How the Law Finally Caught Up With Al Capone
In the “roaring twenties,” he ruled an empire of crime in the Windy City: gambling, prostitution, bootlegging, bribery, narcotics trafficking, robbery, “protection” rackets, and murder. And it seemed that law enforcement couldn’t touch him.
The early Bureau would have been happy to join the fight to take Capone down. But we needed a federal crime to hang our case on—and the evidence to back it up.
In those days, racketeering laws weren’t what they are today. We didn’t have jurisdiction over prohibition violations; that fell to the Bureau of Prohibition. Even when it was widely rumored that Capone had ordered the brutal murders of seven gangland rivals in the infamous “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” we couldn’t get involved. Why? The killings weren’t a federal offense.
Then, in 1929, we got a break.
On February 27, Capone was subpoenaed at his winter home near Miami, Florida, to appear as a witness before a federal grand jury in Chicago on March 12 for a case involving a violation of prohibition laws.
Capone said he couldn’t make it. His excuse? He claimed he’d been laid up with broncho-pneumonia for six weeks and was in no shape to travel.
That’s when we got involved. We were asked by U.S. Attorneys to find out whether Capone was on the level. Our agents went to Florida and quickly found that Capone’s story didn’t hold water. When he was supposedly bedridden, Capone was out and about—going to the race tracks, taking trips to the Bahamas, even being questioned by local prosecutors. And by all accounts, his health was just fine.
On March 27—76 years ago Sunday—Capone was cited for contempt of court in Chicago and arrested in Florida. He was released on bond, but from there on, it was downhill for the notorious gangster:
Less than two months later, Capone was arrested in Philadelphia by local police for carrying concealed weapons and was sent to jail for a year.
When he was released in 1931, Capone was tried and convicted for the original contempt of court charge. A federal judge sentenced him to six months in prison.
In the meantime, federal Treasury agents had been gathering evidence that Capone had failed to pay his income taxes. Capone was convicted, and on October 24, 1931, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. When he finally got out of Alcatraz, Capone was too sick to carry on his life of crime. He died in 1947.
In the end, it took a team of federal, state, and local authorities to end Capone’s reign as underworld boss. Precisely the kind of partnerships that are needed today as well to defeat dangerous criminals and terrorists.
For more information: Check out our 2,400 pages worth of records on Capone | Take a look at the original 1931 Capone verdict on the National Archives website.