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The Corrupt City: Reading, Pennsylvania

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Exposing the devastating legacy of corruption in Reading, Pa., this 1969 film by Group W-Westinghouse reveals how public apathy and dishonest city officials allowed Reading to have been dominated by an organized crime syndicate.

At the Kefauver Committee hearings in the U.S. Senate in 1951, it was revealed that organized crime was extending its tentacles into Reading, PA. Five years later, after a new Democratic administration took over in the city, the IRS launched a campaign to collect taxes from gambling machine operators. Two years after that the federal Alcohol and Tax Unit raided a huge still and IRS agents completed investigations of two large numbers banks. After President Kennedy signed into law interstate gambling legislation in 1961, J. Edgar Hoover sent 100 FBI agents into Reading to arrest more than 100 gamblers in a large craps casino. Year after year local law enforcement looked the other way as racketeers took over the city. A bookie working for the Philadelphia Mafia was murdered in Reading before testifying at a grand jury hearing. The local mob kingpin, Abe Minker, was eventually convicted and imprisoned, as was Mayor John Kubacki. The war raged for six years before organized crime lost its control of vice in Reading.

The film notes that corruption is the basis of organized crime in the United States and that such crime can flourish only where it has corrupted local officials. Reading had been crippled by organized crime since the 1920s. The film contains interviews with former city officials, local business people, and ordinary citizens. All of those interviewed relate their experiences with and reflections on 'The Mob.' Thomas McBride, former leader of the 'Select Committee on Crime,' and Shane Craemer, former head of the Justice Department Task Force in Philadelphia, provide an overview of the Reading situation. McBride notes that a vacuum of leadership existed in Reading, which made the city very vulnerable to future domination by organized crime. Elected officials note that when they first took office, they were approached by persons who offered them payoffs in return for relaxed law enforcement and favored treatment. The consequences of organized crime are all negative. Organized crime seeks to nullify government and make it powerless. Besides the moral decay, the economic effects of organized crime domination are staggering. Prior to 1966, the annual profit to organized crime in Reading exceeded $5 million. In conclusion, the film observes that people get the type of government they deserve and that alliances between organized crime and elected officials, which would not be tolerated in most other countries, are far too frequent in the United States.

Traffic in illegal drugs now presents Reading with a far greater crime problem than illegal gambling, extortion, and prostitution ever did. Before the proliferation of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin, only a handful of murders were attributed to racketeering in Berks County. There were headline killings such as Ben Myers' during Prohibition, Tony Moran's in 1945, and Joe Donato's in 1963. But the mob violence in those eras pales in the gory glare of today's drug wars. Most of today's drug racketeers don't live long enough to establish reputations.