Other than Tammany Hall in New York, the Pendergast machine in Kansas City was the longest-running and most thorough melding of vice and politics ever seen in the United States. So complete was the marriage of underworld to political world, that Tom Pendergast – the son of Irish immigrants and unabashedly known as "Boss Tom" to everyone in town – controlled not just the political machine that bore his family name but the local Mafia as well.
by Allan May
Before the Pendergast dynasty took root, the early Mafia influence in Kansas City involved Black Hand extortion, which, as in other cities, was carried out by Italians against Italians. This activity came to an end with the onset of Prohibition in 1920. The Mafia faction under control of the DiGiovanni and Balestrere gang then focused on bootlegging.
Once the Pendergast machine got rolling, the other Italian hoods that rose to prominence did so under the Pendergast banner. The underworld bosses, beginning with Johnny Lazia in the late 1920s right through the death of Charles Binaggio in 1950, were different from their counterparts in other cities because of their close ties to the Kansas City political scene. It would not be until the emergence of the iron-fisted Nick Civella in the mid-1950s – after Boss Tom had been dead 10 years – that Kansas City would take on a more traditional organized crime structure.