|Francis P. Garvan|
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.
Wrongly Executed?: The Long-forgotten Context of Charles Sberna's 1939 Electrocution