Organized Crime and Bribery: the ‘Touchables’

Even before Prohibition in Chicago, organized crime and failure of the law to manage criminal activity were rampant.[1] With the discontinuance of legalized sale of alcohol, bootleggers and organized crime bosses took advantage of their access to already established seedy underground crime networks and made alcohol available to those who would pay.[2] Leaders in organized crime in Chicago were able to successfully attain and push their product for an inflated price. Peddling the recently illegalized commodity added to the already bustling underground market of violence, sex, and gambling. Chicago proved to be a strong market and the product was easy to acquire due to Chicago’s close proximity to the Canadian border, where alcohol was legal.[3]  permitted gangsters like Al Capone, Bugs Moran, and Johnny Torrio to compete and sell to all who wished to buy their overpriced imports.[4]


However, ensuring that other crime bosses did not trod on other boss’s territory was important and therefore Chicago was split into zones that powerful crime bosses like Capone maintained control of. In the likely event that another gang disturbed a rival gang’s territory, gang wars occurred and further infected the already crime-ridden streets of Chicago.[5] The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre is Capone’s most famous attack on a rival gang, where Al Capone killed seven prominent members of Bugs Moran’s gang because they hijacked Capone’s shipment of liqueur.[6] The Chicago Tribune reported on the massacre:


The gangster who was killed belonged to a gang of George Moran (whose antagonist)…is Al Capone…a more immediate reason lies in the campaign of Moran’s alcohol sellers to take liquor from Detroit sources and with it penetrate the bloody Twentieth Ward, the booze territory of the Al Capone gang.[7]

While Eliott Ness and the Untouchables were notable for not taking the money and bowing to Capone and other crime bosses, most of Chicago was not. ‘Beat cops’ or vastly undertrained law enforcement, did not have the background or resources to take on crime bosses like Al Capone and therefore regularly took payoffs from gangs and the underworld.[8] Cop corruption likewise afflicted the courts and judges received payoffs and funds for their role in the Chicago political sphere.[9]

Law enforcement had great difficulty in dealing with the criminals because of corruption in the precinct and lack of resources to fight off the crime bosses. Al Capone made a tremendous amount of money because of his management bootlegging and prostitution. With his income, he and his network delivered hush money and alcohol to law officials. Cops in Chicago only made about $1,600 a year and federal prohibition agents sometimes did marginally better earning between $1,500 to $2,400 a year.[10] Further, the public opinion towards the Robin Hood like actions of the crime bosses  swayed the opinions of patrolmen and Prohibition agents that enjoyed a glass of whiskey regardless of the legality.

[1] Gus Tyler, Organized Crime in America: A Book of Readings, (Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press, 1962, 145.

[2] Jonathan Eig. Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster. (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2010), 128.

[3] Tyler, 150.

[4] Eig, 130.

[5] Dennis E. Hoffman, Scarface Al and the Crime Crusaders: Chicago’s Private War Against Capone, (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1933), 73.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Chicago Tribune (February 15, 1929).

[8] Eig, 128.

[9] Ibid.

[10]Eig, 14.