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Kankakee County to build memorial for Al Capone’s governor

Tuesday, Sep 4, 2018

* AP

An Illinois county has approved a memorial honoring three former governors from Kankakee, including convicted ex-Gov. George Ryan.

The Daily Journal reports the Kankakee County board endorsed it in a 10-to-2 vote last week. It’ll be on the Kankakee courthouse lawn. It’ll also be dedicated to Len Small, governor from 1921 to 1929; and Samuel Shapiro, governor in the late 1960s.

Member Michael LaGesse opposed it, saying he didn’t get one call in favor.

Board member Robert Ellington-Snipes expressed reservations, citing Ryan’s corruption convictions. But he said Ryan also did some “good.” He voted for the plan.

Hey, it’s their county, they can do what they want. And it is most definitely unusual for a county of 110,000 or so people to have been the home to three governors.

But while lots of folks may remember George Ryan’s tenure, Len Small was about as corrupt as they come.

* From a column I wrote back in 2003

Len Small was governor throughout the Roaring Twenties — that gilded age of prohibition and lawlessness.

Small was a close political ally of Chicago Mayor “Big” Bill Thompson, who was the Mafia’s chief enabler in this state. Small was also closely affiliated with Johnny Torrio, the guy who united the city’s innumerable rackets and gangsters under one umbrella during the beginning of Prohibition. Al Capone was Torrio’s top lieutenant, and when Torrio split town, Capone further refined his vast organization.

Len Small was known as the “pardoning governor.” He is alleged to have sold hundreds of pardons, mostly to gangsters. He even went so far as to pardon cop killers. In 1922, a group of Torrio’s bootleggers were on their way to Chicago when they shot and killed a motorcycle cop who was in full pursuit. Small pardoned the whole bunch.

Walter Stevens, the “dean of all Chicago’s gunmen,” was Johnny Torrio’s top trigger man. Stevens bumped off many of Torrio’s rivals. The murder of an Aurora policeman landed Stevens in prison, but Governor Small dutifully pardoned him. There were reports at the time that Stevens played a crucial role in helping Small beat an embezzlement charge. Some key evidence was “accidentally” burned by a janitor, who died soon afterwards.

The malfeasance charge alleged that Small, when he was state treasurer, loaned state money to an outfit-connected company at 6 percent interest, but turned over just half the profits to the state’s bank accounts. He was acquitted, but he lost a subsequent civil case and had to pony up several hundred thousand dollars.

Small was widely known as the “Roads Governor” because he passed a $100 million bond issue to build thousands of miles of roads. Not often mentioned is that the mob controlled many of the road construction unions and, by extension, the companies they organized. You can bet your house that Torrio and Capone pocketed a big chunk of that bond money.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 10:08 am:

    The Small family is still a big deal in Kankakee.

  2. - wondering - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 10:20 am:

    The journal is owned by the Small family. Len, “Rob”, Small has been trying to rehab his grandpappy’s reputation for years.

  3. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 10:30 am:

    Having been born in Kankakee, I’m aware of the Small family’s influence.

    That doesn’t change the history of a governor who pardoned mobbed-up cop killers.

  4. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 10:37 am:

    I wasn’t trying to diminish anything you wrote, just pointing out, for those who aren’t as familiar as we are with K3 that Governor Small’s family still carries big weight. The Smalls are big so to speak.

    As for Ryan, he and his brother Tom, who was Mayor while George was in the Statehouse, then Lt. Governor, knew how to make a very good living in public service. They learned from the best, Ed McBroom among them, and the Small newspapers didn’t notice anything hinky going on.

    The descendants of Governor Shapiro should be the ones complaining about being depicted with Small and Ryan.

  5. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 10:45 am:

    –In 1922, a group of Torrio’s bootleggers were on their way to Chicago when they shot and killed a motorcycle cop who was in full pursuit. Small pardoned the whole bunch.–

    A useful reminder to today’s chronic whiners who are always nostalgic for a time that never was.

    To date, nobody in Illinois has topped the team of Big Bill and Len for wanton corruption.

    And they were both openly racist, anti-semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant and backed by the politically powerful KKK of the day.

    The Smalls must still have some clout in Kankakee County if they can get a statue of the old man at the courthouse in this day and age.

  6. - Smitty Irving - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 11:34 am:

    Was one of the pardons for killing a State Policeman? Reason for asking is Len Small =created= the State Police.

  7. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 12:10 pm:

    Small Woods was 2 blocks from where I grew up. BB gun, me and Small Woods.

  8. - G'Kar - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 12:24 pm:

    Our rescue dog is named Capone. I wonder if he’ll get asked to the unveiling?

  9. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 1:15 pm:

    This just in:
    Pat Quinn, Roland Burris and Sam McCann announcing move to Kankakee County.

  10. - Cackling - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 2:19 pm:

    Oh man guys, there’s so much more! (This is just the tip of the ice burg) hint: google pineapple primary

    “Small, a Kankakee farmer, former state senator and two-time former state treasurer, was elected governor in 1920. Just seven months after taking office, he was indicted on charges of embezzling millions of dollars while treasurer. The scheme went like this: He allegedly deposited the state’s money in a fictional bank, lent it out at almost 8 percent interest, paid the state less than 2 percent interest and pocketed the difference.”

  11. - Last Bull Moose - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 3:34 pm:

    I would rather have a statue of Robert E. Lee. /s

  12. - Billinois - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 7:08 pm:

    There’s still hope for the Rod Blagojevich Monument in Cook County. It would be bleeping golden.

  13. - HA8 GOP - Tuesday, Sep 4, 18 @ 9:39 pm:

    Bill Thompson - the last Republican ever elected Chicago Mayor and never again will that mistake be repeated.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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