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The Problem of Enforcement
from the Federal Standpoint

c.June 25-July 2, 1924 — 51st Annual Session of the National Conference of Social Work, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


Probably a word of explanation might be in order concerning the branches of the United States government and how they function and how they interrelate. I am not going to go into it in detail, but simply to show that, contrary to public conception, law enforcement depends upon the Treasury Department as much as the Department of Justice, for the evidence-gathering — which you will all appreciate as one of the most important elements of case-making in any kind of law enforcement — is almost entirely in the hands of the various bureaus of the Treasury Department of the federal government. Probably 80, or at least 60, per cent of all cases prosecuted by the Department of Justice are prepared, so far as evidence is concerned, by agents working out of the Treasury Department. Therefore you will see that the supervision of the attorney general over prohibition enforcement begins, as a practical matter, after the collection of the evidence, and covers enforcement in so far as may be necessary to compel the case to be carried successfully through the courts of the United States.

It is wise, in considering the prohibition problem, to keep in mind the dual form of government that exists between state and nation and to realize how that dual form of government has caused, since the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment, one of the most difficult phases of prohibition enforcement. Prior to national prohibition there were twenty-three states that had constitutional prohibition and there were thirty-three states that had some kind of prohibition law. Each state in the union felt the responsibility of enforcement and in each were active agencies working locally for the spread of the local-option movement, or for the adoption and safe carrying through of a program of prohibition enforcement, or for the abolition of the saloon.

When the Eighteenth Amendment was passed one bad effect arose directly from it. To some extent it caused the cessation of the activities of agencies that were fostering sentiment for the prevention of the use of alcohol. There spread a feeling that what was wanted was accomplished, when in fact work had only begun in its larger phase.

I could not help thinking, as the previous speaker discussed the prohibition question from the scientific standpoint, how completely we in the United States have lost sight of that side of it and have come to consider it only a question of law enforcement. Particularly with the bad bootleg liquors in distribution, it cannot be said to have lost its dual nature as a scientific, social problem, as well as one of respect for law. It is still a local problem too, and good people in local communities cannot lean back in their rocking-chairs and say, “Let Uncle Sam do it,” as too many of us are doing today.

I do not think that constitutional prohibition in the United States of America has yet had a fair trial. After four years there has not been half the kind of a trial nor half the earnest effort that can and must be put forward in order to succeed in the national undertaking. That is not a criticism directed at any particular individual, nor solely at any branch of the federal government, nor any state government. Failure to give it a trial is the result of a series of circumstances. The reasons, as I see them, are three: First, local communities have gone to sleep on this question. Second, the federal government has not yet to its fullest capacity co-ordinated its efforts on the particular phases of prohibition enforcement that the federal government must and can be responsible for, such as the issuance of permits, and development of big interstate conspiracies. And third, so far, prohibition enforcement has had entirely too much politics in it. It has been made a kind of political football. I believe any group of people earnestly desiring to get at the bottom of a problem so tied up with the welfare and the national dignity of the United States as this one is must face faults and failures honestly and attempt to correct them, instead of evade or excuse them.

Probably in speaking of the three phases of the question I have suggested, it is more natural to take them up in reverse order. First, as to the federal government’s failure so far to focus its attention, even if it means neglect of smaller cases, on the pending federal phases of enforcement.

The Eighteenth Amendment places concurrent responsibility on the states and the federal government for the enforcement of prohibition which is declared to be the national policy. It is not possible, merely because the federal government declared as a national policy the abolition of the liquor traffic, thereby to expect the government to assume all the responsibility and burden of its eradication. Our government would be fairly charged with paternalism if it attempted to police every back yard in the United States with agents from Washington. Policing is, and will always remain, a matter to be supervised and handled by the state, city, and county agencies of law enforcement. But though it is within their domain, they should not refuse to act, for since our union is indissoluble, it is the duty of each state, whether it approves of the policy or not, to bear its local share of the responsibility of carrying into effect a national policy written regularly into the Constitution of the United States. The federal government has responsibilities under the national prohibition act that state governments cannot assume: First, for the issuance of permits to carry on dealings in industrial alcohol, and trade in the legitimate liquor uses. Second, it has the responsibility to make the big cases, whose schemes of law violation run into many states and outside of the jurisdiction of any one locality. Small cases should be left to the local agencies.

Perhaps an example would be interesting of the kind of case I believe it is the duty of Uncle Sam to focus attention upon, where trained agents have to be sent to get all the evidence of multiple conspiracies. To the state of Ohio there moved a certain individual from Chicago. He belonged to my noble profession, a profession where, as in all professions, there exist shysters. He set about buying up distilleries in several states, Kentucky and Ohio. He bought many, but our evidence reached only to three. At each distillery there is a government man called a “gauger,” who inspects all withdrawals of liquor. To get the liquor past the gauger he had to have a government permit. Only drug-stores could obtain permits; therefore, he bought up three drug-stores.

Once he put in the name of his wife’s brother, another in the name of his chauffeur, and the third in the name of his cook’s husband! All had good-sounding names, and in due time, after application, they received permits to withdraw liquor for the three drug-stores.

At this point let me nail down one of the responsibilities which rest solely upon the federal government-issuance of these permits, carelessness in which fosters more of the illicit liquor distribution than any one other cause. There’s not nearly as much surveillance as there should be over selection of permittees, and following up the way their permits are used. That is the first fact we must face — a federal error we must confess and correct. But back to Remus: he had to have transportation facilities to take the liquor, not to the drug-stores, but to where he could sell it. So he bought up a transportation company and gave it the patriotic name of the American Transfer Company. He had a large number of excellent trucks which were sided up. Near the top were little portholes where armed men lay guarding the load.

Next, he had to have some place from where he could bootleg the liquor and so he bought up several lonely farmhouses. One was called Death Valley Farm because a revenue agent was killed there. He made the basement of the house over into a bottling plant. He made over the barns as storage places and kept from three to five armed guards on duty day and night guarding the liquor which his trucks brought there.

What really happened was that one of these trucks broke down on the road and the prohibition agent noted that although the permit called for the transfer of liquor to a drug-store in Cincinnati, the truck was many miles out of the city and not on any reasonable road to such destination. He was suspicious of the armed guards and of those portholes also, so he brought the facts to the attention of the United States Attorney. Now again this illustrates a point I want to emphasize. Too often now the agents make a little case or many little ones where a big one against ringleaders is possible. The Remus case would have ended no doubt by the United States Attorney filing a libel on the truck and its load, and prosecuting the driver for transportation. But instead of so doing he realized from the surrounding circumstances that there must be somebody back of it much bigger than a driver and so he wrote to Washington and we put some experienced investigators at work.

To make a long story short, we traced it all back to Remus, who was found to be the owner of the chain of distilleries, drug-stores, transportation facilities, and farmhouses. He, with his confederates, was placed under arrest and held for the grand jury. Then things began to happen. Before the grand jury was ready to meet I went to Cincinnati to assist in the presentation of the case, for we were thrown into consternation by the fact that a great deal of our evidence had evaporated. One witness had gone on a wedding trip although he had been married eight months; one had gone to Mexico and wrote that he liked the climate and would stay; and a third — a man on whose testimony the case largely rested, one of the guards named Hubbard — died very suddenly! We never could believe that there was anything unnatural about his death, but we could not make some of the rest of the witnesses think so. A panic seized the government witnesses and we despaired. Finally when we realized we were lost without Hubbard’s testimony, I said to the men who were working with me, “Send for Mrs Hubbard.” They replied that Mrs. Hubbard did not know anything about the case, she was greatly excited over her husband’s recent death, and anyway she had lived half a mile from Death Valley Farm. I said, “She probably brought the men their lunches. You will find she knows something about it.” So we sent an agent to get her, and summoning her brought to light another fact that I want everybody here to remember. When she reached me the next morning, at my first question or two she replied, “Yes, Mrs. Willebrandt, I know a lot about what was going on there at Death Valley, from the things I actually saw, but do not ask me to testify. Remus is bigger than the government.” Do you think she could have thought so, if that community were not neglecting its share of law enforcement! It took all the assurance I could muster to overcome her fear. I promised her if anything should happen to her to get me on the telephone day or night and she should have protection. Finally she said, “I will go before the grand jury.” She did so, and as a consequence Remus was indicted, and when the time came for the trial she was the star witness.

As the trial progressed the courtroom was crowded with bootleggers and with friends of bootleggers, but where, oh, where were the people in that community who wanted to see the law enforced? They were not there. A federal’ judge who was working long hours on such cases in a different state once said to me, “Why is it that every time I sentence a bootlegger all his friends are jamming the courtroom, and all the cheap politicians in the community send people to see me, but the decent people in the community who really want to see the law enforced never seem to notice what I am doing unless there comes an opportunity to criticize?”

When Mrs. Hubbard took the stand some of the lawyers for the defense made the mistake in handling her as a witness that even the best of men are liable to make when dealing with an aroused woman! They tried to make her say she was mistaken about some of the things she had seen, and you ought to have seen her come back at them! She identified Remus as having collected the money, and not only told what was done at Death Valley Farm, but told that once when a visit by revenue men was “tipped off” by a crooked prohibition agent, the liquor was moved to a hill back of her farm. And then she began identifying not only defendants who helped but people standing in the back of the room. Her answer was stricken out but there was an exodus from the courtroom!

Do you think that kind of a case would have been possible; that kind of conspiracy could have grown up; that kind of fear on the part of witnesses called to testify to facts which they knew for the federal government, if the local community had not been suffering from sleeping-sickness as far as its duty toward the enforcement of law was concerned?

Local communities used to have a sturdy sense of independence that prompted resentment at interfering with their sovereignty, if officials from Washington attempted to enforce laws of only a local import, like a case against a man for possession of liquor, which is in most places covered by a state law. But so far as prohibition is concerned, and largely because of the patronage of the bootleggers by so-called good and honest people, that sturdy sentiment of responsibility is suffering a temporary decadence. One of the most vital things social workers can do is not to lay so much importance upon the enforcement of law by federal officials, but to bring home to local communities that on their part is the big responsibility for the preservation of law and order. This should be felt in election and appointment of every local official from mayor and chief of police to county judge.

Here in this audience are represented leaders in welfare work. You have it in your power to revive this interest. Not till local communities have a sense of shame, blush, and feel a guilty civic conscience if conditions of law violations are uncovered in their midst, will the United States be rated where our pride should put her among the nations of the world in the business of suppressing crime. We pride ourselves upon being the land of opportunity and yet it is rather a paradox that statistics convict us of being also the land of opportunity for crime! Our citizenship in the United States is dual-state and United States. Our responsibilities are dual as well.

Too many of us are all too much like Voltaire. He was standing on the street one day as a holy procession passed, and surprised that he should remove his hat and stand with bowed head, a friend said, “Why, Voltaire, I did not know that you recognized God,” and Voltaire answered, “Oh, yes, we bow but we do not speak.” Too often, to our sense of responsibility and our patriotism, we bow but we do not speak. When traveling in a foreign country if somebody infringes on our rights we rush to the embassy over which flies our flag and we claim all the privileges and protections that come through citizenship, but when it comes to curing conditions or political strangulation of law enforcement in and around our own homes, as close as the policeman on our beat, as the mayor who governs our city, as the aldermen who make our ordinances, and as the public officials who make our wider state and national laws, then we bow but we do not speak.

Many criminals, upon leaving Atlanta or Leavenworth, having served terms for graver crimes, and having learned that to the criminal aristocracy belongs the bootlegging fraternity, join that fraternity and bring to it all the other forms of law violation that criminal minds can devise. Smugglers and bootleggers are flourishing in large seaports and are bringing to the conduct of their unlawful business all kinds of crime. They tarnish official honor; corruption and bribery follow in their trail. The tremendous amount of money they suck from legitimate business enterprises goes to the hampering of local law-enforcing agencies to an extent that most people do not appreciate.

On our southern shores before the war there was a ring of smugglers known as the “Big Four.” There were four families of them that had flourished for many years. After prohibition came in they carried on their activities on a much larger scale. They had for many years been smuggling dope, Chinamen, and other things. Every effort to apprehend them was frustrated because the Big Four had their own intelligence system. At its head was a man who later, it was learned, was wanted in several districts of the United States for various crimes, one of which was swindling a preacher out of twenty-five thousand dollars! We sent investigators into that locality. They were met by this intelligence officer who said to them, “You might just as well get out of town, boys, we know you are federal agents.”

The Big Four almost owned the town. They had money to loan and controlled elections. Finally we looked up their income tax. Only a few had paid any income tax at all. Revenue agents were sent to backtrack their bank deposits. As a result, the federal government assessed the “king-pin” of this group for failure to pay the past three years’ income tax amounting to $I,343,000. The others owed from $I00,000 to $45,000. From that you can imagine the extent of their business. We sent some trusted and experienced investigators from the Department of Justice to get acquainted with “Willie,” the said “king-pin.” He was the modern bandit type of the old buccaneering pirate. At one time when a prohibition boat sailed into southern waters, he had run it into one of the bayous and sunk it. But he could not have flourished in a locality that was not asleep. He was indicted for failure to pay income tax. He thought he could get out of that by paying a fine. So long as they think that they are not afraid.

Our agents reported two or three times a week, and one report was received with great glee. The time of trial of the income tax case was approaching. Willie had said to one of these agents, “I think I am going to be tried on this income tax proposition. I am not much afraid of it, but think I better look up that jury,” and he chose one of our men to do his bribing! As a result, his whole crowd was put under indictment and convicted, and eighty-five of them are now in Atlanta Penitentiary. One hundred and twenty-five others are awaiting trial for lesser parts in the conspiracy.

That is the kind of case the federal government must be responsible for, but the hip-pocket variety of cases must be left to the police courts. Prohibition enforcement can never be a success unless local enforcement and federal enforcement go hand in hand, and the locality recognizes that it has as much responsibility to carry out the policy of the nation as the central government; each to the limit of its respective capacity. Federal agents must be better trained to handle big cases. Just because a man has been politically active or useful, or because he has taught a Sunday-school class, does not make him able to get evidence on crooks. The reason why we have fewer trained men in the prohibition service than we have in the post-office department, or in the treasury department to uncover cases of forgery, is because as far as the appointment of prohibition agents is concerned, it has been controlled by the politicians. The only safe principle is that as far as law enforcement is concerned the best politics for any nation or any party is no politics.

All of Europe is watching the great experiment America is making. Their observers, however, do not go as far west as they ought to to get the whole story. They are too apt to base their observations on what is going on at the Atlantic seaports. Although bad there, the picture is not all black, by any means. Prohibition enforcement has taken on three phases in the states where it has prevailed for a long time: First, when prohibition laws are passed the liquor traffic assumes the position of a powerful political foe to the law. It grumbles defiance and openly fights asserting its aristocracy and liberal independence. Next, after enforcement gets a good toe-and-hand hold of the situation, the liquor interests resort to back yards and brothels and places of that sort where no claim to respectability is made, and advance the argument that they would be much less dangerous if brought out again to the front streets.

The third position after the prohibition laws begin to be taken as a matter of course, as in many states, like Kansas, is that the liquor interests cease to be a political factor. There always will be violations of these laws, but proportionately no greater violation than of other laws. In some states, particularly on the Atlantic seaboard, this problem is in the first stage, and the European watchers, seeing that, think it is all a failure. It is not. The other evening I went through the Bowery in New York and I could not help contrasting conditions-bad as prohibition enforcement is in New York today-with conditions of five and six years ago.

The whole of what I have been trying to emphasize is epitomized by a cartoon. A law violator sat beside a table on which were piled all the things he had made in violation of the law-booze, narcotics, money saved out of taxes.

Leaning back in his chair he looked through a door, just outside of which stood the figure of Justice trying to reach in to seize him. He had an insolent expression as he watched the figure of Justice because between him and the door stood in a row his faithful henchmen. Who were they? First, old man Pull, pompous and political; next in line, Miss Sentimentalism. He knew he could depend upon her for a pardon. Next stood Professional Bondsman in a checked suit and a red tie, always ready to get him out of jail and forfeit his bond-for a consideration, of course. There was old man Delay, doddering and doleful, with cobwebs in his whiskers. On him he could depend to have his case put off until the witnesses died or moved away. And last in line stood the father of the whole brood, old Public Indifference. The test of government is, how many of that group are in your local communities, and how long will you suffer them to remain?



Source: Proceedings of the National Conference of Social Work, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), 1924, pp. 54- 61.