Gangster Al Capone Charged on Income Tax Violations

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Gangster Al Capone Charged on Income Tax Violations

Photograph

By: Anonymous

Date: October 14, 1931

Source: Corbis

About the Photographer: This image is part of the stock collection at Corbis photo agency. The photographer is not known.

INTRODUCTION

Alphonse "Al" Capone, one of the most notorious gangsters of the Prohibition era, escaped prosecution for violent crimes but went to prison for tax evasion in 1931.

Capone was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 17, 1899 to immigrants from Naples, Italy. Upon dropping out of school in the sixth grade, he joined a gang of young thugs in lower Manhattan. A razor slash across the left cheek gave Capone the nickname of "Scarface." At twenty, he killed his first man.

In 1922, Capone followed his mentor in crime, Johnny Torrio, to Chicago. Torrio specialized in gambling, prostitution, and bootlegged liquor. When a murder attempt in 1925 left him seriously wounded, Torrio retired and left his business to Capone.

Although he listed his occupation on business cards as "secondhand furniture dealer," Capone became the top gangster in Chicago and one of the best-known gangsters in the world. The crime boss of Chicago, he divided the city into districts that were controlled by different gangs. He enforced his will with baseball bats and Thompson submachine guns. By the mid-1920s, two hundred murders a year were linked to Capone. However, since he only targeted fellow gangsters and not the general public, Capone became a folk hero to many Americans.

By the late 1920s, Capone grossed about $70 million annually from liquor, prostitution, loan sharking, extortion, slot machines, and gambling. Unfortunately, he failed to report his earnings. While he could intimidate and bribe the Chicago police, Capone could not control the U.S. Treasury Department. Indicted for federal income tax evasion in June 1931, he was convicted in October. Capone received a sentence of eleven years in prison, first served in Atlanta and then at Alcatraz, the notorious prison in San Fran-cisco Bay. Suffering from advanced syphilis, he was released from prison in 1939 and died in bed in Florida on January 25, 1947.

PRIMARY SOURCE

GANGSTER AL CAPONE CHARGED ON INCOME TAX VIOLATIONS

See primary source image.

SIGNIFICANCE

Capone is significant both for his criminal activities and his place in popular culture. The best-known gangster of the Prohibition era, Capone's wealth and fame underscored the failure of the anti-liquor law. Despite spending great amounts of money and making a tremendous effort, the federal government could not halt the demand for liquor that made Capone into an exceptionally wealthy man. Although Capone was never convicted for his bootlegging crimes, his prison sentence for income tax violation resonated through subsequent decades as evidence that no one was exempt from paying their taxes.

Capone showed as much skill in public relations as he did with criminal enterprises. Always eager to talk to reporters and a colorful man, Capone became the first media star gangster. Americans were infatuated by the gangster as represented by Capone, whose stylish dress and fancy cars demonstrated victory over humble beginnings.

Capone helped turn the figure of the gangster into an American folk hero. He became a model of the American man of the 1920s. Capone forged a style that emphasized self-made success, businesslike demeanor, lavish consumerism, fierce independence, violent pursuit of self-interest, and an unabashed flouting of the nation's social, economic, and legal systems. For thumbing his nose at society and government, Americans loved this antihero.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Books

Irey, Elmer L. The Tax Dodgers: The Inside Story of the T-Men's War with America's Political and Underworld Hoodlums. New York: Greenberg, 1948.

Kobler, John. Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone. New York: Putnam's, 1971.

Schoenberg, Robert J. Mr. Capone. New York: William Morrow, 1992.

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