Whiskey Ring cheated government out of tax money
By Jim Blount
Scandals plagued the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77), including the Whiskey Ring that involved distillers in St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee and other large cities. More than $3 million was recovered, 238 people indicted and 110 convicted after the fraud was exposed in 1875. A similar Butler County Whiskey Ring -- including official corruption -- had been revealed five years earlier.
On the national level, the bribery and subterfuge reached as high as the president’s secretary. Most of the illegal activity was on the state and local levels, directed by elected and appointed officials. Besides personal gain, an objective was to bankroll the party in power, the Republicans.
Liquor became central to the plot because the federal tax had been raised to $2 a gallon. That assessment had been enacted to help pay national debts amassed during the Civil War (1861-65) -- the same conflict in which Ohio-born General Grant became a national hero, preparing his way to the White House.
"The original intention of the organizers [of the Whiskey Ring], adopting suggestions from the highest authority in the land, was to make the ring co-extensive with the nation, with headquarters in all the large cities, for the purpose of raising a campaign fund with which to advance the interests of President Grant in his aspirations for a second term," said a convicted conspirator, John McDonald, in a book written after his imprisonment.
After Grant’s re-election in 1872, McDonald said the "colossal fraudulent undertaking" continued "with the members of the ring the beneficiaries of the fund. During congressional and municipal campaigns, however, a part of this fund was always used in the interests of the Republican candidates."
The local scheme involved the manufacture, transport and sale of whiskey in violation of state and federal laws. An 1870 Butler County grand jury found more than $100,000 in county funds had been used to finance the operation. A county official was indicted for granting an illegal loan to ring leaders from the public treasury.
Distilling was big business in the Third Ohio District revenue (Butler, Warren, Preble and Montgomery counties) with two Hamilton firms the leading producers among 14 in district. According to tax reports, they paid about half of the $157,013.50 collected in the district in one period.
A June 1870 document said one Hamilton distiller paid $41,249 in federal tax on 82,498 gallons; the other $25,915 on 51,300 gallons. Allowing for inflation, those two tax payments would be equivalent to more than $931,000 in 2006.
There were no estimates of total taxes evaded by the local culprits who were mostly Democrats, the dominant party in this region.
In May 1870, the Hamilton Telegraph said three Hamilton men "and a number of large distillers in Cincinnati and elsewhere, were arrested, charged with removing whiskey contrary to law. The amount claimed to have been so removed ranges from 100 to 1,000 barrels each, and the amount of tax out of which the government has been defrauded aggregates $3 million."
The Hamilton violations involved revenue service officers, canal officials and distillery operators. The Miami-Erie Canal -- in decline after the arrival of railroads in the 1850s -- was the prime means of transport for the distillers.
The case against the Butler County treasurer began in March 1870. He was indicted on charges that he had embezzled $125,000 from the county to benefit distillers. In September, the Hamilton Telegraph said "the people now know that the treasurer was the tool of the Whiskey Ring, and that he was elected treasurer as such."
He was allowed to resign in December 1870 and died a month later. In the interim, ring leaders had supported him with money and, according to published gossip, worked to dissuade witnesses from testifying. More than a year later, in February 1872, the case against the former treasurer was thrown out of court on a technicality.
There was no direct evidence linking Ohio schemers to the Republicans who tarnished Grant’s presidential reputation. But McDonald said in 1871 a man "was imported from Cincinnati [to St. Louis] to manage the illicit distilling, and to arrange for the collection of the assessments." McDonald said the man "had successfully conducted two or three enterprises of like character before."
How did the Whiskey Ring operate? That’ll be covered in a future column.
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Evading federal tax inflated profits for local Whiskey Ring
By Jim Blount
The Butler County Whiskey Ring exposed in 1870 relied on bribery, political corruption and fear in spreading its influence over a wide area for several years. Despite sensational charges involving large sums of money, little came of the investigation because evidence disappeared and witnesses refused to talk. Most of the details of the local fraud were reported in the New York Tribune, not the local press. The Tribune called the crime "a story of marvelous success and ingenious triumph."
In the summer of 1870, the Hamilton Telegraph said it cost local distillers 20 cents to make a gallon of whiskey. The retail price was $1.90 a gallon, including a 50-cent tax, leaving a profit of $1.20 for the producer. If the 50-cent tax could be avoided, the profit jumped more than 40 percent to $1.70 per gallon.
Earlier, as a way to pay national debts incurred during the Civil War (1861-65), the federal tax had been $2 a gallon. Skipping that tax provided more profit and more money for bribes.
Evading the tax was the key to the plot. That was accomplished by counterfeiting tax stamps, doctoring records and under reporting whiskey production. The treachery required the cooperation of distillers, revenue agents and several accomplices.
Distillers were "forced to choose between participation with the ring or bankruptcy," wrote a participant in the St. Louis Whiskey Ring. When distillers "declined to act with the ring," he said, "care was taken first to entrap them in some apparent or technical violation" by corrupt collectors, and then to seize and close their operations.
In its 1870 expose, the New York Tribune said seven years earlier a leader of the Whiskey Ring in Hamilton was "a poor and industrious mechanic, earning daily wages with a growing family, and little prospect in life beyond hard work and the ordinary competence of an artisan."
The newspaper said he was elected to office in 1863, during the Civil War, "and by shrewd twisting of the law relative to criminal costs, made his office pay him at the rate of $15,000 a years, whereas, it had scarcely been worth as many cents to his stupid predecessors, who had served warrants and chased horse thieves ever since the days of Symmes purchase in ignorance of the rich mine they were neglecting."
For the bargain price of $10,000, the Tribune said the Hamilton man purchased 100,000 gallons of whiskey in the northern parts of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. "Just in the nick of time for him, Congress clapped on the additional tax of $2 per gallon, and he found himself the winner of a snug $200,000 on the 100,000 gallons he held."
His network eventually involved distilleries along the Miami-Erie Canal. "One by one a controlling interest in those along the canal was bought up until the individual ring conducted the operations of most of them [distilleries] between Troy and Cincinnati," the Tribune said.
"The lock tenders and other officials, whose duty it was to scrutinize the manifests of passing boats, were taken from their posts and others substituted through some unseen and mysterious recommendation," the report continued.
"The distillery watchmen and inspectors were either personal friends or men who could be trusted."
The newspaper said the local ring leader "had few confidants" and "worked all alone in the dark." Usually "the whisky was run into Cincinnati at night."
"In eight months his sales were $1,750,000," said the New York paper, whose reports were reprinted around the country.
In the 1870 article, the writer said "the county was, and still is, a Democratic stronghold, and this man one of the firmest adherents" and whose "influence in the politics of Southern Ohio is felt and recognized."
Although indicted on charges of illegally loaning $125,000 in county money to the ring, the Butler County treasurer was never convicted. He died before he was tried. A year later, the charges were dropped on a technicality. That 1870 figure of $125,000, allowing for inflation, would be like robbing the county of more than $1.7 million in 2006.
Some distilleries in the region were seized by federal authorities and a few men prosecuted. Unconfirmed reports said that other crimes, including at least one local murder, were related to the operations of the Whiskey Ring.
Five years later, in 1875, an even larger Whiskey Ring -- one operating on a national scale -- made headlines. The scenario was similar when President Ulysses S. Grant and the Republican party took the heat for the tax evasion fraud.
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Basketball’s March Madness would please Lynn St. John
By Jim Blount
March Madness is about to grip serious basketball fans and those whose interest peaks only at tournament time. The seasonal phenomena would please Lynn W. St. John, a basketball architect who was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1962. He played football, basketball, baseball and track at Monroe High School on his way to a 45-year career in coaching and athletic administration, including 34 years as athletic director at Ohio State University.
The Basketball Hall of Fame web site describes St. John as "another of basketball's leading contributors during a period of enormous growth," and "a strong administrator and a master of diplomacy."
It also identifies him as "a strong advocate of amateur basketball," who "lobbied for formal national and international basketball rules for nearly three decades. St. John was appointed to the NCAA Basketball Rules Committee in 1912, a position he held for 25 years, the last 18 as chairman." For many years, a colleague on the committee was James Naismith (1861-1939), recognized as the founder of basketball.
St. John "served as a member of the 1936 Basketball Olympic Committee and played an active role during the inaugural Olympic competition," the hall of fame notes.
St. John was inducted into the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1977. "During his 34 years as director of athletics, Lynn Wilbur St. John was the greatest single force in building the tradition of excellence in athletics at The Ohio State University," notes the OSU hall web site. "Under his supervision, Ohio Stadium was built, the Scarlet and Gray golf courses were established and OSU rose to national prominence as an athletic power."
St. John -- who was born Nov. 18, 1876, in Union City, Pa. -- was inducted into the Butler County Sports Hall of Fame in 1982.
He was reported to have been a member of Monroe High School’s first graduating class. He attended Ohio State, playing halfback on the 1900 team. He transferred to the College of Wooster, graduating in 1906. His early coaching career included stops at Fostoria High School, the College of Wooster and Ohio Wesleyan University.
He was head coach in two sports at OSU -- basketball, 1912-20, and baseball, 1913-28. For several years, he also was a line coach on the football staff. St. John was named athletic director in 1913, holding that post until 1947.
When OSU opened a new basketball arena in November 1956, it was named St. John Arena in his honor. It was the home of the Buckeyes and Ohio high school finals until Value City Arena was completed in 1998.
A major accomplishment during St. John’s tenure was building Ohio Stadium, dedicated in 1922. For decades, the OSU stadium has been considered a college football shrine, but St. John faced criticism in championing its construction.
Ohio Field, the former facility, seated about 12,000, and spending $1.6 million to accommodate 66,210 fans (its original size) seemed extravagant, despite being financed by private contributions. But when OSU played Michigan in the dedication game Oct. 21, 1922, it attracted 71,385 fans. St. John’s vision was vindicated.
A $194 million renovation completed in 2001, increased seating capacity to 101,568 for the stadium named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.
St. John’s first challenge at OSU was elevating its sports programs to national competition. In 1912, Ohio State joined what is now known as the Big Ten (formed in 1895) and began competing in football in the fall of 1913.
Before admission to the Big Ten, OSU had been a member of the Ohio Conference, formed in 1902. In that league, the Buckeyes had competed against Ohio Wesleyan, Oberlin, Western Reserve, Kenyon, Wooster, Denison, Heidelberg and Case School of Applied Science (Case Tech), all located within Ohio.
An obituary said St. John -- known as "The Saint" at OSU -- was a controversial leader "noted for the iron hand he exercised in the administration of athletic affairs."
Before retirement July 1, 1947, St. John saw OSU win six Big Ten football titles and the national championship in 1942, and witness the Buckeyes lose to Oregon in the first NCAA basketball championship game in 1939 and reach the Final Four in 1944, 1945 and 1946.
Baseball was said to have been his favorite sport and St. John was a scout for the Pittsburgh Pirates when he died Sept. 29, 1950.
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County native leader in 1842 Texas Archive War
By Jim Blount
Do you know the name of the capital of Texas? Austin, Cayuga, Galveston, Harrisburg, Houston, Velasco, Washington-on-the-Brazos, Waterloo or West Columbia? All have been the capital -- on a temporary basis, at least, including the steamboat Cuyaga -- but Austin has retained the title since 1839, thanks, in part, to the efforts of Joseph Lee, a Butler County native.
Lee, believed to have been born in Millville in 1810, had immigrated to the independent Republic of Texas -- not yet a state -- shortly after legislators had selected Austin as the official capital. Lee became a leader in the 1842 campaign to prevent removal of the capital -- a conflict that almost led to a civil war within the young republic.
The future Texas lawyer and legislator had moved with his family to Cincinnati during boyhood. "For a time he worked as a clerk and a carpenter and with his father as a carriage maker," according to the Handbook of Texas Online (HTO). "In 1834 he began to read law and in 1838 was admitted to the bar. He immigrated to Texas in 1840 with his brother, J. C., who followed their father's carriage-making business in Burleson County, and their two sisters."
Joseph Lee opened a law practice in the new town of Austin and soon became a community leader. In 1841 and 1842 he was chief justice of Travis County. He was appointed by Texas President Mirabeau B. Lamar to complete the unexpired term of James W. Smith, who had been killed by Indians. Lee volunteered as a private in 1842 when an invading Mexican force threatened Austin.
Texans also battled each other as the republic took shape. Texas declared independence from Mexico and formed an interim government in 1836 at Washington-on-the-Brazos. During the next four years, temporary capitals included Harrisburg (now part of Houston), Galveston, Velasco, West Columbia (or Columbia), Houston and, for four days, aboard the Cayuga.
The capital question appeared settled by legislative action Jan. 19, 1839. The chosen site was known as Waterloo, soon renamed in honor of a Texas pioneer, Stephen F. Austin.
Controversy continued, highlighted by the refusal of Sam Houston to serve in Austin after his election as president in 1841. Some Texans believed the capital should be in the port town of Houston, named in honor of the republic’s military hero and first elected president.
A complication arose March 5, 1842, when a Mexican army occupied San Antonio, near Austin. The invaders withdrew two days later, but their brief presence started the Archive War among Texans.
According to the Handbook of Texas Online , Joseph Lee was "a leader in the so-called Archive War, the efforts of the citizens of Austin in the winter of 1842-43 to prevent President Sam Houston from removing the national archives to Houston during Mexican threats to the frontier."
Houston contended that Austin and state documents were in peril. Austin residents regarded the attempt to save the archives as his first step in moving the capital to Houston. Adding fuel was the president’s March 10 call for an emergency session of the Texas Congress in Houston instead of Austin.
Lee and other Austin leaders "formed a vigilante committee," according to the HTO, "and warned department heads that any attempt to move state papers would be met with armed resistance."
On a second attempt to seize the archives, about 30 men arrived in Austin Dec. 29, 1842, and confiscated the hidden documents. A cannon shot from the Austin vigilantes failed to stop the wagons loaded with state records.
But that didn’t end the Archive War. Jan. 1, 1843, about 18 miles east of town, the Austin stalwarts surrounded Houston’s messengers. Shots were fired, but it was a bloodless battle and the documents were returned to Austin.
While leaders briefly met elsewhere, Austin survived as the capital. It was the seat of government after the U. S. Congress approved annexation of Texas and statehood Dec. 29, 1845.
The HTO said "Lee continued to practice law in Austin until 1857, when he was elected to the Texas House of Representatives. In 1858 or 1859 he was appointed commissioner of claims by Governor Hardin Runnels.
"Lee served as a delegate to the state Democratic convention every year from 1857 to 1860 and ardently supported secession. He was granted a captain's commission in 1861, but never held a regular Confederate command.
"In the early 1880s," the HTO said, "Gov. Oran M. Roberts appointed him a member of the commission that planned the construction of the present Capitol." Lee died in Austin Feb. 25, 1891.
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Weilenmann success despite pitching for St. Louis Browns
(This is the first of two columns on the baseball career of Hamilton native Carl Weilenmannn.)
By Jim Blount
Carl Weilenmann spent more than eight seasons in major league baseball, competing with and against the likes of more familiar stars, such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, George Sisler, Eddie Collins, Walter Johnson, Grover Alexander and Ed Plank. "Never a star of the first magnitude, Weilenmann nevertheless was one of the most dependable southpaws in either league" during his time, a sports editor said in reviewing the Hamilton native's career with the lowly St. Louis Browns.
The lefthander’s pitching statistics were respectable, despite a careeer cut short by illness and injury. He died at the age of 34, less than four years after' his last major league performance.
At 6 feet, 6 inches, 187 pounds, Weilenmann was called "the tallest pitcher in captivity" by baseball writers when he earned a spot in the St. Louis pitching rotation in 1913. His stature explained two of his nicknames, "Human Pipe" and "Legs." He also was called "Zeke."
Sports writers also took liberties with his surname, often spelling it Weilman instead of Weilenmann. It remains Weilman in most baseball records.
Carl Woolworth Weilenmann was born Nov. 29, 1889, in Hamilton, a son of John and Louisa Schlotterbeck Weilenmann.
He broke into professional baseball as a 19-year-old during the 1909 season, playing for Richmond, Ky., in the Blue Grass League, a minor league. He was with Charleston, W. Va., 1910; Flint, Mich., 1911; and Maysville, Ky., 1912, before getting a chance to play in the major leagues at the end of that season.
Weilenmann joined the St. Louis Browns in August 1912 and remained through the 1920 season, winning 85 games and losing 95 while pitching 1,521 innings in 240 games for the perennial losers. Fifteen of his 85 victories were shutouts, a feat uncommon with the poor-fielding, weak-hitting Browns of that era.
During his major league career, all in the American League, he had an earned run average of 2.67. He allowed. 1,394 hits, walked 418 batters and struck out 536.
The Browns best year during Weilenmann’s tenure was 1920, his last, when St. Louis finished fourth in the AL. In earlier seasons, the Browns were fifth three times, sixth once, seventh twice and last in the standings once.
Weilenmann became the No. 2 pitcher on the Browns staff in 1913, his first full season in the major leagues. That year he pitched in 39 games, winning 10 and losing 20.
In 1914 he had a 18-13 won-lost record and a 2.08 earned run average, leading all St. Louis pitchers in those categories. His 18 wins is even more impressive because the 1914 Browns were fifth in the American League in hitting and last in fielding.
After the season, Weilenmann and Lucy Dressel were married. Oct. 5, 1914. Later, they became the parents of a daughter, Mary Louise.
Weilenmann also had good seasons in 1915 and 1916, leading the team in wins and earned run average both years. In won-lost record and ERA, respectively, he was 18-19 and 2.34 in 1915 and 17-18 and 2.15 in 1916.
He missed most of the 1917 season, pitching in only five games (1-2 record), and all of the 1918 season because of a kidney infection that required surgery.
The lefthander returned in fine fashion in 1919, posting a 10-6 won-lost record and a 2.07 earned run average, lowest in the history of the Browns. His ERA was third in the league.
But misfortune struck again in his final year, 1920, when he won nine and lost 13 games and his ERA swelled to 4. 47, poorest of his career. Continued illness and a back injury forced him to leave the game.
Hitting wasn’t his strength. His lifetime batting average was .170 with 86 hits in 505 plate appearances. He established a major league record July 25, 1913, when he struck out six consecutive times in a 15-inning game.