Born to an immigrant family in Brooklyn, New York in 1899, Alphonse Capone, more commonly known as Al Capone or ‘Scarface’ grew up in a rough neighbourhood and became involved in ‘kid gangs’ at an early age. His younger years were taken up by scams, violence and even a few arrests, and he quickly became one of the most infamous gangsters of the 20th century, mob boss of the Chicago mafia. Along with a known history of assaults, robberies and murders, amongst his many sometimes illegal businesses were brothels, distilleries, dog tracks and nightclubs. Capone was an excellent businessman, perhaps too good, compiling a detailed paper-trail of accounting books to keep track of his finances. Despite his sharp skills and ruthless ways, ironically it was the use of forensic accounting by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that led to his downfall.
Government agencies had been trying to catch the gangster for a long time on racketeering, Prohibition charges and more, but this was proving difficult due to the severe lack of evidence. Anyone involved in the gangster’s work had been paid off or even ‘silenced’, preventing him from being apprehended. By 1931, law enforcement agencies had built up a case proving Capone’s tax evasion. Agent Frank J. Wilson had delved through endless documents and files, tracked down witnesses, and traced bank deposits in order to obtain the evidence required for a conviction. Eddie O’Hare, who ran Capone’s racing tracks and acted as his attorney, worked behind Capone’s back to help Wilson find this evidence. O’Hare was later murdered.
The investigation was long and painstaking, Wilson and his family received numerous death threats, and the jury was switched at the last minute due to a bribery problem. His attorney attempted to bargain for a plea deal, but Capone retracted his guilty plea after the judge warned he may not follow prosecution’s sentencing recommendations. Despite all of this, Al Capone was found guilty in October 1931, sentenced to eleven years in prison plus thousands in fines. This very famous case led to the boasting phrase… “Only an accountant could catch Al Capone”.
Iorizzo, L. J. 2003. Al Capone: A Biography. Westport, Connecticut: Greendwood Press