CHAPTER VI

MR. PONZI SWAPS A 2' x 4' COUNTY JAIL FOR UNCLE SAM'S $10,000,000 BIG-HOUSE

On the way South, we travelled by Pullman, had our meals in the dining-car, and lounged about in our seats like tourists. In Washington, we had lunch at a pretentious restaurant near the station. Then we took a walk through the Capitol grounds. We would have gone inside, but were afraid to embarrass some of the boys.

We did not visit at the White House either. President Taft asked to be excused. He was busy. Probably figuring how he could beat Teddy Roosevelt at the next presidential elections. But figures do lie sometimes!

In Atlanta, the deputy-marshals took us to a "bar-room" (?!) for a bracer. Something to pep us up before the ordeal of a prison commitment. The hardest stuff there, was near beer! In fact, it was so far from any beer taste that it could not have caught up with it in a coon's age. We drank it and groaned. Keeled over, almost!

We found the United States Penitentiary a sight for sore eyes. It wasn't like anything we had seen before. Not I, at least. In those days, it had the reputation of being a Biltmore, a Ritz-Carlton in its line. And it lived up to its reputation too! Why wouldn't it? It was the potential abode of every big man in the country. "Big" from the standpoint of money, power or brains. From cabinet members and members of Congress to national bank officials and postal clerks. From incometax dodgers to bootleggers and mail-robbers. And it stands to reason that those birds, knowing that an ounce of prevention is worth two points of cure, would take the New Willard as a pattern for "their" prison. They probably figured that since it had to be a cage, it might as well be a gilded cage.

I didn't have much trouble down there in getting myself a clerical job. I found it waiting for me. In the laundry. But my knowledge of Italian, English and French got me promoted. I was transferred to the mail clerk's office, who by the way, is now the present Warden of that institution. Besides addressing and sealing envelopes, it was my duty to translate into English and type all incoming and outgoing mail, if written in any of the foreign languages with which I was more or less familiar. Particularly so, all correspondence from and for Ignazio Lupo and his alleged co-partners in crime.

Lupo was supposed to be an early edition of Al Capone. He was doing 30 years for counterfeiting. The same as Capone is doing eleven years for not having paid an income-tax. Actually, Lupo was doing time for all the crimes which were attributed to him. Among them, he was reputed to have ordered the killing in Sicily of Lieutenant Petrosino of the New York police force.

Far be it from me to uphold murder or any form of crime. I believe that a man ought to be punished for his misdeeds. But I believe also that he should be dealt with on the level. That he should be punished for what he has actually done. And not overpunished, for a minor infraction or punished for something he never did, even if the man deserves ten times as much for other things which cannot be proved against him.

Of his other alleged crimes, I don't know anything about. I don't care and don't want to know. They are something between him and his Maker and no business of mine in any way, shape or form.

Lupo approached me in the prison yard during a ball game. He asked me whether I would mind moving into the same cell with him. He said that the prison officials, acting upon instructions were giving him one stool-pigeon after another for a cell-mate. Which was true. They were driving him crazy. He wanted somebody whom he knew wouldn't be there just to hurt him.

His plight was distressing. Regardless of the fact that a man with a 30-year sentence is not apt to prove a very cheerful companion, I told him I would ask to move in with him. We were put together. And I found much in him that I liked. He was extremely good-hearted.

Frank, direct, and with "guts."

After I got to know more about his case, I became convinced that he had been used to further the advancement of one of the officers of the United States Secret Service. If I needed any evidence of it, I got it on my release from Atlanta. I had promised Lupo that I would call on the editors of the Atlanta Constitution and of the Atlanta Journal and give them the facts. I kept my promises. But the editors talked and the Secret Service got wind of it. One day, two of those guys cornered me in Peachtree Street and warned me to keep my nose out of Lupo's case.

"If you don't, inside of a week we will have you back with him for a long stretch," they threatened and they meant it too.

Evidence of Secret Service activities was not lacking even at the prison, anyway. An operator, Italian, had been attached to the mail clerk's office as an assistant. He wore a uniform and also did guard duty.

But his main function was to check my translation in general, and of Lupo's letters in particular, and forward copies to Washington. What the Secret Service were after, was evidence of Lupo's connection with other crimes. They assumed he would be fool enough to let the cat out of the bag someday, if there was any cat in the bag. And they never stopped to think that I was his cell-mate and helped him write all those letters. Letters which I knew I would have to translate later for their benefit! Of all the dumb Alecs, they surely deserved the blue ribbon!

My job kept me out of the cell Sundays and holidays. Not to work. Just to sit around the office with other clerks. To smoke, talk or play checkers and chess. With us was Charlie W. Morse, the same who had been rubbing elbows with the Big Wigs in Wall Street. The same to whom a well-known steamship company was said to have handed a cool million dollars on his release from prison.

Charlie Morse was a pretty good sort of fellow. Loaded with money. Liberal. A good mixer. And extremely well versed in Wall Street finance. He could read the stock exchange quotations backwards.

One day he walked into Warden Moyer's office and asked him for the privilege to send a code wire to his brokers. The Warden, after much arguing back and forth, finally gave in. He told him not to make it a practice and send only that one wire along. Charlie did.

Several days later, again he walked into the Warden's office and handed him a check for $2,000 to bearer. The Warden wanted to know whom and what it was for.

"It's for you, "Charlie told him. "It's your share of the deal I put through with my code wire."

It seems that he had made quite a haul on a stock transaction. But Warden Moyer did not like that a bit. He declined the check and gave him hell. He even threatened to lock him up. Charlie did not mind the blasting. It was like water on a duck's back for him. But he was never permitted to send out another wire. Not from that United States Penitentiary, at any rate.

Perhaps, it didn't make much difference to him. He had all the money he wanted. Seven or more million dollars, they said. Anyway, he did not stay there much longer. He was doing a 15-year stretch. But he had no intention of serving it in full.

It is a matter of public knowledge that he had hired Harry M. Daugherty, of President Harding's cabinet fame, as his lawyer. Nobody knows how much he paid him. But, years later, according to the newspapers, Daugherty still claimed that Morse was indebted to him for $50,000.

Daugherty looked after the Washington end of Morse's case. Charlie began to eat soap and other stuff and soon developed the symptoms of locomotor ataxia or of Bright's disease. I don't remember which. And it does not matter after all. But he was certified in a hopeless condition and in immediate danger of his life. They transferred him to Fort Oglethorpe, Ga. A few months later, he was pardoned by President Taft, having served all together, a little over two years on a 15-year sentence. Once released, naturally he declined to die. He must've lived another dozen years or so.

I remained in Atlanta till the expiration of my full term and served an extra month for the fine. I was not paroled. In fact, for some reason or other which I do not remember, I did not apply for a parole, notwithstanding my good behavior. I was released unconditionally in July 1912. No effort was made to deport me.