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The Lexow Commission on Criminal and Political Corruption in New York City, 1895



The results of the investigation up to this point may . . . be properly summarized in the general statement that it has been conclusively shown that in a very large number of election districts of the city of New York, almost every conceivable crime against the elective franchise was either committed or permitted by the police, invariably in the interest of the dominant Democratic organization of the city of New York, commonly called Tammany Hall.

. . . The testimony . . . showed . . . an extraordinary disinclination on the part of the police, so efficient in other respects, to display any desire or activity in the suppression of certain descriptions of vice and crime, a disinclination so strong that others attempting to perform that function found the police arrayed against them and experienced greater embarrassment from this circumstance than from any difficulty connected with the suppression of the vice itself. It indicated the amazing condition that in most of the precincts of the city, houses of ill?repute, gambling houses, policy shops, pool rooms and unlawful resorts of a similar character were being openly conducted under the eyes of the police, without attempt at concealment, so publicly, in fact, that the names of the persons and the street numbers of the houses were not only known throughout the community, but were published in the daily prints, and yet they remained open and ostentatiously flourished.

Some of the abuses which have been shown to prevail will now be specifically referred to.

. . . The nature of the offense is such as to render its proof by direct testimony a matter of great difficulty. The assumed bad character of the person paying blackmail, the difficulty of obtaining admissions, and then of substantiating such statements by corroborative evidence were elements of peculiar embarrassment. It is due largely to these circumstances that the police for many years have been able to ply this traffic with substantial impunity, and with a reckless disregard of decency, based largely upon the assumption that the only witnesses against them would receive no credence from either court or public.

Disorderly Houses
. . . The testimony upon this subject, taken as a whole, establishes conclusively the fact that this variety of vice was regularly and systematically licensed by the police of the city. The system had reached such a perfection in detail that the inmates of the several houses were numbered and classified and a ratable charge placed upon each proprietor in proportion to the number of inmates, or in cases of houses of assignation the number of rooms occupied and the prices charged, reduced to a monthly rate, which was collected within a few days of the first of each month during the year....

The evidence establishes, furthermore, that not only the proprietors of disorderly houses paid for their illegal privileges, but the outcasts of society paid patrolmen on post for permission to solicit on the public highways, dividing their gains with them, and, often, as appears by proof, when brought before the police magistrates and committed to the penitentiary for disorderly conduct in default of bail, they compounded their sentence, and secured bail by paying $10 to $15 to the clerk of the court, or his agents, and were then released again to ply their calling and to become victimized as before....

The various forms of gambling testified to before your committee were poolrooms, policy shops, and what is ordinarily understood as gambling.

The evidence is conclusive that with reference to this class of vice the police occupied substantially the same position as they did with respect to disorderly houses.

The policy business seems to have been conducted on a vast scale and under well?understood geographical limitations, each subdivision being assigned to certain favored individuals known as "policy kings," who backed with capital and ran the shops in the particular districts assigned to them....

It seems clear from the evidence that this division of territory was largely for the benefit of the police, insuring a more rapid and easier collection of the tribute to be paid, the "policy king" to whom a particular district had been assigned paying in bulk at the rate of $15 per shop for all the shops running in such district or districts....

Violation of the Excise Law
The position of those who violate the provisions of the excise law is somewhat peculiar. It appears that until some time in 1892 they paid a regular stipend to the police, either for protection in the violation of the law, or for immunity from police interference in respect to the conduct of their business on the border line between legitimate and illegitimate practice....

Detectives, Pawnbrokers and Thieves
It has been conclusively shown that an understanding existed between headquarters' detectives, pawnbrokers and thieves, by which stolen property may be promptly recovered by the owner on condition that he repay the pawnbroker the amount advanced on the stolen property. In every such case, which appears in evidence, the detective seems to have acted rather in the interest of securing the pawnbroker's advances than of securing the absolute return of the stolen property....

In almost every instance it also appears that the detective, acting between the owner and the pawnbroker, receives substantial gratuities from the owner of the property for the work done in his official capacity.... The reasonable conclusion deducible from the evidence, establishes the prevalence of the custom that in order to secure the return of stolen properties, a donation or reward must be paid to the headquarters' detective.

. . . Serapio Arteaga, called as a witness on behalf of the State, being duly sworn, testified as follows:

Q. Mr. Arteaga, what countryman are you? Where were you born?
A. In Cuba.
Q. How long have you lived in this city?
A. I have been here since 1851.
Q. In this city?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. In 1891 did you open a saloon in this city?
A. Yes.
Q. Whereabouts?
A. Three hundred and fifty?two Eighth avenue.
Q. And near what street is that?
A. Between Twenty?seventh and Twenty?eighth streets.
Q. Did you procure a license for the saloon?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. From the excise board?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. And you opened it as a billiard saloon and liquor store?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Subsequently did you endeavor to secure a concert hall license?
A. No, sir.
Q. Did you try to secure one?
A. I did; yes, sir.
Q. Was it refused to you?
A. By Mayor Grant; yes, sir.
Q. After that did you run the place as a concert hall?
A. I did, sir.
Q. Before opening it as a concert hall, did you see any police official in that precinct?
A. I did, sir . . .
Q. Where did you see him?
A. At the station?house in the office.
Q. Was it Captain Price?
A. I could not be sure of the name; if I saw the gentleman I would know him.
Q. What time did you see him?
A. In the afternoon.
Q. How did you come to go there?
A. One of my customers told me if I saw him, he would arrange for me to open a concert saloon without a license.
Q. When you went there was the captain in?
A. Yes.
Q. Tell the committee the conversation you had with the captain, stating as fully as you can remember, what you said to him, and what he said to you?
A. I was there a very short time, because I asked him if he could help me get a license from Mayor Grant, he said he could not that he couldn't do anything for me in that respect, but I could see the ward detective and see what he could do for me.
Q. Did he name the ward detective.
A. Yes, sir.
Q. What was the name?
A. Wagner.
Q. What is the first name?
A. I don't know; a tall man of middle age.
Q. Go on and tell what the captain said.
A. Of course I left the station house....
Q. Then what did you do?
A. He came to me without my looking for him.
Q. Wagner came to your place of business?
A. Yes, sir; and he took me into Twenty?eighth street, and I had a conversation.
Q. In the street?
A. In the street; yes sir.
Q. What did he say to you?
A. Well, I asked him if he could procure the license for me; and he said, "No," that I should open the concert.
Q. Without a license?
A. Without a license.
Q. What did you say to that?
A. He wanted to know how much I could pay for it, and I said, I could not pay very much, and that I could pay about $50 a month; and of course in a few days I was ready to open, and I gave him the $50, and he came again, and I gave him the $50....
Q. Did you give it to him in the place, or how?
A. In the place.
Q. In an envelope?
A. No; I shook hands with him, and left it in his hand.
Q. You had the bills in your hands, and came up and shook hands with him, and when you got through shaking hands, he had the bills and you did not?
A. I had nothing.