Q&A with Organized Crime in Chicago author Robert M. Lombardo

Robert M. Lombardo is an associate professor of criminal justice at Loyola University Chicago and a former Chicago Police officer. He answered our questions about his new book Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond the Mafia.

Q: What is your definition of organized crime?

Lombardo: I use the term organized crime to define the political corruption that afforded protection to gambling, prostitution, and other vice activity in large American cities from the second half of the nineteenth century until the end of the twentieth century.

Q: Conventional wisdom traces the roots of organized crime in large U.S. urban centers to the Sicilian mafia. What’s wrong with this paradigm?

Lombardo: Tracing organized crime to the South of Italy ignores the historical record. Organized crime in Chicago existed before Italian immigration, and it existed in Chicago’s black community independent of Italian participation for a period of almost 50 years. Additionally, much of the information upon which this “importation” model is based comes from popular, non academic sources.

Q: When did reports of organized crime first surface in Chicago?

Lombardo: In 1873 Michael Cassius McDonald organized Chicago’s saloon and gambling interests into “Mike McDonald’s Democrats,” and elected their own candidate, Harvey Colvin, Mayor of Chicago. With Colvin in office, McDonald organized the first criminal syndicate in Chicago composed of both gamblers and compliant politicians.

Cover for lichtman: Organized Crime in Chicago: Beyond the Mafia. Click for larger imageQ: Al Capone is synonymous with “Chicago mafia.” Are there more influential figures about which the general public is unaware?

Lombardo: Mike McDonald for sure, but also Chicago Mayor Ed Kelly. Kelly “franchised” all vice activity in Chicago to the Capone Syndicate during the 1940s.

Q: Do related crime syndicates still operate in Chicago today?

Lombardo: There may be some bookmakers and old-time gangsters still around, but traditional organized crime in Chicago is largely a thing of the past. The Chicago Outfit as the progeny of the old Capone Syndicate is almost dead. They have been destroyed by law-enforcement efforts.

Q: What was the most interesting thing that you learned while researching the book?

Lombardo: What I found most interesting was the untold story of Lt. Joe Morris and the Chicago Police Scotland Yard detail under Mayor Kennelly. Had they not been disbanded by Richard J. Daley, they would have drove the Chicago Outfit out of town.

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