Lessons from Al 'Scarface' Capone

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April 25, 2016

Senior Gleaner writer Gary Spaulding, in an article on Friday, April 22, 2016, chronicled the history of some of Jamaica's most wanted - from Rhygin in the 1960s to Duppy Film in 2016. These notorious men, however, seem to pale into insignificance when compared to an American born in 1899 to Italian immigrants. His name, at birth, was Al Capone, but in later life, he would be better known as 'Scarface', having received the scars from a knife attack from a man who was defending his sister from Capone's sexual harassment at a club in New York.

His occupation was that of a bootlegger and criminal in the era of Prohibition in the United States. Prohibition was a nationwide constitutional ban on the sale, production, importation and transportation of alcohol during the period 1920-1933. Private ownership and consumption of alcohol were, however, not federal crimes.

Al Capone's job was to circumvent the law in this Prohibition era. He became the head of the most profitable crime gang and was the mastermind of the notorious 1929 'Valentine's Day Massacre' in which eight men were brutally murdered in broad daylight. It was reported that he killed at least 32 people, including a prosecutor from Chicago who attempted to charge him for murder in 1924.

Al Capone honed his skills as a gangster while living in New York, but in 1919, at age 20, he went to Chicago and perfected those skills. He often complained about the bad reputation of his criminal activities. He is reported to have said: "Some call it bootlegging, some call it racketeering, I call it a business". His notoriety was well known, even in the White House.

The investigation that would later cause his demise was led by Treasury agent Frank Wilson, who was said to have been calm, calculating, relentless and not easily intimidated. He persisted with his investigations, even when Al Capone threatened him and his wife.

In March 1931, Al Capone was indicted by a grand jury in Chicago. Thereafter, he was arrested and charged for tax evasion. He worked out a plea deal with the prosecution to serve two and half years in prison. However, when the case went before Judge James Wilkinson, he reportedly told Al Capone that he could not bargain with a federal court.

When the trial started on October 5, 1931, Judge Wilkinson's first move was to exchange the entire list of jurors with jurors slated to sit in another court on the same building. This was done to avoid the possibility of jury tampering. Capone was found guilty of tax evasion and was subsequently sentenced to 11 years in prison. His appeal was dismissed. After nearly eight years in prison and paying all fines and back taxes, Capone was released from prison in 1939. Thereafter, his health rapidly deteriorated and he died in Palm Island, Florida, from a stroke in 1947.

The lessons from the above are, first, that a thorough investigation by a serious, fearless, aggressive and relentless investigator, coupled with a trial conducted by an astute, fair and fearless judge, can make a big difference to the outcome of a criminal case. Second, no man is bigger than the law and, final, a 'businessman' who earns a profit by whatever means should pay taxes. To help solve our crime problems, we need to have our own 'Frank Wilsons' and 'Judge James Wilkinsons'.

Keith N Bishop is an Attorney-at-Law and senior partner in the firm of Bishop & Partners. He may be contacted at knbishop@gmail.com

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