Friends In High Places
November 3, 2001
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.