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‘Never rat on your friends, always keep your mouth shut’

Tuesday, Feb 20, 2024 - Posted by Rich Miller

* My syndicated newspaper column

“Everybody gets pinched, but you did it right; you told ‘em nothin’ and they got nothin’” Jimmy Conway told a youthful Henry Hill in the classic gangster movie “Goodfellas” after the mob-connected teenager was arrested for selling stolen cigarettes, clammed up to the police and was then released by a corrupt judge.

“You learned the two greatest things in life,” Conway told Hill. “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut.”

Former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s people (and they weren’t alone in this, by the way) took that vow to heart.

It’s sometimes difficult to explain to Statehouse newbies how often the people in charge back then loved cosplaying as mafiosi.

And there are more newbies than you might expect.

Lobbyist and unofficial Statehouse historian John Amdor keeps track of stuff like this, so I asked him to run the numbers. Amdor found that a 55 percent majority of House Democrats - 43 of the 78 – have taken office since June 6, 2018, the day Madigan’s longtime chief of staff Tim Mapes was forced to resign after being accused of harassment.

To some of us, including journalists like me who are still covering politics today, the Statehouse #MeToo cataclysm of 2018 still feels recent. But most current House Democrats had nothing to do with any of it. They only know of Mapes’ autocratic reign and dramatic fall through the news coverage they’ve seen and the stories they’ve heard from colleagues. He’s just not relevant to their lives.

Currently, 33 percent of House Democrats (26) never even served under House Speaker Madigan, who left office in early 2021. If trends hold, it won’t be all that long before a majority of House Democrats never served with him.

Anyway, it’s clear from reading wiretap transcripts that those folks delighted in pretending to be part of some secret society.

And that all caught up to Tim Mapes last week.

Speaker Madigan’s former chief of staff had been busted cold for lying during his grand jury testimony. The feds were fishing for information about Madigan, but Mapes wouldn’t even admit to knowing about totally legal activities.

Mapes had to have figured at the time that federal prosecutors knew he was lying (as literally everyone understands, the FBI and the US Attorney rarely ask questions that they don’t already know the answers to), but he did it anyway. And he was convicted.

Before pronouncing his sentence on Mapes, US District Judge John Kness called out the defendant for his almost cartoonish adherence to “the Law of Omertà,” the ancient mafia vow to never, as Judge Kness put it, “rat on your friends.”

That behavior “had no place” in a federal grand jury room, Kness told Mapes. “And you will pay the price for it.” No lawyer, no matter how connected, could possibly spring Mapes from this trap.

The price Mapes paid was 30 months in federal prison. Thirty months for lying in response to innocuous grand jury questions that weren’t even about illegal acts while he had complete immunity from prosecution. Thirty months away from his family plus who knows how many hundreds of thousands of dollars in crushing legal fees and lost income. For what?

There are probably only two explanations:

1) Mapes stupidly and stubbornly stuck to the “This is the life we chose” script on principle; or

2) Mapes knew of other illegal activities that the feds might have been interested in, so he took the fall on the little stuff to avoid exposing his former boss and others to even greater legal peril.

Either way, the result is the same. Personal carnage.

Henry Hill was met by all his gangster buddies as he walked out of the courtroom that day, and they wildly applauded him for being a stand-up guy. Mapes’ friends may throw him a similar party when he is finally let loose. Cold comfort.

In the end, Henry Hill realized his silence was no longer worth the pain it was causing and he flipped. Mapes never got there.

Let’s not ever go back to those days, please. Thanks.

* By the way, can I just give a quick and heartfelt shout-out to the River Cities’ Reader, which almost always has a *chef’s kiss* headline on my weekly columns?

I don’t know who writes those headlines, but I definitely want to buy that person(s) a fine dinner and copious cocktails the next time I’m in the Quad Cities.


  1. - Formerly Beverly Bob - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 9:00 am:

    Speaking of Omerta is there a reason that nobody but bloggers in comments sections are talking about Alderman Clay’s PPP loans and the seemingly associated PPP loans children or grandchildren of retired politicians got? Crain’s covered the Clay loans last March then went quiet.

    I can understand some reluctance on the more speculative stuff, but some of this is verifiable.

    Not covering the mayoral DBA is the strangest part.

  2. - Excitable Boy - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 9:15 am:

    - Speaking of Omerta is there a reason that nobody but bloggers in comments sections are talking about Alderman Clay -

    Because most people don’t pay a lot of attention to freshman Aldermen?

  3. - Formerly Beverly Bob - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 9:18 am:


    Nice Warren Zevon reference.

  4. - Lincoln Lad - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 9:22 am:

    Playing a mafiosi is great at the country club with your friends, but doesn’t play so well in prison. Smart people know that and don’t need to find out first hand. But that is the life he chose.

  5. - Bogey Golfer - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 9:25 am:

    “I work for E.H. Harriman, from the Union Pacific Railroad” (from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid).

    Mapes was the “loyal” employee of MJM.

  6. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 9:42 am:

    Mapes decided he was not going to testify against Madigan, immunity or not. So he had to poison himself as a witness to ensure the feds couldn;t call him. He made his choice and now has 30 months to think about whether it was worth it.

  7. - TheInvisibleMan - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 10:01 am:

    “[…]how often the people in charge back then loved cosplaying as mafiosi.”

    Back then?

    It’s great to see the behavior is starting to be snuffed out of the statehouse, however…

    Throw a dart at a map of Illinois. At least one level of local government is still run this way.

    A few weeks ago, the city of Joliet fired its Inspector General, without any plans for a replacement.

    The IG was fired, because the city listened to the wildly unsupported opinion of the State’s Attorney, who told the city a single unelected person on the city staff should be able to fire the IG, instead of a public decision of the entire board and mayor. At the same time this happened, the same State’s Attorney was the subject of *at least one* of the investigations by this now vacant IG office.

  8. - Ann3 - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 10:23 am:

    I spit my coffee out with the Wilhour lede, you sure do owe the writer a meal!

  9. - Joe Schmoe - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 10:34 am:

    Those headlines hearken back to the old days of the East St. Louis Evening Whirl, a real journalistic gem with the catchiest titles.

  10. - Regular democrat - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 10:43 am:

    Meet the kid Hendry

  11. - btowntruthfromforgottonia - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 1:15 pm:

    Think Mapes has or will find out who his real friends are now?

  12. - @misterjayem - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 1:35 pm:

    Just when I thought the mob analogies were played out, they pull me back in.

    – MrJM

  13. - Friendly Bob Adams - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 3:09 pm:

    Mapes comes off as a mope.

  14. - Excitable Boy - Tuesday, Feb 20, 24 @ 6:41 pm:

    - Just when I thought the mob analogies were played out, they pull me back in. -

    The problem is that these morons apparently didn’t watch the end of the movie.

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