Bagman's Lament: A former Chicago mob cop digs up the bodies.

Nov 11 2014 | 11:36 AM

    For 30 years, Mike Corbitt was the Chicago mob’s handpicked police chief in Willow Springs, a corrupt Chicago suburb where whorehouses and casinos operated with impunity. It was a great place to dump bodies.

    From the 1960s to the 1980s, Corbitt also acted as an enforcer and bagman for Sal Bastone, a powerful Chicago mobster. Corbitt carried money from Las Vegas and Panama to Chicago and, along the way, he claims to have witnessed damning events that link the Reagan administration and then-vice president George Bush to Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega and the involvement of the Israeli army in arming the Contras. Corbitt’s three-decade career with the mob ended in 1989 when he was pinched for dumping the body of a murder victim in a canal outside of Chicago.

    The day he was indicted on federal charges, his former associates in Chicago put a contract out on his life, planning to kill him and his young son. But Corbitt did 20 years in federal prisons, much of it in solitary confinement. In prison, he started debriefing the FBI on his mob involvement, but the investigation was cut short by high-level government officials.

    Corbitt’s sweet revenge against the mob is his memoir, Double Deal: The Inside Story of Murder, Unbridled Corruption, and the Cop Who Was a Mobster, written with Sam Giancana, the nephew and namesake of the famous Chicago mobster murdered in 1975. The book details the double life of a decorated cop who was also an enforcer for the mob, using his badge and gun to protect a corrupt hellhole of gambling and prostitution.

    For security reasons, the two writers arrived in separate cars to our interview at their publisher’s Manhattan offices. The talk was held in a sterile conference room, where an unsmiling ex-FBI agent bodyguard with an automatic pistol in his waistband sat at the table and ate cookies.

    Corbitt, a powerfully built man in a leather jacket, was in a good mood. The Chicago Tribune had just published an article backing some of his assertions about mob involvement with Noriega and the U.S. government in Panama. Unnamed FBI agents supported these allegations, but the CIA has vehemently denied them.

    "The CIA is always full of shit," he said. Though the 58-year-old ex-mobster has a hacking cough and walks stiffly now, you can see the man who once took on six drunks in a barroom fight by himself and won.

    "The book was my revenge," said Corbitt. "I don’t have a crew. I don’t have hitmen who can kill the bastards who were trying to kill me." He said that it is possible that some mobsters will be killed because of this book, and he doesn’t really care. "This book is going to come down hard on some people. There are people who are responsible for me still being alive, where I shouldn’t be alive. These people are going to have paybacks."

    Corbitt grew up a poor Irish kid in the Chicago suburbs. He was street brawler and car thief when he dropped out of school at 15. He was recruited by the mob to run security on their lucrative slot machine business and, at 21, was set up as a cop in Willow Springs by the elder Sam Giancana, then the most powerful mobster in the United States. The graft started on day one, and Corbitt eventually became police chief.

    Double Deal is a gripping tale, one different from its forefathers. Where Nicholas Pileggi’s Wise Guy (later made into the movie Goodfellas) was about the Copacabana and sharkskin jackets, Double Deal is more about permed hair, leisure suits and Pabst Blue Ribbon. The book excels when describing the mechanics of mob gambling operations and how the money is followed.

    Corbitt also sheds light on Hy Larner, the Jewish gangster and stringpuller behind the Chicago mob responsible for setting up lucrative gambling operations. Corbitt alleges that Larner—known as Mr. Ivy League due to his conservative dress—was the link between Noriega, the Contras and the Israeli army.

    Corbitt admits that he had no moral dilemmas about his work. "It’s got to be schizophrenia," he said, "or maybe a conscience problem. It never entered my mind that I was doing anything wrong. At the end of the week, I was going to pick up that envelope full of Ben Franklins."

    This absence of false remorse is refreshing, and he openly mocks memoirs like those of pimp Iceberg Slim, who claimed to have found religion and changed his life. "That’s always bullshit. I was in prison with a lot of those guys who got ‘Fede-religion.’ When they got out, they threw the Bible in the garbage and went back to work."

    In the book, Corbitt introduces the reader to the colorful cast of the Chicago mob. One was "Mad Dog" DeStefano, the killer who tortured his victims for fun: "He was a real sicko. He would do things to disrespect you, like coming into a bar and pissing on the floor in front of your wife. People wanted him killed, but he ran one of the biggest juice loansharking crews in the city. As soon as his Chinaman died"—mob slang for mentor—"he was whacked."

    Despite multiple threats against his life, Corbitt has refused to enter the Witness Protection Program. He lives somewhere in the South and works on contract for the FBI, having gone undercover in several money laundering cases. "The government pays crap," he said, "but I’ve had some fun."

    He does admit to some nostalgia for the old days: "I had a million-dollar yacht. I had this home where you couldn’t push up the ceiling panels without finding stacks of hundred-dollar bills. I had more cash than I could spend."

    Considering the track record of ex-mobsters like Henry Hill of Wise Guy fame—who went back to drug dealing—or ex-Gotti underboss Sammy "The Bull" Gravano—who, despite a big book contract, a new identity and a construction business in Arizona, couldn’t help setting up an ecstasy empire—are there are ever truly reformed gangsters?

    "I’m a different guy now," Corbitt said. Then he paused. "I’m sure that Sammy the Bull said the same thing."