President Donald Trump appeared to suggest in a tweet Wednesday that his former campaign manager Paul Manafort is being treated worse by the justice system than notorious Chicago mob boss Al Capone.
Even for a president whose tweets have led to countless arguments on cable television by pundits dissecting his words, this comparison is jarring. Capone is regarded by historians as the worst gangster in American history, a bootlegger during the Prohibition Era in the 1920s and 1930s who was willing to ruthlessly kill his rivals — or at least have his men pull the trigger. A federal judge has noted that Manafort has not been charged with any crime of violence.
Capone was eventually convicted and jailed. Manafort has been jailed following allegations of witness tampering, but has not been convicted.
Still, the two have one thing in common. Manafort’s trial is on tax evasion, the same crime that finally landed “Public Enemy No. 1” in prison.
Trump tweeted, misspelling Capone’s first name of Alphonse: “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? Where is the Russian Collusion?”
More than 70 years after his death, Capone remains an almost mythical figure. He dominated organized crime as a bootlegger in Chicago during the period when liquor was banned. His legend only grew in 1929 with the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre — when seven men linked to a rival gang were lined up facing a garage in Chicago and shot dead. No one was ever charged in the deaths, though experts point to Capone, who consolidated his control over the bootleg business after that.
The problem with Capone was that he so terrorized the public that federal authorities couldn’t get witnesses or associates to rat on the mob boss for violent crimes. So they were forced to pursue a lesser charge of tax evasion and got a sentence of 11 years in federal prison.
“By the standard of a bootlegging mob boss whose outfit was responsible for multiple murders, you could argue that Capone got off pretty easy,” said Jonathan Eig, the author of “Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster.”
Capone’s digs behind bars apparently were pretty plush. The web site for the Eastern State Penitentiary, which is now a historic site, includes a cell that is said to be decorated as it was when Capone was an inmate there after he was arrested for carrying an unlicensed revolver. The prison, according the web site, “allowed Capone comforts not typically granted to inmates, including fine furniture, oriental rugs, oil paintings and a fancy radio.”
And when he stood trial in Chicago on the income tax charge in 1931, Capone was allowed to eat food his mother cooked for him, Eig said.
Things changed at Alcatraz, though, the infamous island prison in San Francisco Bay where Capone was treated like every other inmate, working in the prison laundry and shoe repair shop.
Manafort’s prison experience has included use of a telephone in his cell and a laptop, both of which didn’t exist back in Capone’s day.
Defense attorneys have, in court papers, said that Manafort is locked up in his jail cell 23 hours a day, excluding visits from his attorneys, and has been in solitary confinement for his own safety.
In one key area, though, Manafort is being treated as Capone was. When Capone stood trial in 1931, prosecutors needed a way to show that the mobster — not the kind to leave a paper trial when it came to income — was making a lot of money. So, said Eig, they told jurors about the French underwear he wore, expensive suits that were specially made with pockets large enough to carry a gun, and really big bills from the butcher shop he racked up.
Just this week, prosecutors told jurors about Manafort’s purchases of things like a high-end condo, silk rugs worth $160,000 and a $15,000 jacket made of ostrich.