The Invincible Gangster by Taylor V. Smith Introduction Throughout the 1920’s and 1930’s, and again through the 1980’s and 1990’s, the gangster emerges as one of the most fascinating and highly-publicized figures of his era. From books, to movies, to unprecedented media coverage, the American public showed a captivation with this intriguing figure. Unassociated with former depictions of gangsters as devious and uncultured ethnic mobs, the modern gangster was exalted to an almost revered status and painted as one who was polished and refined. However, despite all of this attention from the media and the American public, the gangster largely managed to avoid confrontation with the law. For instance, Al Capone, the leader of Chicago’s underworld, dubbed “Public Enemy Number One” by authorities, lived a high-profile, almost celebrity lifestyle. How did known gangsters manage to live in the public spotlight and still remain free from legal entanglements? This paper will argue that it was due to a blurred boundary between criminal and respectability, a distorted immigrant view of the law, widespread public consent, effective racketeering schemes, successful implementation of business strategies, and the disorganization and feuding between law enforcement agencies. Effects of the Great War Prior to the Great War, it was widely believed that acts of crime did not necessarily result from an individual’s free choice. Determinists, who held to this position, believed that, instead, genetic and environmental factors determined which individuals would be criminal and which would be respectable. That is, all criminal actions depended upon one’s genetic make up, as well as upon the circumstances surrounding one’s upbringing. If a man behaved in criminal ways, he did so because he was required to do so by forces external to his will. The sentiments of many modern scientists – in particular, eugenicists – supported this position. After the Great War, however, the popularity of this position was quickly extinguished. Refuting the claims of the determinists, moralists asserted that men committed crimes in accordance with their free choice. Rather than relieve criminals of responsibility for their actions, moralists held that men who committed crimes did so willingly and, therefore, ought to bear the consequences of their decisions. Furthermore, because the majority of the media held to the moralist position, moralists possessed significant sway over public opinion. The moralist view had the effect of blurring the boundaries between criminal and respectability. Whereas eugenicists, who stood for the determinists, had once taught that criminals could be identified by race, ethnicity, or even appearance, suddenly, in light of the moralist view, one’s external characteristics no longer seemed a reliable judge of respectability. For example, many determinists believed that the crooked and troglodytic characteristics of southern and eastern Europeans naturally accompanied the common ‘thug.’ However, as Time Magazine pointed out, Al Capone, the chief proprietor of the 1920s-1930s Chicago underworld, was no savage desperado: “He is, in his own phrase, ‘a business man’ who wears clean linen, rides in a Lincoln car, [and] leaves acts of violence to his hirelings.” No longer was crime believed to reside solely in the ghettos and alleyways of the urban metropolis. In fact, most Americans began to believe that corruption actually originated within the boundaries of supposed respectability. Professor David E. Ruth speaks to this realization: Many seized on crime to expose an even deeper source of corruption: a general disrespect for authority and a dangerous spirit of indiscipline. Illicit drinking, shady business deals, and fast driving indicated that disrespect for the law characterized not just the hardened criminal but the average citizen as well. Anyone – even the most respectable businessman – was now potentially suspect. One of the most striking aspects of the gangster is his apparent normality. Jim Colosimo, once Chicago’s chief crime boss, “had many kindly human qualities – charity, open-handed generosity to those in distress and poverty…” Moreover, photographs of Al Capone’s modest two-flat where he lived with his wife, son, mother, sister, and two brothers appeared regularly in papers and drew attention to his devotion to family life…The Capones were good neighbors, and Al enjoyed nothing more than ‘puttering about in carpet slippers,’ fiddling with the radio, and playing with his son, whom he professed to ‘idolize.’ Capone reportedly came home every evening for dinner and spent most of his evenings in a favorite easy chair with a cigar. Sentimental music brought tears to his eyes…according to Time, the Big Shot was wearing a pink apron and carrying a pan of spaghetti when he greeted reporters at his home. Further, John Gotti, the New York Mafia’s Boss of Bosses, was recorded by FBI agents bragging to his crime family when his son, Frank, made 4 A’s on his report card. This normality, along with new, moralist-proposed standards of ‘criminal versus respectability,’ made it difficult to distinguish between the criminal and the average, law-abiding citizen. Immigrant Views of Law In addition to the new ethical standards created by moralists, many new immigrants to America held vilified attitudes towards the ‘law.’ This was because a majority of new immigrants had been exposed to unjust and oppressive judicial systems in their own respective countries. In Italy, for example, northern Italians often used laws to oppress and coerce southern Italians. Thus, the many southern Italians who immigrated to America came with the preconceived idea that laws were merely tools of oppression. Likewise, Irish immigrants came from the domineering rule of the British, and held similar conceptions of the law. Coincidentally, the Italians and the Irish – though they made up only 10.2 percent of Chicago’s population, collectively – represented over 60 percent of Chicago’s gangsters and organized crime leaders. As a result of this distorted view of the law, recent immigrants to America did not consider moral ramifications for lawlessness. Many immigrants entered, for instance, the bootlegging industry – a clearly illegal commerce – with their consciences unscathed. Writing of recent Chicago immigrants, historian Robert G. Spinney lucidly explains this paradigm: Because of their pre-Chicago experiences, these newcomers to the city tended not accept laws unquestioningly as embodiments of justice…For many newcomers to the city, justice was found only by evading the law. Prohibition seemed to be simply one more unjust law designed only to deprive them of happiness. Thus, when prohibition created a market for alcohol, many immigrants saw bootlegging as simply another way to make a living. This negligible view of the law led many new immigrants, who represented the largest population percentage of both Chicago and New York, to accept lawless deeds as viable business practices, making organized crime all the more acceptable. Popular Consent Another aspect to consider, which created safeguards for the gangster, was a new, widespread tolerance for lawlessness among native Anglo-Americans. It is doubtful that crime and unethical business practices would have flourished as they did had there not been significant public consent. Most notably, prohibition created a widespread demand for illegal alcohol. Prohibition, in the words of Jack Grey, “created a fresh tolerance for lawbreaking…Even bankers, executives, professionals and socialites seemed not merely to tolerate these lawbreakers but to boast of their association with them.” The public wanted alcohol; the gangsters were prepared to meet their demands. Furthermore, gangsters’ racketeering schemes, implemented in defiance of the Sherman anti-trust act, often found favor among businesses. By artificially regulating market prices, creating illegal trusts and monopolies, a racket could raise prices and wages, providing businesses with much sought after stabilization amid the highly competitive market. Racketeering afforded businessmen quick solutions to problematic market competition and labor-organization control. Though the racketeer, on some occasion, forced himself upon an industry, often times he was invited in, his services welcome. Largely due to their anti-prohibition and racketeering ploys, gangsters often enjoyed an almost celebrity-like status. Consider the instance of Al Capone: Confirmation of Capone’s exalted status came from the reported reactions of ordinary men and women who encountered him during his rituals of consumption. Chicagoans craned their necks to see his limousine pass by on warm summer evenings. Theatergoers devoted their attention to him when he appeared in all his glory in their midst. Baseball fans noted with pleasure his attendance in a front-row seat at Wrigley Field. His appearance at a heavyweight championship fight in Miami overshadowed a sizable contingent of movie stars and other entertainers. Socialites clamored for invitations to his parties. This same Al Capone, it was widely rumored, had taken part in many bloody gang battles. Nevertheless, he was revered by the American public. Furthermore, consider John Gotti: A small-time, sharply dressed hijacker from Queens was quickly catapulted into a front-page Dapper Don. And as Gotti appeared on the cover of Time, his portrait painted by none other than Andy Warhol, People, and the New York Times Magazine, his notoriety was in many not too scrupulous minds transmitted into celebrity This projection to fame occurred shortly after Gotti was acquitted for charges alleging his involvement in a series of murders, and in drug-trafficking. The public seemed unconcerned. Had the public been less accepting – less encouraging, even – of these men and their crimes, it is probable that their regimes of lawlessness would have been significantly hindered. Racketeering Of all of the ways that gangsters managed to remain safe from the punishment of law, racketeering emerges as perhaps the most significant. Particularly after prohibition was repealed in 1933, racketeering became the crime family’s chief modus operandi. According John Landesco, “’Racketeering’ is the exploitation for personal profit, by means of violence, of a business association or employees’ organization.” The purpose of a racket, then, is (1) to use violence and coercion to seize control of business associations, (2) to maintain or raise prices and wages, and (3) to exploit these newly formed organizations for personal profit. According to the Chicago Journal of Commerce, a ‘racketeer’ may be defined as “the boss of a supposedly legitimate business association; he may be a labor union organizer; he may pretend to be one or the other, or both; or he may be just a journeyman thug.” Indeed, it is difficult to discern a racketeer from his law-abiding peers, and thus, to discern law-abiding businessmen from racketeers. As previously stated, rackets were often desirable to business owners. This may seem confusing, considering that racketeers exploited business. Why did businesses not find this exploitation destructive? Because, David E. Ruth explains, “the racketeer’s net stretched so wide – from laundry to produce to taxis to pinball machines – big-city consumers contributed evenly, and thus relatively painlessly, to this haul.” Racketeers learned to earn their fortunes in small increments, following the example of many successful big businesses. Nevertheless, tiny increments, taken in large proportions, add up. Though individual industries might pay only marginal sums, in 1932, the New York Times estimated the crime bill of the United States to be more than eleven billion dollars a year. This figure bears witness to just how many “tiny increments” organized crime exercised control over. Furthermore, because crime organizations encompassed so many industries, these organizations became all the more impregnable. Another reason that rackets were so elusive is that they had ties to nearly every industry imaginable. The New York Times reported in 1931, There are building, laundry, ice distribution, vegetable and fruit, milk, fish, flour, trucking, leather goods, window cleaning, pushcart, undertaking, millinery and cleaning and dying rackets; there are even musician, lawyer and doctor rackets. With so many industries to capitalize on, even if a gang did lose an industry here or there in a legal battle, it would hardly phase the gang’s prosperity. The ever-increasing vastness of racketeering prevented any large-scale legal attacks from taking place. Another safety measure that racketeering afforded to gangsters was its enmeshment with legitimate businesses and its use of legal business practices. Indeed, one of the most ironic characteristics of the racket is that many of its methods and profits were often quite legal. A racket, first of all, involved a threat – often a threat of violence – that usually loomed over a business continuously. However, this threat was presented in order to force acts that were generally quite legal. Racketeers made their profits by exploiting business relationships. Yet, these profits were often normal and reasonable, and rarely brought harm to the business. Business relationships, forced though they were, were often ‘business as usual’ and might apply to production or employment, or they might be political – forcing campaign contributions. The racket might be rigidly organized, or it might be unorganized; it might be run by sophisticated crime networks, or its proprietor might be a single individual. It is this normality that made it so difficult to prove that a racket was, indeed, at work. Dr. Raymond Moley, an acclaimed expert on rackets in the 1930s, articulates the real reason that rackets were so difficult to, first of all, detect, and secondly, disband: The deep-lying difficulty in any remedial dealing with the racket is that it is a manifestation of human activity deeply embedded in the normal process of economic competition, labor relations, business practice and physiology, political prudence, governmental administration, public indifference to unused and unpopular laws, moral standards – in short, of almost the sum total of what we call, for lack of a better name, civilization. The reason the racket is so hard to stop is that it looks like normal life. Many rackets had their very origins in legal quarters. Rackets often sprang up in well-established and reputable companies, allowing illegal practices to continue under a veil of respectability. Unfortunately, no laws or restrictions were ever implemented to limit the influence of the racket. Doing so in a just manner would have been impossible. This is because the racket was so intertwined with legitimate business that any restriction placed upon the racket would unduly harm the legal business. Regulations aiming to strike racketeering at the heart would necessarily hurt honest commerce. Because rackets were so difficult to break up, it logically follows that racketeers – the individuals who managed racketeering operations – were also rarely prosecuted. Just as rackets appeared to be respectable, legitimate businesses, so racketeers appeared to be respectable, legitimate businessmen. In 1928, for example, authorities in Miami, Florida were surprised to find that Al Capone had no criminal record, despite his years as a known underworld figure. David E. Ruth records, In the case of racketeering it often seemed nearly impossible to distinguish the crook from the businessman. The outright criminal, the unethical proprietor desperate to survive amidst fierce competition, and the upstanding businessman merged into a single suspect figure. Criminal racketeers and virtuous businessmen alike, for the most part, avoided confrontation with the law. Business Organization After racketeering, the crime family’s most effective method for evading prosecution was its strict, business-like organization. Indeed, a successful crime family appeared uncannily similar, structurally speaking, to the successful big business. It was this structure that helped to create a sort of invisible government that, some say, often became stronger than the State itself. First of all, the crime family was organized, as was a business enterprise, with a clear, smooth chain of command. Much like the CEO of a big corporation, the crime boss was far removed from the daily operations of his ‘family,’ allowing him to profit safely while members lower on the ‘corporate ladder’ risked arrest and prosecution. In fact, many bosses were really quite reputable, possessing means and credit, and were not generally known as underworld figures. These masterminds were rarely ever caught, allowing them to operate for years more or less immune from the punishment of law. Although bosses remained safe, their underlings were always expendable, constantly risking arrest. Often times, low-level bandits did not even know the identity of the very boss that they were working for. By keeping the boss’s identity secret, even if an underling was arrested, he would be unable to reveal the identity of his boss, for he would not know. On other occasions, these low-level subordinates were actually chosen because of their criminal record. A court would be less likely to believe the testimony of convicted criminal over the testimony of the criminal’s boss – by all accounts, a respectable businessman. Thus, crime families were organized in such a way that the reputation of the boss would be ever protected. Another benefit of a criminal organization’s business structure involved its networking: if a gangster was ever in need of any kind of assistance, he had at his disposal a vast network of connections throughout the underworld. Edward H. Smith refers to this elaborate and capable network as the ‘Underground.’ The Underground operated as an organization of crooks, bribe takers, and dishonest office holders, who passed out favors and immunities in order to accomplish their goals. The Underground made it possible for a gangster facing legal action to see the “right” people in order to escape serious indictment, allowing gangsters to commit their crimes with only marginal fear of punishment. Edward H. Smith explains that, when a criminal was connected to the Underworld, He knows who is ‘right’ in every city in the country. If he doesn’t, he can find out by approaching the nearest crook, the first fence, often the very officer who arrests him. If he is thrown into jail his cellmate or tiermates will tell him how to proceed, who to ‘see’ and what ‘line to spring.’ The Underground often allowed for known criminals to serve much lighter sentences than even ordinarily law-abiding citizen who had slight run-ins with the law. This further frustrated the efforts of authorities to take down criminal organizations. When John Gotti, the head of New York’s most powerful crime family, the Gambino Family, was tried for murder and drug trafficking, he was able to sit confidently in the courtroom knowing that the court would rule in his favor. How was he able to perceive the outcome of the trial? Gotti had used his Underworld connections to buy a juror. Juror #11, a fifty-three year old ex-Marine named George Pape, who, coincidently enough, was chosen by his fellow jurors to be their foreman, agreed to vote for Gotti’s acquittal – the one vote that Gotti needed to win the trial. Pape was paid well for his services. John Gotti was, further, able to secure a mole within the law enforcement community. Former Police Detective William Piest sold police secrets to Gotti, allowing Gotti to continually stay a step ahead of FBI agents, until he was later caught. This is yet another example of the powerful Underground of organized crime. Finally, many crime organizations successfully applied state-of-the-art business innovation to their own means. From hierarchal leadership, to job specialization within the crime family, to up-to-date technology, every novelty developed for businessmen was effectively capitalized upon by organized crime. Each of these business methods served to enhance the gangster’s elusiveness. Disorganization and Rivalry of Law Enforcement One final reason that gangsters managed to avoid legal prosecution was not due to their efforts at all, but the disorganization and feuding of law enforcement. Throughout the history of organized crime, rivalry between various agencies and law enforcement authorities threatened again and again to inhibit proper legal action from being taken against gangsters. When John Gotti, New York’s Boss of Bosses, was finally to be tried, heated feuds arose over who would bring charges against him. Among those vying for the right to prosecute were Manhattan District Attorney Bob Morgenthau and his assistant, Michael Cherkasky; Walter Mack, who worked for the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office; Andrew Maloney, the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, and his chief criminal assistant, John Gleeson; and Ron Goldstock, head of the State Organized Crime Task Force. Each of these contenders fought a vicious – and at times, personal – battle in order to attain the right to prosecute the great John Gotti. Had various charges against Gotti been allotted to each of these anxious prosecutors, it is possible that Gotti would have won his freedom, as he had done so many times before. Fortunately, the right to bring accusations against Gotti was granted solely to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District, allowing prosecutor John Gleeson to argue his case in light of all of Gotti’s alleged crimes. The combined weight of Gotti’s numerous charges allowed for a stronger case and ultimately resulted in his conviction. Gotti, himself, addressing his acting underboss, Salvatore Gravano, spoke to the fumbles of law enforcement. The FBI recorded Gotti as saying, “’You know why they can’t win, Sammy?’…‘They got no…cohesion,’…‘They got no unity.’” Indeed, disunity amongst these agencies did hinder the adequate collection of information and twice aided in Gotti’s acquittals. Conclusion How, then, did the gangster manage to live in the public eye while still remaining beyond the grasp of authorities? First of all, after the Great War, opinions and standards of ethical and unethical business practices were markedly changed. Whereas criminals were once thought only to be members of uncivilized ethnic groups, it became apparent after the War that even upstanding businessmen, desperate to survive in the dangerously competitive market, were capable of unscrupulous behavior. Americans began to realize that many criminals were surprisingly normal. These changes in American culture made it difficult for police to distinguish between the gangster and the average citizen. Second, because much of the immigrant populace believed the law to be a tool of unjust subjugation, practices such as bootlegging and racketeering – otherwise considered unethical – were seen as valid and justifiable. Moreover, immigrants represented such a large percentage of the population that widespread immigrant acceptance, in practice, meant widespread acceptance in general. Third, individual standards of morality among Anglo-Americans were also undermined in the aftermath of the Great War. Many Americans became willing – even eager – to purchase alcohol, despite prohibition laws. Furthermore, many American businessmen, recognizing the benefits of the illegal racket, disregarded the Sherman anti-trust act and invited racketeers to assist in stabilizing their businesses. By participating in these illegal practices, Americans aided the growth of organized crime and frustrated efforts by authorities to contain it. Fourthly, the racket, by the vastness of its operations and by its thorough enmeshment with legitimate businesses, became exceedingly difficult to detect. Involvement in numerous industries not only received support from businesses but also allowed the racket to place only meager burdens on the consumer. Additionally, because rackets worked within businesses, many rackets were hidden under a veil of respectability by legitimate businesses. Moreover, restrictions on rackets would mean restrictions on lawful businesses, making a direct attack on rackets impossible. Fifth, crime families’ big business organization methods created a system wherein the boss was protected and the underling was expendable. These structures were so strong, in fact, that even when their top leadership was struck down, many still managed, for a short period of time, to operate as normal. This hierarchical leadership, coupled with the most modern business techniques, made organized crime families seemingly invincible. Finally, the disorganization of law enforcement agencies hindered the agencies’ own efforts to battle organized crime. Rivalry between various law enforcement groups rendered the vital coordination process impossible. Had these agencies been more efficient, they might have taken a stronger stand against organized crime in America. Therefore, by each of these methods, gangsters were able to profit safely while still enjoying public admiration. Though law enforcement has ended the powerful crime regimes of Al Capone, in the 1930s, and John Gotti, in the 1990s, it is doubtful that complete cessation of organized crime will ever be fully realized. In the words of Andrew A. Bruce, “As long as crime is organized and efficient, and the administration of justice in unorganized and inefficient, so long will crime be a problem in the community.” Thus, for now, gangsters continue, by each of these techniques, to live amidst the American populace, yet beneath the radar of law enforcement. Bibliography Blum, Howard. Gangland: How the FBI Broke the Mob. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993. Grey, Jack. “The New Underworld.” Outlook and Independent 151 (March 1929): 444. Landesco, John. Organized Crime in Chicago. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1968. Ruth, David E. Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996. Spinney, Robert G. City of Big Shoulders. Chicago: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000. [HR][/HR] David E. Ruth, Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1996).  Ibid.  Time Magazine, 24 March 1930.  Ruth, Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934, 30.  Ibid, 32.  Ibid, 140-141.  Ibid.  Howard Blum, Gangland: How the FBI Broke the Mob, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1993), 60.  Robert G. Spinney, City of Big Shoulders, (Chicago: Northern Illinois University Press, 2000), 181.  Andrew A. Bruce, introduction to John Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1968), 3.  Spinney, City of Big Shoulders, 180.  Ibid, 181.  Andrew A. Bruce, introduction to Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 3.  Ruth, Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934, 60.  Jack Grey, “The New Underworld,” Outlook and Independent 151 (March 1929): 444, quoted in Ibid.  Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 151-152.  Gordon L. Hostetter, “The Growing Menace of the Racketeer,” New York Times, 30 October 1932.  Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 151-152.  Ruth, Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934, 136.  Blum, Gangland: How the FBI Broke the Mob, 179.  Ruth, Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934, 60.  Hostetter, “The Growing Menace of the Racketeer.”  Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 149.  Ibid, 167.  Chicago Journal of Commerce, 17 December 1927, quoted in Ibid, 149.  Ruth, Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934, 46.  Raymond Moley, “The Racket: The Most Elusive of Crimes,” New York Times, 9 August 1931, 101.  Moley, “The Racket: The Most Elusive of Crimes,” 102.  Ibid, 103.  Edward H. Smith, “Crime Has Now Evolved As a Big Business,” New York Times, 5 September 1926, XX7.  Moley, “The Racket: The Most Elusive of Crimes,” 101.  Ruth, Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934, 61.  Smith, “Crime Has Now Evolved As a Big Business,” XX5-XX6.  Ibid.  Ruth, Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934, 43.  Smith, “Crime Has Now Evolved As a Big Business,” XX6.  Ibid.  Ibid.  Ibid, XX7  Blum, Gangland: How the FBI Broke the Mob.  Ruth, Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture, 1918-1934, 48.  Blum, Gangland: How the FBI Broke the Mob.  Ibid, 303.  Ibid.  Andrew A. Bruce, introduction to Landesco, Organized Crime in Chicago, 149.