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Tony 'Big Tuna' Accardo turned to a life of crime in his early teens, and quickly rose to infamy as a soldier in Al Capone's Chicago Crime Syndicate.
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Shortly after his membership into Capone's group, Accardo was indicated in the 1929 St. Valentine's Day massacre. On February 14 of that year, Accardo and four other gangsters disguised themselves as policemen. Then, they allegedly raided the SMC Cartage Company garage on North Clark Street, killing six of seven rival gang members inside. The seventh died later in hospital. Although law enforcement officials could never tie Accardo to the murders, he was seen in the lobby of Capone's headquarters,
the Lexington Hotel on Michigan Avenue, with a machine gun.
Accardo was allegedly involved in other violent murders, including the brutal killing of two traitors to the Outfit that he beat to death with a baseball bat, earning him the nickname "Joe Batters." He was also tied to a hit on a former associate of Capone's named Frankie Yale, who was gunned down in Brooklyn, New York, by machine-gun fire.
In 1931, shortly after Capone was jailed for income tax evasion, Accardo was reputedly given his own gang, who helped control the Capone family's gambling operations in Florida and Chicago. That same year, Accardo made No.7 on the crime commission's Public Enemy list.
In 1943, Accardo's other close friend, Paul "the Waiter" Ricca, allegedly assumed control of the entire Capone crime family, and appointed Accardo as underboss. Watching other bosses go to jail over racketeering and extortion, Accardo encouraged Ricca to pull the organization away from these methods of income. Instead, he moved the outfit into slot and vending machines, counterfeit cigarettes, illegal wire services, and global narcotics smuggling. When Las Vegas expanded, Accardo made sure the casinos used only his slot machines and that bookmakers used his wire service to supply racing information to other bookies. His business decisions made the Chicago Syndicate millions in profits.
Accardo allegedly took over as mob chief when Ricca retired in 1968, but he would always deny it, saying that he was never involved with the mob. Federal wiretaps and other sources of intelligence, however, revealed that Accardo was deeply tied to the Chicago Syndicate.
After Accardo's retirement, IRS agents began to probe deeply into his lavish income and its potential sources. He was indicted in 1960 of tax evasion, and was subsequently convicted, sentenced to six years in prison, and fined $15,000. The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago later overturned the conviction, however, citing prejudicial media publicity that occurred during Accardo's trial.
Accardo was also a three-time target of the U.S. Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations into the mob, but the boss invoked the Fifth Amendment guarantee more than 172 times, preventing self-incrimination. At his last appearance before the committee in 1984, he denied any role in the Chicago mob. "I have no control over anybody," Accardo testified. He did acknowledge his friendships with a number of high-profile organized-crime figures in Chicago, but said he had "never been a boss."
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Bootleggers, smugglers, drug dealers, hit men—all these occupations are the provenance of mobsters, who operate in ethnic, family and business networks. Mobsters' real life crimes, and Hollywood's fascination with them, has earned them a special place in the American imagination. From Al Capone's Chicago crime ring to Bugsy Siegel's Las Vegas racket, these mobsters have made their names notorious from coast to coast.
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