Friday, August 9, 2002
Judge Who Silenced Mob-Bashing Commentator Had Mob Connections
By ROGER M. GRACE
In retrospect, it appears that Tom Duggan, a colorful and controversial talk show host and commentator in Los Angeles in the 1950s and ’60s, had been chased out of Chicago, where he was exposing corruption, by a judge who was himself linked with underworld figures.
As I discussed yesterday, Duggan was found in indirect criminal contempt by Cook County Judge Daniel A. Covelli after Duggan had commented on the air on a divorce case pending before the judge. Duggan’s name cropped up during the trial when a private detective testified that the wife, Shirley Champagne, had twice been in Duggan’s apartment in the wee hours of the morning.
Aside from denying allegations that he had engaged in sexual relations with the defendant-wife, Duggan told viewers that husband Carl Champagne was a member of a family “with court-admitted hoodlum connections” and that his father, Dr. Carl Champagne, was ‘a known associate of hoodlums.” He asserted that Tony Champagne, an uncle of the plaintiff-husband, had offered to keep Duggan’s name out of the proceeding if he would “lay off” the mob in his commentaries.
In the contempt proceeding, the judge barred evidence that Dr. Carl Champagne’s cohorts were, in fact, gangsters, and also excluded evidence of the purported offer from Tony Champagne. He nonetheless found Duggan in contempt of court on the ground that his allegations were false and because the commentaries could, he speculated, affect the proceedings by engendering “in the minds of witnesses fear and apprehension of being held to public scorn and ridicule.”
Now, nearly 50 years after Covelli sentenced Duggan to 10 days in jail, it is possible, through use of a search engine, to gather old facts newly launched into cyberspace and to correlate them; it is feasible to put together far-strewn pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and bring into focus a picture long obscured.
Cook County, Ill., through the decades, has been marked by corruption. There were aldermen who were corrupt, police who were corrupt, and indeed judges who were corrupt.
Otto Kerner, who served as a Cook County judge from 1954-60, then as governor of Illinois (1961-68) and as a judge of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, wound up serving time in federal prison for accepting bribes while governor.
In the 1980s, a spate of judges, attorneys and court attaches were convicted of a variety of crimes uncovered in the federally conducted Operation Greylord. If you want to get a feel for what went on in the Cook County courts, take a look at the opinion in U.S. v. Murphy (1985) 768 F.2d 1518. A criminal defense lawyer, to win, had to provide cash in an envelope for the judge—and also had to pay the bailiff to give the envelope to judge, the opinion reveals.
In this context, my hypothesis that a particular Cook County judge may have been linked to the criminal element should not be startling.
The facts strongly suggest that Duggan was not only the victim of an action that was unconstitutional (yesterday’s topic), but one motivated by a conscious desire on the part of a judge to cater to the wishes of organized crime.
A May 31, 1973 article on page 2 of the Chicago Daily News was headed, “Two judges wrote letters to aid convict.” The story said that Covelli and a fellow Cook County trial judge “both admitted sending letters to U.S. District Judge Murray Gurfein in New York in behalf of Allen M. Dorfman, a protégé of former Teamster boss Jimmy Hoffa.” Pending before Gurfein was a motion to reduce the sentence of Dorfman, convicted of taking a $55,000 kickback for arranging a $1.5 million loan from the Teamsters to a South Carolina firm.
Use by Covelli of the prestige of his office for the purpose of trying to affect a sentence in a faraway court was, to say the least, a breach of ethics. But there’s more.
Although he attested in his letter to Dorfman’s good character, Covelli admitted to the Daily News that he had only met the defendant two or three times. He noted, however, that he had known Dorfman’s late father (actually step-father), Paul Dorfman, for 50 years.
That was a damning admission by the judge. Paul Dorfman was a known mobster. The San Francisco Chronicle, in an article on Nov. 18, 1996, described him as “a leading figure in the Chicago mob” who “ran the Waste Handlers Union in Chicago in 1939 with Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald’s future killer.”
Allen Dorfman, for whose character Covelli vouched, also was viewed as an established mob figure. At the time Covelli wrote a letter of reference for him, Dorfman, then 50, had been around for many moons, and his link to the mob was well known. According to a 1997 article in the Peoria (Ill.) Journal Star, he was believed by federal authorities to have “steered millions of Teamsters pension money to organized crime ventures in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s.”
Victor Riesel, in his syndicated column appearing in the MetNews on Jan. 24, 1983, reflected on the gang-style slaying of Dorfman four days earlier. Riesel said the government regarded Dorfman as being linked with the “Kansas City mob” in controlling a certain “kickback racket.” The step-father (that is, Covelli’s longtime chum), he noted, was “a reputed gangster” who knew political leaders and was “literally bowed to by men who didn’t defer to top Washington politicos.”
The Illinois Police & Sheriff’s News, on its website, says that Allen Dorfman “fronted for mob interests while controlling the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund.” It adds: “Dorfman’s father was Paul ‘Red’ Dorfman, the guy who brought Jimmy Hoffa to the attention of Murray ‘The Camel’ Humphreys, winning Chicago mob support for Hoffa’s rise as Teamsters Boss, when Hoffa was but a Detroit Teamsters upstart.”
That website also terms Covelli “a protege of Chicago’s First Ward mobster Pat Marcy.” That assertion is based on deduction, not proof.
I talked with Jim McGough, director of the group that runs the website, who explained that without Marcy’s nod, a judicial candidate coming out of the First Ward simply did not get on the Democratic slate. “If you’re not slated on the Democratic ticket,” he said, “you don’t win.” McGough noted that for years, it was denied that there was any tie between Marcy, who was the Democratic ward chairman, and the mob, though the underworld connection, he said, was eventually confirmed by the FBI.
Marcy—whose political influence, of a shady variety, reportedly stretched back to the 1940s—was indicted in 1990 in connection with the alleged fixing of two murder trials, selling a judgeship, and numerous other acts of corruption. He was too ill to stand trial, and died in 1993. Evidence included recordings of phone conversations in which Marcy instructed judges on how to rule on cases.
“Organized crime doesn’t put a judge on the bench unless they know they can control him,” McGough remarked.
Eventually, it would seem, Covelli could not be controlled, at least by Mayor Richard Daley, whose dictate on the outcome of a case was defied by the judge, according to a column by Mark Samuels in the Southern Illinoisan. As a result, the columnist said, Covelli was to be denied a place on the 1976 Democratic slate (and resigned).
But he apparently had been in favor with those who controlled Cook County’s crooked politics since his 1951 entry into the judiciary.
Steven Centner, son of a former police chief in Illinois, sets forth on his website:
“First Ward means mafia. More than a handful of judges in Cook County held their positions because they were ‘Pat’s guys,’ put on the bench by Pat after getting the go-ahead from Sam Giancana or other top mob bosses. Pat Marcy had judges, politicians, cops and labor leaders who were ‘on the pad’ of the Chicago Outfit.”
The Chicago Tribune on Aug. 27, 2001, alluded to “1st Ward fixer and judge maker Pat Marcy.” Its columnist Mike Royko, the following day, termed Marcy “the city’s premier Mafia fixer.”
Royko said in that column:
“Think about it. Someone goes to college, then law school, gets credentials as a lawyer and takes an oath as a judge to uphold the law. A judge. A respected figure in our society.
“Then one day that judge is somehow persuaded by a well-tailored old thug like Pat Marcy to sell his soul. That’s not Hollywood, it’s Chicago.”
John J. Flood, who was in charge of detectives in northern Cook County in the latter part of the 1960s and early 1970s, told me earlier this week that “Pat Marcy was the guy who controlled the First Ward,” and that his bailiwick was “the major mob ward.” Any lawyer entering the judiciary from a door leading from that ward, as Covelli did, would “have known mobsters,” he declared.
Flood backed up Duggan’s allegations about the Champagnes.
Retired a year ago, Flood, 62, became a police officer in Wheeling, Ill. in 1960; joined the Cook County Police Department in 1962; was recruited into a unit of the same nature as Eliot Ness’ “untouchables” of an earlier era; and at age 23, became involved in combatting organized crime. In those early days, Flood recounted, he was schooled by the older officers as to what was what and who was who.
The “scuttlebutt” from the seasoned officers, he said, was that Dr. Carl Champagne “used to take the bullets out of the old Capone mob” when members were shot and deemed it inadvisable to show up at hospitals. As he heard it, Flood related, the doctor would excise bullets from his mobster patients in such settings as basements. “That’s a big favor,” he remarked, adding: “That’s where Dr. Carl got his clout.”
He said that soon after he joined the Cook County force, Tony Champagne was pointed out to him as “an ‘outfit’ attorney,” the word “outfit” in Cook County meaning the mob. Flood said that the lawyer was then in his “late fifties, early sixties.” And “there’s no question about it” that Tony Champagne did work for the mob, he declared. Flood said the lawyer “represented a number of hoods, including Anthony Accardo.”
Clients do on occasion became upset with their attorneys. Flood recounted what happened when mobster Accardo “got perturbed” once with Tony Champagne. He put a contract out on him. Another mob member interceded, however, and the dispute was resolved by less drastic means, he recounted.
Flood recited that the mob ran the liquor industry in the state. Tony Champagne, he said, was the lawyer for the liquor association.
Carl Champagne—that is, the plaintiff in the divorce action—was not a member of the mob “but was connected to it” as a Teamsters union organizer, Flood told me. He said Carl Champagne “wanted to be a tough guy,” but was only a “wannabe” and a “peripheral figure.” Flood described him as a “wise guy.”
None of this is direct proof that Covelli, in sentencing Duggan to jail, acted for the purpose of serving or pleasing the local criminal establishment. Nonetheless, Covelli’s actions, taken together, do point in that direction.
Recapping the facts, dabbed by opinion…Duggan was an articulate, feisty, and effective antagonist of the mob and crooked politicians. His revelations and denunciations were being broadcast to viewers throughout the corruption infested Cook County and beyond five days a week. That surely caused discomfiture in certain quarters. Covelli in 1955 haled Duggan into court on a contempt charge based on allegations Duggan aired in connection with a divorce case before the judge. The commentator had accused the family of Carl Champagne, plaintiff in the divorce case, of having ties with hoodlums, and had maintained that an offer was made to him to spare him from being accused on the stand of fornication with the defendant-wife if he would lay off the mob in his broadcasts. Notwithstanding his refusal to hear Duggan’s evidence that these assertions were true, Covelli proclaimed, in declaring Duggan to be in indirect criminal contempt: “The public utterances and characterizations by the said Thomas Duggan Goss of the plaintiff and witnesses called in his behalf were false….” Under the law, as set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court prior to Covelli’s rulings, it would not have mattered if the accusations had been false; false comments concerning a pending case are not contemptuous unless they create a grave and imminent threat to the administration of justice—and Duggan’s comments clearly posed no such threat. Covelli sentenced Duggan to 10 days in jail. Had he entered such a facility, the hoodlum-bashing commentator would inevitably have encountered co-tenants with somewhat violent propensities who were other than pleased by his dissertations on the activities of themselves and their cohorts. Duggan fled to L.A.; there being no videotape back in 1955, Duggan could not carry on his attacks from exile, and the mob and the politicos it controlled were, thanks to Covelli, rid of their vocal detractor. Evidencing mob ties, Covelli in 1973 wrote a letter seeking leniency for a reputed high-level crime figure, Allen Dorfman, who was seeking a re-sentencing in New York, and, in what might have been a slip, alluded to his 50-year tie to the convict’s late step-father, Paul Dorfman, an influential mobster. Pat Marcy, whom some allege to have been the judge’s political benefactor—as he undoubtedly was for other judges—was later indicted as a racketeer.
The facts give rise to a reasonable suspicion that Duggan—though not treated as harshly by mobsters as Riesel (who had acid thrown at his face, permanently blinding him)—was retaliated against by the Chicago “outfit” through the instrumentality of a judge named Daniel A. Covelli.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company
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