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PROHIBITION: gangsterism and violence

prohibition breeds violence


The Ken Burns documentary: Prohibition, which ran on PBS this week, was a drastic rear-view mirror look back at anti-drinking versus the anti-law-n-order forces it spawned.

Prohibition bred violence and speakeasies
Associated Press photo

Most advocates of drinking or sobriety retreat peacefully to their abodes and wait for their next fix. Not so, Chicago’s Al Capone and Bugs Moran. Their animosity peaked at the infamous: St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, in February, 1939. Despite popular opinion: Capone was never legally tied to the attempted assassination of Moran, in which seven died. The late Capone, was photographed vacationing in Florida at the time of the shooting in the Windy City.

Burn’s documentary explains how Moran’s men were in that warehouse on the fateful day. Moran received a phone call about a stolen truck full of booze. He only survived the massacre because he stopped to get a haircut. reports that the head of the “Purple Gang” Abe Berstein owed Capone a favor. It says Berstein called Moran and lured him to the warehouse with the stolen booze truck tip. Another source, Jay Robert Nash in his book: Bloodletters and Bad Men,” that Moran could get the entire truck load for $57 a case. After the failed attempt to get Moran, the drama between the two criminals took a back seat to Capone’s legal issues.

With the relative peace in Chicago-land, the gangsters in Chicago and Detroit came to a workable arrangement. Mark Grow, writes in “The Purple Gang: Detroit’s Most Ruthless Racketeers”: the Jewish gang ran everything east of U.S. 131, while “Scarface” and company ran bootlegging west of the highway, which runs north of the Indiana border up to Petoskey, Michigan. The Purple Gang: Detroit's Most Ruthless Racketeers

In the “Untouchables,” weekly TV show and later movie starring Kevin Costner, Eliot Ness, ultimately nabs Capone for income tax evasion. An interesting addendum is that Capone who made tremendous profits from various illegal activities, never reported any income. But some criminals evidently declared taxes on their illegal gains. Apparently declaring illegal earnings spared them from IRS income tax charges.

The documentary also focused on why the 18th was the first and only amendment ever appealed. Before prohibition, the government taxed mostly beer and wine distributors and during prohibition the government loss those revenues. After the income tax became law, the revenues now came from everyone, including Capone -- the gain was much greater after appeal than before prohibition.

For further information on this subject see:

Connection between Chicago’s Al Capone and Abe Berstein’s Detroit Purple Gang, by Flint Examiner:

The Purple Gang: Detroit's Most Ruthless Racketeers

On this day in NY history: Al Capone Dies


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