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Sidney Korshak – Mob Lawyer

Retired Intelligence Detective Gary Jenkins brings you the best in mob history with his unique perception of the mafia. In this episode, Gary and Mob lawyer expert Tony Taouk continue exploring the world of mob lawyers and focus on Sidney Korshak, a mob lawyer and fixer for the Chicago Outfit. Korshak’s success was built on his connections, using them to negotiate criminal charges and bribe officials. He extended his influence to labor unions, Hollywood, and Las Vegas. Despite investigations, he remained anonymous and evaded severe consequences. We also touch on the role of Jewish gangsters in Las Vegas development. Lastly, we provide resources for veterans with PTSD and individuals struggling with substance abuse.
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[0:00] Welcome, all you wiretappers out there back here in the studio of Gangland Wire.
As you can see, if you’re on YouTube, it’s a nice cold day in Kansas City here, and we are going all the way back down to Sydney, Australia.
You know our friend Tony Tok, who is, shall we say, a contributor and the mob lawyer aficionado and expert that we go to. We want to know about mob lawyers.
I notice not many other people deal with mob lawyers out there, And we’ve dealt with, I don’t know, God, Bruce Cutler and Oscar Goodman and a bunch of them.
So I know if you haven’t, if you’re interested in mob lawyers and you haven’t listened to those or watched them on YouTube, go back and find those that we have on mob lawyers because they’re a great show.
Tony, welcome. Thank you for having me.
It’s great to have you back. As we can tell by your accent, you’re down under and it’s winter here, but it’s getting summer down there. Is that correct?

[0:55] That’s right. Right. It would be equivalent to, say, San Diego.
Okay. Interesting. Well, it’s nice weather in San Diego. I know that.
Year-round, it’s nice weather in San Diego.
Sidney Korshak: A Shadow Among Shadows

[1:07] So we’re going to talk about Sidney Korshak, and I’ve looked up stuff on him.
I even had a book about him for a while. I borrowed from a friend of mine that was so dense, and I finally just gave it back to him.
But I did a bunch of research for this show, and I know you’ve really done a lot of research, and I want to ask you some questions once you’ve learned about Sidney Korshak.
Guys, he was a mob lawyer and fixer for the Chicago Outfit, started back in Capone days and came all the way up until whenever he died in the 80s, I think. And he was everywhere, but he was nowhere.
Let me give you a quote I read about him was, in the land of dreams, Sidney Korshak was a shadow among shadows, just a wisp of air floating around the land of dreams or Hollywood.
Nobody could ever quite get their hands on Sidney Korshak. So, Tony, tell us, how did he get started?
I kind of gave it away. He started in Chicago under Capone, but tell us how he got started in his early days.

[2:06] Well, he was born in Chicago in 1907, and he graduated from the University of Wisconsin, but he received his law degree from DePaul University in about 1930.
Now, Gary, there are rumors that he was employed by Al Capone as a driver during his college years and that Capone even paid his college tuition.
I personally don’t put much stock in that.
Capone had all these hardened criminals at his disposal. I doubt he put his life in the hands of a young law student.
Korshak’s early career defending Al Capone’s mob syndicate

[2:42] No, I doubt it too. And there’s a lot of eyes on Capone. There would have been pictures of him probably if he was driving him around.
That would have come out. So I agree with you on that story.
That’s right. What we do know for a fact is shortly after his admission as a lawyer, he began defending people associated with Al Capone’s mob syndicate in Chicago.
Now, at this stage in his career, unlike other lawyers that we’ve covered, he avoided trials.
He didn’t like the courtroom theatrics and those ruling cross-examinations we’re used to, to keep his clients out of prison.
What he did was, his modus operandi was to form relationships with key people in the state attorney’s office and negotiate criminal charges down to misdemeanors.
Now, he’ll probably bribe judges and jurors along the way as well, That’s not uncommon in Chicago, as we’re well aware, at that particular time.
Korshak’s connections and bribery in Chicago’s legal system

[3:39] Now, realized early on, it wasn’t what you knew. It was who you knew.
So that’s how we got started. Okay. So, Jan, and I’ll tell you what, guys, that is the way to do it.
Get the lawyer who knows the prosecutors really well, who maybe knows the judges, who’s politically active, who has maybe given money to a lot of different campaigns in your county.
Those are the guys. Don’t go to trial. trial. You’re an idiot if you go to trial.
Figure out what’s going to happen before and get that guy that can make that deal.
And it sounded like Sidney Korshak is the guy that could make that deal in Cook County back in the older days.
Now, talking about being a fixture and a negotiator and that kind of thing, that’s what that is. And it’s a negotiation between the lawyer and the prosecutor.
And maybe you promise them something on down the road. Everything has a price, as we all know.
So he also got involved with labor unions and labor negotiating with Jimmy Hoffa.
So how did he get in with the labor unions? Yes.
Korshak’s involvement with labor unions and racketeering

[4:36] Well, Gary, in the 1930s, he began associating with some outfit heavyweights like Gus Alex, Jake Uzzik, Murray Humphreys.
As time went on, he clearly recognised that labour racketeering was the bread and butter of the outfit, and he began settling labour disputes on at the behest of the mob.
Now, labour racketeering, as you’re well aware, Gary, it went something like this.
The mob would infiltrate a union by installing its people in key positions within that union.
Then they’d extort employers by threatening unlawful strikes, work stoppages, picketing, workplace sabotage sometimes, and the outfit would receive payoffs from employers in exchange for labour peace.
The employer just wanted the union off their back so they could get back to business.
A lot of the time, the outfit needed a trusted lawyer to act as kind of a go-between in this shady triangle involving unions, employers, and the mob.
And this is where someone like Sidney Korshak comes in.
Now, his name began to surface in 1943 when Willie Byoff, the corrupt leader of the Hollywood stagehands union, went on trial for extorting millions of dollars from Hollywood movie companies and he testified that he’d been introduced to Sidney Korshak by a high-ranking Capone associate in 1939.

[6:04] Who told him, Sydney is our man.
Sidney Korshak’s connection with Jimmy Hoffa and the Detroit mob

[6:08] Then in 1946, a major department store chain was faced with demands for payoffs from all the unions.
When they engaged Korshak as their lawyer, the problem magically disappeared.

[6:21] This really boosted his stature in Chicago business circles and made him absolutely indispensable to his clients and friends, which were multiplying as his reputation grew.
And this is when he started hosting late night parties attended by Chicago High Society.

[6:39] And they were also attended by, the most dabbling showgirls in Chicago, probably to compromise his guests.

[6:48] Interesting. Yeah. He knew the value of a compromising photo.
That’s for sure. I was reading something about how he got connected up with Hoffa.
And I found kind of a timeline, if you will, about Hoffa and how Moe Dalitz was a Cleveland gambler who ended up really helping start Las Vegas with a prime mover and shakers.
Moe Dalitz got involved with Hoffa in in Detroit. He got introduced to him.
Hoffa got introduced to Dalitz. We don’t know exactly how, but that was kind of the first contact.
And then out of that, Dalitz supposedly introduced Hoffa to a guy named Red Dorfman, who was a longtime teacher in Chicago.
And Dorfman then helped Hoffa.
He brought him right into the Chicago outfit, and that kind of locked him in.
The The outfit, really, and the Detroit mob, who Dalitz was connected to, were really the first sponsors of Jimmy Hoff and the first connections.
And from there, Red Dorfman, his son, starts the insurance company and invests all the mob’s money in the pension plan.
Well, guess who’s a big shareholder in Alan Dorfman’s insurance company?

[7:56] Sidney Korshak. He’s right there. He’s right there in the middle of all this
Korshak’s mysterious role and negotiations in various criminal cases

[8:00] labor union stuff. And he did a lot more negotiating behind the scenes than he did out front.
So that’s, he’s an interesting guy, boy.
Always in there, but never really know exactly what he’s doing.
So the Hollywood deal, what happened with Willie Bioff?
Do you remember that? Did he go to trial?

[8:20] Yes. And I think as a result of the trial and the subsequent events, Frank Needy committed suicide.
He was forced to commit suicide. Right, right. Right.
Korshak was all involved in that. One thing I read was that Korshak told Bioff, Willie Bioff, to just say, yeah, they gave me the money.
It’s not extortion. They just gave me the money. That was his defense.
And then his real defense was, and he turned on everybody and he brought down, like you said, Frank Nitti and committed suicide and Johnny Roselli, who was out there squirreling, guarding Lana Turner and all the rest of the starlets out out there, handsome Johnny Roselli.
So it’s the outfit and Korshak and that Hollywood scam were all in there together.
And then somebody had to negotiate to get all of those four or five Cherry Nose Gioe and Louis Campagna.
And who else was in that group? Oh, well, Paul Ricca.
And somebody had to negotiate with the Department of Justice to get all those guys, those lights.
They got 10 year sentences, but they got out in three years.
And that was a negotiation.
That was It was a huge political thing there. So I bet he was involved in that.
What are some examples of his different things that he’s done over the years?

[9:34] Well, by the late 1940s, he had completely outgrown Chicago and he relocated
Korshak’s relocation to California and role as America’s fixer

[9:41] full-time to California.
That’s where he became the primary link between the mob and the unions, and he became America’s most important fixer in labour management affairs.

[9:53] Now, I don’t know if many of our viewers are aware but why the mob was so big in Hollywood unions.
The craft unions and talent agencies in Hollywood were controlled by the mob.
So the studios had to deal with people like Korshak if they wanted to do business without the headache and inconvenience of labor problems.
Now, mobbed connections allowed Korshak to send his clients labor troubles with the unions for Hollywood executives and other corporate clients.
On the other hand, he would also use his mob connections to create labor problems for his clients and competitors.
Over time, he attracted clients that included Fortune 500 companies as well as numerous Hollywood figures. I can name a few, but I can’t go into all of them. This is just so long, decades.
For instance, Hilton Hotels, Paramount Pictures, Max Factor, General Dynamics, among many, many others. It’s a very long list.
And he also brokered large loans from the Central States Pension Fund, operated by the Teamsters, to finance the development of hotels and casinos in Las Vegas.
And he was also a partner in many of those, a silent partner, I might add, in many of those casino projects.
Korshak’s power illustrated by his influence in Las Vegas and Hollywood

[11:06] His power and influence is illustrated by a well-known story of how he showed up unannounced at the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas in 1961 during a Teamsters conference.

[11:21] And apparently the management at the Riviera quickly scrambled to accommodate him in the largest suite.
And they ejected the original occupant of that particular suite, who was Jimmy Hoffa. That just shows how important.

[11:35] And he could also shake things up with one phone call in Hollywood.
For instance, when Robert Evans, that’s the then head of Paramount Pictures, he wanted MGM executives to release Al Pacino from his contract.
And it was an unbreakable contract so that he could play Michael Corleone in The Godfather.
He went to Sidney Korshak. Korshak made one phone call, threatened to block the construction of the MGM Grand Hotel that was being built at the time.
And they agreed to release Pacino from the contract. That’s another example.
So that’s how that got done. That was in that movie, made-for-TV movie, about the filming of The Godfather.
And I think maybe some people in fiction would suggest that that was the famous scene where the producer woke up in bed with his horse’s head, or there was something around Sidney Korshak and the mob. So, you know, truth is stranger than fixing sometimes.
Now, you remember the story about going to the Kefauver Commission?
Korshak resorting to blackmail Kefauver last resort

[12:32] Yes, I’m going to go into that. That is when, like, if all else failed, he would resort to blackmail.
Now, by the time he died in 1996 at the age of 88, he’d been the subject of repeated federal and state investigations for many years, and he was mentioned in many, many, many FBI reports to no avail.

[12:58] Now, what you’re referring to is, I think it was 1950, He was called to appear in front of the Kefauver Commission and to testify at the hearings.
Well, apparently, Estes Kefauver, who was a bit of a womanizer, you wouldn’t think so considering his Elsh appearance.
Really? Apparently, he was blackmailed when Korshak’s associates showed him a picture in a compromising position with a mistress of his, and he just backed off completely.
Korshak’s Avoidance of Law and Low-Level Mobsters

[13:30] He was a prime target of the Keith Alva Commission, but he didn’t appear mysteriously.
There’s no explanation for that.
I read one story about Bill Romer had this hidden microphone going for like five or six years in this Solano’s tailor shop on North Michigan.
And Korshak never came in there.

[13:51] All everybody else did, everybody came in there or talked to somebody in there on the the phone except Korshak, but they referred to him through a code name, Bill Romer always said, but there’s probably other stories about how he avoided the law, how he kept such a low profile. Do you remember any others?
Yes. He avoided meetings with low-level mobsters that were directly involved in criminal activities.
So if any of them became informants or witnesses, they didn’t have anything at all to report on him.
In fact, Los Angeles-based case informant, mobster-turned-informant, I should say, Jimmy the Weasel Fratianno, he testified that a Chicago crime boss specifically warned him, never contact Korshak under any circumstances.

[14:38] So that kind of dovetails with what you’re saying.
Korshak’s Insulation from Criminal Activities and Powerful Connections

[14:43] Now, there are other reasons why he was so successful. Even though he was at the crossroads of organised crime in America for decades, he was only ever charged once in his life.
That was for carrying a concealed weapon in Chicago in 1931, but that charge was dropped at his arraignment, so it came to nothing.
Now, the reason why he was so successful in avoiding prosecution was he went to great lengths to insulate himself from criminal activities that he was allegedly involved in or on the periphery of.
It all came down to the way he operated, and I’m going to go into that now.
Now, he liked to remain anonymous and avoid the limelight at all costs.
When mobsters would use his name, they would use a pseudonym.
So his name never turned up on wiretaps like you’re saying.

[15:29] He was never licensed to practice law in California, despite much of his work being there.
And he was obviously conveniently out of the reach of disciplinary bodies like the State Bar of California.
He didn’t even maintain a law office in California. He had his own table at this Beverly Hills restaurant called La Bistro, and he conducted business from there, just met with clients there.
And his mailing address was back in Chicago.
He never put anything in writing all his business was done orally so there was no paper trail at all he never communicated by regular telephone so law enforcement could never tap his phone if he really needed to talk on the phone what he’d do was he had a large supply of coins on hand and he’d go to a public telephone to make calls and as we know public telephones far less likely to be tapped another thing gary he had very powerful friends his list of clients and friends is like a who’s who of business and politics in America to name a few Jules Stein Conrad Hilton Howard Hughes new assam and Ronald Reagan Jerry Brown the former governor of California that’s just naming a couple now his own brother Marshall Korshak even was a notable politician in Illinois for many years must have run into family uh yes he was an interesting guy that’s for sure that.

[16:53] Always negotiating and never going to trial that was his first skillful act to be what he was to be the kind of a guy that just goes in and talks to people and brings them together and it takes a certain skill to do that he must have really been living the high life out there in hollywood is that he kept that table at the restaurant and he had to know all the heads of the studios and the the movie stars and everything too.

[17:17] There’s another interesting story I want to mention, and this illustrates how he put his powerful connections to use.
A zealous FBI agent, I think it was Bill Romer, he wanted to interview Korshak’s wife.
Now, Korshak didn’t object and get angry. He said, go ahead.
And he even gave him the restaurant where he could find his wife to interview her.
So the FBI agent turns up at the restaurant, and to his horror, Laura, he finds Korshak’s wife having dinner with Peter Lawford and his wife.
Peter Lawford’s wife is Bobby Kennedy’s sister.
And at the time, Bobby Kennedy was the, I think he was on the McClellan Committee.
He was a senator. Yeah, he was.
And the FBI agent saw that and he thought, oh, I’m not going to open this.
I’m not going to go near that. I’m not going to open this can of worms.

[18:15] That guy was slick he was slick he was always thinking wasn’t he yeah yeah and most of his business dealings he did by way of other people for instance if he set up a corporation, he never served as an officer in that corporation so he couldn’t be linked to any of its shady deals or links to organized crime but most of the time in his business dealings he was a silent partner partner his name was where to be seen interesting well that’s that is quite a story of our friend sydney korshak you got any other little stories that you remember about him when you researched him not really but the best book to read is super mob by gus russ yeah that’s the one i had super mob it’s thick and it’s dense guys you got to be ready for detailed history but it’s got it, It’s very long, very detailed. It’s not an easy read.

[19:13] And the one thing I am so glad about this research in this is I found that link, Hoffa’s first link to the mob.
I never understood that. And I found this article in a really legitimate Vanity Fair magazine, a several-year-old article, and they ran that down. That was Moe Dalitz.
Some girl introduced Hoffa to Dalitz and then Dalitz to Red Dorfman.
And the mob, Dalitz, was already connected with the mob there in Detroit.
So that’s how that started with. And Korshak, somehow, when he got to Chicago, Korshak must have gotten introduced to him there.
And he saw the value in a guy like Korshak.

[19:51] Now, Moe Dalitz, was he Detroit or was he Cleveland? Detroit.
I think he was Detroit. I said Cleveland before. I think you’re right. He was Detroit.
Was that Purple Gang territory? Yeah, exactly.
He was in the Purple Gang. That’s where he came out. It was a Gus Greenbaum.
And what’s that other guy that went out to Las Vegas? David Berman.
And there were several of those Jewish gangsters that really, after Bugsy Siegel, who was a Jewish gangster himself, but he was a New Yorker after he was gone, why those Midwestern Jewish gangsters really got Las Vegas up and running.
I think Moe Sedway as well. Moe Sedway.
He was Bugsy Siegel’s associate. I think there’s a book that’s come out recently about him.
No, really? I didn’t realize that. So Sidney Korshak was all part and parcel of all that and helped him get loans and put that together.
But he was a silencer. see nobody really knows much about him he was a silent thing all the way through this.

[20:46] It’s because, like I said, he did his best to remain anonymous.

[20:50] Decades, decades, decades, they got nothing on him. Yeah, he really did.
Well, Tony Taouk, I really appreciate you helping me out with this Sidney Korshak story.
It’s a tough one to research. There’s no fun little stories in there.
Very few. The one about the godfather is about the most fun story, I think, that I found and sounds like you found too.
He was an interesting guy, an important guy in the Midwest crime families.
Because not particularly the West Coast crime family because it wasn’t really that much, but the Midwest, Chicago, and all the money they made out of the Hollywood and Southern California is amazing. He was a big part of that.
Yeah. He’s an organized crime figure.
The most influential unknown figure in organized crime in America.
That’s how I would describe him. That’s a good description.

[21:40] All right, guys. You know, I like to ride motorcycles, So watch out for motorcycles when you’re out there on the streets.
And if you have a problem with PTSD and you’ve been in the service, go to the VA website and get that hotline. There’s help available there.
If you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, you ought to go see our friend Anthony Ruggiano down in Florida.
He’s a drug and alcohol counselor down there. And on his YouTube page, reformgangsters.com, maybe it’s his website or just search around for Anthony Ruggiano and Gambino family.
You’ll find him and he’s got a hotline somewhere and you can get some help for drug and alcohol problem and have a mob guy be your counselor.
I wouldn’t, that’d be something.
Appreciating Tony’s Appearance on the Show

[22:21] Anyhow, I really appreciate you coming on the show, Tony. Thanks a lot.
All right, guys, don’t forget to like, and subscribe. Thanks, Tony. Thank you.

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