The Ties that Bribe: State Capital in Organized Crime

The boundaries of corruption and legitimacy shift with legislation, enforcement, and interpretation of law. This paper examines the role of state capital, i.e., the knowledge of and ability to influence law, in Chicago organized crime. Using a network data set of Al Capone’s crime syndicate between 1900-1933, we measure how state actors' participation and spread of influence in organized crime changed through the early 1900s. As the Syndicate grew in size, complexity, and financial interests, state actors were differentially able to sustain their position in organized crime. We find that despite its reputation, Prohibition Era Chicago organized crime was overall less corrupt than the two decades prior. Rather, the kind of state actors involved in organized crime changed. Politicians were largely able to remain in the criminal network over time, while law enforcement were expelled from the network as corruption climbed the political ladder. We argue the presence of state actors allowed the Syndicate to flourish despite the increased legal pressure during Prohibition.