Tokyo Joe

April 9, 2008 8:52:54 PM PDT
The ABC7 I-Team has obtained FBI records on one of the Chicago mob's most colorful and notorious gambling bosses.Ken "Tokyo Joe" Eto died four years ago, but the secret files that were kept on him are being revealed for the first time.

The secret files on Tokyo Joe prove that Ken Eto was different than your normal, everyday chicago mobster.

He ran an Outfit gambling racket in cahoots with black street gang leaders. But most memorable: 25 years ago he became the only Outfit boss to survive a mob hit.

In 1983, Ken Eto became the first hoodlum ever to experience a gangland hangover when a half dozen bullets squeezed from a silencer-equipped pistol, somehow ricocheted off his skull. At the time of the botched assassination, FBI agents had been following Eto and typing reports on him since the early 1950s.

What grew into a foot-tall stack of files was just obtained for the first time by the I-Team under the Freedom of Information Act. The records reveal that hundreds of agents in dozens of cities had tried for decades to pin something on Eto, but failed. The FBI list of Eto's numerous aliases may be politically incorrect by today's standards, but tokyo joe's craftiness helped turn an illegal numbers racket into an illicit empire.

"We analyzed it. It was $150,000 to $200,000 a week he was managing," said Elaine Smith, former FBI agent.

We interviewed Smith as she retired from the FBI - her work as case agent on Ken Eto the highlight of her career. According to the secret files of Tokyo Joe, his gambling business known as Bolito thrived on payoffs to Chicago policemen totaling $3,000 a week.

Eto's criminal rap sheet in the file begins in 1942 in Tacoma, Washington, where he was among four Japanese Americans sentenced for violating a wartime curfew. After coming to Chicago in 1949, Eto grew into a mob sleeper boss believed the FBI on a par with the famous New York mafioso Meyer Lansky.

Shortly after the assassination of President Kennedy, federal agents suspicious of a Chicago mob role in the JFK murder questioned Eto about Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. FBI reports say Eto claimed to know nothing.

In 1983 Outfit bosses tried to rub him out for one reason, according to the secret files. Mob bosses feared that since the FBI had caught Eto red-handed running Bolito wagers and he'd pleaded guilty, that he might be tempted to talk. So they gave Eto an invitation he couldn't refuse.

"He knew he had to go to this dinner meeting. He really was 90 percent sure he was going to be shot, so he took a bath and he put on his best clothes, and he told his wife where the insurance policy was," Smith said.

Files reveal Vincent Solano ordered the murder. He was an Outfit capo at the time and head of the corrupt laborers union Local One. After surviving the attack, Eto was hooded when he told a U.S. Senate panel what happened.

Solano died of natural causes, never charged in the Eto attack. The two gunman who tried to kill Tokyo Joe had used bad ammo and soon after were themselves disposed of in a car trunk. Eto then became the government's highest ranking hoodlum ever to turn government witness.

The FBI began a secret investigation that we now know from the files was code-named "Operation Sun-Up" a clever turn on the symbol of Eto's native Japan. And because of his testimony, dozens of top Chicago mob figures were convicted and put away.

Whether or not Eto got his outfit nickname from an old Bogart movie, there will soon be a new movie also called Tokyo Joe. The life story of Ken Eto is being made by Japanese filmmakers and due to be finished next month.

Eto died in 2004 at the age of 84. And even though he survived a gangland hit, he didn't live as long as he thought he would. When he was still in the mob, a smart-aleck Eto told federal agents that he'd be happy to discuss his Outfit business when he was 90 years old and living on a beach somewhere.

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