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January 17, 1920 – December 5, 1933, Prohibition

SF Chronicle - May 13, 2019:


Up against Barnet was the law-and-order candidate Burton F. Becker, who ran on a platform of “Christian morals” and upholding Prohibition. Becker was also a high-ranking member of the Oakland Ku Klux Klan.


The people of Piedmont already knew this; he’d publicly declared his affiliation while serving as their chief of police. In that role, he appointed Klansmen to the under-sheriff and city jailor positions.

Faced with a choice between a murder suspect (or, at least, an adulterer) and a Klansman, Alameda County voters handily elected Becker.

If there is any happy ending, it’s this: Becker’s career ended in a jail cell in San Quentin. As sheriff, he became the head of a massive bootlegging operation. His deputies took protection money from still operators throughout rural Alameda County, and bootleggers who wouldn’t pay up were raided. In this way, Becker was able to centralize liquor production among his chosen, paying partners. He also paid men to inform him of impending federal raids.

Then-Alameda County District Attorney Earl Warren got wind of the scheme and launched an investigation. The scale of Becker’s racket was staggering. Warren found 150 officers in the Oakland Police Department alone were “dividing $50,000 each month to protect 250 speakeasies.” The scheme was “so well-constructed that police were selling to bootleggers at twice the going rate liquor seized in earlier raids,” Warren biographer Ed Cray wrote. “Some bootleggers were simply ransoming their own stock.”

After years of investigating, Warren finally hit Becker with multiple corruption charges. At the time, the media called the trial "the most sweeping exposé of graft in the history of the country." Becker was convicted, banned from holding public office for the rest of his life and sent to San Quentin.

“No reports have as yet come in of observing the burning of any fiery crosses,” the Sausalito News taunted after his conviction. “Perhaps Klansmen are like many others — for a fellow when he’s a comer, but off him when he loses out.”

White Nativism and Urban Politics: The 1920s Ku Klux Klan in Oakland, California:

Sheriff Becker established an aggressive system of bribery and extortion from bootlegging and gambling. Sheriffs deputies collected thousands of dollars of protection money from still operators in rural southern Alameda County and developed a plan to rationalize the bootlegging industry by arresting smaller and less profitable producers and centralizing both supply and payoffs in a single designated source. Becker's men also arranged with Cromwell Ormsby, the attorney for several Chinese lottery operators, to tip off impending raids in exchange for payments. Ormsby later conspired with Garbutt and Norman in an attempt to influence the Oakland Police Morals Squad, while Garbutt received $5,000 from the Mills Novelty Company for the protection of slot machines.

...Meanwhile, in January 1930, District Attorney Earl Warren began pursuing the graft and corruption in City Hall and the Sheriffs office. Even at this time, Klan legitimacy in Oakland was high enough that Warren feared that Klan members on the Alameda County Grand Jury would refuse to indict fellow Klansmen. In an effort to break the case, Warren released transcripts of the Grand Jury investigations to the press, and the publicity resulted in the swift resignations of Sheriff Becker and Commissioners Parker, Young and Sturgis. Becker, Parker, Garbutt, Ormsby and others were eventually indicted, convicted and sent to prison, and the scandal turned public opinion increasingly against the commission form of government.

Oakland Tribune - Sun - Aug. 14, 1921:


U. S. Agents and Police Defy Rifle and Jail Manuel Costa
As Operator; Joe Foster, Dairy Owner, Being Sought.


Officers Descending at Dusk, Force Guard to Surrender at Point of Pistol; Then Seize 75 Gallons Whiskey.


PIEDMONT, Aug. 13-Just back of Piedmont's most fashionable residential district on the Moraga road is the old Red Rock quarry and beyond that is an old dairy. From the dairy barn federal officers, aided by police today cleaned up one of the largest "bootlegging" stills ever discovered in Alameda county.

The raid on the place, conducted by a posse just as twilight was gathering, had much that savored of the song-heralded Kentucky mountain "moonshiners." It resulted in the operator, Manuel Costa, who had held a gun on the officers, being placed in the county jail, and three large stills, seventy-five gallons of bootleg whisky, twenty-five barrels of mash, and sixteen sacks of corn sugar passing into the hand of the federal government.

"I'll say bootlegging doesn't pay, said Costa, as Sergeant of Police Fred Heere rolled off his fingerprints onto the official record cards before Costa was taken to the county jail. Later he is said to have told officers that Joe Foster, owner of the dairy, paid him but $1.50 a gallon for the illicit product of his efforts.


Federal Officer E. A. Shurtlett and other officers of the prohibition service, spotted the still several weeks ago and have been watching it in operation in the meantime. Today he decided to raid the place. The federal posse visited the Piedmont police station, enlisted the aid of Patrolman E. M. Mathieson and William Beagle and the party set out for the raid,

The still is on the old dairy property best known as the Maxwelton dairy, recently purchased from the former Maxwelton company by Joe Foster. It is located in an old cow barn, far back from the road and high up on one of the hills back of Mountain View cemetery.

The raiding officers drove part way into the place, then got out of their automobile and proceeded on foot. All were in plain clothes. They started started toward the barn when Costa appeared, according to the account of Patrolman Mathieson, and armed a rifle at them and commanded them to go no further.

Simultaneously the officers drew their revolvers and Costa menaced by five six-shooters, surrendered. When the officers later were endeavoring to handcuff him, he tried again to free himself, and made desperate struggle to no avail. Going inside the barn the officers found three stills in operation, they say. The twenty-five barrels of mash were ranged against the wall, and according to Beagle, were emitting a continuous sizzling sound, as they "gaily effervesced," which filled the barn.

The bootleg whisky which had already been manufactured was poured out and one of the stills loaded into the automobile as evidence. Foster, owner of the ranch, was nowhere about and is being sought by the police.

According to Costa, the still had been in operation only two weeks. The police say it was running for several months.

Bootleggers Arrested While Delivering Goods on Hillside Ave.


Arrested while attempting to deliver two cases of Scotch whiskey on Hillside avenue last week, two men who gave their names as C. Coverly and Louie Froni are at present out $500 bail each, pending their trial which is set for an early date at the Piedmont police court.

The two above named men drove into an oil station on Grand avenue one morning last week where Officer Barrett of the Piedmont force happened to be, evidently with the intention of inquiring directions to some residence. Upon sighting the policeman instead of waiting for the answer to their inquiries the pair drove hurriedly off, with the suspicious Barrett following close behind.

The officer did not catch them until the two men stopped on Hillside Avenue, apparently trying to deliver their goods before his arrival. Upon searching the bar, two cases of Scotch Whiskey were found. They were booked at the Piedmont police station with violating city ordinance No. 246, and later admitted to bail at $500 each.

Piedmonter - Jan. 12, 1923 reprinted from Piedmonter - Oct. 20, 1982

Oakland Tribune - Fri - Sep. 21, 1928

Oakland Tribune - Mon - Apr. 6, 1931

Unknown publisher - probably the Piedmonter - from PPD archives: 

Piedmont Couple Accused of Being Rum Ring Aides

The long arm of the law reached out and caught Harry, D. and Margaret Maggiore of 100 Scenic avenue, Piedmont, Sunday.

They are charged by United States Marshall's office with conspiracy. Arrests were made by Inspector Hanson of Piedmont and deputy marshals, The Maggiores are said to to have been members of a ring that used a private radio station to signal rum runners at sea.

The Sacramento Bee - Tue - May 10, 1932:

Pair Sought In Radio Probe Located. Harry Maggiore and his wife, Berdie, sought since December for alleged operation of a radio station in a San Francisco residential district to give messages and warnings to rum runners off the coast, were arrested yesterday in Piedmont. He is held under $15,000 bond. Maggiore, brother of the Quito Maggiore who dropped dead of heart disease here an hour before his scheduled appearance in the federal court to stand trial as leader of the reputed coast-wide rum king, is under indictment as co-conspirator with Johnny Marino, alleged rum-runner. Officials said Mrs. Maggiore was not indicted and possibly would be released.

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