When Al Capone, the famous prohibition-era gangster, was finally brought to justice, his conviction was not for murder or extortion or even bootlegging, but for a far less explosive charge: income tax evasion. A tax charge was probably not as satisfying to his victims as a conviction for violent offenses would have been, but it did the trick. Capone was sentenced to 11 years in prison, ending his career in organized crime. The “Al Capone Theory of Prosecution” would become a model for organized crime cases and, later, terrorism cases, where protecting classified information sometimes precluded charging defendants with more serious offenses. If witnesses are unavailable or too frightened to testify about the big crimes, prosecutors will consider filing a simple financial case, which can often be proven just by using documents.
Last week, the January 6 Committee revealed that among former President Donald Trump’s many potential misdeeds was this one — he raised $250 million dollars under apparently false pretenses to challenge the results of the 2020 election. As Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) put it, “the Big Lie was also a big rip-off.”
According to a presentation by Amanda Wick, a Committee investigator, the Trump campaign sent “millions of emails to Trump supporters, sometimes as many as 25 a day.” Wick testified that the emails claimed that the “left-wing mob was undermining the election.” The solicitation asked supporters to “step up and protect the integrity of the election,” and encouraged them to “fight back” by contributing to the “Official Election Defense Fund.” In fact, Wick testified, “no such fund existed.” Instead, the funds went to a new political action committee Trump created shortly after the election called Save America, which, in turn, funneled money to other entities. Among the disbursements were $5 million to Event Strategies, Inc., which organized Trump’s January 6 rally at the Ellipse, $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, a charitable foundation that counts Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows as a senior partner, $1 million to the America First Policy Institute, which employs many former Trump administration officials, and more than $200,000 to the Trump Hotel Collection.