Frank Nitti was born on January 27, 1888 in Sicily. He came to the United States at the end of World War I and settled in Chicago, Illinois. There, he went into business as a barber and also bought and sold stolen jewelry on the side. His underworld dealings brought him into the world of the mafia and he was taken under the arm of mob boss Johnny Torrio.
When Al Capone came to power, Nitti was put in charge of alcohol distribution operations. The alcohol was smuggled in from Canada and sold in secret "speakeasies" across the city. Capone developed a lot of trust in Nitti and trusted his judgements. Although his nickname was "The Enforcer", Nitti rarely took part in violent activities, choosing to delegate them to underlings instead.
In 1930, Nitti was charged with tax evasion along with Al Capone. Nitti was found guilty and sentenced to eighteen months in prison, but he fled to Italy. Unfortunately for him, the Italian authorities did not want him and shipped him back to the United States where he served his sentence.
When he was released, he became the head of Capone's Chicago Empire since Capone was serving eleven years in Alcatraz. Unfortunately, his leadership skills faltered and the empire began to collapse.
On December 19, 1932, two Chicago police officers entered Nitti's office and shot him during an attempt to arrest him. Nitti survived the attack and many believe that Chicago mayor Anton Cermak was the person behind the attack. Cermak was assassinated shortly after and Nitti was able to leave the hospital after nine months of recuperation. After leaving the hospital, however, he was charged with shooting a police officer during the gunfight. He was placed on trial, but the trial ended with a hung jury.
After that fiasco, Nitti once again led the Outfit's criminal activities. On November 29, 1940, he was indicted for influencing the Chicago Bartenders and Beverage Dispensers Union of the AFL. He was specifically accused of placing mob figures in the Union leadership and forcing the Union to sell beverages manufactured by breweries owned by the mafia.
Since the entire case was built on the testimony of one man, George McLane, the mob put the pressure on him. They told him that if he testified his wife would be cut up and mailed to him in small pieces. When McLane was called to the stand, he refused to answer any questions and the case was dropped.
In 1943, Nitti and many mobsters in the Chicago Outfit were charged with extorting Hollywood movie studios. He had masterminded a plot to control the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, then threatened to have them strike if the studios did not pay a monthly fee. Nitti realized that he might spend the rest of his life in prison if convicted and decided to shoot himself on March 19, 1943.
The 1987 movie "The Untouchables" directed by Brian DePalma featured a psychopathic Frank Nitti who murders many people in cold blood and dies at the hands of Eliot Ness. This Hollywoodized depiction of Nitti's life is entirely untrue since Nitti never participated in murders and was a much more levelheaded person.