The Kansas City Investigation: Pendergast's Downfall, 1938-1939

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The long reign of Kansas City political boss Thomas J. Pendergast came to an end in 1939, after an investigation led by Special Agent Rudolph Hartmann of the U.S. Department of the Treasury resulted in Pendergast's conviction for income tax evasion. In 1942, Hartmann's account was submitted to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau, Jr., in whose papers it remained for the past fifty-six years unbeknownst to historians. While researching the relations between Pendergast and Franklin D. Roosevelt, Robert H. Ferrell came across Hartmann's landmark report—the only firsthand account of the investigation that brought down the greatest political machine of its time, possibly one of the greatest in all of American history.

Reading like a "whodunit," The Kansas City Investigation traces Pendergast's political career from its beginnings to its end. As one of America's major city bosses, Pendergast was at the height of his influence in 1935-1936 when his power reached not merely to every ward and precinct in Kansas City but also to the statehouse in Jefferson City and Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. It was during this time that the boss took a massive bribe—$315,000—from 137 national fire insurance companies operating within Missouri, opening him to attack by his enemies.

Early in 1938, an official in the Washington headquarters of the Bureau of Internal Revenue, a former Missourian, quit his job to accept private employment, but not without first tipping off a reporter from the Kansas City Star about Pendergast's bribe. The reporter immediately phoned Lloyd C. Stark, the governor of Missouri and a known enemy of Pendergast. Stark then went to Washington to inform President Roosevelt. Although the president had been a supporter of Pendergast, he now considered Stark a more important political ally. Roosevelt asked the Treasury Department to investigate Pendergast's income taxes. The intelligence unit of the Treasury Department put Hartmann, its best operative, on the case. Within a year, after the most minute of inquiries into checkbooks, serial numbers on currency, a safe-deposit box, and a telegraphed transfer of $10,000, Hartmann and his agents found enough evidence to convict Boss Tom.

More than a simple account of what the Roosevelt administration did to cause the collapse of the Pendergast machine, The Kansas City Investigation takes the reader through the ups and downs, twists and turns, of this intriguing investigation, all from an insider's perspective. More important, Hartmann's report provides historians and readers alike the opportunity to evaluate the machine era in American political history—an era that, according to the investigation, "proved the old axiom that truth is stranger than fiction.'"

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Published for the first time since it was submitted to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau in 1942, treasury agent Hartmann's 1939 report on his investigation of the corrupt Pendergast political machine in Kansas City, Mo., resulted in convictions and prison terms for Thomas J. Pendergast and his lieutenants. The document was exhumed from Morgenthau's papers in 1998 by presidential scholar Ferrell (History emeritus/Indiana Univ.; Truman and Pendergast,Êp. 771.), whose supporting text painstakingly traces the intricate, extensive, secret web of power that sustained what has been called the greatest political machine of its time. Boss Pendergast and his gangster connections controlled the police, the municipal managers, and the city council while living lavishly off the proceeds of phony municipal bids, gambling, prostitution, and racketeering as they plundered the city treasury. Elections were a farce, won year after year by fraudulent ballots that outnumbered voter registration in some districts. Ferrell writes that Pendergast provided some 60,000 "cemetery votes" to FDR in 1936; in return as many as 80,000 WPA jobs went to Missouri at a time of desperate job scarcity. Eventually, honest and courageous officials, juries, judges, and newspapers worked together to kill the Pendergast machine in an income-tax case that found large expenditures exceeding reported income. Pendergast lived at the highest level during the Depression, enjoying trips to Europe, days at the racetrack, and the best hotels. Over $4 million (a very large amount at the time) was recovered in back taxes, penalties, and fines. Pendergast and his efficient team went to prison, although modern readers maybe surprised at the rather light sentences. A fine contextual presentation of an important historical document exposing a crooked, greedy, ruthless political empire that short-circuited the democratic process and betrayed the public trust.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780826212313
  • Publisher: University of Missouri Press
  • Publication date: 6/25/1999
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,483,142
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert H. Ferrell is Professor Emeritus of History at Indiana University in Bloomington. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Collapse at Meuse-Argonne: The Failure of the Missouri-Kansas Division and Meuse-Argonne Diary: A Divison Commander in World War I, both available from the University of Missouri Press. Ferrell resides in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Table of Contents

A Note on the Editing
Introduction 1
1 Thomas J. Pendergast and Kansas City prior to 1939 11
2 Conviction of Lazia 17
3 Further Developments in Kansas City 25
4 Compromise of Impounded Fire Insurance Premiums 27
5 Developments prior to Investigation 32
6 Investigation of the Activities of Charles R. Street 35
7 Investigation of the Income Tax Liability of A. L. McCormack 50
8 Investigation of the Income Tax Liability of Thomas J. Pendergast 58
9 Admissions by McCormack and First Indictment of Pendergast 67
10 Robert Emmet O'Malley 90
11 Indictment of Jordan, Admissions by Schneider and Matheus, and Amended Indictment of Pendergast 97
12 Arraignment, Tragedy, and Pleas of Guilty 100
13 Charles V. Carrollo 105
14 Harry and William Rosenberg 112
15 Henry F. McElroy 118
16 Otto P. Higgins 132
17 Dixie Machinery and Equipment Company, Boyle-Pryor Construction Company, Missouri Asphalt Products Company, John J. Pryor, William D. Boyle (Deceased) 140
18 Rathford Engineering Company 148
19 Matthew S. Murray 154
20 The Grand Jury, the United States Attorney 160
21 Conclusions 163
Appendix 167
Notes 173
Further Reading 183
Index 187
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