United States Senate Special Committee To Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce - Committee Work and History

Committee Work and History

Barkley, as President of the Senate, was empowered to choose the committee's members. They included: Kefauver; Herbert O'Conor (Maryland), Lester C. Hunt (Wyoming), Alexander Wiley (Wisconsin), and Charles W. Tobey (New Hampshire).

The Kefauver Committee held hearings in 14 major cities across the United States. More than 600 witnesses testified. Many of the committee's hearings were televised live on national television to large audiences, providing many Americans with their first glimpse of organized crime's influence in the U.S. Among the more notorious figures who appeared before the committee were Tony "Joe Batters" Accardo, Louis "Little New York" Campagna, Mickey Cohen, Frank Costello, Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik, Meyer Lansky, and Paul "The Waiter" Ricca. Kefauver became a nationally recognized figure, and the committee enabled him to run for President of the United States in 1952 and 1956 (his runs failed, but he became his party's Vice Presidential nominee in 1956).

Many of the Kefauver Committee's hearings were aimed at proving that an Italian–Sicilian organization based on strong family ties centrally controlled a vast organized crime conspiracy in the United States, but the committee never came close to justifying such a claim. Rather, the committee uncovered extensive evidence that people of all nationalities, ethnicities, and even religions operated locally controlled, loosely organized crime syndicates at the local level. The committee's final report, issued on April 17, 1951, included 22 recommendations for the federal government and seven recommendations for state and local authorities. Among its recommendations were: The creation of a "racket squad" within the United States Department of Justice; the establishment of a permanent Crime Commission at the federal level; the expansion of the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee to include interstate organized crime; federal studies into the sociology of crime; a ban on betting via radio, television, telegraph, and telephone; the establishment of state and local crime commissions; and a request that the Justice Department investigate and prosecute 33 named individuals as suspected leaders of organized crime in the United States.

However, the committee's work led to several significant outcomes. Among the most notable was an admission by J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, that a national organized crime syndicate did exist and that the FBI had done little about it. Legislative proposals and state ballot referenda legalizing gambling went down to defeat over the next few years due to revelations of organized crime's involvement in the gambling industry, and more than 70 "crime commissions" were established at the state and local level to build on the Kefauver Committee's work. The Kefauver Committee was the first to suggest that civil law be expanded and used to combat organized crime. Congress responded to the call, and in 1970 passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act as a direct response to the committee's recommendation.

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