The man accused of conspiracy and avoiding taxes was well known to expensive suitmakers.
Alphonse Capone summoned a tailor from Chicago’s Marshall Field & Co. in 1927. The tailor arrived at the Metropole Hotel, where Capone commanded most of the fourth floor.
Capone and his men needed suits, but specially made with pockets that could hold revolvers. The tailor got to work.
Altogether, 27 suits from the company made their way to Capone and his men, according to Jonathan Eig’s book “Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster.”
Those suits were among many purchases that helped seal the fate of Capone, a notorious gangster convicted not of murder or bootlegging, but tax evasion. That case, Eig told The Washington Post on Wednesday, was built by highlighting Capone’s lavish spending to prove that he actually had income from illegal means.
Capone’s grand criminal conspiracy, in other words, was unraveled by the purchase of every silk sock and expertly hemmed coat that materialized without any sort of documented income.
Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, weathering accusations of tax and bank fraud, conspiracy against the United States, obstruction of justice and other charges, probably did not want to be compared to Capone.
But on Wednesday, President Trump went there, and evoked Capone to suggest that Manafort has received historically harsh treatment from prosecutors.
“Looking back on history, who was treated worse, Alfonse Capone, legendary mob boss, killer and “Public Enemy Number One,” or Paul Manafort, political operative & Reagan/Dole darling, now serving solitary confinement – although convicted of nothing? Where is the Russian Collusion?” Trump said on Twitter.
There are some parallels, though not some that Trump may have intended.
Manfort’s trial began this week in Alexandria, Va., and started with the prosecution detailing the luxurious lifestyle Manafort enjoyed after consulting with the Ukrainian government.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Uzo Asonye said he used the money from that work to buy, among other things, a $15,000 jacket made from ostrich skin, a $21,000 watch and a $2 million dollar home. But he did not pay taxes on those funds, Asonye claimed.
And then there were the suits. Manafort bought a lot of them, luxury menswear seller Maximillian Katzman testified Wednesday. He paid $929,000 for suits over a five-year period, Katzman said, and the transactions were unusual.
Most customers paid by check. Manafort was the only customer to pay with foreign bank transactions.
The prosecution strategy to focus on extravagant spending appears similar to the Capone tax case, Eig said. Jurors in Capone’s case were possibly drinkers, and a charge of bootlegging during Prohibition may not have incensed them.
But defiantly cheating the tax man as working stiffs toiled for their salaries in 1931, while the Great Depression gripped the country?
“That’s a really good way to turn the jury’s anger toward a defendant,” Eig told The Post. “It makes the issue emotional. Everyone can look at it and say, ‘Something is not right about that.’ ”
Documents from the investigation later released by the IRS highlighted those high-priced items. Capone’s suits, for instance, cost $135 apiece. That would be nearly $2,000 today, and Capone bought 27 in one year.
They also documented silk ties, luxury underwear, homes for family members, cars, hotels and virtually any trapping of a gangster, Eig said.
The big-ticket items bought by Manafort have also been noted. Cars. Watches. More than $900,000 in rugs.
When your money comes in faster than you can spend it, Eig said, “it’s like being on a nuclear-powered expense account.”
The government knew Capone was likely to evade most charges related to murder, racketeering and other crimes, so taxes became a low-hanging fruit, Eig said.
In some ways, focusing on Manafort’s spending may be a way to bring clarity to potential misdeeds. It’s easier for a jury to understand than, say, acting as a foreign agent.
But Capone is a curious comparison for the president to use, Eig said.
“Capone was obviously guilty as hell. I don’t know if you want to compare your man to him,” Eig said of Trump.