Sunday, September 18, 2011

Theodore G. Bilbo: race to the end

Image from

Theodore Gilbert Bilbo's earlier career has been virtually overshadowed by the hateful rhetoric he embraced during his time as a United States Senator. Long before his race baiting ways started to eat away at his political strength, however, Bilbo had run afoul of bribery accusations in state level positions. In each bribery matter, he took a dubious but effective defense: admitting to taking a bribe, but maintaining that he only did so to expose corruption by his foes.

The first incident happened in 1909, a year after Bilbo started serving in the Mississippi state senate. Senators for Congress were still chosen by the state legislature, and with the death of Senator A.J. McLaurin in December of 1909 it was up to Bilbo and his compatriots to choose a replacement. The choices came down to former Governor James K. Vardaman and planter Leroy Percy, and after a protracted battle Percy was finally chosen. In March of 1910, a grand jury indicted planter L.C. Dulaney with the charge of tendering a bribe to Bilbo. It declined to indict Bilbo for receiving the bribe, but a resolution still appeared in the the senate to expel Bilbo.

Bilbo went on a swift offensive, explaining that Dulaney gave him $645 to support Percy over Vardaman. Bilbo said he took the money, but gave it to a local minister with a statement of facts as a way of obtaining proof of irregular methods in the election. He said the transaction was supposed to occur in a hotel room where a witness would be handy, but it ended up happening in another room instead.

Bilbo's innocence depended almost entirely on his word, and even this did not carry much weight considering that the minister denied having advance notice of the bribery or taking part in a stakeout in the hotel. The state senator maintained his innocence, but added the caveat asking voters to wait until all the evidence was in. "At this juncture of the greatest fight in the history of the state for a clean government, I feel that I ought to say to the people of Mississippi that the efforts of the politicians and corporate interests in attacking my reputation will prove a miserable failure, for the truth will prevail," he said.

On April 14, the senate took a vote to expel Bilbo. It fell along party lines and was 28 to 15 in favor - one short of the three-fourths majority needed to carry the action out. The Vardaman supporters left the chambers in protest after the vote, leading to a lopsided 25-1 vote favoring a resolution urging Bilbo to resign and criticizing the decision to not reveal the evidence of bribery until after the nomination as "utterly unexplainable and absolutely incredible." However, another resolution unanimously adopted the idea that the election was free from undue influence. Bilbo remained in the senate for the rest of his term, and Dulaney was acquitted at trial in November. The fallout from the matter continued into the next year. In July of 1911, former prison warden J.J. Henry hit Bilbo in the face with the butt of a pistol after Bilbo refused to apologize for remarks about Henry's character; Henry had been one of the witnesses before the committee investigating the bribery allegation.

The second accusation of bribery arose in December of 1913, when Bilbo was the lieutenant governor of Mississippi. He and state senator G.A. Hobbs were indicted on the charge of soliciting a bribe from Belzoni resident Steve Castleman to influence a bill in 1912 to create a new county out of parts of Yazoo, Holmes, and Washington counties. At the trial, Chicago attorney Ira M. Sample testified that Bilbo and Hobbs approached him with the idea of getting legal action against a certain Illinois lumber corporation dismissed in exchange for $50,000 for Bilbo and $5,000 each for the Mississippi attorney general and two special attorneys. Castleman said he agreed to pay $2,000 to Bilbo and Hobbs to support the county bill, and gave $200 to Hobbs in a Vicksburg hotel. The circumstances of the bribe were curiously similar to those a few years earlier, and the outcome was nearly identical. Hobbs claimed that he accepted the bribe to entrap Castlman and was acquitted at trial. Bilbo was also exonerated in July of 1914.

Bilbo was born on a Poplarville farm in October of 1877. He attended Peabody College in Nashville as well as the law department of Vanderbilt University and the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. He made a living as a high school teacher for five years and started practicing law in 1912, four years after he was admitted to the bar. If his later crusade was all about race, Bilbo's early work was more related to class. He often defended hill country farmers against the wealthier farmers from the Mississippi River Delta region.

The first political bid Bilbo made was in 1903, when he unsuccessfully ran for circuit court judge. Five years later, he started work in the state senate as a Democrat. He stayed there through 1912, when he became the lieutenant governor. Bilbo not only weathered the two bribery scandals, but won the gubernatorial election at the end of his time as lieutenant governor in 1916. During his first term, the state established a tuberculosis sanatorium; eliminated public hangings; founded a state board of embalming, state tax commission, and fish and game commission; and advanced the construction of highways. In another violent incident, the state's assistant attorney general, Walter Dent, knocked Bilbo down during a fistfight in August of 1919; the scuffle was a result of remarks in a newspaper attributed to Bilbo. At the end of his first term in 1920, he ran unsuccessfully for the House of Representatives.

Bilbo hit a rough patch after this term. In 1922, a woman named Frances Birkhead accused Bilbo's successor, Lee Russell, of seduction. It was akin to sexual harassment, and Bilbo's name came up as the person whom Governor Russell allegedly asked to settle the matter involving his stenographer. Bilbo had no desire to appear as a witness, and ignored the summons to court. Russell was ultimately acquitted, but Bilbo was arrested for contempt of court in February of 1923. He was convicted and sentenced to serve 30 days in jail and pay a $100 fine, although the term was later reduced to 10 days and the fine remitted. From his cell, Bilbo announced his candidacy for a renewed gubernatorial term.

This effort, naturally, was not very successful. Bilbo was again elected governor for a term starting in 1928, but met with considerably more difficulty the second time around as the Mississippi treasury was hit by financial setbacks. In April of 1932, a judge declared 217 pardons issued during Bilbo's term null and void since they had been issued without proper notice, but prison trustees refused to rearrest the newly freed men. Economic policies benefiting white farmers became common. These were one of the more subtle forms of racism Bilbo embraced. In October of 1928, he criticized Republican presidential candidate Herbert Hoover for allegedly dancing with a black woman during a flood relief visit to the state the previous year. Hoover replied by saying that it was mere rumor, and that if the voters made a decision based solely on the accusation it would "forever be a most infamous blot on the record of the state of Mississippi." Despite the law against public hanging passed in his first term, Bilbo took a rather more relaxed attitude toward lynchings. After a mob took Charley Shepherd, a black man accused of raping and murdering an 18-year-old girl, and burned him at the stake in 1929, Bilbo publicly declared his opposition to an investigation into the culprits. "I have neither the time nor the money to investigate 2,000 people," he said. Bilbo said no National Guard protection had been requested, or it would have been afforded for Shepherd. To his credit, Bilbo did order such a guard for a black man accused of murdering a white planter in 1931. However, this was likely done with reluctance; only a few months later, the North American Review quoted him as saying, "No colored man is worth calling out the National Guard to protect."

After leaving the governor's office for a second time, Bilbo made another unsuccessful run at the House. In a bizarre development, he managed to get a job with the Farm Adjustment Administration "assembling current information records for the Adjustment Administration from news, magazines, and other published sources." Translated, this meant that Bilbo would be paid to take clippings from newspapers and other published sources. He left the $6,000 post - a salary only $2,500 less than that of a senator - to start a campaign for Senate in February of 1934. In a surprise upset, he took the Democratic nomination from 22-year incumbent Hubert D. Stephens. The party dominated politics in the South to such a degree that a primary victory was a foregone conclusion for the general election; sure enough, Bilbo easily won victory in November of 1934.

Bilbo would stay in the Senate for two terms, chairing both the Committee on the District of Columbia and the Committee on Pensions. He became a strong supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal initiatives, seeing them as a good way to relieve poverty in Mississippi. Midway through his term, he and his bride of 34 years went through a messy breakup. In 1937, a divorce was granted and his ex-wife vowed to use some of the $20,750 she received in the deal to fund a Senate campaign opposing him. In his second term, Bilbo spoke against the idea of having the draft brought down to the ages of 18 and 19. The conflict would be a prolonged one, he felt, and it would be more prudent to call up men with more experience. "I am not opposed to taking 18 and 19 year old boys and training them, but I could never give my consent to putting them into combat service at this tender age," he said.

More than anything, however, Bilbo would become known for his vile, single-minded, and backward attitude on racial relationships. In one of his most shocking proclamations, he said the white race was doomed to decadence if it was to live alongside the black race; he said he would attach an amendment to a federal emergency relief bill to provide $250 million for the transportation of the country's black residents to new homes in Liberia. Worst of all, Bilbo turned to the Nazi regime in Germany as a model. "It will be recalled that Hitler, in his speech on April 9 in Vienna, gave as the basis of his program to unite Austria with Germany, 'German blood ties,'" he said. "Germans appreciate the importance of race values. They understand that racial improvement is the greatest asset that any country can have." Bilbo claimed that he had two million signatures from blacks who were willing to make the move and thought millions more would join in. Bilbo's relocation ideas extended to the nation's capital, with a proposal that 10,000 people be removed from alley homes. "We predict he will be a curse to his party and to his capital. Indeed he is one already," one newspaper commented. "He is one of the worst blights ever to strike our town, and we hold his party and this administration responsible for inflicting this socially benighted man on the people of Washington."

In 1938, Bilbo filibustered a proposed anti-lynching bill. He said violence and race riots would accompany the passage of such a measure, and referred to its supporters as "mulattoes, octoroons, and quadroons." In May of 1943, he said he was prepared to repeat the effort on a bill that would make it unlawful to require a poll tax to vote in a federal election. Such a tax, common in several southern states, was designed to exclude black voters but Bilbo saw the matter as one of states' rights. "I will feel that I am just as much a soldier as a marine on Guadalcanal or a private on Attu Island," he said, admitting that he would yield if essential war issues needed discussion.

In June of 1945, Bilbo filibustered the Fair Employment Practices Commission, saying he felt it was an attempt to fuse races and garner the black vote. By this point, with the war in Europe concluded and the Pacific conflict drawing to a close, the patience for Bilbo's hateful outbursts was growing thin. The Veterans Committee for Equal Rights demanded his impeachment due to his frequent statements against religious and racial equality. The Jewish War Veterans of the United States accused him of promoting divisiveness and violating the Constitution. The Committee of Catholics for Human Rights declared his conduct "a chilling deterrent to the worldwide belief that America is the symbol of democratic freedom and human rights."

Bilbo's conduct signaled the end of his career in Washington. In April of 1946, the Senate established a special committee to investigate election practices. In July, Bilbo won the Democratic nomination for a third term in the Senate. Two months later, a group of black voters charged that Bilbo "conducted an aggressive and ruthless campaign...with the effectively deprive and deny the duly qualified Negro electors...of their constitutional register and vote." Glen H. Taylor, a liberal Democrat from Idaho, had already requested the committee to look into Bilbo's inflammatory speeches in June.

In August of 1946, Bilbo admitted that he was a member of the Ku Klux Klan, although he said he had not attended any meetings since his inaugural one since he was "not in sympathy with some things in it." He disputed a quote attributed to him in which he allegedly said that "the way to stop Negroes from voting was to start from the night before" with a clarified, perhaps more horrible statement that kept the intent intact: "The best time to keep a nigger away from a white primary in Mississippi was to see him the night before."

There was little question that Bilbo had urged intimidation and other unsavory practices in the 1946 primary. In a radio campaign, he had called upon
"every red-blooded Anglo-Saxon man in Mississippi to resort to any means to keep hundreds of Negroes from the polls in the July 2 primary. And if you don't know what that means, you are just not up to your persuasive measures." In one well-publicized incident, a black war veteran was beaten for trying to register to vote in Mississippi. The National Negro Council denounced Bilbo's requests as "more diabolical than Hitler in his heyday."

In December of 1946, the committee convened for four days of hearings on Bilbo's exhortations prior to the primary. Over 100 witnesses, about two-thirds of them black, told about the restrictions on registration and voting. It wasn't enough to knock Bilbo from his perch. On January 3, 1947, the majority report of the Campaign Expenditures Committee determined that Bilbo's financial conduct was not an issue, finding instead that his anti-black crusade had been a response to "outside agitation" such as the national press, and determined that he was eligible for a seat in Congress. The minority report took a decidedly different tack. It charged Bilbo with violating the Constitution, federal criminal code, and Hatch Act, and with vigorously encouraging state officials to do the same.

It may have marked another close call for Bilbo, but the civil rights violations were not the only matters he was under investigation for. In November of 1946, the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program launched a probe into his relationship with war contractors. This committee was less sympathetic toward the senator, and uncovered a wealth of unscrupulous activity. Over the course of the war, Bilbo had accepted from war contractors a new Cadillac, a swimming pool, the excavation of a lake around his "dream house," the painting of this mansion, furnishings for a second home, and overall a total benefit of between $57,000 and $88,000. The day before the determination that Bilbo had not violated civil rights laws, six of nine members of the defense committee agreed that his connections with war contractors were questionable.

Along with the first Republican majority in 14 years, it was enough to stall Bilbo's seating in Congress. Taylor asked the legislature to bar Bilbo from holding a seat until the Committee on Rules of Administration could review his conduct. The Senate voted 38-20 to table the resolution, but the matter turned out to be something of an anticlimax. Though Bilbo would continue to receive his government salary, he returned to his home state for an emergency surgery.

Somewhere along the way, Bilbo found time to put together a hateful treatise entitled Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization, which continued to embrace the notion of deporting the nation's black population. Ironically, the man who had spewed so much hatred died in August of 1947 following three surgeries for mouth cancer, although the official cause of death was given as heart failure following a surgery to tie off a blood clot. A life size bronze statute of Bilbo was dedicated in the Mississippi Capitol rotunda in 1954, but proved an embarrassment as the civil rights movement progressed. In 1982, Governor William Winter quietly ordered that the statue be removed to an out of the way meeting room. This room is now frequently used by the Legislative Black Caucus, and some members cheekily hang their coats or hats on the statue's outstretched arm.

Sources: The Political Graveyard, The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, National Governors Association, Mississippi History Now, U.S. Senate Art and History Home Page, "Bribery Charged in Mississippi" in the Spartanburg Herald on March 29 1910, "Preacher Didn't Confirm Bilbo" in The Day on April 2 1910, "Look Into Bilbo's Record" in the News and Courier on April 2 1910, "Bilbo is Forced to Resign From the Mississippi Senate" in the Spartanburg Herald on April 15 1910, "Senatorial Primary Called" in the New York Times on April 17 1910, "Real Money in Bribe Trial" in the Boston Evening Transcript on Nov. 30 1910, "Senator Bilbo is Severely Beaten" in the Spartanburg Herald on Jul. 7 1911, "Indict State Officials" in the New York Times on Dec. 3 1913, "Attempted Bribery Alleged in Big Case" in the Pittsburgh Press on Jul. 8 1914, "Bilbo Acquitted By Jury" in the News and Courier on Jul. 10 1914, "Mississippi Governor Knocked Down in Fight" in the Evening Independent on Aug. 9 1919, "Suit Against a Governor is On" in the Lawrence Journal-World on Dec. 7 1922, "Russell Acquitted of Woman's Charge" in the New York Times on Dec. 12 1922, "Ex.-Gov. Bilbo Arrested For Contempt" in the New York Times on Feb. 7 1923, "Bilbo to Run Again" in the Palm Beach Post on Apr. 17 1923, "Reduces Bilbo Sentence" in the Evening Independent on Apr. 20 1923, "Hoover Denies Charge Made by Governor Bilbo" in the Washington Reporter on Oct. 20 1928, "Governor Refuses to Order Inquiry into Negro Lynching" in the Meriden Record on Jan. 2 1929, "National Affairs: People vs. Shepherd" in Time on Jan. 14 1929, "Troops to Guard Mississippi Negro Being Held as Killer" in the St. Joseph Gazette on Oct. 23 1931, "Prison Trustees Refuse to Carry Out Their Orders" in the Herald-Journal on Apr. 14 1932, "Bilbo to Gauge Farm Act Foes by the Shape of Their Heads" in the Gettysburg Times on Jun. 23 1933, "Ex-Governor Quits Post; Eyes Senate" in the Pittsburgh Press on Feb. 23 1934, "Bilbo Rockets Into U.S. Senate" in the Herald-Journal on Sep. 20 1934, "Wife Contests Divorce of Sen. Bilbo of Miss." in the Lewiston Daily Sun on May 19 1937, "Ted Bilbo is a Coward" in the Afro American on Jan. 29 1938, "Bilbo Sees Decadence of Pure Anglo-Saxon Race" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Mar. 2 1938, "News Behind the News" in the Miami News on May 30 1938, "Sen. Bilbo, Ex-Wife to be Campaign Foes" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jul. 28 1938, "18-19 Draft Bill is Introduced" in the Mt. Airy News on Sep. 11 1942, "Bilbo Ready to Talk 18 Months" in the Tuscaloosa News on May 30 1943, "A Curse on Washington" in the Afro-American on Mar. 25 1944, "Sen. Bilbo Starts Filibuster Against FEPC" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Jun. 28 1945, "Catholic Group Assails Bilbo" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Aug. 8 1945, "Vet Group Asks Bilbo Impeachment" in the Evening Independent on Sep. 25 1945, "Jewish War Veterans Would Impeach Bilbo" in the Deseret News on Nov. 26 1945, "Senate to Investigate Bilbo's Efforts to Keep Negroes from Primary Polls" in the St. Petersburg Times on Jun. 27 1946, "Senator Says He is Klansman" in the Kentucky New Era on Aug. 10 1946, "The Washington Merry Go Round" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on Oct. 26 1946, "Deny Bilbo a Seat" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Nov. 16 1946, "Senator Bilbo's Case" in the Indian Express on Jan. 5 1947, "Bilbo Succumbs After Operation in New Orleans" in the St. Petersburg Times on Aug. 22 1947, "Governor Fights to Educate Poor, Backward Mississippi" in the Ottawa Citizen on Dec. 11 1982, "South in New Disputes Over Heritage" in the Washington Times on Feb. 10 2009, "Theodore G. Bilbo and the Decline of Public Racism, 1938-1947" in the Journal of Mississippi History, Historical Dictionary of the 1940s by James Gilbert Ryan and Leonard C. Schlup, The Governors of Mississippi by Cecil L. Summers

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nelson G. Gross: regular contributor

Image from the Evening News

Nelson G. Gross was the type of politician who, though deeply influential in government, worked more out of the public eye than as an official. The closest he came to being an elected member of the national government was a failed Senate bid, and he undertook that effort with experience limited mostly to campaigns and party positions. Though he drew some controversy during his work in politics, the incident which would garner more attention was the senseless manner in which his life ended.

Born in Saddle River, New Jersey in 1932, Gross went from being a lawyer to a close involvement with the state's Republican Party. He was a member of the state house of assembly in 1962, but his major breakthrough came six years later as a delegate to the Republican National Convention. Among the New Jersey Republicans, the hope was that the presidential nod could go to "favorite son" candidate Clifford P. Chase, who had been in the Senate since 1955. To the chagrin of some party members, however, Gross led an effort to support former Vice President Richard Nixon and persuaded 18 of the state's 40 delegates to change their vote. When Nixon captured the nomination, Gross led his campaign in New Jersey, where Nixon triumphed by about 60,000 votes on his way to the White House in the 1968 election.

Despite the breakaway from Chase, Gross's relationship with the state Republicans were still strong enough that he chaired the state party in 1969. In April of the next year, U.S. Attorney for New Jersey Frederick Lacey announced that Gross was under investigation for ties to a labor union allegedly dominated by the Mafia. No charges came out of the matter, and only a week after the announcement Gross announced that he was resigning as chairman to enter the 1970 Senate race. He easily won the GOP primary against two opponents. A month before the election, he was pummeled by political columnist Jack Anderson. "Nelson Gross, the Republican candidate for the Senate in New Jersey, has made a big show of opening up his records for public inspection. But apparently we are the only ones who have bothered to inspect them. What we found may make Gross wish he had kept his records hidden." Anderson claimed that Gross had charged numerous personal expenses to failing companies he controlled, including bouquets for his wife, vacations, and tickets to the Moscow Circus visit to Madison Square Garden. Anderson said that when confronted with the charges, Gross claimed that the court had thrown the suit out. Anderson countered that a $25,000 settlement had been involved in the resolution.

Gross failed to dislodge the incumbent Democratic, Senator Harrison A. Williams, in the general election. Williams, who had served in the Senate since 1959, earned about 250,000 more votes than Gross. Chase got in a dig at Gross, commenting that his close ties to the Nixon Administration may have hurt him. "Nelson had some excellent position papers. It is a real tragedy that he and his media people did not choose to emphasize them--that his media campaign chose to emphasize the negative side." The ties to the President did help him to secure employment after the loss, however. In August of 1971, he began working for the State Department as a senior adviser and coordinator on international narcotics matters.

Then in May of 1973, Gross was indicted on fraud charges. The charges said Gross issued false invoices to the Stop and Save Stamp Corporation, a subsidiary of Grand Union Co., in order to make a $5,000 contribution to the 1969 campaign of New Jersey Governor William T. Cahill and make it appear to be tax deductible. Gross was also accused of encouraging William H. Preis, president of the Stop and Save Stamp Corporation, to make false statements to the grand jury; Preis pleaded guilty the same month to perjury. U.S. Attorney Herbert Stern said there was no evidence to suggest that Cahill knew about the illegality of the contribution, but the damage was done. The scandal was one factor playing into Cahill's defeat in the 1973 Republican primary, where the gubernatorial nomination went to Representative Charles Sandman. To the charges, Gross said, "I am astounded that anyone could conceivably believe that I would be in a position to counsel or did counsel one of the largest retailing supermarket chains in the country as to the manner in which it should complete and file federal income tax returns."

The trial happened in March of 1974. Among the 28 witnesses to testify over the course of five weeks was Bernard Striar, owner of a Maine textile company. Striar said Gross arranged for him to make a $2,000 contribution to Gross's Senate campaign and illegally deduct it. Gross took the stand in his own defense, not only claiming innocence but accusing the U.S. Attorney's Office of trying to topple his law firm. Gross's father also took the stand, testifying that Gross actually advised Preis to tell the truth to the grand jury rather than lie.

When the jury returned a verdict, it found Gross guilty of tax evasion and perjury. Gross's lawyers made a curious argument for a new trial, arguing that wealthy people were excluded from the jury. In June of 1974, Gross was sentenced to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine; a week later, Preis received the same sentence, but with the jail term suspended. Gross remained a free man while he ground his way through the appeals process. In December of 1974, he asked the three-judge Federal Court of Appeals in Philadelphia to overturn his conviction; they upheld the verdict in February of 1975. In November of that year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the conviction as well. Finally, in June of 1976, Gross began serving his sentence after first trying to turn himself in at the federal prison in Allentown, Pennsylvania. He ended up serving six months.

In a surprising turn of events, it was revealed a couple of years later that the marshals at the trial had taken a far more active role at the trial than was allowed. Leon Harvey Stacey said he and his fellow officers seduced some of the female jurors, persuading them that the prosecution's case was sound and capitalizing on the increasing dissatisfaction with Nixon. "We all knew Nelson Gross was part of the Nixon administration. It was therefore easy to allude to a general disenchantment with politicians," Stacey said. "In other words, as part of the romancing of the jurors, my reference to politicians was always in a negative attitude." With this revelation, Gross tried to reopen the case and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in New York granted a hearing in November of 1978. It is unclear how this turned out, but if subsequent developments are any indication it was not very successful. In June of 1981, he was disbarred from practicing law in federal courts due to his conviction and his failure to show up at a hearing. An ethical board later disbarred him from the state courts for three years after finding that he had committed "unethical conduct."

Despite his legal troubles, Gross was still financially successful through his investments in real estate development and restaurants. He was a millionaire in September of 1997, stopping in at a floating restaurant he owned in Edgewater, New Jersey every day for a meal. Then he disappeared. Gross was last seen taking $20,000 from a bank near the restaurant, a transaction not unusual due to his frequent large withdrawals. His wife and son reportedly saw him getting into his BMW with two men, and his son called his cell phone to see if everything was all right. "It's business. It's just business," Gross replied before hanging up. A search for Gross began, and first found his car abandoned about 15 blocks south of the George Washington Bridge in Manhattan. His family offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to his return. Gross's body was finally found on the wooded bank of the Hudson River; he had been stabbed to death.

It didn't take long for police to implicate three youths in the crime. Arrested were 18-year-old Anthony "Alex" Esteves and 17-year-olds Christian Velez and Miguel "Papo" Grullon. They had used the money to buy two used cars, a motorcycle, and jewelry and a bystander reported them to the authorities after overhearing them openly talking about the murder. Velez, who had worked as a busboy at the floating restaurant, was arrested and implicated his two friends. It seemed they had conspired to rob the wealthy businessman, but had not thought the plan through; when they realized that Gross would report the robbery to the police, they took his life as well.

A death notice taken out by Gross's family in the New York Times did not mince words. It said Gross had died after "succumbing to an unprovoked vicious attack by three thugs who inflicted multiple stab wounds to his chest and back." Ultimately, Estevez entered an agreement to testify against his co-defendants if the cases went to trial and Velez and Grullon pleaded guilty to kidnapping and murder. Describing the crime as "cruel and heinous" and a "truly senseless thing," Estevez was sentenced to 17-and-a-half years in prison without parole. His two co-defendants received 30 years in prison, also without parole.

Sources: The Political Graveyard, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Lacey Says Ties of Gross to Union Are Under Inquiry" in the New York Times on Apr. 2 1970, "Gross Quits as GOP Chairman in Jersey to Run for the Senate" in the New York Times Apr. 9 1970, "Wallace Triumphs in Alabama Run-Off" in the Schenectady Gazette on Jun. 3 1970, "Williams Recovering From Bad Start in N.J." in the Park City Daily News on Oct. 25 1970, "Gross Squeezes Companies" in the Free Lance Star on Oct. 24 1970, "Says Nixon Campaign Wrong" in the Virgin Island Daily News on Nov. 7 1970, "Coordinator" in the Evening News on Aug. 13 1971, "N.J. Republican Pleads Innocent In Funds Case" in The Journal on May 23 1973, "Gov. Cahill Defeated in N.J. GOP Primary" in the Los Angeles Times on Jun. 6 1973, "Illegally Deducted Gift, Magnate Says" in the Bangor Daily News on Mar. 3 1974, "Father Supports Gross Testimony" in the New York Times on Mar. 21 1974, "Gross Accuses U.S. of Harrying Firm" in the New York Times on Mar. 23 1974, "Federal Jury Begins Its Deliberations in Campaign Fraud Case Against Gross" in the New York Times on Mar. 29 1974, "Gross, Citing Jury, Seeks a New Trial" in the New York Times on Apr. 20 1974, "Gross is Sentenced to 2 Years in Jail" in the New York Times on Jun. 15 1974, "Preis is Fined, Term Suspended" in the New York Times on Jun. 22 1974, "New Jersey Briefs" in the New York Times on Dec. 11 1974, "New Jersey Briefs" in the New York Times on Feb. 20 1975, "Supreme Court Upholds 2 Convictions of Gross" in the New York Times on Nov. 4 1975, "Gross Wins Stay of Sentence" in the Argus-Press on Dec. 5 1975, "Nelson Gross Off To Prison" in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Jun. 3 1976, "Candidate's Husband to Try to Reopen Old Case" in the Lakeland Ledger on Feb. 3 1978, "Marshals, Jurors May Have Tainted N.J. Verdict" in the Deseret News on Feb. 10 1978, "New Hearing OK'd in Tax Fraud Case" in the Milwaukee Journal on Nov. 10 1978, "Ex-Jersey GOP Chief is Barred by U.S. Judge" in the New York Times on Jun. 28 1981, "Car of Missing New Jersey Developer is Found" in the New York Times on Sep. 21 1997, "Youths Accused of Killing New Jersey Millionaire" in the New York Times on Sep. 25 1997, "Police: Slain Millionaire Victim of Botched Plot" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sep. 26 1997, "Gross, Nelson Gerard" in the New York Times on Sept. 27 1997, "Prison For Tycoon Slay" in the New York Daily News on Oct. 8 1998, "2 Are Given up to 30 Years in Murder of Millionaire" in the New York Times on Oct. 8 1998.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Melba Till Allen: We are not amused

Image from the Tuscaloosa News

Working to root out corruption at the state level early in her career, Melba Till Allen is credited with helping win adoption of a ethics law for Alabama in 1973. Five years later, she and her lawyers were scrambling to show that the law was unconstitutional in order to keep her out of jail.

The daughter of a farmer, Allen was born in March of 1933 in Friendship Community, Alabama. She lived in Hope Hull and Grady before marrying in December of 1950, at the age of 17, to Marvin E. Allen. From a young age she had dreamed of achieving political office, and finally did so in 1966. That year, she was elected state auditor on the Democratic ticket. It was a banner year for women in Alabama politics; Hull replaced Republican Alice Hudson, and five other women were also elected to high office. Hull held the job from 1967 to 1975, and became known as a crusader against state employees with padded expense accounts. It earned her the nickname "Melba 'Watching the Till' Allen."

Allen's first high-profile scuffle came in the years of 1969 and 1970. After Allen made allegations of violations of law in some contracts and purchases at the state docks in Mobile, Governor Albert Brewer ordered an investigation into the matter. The two were soon at loggerheads over the issue. When the governor's probe cleared docks director Houston Feaster of any wrongdoing, Allen accused him of incompetence. "I doubt the competence of his investigators. I believe they were deliberately trying to whitewash the situation or just doing a poor job," she said. Events continued to seesaw in favor of Allen's contentions and against. Brewer fired Feaster in July of 1970 after he failed to appear before a grand jury, reasoning that it was his right as a private citizen but conflicted with the gubernatorial administration. When the grand jury also cleared Feaster, however, Brewer had harsh words for Allen: "We have reached a sad state of affairs when an an elected official, for political expediency, will engage in character assassination and even attack a grand jury and court." Allen contended that the grand jury had been pressured into an early decision. Finally, in January of 1972, Feaster was convicted of one count of tax evasion charging $14,000 in under-reported income in 1966. The trial included testimony by Marvin Massengale, who testified under immunity and said his firm received $93,000 in kickbacks for construction projects at the docks. Though Feaster was accused of seven other counts of tax evasion charging failure to pay taxes on ill-gotten gains between 1965 and 1968, he was acquitted of all of them.

In the midst of these events, Allen announced that she would be running for the Senate. In December of 1971, she said she would be a candidate in 1972, declaring, "I believe that I could better serve my fellow Alabamians in this capacity." Commenting on the decision, Florence Times and Tri-Cities Daily staff reporter Mel Newman wrote, "Despite the imposing sound of her title and its constitutional prerogatives, the state auditor has been left without great power to ferret out mishandling of public funds, by lack of support from the governor's office, the legislature, and the general public." However, he said, Allen"can be expected to keep the contest a lively one." She kept the promise, but fell short in the primary. She began serving as state treasurer in 1975, and in April of 1977 said she intended to run for governor in the next year's election.

Five months later, the Birmingham News began printing a series of articles accusing Allen of failing to report to the State Ethics Commission a series of loans in 1975 and 1976. These loans were meant to finance the construction of Stars Over Alabama, an amusement park in northern Alabama which never got off the ground; the site itself was destroyed in a suspicious 1977 fire. The newspaper said a number of loans also aimed to boost other, mostly personal business ventures. By law, the state funds (as much as $550 million) had to be deposited in the 300 banks in Alabama; bankers were willing to play along with Allen, realizing they could get the state as a customer if they made personal loans to Allen. In the end, Allen had taken a total of $2.9 million from 58 banks. These included $400,000 in land investments, $378,000 to expand her husband's trucking business, $281,000 for Stars Over Alabama, $75,000 for a movie distribution company, and $14,165 in a wicker distribution company run by her two children. The loans, or rather Allen's failure to report them, attracted the attention of the State Ethics Commission as well as the Securities and Exchange Commission, Internal Revenue Service, and Federal Deposit Insurance Company. The Montgomery County district attorney, Jimmy Evans, said investigators would probe the allegations against Allen and her assistant.

Allen denied any wrongdoing, saying, "My only mistake has been in putting too much trust in some of my business friends." Her tactic was clearly that the best defense was a good offense. She asked state and federal attorneys to look into whether elements in organized crime were trying to discredit her. She also criticized the February 1978 arrest of her financial adviser and University of Tennessee at Nashville professor John Byron Pennington, who was caught in a sting operation while trying to buy information on grand jury proceedings against her. Allen found out what the grand jury had been doing soon enough. The next month, she was indicted on four counts. These charged her with soliciting or accepting the use of an airplane from Florida financier E.A. Gregory (who was associated with one of the Alabama banks during the time of the alleged offenses); two counts of depositing state funds in the American Bank of Geneva in exchange for loans; and demanding a fee, reward, or compensation from the bank for depositing money. One month later, she was indicted again on a charge of violating the State Ethics Act by failing to disclose her banking activity to the State Ethics Commission, reporting only 12 of 36 loans. Allen pleaded innocent to all counts, declaring she would "fight for what is right. I will never give up." She also announced that she wanted to avoid a "trial by newspapers" and that she still intended to run for governor later in the year.

At her trial in May, one banker testified that Allen deposited $100,000 in their institution. In return, Allen borrowed $175,000 and granted the banker 10,000 shares in Stars Over Alabama stock. Another banker said Allen deposited $775,000 in state funds after he granted a $50,000 loan. The defense tried to throw the case out by arguing that the 1973 ethics law was unconstitutional, but when that failed they could only rely on a string of character witnesses, including Governor George Wallace. After only 45 minutes, the jury found Allen guilty of two counts of using her office to gain loans, a violation of the State Ethics Act. She was the first person convicted in Alabama under the law.

In June of 1978, Allen was sentenced to three years in prison. Her attorneys argued that no one in the state lost money by her actions, and that Alabama had made a net gain due to her cost-saving measures. When asked if she had anything to say, she responded, "So help me God, I am not guilty." A new element was thrown into the mix when a legal argument came up regarding her status as treasurer. Though state law declared that public officials sentenced to prison or hard labor automatically forfeited their office, it was unclear whether it applied to the treasurer since that position and other constitutional officers were normally removed by impeachment. Her attorneys vowed that Allen would stay firmly seated in the treasurer's chair until the issue was cleared up.

In response, the state supreme court returned a decision almost immediately saying that the law was different from an impeachment process, and that Allen was out of the job. Governor Wallace replaced her with Annie Laurie Gunter, director of the State Office of Consumer Protection, to fill the remainder of her term. Meanwhile, Allen tried for a new trial, alleging that one juror said several months before the trial that he thought the treasurer guilty based on news accounts. Right on the heels of the first trial, Allen returned to court on the second indictment. She was quickly convicted and sentenced to serve a year, concurrent with the three-year sentence already pending. The judge also dismissed the remaining counts against her. At the latest sentence, she again proclaimed innocence, saying, "I am absolutely not guilty."

Allen kept up a dogged resistance. In August of 1978, she held a press conference to allege that there had been a conspiracy to oust her from office and asked state attorney general Bill Baxley to investigate while both convictions went to trial. She remained free in February of 1979 and proclaimed, "I know I serve the same God Daniel did and God saved him in the lion's den. I will take whatever I have to take." In March of 1980, an attempt to pardon her died in the state house of representatives' rules committee. Seven months later, Allen had won some stays in the execution of her sentence, but had reached the end of the line with the United States Supreme Court's refusal to hear her appeal. The same month, a circuit court judge finally ordered her to serve six months of the sentence. The judge, Perry Hooper, thought she had suffered enough "humiliation and embarrassment" and felt that the county jail was a more fitting lockup than the state penitentiary. Hooper said Allen had led an exemplary life prior to conviction and was "pulled from the pinnacle of political success" with the conviction. The remaining two and a half years were to be served as probation.

Allen finally began her term of incarceration in November of 1980. The reduced time, along with other perks, led to some editorials charging that her station had helped to get her more leniency than would otherwise be found in similar cases. Allen was not only allowed to visit her family for Thanksgiving, but spent the remainder of her prison term after that time working as a bookkeeper at a retirement home under the supervision of a nun.

In January of 1986, Allen again entered the political fray by putting her name up for consideration in the lieutenant governor's race. She had to again argue that she had been wrongly convicted, and mustered less than 2,000 votes at the June primary. The next April, she opened The Little Red Hen Restaurant in Wadsworth. Allen died of cancer in Montgomery in October of 1989.

Sources: The Political Graveyard, "The Petticoat's Place in Alabama Politics Assured" in the Sumter Daily Item on Nov. 17 1966, "Brewer Orders Probe of Docks" in the Tuscaloosa News on Feb. 13 1969, "Docks Probe Called Whitewash" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jun. 17 1969, "Ala.'s Dock Director is Fired" in the Ocala Star-Banner on Jul. 27 1970, "Brewer Charges State Auditor With 'Witch Hunt' at State Docks" in the Gadsden Times on Aug. 1 1970, "Reporter's Notebook" in the Florence Times and Tri-Cities Daily on Dec. 5 1971, "In Alabama" in the Florence Times and Tri-Cities Daily on Dec. 6 1971, "Feaster Denied A New Trial" in the Tuscaloosa News on Apr. 19 1972, "Allen Has Eye on the Governorship" in the Tuscaloosa News on Apr. 21 1977, "Melba Till Allen Denies Charges" in the Tuscaloosa News on Sep. 24 1977, "Melba Till Allen Challenges Reports" in the Tuscaloosa News on Oct. 17 1977, "Ethics Probe on Allen" in the Tuscaloosa News on Oct. 22 1977, "Allen Says Crime Tied to Probes" in the Tuscaloosa News on Dec. 1 1977, "DA To Probe Allen Affair" in the Florence Times and Tri-Cities Daily on Dec. 9 1977, "Mrs. Allen Raps Arrest" in the Tuscaloosa News on Feb. 24 1978, "Melba Till Pleads Innocent" in the Gadsden Times on Mar. 30 1978, "Mrs. Allen is Indicted a Fifth Time" in the Tuscaloosa News on Apr. 12 1978, "Mrs. Allen is Candidate for Governor" in the Tuscaloosa News on Apr. 30 1978, "Melba Convicted on Two Counts" in the Gadsden Times on May 25 1978, "Melba Till Fights Ouster From Job" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jun. 9 1978, "Nation: Too Much Trust" in Time on Jun. 11 1978, "Alabama Treasurer Lost Her Job On Conviction" in the Lewiston Evening Journal on Jun. 10 1978, "Mrs. Allen Loses Bid For New Trial" in the Florence Times and Tri-Cities Daily on Jun. 11 1978, "Governor Wallace Replaces Melba Till As State Treasurer" in the Gadsden Times on Jun. 13 1978, "Melba Till Sentenced to One Year" in the Gadsden Times on Jun. 28 1978, "Conspiracy is Charged" in the Tuscaloosa News on Aug. 25 1978, "Melba Till Allen Faces Jail" in the Tuscaloosa News on Feb. 22 1980, "Allen Pardon Proposal Dies in House Committee" in the Florence Times and Tri-Cities Daily on Mar. 20 1980, "No Hearing, Melba Till Told" in the Gadsden Times on Oct. 7 1980, "Melba Till Gets 6 Months in Jail" in the Tuscaloosa News on Oct. 29 1980, "Melba Till Allen Goes to Jail" in the Gadsden Times on Nov. 3 1980, "Justice: Holiday at Home For Some" in the Tuscaloosa News on Nov. 30 1980, "Melba Till Allen Kicks Off Her Political Drive" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jan. 5 1986, "Official Vote Tally Reflects Only 'Minor' Changes" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jun. 5 1986, "Former State Treasurer Opens Restaurant" in the Tuscaloosa News on Jul. 31 1987

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Herman Methfessel: the racketeer housewives of Staten Island

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For most of his career, Herman Methfessel stayed out of the news. In the midst of his career as a New York City prosecutor, he made the syndicated column "Dizzy Doings in the News" in a 1942 account of fishing tales. Without noting Methfessel's profession, it took his claim that he caught two 14-inch bass on the same plug and cast with a grain of salt. Nine years later, Methfessel's own handling of questionable tales would end his career in the Empire State.

Born somewhere in the vicinity of 1901, Methfessel worked as a newspaper reporter before becoming an attorney. He was elected to the New York state assembly as a Democrat and served there between 1935 and 1938. From there, he went on to become the second assistant district attorney of Richmond County, and was promoted to the first assistant district attorney at the end of 1944. Three years later, he was elected to be district attorney of the county with backing from the Republican Party. In April of 1949, he witnessed the shooting of former Republican representative Ellsworth B. Buck outside his office by Charles van Newkirk, 57-year-old former marine engineer who confessed that it was retaliation for Buck heading a congressional committee that returned decision against him; Buck survived his injuries.

Methfessel's time in office ended ignominiously in September of 1951. As the New York State Crime Commission investigated rackets in Staten Island, 36-year-old housewife Anna Wentworth testified that she had seen Methfessel in a gambling den run by the D'Alessio brothers, known to be key players in gambling and racketeering operations in Richmond County. Wentworth served as their maid, and said the district attorney was at a roulette party there; the implication was that Methfessel was protecting vice. Methfessel responded by having her arrested for perjury.

The action appalled other members of the commission and New York government. Wentworth said she was terrified that the officers might not be legit, and said they refused to allow any of her six children to call a lawyer. Methfessel, along with commission chairman Joseph M. Proskauer, asked that a special prosecutor be used for testimony related to Wenworth.

At the request of the Crime Commission, however, Governor Thomas E. Dewey ordered that a special prosecutor would supersede Methfessel in all matters related to the investigation. Dewey added that the officers admitted they didn't have a warrant for Wentworth's arrest and left her with black and blue marks after dragging her from her home. "On the basis of the facts before me, it is clear that the district attorney in using the power of his office to direct the arrest and questioning of a person who testified against him personally was a gross abuse of power," said Dewey. "The use of a district attorney for personal or political purposes is intolerable." Dewey appointed William B. Herlands, a former New York City commissioner of education, to replace Methfessel.

Methfessel was unapologetic when speaking before the commission on the incident. Wentworth, he said, had been an "unqualified liar" in her testimony; he also contended that she was seeking publicity and wasn't the sharpest knife in the drawer. He didn't meet with much sympathy. When he said the officers had followed a regular routine in the arrest, Proskauer replied, "Well, if this happens in every police station it's time we found out. This is America, not Russia."

John M. Harlan, chief counsel for the commission, said Wentworth's arrest amounted to intimidation. In September of 1951, gambler Michael D'Alessio admitted that he made thousands of dollars that were never subject to tax. He had contributed to the GOP, but also was on friendly terms with Methfessel. The scandal resulted in an easy defeat in the 1951 election, as voters chose Republican-Liberal candidate Sidney O. Simonson to replace him.

Methfessel's ouster didn't quite close the book on the matter. He was charged, along with an assistant named Irving Rivkin, with official misconduct. The case went before a disciplinary trial in June of 1952, but both men were acquitted at the recommendation of Supreme Court referee Peter P. Smith on the basis of insufficient evidence. Herlands tried to get the case reopened, but was denied by an appellate court. Wentworth, meanwhile, sued the city for $100,500 in December of 1951 after charging false arrest. A magistrate dismissed the perjury charge against her in February of 1952. The civil charge didn't come to trial until 1958, by which point the damages had ballooned to $1,175,000 sought from Methfessel and the two detectives involved in her arrest; the case ultimately settled for a mere $3,500.

Methfessel moved to Miami, Florida to become a private attorney. He resurfaced briefly when John M. Harlan, who acted as counsel for the crime commission, was considered to be a Supreme Court justice in 1954. Before Congress, Methfessel accused Harlan of springing Wentworth as a surprise witness during the crime commission investigation and never allowed him to cross-examine her or introduce witnesses to dispute her testimony. Methfessel claimed that the debacle led to his re-election defeat despite the fact that he was never formally implicated. He told the congressmen that Harlan's "attitude toward cross-examination and toward a right of a person to defend himself is not the attitude that I feel should be carried into the Supreme Court." Despite Methfessel's opposition, Harlan was confirmed by the Senate and served on the high bench until 1971.

Methfessel continued working as a lawyer until July of 1963, when he suffered a fatal heart attack while driving along the North-South Expressway.

Sources: The Political Graveyard, "Dizzy Doings in the News" in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Jul. 16 1942, "Named Assistant Prosecutor" in the New York Times on Dec. 31 1944, "Says Shooting 'Spite Job'" in the Ottawa Evening Citizen on Apr. 6 1949, "DA Faces Quiz on 'Intimidation'" in the Pittsburgh Press on Sep. 21 1951, "District Attorney Barred by Governor in N.Y. Crime Case" in the Wilmington Morning Star on Sep. 22 1951, "Gambler Admits Making Untaxed Fortune" in the Milwaukee Sentinel on Sep. 25 1951, "William B. Herlands" in the Wilmington News on Sep. 27 1951, "Corruption, Racketeering Issues in Several Elections Today" in the Reading Eagle on Nov. 6 1951, "City Sued for $100,500" in the New York Times on Dec. 23 1951, "Mrs. Wentworth Cleared" in the New York Times on Feb. 29 1952, "Methfessel Case Goes to Referee" in the New York Times on Jun. 6 1952, "Hear Methfessel Motion" in the New York Times on Nov. 15 1952, "Methfessel Is Cleared" in the New York Times on Dec. 9 1952, "Herland Reopens Methfessel Case" in the New York Times on Jan. 18 1953, "State Loses Appeal in Methfessel Case" in the New York Times on Mar. 6 1953, "Oppenheimer Pal Wins Solons' Approval" in the Spokesman-Review on Feb. 25 1955, "False Suit Settled for $3,500" in the New York Times on Jun. 13 1958, "Motorist Died of Heart Attack" in the Miami News on Jul. 12 1963, John Marshall Harlan: Great Dissenter of the Warren Court by Tinsley Y. Yarbrough

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Walter E. Brehm: nothing but the tooth

President Harry Truman signs the bill creating the National Institute of Dental Research. Walter E. Brehm is second from the left.

It took a single, random incident to provide the impetus for the end of Walter Ellsworth Brehm's career in the House of Representatives: an old woman breaking her arm a thousand miles away. From this mishap and its aftermath, political columnist Drew Pearson was able to piece together enough evidence to implicate Brehm in a kickback scheme.

Brehm was born in Somerset, Ohio in May of 1892. After completing high school, he earned money through jobs in steel mills, rubber factories, and oil fields. He was also a member of Company D, Seventh Regiment, of the Ohio Infantry from 1908 to 1913. He attended Boston University and Ohio Wesleyan University, graduating from the Ohio State University Dental School in 1917. He began a dental practice in Logan, Ohio in 1921.

After about 15 years in this field, Brehm started dabbling in politics. Between 1936 and 1938, he was treasurer of the Republican executive committee of Hocking County and also served on the city council of Logan. He served in the state house of representatives from 1938 to 1942 before moving on to its federal counterpart after the election of 1942. He was returned in the next three elections and maintained a rather unassuming presence in Washington. His profession did influence his work there to some degree. His most notable action was the introduction of a bill to establish the National Institute of Dental Research. President Harry Truman signed it into law after it passed both chambers.

Brehm received a major test just a few months before the regular election of 1950. In September and October, Pearson wrote in his "Washington Merry-Go-Round" column that Brehm had accepted kickbacks from a woman who formerly worked as a clerk for him. Clara Soliday, a 75-year-old widow, worked for Brehm between January of 1945 and January of 1948. Pearson accused Brehm of taking $100, about half of Soliday's paycheck, each month and increasing the amount with each pay raise until it hit $240 a month. Though Brehm told Soliday that the money was going to a committee in Ohio for campaign work, Pearson asserted that this was illegal under the Corrupt Practices Act since Soliday's pay was provided by taxpayer dollars and was not to be used for political purposes.

Pearson seemed more concerned with ethical issues. He clearly didn't think much of a man who was routinely taking money from an elderly woman. Pearson said Soliday worked for the Treasury before taking the job with Brehm, since it was a slightly better salary even with the kickbacks and she didn't know those payments were illegal. He said Soliday was fired after she broke her arm late in 1947 while visiting her sister in Cleveland. Soliday got her X-rays in Washington, D.C. and cashed her paycheck with the Sergeant-at-Arms in the House. She told her daughter that she could get an additional $240 from her pocketbook, and the woman was surprised to find that it was in an envelope addressed to Brehm. Her son, Ray Soliday, delivered the money in person but asked that she be allowed to keep it to address her doctor's bills. Brehm refused, but eventually allowed Soliday to keep $100 of the allotted money. Perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, Brehm fired Soliday not long after and replaced her with his son, James F. Brehm. All told, Pearson said, Brehm pocketed some $7,300.

Brehm denounced the columnist as a liar, but Pearson was unfazed; he'd received a similar response from J. Parnell Thomas and Andrew May, he noted, and both of them had gone to jail on charges of receiving illegal income. He added that Brehm was apparently trying to keep Ray quiet, accusing the congressmen of telling Ray not to talk to Pearson. Pearson also said that Brehm was pressuring Ray to tell FBI investigators that the kickbacks only amounted to $1,200. Then in late October, Soliday sued Brehm to recover the approximately $7,300 with another $10,000 in punitive damages. Brehm said the charges were "so fantastic" that "I just do not have anything to say." He later responded with a countering lawsuit accusing her of a political attack, asking for dismissal and $5,000 in damages. The quarrel and Pearson's accusations became an issue in the 1950 election, but Brehm still triumphed over Democratic rival Mell G. Underwood, Jr.

A federal grand jury didn't find Soliday's charges to be fantastic. In December of 1950, it indicted Brehm on six violations of the Corrupt Practices Act in 1947 and 1948. Whether or not Pearson's charge that Brehm was tampering with Ray was accurate, the amount of pilfered money was much lower than the columnist's count and quite close to the tally Brehm was allegedly trying to get Ray to agree to: $1,380. In addition to Soliday, Brehm was accused of taking chunks out of the paycheck of another clerk named Emma Craven. Brehm accepted the news with aplomb, saying, "Now maybe we can get the facts on the record. This is the only way I know to clear the good name of all concerned. I have never at any time or any place or under any circumstances committed a criminal act."

The trial started in April of 1951. Both clerks testified that they had given up half of their salaries, mailing the money to Brehm when he was in Ohio and delivering it in person when he was in Washington. Midway through the trial, Brehm's attorney argued for acquittal on the argument that the prosecution didn't have a solid enough case. The judge refused, and Brehm took the stand to say that he was unaware of the existence of the Corrupt Practices Act and that none of the money went to personal use.

After four hours and 20 minutes of deliberation in May, the jury found Brehm guilty of five of the counts, charging that he received $1,000 from Craven. The next month, he was given a suspended jail sentence of five to 15 months and a $5,000 fine. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction in October of 1952. Brehm retired from Congress not long after, having decided against running for a sixth term.

Brehm returned to dental work, eventually retiring from private practice and joining a dental supply company. He died in Columbus in August of 1971.

Sources: The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, "Washington Merry-Go-Round" in the Tuscaloosa News on Sep. 26 1950, "Washington Merry-Go-Round" in the Southeast Missourian on Oct. 2 1950, "Washington Merry-Go-Round" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Oct. 9 1950, "Solon Of Ohio Faces Suit For Kickback" in the Deseret News on Oct. 25 1950, "Rep. Brehm, Of Ohio, Is Indicted On Illegal Contributions Charge" in the Lewiston Daily Sun on Dec. 21 1950, "Legislator Loses Acquittal Plea" in the Pittsburgh Press on Apr. 24 1951, "Congressman's Trial Near End" in the Pittsburgh Press on Apr. 30 1951, "Brehm Is Guilty On Five Counts" in the Spokane Daily Chronicle on May 1 1951, "Rep. Brehm Gets Suspended Sentence" in the Miami News on Jun. 11 1951, "Refuses To Review Rep. Brehm Case" in the St. Petersburg Times on Oct. 14 1952, Dental Science in a New Age: The History of the National Institute of Dental Research by Ruth Roy Harris, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress 1774-2005 by Andrew R. Dodge