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AL CAPONE'S FLORIDA ESCAPE - PALM ISLAND ESTATE

Al Capone, head of the most profitable crime syndicate of the Prohibition Era and mastermind of the notorious 1929 "Valentine's Day Massacre," seemed above the law. In the end, however, Capone would be brought to justice not for murder, extortion, or bootlegging, but for failing to pay his income tax. Credit for his conviction is due less to Elliot Ness and The Untouchables than to the dogged work of Bureau of Revenue investigator Frank Wilson and a clever surprise pulled by a federal judge, James Wilkerson. Al Capone once complained about the bad reputation of his criminal enterprise: "Some call it bootlegging. Some call it racketeering. I call it a business." The lesson of The People vs. Al Capone is that a profitable businessman, no matter how he earns his income, does have to pay his taxes.

Twenty-year-old Al Capone arrived in Chicago in 1919 to help run Johnny Torrio's bootlegging operation. It was Capone's job to keep the competition in line, and he did so with ruthless efficiency. When Torrio left Chicago in 1925, driven out by a maiming and death threats, Capone took over the bootlegging operation. Operating from his headquarters at the Hawthorne Inn in Cicero (with its bulletproof shutters on every window), Capone dispatched his enforcers. On April 27, 1925, a five-car motorcade carrying Capone's trigger men swept by members of a rival bootlegging gang as they left a bar and opened fire with machine guns. One of the men killed, it turned out, was not a known bootlegger but rather Bill McSwiggin, an assistant state's attorney. Chicagoans were used to reports of gang members killing other gang members, but the murder of a top law enforcement officer was something new--and the public looked for a response to the growing violence in their city. Authorities charged Capone with the McSwiggin murder, but the fix was in and, six grand juries and no indictments later, charges were dropped.

By 1926, while still maintaining offices in Cicero, Capone had moved his headquarters to fifty rooms of Chicago's Hotel Metropole. With the city's new mayor, Big Bill Thompson , in his pocket, Capone carried out his illegal bootlegging, racketeering, and gambling businesses with virtual impunity. His enforcers carried officially stamped cards issued by the city that read: "To the Police Department--you will extend the courtesies of this department to the bearer."

When Chicago's winters were to much to bear, Capone headed south to his luxurious Miami estate, surrounded by a ten-foot concrete wall, where he could direct operations poolside or from his thirty-two foot cabin cruiser. By 1928, Capone's syndicate was grossing an estimated $105,000,000 a year. Capone liked to think of himself not as a ruthless criminal , but as "a public benefactor." "I've given people light pleasures," he said, "shown them a good time."

Capone chose to view the killing of rival gang members as a necessary evil: "killing a man in defense of your business" is like "the law of self-defense,...a little broader than the law books look at it." And could he kill. On May 7, 1928, Capone held a banquet to which he invited three former associates, men he knew had joined in a plot to assassinate him, but men who still thought they were on good terms with Capone. Drunk and full, the three men suddenly found themselves surrounded by Capone's men who tied each to a chair. Capone pulled out a baseball bat and with shocking deliberation beat each man to death. The best known of the Capone-ordered killings came on Valentine's Day 1929. While seven member of George "Bugs" Moran's bootlegging gang waited in a Chicago warehouse, expecting the arrival of a truckload of whiskey, a Cadillac carrying six of Capone's men, four dressed in police uniforms, pulled up in front of the warehouse. The members of the Moran gang fell amidst a hail of bullets from machine guns, bodies strewn against a yellow brick wall. Few doubted who the killers were. "Only Capone kills like that," Moran said.
 

AL CAPONE'S FLORIDA ESCAPE - PALM ISLAND ESTATE






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