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My Life of Crime in the Chicago Police Department
By Fred Pascente, Sam Reaves
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2015 Fred Pascente and Sam Reaves
All rights reserved.
THERE YOU GO
The calls came at three in the morning sometimes, the bleating of the phone tearing Fred Pascente out of a deep sleep. Those were the hard ones, the ones that got him out of his bed in a bungalow on a quiet street in Melrose Park, Illinois, a blue-collar town on the western fringe of Chicago. The hardest were the ones that took him out into the dead of a bitter winter night, a harsh wind in his face and hundreds of miles ahead of him.
Other times the calls interrupted dinner or deep-sixed plans for an evening on the town with May, his wife. They took him away from family celebrations and card games; they cut short shopping trips and movie outings. When the calls came it was drop-everything time, and the cell phone was always on.
When the calls came, it meant somebody somewhere needed something and needed it now. Fred Pascente climbed into his well-traveled Chevy Silverado and drove. Sometimes the first stop was O'Hare or Midway to meet a flight; he had Homeland Security clearance for access to secure parts of both airports. Often it was a hospital: Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, just down the road from his house, or one of the cluster of institutions in the Illinois Medical District, a massive hospital complex on Chicago's Near West Side that looms over the old Italian neighborhood on Taylor Street.
Occasionally there was time to grab a cup of coffee or a sandwich; often there was no time to do anything but jump on the expressway and get there, fast. And sometimes it was hurry up and wait, stand around and banter with the security guard while a team of doctors packed up something that would save a patient's life in Minneapolis or St. Louis.
The security guards liked him. Fred was good at the banter, the jokes and the jibes and the bullshit — he'd been doing it all his life. Fred Pascente still moved like the athlete he'd been in his youth, a big man and still robust, curly black hair gone mostly gray and face filled out, carrying the weight from a lifetime of good Italian cooking but carrying it well. He liked to laugh and to make other people laugh; make him wait by the door with the security guard and in two minutes he'd make a new friend.
Fred Pascente was an independent hauler of emergency freight. Working mainly for a courier company based in Rosemont, Illinois, hard by O'Hare, he was on call from nine at night to six in the morning, six or sometimes seven days a week, to deliver medicines, freshly harvested organs, whatever needed to get from Chicago to somewhere else, usually in the Midwest but sometimes as far away as New Jersey. He delivered vital parts to a Lear jet stranded on the tarmac in Cincinnati and isotopes for surgery to a hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
He got paid per job plus mileage and expenses; he made a good check. He needed it. At seventy-two Fred Pascente was still a 1099er, hustling to make the nut. His kids were grown, but there was a wife to support, a mortgage to pay, and repairs to make, grandkids to buy presents for, friends to buy drinks for. And there was no pension and never would be.
The pension was supposed to come after a twenty-six-year career as a Chicago police officer, but it went up in smoke when a pension board ruled that a man who did the things Fred did doesn't deserve to retire on the taxpayer dime. If you asked Fred what those things were, he'd tell you. Fred wouldn't give you excuses. What he did, he did, and that's why he was out there on the road at seventy-two years old instead of in a beachside condo in Florida or a house on the edge of a golf course in Vegas.
Las Vegas was another thing that had gone up in smoke; Fred spent a lot of time in Vegas over the years, but that was all over. The people that run Nevada have certain standards to maintain, and some years ago they were persuaded that Fred Pascente failed to meet them. Nevada officials keep something called the Black Book. You won't find a copy at the library, but you can see it online. Its official name is the Excluded Person List of the Nevada State Gaming Control Board, and you can find it on the GCB's website. If you went to the Excluded Persons page and scrolled down a few rows, you'd see Fred Pascente's photo there. This is the list of people who are banned for life from entering any casino in the State of Nevada. They would commit a felony by doing so, and a casino that fails to report the presence of a listed individual on its premises will be sanctioned.
Out of all the wiseguys, card counters, and slot cheats in the country, the Black Book currently lists just over thirty people, making it a very exclusive club — more exclusive than the United States Senate, as Fred liked to point out. Past honorees, now deceased, include names a lot better known than Fred's: Giancana, Caifano, Spilotro. Pride isn't exactly the word for what Fred felt about his listing, but in the circles he moved in for much of his life, it was a mark of distinction.
It wasn't the only one in Fred's life. There were also the police department commendations: for breaking up a rape in progress or nabbing a prolific North Side burglar. There was the write-up in Gay Life magazine for collaring a predator who had been drugging androbbing gay men in Chicago and other cities across the country. Those awards tend to complicate a person's attitude toward Fred Pascente just a little. We like to think that the line is sharp and clear between good guys and bad guys, white hats and black hats, cops and crooks. Fred's career says otherwise.
"He's a scumbag," said a veteran Chicago law enforcement figure, a longtime organized crime foe with no sympathy for wiseguys. "He's a nice guy," said another retired copper, equally straight but perhaps a little more willing to separate professional from personal criteria. Comments posted on Second City Cop, a blog on Chicago police affairs, were split: "Fred was a good detective with a dogged determination to lock up bad guys," read one comment. Another responded: "If we looked at those arrest reports of yore I'm sure the bad guys were just fellow hoods taking away business from the guys Freddie was looking out for." Ambivalence reigned in Fred's career: in the game of cops and robbers he was both a cop and a robber.
The ambivalence is a crucial part of Fred's story. From its earliest days, Chicago was the kind of town where you couldn't always tell the cops from the crooks. If people can't quite make up their minds about Fred Pascente, it's because Chicago couldn't ever quite make up its mind about the mob.
Fred Pascente's story tracks the waning years of the greatest criminal empire in American history. Fred had a role in that empire, and if it wasn't a starring role it was an instructive one. Not everybody in the mob can be a boss, and not everybody needs to be a killer. The business of organized crime, like any other, requires role players and specialists and guys who are willing to put in the hours. You could say Fred was a specialist. One thing the mob can always use is a discreet copper or two.
But Fred's story tracks more than developments in criminology and sociology. It's a story about good and bad people and the good and bad choices one person can make. It's a tale of moral failure, bad judgment, callousness, and greed. But there's also loyalty, generosity, and frequent outbreaks of goodwill. Fred's ethical system had holes in it you could drive a truckload of stolen whiskey through, but if you didn't hit the hole, you'd have a fight on your hands. It's easy to disapprove of Fred, but it's hard not to like him. Getting to know Fred Pascente means learning that people are complicated, even if the Ten Commandments are simple.
If passing judgment on Fred Pascente is easy, understanding him is a little tougher. To make a start, you could do worse than just listen to him as he rolls across the vast flat heartland, lights passing in the dark, talking about things that happened a long time ago in a very different Chicago.
* * *
The Feast of St. Rocco was big. It was a weeklong festival. St. Rocco's statue would come around through the streets, and your dad would pick you up and you'd put money on it. The band would come around — they were always out of tune, but they would be marching. We loved it.
The feast was a moneymaker for the church. The people that wanted to put up concession stands had to pay, so much to the priest. The guy who put the roast beef sandwiches together, he had to pay. The pizza guy, the hot dogs, the stand to play cards or toss rings, the rides that come from the carnival, they had to pay. And they couldn't overcharge. The priest would tell them, "This is what you charge these people."
Father Broccolo was a greaseball. When I say greaseball, that's not to be offensive — it just means he was from the Old Country. He was a handsome man, with a full head of black hair. He was a nicely built guy. He would sing at parties, and he thought he was Dean Martin, and who knows if he didn't try to hit on any of the women. Everyone loved him.
The priest would organize grease pole races. Louie DeMarco and his son were carpenters and handymen. They took two wooden poles and sanded them till they were almost white. And then they would set them up on an incline and grease them. And we would race to see who could climb up the poles the fastest.
Everybody that served a Mass, the altar boys, they were in the races if they wanted to be. But if you were flunking a grade, you were out. You had to have high marks in school to do this. Me and my friend Sammy Gambino would win most of the races. Sammy would race this guy, I'd race that guy; we'd do five races, and then they'd switch. We'd finish covered in grease. The clothes we threw away. I couldn't get that smell off for months. My mother would scrub, but it got in there.
My uncle Sam gave me the trick. He says, "I'll give you the shoes. They're gonna be too big, but we'll put paper in there, we'll make 'em fit." He had these shoes that were pointed. You could kill a cockroach in the corner. And those would stick, grab hold. "And your nails. From now, you don't trim your nails."
Guys would bet on the races. "All right, who do you want? I'll take that skinny guy." This was among the guys who wanted to bet — the church didn't sanction it. And if you wanted to get into the betting circle, they had to know you. But they bet. Twenty, fifty, a hundred bucks on this guy.
Father Broccolo promised all the racers that after the feast broke up he would give us all five dollars each and a spaghetti dinner. So after the feast broke up we went and asked him for the money. He says, with that greaseball accent, "Now, boys. You boys did a good job for the parish, for the church. And this izza sad, but I gotta tell you, I can't-a give you the five dollars."
And I'm dying. I'm waiting for this five dollars.
"But we'll make it up next year."
Well, next year I ain't gonna be in this. And where are you gonna make it up?
"We gonna have the spaghetti and the sausage and the meatball dinner, it'll be nice fun, but we have many poor people ..."
Who the hell is poorer than us?
"Oh, please-a forgive ... I love you boys."
Love you boys? What about the five dollars?
To me, he was a con man. He stiffed us. We're talking about maybe a hundred bucks. What's that to him? He made a lot of money. You don't stiff the kids. Stiff anybody, but don't stiff the kids. I was bitter.
So then we're going around, complaining, making noise, and who comes over but Johnny Bananas. This was John DeBiase, my grandmother's cousin. He was the boss of our neighborhood. He gave them all their jobs, the Outfit guys. They all worked for him.
Bananas comes over, he says, "What's wrong with you guys?"
I says, "That m —"
"Don't talk that way about the priest. What's wrong with you?"
"He didn't give us the money he promised."
"How much money?"
"Five dollars, each guy."
"Leave the priest alone. I'll take care of you guys." So he gets Bosco. Bosco was his heavy guy, his runner. He says, "Bosco." He takes three fifties, he says, "Go getta this changed, all five-dollar bills." Gave him three fifties. I'll never forget it. He took care of it.
And the priest was embarrassed. But he should have given it to us. And who gives it to us? These criminals gave us the money. And there you go.CHAPTER 2
In 1830 Chicago was a muddy nowhere of a frontier outpost in a swamp on the shore of a vast lake. At a time when the river towns of Cincinnati and St. Louis were thriving metropolises, Chicago had a population of about three hundred rogues and villains, not counting a few demoralized Indians.
The railroads changed all that. A scant thirty years later, the time it takes a man to lose his illusions and gain a paunch, Chicago hosted the convention that chose Abraham Lincoln as the Republican candidate for president. By that time it had metastasized into a city of about a hundred thousand. The rogues and villains had been joined by the land speculators and their hangers-on in one of the greatest boomtown explosions in history.
A city growing at that rate does not grow rationally or under any kind of administrative order. Things get done in a haphazard and ad hoc way, with many palms greased and no corner left uncut. The rogues and villains tend to rise to the top. And boomtowns are thriving markets for vice: Chicago's saloons, gambling dens, and brothels were legendary.
Next came the Civil War, with the usual economic benefits for a city fortunate enough to lie far from the battlefields. Chicago prospered from the carnage. A few years later an apocalyptic fire wiped out the heart of the city, providing a clean slate for infrastructure upgrades and the biggest building boom yet. The political infrastructure for the necessary sweetheart deals and breakneck speculation was already in place.
As the nation lurched toward big-power status, Chicago's gravitational pull on fortune seekers, refugees, and cheap labor increased. Immigrants fleeing the feudal society of southern Italy, with its patron-client relations, tight kinship bonds, and mistrust of remote authority, found Chicago's political culture oddly familiar. The ward heeler with his favors to dispense was somebody they had seen before.
The Italians settled in the "river wards" on the fringes of the central city, replacing the Irish, Germans, and Swedes who were moving up the economic ladder. On Taylor Street and Grand Avenue on the Near West Side and along Twenty-Sixth Street to the south, they created something approximating the village culture they had left behind: insular, closely knit neighborhoods held together by family ties and a common origin. Those neighborhoods came to be known collectively as "the Patch," shorthand for the tough Italian districts where the writ of law did not always run.
The rule of law was never strong in Chicago, and the Italians had little experience of it in their past. They adapted to their surroundings and began, like all immigrant communities, to assimilate. Poor, Catholic, and clannish, they were not encouraged in the process. A minority of them inevitably prospered in the less legitimate sectors of the economy. By the time Prohibition made an outlaw of anybody from a wine-drinking culture and exponentially multiplied the returns on ruthlessness, the elements were in place for the establishment of the most enduring and politically best-connected crime syndicate in American history.
In Chicago they call it the Outfit.
* * *
I was born to Rocco and Edna Pascente in 1942. My mom and dad were born here, but their parents were born in the Old Country. They were from a region called Basilicata, which is south of Naples. It's a mountain region near the Gulf of Salerno.
There were lots of Italians in Chicago at that time. Each neighborhood had its own parish. There was St. Callistus, there was Mother Cabrini, all Italian. Ours was the Most Precious Blood, on Congress Parkway where the expressway is now, and Western Avenue. We all went to Catholic schools. Immigrants were still coming. In our neighborhood, the Gismondos were from the Old Country. They were nice kids — we used to play with them. The brothers were Alfio, Italo, Mario ... and Pete. We always used to say, "Pete, how did you get in this family?"
Excerpted from Mob Cop by Fred Pascente, Sam Reaves. Copyright © 2015 Fred Pascente and Sam Reaves. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
1 There You Go 1
2 Paradise 8
3 Trouble in Paradise 21
4 The Machine 28
5 Grand Avenue 33
6 The Badlands 41
7 Tough Guys 49
8 Connected 59
9 Rush Street Nights 70
10 You're in the Army Now 79
11 Family Feuds 90
12 This Is a Policeman? 99
13 Street Smarts 107
14 Fun and Games 113
15 Bad Company 119
16 Card Games 127
17 Criminal Justice 140
18 Thunderbolt 149
19 Shakespeare 160
20 Working Both Sides 170
21 Gamblers 178
22 Occupational Hazards 188
23 Right-Hand Man 195
24 The Bank Dick 203
25 Detective Pascente 209
26 Found Money 217
27 The Chief 223
28 Family Guy 232
29 Rats 239
30 Internal Affairs 250
31 Dorfman 255
32 Politics 260
33 The Sun Sets in the West 264
34 Crime Story 270
35 Gone 276
36 Gypsies 281
37 Crazy Horse 285
38 Trouble 293
39 Demise 300
40 An Oxford Man 305
41 The End 313