Sunday, May 4, 2014

Bookies, wiretappers and organized crime in Fort Lauderdale 1922

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By Jane Feehan

Boom times beckoned many to Fort Lauderdale in the 1920s, including organized criminal types.

In 1922, a well-dressed group of men rented the Oliver home downtown with more than sand and surf in their plans.The visitors, who drove fancy cars, displayed expensive golf bags and threw big tips around, didn’t extend social invitations to locals to their rented quarters, raising suspicions. But would-be gamblers had little need for invitations. They beat a path to the rented Oliver home, hoping to leave with winnings from off-track betting. The well-heeled gang promised sure wins; they had wiretapped telephones at horse tracks.   

Their elaborate scheme didn’t really include wiretapping; it was a ruse that eventually sent the unsuspecting to New Orleans by train with a gang member to pick up big winnings at their “headquarters.” The gang member would disappear en-route, leaving the gambler with nothing but a train ride.  Victims, engaged in illegal gambling, didn’t bother reporting their misfortune to the police.

Nevertheless, word got around about bookies and wiretapping and a government raid on February 19, 1922, netted 13.  Bail was posted and the men (all had given fictitious names), were set free. That was the end of the first organized crime foray into Fort Lauderdale.

The following month, Gov. Carey Hardee appointed Paul C. Bryan as Broward’s new sheriff.  Bryan delivered a warning to criminals: those who came to Broward County would come to grief. “No wiretappers shall operate here.”

Hello Miami.
Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

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1. Weidling, Philip J. , Burghard, August. Checkered Sunshine. Gainesville: University of Florida Press (1966).
2. Fort Lauderdale Herald, Feb. 20, Feb. 22, 1922
3. Miami News, March 3, 1922.

Tags: Florida in the 1920s, Fort Lauderdale in the 1920s,  organized crime in South Florida, Fort Lauderdale history, Sheriff Paul Ryan, film research, Fort Lauderdale historian, Miami historian

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