Date: Wednesday, December 10, 1997

Source: John Kass.

Copyright Chicago Tribune


Some of our most cherished traditions are being abandoned. Chestnuts aren't roasting on an the open fire. Department store Santas don't need whiskey to survive greed-crazed children now that Prozac is available. The Christmas windows at Marshall Field's now look like they belong in a dime store.

But through all the chaos and culture wars, there was always one institution you could count on to uphold tradition. Our own Chicago Outfit.

An organization full of men with interesting nicknames like Jimmy "Big Nose Hairs" and Tommy "Tiny Feet" and Pete "I'll Kill You." They were the tradition holders that helped give Chicago and Cook County its special charm.

They stole political elections, dominated labor unions and created the game of "Who's that in the trunk?".

They helped the White House plan assassinations of Fidel Castro and passed at least one chippy to a U.S. president in a token of friendship.

They understood the tensile strength of meat hooks and why ice picks should be thoroughly cleaned before and after play.

They were tough.They took care of their own business. And they didn't rely on lawyers to handle their public relations.

But things change.

Now the Chicago Crime Commission, the do-good group that tracks organized crime, is under attack from several lawyers who are threatening to sue if some reported wise-guy names aren't removed from its latest mob guidebook: "New Faces of Organized Crime 1997."

The report adds some new names as either members or associates of Outfit figures. But the bosses still retain their charming monikers, including Joey "The Clown" Lombardo, Angelo "The Hook" La Pietra and the top guy, John "No Nose" DiFronzo.

Actually, DiFronzo has a nose, but it's a thin one. He got his nickname by stopping a bullet with his skinny proboscis years ago, but his nose is still there.

In a memo to Crime Commission members, commission chairman Don Mulak warns that lawyers for some of the people listed in the report are ready to go to court unless the commission changes the report. Mulak says the commission will fight any lawsuits.

Those who want their names stricken include several Laborers Union officials who are sons of mobsters.

Their union is under pressure from the federal government these days.

Also upset is Betty Loren-Maltese, who is the town president of Cicero, not a union member, under an FBI investigation and the widow of a mobster.

Now there was a time when those who had even the slightest connection with the outfit would keep news clippings in their wallets out of pride. Some would complain to reporters if their nicknames weren't tough enough.

But these are modern times.

"We have been contacted by attorneys who represent individuals named in our new report," Mulak's memo reads. " . . . They demand a retraction.

Short of a retraction, they threaten legal action on behalf of the following named individuals:

"John A. Matassa Jr, Bruno Caruso, Betty Loren-Maltese.

"We have also received inquiries from attorneys representing Joe Lombardo Jr. and Joseph Spano," Mulak writes of the other union leaders, but adds that "they have not complained." Spano and Lombardo should get some credit for not complaining.

Everyone knows it's a sin.

But that got me wondering. How far are these gentlemen and the lady prepared to go in court? Things could become embarrassing if they push it.

The Laborers Union, for example, which represents construction laborers and garbage workers, has a time-honored connection to our Outfit.

It has a great pension plan and has allowed wise guys to collect a regular paycheck and get health coverage.

It's now under pressure from the federal government and locked in an internal power struggle with its international president, which could result in the local bosses getting tossed out of the union their fathers and uncles built.

Bruno Caruso, for example, is the local Laborers Union boss. He's the son of a Bruno "Skids" Caruso. And Lombardo, son of Clown, is also a top union official. Would they want to sit through several depositions? I tried to reach them, but they wouldn't talk.

But their lawyer, Vincent Connolly did.

"You want to put a family tree up there, I'm not going to quarrel with it," Connolly said. "But I am unaware of any credible evidence that they ever countenanced or engaged in anything that would be considered organized criminal activity. We'll decide on legal action after we hear from the crime commission."

Perhaps the one with the weakest case is John "Pudge" Matassa of Park Ridge.

He's president of the Laborers Union Local 2. In a 1995 deposition before a committee investigating union ties to the mob, he lists all his friends, killed and living, and talks about where they had lunch and who they were with, including DiFronzo the boss.

"I bought a used Chrysler Fury car from him in the early 1980s," he said.

If that car had trouble starting on a cold morning, do you think he used a lawyer to complain?

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