Feature Articles

May 2001

"Like Cashmere On A Leper"

(Part Two)

By John William Tuohy

     Ricca knew they were right of course. From watching Diamond Joe Esposito and his ridiculous jewelry and Al Capone and his banana-colored suites, Ricca was sure that low profile was the way for a gangster to go.

     On the day Al Capone was sentenced to his term in prison for income tax evasion, he was led away in chains to the Cook County jail where he was held until he could be transferred to Atlanta Federal Prison.

     Late that same afternoon, Murray Humpreys, Jake Guzak and New York crime boss Lucky Luciano visited Capone in Cook County jail. A while later two more New Yorkers showed up, Dutch Schultz in the company of Johnny Torrio.

     Capone called for the warden and told him that he needed a place where he and Torrio and Schultz could talk privately. Incredibly, Warden Moneypenny led the hoods to the soundproofed death chamber where Capone promptly sat himself in the electric chair.

     What Torrio told Capone that afternoon was that he had been double-crossed by Nitti and Ricca and the rest of the boys. What Torrio told Capone was the same thing that Gus Winkler's wife told Special Agent O.C. Dewey on May 20, 1936 in the FBI's Louisville, Kentucky office.

     "For a while Gus was working to clear Capone of the tax charges. Bartholomus said (to Paul Ricca and Frank Nitti) that he could get it fixed in Washington for $100,000, however Frank Nitti, Rocky De Grazio and Lefty Louie Campagna came to (Winkler's) apartment and told him to back off, that they wanted Capone in jail." She added that "in 1934 some of Capone's friends in the organization were trying to get him released before word went out from Paul Ricca and Frank Nitti to leave well enough alone."

     Aside from not fixing a bribe on Capone's behalf, the boys withheld other vital information from Al as well.

     Capone could have walked on the tax evasion charges up to the last minute before the jury in the case retired to make its decision. All Capone had to do was pay the money on the back taxes that he owed.

     Capone's army of lawyers had told that to the Fischetti brothers at the start of the trial but the money to pay the fine and the back taxes never arrived.

     Nitti, Ricca and the Fischettis liked being the top guys. So they talked it over and decided that it was best that Capone be convicted, never to come back to Chicago.

     It was better for the organization everyone, Ricca said, if Capone stayed in jail. He was right too. The United States Government wanted Capone in jail and the entire world was watching them put him there.

     An early release from Capone's sentence brought on by a well placed bribe in Washington would do nothing but bring back more investigators. It was nothing against Capone personally. For Ricca was genuinely fond of Capone. In 1930 Capone learned that Nicola "Culicchia" Gentile, who later turned government informer, was elected to the national Mafia commission. Capone, a non-Sicilian sent Ricca to New York to see Gentile and tell him that Capone supported Mafia Masseria in his bid to control the New York underworld. According to legend, Ricca went a step further and issued a threat from Capone, saying that Chicago was prepared to support Masseria in an all out war to control New York.

     But, as close as Ricca and Capone were, Ricca said, "Al was bad for business and it was better that he left the scene."

     The gossip in the underworld, and there is always gossip in the underworld, and it made the rounds for years, was that Ricca had authorized members of the Capone organization who worked under him, to assist the Treasury department in nailing Al Capone and members of the organization that Ricca felt were a threat or were in his way from rising to the top.

     One of the first to go down was Frank Nitti, the so-called "enforcer" of the Capone organization and the contempt that Ricca and Nitti held for each other was widely known.

     Once Capone was locked away, the mob in Chicago was able to operate, unmolested, for almost twenty years before the Kefauver committee came to town. When Nitti was released from jail on his tax rap, Ricca decided that it was best to prop up Nitti as the boss. Ricca did this despite his correct view that although Frank Nitti was an educated man, and learned from him what he could, Nitti was a hothead, more prone to act first and think later. That was a dangerous trait in a mob leader. But the newspapers wanted another leader to target in on once Capone was gone. Murray Humpreys was the center of the media's attention for a while and then Rocco Fischetti. Pretty soon they would figure out that Ricca was a power and they would come after him with their flash cameras and front page stories.

     Ricca figured that if Frank Nitti wanted to take the heat from the limelight and have the world believe that he was the boss, that was fine with Ricca and everyone else.

     Just how much of the organization Ricca was really running became clear in April of 1932 when Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky were seized by Chicago police while in company of Paul Ricca and Rocca Fischetti as they were leaving the Congress hotel, but they were released after being booked and printed since the cops had no reason to hold them.

     So, while Nitti sat on his leather throne in the Bismark Hotel throwing around orders, Paul Ricca privately called Lucky Luciano, Rocco Fischetti and Harry Ducket to Chicago for a meeting, Ricca telling Meyer Lansky, a non-Sicilian, to wait downstairs in the lobby of the Bismarck Hotel while they talked.

     The Eastern syndicate found Ricca to be responsive to their desire to connect with the otherwise isolated Chicago outfit.

     New York's boss Frank Costello was already working out deals with Ricca by 1935 while Nitti was supposed to be the boss, and he was plotting against Frank Nitti to take control by already cutting separate deals for himself.

     He became Costello's ally and they were close enough so that they were arrested together on a raid in a Blue Island gambling place. It looked like a war was brewing between Costello and Chicago over gambling rights in Broward County, Florida where New York controlled narcotics and vice in the early thirties.

     When Chicago started encroaching on that territory with their own gambling operations, New York objected. Ricca had Nitti argue that Chicago would gladly withdraw from Miami for a split of all the fees that New York was taking from Miami. The New York families refused and likewise Ricca told Nitti not to back down on his demands. It looked like war. Then Ricca, without telling Nitti what he was doing flew out New York and sat down with Costello and Lucky Luciano. Chicago, he said, would pull out of Miami if New York would agree to allow Chicago to share in some of its national unions.

     Lucky Luciano refused to give them either one, where Costello believed that by giving Chicago a small portion of the union business they would leave Miami to New York but Luciano wouldn't hear of it.

     Actually Chicago didn't care about Miami or even have an interest in it, what they wanted was the unions; Miami was just a smokescreen. In the end Ricca managed to get New York to open up some of its east coast unions and have Miami declared an open city.

     Several years later, when Chicago had the money and muscle to break that agreement, they did.

     In the late 1920s Ricca had managed the Dante movie house in Little Italy and then, later, the World Playhouse corporation on Michigan Avenue so he was considered a specialist in the movie business. Besides that, in 1960, Murray Humpreys claimed that he and Paul Ricca had grubstaked Joe Kennedy's move into the motion picture industry in the early 1920s and as a result was brought in by Frank Nitti to oversee the Bioff & Browne Hollywood shake down scandal.

     That involvement would cost Ricca a term in federal prison and his resulting early release under highly suspicious circumstances would bring him to the attention of federal investigators who would never, for the rest of Ricca's life, take him out of their sight.

     Expansionism was the call of the day under Ricca.

     In 1945, somebody, it was never established who it was, called the Chicago District director of the Immigration and Naturalization service and informed him that Paul Ricca had entered the United States illegally under the name Paul Maglio and that Ricca's true name was Felice DeLucia and that he was wanted in Italy for manslaughter.

     Almost certainly the caller was a member of the outfit, perhaps Tony Accardo or one of the Fischettis who could never stand Ricca for as long as they had known him.

     The caller told the federal agent that the real Paul Maglio was living in the United States and if they found him that they could prove that Ricca had entered the United States illegally.

     It's a big country, but the INS agents began their search. The odd twist was that the real Paul Maglio was living in Chicago, only a few miles due south from Ricca estate.

     Then in 1948, the Bureau of Narcotics opened a Rome office and sent Charles Siragusa to manage it. Siragusa took fingerprints and photographs of known hoodlums with him and asked Italian police if they recognized any of the names of faces and were they wanted for anything. Paul Ricca was positively identified as a murderer who escaped justice.

     Now the government was starting to pay attention.

     In 1954, it all came together when the real Paul Maglio, the name Ricca used to enter the United States, was located in Chicago after an anonymous caller to US Attorney Robert Ticken told him that Ricca had entered the US under another name.

     Ticken's office located Emillio's sister, Mrs. Margaret Terrible in Brooklyn and she was shown photographs of Ricca and identified him as the man who killed her brother. However, under a constant flow of death threats she changed her mind about testifying in court.

     On June 4, 1954, agents from the INS waited for Chicago factory laborer Paul Maglio to arrive from work to his modest south side home It was all high drama for Maglio who had led a predictable life for the past 34 years since he had left Italy.

     The agents took Maglio to their office in the Loop and politely questioned him for six hours. When asked if he had any proof at all that he was really Paul Maglio, he produced his United States passport. No, he said, he had never heard of Paul Ricca. The agents were skeptical.

     How could you not know who Paul Ricca is? Don't you read the newspaper?

     No, Maglio replied, he didn't read so good, and when he did read it was mostly the Itlo American newspapers.

     Had he ever heard of Felice DeLucia or Paul DeLucia?

     No, he hadn't.

     The agents combed every library and archives in Chicago to try to prove that Paul Ricca had once lived his life as Paul Maglio, and that before that he had lived his life as Felice DeLucia of Naples. They got lucky when they searched Chicago Dioceses Church records and found the 1926 church record where Ricca identified himself as Felice DeLucia of Naples.

     Next the agents found a bank account in the First National Bank of Chicago that Ricca had opened in 1932 and forgotten to close out. In 1956, the account still had $1.39 in it and according to state laws of the time, the bank was forced to keep the account active. Pulling the records, the agents discovered that Ricca had had opened the account under his real name and birthday and it carried his actual signature.

     In September of 1956, the government agents wrapped up their investigation of Ricca and handed the evidence over to Robert Tieken, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. Tieken turned the case over to a tough 27 year old ex marine on his staff named John H. Bickley Jr., who had gained a formidable reputation in his short career as an expert in deportation and denaturalization cases.

     Tieken's office took the evidence gathered by the field agents but went one step further; after contacting Police in Naples it was learned that the sister of Ricca's first murder victim, Emilio Perillo, the young suitor who had dropped Ricca's sister and was stabbed to death because of it, was alive and well and living in New York City and was willing to identify Paul Ricca in court as Felice DeLucia, the man who stabbed her brother to death.

     Federal agents dropped by Margaret Perillo's Brooklyn apartment and questioned her. Yes, she said, she would testify against Paul Ricca because she wanted revenge for her brother's death. Satisfied, the agents left and reported their finding to the Chicago office of the US Attorney's office.

     The field agents' reports were in the hands of Paul Ricca the next day. Ricca sent word to Naples. The family of Emilio and Margaret Perillo that remained in Naples were threatened and goons were sent to visit Margaret Perillo in Brooklyn as well.

     When agents returned to question Margaret Perillo a second time, the woman dropped to her knees and begged the agents not to make her testify. The agents held their ground, she would testify against Ricca or be deported. Margaret Perillo said she would consider what the agents had said.

     Then Margaret Perillo and her husband had vanished off the face of the earth never to be heard from again.

     From that moment on the government sealed its case against Paul Ricca in absolute secrecy. The government assigned a five man team to guard the real Paul Maglio 24 hours day, the agents slept in Maglio's living room, washed in his bathroom, drove him to and from work. It was better that way. Ricca was known to kill, or at least to order the deaths of anyone who threatened him in any way.

     When the government started to squeeze its net around Ricca, the hood became paranoid, he sensed informers were everywhere. Ricca's loyal driver disappeared forever.

     In 1953 Ricca ordered the murder of Anthony Ragucci, one of his sub bosses who began in the organization with Capone. Ricca figured that the old man was talking to the Federal government so he had to go. Even if he wasn't talking to the feds, every now and then you got to set an example and besides, the old man had outlived his usefulness, it was time to move young blood into the operation.

     They found Ragucci shot to death on October 1, 1953. He was face down in a sewer on 35th Street. His brother identified him by his ring with the initials "AR" since the rest of his body was ravaged by the cold.

     The government's case to deport Paul Ricca from the United States started in April 1957. The government lawyers arrived armed with over 200 documents detailing their case that Paul Ricca/Felice DeLucia was not Paul Maglio, that he was a draft dodger from the Italian army, that he was a convicted killer of one man and the convicted, in absentia, killer of another and that he was the power behind the Chicago branch of the Mafia.

     To Ricca's amazement the government called as its first wittiness "Paul Maglio...the real Paul Maglio."

     To add to the drama, prosecutor Bickley had the real Paul Maglio stand and face Paul Ricca who he also requested to stand. As the two strangers faced each other Bickley asked, "Mr. Maglio do you know this man, this man standing in front of you?"

     " I do not."

     "Mr. Maglio, have you ever seen this man before?"


     "Mr. Maglio this man standing in front of you claims to be named Paul Maglio and that he comes from the Italian village of Apricena. Do you believe this to be true Mr. Maglio?"

     "No I do not."

     "And how do you know that sir?"

     "I was the town clerk, the recorder of births in my village of Apricena, there are still only 6,000 people there. We have all lived there for many generations, since before the Romans. I personally kept track of all of the births and deaths there for many years. There is only one Maglio family there and it is my family and there is only one Paul Maglio and that is me."

     The trial ended shortly afterwards with Ricca offering no defense against the charges. He was found guilty and sentenced to four years in prison for evading payments of $99,000 in income tax for the years 1948 through 1950.

     Furthermore, the court ordered that Ricca be stripped of his American citizenship and that he be deportated to Naples where he faced a 21-year sentence for the shooting murder of Capasso.

     On July 1, 1959, Ricca entered federal prison in Terre Haute.

     In February of 1961 Ricca was ordered to be deported from the United States as soon as he was released from prison on October 1 of that year. Ricca appealed he case.

     On April 2, 1961, the United States Supreme Court denied a hearing of the Ricca case and Paul Ricca, the ultimate Godfather, was asked to choose a country where he would be like to deported to.

     Ricca's legal team, made up mostly of former government agents, replied that since he was wanted for murder in Italy that to deport him there would be "heartless" and he and his legal team sent letters to the immigration offices of 60 countries indicating what kind of undesirable Ricca was.

     Each country wrote to the United States Government saying that they would not accept a deported Ricca under any terms or conditions.

     The INS responded by ordering Ricca to appear in their Chicago office every month while they looked for a country to accept him.

     It went around and around until finally on June 20, 1965, the INS ordered Paul Ricca removed from the country as an undesirable alien. Ricca went to court with an army of lawyers to fight the ruling, and, predictably, the judge ruled that deportation was impossible since no country wanted the Godfather within their borders.

     But ten days later, under scrutiny from the FBI, Internal Revenue and the Immigration and Naturalization Office, the Judge reversed himself by saying that he had been provided information that Italy had agreed to accept Ricca.

     The hood's lawyers appealed the ruling, which stayed the deportation. On September 18, 1964, the Immigration office agreed to review the case again, and a new order for deportation was ordered which, in effect, started the whole legal procedure all over again.

     By 1965, Ricca was reduced to reporting to the INS office every three months, but at least he was still in the US.

     Ricca's citizenship was eventually revoked by a federal judge yet he managed to fight off deportation for fifteen years. He considered returning to Italy on his own, but the Italian government didn't want him back and wouldn't permit him into the country because Ricca's lawyer, Jack Wassermann, flew to Italy and filed a petition asking the Italian government to declare that Paul Ricca was not an Italian citizen.

     After that the Italian government dropped its arrest warrant for Ricca after Ricca sent them news clippings of himself and his deeds over the years as the Lord of Chicago's underworld.

     Just how powerful Ricca was inside the organization was confirmed as late as 1957 when Jimmy "The Weasel" Fratianno, a west coast based mobster, called Johnny Roselli and on the day he was released from prison.

     The two hoods had lunch at a top floor restaurant in Los Angeles on Wilshire Boulevard. During the lunch Fratianno said, "I understand Sam is the boss out there now."

     "Sam's the boss," Roselli replied, "but the man in Chicago is still Paul Ricca. Sam doesn't make any moves without consulting Paul...He's been the man in Chicago since Capone went to prison. Forget Frank (Nitti) and Joe Batters. They listen to Paul, believe me."

     When the Chicago mob took over the teamster Ricca again exercised his power by directing union boss Jimmy Hoffa to purchase Ricca's Long Beach Indiana summer house from Ricca for $150,000, even though the property was valued at only $85,000 and the teamsters never assumed ownership of the property because Ricca kept the deed.

     Later, when the purchase was brought to the attention of federal investigators, Ricca turned the deed of the property over to the Detroit Local of the teamsters, but continued to live there for decades afterwards.

     Later, when Sam Giancana came to power after Tony Accardo stepped down, Ricca acted as though he was fond of Giancana but he detested him.

     It was Ricca who ordered Sam Giancana to remove Giancana's childhood friend Marshal Caifano from his position as Chicago's outside man in Vegas and later it was Ricca who guided and nurtured the criminal career of Caifano's replacement, Nicky Spilotro.

     As a demonstration as to how much power he had, on January 12, 1964, Ricca chaired a meeting with Murray Humpreys, Tony Accardo, Obbie Frabotta and Frankie Fratto at the Jacques restaurant and agreed to replace Sam Giancana as boss.

     Ricca was reindicted again for tax evasion in 1965 after he told Federal investigators that his entire income for the year 1963 was only $80,159, and all of that came from racetrack bets.

     He testified, in court, that he placed a total of 86 bets on 37 races in which his horse always came in first.

     Incredibly, he was acquitted by a jury for insufficient evidence.

     As late as 1965, long after Ricca was said to have retired, Accardo, Momo Giancana, Battaglia and others still went every Sunday at 3:00 to Ricca's house and in 1966 an FBI informant reported that Ricca and Accardo still set policy for the Chicago outfit.

     Ricca died of natural causes, a heart attack, on October 11, 1972, and as was his wish, was buried with the full rites of the Catholic Church.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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