Of course, prosecutors did not give up. If the judges said it seemed like the trial of Mickey, why not make it that? They got a new indictment, adding a conspiracy count against him and three of his dinner crew. Only after a hung jury did they settle for a face-saving deal in which Lo Cigno alone agreed to be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in return for a one- to 10-year sentence.
"Sam Lo Cigno, who was accused of the hit, couldn't hit the wall of an auditorium," Mickey said in his last account of the night at Rondelli's. This version -- to be believed or not, as with anything he said -- had Sam taking the rap for "$25,000 plus," though Mickey declined to say which "expert shot" had done in the "vicious, bullying, rotten bastard Jack-this-so-called Enforcer Whalen."
By the time Mickey said this, he was in no shape to be prosecuted. He was battling cancer and using a three-prong cane after having been bashed on the skull with a lead pipe in the federal pen in Atlanta.
Mickey landed there not for Whalen or any killing but -- again -- for tax evasion. As Lo Cigno's trial ended, a grand jury began summoning his stripper consorts and others to testify to Mickey's lifestyle of Cadillacs and nightclubs that was hard to reconcile with the $1,200 income he reported from selling plants and ice cream.
Mickey screamed double jeopardy -- he'd already done time for telling white lies to the IRS. But on July 1, 1961, U.S. District Judge George Boldt sentenced him to 15 years, more than Lo Cigno got for killing a man. Mickey was just 48, even if it seemed like he'd been around forever.
Jack O'Mara was 44. He also was no longer a cop.
He retired the day he hit 20 years on the force, not long after his ill-fated turn on the witness stand. "It just got to be no fun anymore," he said.
That had been coming since the California Supreme Court, ruling on the Gangster Squad's bugging of a bookie, prohibited the use of illegally obtained evidence, putting an end to anything-goes police work, on paper at least. Now you had to sit by while defense attorneys accused you of planting guns.
How lucky was O'Mara to have made it through without a single complaint, unless you counted the drunk he hauled out of a car in 1943? "I was living on the sharp edge," he said, and he could have been speaking for more than himself.
Two of the Gangster Squad's original eight were still on the force. "Get the hell out" was O'Mara's advice. Their time was as past as Mickey's.
He attended part of Mickey's trial as a civilian and took pleasure in the absurdity of his getting 15 years for fudging his taxes. But O'Mara did not confuse that with justice. Real justice was what happened to Mickey behind bars.
Every account had it that a deranged inmate conked him from behind in the Atlanta prison, putting him in a coma for two weeks. There was inevitable speculation that someone else in the mob was behind it, but Mickey never believed that. The guy was a "ding-a-ling," he said, a nut.
Back in L.A., however, O'Mara was certain what had happened: Whalen's dad had it done. Didn't the old man have connections all over from his lifetime of scamming? O'Mara had heard him with his own ears after the shooting.
"He told me that he was gonna get Mickey. 'The last thing I do, O'Mara, I'm gonna get that son of a bitch.' Freddie Whalen, he told me, 'You won't nail me.' But he said, 'I'll have that done.' "
That was their world in a nutshell. Truth was found not in the sunlight, but in the shadows. Justice was found not in a marble courthouse, but off Mulholland Drive, or wherever you could get it.
O'Mara tied up his years on the Gangster Squad in a neat bow with this belief that the aging grifter Freddie "the Thief" Whalen had been able to reach across the continent to have some dippy-do bash Mickey Cohen in the head for what he'd done to his boy -- a pure noir fantasy if ever there was one.
Except maybe it wasn't a fantasy.