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Ring of Fire, Den of Thieves

The Special Prosecutor The Special Prosecutor

The whole crowd are a complete ring: the Chief of Police, the Chief of Detectives, the Mayor and the City Attorney.” Thus spake special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, the gang-busting lawyer and politician, when he was trying to extradite Lucky Luciano from his protected redoubt in Bill Clinton's home town of Hot Springs, Ark., back in 1936. After the assassination of fellow gangster Dutch Schultz in the fall of 1935, Charlie Lucky had fled to Bubbles, where he sought the protection of Owney Madden, the English-born Irish gangster who had recently moved his base of operations from Manhattan to Hot Springs.

The charge was pimping, but everyone knew that was just a placeholder for all the other crimes Luciano had committed. As the last man standing after the Castellammarese War of 1930-31, the mob-sanctioned takedown of the Dutchman and Madden's simultaneous relocation to Hot Springs, the Sicilian-born Salvatore Lucania had survived various attempts on his life (hence his nickname, "Lucky") to become the mob's kingpin -- and Dewey's principal target. So when Dewey turned up the heat in New York, Luciano headed down to Madden's protective embrace in the delightfully corrupt spa burg in the Ouachitas.

Hot Springs was ideally located, just 55 miles or so from the state capital at Little Rock, which was close enough with which to do business and far away so as not to be nosy. When Madden needed something done, he would simply order the governor to meet him somewhere in the woods between the two cities, orders would be given, money would exchange hands, and business would proceed at usual.

Because what Madden quickly learned at the beginning of his 30-year exile in Bubbles was that organized crime was great-- but it was even better and more efficient when the government was part of the racket The town already had a corrupt mayor in place in the person of Leo McLaughlin, but Madden and his associates expanded the ring to eventually include not only all the local officials, but the governor of Arkansas and at least one of the state's U.S. senators, "crimebusting" John McClellan, first elected to the House in 1935 (the year Madden arrived) and to the Senate in 1943, where he served until his death in 1977. During the 1963 "Valachi" hearings into big-city crime, McClellan was forced to call Madden before his committee, but carefully protected him from questioning and quickly sent him back to Arkansas.

Thus Dewey's complaint cited above -- everybody in Bubbles was a crook, including the police chief (who lived next door to Madden), the head detective, McLaughlin (surely the model for the cheerfully powerless mayor in Miller's Crossing) and the D.A. They were all on Madden's payroll. Needless to say, they were all Democrats.