Monday, March 15, 2010

Where do you get your ideas?

By David Heinzmann

There’s a line in my novel, A Word To The Wise, about the state of the Outfit (the real wise guys, not our friendly little group), warning people that though the mob may seem like an anachronism in this day and age, getting in their way can still be deadly.

It’s an issue that comes up often these days, especially since the Family Secrets trial a few years ago put the top management of the Outfit behind bars. Is there still a potent mob in Chicago? Or is it at this point just a handful of old farts eating out on Taylor Street and talking about the old days.

Not long after I moved to Chicago in the mid-1990s, some friends who knew Taylor Street well told me about eating in one of the joints over there and being seated next to a “going away party.” One of the diners was headed to federal prison. They had a cake and everything, and my friends overheard one of the guys cackle, “Ah, this is just like fucking Goodfellas.”

Every once in a while we’re treated to a little news that brings the real Outfit back into focus, to suggest how organized crime works in the 21st Century. Allegedly.

At the end of last week the U.S. Attorney in Chicago filed charges against Rudy Fratto, a reputed honcho in the Outfit for rigging contracts at the McCormick Place convention center here.

The feds said that Fratto, a lieutenant in the Elmwood Park street crew, also known to some as “The Chin,” squeezed the owner of a trade show company to steer contracts to rent forklifts to a firm favored by the mob. Part of the leverage Fratto allegedly used was a debt the company owner owed to the Cleveland mob.

Fratto and his co-defendant, William “Billy D” Degironemo, have pleaded not guilty.
McCormick Place, along with Navy Pier, are a publicly owned enterprise that are managed jointly by city and state officials. The mammoth complex has long been vulnerable to the influence of organized crime in Chicago. A who’s who of Outfoot foot soldiers were on the McCormick Place payroll in the 1970s. News of mob influence at the convention center comes at a lousy time for McCormick Place, which has been losing big trade shows left and right to other cities, like Orlando and Las Vegas, which have big convention centers that charge much lower prices.

This isn’t the first time Fratto’s name has come up tangled with the alleged influence of the Outfit in government business. Back in the late 1990s, the Illinois Gaming Board planned to grant a license for a new casino in Rosemont, right next to O’Hare airport. But before the Emerald casino could be built, investigators found evidence that the Outfit was pulling the strings of the development. At the heart of that story: Rudy Fratto.

Investigators said the mayor Rosemont had meetings with Fratto and other reputed mobsters about the casino, and that organized crime had a stake in the development that had been masked by a façade of legitimate owners of record. The casino plan was scuttled.

I never covered the Emerald scandal as a reporter, but I’ll admit it gave me a couple ideas.

In A Word To The Wise Chicago officials decide to build a casino downtown on the banks of the Chicago River. But just as the developers are about the break ground, the feds get a tip that mobsters are controlling the project behind a façade of legitimate front men. As the authorities start peeling back the layers of the deal, all the mobsters scramble for cover, killing several people along the way. Like, I said, the casino case gave me an idea, but I took it from there and fully fictionalized the story.

I hope Mr. Fratto doesn’t think I owe him anything.

16 comments:

Dana King said...

The good news is, if Fratto does you think you owe him, he'll only collect the vig.

The bad news is, you'll always owe.

I followed the Family Secrets trial closely, and read Jeff Coen's excellent book. The Outfit isn't what it used to be, and never will be, we hope, but anyone who thinks it's gone is kidding themselves. So long as there's money in "victimless" crimes to bankroll other operations, the mob will be around in one form or another.

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