Rothstein_ The Life, Times, And Murder Of The Criminal Genius

David Pietrusza

Part 11

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My physical condition is such that the imperative orders of my physician are to leave town for a short time in an endeavour to regain my health. In order that there may be no unfair nor unjust inference from my departure, I take this occasion to explain my position in this entire matter.

It is of course hardly necessary for me to explain how deeply grieved I am at the suggestion that I partic.i.p.ated in some way in the outrageous happenings that are alleged to have taken place in the playing of that series.

Notwithstanding that these insinuations have absolutely no basis or foundation, I am unable to do more than proclaim my innocence of any part in these occurrences.

The Telegraph wanted to know more: Had A. R. known in 1919 that the series was crooked? "I not only had no part in the transaction but possessed no knowledge whatsoever of such events," he said, ignoring his very public run-in with Burns and Maharg.

"Did you bet on the series?"

"Yes," A. R. answered, "and I am in a position to prove conclusively that instead of profiting I lost heavily upon the outcome of the games.

"Now I have to go away and my purpose in speaking at this time is to make manifest my desire to exonerate myself from these totally unjust suggestions, and to have it known that I will return at once if afforded an opportunity to meet and disprove these slanderous accusations."

No one believed A. R. was leaving town for his health. The questions and accusations grew louder. "I want you to stop this noise," A. R. ordered Fallon. Fallon was a proponent of dragging a case out, letting public outrage die down before a case got to jury. But he also believed in spectacularly brazen courtroom stunts. He advised an adversarial approach: "I want you to get on a train and walk right into the lion's den."

"You mean go to Chicago?"


"Are you crazy?"

"Only in the earlier stages of insanity. Go to Chicago. You can stop an indictment with your Svengali pan."

"Of all the dopey advice I ever had! And I'm paying you for it, too."

"Listen. Go to Chicago and begin brow-beating everyone. Find fault with everything. Be temperamental.... I've got a great scheme."

"You'd better have."

"It's about photographers. Listen ..."

Fallon outlined his plan. He'd notify the Chicago papers of Rothstein's appearance. They'd a.s.sign photographers to cover his arrival, crowding and jostling him, yelling for a pose. Rothstein could then scream to the grand jury about his reception, claiming he was being treated like a criminal.

Rothstein wasn't buying it. "I don't want any photographs," he said.

"Hold your hat over your face, then. It's the best bet I can think of."

"You'd better take a night off and do some more thinking."

A. R. boarded a train for Chicago, ready to testify but still not convinced of Fallon's plan, but trusting his attorney's skills. Far more important, however, than Fallon's public strategy, was his backroom strategy and his talents as America's most accomplished jury fixer.

Arriving in Chicago, A. R. first stopped at the law offices of Alfred Austrian, one of the biggest lawyers in Chicago, counsel to both the White Sox and Cubs. Some said Rothstein asked Austrian to also represent him, observing that his interests and the interests of Austrian client Charles Comiskey coincided. If Rothstein went down, everyone went down-including half the talent on Comiskey's team.

That may have been, but if Rothstein and Fallon wanted Austrian or the grand jury on their side, they would have acted well before leaving New York. With whom had Rothstein conferred before departing for Chicago? Ban Johnson-who exerted far more influence over grand-jury proceedings than either Austrian or Comiskey. Ban Johnson-who was dangling the plum of chairmanship of a planned new baseball commissionership in front of the grand jury's presiding officer, Chief Judge Charles McDonald.

Johnson desired two items. The first was Charles Comiskey's head on a platter. A. R. couldn't help him there. The second was job protection. Johnson had ruled baseball's ruling body, the National Commission, since 1903, but his power was fading fast. Virtually every National League club and three of eight American League teams wanted Johnson ousted. He needed all the help he could get.

Arnold could offer him the New York Giants.

Bill Fallon was already extricating John McGraw from his Lambs Club difficulties, but of more significance to Comiskey than McGraw was Giants owner Charles Stoneham, A. R.'s secret partner in a series of shady brokerage operations. Stoneham provided knowledge of Wall Street; Rothstein provided protection from Tammany. Johnson sorely wanted Stoneham's support. A few weeks after A. R. visited Chicago, White Sox secretary Harry Grabiner recorded this in his diary: [Cubs minority stockholder Albert] Lasker was told by Stoneham that Johnson came to see him to secure the lease on the Polo Grounds in the name of the American League [the Yankees were tenants of the Giants at the Polo Grounds] and would place new owners in the American League in New York that were satisfactory to Stoneham and Johnson would even let Stoneham to name the 3rd member of the National Commission.

Ban Johnson fulfilled his part of the bargain. Arnold Rothstein didn't.

After meeting Austrian, A. R. headed for the grand jury. Austrian accompanied him. The standard histories tell us that when Rothstein arrived, news photographers virtually attacked him. Actually, press coverage was minimal and unenthusiastic. Only two Chicago dailies, the journal and the Tribune, printed A. R.'s photo-and the journal ran it in a tiny grouping with three other witnesses.

Nonetheless, Arnold had enough to portray himself as a victim, a.s.suming his best air of outraged rect.i.tude. "Gentlemen," he implored the grand jury, "what kind of country is this? I came here voluntarily and what happens? A gang of thugs bars my path with cameras as though I was a notorious person-a criminal even! I'm intended to an apology. I demand one! Such a thing couldn't happen in New York. I'm surprised at you."

We'll never fully know what A. R. said in his half hour before the grand jury, beyond strenuously maintaining innocence and placing all blame elsewhere. The Chicago Daily journal reported he claimed to have thrown "Attell and Burns out of his office [sic-they never met at his office], told John J. McGraw ... what had happened and asked him to notify 'Kid' Gleason, manager of the White Sox, that a group of crooked players ... were about to 'throw' the championship games to Cincinnati."

For good measure, he told conflicting tales of his betting during the Series. Entering the grand jury, he advised reporters that he hadn't bet at all. Exiting, he claimed to the same reports that he lost $6,000.

His ordeal over, A. R. released a written statement, brazenly denying all guilt. It read: Attell did the fixing.

I've come here to vindicate myself. If I wasn't sure I was going to be vindicated, I would have stayed home. As far as my story is concerned, I've already told most of it, but I guess you [the Grand jury] want it on the official record.

The whole thing started when Attell and some other cheap gamblers decided to frame the Series and make a killing. The world knows I was asked in on the deal and my friends know how I turned it down flat. I don't doubt that Attell used my name to put it over. That's been done by smarter men than Abe. But I wasn't in on it, wouldn't have gone into it under any circ.u.mstances and didn't bet a cent on the Series after I found out what was under way. My idea was that whatever way things turned out, it would be a crooked Series anyway and that only a sucker would bet on it.

I'm not going to hold anything back from you [the jury]. I'm here to clear myself and I expect to get out of here with a clean bill of health.

But reporters wanted more. A Tribune reporter demanded details of The Big Bankroll's gambling career. Gambling was the last thing A. R. would discuss. "Pardon me," he said as he walked away. "I believe the phone is ringing."

When A. R. returned to his impromptu press conference, the Tribune's man resumed, "Now, regarding your career as a gambler-?"

Rothstein interrupted: "I am now in the real estate business."

"Yes, yes, of course. But.... What was the largest pot you ever won?"

Rothstein thought for an instant, but remained on message: "I believed I vindicated myself before the grand jury."

The reporter asked about A. R.'s race track gambling, but Rothstein cut him off with the comment. "Abolishing of horse racing was largely responsible for baseball gambling."

Rothstein's obtuse responses and his chilling manner disconcerted his inquisitor, but he bore on, nonetheless: "How much money, in the aggregate, have you won in your career?"

"A frightfully dark and dismal day, isn't it?" And that was all The Big Bankroll had to say to the Tribune.

To another reporter, he put all the blame on Attell: Attell approached me shortly before the world series of 1919. He told me that it would be possible to fix the series. I was both interested and amused at the proposition for I didn't think it possible to fix a team.

Attell asked me to put up a fund of $100,000 for the purpose, but finally I turned him down cold for the reason stated. I had no further conversation with him, heard nothing further about the matter, thought it was abandoned and went out and bet $6,500 on the Sox.

Now for goodness sake let me out of this matter hereafter. Chicagoans proved easily impressed. "Rothstein in his testimony today proved himself to be guiltless," p.r.o.nounced Alfred Austrian, who had his reasons for being impressed. Illinois State Attorney Maclay Hoyne was so satisfied he told reporters. "I don't think Rothstein was involved in it [the Series fix]." The grand jury agreed. Two jurors became so smitten with their star witness that in years to come they would visit him regularly in New York. Their courtesy so touched A. R., that he would graciously provide them with theater and baseball tickets and fine dinners.

Ban Johnson also expressed confidence in A. R.'s innocence. "I found the man Arnold Rothstein and after a long talk with him, I felt convinced he wasn't in any plot to fix the Series," Johnson told the press. "He did admit to me that he'd heard of the fixing, but in spite of that, declared he had wagered on the White Sox. . . ."

Rothstein escaped indictment, helped, no doubt by Illinois State Attorney Hoyne's chief investigator: Rothstein pal Val O'Farrell. But A. R.'s a.s.sociates weren't so lucky. The eight Black Sox, plus Attell, Sullivan, Chase, "Brown," Zelser, Zork, Ben Franklin, and the Levi brothers all found themselves indicted. No Illinois statute prohibited fixing sporting events, so authorities changed them with conspiracy to defraud bettors (in the form of a Chicagoan, Charles Nims, who lost $250 on the Sox) and players (in the form of catcher Ray Schalk), and to injure the business of Comiskey and the American League. If found guilty, they faced up to $2,000 in fines and five years in jail.

To Abe Attell $2,000 seemed a reasonable expense for winning tens of thousands, but five years loss of liberty was a little steep. The Little Champ remained in Montreal. Neither was Bill Fallon eager for him to return. "I'll not produce my client," Fallon proclaimed just before the grand jury finished its work, "unless there is a specific charge made, or my client is indicted. This is merely a dodge to reach someone else [Rothstein] through Attell."

Fallon didn't want Attell back until it was safe-safe for Attell; but more importantly, safe for Rothstein. In late October he advised Abe to return to New York. But before Attell left Canada, he fired another broadside, telling reporters how A. R. had already fixed the Series before he-Abe-had decided on partic.i.p.ating. For good measure, Attell filled reporters in on current events, saying: Rothstein is worth about $4,000,000 to $5,000,000, which he has got by his bets. He has always been a gambler and has financed anything or everything. District Attorney Swann ... says he has evidence that Rothstein told some men Chicago would win the series and that he then sent his men to bet on Cincinnati.

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Fallon surely had second thoughts about bringing such an idiot back into the country. Nonetheless, on November 1, 1920, Abe returned to New York. Two detectives from the pickpocket squad collared him in Times Square. Fallon secured his release on $1,000 bail. It was all a setup. Police had not just happened upon Attell. He went to Times Square expecting arrest. Bill Fallon soon demonstrated why.

"Q-Mr. Burns, you claim you spoke to Mr. Rothstein in New York in connection with this matter?


"Q-Did you see or speak to him in Cincinnati?


"Q-Did you see or speak to him in Chicago?


"Q-Did you ever talk with him either than this one time you were in New York?


"Q-You spoke to him only once?


"Q-At that time you say you put this proposition to him?


"Q-Did he accept it or turn it down?

"A-He turned it down.

"Q-He turned it down?

"A-Yes, sir."

It seems to me that it must appear to all fair-minded persons from what I have just said how wholly unwarranted has been the mentioning of my name in connection with the matter now being tried in Chicago and how greatly slanderous in the imputation that I partic.i.p.ated in any way in the occurrence.

... I talked to Burns once in my life when he approached me in the matter of throwing the games. I didn't think he had a chance in the world and told him so, and added that even if he could a.s.sure me he could actually do it, I didn't want him to ever speak to me again as long as I lived. That was the first and last time I ever had knowledge of the situation until I heard my name being used out West [in Chicago].

Burns said I was waiting downstairs in the Sinton Hotel, Cincinnati, to join a conference between himself and the other ballplayers. I was never in Cincinnati in my life. At the time he mentioned, I was at the race track in New York ...

On Friday, July 22 a.s.sistant State Attorney George Gorman revealed that some key evidence-Cicotte's, Jackson's, and Williams's confessions and waivers of immunity-had disappeared. When reporters asked how such things could happen, Gorman retorted. "Ask Arnold Rothstein-perhaps he can tell you."

Monday, July 25, saw presiding judge Hugo Friend admit the substance of the missing confessions into evidence, allowing the use of unsigned carbon copies-but only against the individual who made each confession. State's Attorney Robert Crowe (Maclay Hoyne's replacement) promised two new grand-jury investigations, including a probe of Rothstein's involvement in the disappearance of the doc.u.ments. Crowe's office pledged to indict at least two additional ballplayers, but declined to name them. It also promised that more gamblers would be questioned or indicted. When reporters asked a.s.sistant State's Attorney John F. Tyrrell if Rothstein would be questioned, he replied ominously: "None of those we expect to indict will be called as witnesses."

American League President Ban Johnson had also lost patience with Rothstein-after all, Giants owner Stoneham had helped elect Kenesaw Landis commissioner and end Johnson's dominance of baseball. "I charge," Johnson said in a written statement: that Arnold Rothstein paid $10,000 for the [signed] Grand Jury confessions of Cicotte, Jackson, and Williams. I charge that this money, brought to Chicago by a representative of Rothstein, went to an attache of the State's Attorney's office under the Hoyne administration. I charge that after Rothstein had examined these confessions in New York City, and had found that the ballplayers had not involved him to the extent of criminal liability, he gave the doc.u.ments to his friend, the managing editor of a New York newspaper. I charge that the editor offered these doc.u.ments for sale to broadcast throughout the country.

Fallon calmly admitted possessing grand-jury minutes, saying it was all very innocent, having received them from Carl Zork's defense counsel, Henry J. Berger (until very recently an a.s.sistant state's attorney in Chicago). Berger denied everything, including being Fallon's representative ("I met him only twice").

In New York, Rothstein once again feigned anger: My name was dragged into this by men who thought they might evade trouble for themselves or get some advantage by bringing me into it. I have never seen these confessions nor would I spend ten cents for the privilege of reading all the doc.u.ments in the case.

Ban Johnson needs to watch his step: the most peaceful of men can be driven too far.

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