School of Hard Knocks: Reporter Gets Lesson on Mafia Myths

Article excerpt

Byline: Chuck Goudie

As the financier of two college students who are returning to school this week, I am well aware that the highest aspect of higher education may be the tuition bill.

So when an acclaimed university professor offered me a free course in Chicago mob history, it was an offer I couldn't refuse.

Ben Lawton, chairman of Italian Studies at Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind., was motivated to teach me a lesson after my recent Daily Herald column "Fourth of July means business boom for Chicago mob."

The column reported how the Chicago Outfit "gets a cut out of most illegal fireworks that are sold from car trunks and garages across metro Chicago, according to federal investigators."

Anecdotes I included about hoodlums named Scarpelli, Senese, Cagnoni, Accardo, and Gotti immediately caused Lawton's Boilermaker bile to boil over.

"Look at the names of every single criminal you mention in your column. Every one of them is Italian. Not one exception," wrote Professor Lawton in one of a series of lengthy e-mails he sent me entitled "Verogna," which means shame.

"If you had written a column on the corruption of American 'values' perpetrated by Hollywood, would you have dared to include only the names of Jewish-American producers, directors and actors? Of course not. If you had written a column about Cadillac-driving welfare mothers and their drug-dealing, pimping sons, would you have dared to include only the names of African-Americans. Not on your life," Lawton declared.

Such criticism is not new. Reporters who cover organized crime in Chicago are accustomed to fielding complaints from various Italian-American organizations following stories about the mob.

But since Lawton's students at Purdue actually pay to attend his "Mafia and the Movies" class, I figure that he must know what he is talking about.

The last time I was given a gratis lesson on Outfit operations, the teacher was convicted gambling boss Savlatore "Solly D" DeLaurentis and his classroom was inside the federal lock-up in Chicago.

DeLaurentis, who resided in northwest suburban Inverness prior to incarceration on racketeering charges a few years ago, coined the legendary term "trunk music."

Solly wasn't referring to a new kind of CD changer. He was talking about the gurgling sound that would emanate from a decaying corpse that had been temporarily interred in a car trunk. …