BFTN #10 2018-06-11
June 11, 2018
BFTN #11 2018-06-18
June 18, 2018
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Part SIXTEEN of our series on the WAR ON DRUGS – Arnold Rothstein’s luck runs out.

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Show Notes:

  • ON our last episode – Arnold Rothstein invented the modern drug gang.
  • But On November 4, 1928, his luck ran out.
  • He was shot in the groin or the stomach – depending on which source you believe –  during a business meeting at Manhattan’s Park Central Hotel at Seventh Avenue near 55th Street.
  • One snitch told the cops later that the shooter had aimed the gun at Rothstein’s balls as a threat – but accidentally flinched, pulled the trigger, and shot him in the gut.
  • He staggered to the service entrance and asked them to get him a taxi.
  • When the cops came instead and asked who did it, he mumbled: “If I live, I’ll tend to it; if I die, the gang will.”
  • He also told them: “You stick to your trade. I’ll stick to mine”, and “Me mudder (my mother) did it.”
  • He was 47 years old.
  • He died two days later.
  • The shooting had something to do with a 3-day long, high stakes poker game he’d been involved in, a couple of months earlier.
  • He hit a losing streak and ended up owing $320,000, about $4.5m in today’s money.
  • Three men were reported to have been in the poker game with him.
  • Red Martin Bowe, Willie McCabe – and Nigger Nate Raymond.
  • Who was a white man.
  • How does a white man get a nickname like that in 1928?
  • Something to do with a dark complexion apparently.
  • Some sources say he refused to pay up.
  • He claimed the game was fixed.
  • Other sources say he said it would take him some time to get that amount of cash together.
  • And that they’d have to wait until after the NY election – he had money on FDR becoming Governor.
  • One source I read said he refused because he said the game was fixed, then said “I’m not going to give them a cent. If they’re looking for me, I can be found any night at Lindy’s.” – his favourite joint.
  • Rothstein didn’t have bodyguards and didn’t carry a gun.
  • His power was that he was untouchable.
  • The Chief of Police in NY immediately said they knew who shot him and they could pick him up at any time.
  • But no-one was arrested.
  • Maybe because the police and politicians were worried that if the actual shooter was arrested, he might talk.
  • About THEM and their connections with Rothstein.
  • A two bit gambler, George McManus, was eventually arrested for the murder but later acquitted for lack of evidence.
  • Still to this day, nobody knows who shot Rothstein.
  • But what he started, lives on.
  • With him gone, his former associates split up his empire.
  • Famous names – Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Frank Erickson, Legs Diamond.
  • From the moment that Rothstein was shot, drug dealers would be engaged in a constant conflict to control the distribution of drugs.
  • And every time the new Rothstein is killed, a harder and more vicious version of him emerges to fill the space provided by prohibition for a global criminal industry.
  • As Harry Anslinger wrote in 1961: “One group rose to power over the corpses of another.”
  • Johann Hari called it: “Darwinian evolution armed with a machine gun and a baggie of crack.”
  • And, I’d add, insane amounts of cash.
  • When people think of “drug violence”, they often think about drug addicts committing acts of violence, because they are high or because they want to rob someone to get money to buy drugs.
  • Professor Paul Goldstein of the University of Illinois conducted a detailed study in which he and his team looked at every killing identified as “drug-related” in New York City in 1986.
  • It turned out 7.5 percent of the killings took place after a person took drugs and their behavior seemed to change.
  • Some 2 percent were the result of addicts trying to steal to feed their habit and it going wrong.
  • And more than three quarters—the vast majority—were like gang attacks.
  • They weren’t caused by drugs, any more than Al Capone’s killings were caused by alcohol.
  • They were caused by prohibition.
  • But it wasn’t just the drugs gangs that lived on after Rothstein.
  • It was the other side of the equation as well – the other drug gangs – the ones made up of police and politicians.
  • Pay attention to the dates.
  • The Brain died at the end of 1928.
  • Harry Anslinger launched the Treasury’s Bureau of Narcotcs unit 18 months later, in 1930.
  • And the second event was driven by the first.
  • Many of Rothstein’s secrets were revealed as a result of his bookkeeper’s penchant for keeping accurate records.
  • These bureaucratic developments began when certain documents were found at a realty company Rothstein used as a front for his illegal enterprises.
  • This company happened to own 80 city blocks in Queens.
  • The documents confirmed that Rothstein was financing an international drug cartel based in Holland.
  • They also revealed that the cartel had been supplying millions of dollars’ worth of illicit drugs to American gangsters since 1925.
  • Not just Rothstein – but all of the gangs.
  • He was running the supply side.
  • The FBN decided Rothstein’s murder was related to an ongoing struggle for control of the burgeoning underworld drug trade and the gambling debt story was a cover.
  • They were able to use Rothstein’s financial records and a phone tap to seize several million dollars’ worth of narcotics in early December 1928 and to establish a link between Rothstein and the narcotics, which had been legally manufactured in Europe, then diverted onto the black market and smuggled from France.
  • Keep in mind that at this time, nobody associated Rothstein with drugs or booze or the mob.
  • He was just a gambler.
  • But the biggest impact of Rothstein’s death was the political fallout.
  • Newspapers in NY printed rumors that Rothstein had financial ties with the city’s most prominent public figures, including New York’s celebrated mayor, “Jimmy” Walker and several judges.
  • Newspapers suggested that the names of a lot of politicians and society figures might be on a secret list that Rothstein kept somewhere from his floating casinos.
  • More importantly, the New York Times reported that Rothstein had used a portion of his drug profits to finance communist-sponsored strikes in the city’s garment district.
  • This was the first time in American history that politicians and policemen were linked with Bolsheviks and drug traffickers.
  • The entire NY homicide squad was fired by the Police Commissioner, partly because of their inability to solve the Rothstein murder.
  • Partly because there had been 228 homicide reports in the city that year, and the squad had solved only two of them.
  • They weren’t the only people to get sacked.
  • There were charges that Democratic Party officials were on Rothstein’s payroll
  • So Republican US Attorney Charles H. Tuttle demanded the immediate dismissal of all officials associated with Tammany Hall (the Democratic Party’s infamous headquarters in New York), including a number of judges.
  • Which is what allowed Fiorello La Guardia to rise to prominence and was elected Mayor of New York City in 1933.
  • So right at the very beginning of the drug wars in the United States, we see drug dealers using their wealth and influence to corrupt the police, politicians and judges.
  • Then of course…
  • On 14 January 1930 the son of Narcotics Division chief Colonel Levi Nutt, aka Lefty Nutt, he of the “the Code” aka the Edict of Nutt, that scared off doctors from prescribing drugs to their patients, appeared before the Grand Jury.
  • The son of Nutt, aka Righty Nutt, Employed as a tax attorney in the nation’s capital, Roland Nutt was accused of filing false income tax statements for none other than Arnold Rothstein.
  • There was an enquiry which lead to Lefty Nutt getting fired for padding his arrest record.
  • Which lead to Harry Anslinger.
  • So back to Harry.
  • Some of his disciples in Congress and the White House made ever harsher punishments for the sale and use of drugs.
  • The Boggs Act of 1952 amended the Narcotic Drugs Import and Export Act and set mandatory sentences for drug convictions.
  • A first offense conviction for marijuana possession carried a minimum sentence of 2 to 10 years and a fine of up to $20,000.
  • It was sponsored by Hale Boggs, a Louisiana Democrat.
  • And signed into law by Harry Truman.
  • Boggs later was a member of the Warren Commission.
  • Boggs dissented from the Warren Commission’s majority who supported the single bullet theory.
  • In 1972, while he was still House majority leader, the twin engine airplane in which he was traveling disappeared over a remote section of Alaska.
  • The airplane presumably crashed and was never found.
  • Ironically, for a man who introduced harsher punishment for drug convictions, his daughter is NPR journalist Cokie Roberts.
  • The Boggs Act also made no distinction between consumers and traffickers, and it marked the first time that cannabis and narcotics were lumped into the same category.
  • Second offenses increased the minimums to five to 10 years, while strike three jumped to 10 to 20 years.
  • A representative from New York actually called for a 100-year mandatory minimum for anyone selling cannabis or narcotics, which fortunately failed to gain traction.
  • Still, the government came to like mandatory minimums so much that it expanded them further with the Narcotic Control Act in 1956.
  • The Narcotics Control Act, signed by President Eisenhower on July 18, 1956, made the punishments even harsher.
  • It introduced the death penalty for certain drug offenses.
  • And it increased the minimum to five years for a first offense and 10 years for subsequent offenses.
  • We mentioned in an earlier episode that Harry survived running the FBN until the Kennedy administration.
  • 30+ years.
  • And we mentioned many of his enemies.
  • But one we haven’t mentioned – in fact I said I thought that if they’d ever met they would have been friends – was J. Edgar Hoover.
  • Apparently the two were enemies and traded insults over the 30 years they were both heads of their respective agencies.
  • Hoover at the FBI, Anslinger at the FBN.
  • And when Truman created the CIA, Anslinger co-operated with them while Hoover fought against them.
  • Hoover of course famously denied the existence of the Mafia, which Anslinger believed in them from very early on during his time in the railroad.
  • There were rumours that the mob had photos of Hoover engaged in gay sex that they used to keep his silence.
  • But I don’t think there’s any evidence that Hoover was actively gay.
  • It’s more likely that he was deep in the closet.
  • But Hoover said crimes like racketeering and extortion were matters for state and local law enforcement.
  • He was way more worried about threats to national security – like Commies and Darkies.
  • In 1959, more than 400 FBI agents based in NY covered the communist threat.
  • Only 4 covered the Mafia.
  • He was also worried that FBI agents might get corrupted by Mafia money – like had happened to the FBN.
  • And he didn’t want to risk the FBI’s reputation.
  • Harry left office in 1962 – just as the youth of America started to take their drugs seriously.

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