A Quick Account: How Frank J. Wilson Took Down Al Capone
When forensic accounting toppled a crime lord.
Al Capone’s gang ran Prohibition-era Chicago with an iron fist. Capone and his cohorts racked up an estimated $100 million1 per year through gambling rings, prostitution, and bootlegging schemes.
When authorities failed to prosecute Capone for the above-mentioned crimes, they turned their attention to the mobster’s finances. Frank J. Wilson, a Treasury Department agent and former accountant, spearheaded an investigation that put Capone in prison. But how did Wilson land this once-in-a-century opportunity?
In 1929, president Herbert Hoover commanded Elmer L. Irey, the Treasury Department’s chief, to break up Al Capone’s criminal network. Irey selected Wilson to lead a team with one purpose: Take down Capone’s organization.
The Treasury Department set up their operation in Chicago, and Wilson got to work.
Wilson spent long days scouring financial records, bank checks, and any scrap of evidence he could find. He knew Capone liked watching dog races, so Wilson went to the tracks. He interviewed anyone who would talk to him, though some potential witnesses remained tight-lipped.
After Capone put a $25,000 hit on his head, Wilson continued digging for evidence, though he changed his base of operations for safety purposes.
Fortune finally smiled on Wilson when he found mislabeled evidence: a set of ledgers with financial details from Capone’s gambling operations. These records mentioned “Al,” and they detailed unreported income. With a mound of evidence ready for trial, the case against Capone proceeded.
After reviewing nearly two million documents1 and risking his life, Wilson saw Capone get sentenced to 11 years in prison on charges of tax evasion. Riding the wave of success from the Capone investigation, Wilson went on to join the team that investigated the Lindbergh kidnapping, and he later became the chief of the Secret Service.
With his sharp intuition and relentless pursuit of financial evidence, Wilson set a strong precedent for future forensic accountants. What accountant inspires you? Share your thoughts in the comments.
This article is for informational purposes only.
1“Frank Wilson.” History. Web. 31 August, 2017.
Nix, Elizabeth. “8 Things You Should Know About Al Capone.” History. 5 May, 2015. Web. 31 August, 2017.
O’Neill, Eleanor. “Accountants who made their mark on history.” ICAS. 16 May, 2016. Web. 31 August, 2017.
“Secret Agent Man: The Papers of Frank Wilson.” American Heritage Center. 3 June, 2011. Web. 31 August 2017.