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On This Day: Al Capone Convicted of Income Tax Evasion

Last updated: February 12, 2023

On Oct. 17, 1931, Chicago gangster Al Capone was convicted of income tax evasion and later sentenced to 11 years in federal prison, ending his control of the Chicago underworld.

The Rise and Fall of Al Capone

Brooklyn-born Al Capone followed gangster Johnny Torrio, a member of Big Jim Colosimo’s criminal organization, to Chicago in 1921, just as the Colosimo mob had begun to exploit the growing bootlegging industry in Chicago. In 1925, Torrio, who had succeeded Colosimo, was seriously wounded; Capone took over as mob boss.

Based out of Cicero, Ill., Capone controlled many speakeasies and casinos in and around Chicago. In 1929, he seized control of the Chicago underworld when his men killed at least seven members of Bugs Moran’s gang in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Capone “built a fearsome reputation in the ruthless gang rivalries of the period, struggling to acquire and retain ‘racketeering rights’ to several areas of Chicago,” says the FBI. “That reputation grew as rival gangs were eliminated or nullified, and the suburb of Cicero became, in effect, a fiefdom of the Capone mob.”

Capone was targeted by federal authorities. In May 1929, he was arrested and sentenced to a year in prison on a weapons charge. He served nine months in a luxurious prison cell and resumed control of the mob upon his release, but his rule would be short-lived. In 1931, he was indicted for tax evasion.

Sources in this Story

  • Time: Coming Out Party
  • Chicago Tribune: The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
  • FBI: Famous Cases: Alphonse Capone
  • Chicago Historical Society: Al Capone

He at first pleaded guilty, believing that he would receive another short sentence, but the judge informed him that was not the case. Capone changed his plea and agreed to go to trial. He was found guilty on Oct. 17, 1931. On Nov. 24, he was given an 11-year prison sentence, ordered to pay $215,000 in back taxes, and fined $50,000.

Capone’s successful conviction set a precedent for future law enforcement officials. Tax evasion would become a popular way to convict participants in organized crime if more substantial evidence was not available.

Capone’s Imprisonment and Death

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In May 1932, Capone was sent to Atlanta, which at the time hosted America’s most notorious prison. Once there, Capone began to take control of the prison, receiving special privileges from guards and other prisoners. Word spread about his situation in Atlanta and he was eventually transferred to Alcatraz.

In Alcatraz he was completely isolated from the outside world and rendered powerless with no way to buy off guards or cellmates. He also showed signs of syphilitic dementia and spent time in the prison hospital.

After a year in a different California prison, Capone was set free on Nov. 16, 1939, having served just over seven and a half years. Physically and mentally unfit to return to mob life, he returned to his home in Palm Island, Fla., where he lived out the rest of his life in quiet. His body and mind deteriorated due to a stroke and syphilis, and he died of pneumonia on Jan. 25, 1947.

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