The woman who defeated Al Capone

Mabel Walker Willebrandt was a remarkable woman who earned a law degree in 1916 and served as assistant attorney general in President Harding’s administration, the most senior woman in the federal government at the time.

In the 1920s, mobsters seemed “invincible,” writes Bill Bryson in his book One Summer—America 1927. It was almost impossible to link them to their illicit businesses.

However, Willebrandt came up with the innovative idea that led to the defeat Al Capone and a number of other mobsters—prosecute these gangsters for tax invasion.

In 1927, she successfully argued, in United States v. Sullivan, before the Supreme Court that the government has the right to prosecute for tax invasion. Thanks to that case, “Al Capone’s days were numbered,” Bryson says.

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