CHICAGO — Tony (Big Tuna) Accardo, reputedly the longtime head of the Chicago mob and a former associate of gangster Al Capone, died Wednesday night. He was 86.
Accardo died of heart and lung diseases, said Carrie Quidayan, night nursing coordinator at St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital Center.
Accardo was arrested many times on allegations ranging from murder to extortion to kidnaping. But he was adept at avoiding criminal prosecution and boasted that he never spent a night in jail.
In testimony before Congress in 1984, Accardo acknowledged he had long been friendly with a number of organized-crime figures in Chicago. But he said he had "never been a boss."
He was given the nickname Big Tuna by a Chicago newspaper reporter after having his picture taken with a 400-pound tuna he caught off Florida. But Accardo was known by his colleagues as Joe Batters, apparently out of respect for his skills with a baseball bat.
William Roemer, a retired FBI agent who tracked Accardo's career for years, said recently he could never charge Accardo but believed he was one of the triggermen in the St. Valentine's Day massacre in Chicago in 1929. Shortly after the shooting, Accardo was seen in the lobby of Capone's headquarters, the Lexington Hotel on Michigan Avenue, with a machine gun.
Accardo, the son of a shoemaker, was born Antonio Leonardo Accardo in 1906 in Chicago's Little Italy. He dropped out of school in the sixth grade and was arrested for the first time at age 15.
Accardo said he first met Capone at a racetrack, but denied longstanding stories that he was once Capone's chauffeur-bodyguard and that he had inherited Capone's criminal empire.
In 1931, shortly after Capone was jailed for income tax evasion, Accardo reputedly was given control of the Capone family's gambling operations in Florida and Chicago. In 1943, Accardo's close friend, Paul (the Waiter) Ricca, allegedly assumed control and appointed Accardo underboss.
Accardo allegedly took over as mob chief when Ricca retired in 1968, although he deferred to Ricca until he died in 1972.
Accardo was convicted in 1960 of tax evasion and sentenced to six years in prison, but the conviction was overturned.
He was a three-time target of the U.S. Senate's permanent subcommittee on investigations. He repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination.
At his last appearance before the committee in 1984, he denied any role in the Chicago mob. "I have no control over anybody," Accardo testified.
In recent years, Accardo divided his time between Palm Springs and a palatial estate in the Chicago suburb of Barrington.