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Al Capone’s Grand Niece Says Uncle Sam Had It Wrong

December 22, 2011

Deirdre Marie Capone, the grand niece of Chicago gangster Al Capone, believes the conviction of her relative on tax evasion charges was a miscarriage of justice.

She has attempted to set the record straight in a new tell-all book, “Uncle Al Capone.” The crime boss known as “Scarface” was sentenced to 11 years in prison on tax evasion charges. But according to his grand niece, taxpayers were not required to declare income from illegal activities such as bootlegging at the time of his conviction in the early 1930s. Constitutional protections against self-incrimination were supposed to allow taxpayers to avoid declaring illegal sources of income on their tax returns.

Al Capone

“When the income taxes were first passed there was a provision in that law that you did not have to declare any money you earned illegally,” she told me in an interview last week. “It would be self-incriminating if you put down on your tax form that you earned money illegally so nobody knew that they had to put that down.”

She noted that her grand uncle and grandfather, Al’s brother Ralph Capone, who was also charged with tax evasion, both offered to pay their taxes when the government brought the matter to their attention. “They offered to pay $9 million to wipe the slate clean,” she said. “They [the Bureau of Internal Revenue] said no. They paid a witness to lie on the witness stand.” The IRS has posted some of the records and historical documents from the Al Capone case on its Web site (see IRS Releases Al Capone Records).

Deirdre Capone had some other surprising details to relate about her famous uncle, whom she remembers from her childhood after he was paroled in 1939. Now 72, she remembers sitting on his knee and trading “knock-knock” jokes with him. He also taught her how to swim, ride a bicycle and play the mandolin.

“I am really a member of his core family,” she said. “I shared houses with him, ate with him. When his only sister died, my Aunt Mafalda, then I became the person in charge of the Capone family grave site. So I’m very much a member of his core family.”

She pointed out that her book is the only one of the many written about Al Capone that was written by somebody who actually knew him.

“Was Al Capone a mobster? Yes. Was he a monster? No,” she said. “Was Al Capone a villain? No. Was he a victim? Yes. My grandfather was his oldest brother and business partner. I had my grandfather until I was 34 years old telling me what the business was like, what they did in the business. But they made me promise that I would not write a book until all the original family members had passed. They were in a business. My grandfather swore to me that no innocent person was ever hurt, no woman was ever made to do something she didn’t choose to do, and no child was ever in danger.”

Deirdre Marie Capone

She traced her Uncle Al’s criminal career to the rise of Prohibition, which she called “one of the dumbest things the U.S. government ever did.”

“Women were bobbing their hair, jazz was coming into its own, all kinds of things were happening around the consumption of alcohol,” she noted. “When alcohol was made illegal, they opened a cottage industry. There was an Al Capone counterpart in every city. Al Capone only had one small section of Chicago: Cicero.”

She noted that there were other providers of alcohol in the city. Whereas the business was derided as “bootlegging” in the poorer sections of Chicago, it was simply known as “hospitality” in more affluent neighborhoods.

“Even President Hoover served alcohol,” she said. “My uncle provided three things and three things only. They were involved in gambling, prostitution, and the sale of alcohol. They didn’t own speakeasies, but they provided the alcohol.”

But she said there were six businessmen in Chicago who didn’t like the power that Al and Ralph Capone had. They arranged to bring down the brothers.

“After the 1929 crash, my grandfather opened up the very first soup kitchens in the United States,” she said. “They provided free food for over a year. He would leave free boxes of food so the policemen could bring it home for their wives and children. The people in Chicago loved Al Capone. He gave to the poor. He was just a great guy. People liked him. When he came into a room, they would applaud him. I have talked to dozens and dozens of people whose father worked for Al or whose mother worked for him. Everybody who had an interaction with him had only good things to say. This group of businessmen didn’t like his power. If he had run for mayor of Chicago, he would have won hands down. He was Italian. At that point in history, my uncle and grandfather were the very first Italian millionaires. Because they were Italian, they brought them down. One of these businessmen started to use the newspapers. They would blame Al Capone for everything. He said they would blame the Chicago fire on me. Everything was blamed on Al Capone. They created a spook. He wasn’t a spook.”

Deirdre Capone doubts her book will change the public perception of her grand uncle, though she would like to see that happen. She contends that her grand uncle, contrary to popular belief, did not organize the infamous 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, in which a gang of gun-toting thugs dressed as police officers gunned down a group of bootleggers who worked for Chicago gangster George Clarence “Bugs” Moran.

“It was the police that did it,” she said. “Moran’s soldiers saw the police stealing cases of alcohol off the back of Moran’s truck.”

Deirdre Capone also talked about how her grandfather Ralph and grand uncle Al tried to integrate baseball in the 1930s and bring Babe Ruth from the New York Yankees over to the Chicago Cubs.

“One of the schemes they had to was to buy the Chicago Cubs and they were going to bring Satchel Paige to be the first black pitcher and he wanted the Babe to be a player/manager, but they put [Al] in jail, so that ended,” she said.

Al and Ralph Capone also helped launch the careers of several famous black musicians and singers, including Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole.

“When they emigrated to this country, the Italians were the low people on the totem pole,” said Deirdre Capone. “They were the last to be hired and the first to be fired. They knew what it was to be discriminated against. My grandfather was very good friends with Owney Madden, who opened the Cotton Club in Harlem, so he opened a club in Cicero, Illinois. The difference was that back then, my grandfather had to go and get these black entertainers in cars with armed guards. The Capone family was very much in tune with how it felt to be discriminated against. Nat King Cole came up to me once and said he owed his career to my grandfather.”

Her book also contains 10 family recipes, including meatballs and lasagna, which her grand uncle Al enjoyed. “Al’s mom taught me to cook and their only sister kept that alive,” said Deirdre Capone. “She was like a mother to me. I have got all the original family recipes. Some of them are in my book.”

Asked whether she plans to come out with a follow-up book with the rest of the recipes, she pointed out that she is 72 now and it took her three years to write her book.

“I do have a lot more recipes,” she acknowledged. “It’s just that I am the only person that could write this book. No other person could write it. I am the only person who is still around from his family. I used to catch smoke rings on my finger that he would blow out from his cigar. I was either blessed or cursed that I have such a photographic memory.”

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