Showing posts with label FBI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FBI. Show all posts

26 July 2017

Embryo of the FBI

On this date in 1908: Former U.S. Secret Service operatives were assigned to serve under Chief Examiner Stanley Wellington Finch of the Justice Department. The following year, the DOJ's new investigative arm was given the name, "Bureau of Investigation." In 1935, it was rechristened, "Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Stanley W. Finch
Aside from a staff of accountants used to monitor financial dealings of the U.S. court system, the DOJ had no investigative staff before July 26, 1908. When it needed to engage in an investigation of a federal crime, it hired private detectives or "rented" operatives from the U.S. Secret Service.

The practice had a number of flaws. It was costly and inefficient. The quality and technique of a private investigator could not be controlled. Secret Service agents were primarily loyal to their full-time bosses in the U.S. Treasury Department. The inter-department renting of operatives also could be cut off at any moment through Congressional budgeting measures.

Finch reportedly argued for some time for the creation of an investigative unit within the DOJ. U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte of the Theodore Roosevelt Administration was convinced to give the idea a try. He hired a group of former Secret Service men in the summer of 1908. On July 26, Bonaparte placed the group under the command of Finch.

Finch remained at the helm until 1912, when he was appointed special commissioner for the suppression of white slave traffic. His successor at the Bureau of Investigation was Alexander Bruce Bielaski, who continued as chief through the Great War and into the early stages of America's first "Red Scare."

09 July 2017

Garvan battled radicals and Mafiosi

In Wrongly Executed? I outlined connections between the anarchist movement and the early Mafia in the United States. I drew special attention to government officials - like William Flynn of the U.S. Secret Service and the Bureau of Investigation - who worked against both organizations. Francis P. Garvan was mentioned for his work against political radicals, but I neglected to note the full impact of Garvan's campaign against "enemies" of the U.S. and his encounter with the fledgling Mafia of New York. Here is a more complete telling of Garvan's story.

Francis P. Garvan
Francis Patrick Garvan was from a well-connected and wealthy Connecticut family. He was born June 13, 1875, in East Hartford to Patrick and Mary Carroll Garvan. He graduated from Yale University and received his training in the law at New York University Law School. As a young man, he earned a reputation as a fine lawyer in New York City. He was hired as an assistant district attorney of New York County by interim D.A. Eugene Philbin and continued in the office during the term of D.A. William T. Jerome.

Garvan's field of legal expertise was homicide prosecution, and in that role he came in contact with New York Mafia leader Giuseppe Morello.

Following the "Barrel Murder" of 1903, Garvan presented evidence at a coroner's inquest. Secret Service agents testified that they had been watching the Morello organization, hoping to gain evidence of its counterfeiting activity, and saw barrel murder victim Benedetto Madonia with the Mafia leaders on the evening before his bloody corpse was found crammed into a roadside barrel. NYPD Detective Joseph Petrosino helped to identify the victim by testifying about a Sing Sing Prison interview with Madonia's brother-in-law, convicted Morello gang counterfeiter Giuseppe DePrima. The result of the inquest was the best Garvan could have hoped for. The jury decided that, while the killer of Madonia was not specifically known, seven Mafia suspects acted as accessories in the murder:

We find that [Madonia] came to his death on April 14, 1903, when he was found in a barrel at Avenue D and Eleventh-st., by incised wounds of the throat inflicted on the day aforesaid by some person or persons unknown to the jury. We also find as accessories thereto the following named persons: Tommasso Petto, Guiseppe Fanaro, Giuseppe Morello, Pietro Inzarillo, John Zacconni, Antonio Messina Genova and Vito Laduca.

Eventually, the prosecution focused on Petto, as he was found in possession of a pawn ticket for the victim's gold watch. After some time, Petto was freed because of a lack of evidence that he killed Madonia.

Garvan was highly regarded for his work as a prosecutor of homicide cases, and that field continued to be his focus through the first decade of the Twentieth Century. However, he actually proved far more adept at abusing the rights of those categorized by the U.S. as "enemies."

A. Mitchell Palmer, Francis Garvan, William Flynn (left to right).

Near the conclusion of the Great War, Garvan was appointed to the position of alien property custodian, succeeding A. Mitchel Palmer. In that federal role, he far surpassed Palmer's activities. (The office was intended merely to hold and maintain U.S.-based assets of the nationals of enemy countries. Palmer expanded the scope of his office by seizing U.S.-based properties and trust funds of American women who had married Germans and Austrians.)

Garvan seized thousands of lucrative drug and dye patents and hundreds of trademarks and copyrights held by German companies and distributed them to U.S. companies through the Chemical Foundation he created and personally led. The action broke longstanding German monopolies and launched the American chemical industry. Postwar lawsuits - one was brought by the U.S. Harding Administration - against the Chemical Foundation and federal officials, including Garvan (who was accused of using his position as a public trustee to sell the valuable patents to himself), were largely unsuccessful.

Germany, financially crippled by the conditions of the Treaty of Versailles, noted that just one group of the seized and sold patents relating to nitrogen would have been worth approximately $17 million (more than $200 million today). Garvan had set aside only about $250,000 as compensation for all of the patents.

During the postwar "Red Scare," Garvan was installed as the U.S. assistant attorney general for investigations (under Palmer), personally in charge of the Justice Department's war against political radicals. The effort appeared to be the result of a series of bombings directed by anarchists against government figures and leading capitalists. There is some evidence that a war on radicals was in the planning stages before the bombings occurred.

NY Evening World, June 12, 1919.

Garvan oversaw (pre-FBI) Bureau of Investigation head William Flynn and a young John Edgar Hoover (selected to lead the Anti-Radical Division) as they rounded up and quickly deported to Russia hundreds of foreign-born American residents suspected of anarchist or communist beliefs. Behind the scenes, the Bureau conducted an extensive search for an anarchist leader named Giuseppe Sberna, believed to be a mastermind of the bombings. It appeared that Sberna had left the country.

In early November, 1919, agents of the Justice Department and the Bureau of Immigration teamed with local law enforcement to raid offices of the IWW-aligned Union of Russian Workers in cities across the Northeast and Midwest. The raids resulted in many hundreds of arrests. The total was found to include a large number taken by mistake, and the final official tally for the November raids was 211. That was just the beginning of a Garvan campaign to "stamp out the Red menace." Under his guidance, the Justice Department was said to have assembled a list of 60,000 targeted radicals.

Over the following month, additional "undesirable" aliens were added to the group held in custody. Longtime anarchist editors Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman were arrested. In December, the number of detained radicals reached 249. On Dec. 22, the transport ship Buford left New York harbor bound for Russia with the 249 on board. The Buford was nicknamed "the Soviet Ark," and the Justice Department announced plans for additional arks.

New York Times, Jan. 3, 1920.

More extensive raids against political radicals occurred in the opening days of 1920. These targeted members of the Communist Party and Communist Labor Party in thirty-three U.S. cities.

By spring, the Justice Department's persecution of political dissenters was being compared with the secret police of czarist Russia. A group of prominent U.S. legal minds publicly opposed the "lawlessness, cruelty and persecution on a wholesale scale by the government agents." The group found evidence that undercover agents in the Justice Department's employ were infiltrating radical organizations and inciting members toward criminal acts; that searches, arrests and imprisonments were being conducted without warrant; that prisoners were being forced to confess and that detainees were prevented from communicating with friends or attorneys. Additional groups condemned the unconstitutional actions of the Palmer-Garvan Justice Department, and Congressional inquiries were launched.

On Sept. 16, 1920, an anarchist bomb exploded in the center of New York's financial district. Dozens of people were killed, many were injured, and buildings were torn apart by the blast. Garvan was by District Attorney Palmer's side as he began an investigation. Once again, federal agents searched in vain for anarchist leader Giuseppe Sberna.

1920 Wall Street bombing.

Even in the wake of the Wall Street bombing, the anti-radical campaign of the Justice Department continued to lose public support. Warren Harding's election as President in November was its end. Palmer and Garvan were pushed out of their government jobs upon Harding's 1921 inauguration, and Flynn was removed from the Bureau of Investigation several months later. (Hoover was moved up to the position of assistant BOI chief and later became director of the renamed Federal Bureau of Investigation.)

Garvan continued his work with the Chemical Foundation, headquartered on Madison Avenue in New York City. He died at his Park Avenue home on Nov. 7, 1937, at the age of 62. He had lived just long enough to spot the familiar name of "Sberna" in the news.

Charles Sberna, son of the fugitive anarchist leader Giuseppe Sberna and son-in-law of New York Mafia boss Giuseppe Morello, was charged with the murder of a New York City police officer one month earlier.

Partial list of sources:
  • "Seven Italians held," New York Tribune, May 9, 1903, p. 6.
  • “Another arrest in barrel murder case,” New York Times, May 9, 1903, p. 6.
  • "Palmer takes over American trusts," New York Times, Nov. 5, 1918, p. 20.
  • "Restore Ehret property," New York Times, Dec. 20, 1918, p. 8.
  • "Francis P. Garvan promoted to assistant attorney general," New York Times, June 3, 1919, p. 15.
  • "Will deport Reds as alien plotters," New York Times, Nov. 9, 1919, p. 3.
  • "249 Reds sail, exiled to Soviet Russia," New York Times, Dec. 22, 1919, p. 1.
  • "Reds raided in scores of cities," New York Times, Jan. 3, 1920, p. 1.
  • "Sue Palmer and Garvan," New York Times, Jan. 16, 1920, p. 13.
  • "Palmer promises more Soviet Arks," New York Times, Feb. 29, 1920, p. 25.
  • "Lawyers denounce raids on radicals," New York Times, May 28, 1920, p. 6.
  • "Seek owner of truck that carried bomb to Wall Street," New York Times, Sept. 18, 1920, p. 1.
  • "12 lawyers renew attack on Palmer," New York Times, Jan. 19, 1921, p. 28.
  • "President orders return of patents," New York Times, July 2, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Joins German plea and Harding order," New York Times, July 8, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Says Garvan called Metz a 'traitor,'" New York Times, June 28, 1923, p. 19.
  • "Denies politics in patent sales," New York Times, July 4, 1923, p. 15.
  • "Court upholds sale of German patents seized during war," New York Times, Jan. 4, 1924, p. 1.
  • "Dye sales stand; government loses," New York Times, Oct. 12, 1926, p. 4.
  • "Francis P. Garvan, lawyer, dies here," New York Times, Nov. 8, 1937, p. 23.

Read more:


Wrongly Executed?: The Long-forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution

30 April 2017

Mafia boss leads protests at FBI headquarters

New York Times, May 2, 1970.
On April 30, 1970, Mafia boss Joseph Colombo responded to the arrest of his son, Joseph Jr., by organizing protest marches around the FBI headquarters in New York City.

A meeting to set up the march reportedly occurred within a half-hour of the 4:30 p.m. arrest. Just two hours after the arrest, about 20 people assembled outside the FBI offices at Sixty-Ninth Street and Third Avenue. Colombo, his wife and another son joined the protesters at 7 p.m.

The following day, the protest picket continued, swelling to several hundred marchers. Colombo said the demonstration was to call attention to anti-Italian discrimination and harassment by the FBI. Signs carried by the marchers objected to the fact that federal action against organized criminals focused on Italian-Americans.

At the time, Joseph Colombo Sr. was under indictment for tax evasion and lying to a state agency to obtain a real estate license. He had been installed as leader of the Brooklyn-based Profaci Crime Family when Profaci successor Joe Magliocco was forced to resign by the Mafia Commission.

Federal officials suggested that the Commission would not be happy with Colombo's attention-getting demonstrations.

Associated Press photo. Colombo, in suit, marches in anti-FBI demonstration.
Joseph Colombo Jr. was charged with extortion against a coin collecting business and with conspiracy to melt a half million dollars' worth of silver coins and sell the silver in higher value ingots. Press attention to his father's protest movement caused a mistrial in this case on Dec. 1, 1970. Colombo Jr. was acquitted by a jury in February 1971.

Over time, the elder Colombo's protests against federal law enforcement became a nationwide movement known as the Italian-American Civil Rights League. (There is some evidence that the league itself became a form of underworld racket. In June 1971, Colombo visited the Buffalo, New York, area and was said to be offering local Mafia bosses a $50,000 payment to permit his establishment of a league branch in Western New York.)

Colombo organized two league-related Italian Unity Day rallies at New York City's Columbus Circle. He was shot three times, once in the head, at the second rally in 1971. The hit (occurring two weeks after his visit to Buffalo) reportedly was ordered by other Mafia bosses. Colombo was left almost entirely paralyzed by the shooting. He lingered for years at the family estate in Blooming Grove, Orange County, New York, until his death in May 1978. The immediate cause of death was cardiac arrest, but doctors linked his passing with the gunshot wounds suffered seven years earlier.

In 2016, Colombo's son Anthony (author of Colombo: The Unsolved Murder) suggested that a conspiracy of federal and local law enforcement officials may have been responsible for the assassination of his father. Anthony Colombo said he was certain that Mafia bosses were not involved.

Sources:
  • Conover, Nelson J., "Joseph Anthony Colombo," FBI report, file no. 92-5509-137, NARA no. 124-90156-10004, March 3, 1969.
  • "Reputed boss faces tax count," Poughkeepsie NY Journal, March 25, 1970, p. 24.
  • Whitney, Craig R., "Italians picket F.B.I. office here," New York Times, May 2, 1970, p. 35.
  • "Colombo acquitted in conspiracy case," New York Times, Feb. 27, 1971, p. 1.
  • "Public relations: A night for Colombo," TIME, April 5, 1971.
  • Gage, Nicholas, "Colombo: The new look in the Mafia," New York Times, May 3, 1971, p. 1.
  • Farrell, William E., "Colombo shot, gunman slain at Columbus Circle rally site," New York Times, June 29, 1971, p. 1.
  • Sibley, John, "Hospital emergency room a mixture of chaos and efficiency after shooting," New York Times, June 29, 1971. 
  • "The Nation: The capo who went public," TIME, July 12, 1971.
  • "Joseph A. Colombo Sr., 54, paralyzed in shooting at 1971 rally, dies," New York Times, May 24, 1978, p. 29.
  • Raab, Selwyn, Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires, New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2006.
  • Colombo, Anthony, "Did the FBI kill my father?" Huffington Post, Feb. 9, 2016, updated Feb. 9, 2017.
Read more about Joseph Colombo, including his involvement in the Western New York Mafia factional struggle: 


23 November 2016

Magaddino's wrath

On this date in 1961:

Thanksgiving Day hunters in Penfield, New York (just outside Rochester), discovered the beaten, mutilated and burned remains of a male murder victim. 

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, Nov. 26, 1961.

Days later, the FBI laboratory - using fingerprints from the remains - identified the victim as Albert George Agueci. Agueci, 39, a resident of Toronto, Canada, had been a narcotics racketeer working with the Magaddino Crime Family based in western New York.

Albert Agueci, his brother Vito and 18 other people were charged in the summer with participating in a large narcotics operation. The arrests strongly suggested that regional crime boss Stefano Magaddino was engaged in narcotics trafficking in violation of a Mafia Commission policy.

Albert Agueci
Albert Agueci and a number of co-defendants were released on bail. One co-defendant, William "Shorty" Holmes, was soon found shot to death in the Bronx.

As the date of trial approached, Albert Agueci disappeared. Vito and ten other defendants in the narcotics case were on trial in U.S. federal court in New York City when Albert's charred remains turned up.

The brutal gangland slaying was viewed both as a Magaddino disciplinary effort and as the boss's attempt to distance himself from the narcotics ring.

For more about Agueci, Magaddino and the Mafia of western New York, see DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II.

14 November 2016

Party-crashers

Syracuse Herald-Journal, Nov. 15, 1957
On this date in 1957, the American Mafia's convention at Apalachin, New York, was revealed by New York State Police. 

As officers, assisted by agents of the federal Treasury Department, set up a roadblock and began taking a close look at the luxury automobiles parked at the secluded Joseph Barbara estate in Apalachin, dozens of Mafiosi darted out of the Barbara home and attempted to drive or run away from the scene. That suspicious activity permitted police to gather up the fleeing gangsters and take them in for questioning. Leading underworld figures from around the country were identified. It has been speculated that a number of other Mafia conventioneers escaped the notice of authorities merely by remaining within the house until police had departed.

The incident became a media sensation and prompted state and federal investigations. It ultimately compelled federal authorities - including FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who long resisted the idea of an vast criminal conspiracy - to recognize the existence of a nationwide Mafia network.


See DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II, for a detailed discussion of the Apalachin convention and its aftermath.