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THE KANSAS CITY INVESTIGATION by Rudolph H. Hartmann

THE KANSAS CITY INVESTIGATION

Pendergast's Downfall, 1938--1939

By Rudolph H. Hartmann (Author) , Robert H. Ferrell (Editor)

Pub Date: June 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8262-1231-X
Publisher: Univ. of Missouri

Published for the first time since it was submitted to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Morgenthau in 1942, treasury agent Hartmann’s 1939 report on his investigation of the corrupt Pendergast political machine in Kansas City, Mo., resulted in convictions and prison terms for Thomas J. Pendergast and his lieutenants. The document was exhumed from Morgenthau’s papers in 1998 by presidential scholar Ferrell (History emeritus/Indiana Univ.; Truman and Pendergast, p. 771.), whose supporting text painstakingly traces the intricate, extensive, secret web of power that sustained what has been called the greatest political machine of its time. Boss Pendergast and his gangster connections controlled the police, the municipal managers, and the city council while living lavishly off the proceeds of phony municipal bids, gambling, prostitution, and racketeering as they plundered the city treasury. Elections were a farce, won year after year by fraudulent ballots that outnumbered voter registration in some districts. Ferrell writes that Pendergast provided some 60,000 “cemetery votes” to FDR in 1936; in return as many as 80,000 WPA jobs went to Missouri at a time of desperate job scarcity. Eventually, honest and courageous officials, juries, judges, and newspapers worked together to kill the Pendergast machine in an income-tax case that found large expenditures exceeding reported income. Pendergast lived at the highest level during the Depression, enjoying trips to Europe, days at the racetrack, and the best hotels. Over $4 million (a very large amount at the time) was recovered in back taxes, penalties, and fines. Pendergast and his efficient team went to prison, although modern readers may be surprised at the rather light sentences. A fine contextual presentation of an important historical document exposing a crooked, greedy, ruthless political empire that short-circuited the democratic process and betrayed the public trust.