OCT 17, 2016
On Anniversary Of Al Capone’s Prison Stint, IRS Delivers 2nd Gun To Mob Museum
Kelly Phillips Erb , FORBES STAFF
It was 85 years ago today that the feds finally got their man: on this day in 1931, Al Capone was sentenced to serious prison time. Despite Capone’s reputation, he wasn’t put away for murder or gambling or bootlegging but for tax evasion.
Alphonse Gabriel Capone, better known as Al Capone, was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1899. When he was 18, a friend, Johnny “The Fox” Torrio, introduced Capone to Frankie Yale. Yale owned a number of brothels which served as bases for illegal activities, including gambling. Yale gave Capone a job as a bouncer and bartender at one of the brothels. While at work, Capone, who wasn’t known for being even-tempered, got into a fight and was slashed across the face three times with a knife, earning him his first nickname, “Scarface.” Supposedly, the fight was over a girl: Capone made a pass at a customer’s sister.
While still just a teenager, Capone met and married Mae Josephine Coughlin. That same month, Mae gave birth to the couple’s first child, a son, Albert Francis “Sonny” Capone. Capone then decided it was time to settle down. He moved his family to Baltimore with intentions of making an honest living. But he couldn’t resist his old life, and when Torrio asked Capone to move to Chicago and help him run his mob empire, it was an offer Capone couldn’t refuse. Prohibition was in full swing and the men saw an opportunity to exploit the demand for booze, gambling, and women.
This Jan. 19, 1931, file photo shows Chicago mobster Al Capone at a football game. (AP Photo/File)
In 1925, Torrio barely survived an assassination attempt by rival mobsters Hymie “The Pole” Weiss, Vincent “The Schemer” Drucci, and George “Bugs” Moran. That was it for Torrio: he wanted out. He decided to leave Chicago and head to Italy, handing over control of his mob empire over to Capone.
Capone expanded Torrio’s business in Chicago and made lots of money doing it. By the mid-1920s, Capone was reportedly taking home $60 million annually ($826 million in today’s dollars). Despite playing “Robin Hood” to the locals, his wealth continued to grow, reportedly topping $100 million ($1.43 billion in today’s dollars).
As Capone’s empire grew, so did his penchant for violence. The bodies piled up as rival gangs fought for control in Chicago. The lawlessness culminated on February 14, 1929, when gunmen allegedly hired by Capone posed as police officers before executing rival gangsters belonging to George “Bugs” Moran. Capone was in Miami at the time of the shootings but was immediately blamed for what came to be known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. No one was ever prosecuted. After the shootings, the FBI dubbed Capone “Public Enemy Number One,” a label Capone reportedly hated.
Capone’s exploits taunted lawmen who wanted him brought down. Capone proved difficult to pin down, escaping prosecution for serious crimes through a combination of smarts and, more importantly, bribes. Then President Herbert Hoover made it clear that he wanted Capone off the streets.