How a cafeteria owner took on the underworld and brought down a mayor.
Gambling ships began operating off the Southern California coast regularly in the late 1920s. Local, county, state, and federal authorities tried various means to get them shut down, even dredging up 18th century piracy laws, without any real lasting effect. Earl Warren, as California A.G., successfully raided and closed the last four ships in 1939 and World War II put a damper on any new such ventures starting up. But there was still no state or federal statute outlawing them. Everyone may have thought the era of gambling ships had passed. Everyone except Tony Cornero.
Frank Shaw of Los Angeles is often cited as the first mayor of a major U.S. city to be recalled, as Shaw was in 1938, but Seattle’s Mayor Hiram C. Gill beat him to it. He was booted out in 1911 after less than a year in office, when the public learned that he and his Chief of Police Charles “Wappy” Wapperstein were collecting a large percentage of the receipts from the Northern Club, a saloon-gambling hall-brothel run by a syndicate that included Charles Crawford.
It wasn’t the first time a public figure who opposed Los Angeles’ underworld suddenly found himself involved in a compromising position, intended to either discredit or bring them to heel. But the plot to silence vice-crusading city councilman Carl I. Jacobson didn’t run quite to plan.
For all the energy expelled in expunging from Los Angeles that most dreaded of species, the gangsterous easternicus, one of the biggest fish of all of them was a hometown boy. Milton Bernard Page, known as “Farmer,” was born in the city in 1887. Though the gambling den was his natural habitat, he was also said to have dealt in liquor during the early Prohibition years. Continue reading
It was “Tutor” Scherer who launched the first known floating casino off the Southern California coast. He also had a large bookmaking operation and was affiliated with gambling clubs in Palm Springs as well as Hollywood’s Clover Club and the Airport Gardens in Glendale. Like fellow Spring Street Gang gamblers Guy McAfee and “Farmer” Page, he ended up in Las Vegas, where late in life he blossomed into a poet. Continue reading
“This is just another attempt to blame everything on me that ever went on in the Los Angeles underworld” Guy McAfee would grouse in 1940 after his name was linked once again to yet another vice racket. One of his enemies would call him the “Capone of Los Angeles,” an overstatement perhaps, but one not without foundation.
Christmas Day, 1925, an LAPD beat cop responded to a report of a fight at a bungalow court in the fashionable Westlake district. He found two men having a heated argument, but no sign of fisticuffs. Still, one of the men pulled a revolver on him. The officer arrested him and took him downtown to the city jail behind Old Central at 1st & Hill, where he was booked on an assault with a deadly weapon charge. Then, suddenly, the charge was reduced disturbing the peace. Albert Marco, one of the city’s top bootleggers, was back on the streets within hours, released on $100 bail. Marco didn’t know it yet but it was a short-lived victory. The incident placed him in the sights of a vice crusading city councilman, which eventually led to his downfall. Continue reading