Organized Crime

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Jack "Legs" Diamond and attorneys, leaving federal court in New York. Convicted of owning an unlicensed still and conspiring to violate the Prohibition laws. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection.

As Prohibition became law of the land in January 1920 the manufacture, sale, and distribution of alcohol became illegal. Those in favor of Prohibition predicted that enforcement of the law would be easy and inexpensive, but this quickly proved not to be the case. Gangs who before 1920 limited their activity to gambling and thievery found new opportunities as they organized into groups of bootleggers supplying illegal liquor brought into the country for those wanting to drink. Bootlegging gangsters became very wealthy. Infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone’s income was estimated to be more than $100 million a year.

By the late 1920s the gangs were so organized they held a national convention in Cleveland, Ohio. They discussed creating a national crime syndicate. At a subsequent meeting in Atlantic City in 1929 the country was divided into nine territories with a national Commission made up of representatives from each territory. When the profitable bootlegging period ended with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933 the gangs focused on other crimes including gambling, prostitution, and drug distribution.