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posted: 3/10/2014 4:01 AM

Eliot Ness deserving of building honor

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The Herald reported that some Chicago aldermen oppose a plan to name a federal building in Washington, D.C., after one-time Chicago Prohibition agent Eliot Ness. The aldermen's contention is that Ness had no role in the jailing of gang lord Al Capone for tax evasion.

The aldermen are mistaken. It is true that Ness was not directly involved with the tax case prepared against Capone by U.S. Attorney General William Mitchell. The key word here is "directly." Mitchell and George Johnson, U.S. Attorney, North District of Illinois, reasoned that Capone would grow careless if law enforcement disrupted his bootlegging operations. Eliot Ness was selected by Johnson on the basis of his federal personnel file, which noted Ness' "coolness, aggressiveness, and fearlessness in raids."

Ness was assigned to head a special "Capone squad" in 1930. By March 1931, Ness and his men had seized six breweries that brought Capone $9.1 million annually. The squad also seized or destroyed $180,000 in trucks and stills, and grabbed $340,000 in illicit brew. Ness admitted, with regret, that he had been unable to completely shut down Capone's operation. But Ness' raids put a considerable financial squeeze on Capone, particularly since the mobster was vulnerable after his presumed role in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre of 1929.

Speakeasy owners were openly defying him, and buying their beer from other sources. As had been hoped, Capone did become careless with his bookkeeping. On Oct. 5, 1931, he was brought to trial for tax evasion, and sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment. It was the end of Al Capone.

Attention, Chicago aldermen: Eliot Ness set the table for the tax-evasion indictment. I look forward to seeing the federal building that will be named for him.

David J. Hogan

Arlington Heights

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