Short, portly Sicilian-born Ross Prio was, according to informer Joe Valachi, one of the seven "top power brokers" within the Chicago Outfit. Considering the fact that Valachi's knowledge of mob affairs beyond New York was rather limited, that made Prio very big.
He was indeed one of the strongest and richest hoods in the outfit, with power that rivaled any in the organization—except at various stages that of Paul Ricca, Tony Accardo and Sam Giancana. Pretty much a "don" in his own right, Prio was overlord of the lush North Side, the area Al Capone tried for so many years to wrest from the O'Banions, and boss of the old multimillion-dollar Cadillac policy game.
Brought to the United States by his adoptive parents when he was nine years old, Prio collected an impressive police record, although everything on it before 1929 was destroyed by court order. He was regarded by the mob as an expert in the political fix and a corrupter of the police.
He was known to have been a "money lender" to a Chicago police captain who just happened to serve as head of the department's intelligence unit. Prio was also regarded as one of the mob's top torturers and murder specialists. His reputation was so fearsome that in one case he "persuaded" a plaintiff to drop a million-dollar lawsuit against a leading Chicago politician.
He was a murder suspect on several occasions and was questioned about a number of bombings. Among Prio's "honest" occupations was operation of a milk company. By the sheerest of coincidences a number of rival dairy firms ended up being wrecked by bombs. Prio ended up owning several dairies, presumably by making the owners an offer they couldn't refuse.
Prio took the Fifth Amendment 90 times before the McClellan Committee. He insisted he was just a little old businessman, taking his lead from his oldtime mentor Al Capone (just an antique dealer). Prio had a number of "legit" lines. Besides the milk business, he was in cheese and canned whipped topping, and he owned several currency exchanges, office buildings, hotels, motels, nightclubs, restaurants, finance companies, vending machine outfits and attendant services for clubs and hotels.
He also had extensive holdings in oil wells, resort real estate and Las Vegas casinos. He was a regular visitor at the Chicago Playboy Club, both for pleasure and to visit some of his money. Prio's various enterprises parked playboy cars, checked playboy coats and handed out playboy and playgirl towels in the restrooms.
Prio was consulted on all syndicate murders. One exception appeared to be a hit ordered by mob boss Giancana to be carried out in Hollywood, Florida. Federal agents bugged a mob headquarters there and recorded the discussion. One of Chicago's premier hitters, John "Jackie the Lackey" Cerone, was overheard advising several gangsters in on the projected killing to make sure they not be seen by Prio, who was taking the sun in the area at the time.
The plan was that the victim would be lured into a car by Cerone and the killers would then force him to the floor, take him to a boat, shoot him, and cut up his body in small bite-sized pieces for the sharks. At the last minute the contract was canceled. Presumably Prio heard about it and voted no. When Prio said a man died, he died, but if he said he lived, the man continued breathing as long as Prio desired.
In the jungle law of the Chicago Outfit nobody ever wanted to cross Ross Prio, and there is no record that even his superior, Sam Giancana, ever did. When Prio died of natural causes in 1972, he could have toted up his wealth and stood miles ahead of his first boss, Al Capone.