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Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, 1950–1951

Frank Costello and other gangsters refused to answer many of the investigators’ questions. Costello’s responses were evasive, he pleaded the Fifth Amendment, and he even walked out of the hearings on March 15, 1951. Cited for contempt of the Senate, he was sentenced to jail. Additional prison sentences for other crimes and the deportation of an ally, Joe Adonis, eventually weakened Costello’s power.

Law Library of Congress, Library of Congress

Investigation of Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, 1950–1951

Gambling and Racketeering

Facing a crime surge after World War II, local officials requested help from Congress. To determine the extent of organized crime and whether it could be handled by the states, the Senate created a five-member Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce. In 1950 and 1951 the committee investigated gambling and organized crime in 14 cities. Its televised hearings, particularly in New York, raised public awareness of crime syndicates, led to more effective local law enforcement, and enhanced the political profile of its chairman, Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee.

Through the country the crime committee became. . . . a national crusade, a great debating forum, an arouser of public opinion on the state of the nation’s morals.

Senator Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, Crime in America, 1951