Al Capone's Whiskey Importation Turns Into Cocaine Hydrochloride
Al Capone had been a juvenile delinquent and gained his "scarface" nickname after he was slashed across the cheek while working as a night club bouncer. The once small-time thug moved up and up to become the head of a huge villainous organization, believed to be responsible for at least 300 murders. The St. Valentine's Day Massacre in which seven members of a rival gang were lined up against a garage wall and gunned down, is probably the most notorious and bloody killing attributable to Capone's reign of terror in Chicago's 1920's. However, Capone was more prominent in going against the law of prohibition. While alcohol was outlawed, Capone smuggled whiskey from Canada to New York and then on to Chicago. Bringing in this illegal good is what made Capone $105 million in 1927 alone. Although alcohol is now legal, the United States is still a consumer of illegal substances. One of these main illegal imports is cocaine. It is shipped up from Central American countries and then distributed throughout the states. The problem is that it's not just a few key people as it was in the days of Capone, but many take part in this country to country business. The government tries to control the problem, but can't get off as easy as convicting them of tax evasion as it did to Capone.
Much has been written and said about Al Capone, most of which is completely false. One of the most common fictions is that like many gangsters of the Capone era, he was a native Italian. This is not true. This amazing crime czar was born in Brooklyn, taking the feudal Italian criminal society and turning it into a modern American criminal enterprise.
Many Italian immigrants, like immigrants of all nationalities, frequently came to the United States with very few belongings. Many of them were peasants of rural Italy escaping the lack of opportunity. When they arrived at large American port cities they often ended up as laborers due to their inability to speak and write English. This was not the case with Al Capone's family.
Gabriele Capone was one of 43,000 Italians who arrived in the U.S. in 1894. A barber by trade, he could read and write his native language. He was from the village of Castellmarre di Stabia, sixteen miles south of Naples. At thirty years old, Gabriele brought with him his pregnant
twenty-seven-year-old wife Teresina, his two-year-old son Vincenzo and his infant son Raffaele. Gabriele was one of few Italian immigrants who did not owe money for his passage over. His plan was to do whatever it took to open his own barber shop.
Along with thousands of other Italians, the Capone family moved to Brooklyn near the Brooklyn Navy Yard. It was a bare beginning in the New World. The Capones' new home was a cold-water tenement flat that had no indoor toilet or furnishings. The neighborhood was a slum, given its nearness to the noisy Navy Yard.
Gabriele's ability to read and write opened an opportunity to get a job in a grocery store until his barber shop was up and running. Teresina, in spite of her duties as a mother, took in sewing piecework for an addition to the family income. Her third child, Salvatore was born in 1895. Her fourth son and the first to be born and conceived in the New World was born January 17, 1899. His name was Alphonse.
What kind of people were these two, giving birth to one of the world's most notorious criminals? Did they pass on to him some genetic strain of violence? Some subtly mutated chromosomes? Was Alphonse abused as a child? Did he spend his younger years in the company of murderers and thieves?
Definitely not. The Capones were a quiet, conventional family. "The mother...kept to herself. Her husband, Don Gabriele, made more of an impression, since he was, in the words of one family friend, 'tall and handsome --very good-looking.' Like his wife, he was subdued, even when it came to discipline. He never hit the kids. He used to talk to them. He used to preach to them, and they listened to their father.
"...nothing about the Capone family was inherently disturbed, violent, or dishonest. The children and the parents were close; there was no apparent mental disability, no traumatic event that sent the boys hurtling into a life of crime. They did not display sociopathic or psychotic personalities; they were not crazy. Nor did they inherit a predilection for a criminal career or belong to a criminal society...They were a law-abiding, unremarkable Italian-American family with conventional patterns of behavior and frustrations; they displayed no special genius for crime, or anything else, for that matter." (Bergreen, 29-30)
In May of 1906, Gabriele became an American citizen. Within the family, his children would always be called by their Italian names, but in the outside world, the boys would be
known by the American names they adopted. Vincenzo became James; Raffaele became Ralph; Salvatore became Frank; Alphonse became Al.
Shortly after Al was born, Gabriele moved the family to a better area in an apartment over his barber shop at 69 Park Avenue in Brooklyn. This move would expose Al to cultural influences well beyond what he was accustomed to in the Italian immigrant community. Most of the people living around Park Avenue were Irish, although Germans, Swedes and Chinese were also in the neighborhood.
Moving into a broader ethnic universe allowed Al to escape the solidity of his Italian neighborhood. There is no question that this exposure would help him in his future role as the head of a criminal empire. A block from Al's home was the parish church, St Michael's, where the Reverend Garofalo baptized him several months after his birth.
John Kobler captures the atmosphere of the neighborhood in The Life and World of Al Capone: "Life in the sector where Al lived his first ten years was harsh, but never drab, never stagnant. Hordes of ragged children gave the streets an explosive vitality as they played stickball, dodged traffic, brawled and bawled, while their mothers, dark heavy-thighed women, bustled to and fro balancing on their heads baskets laden with supplies for the day's meals. Fruit and vegetable carts, standing wheel to wheel, made a bright, fragrant clutter along the curb. The fire escapes that formed an iron lacework across the faces of the squat tenements shook and shuddered as the El trains roared by close behind on Myrtle Avenue."
At the age of five in 1904, he went to Public School 7 on Adams Street. Educational prospects for Italian children were very poor. The school system was deeply prejudiced against them and did little to encourage any interest in higher education, while the immigrant parents expected their children to leave school as soon as they were old enough to work.
"Schools such as Capone's P.S. 7 offered nothing in the way of assistance to children from Italian backgrounds to enter the mainstream of American life; they were rigid, dogmatic, strict institutions, where physical force often prevailed over reason in maintaining discipline. The teachers -- usually female, Irish Catholic, and trained by nuns -- were extremely young. A sixteen-year-old, earning $600 a year, would often teach boys and girls only a few years younger than she...Fistfights between students and teachers were common, even between male students
and female teachers...Al Capone found school a place of constant discipline relieved by sudden outbreaks of violence..." (Bergreen, 34)
Al did quite well in school until the sixth grade when his steady record of B's deteriorated rapidly. At fourteen, he lost his temper at the teacher, she hit him and he hit her back. He was expelled and never went to school again.
About this time, his family moved from their house on Navy Street to 21 Garfield Place. This move would have a lasting impact on Al because in this new neighborhood he would meet the people who would have the most influence on his future: his wife Mae and the gangster Johnny Torrio.
Not far from the Capone house on Garfield Place was a small building that was the headquarters of one of the largest gangsters on the East Coast. Johnny Torrio was a new kind of gangster, a pioneer in the development of a modern criminal enterprise. Torrio's administrative and organizational talents transformed crude racketeering into a kind of corporate structure, allowing his businesses to expand as opportunities emerged. From Torrio, a young Capone learned invaluable lessons that were the foundation of the criminal empire he built later in Chicago.
Chicago was a perfect place to build a criminal empire. It was a rowdy, hard-drinking town that was open to anyone with enough money to buy it. In the words of one of Chicago's top journalists, "She was vibrant and violent, stimulating and ruthless, intolerant of smugness, impatient with those either physically or intellectually timid." It was a bloody and brutal city where tens of millions of cows, hogs and sheep were slaughtered by men wading through blood on the killing floor. It was strictly a commercial town with no appetite for snobbery or "old money."
Political corruption was a tradition in that vast city, creating an atmosphere of two-fisted lawlessness in which crime flourished. The city became known for its wealth and sexual promiscuity. When Al Capone came to the city in 1920, the flesh trade was becoming the province of organized crime. The kingpin of this business was "Big Jim" Colosimo along with his wife and partner, Victoria Moresco, a highly successful madam. Together their brothels were earning an estimated $50,000 per month.
Al was doing quite well financially and bought a house for his family in a respectable neighborhood. To this modest home at 7244 Prairie Avenue, he brought not only Mae and Sonny, but his mother and other siblings. Al posed to his neighbors as a dealer in second-hand furniture and went out of his way to maintain a facade of respectability. Bergreen was convinced that the house on Prairie Avenue, Mae and Sonny represented Capone's striving for redemption. "Although he preyed on other people's weaknesses for a living, his reputation and standing in the community mattered deeply to him. The deeper he went into racketeering and all its associated sins, the more he idealized his family, as though they, in their innocence, were living proof that he was not the monster that the newspapers later insisted he was."
At the age of twenty five after only four years in Chicago, Capone was a force to be reckoned with. Wealthy, powerful, master of the city of Cicero, he became a target for lawmen and rival gangsters alike. He was keenly aware that the next lavish gangster funeral he attended could be his own.
Whiskey can now be bought legally if the consumer is of legal age. Capone's reign is over, but a new plague troubles our country. It is a frightening fact that cocaine can be purchased on the streets of our country almost as easily as alcohol, and the worst part is there are no age restrictions. Cocaine is imported from Central American countries and sold to anyone who has the money to buy it.
In the first half of 1996, cocaine hydrochloride (HCL), commonly referred to as cocaine, was readily available in all major U.S. metropolitan areas. Generally, the price of cocaine remained low and stable at all levels of the traffic. In the first 6 months of 1996, nationwide prices ranged from $10,500 to $36,000 per kilogram, unchanged from 1995 prices. During the first half of 1996, ounce-quantity cocaine prices nationwide ranged from $250 to $2,000, while gram-quantity prices ranged from $20 to $200. In 1995, ounce and gram prices ranged from $300 to $2,200 and from $30 to $200, respectively. Cocaine purity remained relatively high and stable. The purity of gram amounts of cocaine averaged 57 percent in the first half of 1996, compared to 61 percent in 1995. Purity per kilogram averaged 82 percent in the first half of 1996 and 83 percent in 1995. Purity per ounce averaged 69 percent in the first half of 1996, as opposed to 65 percent in 1995.
Cocaine shipments transported through Mexico or Central America are generally moved overland to staging sites in northern Mexico, although intelligence suggests a substantial amount of cocaine is also moved to the border area by aircraft. At these staging sites, the cocaine is broken down into smaller loads for smuggling across the U.S.-Mexican border. The primary cocaine importation points within the United States are in Arizona, southern California, southern Florida, and Texas. Typically, land vehicles are driven across the Southwest border, and then either left in parking lots or driven directly to storage sites in the United States. One such storage site was discovered in December 1996, when a raid on a Tucson, Arizona, residence led to the seizure of over 5 metric tons of cocaine. Other storage sites uncovered during 1996 included a Houston residence where 1.4 metric tons of cocaine were seized in August; an El Paso residence where 884 kilograms were seized in September; and a Los Angeles storage business where 750 kilograms of cocaine were seized in November.
Colombian organizations rely on Mexican groups based in such locations as Guadalajara, Matamoros, Sinaloa, and Tijuana to convey their cocaine into the United States. Mexican trafficking groups have established themselves as land transportation specialists for smuggling drugs across the Southwest border. Frequently, these trafficking organizations are comprised of polydrug smugglers who transported marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin in addition to cocaine. When operating on behalf of the Colombians, these Mexican groups maintain control of drug shipments until the cross-border movement was completed and delivery was made to Colombian drug mafia distribution cells operating in the United States. However, in 1996, with greater frequency, Mexican groups also transport cocaine obtained in payment for their services. Since the early 1990s, these groups based in Mexico often demand upwards of 50 percent of the Colombian cocaine shipments as payment. In 1996, the Mexican traffickers purchased cocaine directly from the Colombians to transport to Mexican controlled distribution networks in the United States.
Modes of Smuggling
- False compartments in suitcases
- False sole of shoes
- False bottoms of aerosol spray cans
- Small amounts of cocaine wrapped in plastic or tape, sometimes condoms, and
- In liquid form, contained in wine or alcohol bottles
- In spaces of engine blocks
- Baby powder containers
Typically, cross-border cocaine shipments are smuggled across the U.S.-Mexican border in concealed compartments within cars, trucks, and recreation vehicles, as well as hidden in legitimate tractor-trailer cargo. Using this method, traffickers are able to take advantage of the tremendous numbers of people and vehicles crossing the Southwest border. These cocaine shipments typically consist of 20 to 50 kilogram loads in concealed compartments, primarily under floors and in gas tanks of passenger cars, pickup trucks, and vans. Larger quantities,
however, have been seized. In March, for example, 420 kilograms of cocaine were found in the rear seat area of a car crossing the U.S-Mexican border at the Calexico, California, port of entry. Traffickers also move cocaine across the borders in trucks, with the cocaine combined with perishable items such as frozen fish or produce. In April 1996, USCS inspectors at the Colombia International Bridge, in Webb County, Texas, discovered over 1 metric ton of cocaine in the false ceiling of a tractor-trailer that entered the United States from Mexico through Laredo, Texas. And in an October case, USCS inspectors at the Mariposa Cargo Facility in Nogales, Arizona, discovered 437 kilograms of cocaine concealed within the walls of a tractor-trailer transporting a shipment of squash.
Traffickers conceal multi-ton shipments of cocaine within commercial maritime cargo carried by legitimate shipping services from South America into the United States. In addition to concealing the shipments of cocaine within maritime cargo, traffickers frequently attempt to deceive inspection by altering shipping documents at intermediate transshipment points, and by using counterfeit customs seals.
As in previous years, traffickers use a variety of concealment methods to ship cocaine within maritime cargo. In some instances, cocaine is secreted within container walls or floors, as was the case with over 660 kilograms of cocaine discovered in the floor of a container of plantains that arrived in Miami from Ecuador. Cocaine is also placed within boxes or bags combined with legitimate cargo. In August, 2.7 metric tons of cocaine were found in 64 canvas bags placed in a 2-container shipment of coffee beans imported into Miami from Colombia. In other instances, cocaine is concealed within compartments in legitimate cargo. For example, in February, U.S. Customs Service (USCS) inspectors at Port Everglades, Florida, discovered 95 kilograms of cocaine concealed within three aluminum ingots. In September, customs inspectors at the Port of Galveston, Texas, discovered 1.1 metric tons of cocaine concealed in a large roller used in paper manufacturing en route from Cartagena, Colombia, to Houston, Texas.
Bulk cargo ships are frequently used to smuggle cocaine to staging sites in the western Caribbean-Gulf of Mexico area. These vessels are typically 150 to 250 foot coastal freighters that carry an average cocaine load of approximately 2.5 metric tons. The most common storage locations for cocaine are hidden compartments within fuel or ballast tanks. Modifications are sometimes made to the structure of the vessel, which make access to hidden compartments
impossible without literally tearing the vessel apart. Additionally, compartments are in some cases mounted on the exterior of the ships; this was the case with a cargo vessel that arrived in July in Bridgeport, Connecticut, from Turbo, Colombia. USCS inspectors and the Connecticut State Police discovered a 5-foot sealed metal tube attached to the underside of the vessel; the tube contained 40 kilograms of cocaine.
Commercial fishing vessels are also used for smuggling operations. Fishing vessels are well-suited for mother ship operations because they typically have capacities for large shipments and are equipped with sophisticated navigation and communication instruments. Consequently, they do not require refitting that would indicate the vessels roles in smuggling operations. Fishing vessels are also able to stay at sea for long periods and travel long distances. Additionally, fishing vessels are difficult to monitor and tight-knit fishing communities make infiltration by drug law enforcement authorities difficult. In addition to the above factors, fishing vessels are able to blend into the local surroundings. The use of fishing vessels for trafficking operations was demonstrated in October 1996, when Ecuadorian authorities at the Port of Esmeraldas seized nearly 7 metric tons of cocaine discovered aboard the fishing vessel Don Celso.
Noncommercial maritime vessels used by traffickers tend to be locally available vessels that can blend into the local surroundings. In areas with a high volume of recreational traffic, smugglers use the same types of boats as the local population, such as go-fast boats and yolas. Additionally, smugglers operate during weekends and at other times of peak boating activity to blend in with local traffic. Smugglers also make attempts to avoid detection by operating at night without navigation lights. Smugglers receive off-loads during at-sea transfers from mother ships that arrive from source countries, and then lande with the cocaine at marinas, isolated inlets, bays, bayous, beaches, or other areas that would hinder surveillance. Landing sites are typically located near major roads that connect to interstate highway systems, thus providing smugglers with easy access to escape routes.
There is often little effort made to conceal cocaine shipments transported by noncommercial maritime vessels, either because the cocaine has just been retrieved after airdrops and the boat crews had no opportunity to attempt concealment, or because the vessels are simply too small to provide such concealment.
Aircraft are used to transport cocaine from South America both to staging sites in Mexico, Puerto Rico, elsewhere in the Caribbean, and, on occasion, directly to the United States. Aircraft used in flights to Mexico and the Caribbean most commonly are dual-engine, general aviation aircraft. Transportation directly from South America to the United States, on the other hand, is typically accomplished by airliner, with the cocaine concealed in either airfreight cargo or courier luggage. USCS inspectors at Miami International Airport uncovered a number of such shipment attempts in 1996. For example, in February, 91 kilograms of cocaine were discovered in four rolls of injection molding that arrived on a cargo flight from Medellin, Colombia.
Wholesale cocaine distribution within the United States continues to be controlled primarily by the Cali drug mafia, which has sophisticated and highly elaborate methods of operation and operational cells in many U.S. cities. Cell managers, operating independently of other cells, receive their orders directly from Colombia. Colombian traffickers distribute multihundred and multithousand kilogram quantities of cocaine, primarily from Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York City. The Cali drug mafia controls most of the cocaine brought into the United States Today.
Abadinsky, Howard. Organized Crime. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1981.
Barton, J. A Political Geography Of Latin America. New York: Routledge, 1997.
Bennet, James. I Chose Prison. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1970.
Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: The Man and the Era. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996.
"Brazil Crack Down On Smuggling." Fairplay 16 Oct 1997.
"Brazil - Lack Of Port Security." BIMCO Weekly News Baltic and International Maritime Council No. 34, 20 Aug 1997.
Kobler, John, Capone: The Life and World of Al Capone. New York: Da Capo Press, 1992.
Nieves, R. Colombian Cocaine Cartels: Lessons From the Front. U.S. National Strategy Information Center, 1997.
"Privatization Of Brazilian Ports Continues." Inter-American Port & Harbor Newsletter Vol. 2, No. 3, Organization of American States; September 1997.
"Reducing Corruption." World Bank Policy and Research Bulletin Vol. 8, No. 3, Jul-Sep 1997.
Sifakis, Carl. "Capone." The Encyclopedia of American Crime. 1982 ed.
United States. Drug Intelligence Report DEA-97034. Changing Dynamics Of the U.S. Cocaine Trade. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Aug 1997.
United States. National Narcotics Intelligence Consumers Committee Report 1997, Intelligence Division. The Supply Of Illicit Drugs To the United States. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; Jul 1997.