A book scheduled to be released next month revives decades-old charges that California attorney general candidate and Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown had close ties with individuals related to organized crime during Brown’s tenure in the 1970s as governor of California.
Written by respected investigative journalist Gus Russo and published by the American division of British publishers Bloomsbury, the book, Supermob—How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America’s Hidden Power Brokers, charges in part that during the 1970s, Brown took campaign contributions from mob figures and, in return, granted them political favors.
Russo has written several books on organized crime, including The Outfit: The Role of Chicago’s Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America, Live by the Sword: The Secret War Against Castro and the Death of JFK, and Gangsters and Goodfellas: The Mob, Witness Protection, and Life on the Run.
It is unclear what effect the release of the book will have on the November state attorney general’s race, where Brown has a comfortable lead both in the polls and in fund-raising over Republican challenger state Senator Chuck Poochigian. It does not appear that Bloomsbury is attempting to capitalize on the Brown allegations to sell the book; mention of Brown does not appear anywhere in the publisher’s publicity releases.
Ace Smith, a campaign consultant for the Brown campaign, called the allegations “wacky and nutty” and “laughably idiotic.” When the Daily Planet offered to fax the Brown campaign copies of the passages from Russo’s book that make reference to Brown, Smith said, “I don’t need to see any passages from the book to make a comment. This is like talking about Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. These allegations have about as much credibility as Al Capone’s vault.”
Kevin Spillane, a representative of the Poochigian campaign, had not heard of Russo’s book until called by the Daily Planet for comment. Spillane said that the Poochigian campaign “is declining comment at this time, until we’ve had time to take a look at the allegations and do our own independent research.”
In his upcoming book, Russo repeats
allegations that Brown ran for governor in 1974 with the help of several figures with alleged organized crime ties, including the powerful Hollywood attorney Sidney Korshak, whom the Bloomsbury book describes as “the underworld’s primary link to the corporate upperworld” and “according to the FBI, [the] player behind countless 20th century power mergers, political deals, and organized crime chicaneries.”
Korshak, who died in 1996 and is described by Russo as a “pal” of Brown’s father, Governor Pat Brown, has a thick online file on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s website that alleges extensive ties to organized crime. Russo writes that a 1978 report on California’s Organized Crime Control Commission issued by then-California Attorney General Evelle Younger called Korshak “the key link between organized crime and big business … A U.S. Justice Department official has described Korshak as a ‘senior advisor’ to organized crime groups” in several states, including California.
“When Brown enlisted electronics mogul Richard Silberman … as his chief fund-raiser [for the 1974 campaign],” Russo writes in Supermob, “it quickly became apparent that the same Chicago money that had transformed California in the forties would continue to play a key role in the seventies. (Silberman would be convicted in a 1991 FBI drug-ring money-laundering scheme.) Thus, with a brilliant media campaign, massive contributions from the likes of Lew Wasserman, Jake ‘the Barber’ Factor, and later Sidney Korshak, Brown defeated [Republican State Controller Houston] Flournoy by 175,000 votes.”
In return, Russo alleges in his book that Brown gave favors back to alleged mob figures, including appointing the brother-in-law of Teamsters union leader and Korshak associate Edward Hanley as one of the directors of the California Agricultural Association, which Russo says “named the concessionaires at all the state’s racetracks and county fairs.”
Russo alleges that profits from these concessions were later “skimmed” off and sent to reported mob figures. In addition, Russo alleges that Brown once tried to close down the Hollywood Park racetrack as a favor to Korshak, who Russo says “was … trying to pave the way for an organized crime takeover of the facility.”
The racetrack allegations were so widely reported in California at the time that they later became the subject of a series of Doonesbury cartoons by Gary Trudeau. In one Doonesbury strip reprinted in Supermob, Trudeau depicts a reporter talking on the telephone to a Brown associate only named “Gray,” a reference to then-Jerry Brown Chief of Staff Gray Davis. “Let me get this straight, Gray—who exactly did Jerry solicit the contribution from?” the reporter asks. “A guy named Sidney Korshak,” ‘Gray’ answers. “He’s the local low-life, an alumnus from the Capone mob.”
Brown was quoted in Time Magazine in July of 1979 that he thought the Doonesbury cartoons were “false and libelous, but I’m flattered by the attention.”
When Gray Davis ran for governor in 1998, the San Francisco Chronicle made reference to the old allegations, with political reporter Robert Gunnison writing that “Brown … appointed [Davis] to the California Horse Racing Board in 1979. It was a particularly volatile time for the panel. Critics said he was appointed to help Service Employees International Union clerks during a strike at Golden Gate Fields. The union’s lawyer, Sidney Korshak, was alleged by the state attorney general to be an organized crime figure.”
In his upcoming book, Russo alleges that Korshak’s influence on California governors was not limited to Brown and his father, but also included Ronald Reagan. Russo also alleges that Korshak sought to help Brown achieve higher office past the California governship, writing that “Korshak’s Service Employees Union … dispatched workers and cars” to New Hamphsire in 1979 “to assist Brown’s effort” in the primary against Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter.
Some of Russo’s information concerning the allegations of the Brown-organized crime connection came from the Berkeley Daily Planet reporter Richard Brenneman, who wrote news articles on the issue in the 1970s while a reporter with the Santa Monica Evening Outlook. Brenneman is listed in the book as a source.