Case Studies

Walton Green

Occupation: Chief U.S. Prohibition Investigator

Prohibition: Enforcer


“It was the mission of my force, which operated both in the continental United States and in the several adjacent and European countries, to uncover and break up the major international liquor rings. I had not the slightest interest in local enforcement in any part of the United States. I was after the big men behind the big sources of supply.

“[T]here is a colossal joke connected with prohibition, and that joke is on the Drys. It is the fact that real enforcement has never been seriously attempted. In some part this is due to the executive inhibitions of the administration, but in far greater measure it is a result of the way in which an all-inane Congress originally divided the responsibility for enforcement between the Treasury Department and the Department of Justice.

“Now, Treasury, which controls the Prohibition Unit, is charged primarily with gathering evidence and making arrests, while the Department of Justice—which prosecutes all offenses against the United States, including prohibition offenses—is charged with prosecution after the Treasury has turned the cases over to it.

“It’s a sad and silly system and it will need every ounce of business sense and leadership that Mr. Hoover possesses to untangle it.

“My own force in ten months arrested some 745 men, of whom 250 were convicted. Not all of those, of course, were big bootleggers. But they were all either big men or the henchmen of the big rings. And none of them were speakeasy proprietors or waiters or night-club patrons.

“Take the case of Bill Dwyer. William V. Dwyer of New York was commonly considered the biggest man in the business. He was the part owner of a race track in Cincinnati and of a skating rink in Montreal. He owned a fleet of thirty or forty contact boats working out of New York, and had an interest in several big steamers. He had literally hundreds of men in his employ—including a good many whom he had insinuated into the local Coast Guard Service. He was reputed to do a business of $25,000,000 a year. When I took office, Bill Dwyer was the biggest bet on the bootlegging horizon, and supposedly untouchable. We went after him.

“We may have been rough in those days. We tapped wires and we tapped wireless-to say nothing of other methods. And we ran speakeasies and bought evidence wholesale scale. We may have erred to the verge of unfair invasion of criminals’ rights. But we used big methods against big mobs, and we got results. We captured shiploads and sent whole organizations to jail.”



Source: Green, Walton. “Prohibition ‘As Is’”. Liberty. 9 Mar 1929.


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