The Chicago Outfit (also known as the Outfit, the Chicago Mafia, the Chicago Mob, or The Organization) is an Italian-American organized crime syndicate based in Chicago, Illinois, which dates back to the 1910s. It is part of the American Mafia originating in Chicago's South Side.
The Outfit rose to power in the 1920s, under the control of Johnny Torrio and Al Capone and the period was marked by bloody gang wars for distribution of illegal alcohol during Prohibition. Since then, the Outfit has been involved in a wide range of criminal activities, including loansharking, gambling, prostitution, extortion, political corruption, and murder. Following Capone's conviction for income tax evasion (in 1931), the Outfit was run by Paul Ricca and Tony Accardo for more than 50 years. Accardo took over as boss sometime in the 1940s and was one of the longest sitting bosses of all time right up until his death in the early 1990s.
The Outfit did not have a monopoly on organized crime in Chicago, but they were by far the most powerful, violent and largest criminal organization in the Midwest. The Outfit's influence, at its peak, stretched as far away as California and Florida. Higher law enforcement attention and general attrition led to the Outfit's gradual decline since the late 20th century. As of 1997, the Chicago Outfit was believed to be led by John DiFronzo.
The early years of organized crime in Chicago, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, were marked by the division of various street gangs controlling the South Side and North Side, as well as the Black Hand organizations of Little Italy.
Big Jim Colosimo centralized control in the early 20th century. Colosimo was born in Calabria, Italy, in 1877, emigrating to Chicago in 1895 where he established himself as a criminal. By 1909, he was successful enough that he was encroaching on the criminal activity of the Black Hand organization.
His expanding organization required the procurement of extra muscle. This came in the form of Colosimo's nephew Johnny Torrio from New York. In 1919, Torrio brought in Al Capone, thus providing Capone's entrance to Chicago. In time, Colosimo and Torrio had a falling out over Torrio's insistence that they expand into rum-running, which Colosimo staunchly opposed. In 1920, Colosimo was killed on Torrio's order. Torrio reportedly brought in New York colleague Frankie Yale to murder Colosimo. Al Capone has also been suspected as Colosimo's assassin.
Torrio brought together different parts of Chicago criminal activity, with a lasting effect on Chicago in general, and Chicago crime in particular.
During the Prohibition era, Al Capone saw an opportunity for himself and the Outfit in Chicago to make money and to further expand their criminal empire by racketeering small businesses. With Capone taking the role of an actual businessman and partner of the owner, the Outfit had a legitimate way to source their money, which prevented incrimination and unnecessary attention from law enforcement.
During the Prohibition era, Johnny Torrio competed with other gangsters in Chicago for the bootlegging business. Despite this, Torrio was able to reach a truce with Dean O'Banion, the leader of the Irish North Side Gang. The Chicago Outfit operated in South Chicago while Dean O'Banion operated out of the North Side. Torrio also had allied with the Sicilian Genna crime family that operated out of Little Italy in the city's center. The truce with the North Side fell apart and, on 10 November 1924, Dean O'Banion was killed by Frankie Yale and two Genna gunmen. Hymie Weiss took over the North Side Gang and, on 24 January 1925, Torrio was severely wounded in an assassination attempt. He recovered in the hospital, served a one-year jail sentence, and then handed off control to Capone and retired. In 1926, Capone had Hymie Weiss killed. Capone's accession led to a bloody war for control of the bootlegging rackets in Chicago during the 1920s. This culminated in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. The war was widely covered by the press and turned Capone into a national figure.
Capone and his men were raking in vast amounts of money, largely immune to prosecution because of witness intimidation and the bribing of city officials. They also paid off numerous police officers to avoid arresting his men. By the end of his reign, Capone had successfully expanded the Chicago Outfit throughout metro Chicago. One of the prime areas of interest was in Canada, the main source of alcohol which the Outfit was smuggling into the States. This illicit alcohol was then distributed to all the brothels of Chicago. During Prohibition, this was one of the greatest sources of income for the Outfit. The boss controlled the heads of various divisions of the Outfit through a system of subordinates placed throughout the various levels of the organization. Anyone who betrayed the honor of the organization was killed. Unable to convict Capone of any meaningful criminal activity, Treasury agents had him arrested for tax evasion and he was sentenced to 11 years in prison in 1931.
Capone's hand-picked successor Frank Nitti nominally assumed power. In truth, power was seized by Nitti's underboss Paul Ricca, who was acknowledged as "boss" by the leaders of the growing National Crime Syndicate. Ricca ruled the Outfit, either in name or in fact, for the next 40 years.
Over the next decade, The Outfit moved into labor racketeering, gambling, and loan sharking. Geographically, this was the period when Outfit muscle extended to Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin, Kansas City, and especially to Hollywood and other California cities, where The Outfit's extortion of labor unions gave it leverage over the motion picture industry.
In the early 1940s, a handful of top Outfit leaders went to prison because they were found to be extorting Hollywood by controlling the unions that compose Hollywood's movie industry, and manipulating and misusing the Teamsters Central States Pension fund. In 1943, the Outfit was caught red-handed shaking down the Hollywood movie industry. Ricca wanted Nitti to take the fall. However, Nitti had found that he was claustrophobic, years earlier while in jail for 18 months (for tax evasion), and he decided to end his life rather than face more imprisonment for extorting Hollywood. Ricca then became the boss in name as well as in fact, with enforcement chief Tony Accardo as underboss—the start of a partnership that lasted for almost 30 years. Around this time, the Outfit began bringing in members of the Forty-Two Gang, a notoriously violent youth gang. Among them were Sam "Momo" Giancana, Sam "Mad Sam" DeStefano, Felix "Milwaukee Phil" Alderisio, and Fiore "Fifi" Buccieri.
Ricca was sent to prison later in 1943 for his part in The Outfit plot to control Hollywood. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, along with a number of other mobsters. Through the "magic" of political connections, the whole group of Outfit mobsters was released after three years, largely due to the efforts of Outfit "fixer" Murray "The Camel" Humphreys. Ricca could not associate with mobsters as a condition of his parole. Accardo nominally took power as boss, but actually shared power with Ricca, who continued behind the scenes as a senior consultant—one of the few instances of shared power in organized crime.
Accardo joined Ricca in semi-retirement in 1957 due to some "heat" that he was getting from the IRS. From then on, Ricca and Accardo allowed several others to nominally serve as boss, such as Giancana, Alderisio, Joey Aiuppa, William "Willie Potatoes" Daddano, and Jackie "the Lackey" Cerone. Most of the front bosses originated from the Forty-Two Gang. However, no major business transactions took place without Ricca and Accardo's knowledge and approval, and certainly no "hits." By staying behind the scenes, Ricca and Accardo lasted far longer than Capone. Ricca died in 1972, leaving Accardo as the sole power behind the scenes.
Along with the voting allegations, the Outfit was involved in a Central Intelligence Agency–Mafia collusion during Castro's overthrow of the Cuban government. In exchange for its help, the Outfit was to be given access to its former casinos if it helped overthrow Fidel Castro in Operation Mongoose or Operation Family Jewels. The Outfit failed in that endeavor and faced increasing indictments under the administration of President John F. Kennedy (JFK). The Outfit is the subject of some theories regarding the JFK assassination and that of JFK's brother Robert Kennedy.
The Outfit reached the height of its power in the early 1960s. Accardo used the Teamsters pension fund, with the aid of Meyer Lansky, Sidney Korshak, and Jimmy Hoffa, to engage in massive money laundering through the Outfit's casinos. The 1970s and 1980s were a hard time for the Outfit, as law enforcement continued to penetrate the organization, spurred by poll-watching politicians. Off-track betting reduced bookmaking profits, and illicit casinos withered under competition from legitimate casinos. Activities such as auto theft and professional sports betting did not replace the lost profits.
The Outfit controlled casinos in Las Vegas and "skimmed" millions of dollars over the course of several decades. Most recently, top mob figures have been found guilty of crimes dating back to as early as the mid-1960s. It has been rumored that the $2 million skimmed from the casinos in the Court case of 1986 was used to build the Old Neighborhood Italian American Club, the founder of which was Angelo J. "The Hook" LaPietra.
Allen Dorfman, a key figure in the Outfit's money embezzlement operations, was investigated by the Department of Justice. In 1982, the FBI wire-tapped Dorfman's personal and company phone lines and was able to gather the evidence needed to convict Dorfman and several of his associates on attempts to bribe a state senator to get rid of the trucking industry rates. If Dorfman succeeded, the Outfit would have seen a huge gain of profit. This was known as Operation Pendorf and was a huge blow to the Chicago crime syndicate.
Operation GAMBAT (GAMBling ATtorney) proved to be a crippling blow to the Outfit's tight grip on the Chicago political machine. Pat Marcy, a made man in the Outfit, ran the city's First Ward, which represented most of downtown Chicago. Marcy and company controlled the circuit courts from the 1950s until the late 1980s with the help of Alderman Fred Roti and Democratic Committeeman John D'Arco, Sr. Together, the First Ward fixed cases involving everything from minor traffic violations to murder.
Attorney and First Ward associate Robert Cooley was one of the lawyers who represented many mafiosi and associates in which cases were fixed. As a trusted man within the First Ward, Cooley was asked to "take out" a city police officer. Cooley was also an addicted gambler and in debt, so he approached the U.S. Justice Department's Organized Crime Strike Force, declaring that he wanted to "destroy Marcy and the First Ward".
Cooley was soon in touch with the FBI and began cooperating as a federal informant. Through the years, he maintained close ties to Marcy and the big shots of the First Ward. He wore an electronic surveillance device, recording valuable conversations at the notorious "First Ward Table", located at "Counselor's Row" across the street from Chicago City Hall. The results in Operation Gambat (Gambling Attorney) were convictions of 24 corrupt judges, lawyers, and cops.
Accardo died in 1992. In a measure of how successfully he had managed to stay out of the limelight, he never spent a day in jail (or only spent one day, depending on the source) despite an arrest record dating to 1922. Chicago's transition from Accardo to the next generation of Outfit bosses has been more of an administrative change than a power struggle, distinct from the way that organized crime leadership transitions take place in New York City.
Higher law enforcement investigations and general attrition led to the Outfit's gradual decline since the late 20th century. The Old Neighborhood Italian American Club is considered to be the hangout of Old Timers as they live out their golden years. The Club's founder was Angelo J. LaPietra "The Hook", who was the main Council at the time of his death in 1999.
On 25 April 2005, the U.S. Department of Justice launched Operation Family Secrets, which indicted 14 Outfit members and associates under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). U.S. District Court Judge James Zagel presided over the Family Secrets trial. The federal prosecutors were Mitchell A. Mars, T. Markus Funk, and John Scully.
Jim Distler (aka Jimmy Gambino) released from federal prison July 2015. Convicted of money laundering and racketeering and bank fraud. Distler (Gambino) is an associate of the Chicago outfit crime syndicate and also has ties to the Russian mafia.
|Tenure||Boss||Fate||Mayor of Chicago|
|Giacomo "Big Jim" Colosimo||Murdered in 1920||Fred A. Busse|
|Carter Harrison Jr.|
|William H. Thompson|
|Johnny "Papa Johnny" Torrio||Stepped down in 1925.|
|William E. Dever|
|Al "Scarface" Capone||Imprisoned in 1931,
deceased in 1947.
|William H. Thompson|
The street boss was a high-ranking member appointed to run the daily activities for the boss. The position was created to protect the boss by federal investigations.
|Name||Rank and year|
|William Morris Bioff||associate (1943)|
|Louis Bombacino||soldier (1967)|
|Richard Cain||soldier (1971)|
|Ken Eto||associate (1983)|
|Robert Cooley||associate (1986)|
|Gerald Scarpelli||soldier (1988)|
|William Jahoda||associate (1989)|
|Leonard Patrick||associate (1992)|
|Nicholas Calabrese||soldier (2005)|
The Outfit is notable for having had other ethnic groups besides Italians as high-ranking associates since the family's earliest days. A prime example of this was Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik, who was the top "bagman" and "accountant" for decades until his death. He was a Polish Jew. Others were Murray Humphreys, who was of Welsh descent, and Ken Eto (aka Tokyo Joe), who was Japanese-American.
Another well-known associate of the Outfit is Jewish New York mobster Benjamin Siegel. Siegel was a childhood friend of Capone. Siegel's organization in Las Vegas and Los Angeles was an ally of the Outfit from 1933 to 1961, when the family boss, Mickey Cohen, was imprisoned and the family was decimated.
The Chicago Outfit has a long history of portrayal in Hollywood as the subject of film and television.