From our March 2005 issue: To people accused of doing bad things—embezzling millions, bribing judges, putting a bullet in someone’s head—Ed Genson may be the go-to lawyer in town. For years the Mob had him on speed dial. And pols in trouble (including Larry Warner, Governor Ryan’s friend and codefendant) regularly sign up with him. He’s cunning, funny, sometimes outrageous—a master of the cross examination. But what matters most to his clients: He’ll do (almost) anything to win.
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After a couple of low-wattage jobs (representing the government on appeals after Social Security claims had been denied; working for a firm focused on personal injury cases), Genson started his own practice, sharing office space and getting referrals from one of his friends, Sam Adam Sr. One of Adam's friends soon became a mentor-R. Eugene Pincham, the civil rights lawyer and eventual state appellate court judge. "When I met [Genson], he was over in traffic court," says Pincham. "He showed potential, showed that he was dedicated. So I taught him."
Genson was a workaholic as much then as he is now (he estimates he sleeps only about four hours a night when he's working on a trial). "I did a large volume business," he says. "I went from misdemeanors to felonies to felony murders to felony appeals, handled five or six cases a day. You do that many cases a day, a week, a year, and hundreds of people know your name."
It didn't hurt that he was getting a lot of press coverage. "For some reason, I'd always get cases that got me publicity, cases that had notoriety," he says.
And then the Mob came calling.
Genson's first Mob client was Jimmy "the Bomber" Catuara, a south suburban chop shop operator and hit man who had earned his name in the Taxi Wars of the 1930s, when rival gangs threw dynamite into one another's cabs. In 1970, Catuara was gathered up with a bunch of associates in a police raid of a Chinatown social club. "Twenty old men playing cards, nobody over five foot five," Genson says. "The shortest looking crew I'd ever seen." Genson got the charges dropped. So when Catuara was indicted six months later with 18 others in an alleged mortgage fraud scheme, he called Genson, who warned that he had never handled a federal case before. "You're a nice boy," Catuara told Genson. "I want you."
Catuara was acquitted, and that was the start of a long association with the Outfit. "I used to be fascinated with them," Genson says. "They would tell me stories from 40 years ago-Gussie Alex, who was like the boss, he used to date Rosalind Russell, the movie actress. He used to send money to Barney Ross, the fighter, because he liked the fights. He just talked about the Roaring Twenties and Thirties. They were good people. They were interesting. I enjoyed them."
Genson particularly enjoyed Pasquale Marchone, better known as Pat Marcy, one of the all-time fixers who, along with alderman Fred Roti and committeeman John D'Arco Sr., ran the old mobbed-up First Ward from his table at the Counsellor's Row restaurant on LaSalle Street. According to authorities, Marcy, a "made" member of the Mob, fixed murder cases, ordered hits, arranged bribes, and so on, though the only time he was tried, late in his life, he died of a heart attack before a jury could pass judgment. "Pat was just fascinating as hell," Genson says. "He was brilliant. One of the most forceful personalities you've ever seen. Pat was just fun."
One day Marcy called up Genson and invited him to his office. "He said, ‘Let me ask you a hypothetical,'" Genson recalls. "‘What if an alderman took a check from a guy, just borrowed money, but then the guy had his driveway permit [approved]?' I knew what he was doing. People would come to him like he was the boss, the fount of knowledge on anything legal, and he'd come to me asking crap like that all the time. ‘Just a hypothetical.' Then two years later some politician would be indicted for taking some money to put a driveway permit in!"
A lawyer with Mob clients always runs the risk of getting drawn too far into their business. "You don't become their friends, and you don't go to dinner with them," says Patrick Tuite, a lawyer who has also defended Mob clients. "You draw the line between your clients and your practice."
It's a lesson, Tuite says, that Genson learned along the way. It might stem from a chain of events that began in 1978, when Genson's old client, Jimmy Catuara, was found facedown in a pool of blood near his red Cadillac at Hubbard Street and Ogden Avenue. One of the suspects was a Mob hit man, Billy Dauber, who, along with Albert Tocco, was reportedly trying to take over Catuara's rackets. (Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass recently wrote, "Dauber was said to be so cold, he could put his arm around a man's shoulders and smile and pull the trigger, the body slumping but Dauber still grinning and hugging like a pal.") Two years after Catuara was rubbed out, Dauber hired Genson to defend him on gun charges brought in Will County. After appearing in court one day, Genson accompanied Dauber and his wife to a Joliet coffee shop. The Daubers then invited Genson back to their antique shop in Crete. This time, Genson begged off. As the Daubers drove home, three men riding in a van pulled alongside and shot the couple with rifles. "He almost got killed by being too close to Dauber," Tuite says. "But you learn."
In yet another twist, one of the men eventually named as a suspect in the Dauber hit, Gerald Scarpelli, had previously been a Genson client. Some years after the Dauber murders, Genson defended Scarpelli on unrelated gun possession charges. Scarpelli never went to trial; he died in a cell in the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center downtown. Reportedly, he suffocated himself.
(The Dauber story has been back in the news because a former mobster, Nick Cala-brese, has entered the federal witness protection program and is reportedly singing like a bird. One of the cases he's said to be dishing on: who killed Billy and Charlotte Dauber.)
"[Genson] doesn't flinch," says a former FBI agent, Jim Wagner, now the chief investigator for the Illinois Gaming Board. "Some attorneys who have a more pristine background would probably turn pale and run."
In the summer of 1983, word began to leak of an astonishing FBI undercover investigation of the Cook County courts called Operation Greylord. Prosecutors won 83 convictions in all, including convictions against 15 judges, more than 40 lawyers, and a handful of bailiffs and clerks. The cases were based largely on recordings made over three years by FBI agents wearing wires while posing as lawyers and defendants with cases in the Cook County court system.
The first Greylord indictment was handed down against the veteran criminal courts judge Wayne Olson, who was believed to be the first judge in the United States to have his chambers bugged by the government. Olson turned to Genson to defend him; four other indicted judges followed suit. In all, Genson and Pat Tuite represented some 80 percent of the Greylord defendants, Genson says. Three people were acquitted, including one judge who was a client of Tuite's.
Genson made his mark on Greylord despite the losses. His opening statement in one trial "brought the house down," said The American Lawyer. His client was a lawyer accused of passing cash bribes to Judge Raymond Sodini, who worked in gambling court, on 11th Street above the then police headquarters building. After the prosecutor's moralistic opening statement, which left a heavy pall over the courtroom, Genson decided to change the vibe. He opened with a novelistic description of Sodini's courtroom: "It's dirty. It's noisy. You sit up high on your seat because you don't want your neck to touch the back because you might catch something. You've got one guy trying to deliver a pizza. A lawyer is bringing in buckets of chicken for court workers. One court clerk is selling Girl Scout cookies. A deputy sheriff is selling [Sheriff Richard] Elrod [campaign fundraiser] tickets. Another clerk is barbecuing on a windowsill, waving his arms trying to keep the smoke out of the window. Another clerk is cooking sausage and eggs in the judge's chamber. Somebody is slicing salami. Trucks are tied up in traffic outside and honking their horns. The ‘L' trains are roaring by outside the window."
And, as it turned out, lawyers were passing cash to the judge. Sodini broke down and pleaded guilty midway through the trial.