Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Florida History: Sen. Kefauver shocked at Clark acquittal

By Jane Feehan

Broward County Sheriff Walter Clark turned a blind eye to illicit gambling for years (he served as sheriff 1931-39 and 1941-50). The mob rewarded him for his hands off policy when they allowed him to run a bolita operation and own slot machines through his Broward Novelty Company.

Clark did not escape the attention of Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN), who headed a high-profile federal investigation of organized crime and gambling in 1950-51. Presidential hopeful Kefauver conducted some of the hearings in Miami, questioning mobsters Joe Adonis, Frank Costello, Vito Genovese and others, including Clark and Dade County Sheriff James Sullivan.  The Broward sheriff was evasive but was not convincing enough to evade a subsequent local grand jury indictment for owning slot machines.

Clark, his brother deputy sheriff Robert Clark, and Gordon F. Williams were acquitted in Broward County Dec. 8, 1950. The evidence was circumstantial. No defense witnesses were presented during the tumultuous proceedings. What most don’t know – or remember - of the trial’s outcome was Kefauver’s reaction. When the senator heard about the acquittal he told a congregation at a Miami temple that he was shocked and surprised.

“I heard testimony from Sheriff Clark in Miami, and I don’t mind admitting I was considerably shocked at the jury’s findings,” said Kefauver. Later that month in the Saturday Evening Post, the senator elaborated. “It is hard to stomach the admissions of characters such as Sheriff (Smiling Jimmy) Sullivan of Dade County and Sheriff Walter Clark of Broward County that they grew rich in office, far out of proportion to their modest salaries (Clark admitted he was worth more than $750,000).

Kefauver’s reaction drew the ire of Pompano Beach resident and jury foreman James Wilson. “I’m shocked and surprised at the statement of Sen. Kefauver, in which he, by inference, tied together the testimony … he
heard in Miami with the local Clark trial,” said Wilson.  “He is evidently unfamiliar with the facts of evidence introduced in the trial. Doesn’t Kefauver know that the evidence gathered in Miami was not introduced? This jury did its civic duty in an intelligent and forthright way. Furthermore, as a taxpayer, citizen and ex-U.S. Marine, I resent any reflection on my intelligence or veracity. If Kefauver wants to debate the issue publicly, I will meet him either in Florida or in his native hills of Tennessee.”

A movement to reinstate Clark was underway when he died April 24, 1951 of leukemia. Many mourned the colorful 47-year-old sheriff who was known for his charitable ways.Copyright © 2012. All rights reserved. Jane Feehan.

For more on Sheriff Clark and gambling see:

Tags: Kefauver hearings in Miami, Broward County gambling in the 1940s, 50s, Sheriff Walter Clark, Sheriff Clark acquittal, Kefauver reaction to Clark acquittal, Miami hearings on gambling 1950, organized crime in Broward County,

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