leadership of Nitti, gambling and vice continue to flourish in Cicero’s MOBed up night spots. Union racketeering emerges as a future cash cow for OC as an emerging clip joint operator by the name of Joey Aiuppa AKA Joey O’Brien establishes a Labor Local in the town that becomes the focus of Federal Investigators in the 60s while under the leadership of MOB heavyweight Anthony Spano. In 1943 Nitti commits suicide following an indictment for Union improprieties and a MOB up and comer by the name Tony Accardo AKA Joe Batters takes over. During the 40's Police Chief Irwin Konovsky is appointed by Village President Sandusky. He was considered from the get go a MOB associate. In 1948 the new Village President John Stoffel appoints reform Police Chief Joseph Horejs, and both intend on cleaning up the town. MOB gambling overseer Louis Lipschultz is notified that handbooks are no longer welcome in Cicero. Chief Horejs was the first Law Enforcement Official to notify the Chicago Crime Commission of Aiuppa’s status in the MOB. Horejs shortly into his tenure, asked for assistance from the Commission in his fight with the MOB, but it never played out as he was fired by the Village board shortly there after.

Not much changed in the 1950s as gambling flourishes despite the efforts of the Cook County Sheriffs Police Department and the Cicero Police Department. Large scale gambling houses and strip clubs operate in defiance to law enforcement. Slot machine raids by then Sheriff Babb fail to impress Virgil Peterson of the CCC who sees large scale operations untouched. In 1955 Sheriff Lohman conducts a series of gambling raids in Cicero and used search warrants to obtain convictions. In 1956 Sam Giancanna takes over for the retiring Accardo. He has Rocco Fischetti running the Cicero Gambling operations as Aiuppa rises in the organization. By 1959 the State’s Attorneys police are also conducting gambling raids. Because of the negative image the years of organized crime influence brings, the Village Board contemplates a name change for the Village. How does “Normandy” sound?

In the 1960s Gambling and vice continue, Sheriff Richard Ogilvie and State’s Attorney Daniel Ward work with Cicero Chief Konovsky and the Chicago Crime Commission to develop solutions for the Cicero Gambling problem. Ward eventually gave up blaming the Cicero Police for allowing gambling and vice to operate calling Cicero “The Walled City of the Syndicate”. As the modern era of Organized Crime approached, Cicero had been the subject of oversight by some of the most notorious gangsters in the country to include: John Torrio, Al Capone, Ralph Capone, Louis Lipschultz, Joey Aiuppa, Rocco Fischetti, and Anthony Spano. Could this circle ever be broken, could Cicero ever loosen the strangle hold of the MOB?

Since then not much has changed. The saloons while not as numerous are still as notorious. The good towns people, although now mostly of Hispanic Origin are constantly campaigning to clean up the towns image. While the Political opportunist continue to misspend town money for personal profits i.e. 1985 several Federal Raids on City Hall led to Gambling Charges against Assessor Frank Maltese and eventually led to his Guilty Plea in 1991, In the late 80s the town assessor and a Mobbed up businessman fail to repay a one million dollar loan to the town fueling a Justice Dept. investigation, Local OC bosses such as Joey Aiuppa and Rocco Infelise suffered convictions/prison terms and the MOBs presence is conspicuous by its visible absence. Through the last three decades Cicero has seen a rotation of new MOB leaders: Fiori and Frank Buccieri, Angelo LaPietra, Turk Turello, Joe Ferriolla, James Inendino, Chuckie English, Dominic Cortina, Don Angelini, and Anthony Centracchio. The list seems endless, but a new series of investigations is underway. Businesses in Cicero are loaded with video gaming devices that are still feeding the MOB coffers. Outside police are still working to ensure the citizens safety, something that the town it seems, has never been able to do. And outsiders still watch in amazement at how Cicero changes, but stays the same. I guess the analogy that “Cicero Ain’t ready for reform yet” still lives on. The question is are the rest of us?


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