Al Capone grew up six blocks from the Brooklyn brownstone that now figures in the case against one-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
The $3 million that Manafort used to purchase the brownstone at 377 Union Street in 2012 was allegedly routed from overseas through Cyprus, in part to hide the vast sums he was earning as an unregistered agent for a foreign government and a foreign political party.
Manafort was also allegedly seeking to avoid the attention of the IRS. The charges that Manafort faces in the present trial in Virginia and the one to follow in the District of Columbia include tax evasion, the very charge that finally brought down Capone.
Our president tweeted a suggestion that Manafort has been subjected to greater torment than Capone experienced during his trial.
“Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and ‘Public Enemy Number One,’ or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement - although convicted of nothing?” Trump asked.
Trump failed to mention that Manafort initially had been granted house arrest and was remanded only after he was accused of witness tampering. And the conditions were not as harsh as the president and others have suggested. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted in a court filing:
“Among the unique privileges Manafort enjoys at the jail are a private, self-contained living unit, which is larger than other inmates’ units, his own bathroom and shower facility, his own personal telephone, and his own workspace to prepare for trial. Manafort is also not required to wear a prison uniform. On the monitored prison phone calls, Manafort has mentioned that he is being treated like a ‘V.I.P.’”
Perhaps Trump was preparing a rationale for a possible pardon should Manafort be convicted. Manafort was at the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians who were supposed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. He might be in a position either to confirm or deny Michael Cohen’s assertion that Trump know of the meeting beforehand.
One question worth pondering is what exactly prompted Trump to think of Capone at all. Trump is not likely aware that Manafort’s brownstone is in such close proximity to Capone’s childhood stomping grounds.
Perhaps Capone surfaced in the president’s psyche as a result of reports that Trump had told Bob Woodward, “Real power is, I don’t even want to use the word: Fear.”
Maybe Trump was aware that Capone once told a nephew, “It is upon fear… that I built up my organization.”
Or maybe somebody such as Trump who finds pure power in fear just intuitively recognizes somebody of a like mind.
Trump and his father before him both had dealings with New York organized crime as it was first established by Johnny Torrio, who happens to have been based in a four-story brick building halfway between Capone's childhood block and what is now the Manafort brownstone.
Torrio was Capone’s mentor. Torrio’s other underlings included Frankie Uale, aka Frankie Yale, who owned the Harvard House in Coney Island. Capone worked there as a bartender and suffered the slash that caused him to be nicknamed Scarface.
Torrio took Capone with him when he went to Chicago to set up what would become the Outfit. Uale remained in Brooklyn and became the first person in America killed with a Tommy gun, perhaps by Capone, at Torrio’s bidding. Torrio himself survived being shot out in Chicago, also perhaps by Capone, at Capone’s bidding.
At 26, Capone became the boss of Chicago. And he did indeed rule by fear, right up to when he was convicted of tax evasion. Torrio became an eminence in the Genovese crime family in New York, which also ruled by fear, though it became known as the Ivy League of the mob.
Trump no doubt saw this power at work many times. Once was in 1982, when mob-connected Teamster boss John Cody called a citywide strike. Every construction site in New York was shut down except Trump Tower, which included upon its completion a triplex (featuring the building’s only indoor pool) owned by a lady friend of Cody’s.
Trump went on to achieve ultimate power, dwarfing that of even the most fearsome mob boss. But he has continued to seek a rawer power in fear, going after anybody who aroused his ire.
Only, Trump now finds himself in a position where he must make his minions less afraid of the prosecutors. Fear seems to have caused Michael Cohen to offer his services as a rat. And there is no telling what fear of dying in prison might lead Manafort to do.
A clamoring possibility is that Trump himself now has cause to feel fear. And as one who intimately knows fear’s power, he would understandably be desperate to shake it off. That may explain his frantic quality in recent days and his reported determination to sit down for questioning by Mueller.
Back in 1980, Trump was summoned by the famously tough U.S. Attorney Michael Guadagno of the Organized Crime Strike Force in Brooklyn to answer questions about possible collusion with the labor racketeer Cody.
As has been reported in The Daily Beast, Donald Trump arrived alone. The sight of anyone of means coming in for questioning without legal representation was rare enough to prompt an exclamation from another strike force prosecutor.
“What the f---?”
“He was in without a f---ing lawyer!” Guadagno is said to have replied.
Trump seems to have been responsive to Guadagno’s questions and generally less impetuous and more considered than many of us might have imagined.
“I believe the guy, what can I tell you?” Guadagno is said to have remarked afterward.
Meanwhile, the grass outside Manafort's brownstone is overgrown and browned in patches. Junk mail lies strewn on the grass. The outside lights are on in daytime, but the interior is dark and deserted. The cast iron front gate is kept closed with a padlock, a rarity in Brooklyn.
As detailed in court papers. Manafort used the property to secure a $5,000,000 loan from Federal Savings Bank with the guarantee that he would use $1,400,000 of it solely for renovation of the property.
“However, MANAFORT never intended to limit use of the proceeds to construction as required by the loan contracts,” the indictment charges. “In December 2015, before the loan was made, MANAFORT wrote his tax preparer, among others, that the construction loan ‘will allow me to pay back the mortgage [on another Manafort apartment] in full…’”
The indictment continues, “Further, when the construction loan closed, MANAFORT used hundreds of thousands of dollars from the construction loan to make a down payment on another property in California.”
As a result, the Manafort holdings subject to forfeiture as listed by the indictment include:
“The real property and premises commonly known as 377 Union Street, Brooklyn, New York, 11231 (Block 429, Lot 65), including all appurtenances, improvements, and attachments thereon, and any property traceable thereto.”
If Manafort is acquitted and keeps the brownstone, we will have cause to remember another saying from the scar-faced gangster who grew up six blocks away.
“Capitalism is the legitimate racket of the ruling class.”