Have you ever watched the “Untouchables?” You should. It provides a textbook case of sleuthing, pain-staking gathering of evidence, and building an air-tight case. The experience of the US’ Alcohol Prohibition era also shows how unenforceable laws cause corruption. Jueteng has come to the headlines again. Illegal gambling has become a favorite whipping boy of politicians who are out to score brownie points. But I digress, let’s get to the meat.
Combatting Crime – Hollywood Style
The Untouchables is an 1987 American crime-drama film based on the 1959 television series, and follows Eliot Ness’s autobiographical account of his efforts to bring gangster Al Capone to justice during the Prohibition era. It was directed by Brian De Palma and adapted by David Mamet, and starred Kevin Costner as Ness, Sean Connery as Irish-American beat cop Jim Malone, and Robert De Niro as Capone.
Prohibition in the United States leads to an organized crime wave involving bootleg alcohol in the 1920s and early 1930s. The problem is most serious in Chicago, where gang leader Al Capone (Robert De Niro) has almost the whole city (even the Mayor of Chicago) under his control, and supplies low-quality liquor at high prices. Bureau of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is put in charge of leading the crusade against Capone and his empire. Ness’s initial strategy is to conduct raids using a large squad of uniformed officers, but these fail due to corrupt cops who secretly tip Capone’s men off.
Seeking a change of tactics, Ness solicits help from incorruptible Irish officer Jimmy Malone (Sean Connery), following a chance encounter one evening. Malone advises Ness to pick men who have never come under Capone’s influence by recruiting directly from the police academy. Italian American trainee George Stone, formerly Giuseppe Petri (Andy García), is enlisted due to his superior marksmanship and intelligence under pressure. Joined by accountant Oscar Wallace (Charles Martin Smith), assigned to Ness from Washington, he has built an incorruptible team, capable of combating Capone.
The movie took artistic license though.
The film contains a great number of factual errors. Chief among these is the death of Frank Nitti. In the film Nitti is thrown off the roof of the courthouse building by Eliot Ness into a car in the courthouse parking lot. In actuality Nitti committed suicide in 1943 rather than face trial and imprisonment. Another notable innaccuracy is the number of Untouchables: in reality, there were ten of them and none of them were killed, whereas in the film there are only four and the film ends with only two of them still alive.
Combatting Crime – The Reality
That was Hollywood – and this is the real Elliott Ness.
Eliot Ness (April 19, 1903 – May 16, 1957) was an American Prohibition agent, famous for his efforts to enforce Prohibition in Chicago, Illinois, the leader of a legendary team of law enforcement agents nicknamed The Untouchables.
In 1926, Ness’ brother-in-law, Alexander Jamie, a Bureau of Investigation agent (this became the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 1935), influenced Ness to enter law enforcement. He joined the U.S. Treasury Department in 1927, working with the 300-strong Bureau of Prohibition, in Chicago.
Following the election of President Herbert Hoover, U.S. Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon was specifically charged with bringing down gangster Al Capone. The federal government approached the problem from two directions: income tax evasion and the Volstead Act. Ness was chosen to head the operations under the Volstead Act, targeting the illegal breweries and supply routes of Capone.
With Chicago’s corrupted law-enforcement agents endemic, Ness went through the records of all Prohibition agents to create a reliable team, initially of 50, later reduced to 15 and finally to just eleven men called, “The Untouchables”. Raids against illegal stills and breweries began immediately; within six months Ness claimed to have seized breweries worth over one million dollars. The main source of information for the raids was an extensive wire-tapping operation. An attempt by Capone to bribe Ness’s agents was seized on by Ness for publicity, leading to the media nickname, “The Untouchables.” There were a number of assassination attempts on Ness, and one close friend of his was killed.
The efforts of Ness and his team had a serious impact on Capone’s operations, but it was the income tax evasion which was the key weapon. In a number of federal grand jury cases in 1931, Capone was charged with 22 counts of tax evasion and also 5,000 violations of the Volstead Act. On October 17, 1931, Capone was sentenced to 11 years in prison, and following a failed appeal, he began his sentence in 1932.
So, Elliott Ness was the hero. What about the villain Al Capone?
Alphonse Gabriel “Al” Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947) was an American gangster who led a Prohibition-era crime syndicate, known then as the “Capones,” dedicated to smuggling and bootlegging liquor and other illegal activities, in Chicago, from the early 1920s to 1931, when he was sentenced to federal prison, including a stay at the infamous Alcatraz federal prison, for tax evasion. His business card reportedly described him as a used-furniture dealer.
Capone came at the invitation of Johnny Torrio, his Five Points Gang mentor who had gone to Chicago to resolve some family problems his cousin’s husband was having with the Black Hand. He quickly resolved the issue by killing members of the Black Hand who had given his cousin’s husband problems. He saw many business opportunities in Chicago, bootlegging following the onset of prohibition. Torrio had acquired the crime empire of James “Big Jim” Colosimo after the latter refused to enter this new area of business and was subsequently murdered (presumably by Frankie Yale, although legal proceedings against him had to be dropped due to a lack of evidence). Capone was also a suspect for two murders and a rape at the time, and was seeking a safe haven and a better job to provide for his new family. Capone was known to have been brought up in a deeply religious background, his mother a devout Roman Catholic.
In 1929, Bureau of Prohibition agent Eliot Ness began an investigation of Capone and his business, attempting to get a conviction for Prohibition violations. However, it was Frank J. Wilson who conducted the investigation into Capone’s income tax violations that the government decided was more likely to end in a conviction.
In 1931 Capone was indicted for income tax evasion and various violations of the Volstead Act. Facing overwhelming evidence, his attorneys made a plea deal, but the presiding judge warned he might not follow the sentencing recommendation from the prosecution, so Capone withdrew his plea of guilty. Attempting to bribe and intimidate the potential jurors, his plan was discovered by Ness’s men. The venire (jury pool) was then switched with one from another case, and Capone was stymied. Following a long trial, he was found guilty on some income tax evasion counts (the Volstead Act violations were dropped). The judge gave him an eleven-year sentence along with heavy fines, and liens were filed against his various properties. His appeal was denied. In May 1932, Capone was sent to Atlanta U.S. Penitentiary, a tough federal prison, but he was able to obtain special privileges. Later, for a short period of time, he was transferred to the Lincoln Heights Jail. He was then transferred to Alcatraz, where tight security and an uncompromising warden ensured that Capone had no contact with the outside world. His isolation from his associates and the repeal of Prohibition in December, 1933, precipitously diminished his power.
At this point, I am trying to look for a part where Elliott Ness would go to a newspaper and send innuendoes about corruption – or being mum about someone’s resignation. Elliott Ness didn’t combat corruption by news release or media releases – that’s sooooo.. like A Bull Sh*t Company Broadcasting Nonsense.
Ness combatted corruption and crime by doing painstaking methodical work. Why am I pointing this out? I am pointing this out because I am so tired of Philippine investigators coming up with alibis why they cannot come up with anything. They blame the Ombudsman, the Presidency, heck they’ll blame anyone – except themselves. Our investigators need to upgrade their skills in forensic accounting. They ought to use all the tools at their disposal – which means they have not yet exhausted their options in investigation and are prematurely playing their hand.
We have laws – use it get it to work. If it’s not working – then that tells you someone’s been sleeping on the job of getting the laws to work. You know why these guys are sleeping on the job?- because it is to their advantage. Remember the Freedom of Information Act? You can kiss your taxes goodbye because Congress and the Senate are not about to reveal how they disbursed their pork barrel – the mother of all corruption. That’s like an entire building of Al Capones right there – how can you be called honorable when you don’t disclose your pork barrel spending – I spit on you.
Who are we kidding here – Arroyo’s “corruption” is just the tip of the iceberg. Let me ask you this – how much does a Congressman make – and compare that to their lifestyle – right now. How many SUVs, how many mansions, how many relatives working in his office, how many ghost projects, how many projects (get 35% – that’s “for the boys”), companies to whom the contracts were bidded out. Don’t limit the investigation to Arroyo – the Truth Commissioner – if indeed is impartial – should investigate not just Arroyo but also the Aquinos transactions during the time when Cory was president. Fair is fair!
Prohibition – What the Fuss was all about
Just like today’s jueteng in the Philippines, alcohol was prohibited in the US in the 1920s. The experience of the Prohibition can provide an idea on where this campaign against jueteng will land – NOWHERE. Add to that, Aquino’s categorical stance that jueteng will not be legalized. Then after Aquino instructs Robredo to run after jueteng – Aquino announces to the media that running after jueteng is not a priority. Okay, am confused whether Aquino’s public instruction to Robredo meant combatting jueteng was a priority – was it or was it not? Ano ba talaga?
To legalize or to prohibit?
Prohibition in the United States, also known as The Noble Experiment, was the period from 1920 to 1933, during which the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol for consumption were banned nationally as mandated in the Eighteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Under substantial pressure from the temperance movement, the United States Senate proposed the Eighteenth Amendment on December 18, 1917. Having been approved by 36 states, the 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and effected on January 16, 1920. Some state legislatures had already enacted statewide prohibition prior to the ratification of the 18th Amendment.
The “Volstead Act”, the popular name for the National Prohibition Act, passed through Congress over President Woodrow Wilson’s veto on October 28, 1919 and established the legal definition of intoxicating liquor. Though the Volstead Act prohibited the sale of alcohol, it did little to enforce the law. By 1925, in New York City alone, there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 speakeasy clubs.
While Prohibition was successful in reducing the amount of liquor consumed, it tended to destroy society by other means.
Prohibition became increasingly unpopular during the Great Depression, especially in large cities. On March 22, 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law an amendment to the Volstead Act known as the Cullen-Harrison Act, allowing the manufacture and sale of certain kinds of alcoholic beverages.
On December 5, 1933, the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment.
During Prohibition, large numbers of people began making their own alcoholic beverages at home. To do so, they often used bricks of wine, sometimes called blocks of wine. To meet the booming demand for grape juice, California grape growers increased their area about 700% in the first five years of prohibition. The juice was commonly sold as “bricks or blocks of Rhine Wine,” “blocks of port,” and so on along with a warning: “After dissolving the brick in a gallon of water, do not place the liquid in a jug away in the cupboard for twenty days, because then it would turn into wine.” One grape block producer sold nine varieties: Port, Virginia Dare, Muscatel, Angelica, Tokay, Sauterne, Riesling, Claret and Burgundy.
Time to Legalize Lotto?
1 – Jueteng should be legalized. We already have legalized lotto, jueteng becomes an additional revenue stream for the government.
2 – Prohibiting jueteng is a source of corruption. Resources devoted to running after jueteng are best used in activities related to economic development so that people will have less temptation to gamble.
3 – Legalizing jueteng will remove the criminal elements from the operations because government takes over. Former bookies can be hired by jueteng franchises.
Allow me to borrow Emil Jurado’s voice
President Aquino gave marching orders to newly-appointed Interior and Local Governments Secretary Jesse Robredo to “stop jueteng.”
All I can say to Robredo is “good luck.” The illegal game of jueteng, a handover from the Chinese of pre-colonial days, is not only a social problem. It is a political and cultural ill as well. So long as people in provinces (where jueteng proliferates) remain unemployed, the numbers game will continue. It gives people—the “cabos” and the “coloradores”—jobs.
It’s also a form of entertainment for people in rural areas. The results of jueteng lotteries are even broadcast over radio. People think it’s a way to while away the time as there is nothing to do. The biggest attraction is that the farmer working in the fields, the fisherman out at sea and others, with only 50 centavos, can hope to strike it rich and get P100 to P500 prizes.
Studies have shown that as long as people remain unemployed, jueteng will persist. The promoters and the financiers are the only ones having “happy days.”
Santa Banana, even local officials, the police, the military, and even parish priests have cuts amounting to some 35 to 40 percent of the return on investments. That’s why jueteng will continue.
The only way to make government profit from jueteng is to legalize it. This may mean admitting its inability to stop it. But how else can the government achieve this feat?
There are reports that the Small Town Lottery of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office is still linked with jueteng. “But of course!”, as anyone who is familiar with STL and jueteng will tell you.
The reason for this is that the same operators of the PCSO STL are the very same people behind jueteng. In fact, some people will tell you that the two games are very similar. The only difference is that the government makes money from the Small Town Lottery.
I think this is the best argument for the legalization of jueteng.
Investigative Work: The Achilles Heel of Philippines Law Enforcement?
A lot of reasons can be given why “anti-crime campaigns” do not prosper in the Philippines. The more common ones are – corruption and lack of complainants. What’s not being said is that our investigators are totally ill-equipt to combat the sophisticated corporate criminals. If they are already fully equipt then they are being selective in the campaign – protecting the corruption of their patrons while hunting the corruption of their enemies – same corruption pa rin under cover of anti-Gloria rhetoric.
Worse, when the IMF-WB published a report on collussion in the Philippines – what was the response? Damn, it was so quick and all the companies listed in the report were exonerated by Congress. Talk about protecting one of their own. These are the same people who are in Congress who now profess support for Aquino. Arroyo will be the sacrificial lamb to protect the buffet of public spending.. oink.
1. The approach to jueteng is totally inadequate and needs a thorough review.
2. There is a need to improve investigative capabilities in case work – “the craft”.
3. Legalizing jueteng needs to be considered. Lessons can be learned from the legalization of lotto – the US Prohibition Era, and legalized gambling in the various states of the US, and other gambling capitals of the world.
4. Revenues from state-run gambling can be placed in an escrow fund and allocated to community development projects – including programs related to educating the public on responsible recreational gambling. Also revenues from gambling shall not be used for the pork barrel. Rather, revenues from gambling should be automatically transferred to the Dep ED, DoH, and DSWD. Keep the money away from Congress – or else, nothing will be left for the actual recipients of the funds. 😆