Criminal gangs that had previously flourished in the years leading up to WWI were beginning to lose momentum and fracture. Then Prohibition came along and gave a new shot of life into crime and the business of bootlegging. Without J. Edgar Hoover as the Director of the FBI it wouldn’t have been possible for organized crime to achieve the incredible wealth, power and unchallenged political control it obtained. Bootlegging gave the gangs a million good reasons to reassemble from the biggest cities to the smallest towns throughout the nation. From the small town bootlegger to big city kingpins, there was plenty of money to be made and too many opportunities to pass up.
But the only way that organized crime could get a strong foothold in any area was through complicity on the part of law enforcement, politicians, and government officials. Many of them, from the Chief of Police to the foot patrolman, Senators and Congressman, Mayors and members of City Councils, participated willingly from their respective positions and professions because the financial rewards far outweighed any penalty. The average patrolman from the 1920’s and ’30’s was only making about $40.00 per month in New York City and less than half of that in smaller cities and towns. It wasn’t hard to believe that many would succumb to the enticement of extra cash in their pockets to look the other way.
Death threats, bribes, coercion and murder were just a part of business as usual for those in control. Those who stood in opposition to any activities by organized crime were quickly bought off, framed in various crimes, or simply eliminated. But no one had to worry about J. Edgar Hoover or his G-men since Hoover had no intention of acknowledging that organized crime even existed.
It would be reasonable to speculate that Hoover was concerned about the effect on his department if his men came in contact with the syndicate. The Mafia, organized crime and the syndicates had ample funds available to use for corruption and far too many politicians, government officials and law enforcement officers were more than willing to jump on the payroll wagon. Unfortunately for Hoove,r he had his own vices connecting him to organized crime, specifically his penchant for betting on the horses.
J. Edgar Hoover reportedly told gambling kingpin Frank Costello at the infamous Stork Club, “Just stay out of my bailiwick,” and he would leave him alone. Hoover believed that the FBI had more important things to do than arrest gamblers, not realizing that with the demise of Prohibition gambling would become the primary source of income to organized crime.
Hoover preferred to concentrate on the softer targets like car thieves, or the likes of John Dillinger, Ma Barker, Machine Gun Kelly and Pretty Boy Floyd. His preferences reflected his willingness to make a public spectacle out of capturing an individual rather than take on the enormity of organized crime. The public spectacle brought fame and notoriety to the FBI and Hoover and frequently he had to compete with the press that organized crime received all the while denying their existence.
A strongly held opinion within the FBI was that Hoover was too afraid of the Mafia and organized crime to take them on and consequently denied their existence or would claim that the FBI lacked the authorization to do anything about it, which wasn’t true.
Hoover was frequently portrayed as a 24/7 FBI man but it was more public-relations hype than fact. He spent many afternoons with his assistant Clyde Tolson at various tracks like Pimlico and Havre de Grace. The syndicate wanted to keep Hoover happy so a chain of individuals was set up to give him the right information or tips for his substantial bets. Hoover got his tips from Walter Winchell the gossip columnist. Winchell got his tips from Frank Costello who got his from a leading bookmaker, Frank Erickson. The horses were always sure to win because of a fix on the race.
Hoover’s ability to ignore and avoid entangling himself with organized crime came to a sudden end when State Police accidentally discovered a major conference of the biggest crime families in progress in Apalachin, New York, in 1957.
The Mafia Encyclopedia. Carl Sifakis. Checkmark Books, 2005