Friday, January 2, 2009

Thomas W. Miller: poor custodial work

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According to The American Promise, a history textbook written by six authors and published in 2003, Republican President Warren G. Harding's term in office (cut short by his death in 1923) was stained by political corruption, including the indictment of several of his appointees and the imprisonment of three of them, although Harding himself was never implicated in any wrongdoing. While the most well-known of the Harding Administration scandals is the Teapot Dome scandal, which led to the conviction of Interior Secretary Albert Fall, the case of Thomas Woodnutt Miller is less publicized.

Miller was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1886. After graduating from Yale, he worked as a steel roller, secretary to a Delaware congressman, and secretary of state of Delaware before he was elected to Congress in 1914 as a Republican. After serving one term and losing re-election in 1916, Miller fought in World War I, earning the Purple Heart and rising to the rank of colonel.

In 1921, Miller was appointed to be the Custodian of the Office of Alien Property, which handled property seized during the war. During this time, the German-owned American subsidiary of the American Metal Company was sold for $7 million to a syndicate of Americans and some of the original German officials of the subsidiary. In this deal, Miller was accused of accepting $50,000 for himself and resigned in 1924, staying on until 1925 when Harding's successor, Calvin Coolidge, found a replacement.

Miller was indicted in October of 1925 on charges of conspiracy to defraud the government. He was not alone. Also implicated were Harry Daugherty, Attorney General until 1924; Jesse Smith, a private assistant to Daugherty; and John T. King, a Connecticut Republican party boss. Daugherty was accused of getting $224,000 in the deal ($50,000 of which was in a joint account with Smith) and King was charged with receiving $112,000.

King and Smith both died before they could go to trial, Smith by suicide. In 1926, Miller and Daugherty were subjected to a 23-day trial, after which the jury deliberated for 66 hours before deadlocking on convicting either man. At a new trial the next year, Daugherty was acquitted thanks to a single juror who deadlocked the jury once again. Miller was found guilty and sentenced to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Miller was paroled after 13 months, and pardoned in 1933 by President Herbert Hoover. He then moved to Nevada, where he was a founder of the state park system and served as chairman of the Nevada State Park Commission for 16 of the years between 1935 and 1973. He also served as a field representative of the United States Veterans' Employment Service between 1945 and 1957. Miller died in Reno in 1973.

Sources: Warren G. Harding by John Wesley Dean, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Col. Miller Resigns" in The New York Times on Sept. 30 1924, "Col. Miller Indicted in $7,000,000 Fraud in Alien Property" in the New York Times on Oct. 31 1925, "Daugherty Indicted as Conspirator in Alien Metals Sale" in the New York Times on May 8 1926, "Twelve Jurors" in Time Magazine on Oct. 18 1926, "Daugherty is Freed as Jury Disagrees" in the New York Times on March 5 1927, "Prison for Miller and a $5,000 Fine" in The New York Times on March 8 1927, "Miller is Paroled at Atlanta Prison" in The New York Times on May 8 1929, Webster's Guide to American History by Charles Lincoln van Doren and Robert McHenry, America's 60 Families by Ferdinand Lundberg, "Miller Citizenship Restored by Hoover" in The New York Times on Feb. 3 1933

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