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How Accountants Brought Down Al Capone

Alphonse Capone was one of the most recognisable faces of organised crime in the US throughout the 1920’s and 30’s after he moved to Chicago. Better known as Al, or sometimes known by the nickname “Scarface” (Yes, he did influence Al Pacino’s depiction of Tony Montana in the 1983 movie), Capone became a member of the Chicago Outfit after an invite from Johnny Torrio, and this was where his rise and fall began.

However, it wasn’t his racketeering, murder, or bootlegging at the height of the Prohibition era that landed him a hefty prison sentence; it was his mounting unpaid taxes and a team of Accountants which proved to be Capone’s downfall. Federal authorities launched a massive investigation with the intent of jailing Capone and he was prosecuted in 1931 for tax evasion, which landed him an 11-year sentence in a federal prison.

“The Untouchables” (named so because they couldn’t be bribed), led by Elliot Ness, and assisted by Forensic Accountant Frank J. Wilson, investigated Capone’s spending and a team of Accountants were drafted in to analyse the Chicago mobster’s spending and income.

Wilson and co reviewed two million documents over a two-year period; while Capone was out galivanting and getting sent to prison for crimes that carried lesser sentences and didn’t really stick.

Then the breakthrough came.

Wilson found three ledgers with documentation as to receipt of money with first initials as clues. Wilson tracked down the person who wrote the clues and had a witness to hang his case on (not literally).

Wilson, like a dog with a bone, tracked the bank depositor who turned cash into cashier’s checks; this evidence was able to prove that money had been given to Capone. Despite death threats to Wilson and his family, Capone was indicted and brought to trial in October 1931.

Capone was indicted on 23 counts of tax evasion of over $250,000 between 1924 and 1929.

Capone offered to pay his own tax, and this was the most valuable piece of evidence against him. He admitted income of $100,000 between 1928 and 1929 (that works out to nearly $1.5million today), which soon became one of the major points of the case.

The work of the team of Accountants led to Capone going to prison, being fined $50,000 plus $7,692 in court costs and $215,000 plus interest on back taxes. No-one needs a calculator or an accountancy qualification to work out that’s a lot of money!

Capone served a seven-and-a-bit year stint in prison, which he started in 1932. He was paroled in 1939 due to good behaviour and ill health. He spent the remaining eight years of his life in declining health before dying on 25th January 1947 due to cardiac arrest.

Forensic accounting is one of many career opportunities in accountancy, and while you probably won’t be bringing down notorious mob bosses much of the time, there is still a huge demand. A Forensic Accountant’s expertise in settling major financial disputes requires numerical skills, a keen eye for detail, and a full knowledge of accounting practices which you can learn from our accounting courses such as AAT. To find out more about these courses, and the opportunities available click here.