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Eliot Ness was a law enforcement official in Chicago, best known for his efforts to enforce Prohibition as head of "The Untouchables."
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Mayor Harold Hitz Burton, who appointed Ness, sought to establish a safe environment in Cleveland, a city which had become overloaded with crime and corruption. Along with 34 agents under him, he began efforts to clean up the city and its crooked policemen. Conducting most of the investigating himself,
Ness gathered evidence of the criminal activity of various police officers and took this information before a grand jury in October of 1936. Fifteen officials were brought to trial including a deputy inspector, two captains, two lieutenants and a sergeant. Two hundred police officers were forced to turn in their resignations.
Ness's greatest achievement was in traffic control. Cleveland was notorious at that time for holding the record of the second-worst American city in traffic-related deaths and injuries with an average of 250 deaths each year. Ness established a court designed for the sole purpose of handling traffic cases. He also implemented the process of immediate examination of suspected drunk drivers, automatic arrest of those found intoxicated, harsh consequences for officers found adjusting tickets, and an automobile inspection program. By 1938, deaths caused by traffic accidents fell to an average of 130 per year and fell even further in 1939 to 115. Ness's efforts resulted in Cleveland receiving the title of "safest city in the USA" by the National Safety Council.
Ness's most difficult task surrounded the indictment of Capone. The gangster's money allowed him to buy protection and services from politicians, Chicago policeman, and even government agents. Determining those associated with Capone proved a difficult task, leading to mistrust of the highest government officials. U.S. District Attorney George Emmerson Q. Johnson headed the task of finding honest men to bring Capone down. Impressed by Ness 's outspokenness, Johnson called him to interview in his office. Immediately following the discussion, Johnson assigned Ness to lead the operation. Ness had to choose no more than twelve men to form this special squad. Ness's plan was to injure Capone where it hurt most: his wallet. If the squad could severely damage the mobster's sources of income, Capone would lose the power to buy protection and services.
The assignment was to destroy the breweries affiliated with Capone and gather evidence associating Capone and his followers with breaking federal laws. Ness's goal was to have a major impact on the gangster's approximate annual salary of $75 million. By October 1929, Ness had selected nine agents to carry out these awesome tasks. This special unit began locating and shutting down breweries in the Chicago area affiliated with Capone. Through surveillance, anonymous tips, and wire-tapping they were able to discover many of the moneymaking businesses in which Capone was involved. Within the first six months of operation, Ness and his crew seized 19 distilleries and six major breweries, denting Capone's wallet by approximately $1 million.
One of Capone's men paid Ness a visit in Chicago's Transportation Building.
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