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The Three C's Of Prohibition: Crime, Corruption, And Criminals

Katelyn May, Sophia Holman, Stephanie Mullin, Margaret Rong

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Prohibition 1920-1933

In the 1820s and 1830s, the United States expressed a nationwide prohibition on production, importation, and transportation of alcohol beverages. The movement was supported by both the Democratic and Republican parties. Women were especially strong supporters of this temperance movement, since alcohol was considered a destructive force in the families. The temperance movement spread in state after state, it then became a law nationwide after the passing of eighteenth amendment in 1920. The Volstead Act was put into place to enforce this new amendment to the Constitution. The Eighteenth Amendment established the prohibition of alcoholic beverages in the United States by declaring the production, transport, and sale of alcohol as being illegal.

However, the amendment does not ever mention the consumption of alcohol as being illegal. Prohibition did not decrease the consumption of alcohol; however, it set the stage for crime and political corruption. Many private business companies started to illegally produce and transport wine. For instance, "speakeasies" were stores or nightclubs selling alcohol illegally during this era. The smuggling of alcohol also started to appear across states, like "moonshine" or "bathtub gin" in private homes. The Prohibition Era also encouraged the rise of government corruption and criminal activity connected with bootlegging. Because of this gangs were a common phenomena during this era as they were willing to take the risks for the enormous monetary rewards bootlegging promised.,,

Notorious Gangsters

The rise of organized crime and gangsters can be credited to President Hoover's "great social and economic experiment" of Prohibition that epically failed and left America with higher crime rates and the rise of gangs in American cities. Producing, distributing or selling alcohol illegally, became the central piece in the rise of organized crime due to Prohibition. Thugs and gangsters began to rapidly control cities when they became the local alcohol suppliers as the strong demand for alcohol increased. Gangsters were cashing in on the business of "bootlegging, speakeasies, corrupting law enforcement, and racketeering to have a steady flow of income."

The increase of organized crime would eventually lead to gangsters being able to cash in on the "narcotics traffic, gambling, prostitution, labor racketeering, loan-sharking, and extortion." It became a bloody battle of fighting over illegal contraband and territory between the gangs in cities, such as Detroit, Chicago, and in New York City. The battle over territory and booze between rival gangs led to a popularization of hit-and-runs and drive-by-shootings resulting in many deaths sparked by the escalation of organized crime during Prohibition. In the cities many people were killed by association or by owing money to gangs or through fighting over territory. Prohibition made gangsters more profitable, notorious, dangerous, feared, and successful figures as they are known today.

With the rise of organized crime and gangsters the establishment and influence of American Mafia crime rose. The most notorious gangster to become popularized during the Prohibition era was Al Capone. While Al Capone was the most prominent gangster to succeed from organized crime, others such as Johnny Torrio, Lucky Luciano, and Bugs Moran who were lesser known but still influential to the rise of gangsters during Prohibition.

Al Capone

During the Prohibition, one of the most well-known gangsters was Al Capone, also known as "scar face". During these times in America Capone was one of the top and most recognized gangsters during the Prohibition from his work with bootlegging and smuggling alcohol. With the thought of Prohibition possibly getting repealed, he always came up with back up plans. Capone also began to take over labor unions, chauffeur's, plummer's, city works, ect.

During these times, Capone was to be known to be "at the top if his game", and was so high up he barley had any rivals because of how much power he possessed. With alcohol being illegal during this period, the crime rate increased with Al Capone being a key player in the process. The main outlet for Capone's criminal activity was based in an organized group known as the Chicago Outfit, which he later took over after Gangster Johnny Torrio. This was a group, also known as the "mafia" in south Chicago that played a huge role in the rise of organized crime during Prohibition.

Not only did Capone blatantly disregard the Eighteenth Amendment but he also caused extreme government corruption due to the fact he also was paying off police in the city to not arrest men in the mafia and to keep them quiet of what was going on in the "underworld" of gang activity.

Capone could never be caught in the act even though many knew what he was up too. Finally, in 1931 they found Capone guilty after a new jury was brought in, after realizing he paid the prior jury money to keep then quiet and keep and keep him from going to jail. Capone was sentenced to 11 years in federal prison and fined $80,000 dollars for tax evasion. ,� ,

Johnny Torrio

During the times of the Prohibition, Torrio was leading the Chicago outfit, the Mafia later taken over by Al Capone. His Mafia was constantly smuggling alcohol and illegal bootlegging but before the Prohibition the Chicago Outfit was mostly known for their prostitution racket . The Mafia brought in millions of dollars a year smuggling alcohol and for the most part got away with it.

With Torrio being one of the main leaders of the group, he called a lot of the shots and played a huge roll in the crime that went down. Torrio was also a very harsh leader to his associates, and when they did not follow his orders, most of the time Torrio had them killed, and even had people he felt threatened by gunned down.

Torrio took a lot of pride in his work, and during these times made his Mafia, "A force to be reckoned with." Even though Torrio had great power and a secure spot during the Prohibition times, he did end up getting black mailed by his partner O'Banion. O'Banion was the leader of another very powerful mafia in Chicago and ultimately ended Torrio's Gangster career. When Torrio was gunned down by O'banion's Mafia, he did survive but when heeled Torrio and his family moved back to his birthplace, Italy.

Lucky Luciano

Lucky Luciano was arguably one of the richest gangsters in the world during his time due to dominating the illegal trade of alcohol in New York City. Luciano was known for importing "scotch, whisky, and rum from Scotland, Canada and the Caribbean." In 1931 Luciano would rise to power and become the leader of five Mafia families in Manhattan.

While Al Capone was a world renowned gangster, Lucky Luciano can be credited with modernizing organized crime and leading the trend of gangsters to live and dress expensive and elegant. Lucky Luciano would eventually be charged with having dealing in a prostitution ring, which would end his successful bootlegging career.,

Bugs Moran

Bugs Moran was also a lesser known gangster but would effectively leave his mark on organized crime and the streets of Chicago. Bugs Moran was the last leader of the North Side gang and arch rivals of Al Capone and Johnny Torrio. Moran would attempt to assert his authority with the use of fear and by assassinations to further his profit from the distribution and selling of illegal alcohol.

Moran waged a war on the notorious Al Capone and his gang when he killed prominent figures of the Chicago Outfit gang. This would lead to the deadliest gang fight in this time period, the St.Valentine's Day Massacre. Capone's gang members were dressed up as police officers staging to raid an illegal alcohol deliver for Moran and then shot and killed everyone in the vicinity, lucky for Moran he escaped just in time.

Following the massacre Moran and his gang laid low and would eventually lose any influence they had. After Prohibition Bugs Moran went back to committing robbery, extortion, and fraud for profit.,

A political cartoon exposing the corrupt "prohibition agents", "police officers", and "politicians" all turning their backs ready to collect their bribes from members of organized crime.

A political cartoon exposing the corrupt "prohibition agents", "police officers", and "politicians" all turning their backs ready to collect their bribes from members of organized crime.

Government Corruption

Many government officials and members of the police force turned to the side or corruption during Prohibition. They took advantage of the Prohibition era by using their power to generate a supplemental income in exchange for turning their heads the other way from the illegal activities of the bootleggers.

The line that separated organized crime and law enforcement was blurred at the time due to the gang's extravagant profits that could then be reinvested to purchase protection and demoralize law enforcement officers. A common concept at this time was that "every man has a price" meaning that anyone was willing to look the other way if the price is right.

One would be mistaken in saying that it was only members of the local law enforcement that were corrupt because in reality the corruption was widespread from the local police officers to the Attorney General of the United States and many more in between. Government corruption allowed the bootlegging industry to grow quickly due to the fact that anyone who had the authoritative ability to stand in the gangster's way of operation could be bribed to the side of corruption.

As will be explained in the next part of the article some government officials during Prohibition will completely abandon their positions for a taste of the gangster life while others were more keen to keep a low profile and simply take their money and keep quiet., ,

Roy Olmstead

Roy Olmstead a promising policeman turned bootlegger by Prohibition. Two months after the beginning of Prohibition Seattle police lieutenant Roy Olmstead was part of a mission to smuggle whiskey into the same state where he swore to uphold the laws of the United States.

However, the mission took a turn for the worse when Prohibition agents came onto the scene and recognized Olmstead who at the time was the "young most promising lieutenant" member of the police force. Once arrested Olmstead was tried and found guilty of violating the Eighteenth Amendment and fired from the police force. With no where else to go Olmstead turned to a full-time career of bootlegging becoming Seattle's "Rum King."

Part of Olmstead's rise to dominance in the bootlegging industry was his close connections with law enforcement including policemen, prosecutors, and judges all of which were either his friends, customers, or reaping the profits of his illegal business. Ed Hunt was a member of the police force conspiring with Olmstead who handled the payouts given to his fellow law enforcement workers. His work was so effective that at Olmstead's height he was sneaking alcohol into downtown Seattle in the middle of the day with no repercussions from police who were turning their heads the other way.

Olmstead was eventually arrested due to undeniable evidence of his bootlegging acquired through wiretapping his telephone. ,

George Remus

Remus, like Olmstead, realized that the honest living made by working for law enforcement was dull in comparison to the extravagant income that could be made by fighting it. Remus was a twenty-year veteran defense attorney in Chicago whose occupation of interest took a turn after defending several bootleggers.

He used his legal knowledge of the Volstead Act to find loopholes which allowed him to buy distilleries and pharmacies to sell alcohol for its medical purposes under federal licenses. Remus moved to Cincinnati where he created a bootlegging empire buying up as many distilleries as possible and ordering his own workers to "hijack" the trucks transporting the liquor to them and selling the alcohol on the black market.

Remus referred to himself as the "biggest man in the whiskey business" doing millions of dollars in business a year. To maintain his massive scheme, like Olmstead, Remus paid off hundreds of government officials and policemen at all levels, including the Attorney General whom he bribed with $500,000. Although obtained illegally Remus was not one to hide his wealth throwing lash parties at his mansion with generous gifts for his guests, many have suggested that Remus was the inspiration for Gatsby in the Great Gatsby.

Remus was eventually charged with countless violations of the Volstead Act and was sentenced to two years in prison whereupon release he killed his wife, was acquitted, and died of old age.

Attorney General Daugherty

As member of President Harding's "Ohio Gang" of corrupt government officials Daugherty came under public scrutiny for his blatant disregard to investigate accusations of government corruption during Prohibition. Daugherty has been accused of using Prohibition to supplement his income by providing criminals protection in exchange for large sums of money.

His right-hand man Jess Smith met up with notorious bootlegger George Remus promising Remus unlimited federal alcohol licenses in exchange for $2.50 per barrel of alcohol sold; in total Smith collected more than a quarter million dollars in bribes from Remus.

An ex-convict testified against Daugherty arguing that all the money Smith collected from bootleggers (approximately 7 million) was turned over to Attorney General Daugherty himself. However before the testimony, Smith committed suicide and therefore it was inconclusive if Daugherty did take part in the bribery.

The End of an Era

On December 5th 1933 Prohibition finally came to an end with the ratification of the twenty first amendment repealing the eighteenth amendment. The Prohibition Era could be considered one of the biggest failures in the United States history as the effects of the legislation basically were the opposite of what was intended to happen. Crime rose significantly with the rise of gangs, alcohol consumption did not decrease, and the US government lost billions of dollars in tax revenue.

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