CHICAGO, Oct. 8, 1931 (UP) - Alphonse Capone's plea that he's just a poor, underpaid clerk instead of a multi-millionaire liquor baron, backfired at his income tax fraud trial in federal court today.
Capone, it developed, had hired Lawrence P. Mattingly, Washington, D.C., attorney, to intercede with the department of internal revenue about the income taxes the government claims he should have paid, but didn't.
Lawyer Mattingly, therefore, wrote a letter to the department, telling how hard Capone had to work got his $75 weekly salary and offering to pay some income taxes if the department only would be "reasonable" about it.
To the dismay of Capone and his attorneys, District Attorney George E.Q. Johnson introduced the letter in court today. To their further dismay, Federal Judge James H. Wilkerson allowed it to be introduced as evidence. The letter's offer to pay, governmental attorney's hold, is a tacit admission on Capone's part that he is guilty of defrauding Uncle Sam of $215,000 in income taxes, as charged.
As if that wasn't blow enough to Capone's attempts at escaping a possible 32-year prison sentence, the prosecution offered another and similar letter, which Louis H. Wilson, a Chicago agent of the internal revenue department, received.
"You've got Capone nailed to the cross now," shouted Albert Fink of "Scarface Al's" counsel. "Admission of this letter would put him in the final hole."
Judge Wilkerson ruled that the letter was admissible, Capone mopped his dampish brow with a dampish handkerchief, and court adjourned.
Fink and Michael Ahern, Capone's other attorney, battled valiantly to hush the story of Capone's speckled career as revealed in Lawyer Mattingly's first letter. But they had no luck, and so this is what the court heard about Capone, as revealed by his own lawyer, long since fired:
Capone was a poor but honest youth, clerking for John Torrio. He handled much cash, did poor "Scarface Al," but all he got for his own was $75 a week. The other money flowing in from "the organization's" profits he looked upon as his "by right of possession only." He didn't think it counted.
So up-against-it was Capone that he owned no property, he never did have a large income, he owned no stocks, bonds or race horses, he had no checking account and he carried what little money he possessed in his pockets. For all that Capone was such an upstanding youth that if the government really felt he owed some taxes, well then Capone would be willing to divvy up if the government could find anything to divvy.
That in effect was Lawyer Mattingly's letter, as read by Assistant District Attorney Sam Clawson. It caused Capone to mutter and the five prosecutors to grin.
Opposing attorneys argued so long about the letters that only two witnesses had time to testify. One was Helen Alexander, who was pretty and brunette, and who said she rented "A. Capone and L. La Cava" a safety deposit box while she was a teller at the Pinkert State bank. Wilson was the other witness. He told about getting Mattingly's second letter.
The trial, meanwhile, may concern profits from drinkables, but it is no Boston tea party, Judge Wilkerson established when Attorney Ahern declaimed:
"It's human nature to avoid payment of taxes and the statutes recognize this. Why we've had the Boston tea party and -"
"And I suppose," interjected the judge "that this is a Boston tea party?"
"Well, no," admitted Ahern, "I wouldn't exactly say that."