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Judge Calls Wood's Actions Unseemly
By Fred L. Reed III

A cat may have nine lives. Arch-counterfeiter Charles O. Brockway (alias Charles O. Vanderpool, alias “curly headed kid”) and other 19th-century American coneymen apparently had nearly as many “get-out-of-jail-free” cards. Passes were often provided courtesy of the federal law enforcement division that was created to drive the koniackers out of business in the first place.

Brockway and the other criminals found ways to game the system repeatedly. They discovered that they could “out” their accomplices, turn state’s evidence, surrender contraband, bribe and otherwise bargain themselves out of scrapes with federal marshals and local law enforcement by having friends on the inside within Col. William P. Wood’s United States Secret Service bureau.

As reported in the last installment, after being arrested for faking U.S. fractional currency, Brockway slipped out of federal cuffs under uncertain circumstances, only to be rearrested by U.S. marshals a second time. He was indicted by a federal grand jury and hauled into federal court on counterfeiting charges, reported last month. It was then that none other than Secret Service chief Col. William P. Wood stepped out of the shadows and attempted to orchestrate Brockway’s acquittal in the face of an effective prosecution by U.S. District Attorney S.G. Courtney.

Paraphrasing Otto von Bismarck, justice is like sausages, it is better not to see it being made. Even with Wood’s interference in Brockway’s trial, the jury deliberated and found him guilty. When sentencing resumed in Judge William D. Shipman’s court, more of the Secret Service’s shenanigans were brought under scrutiny from the federal bench. Before sentencing the offender, Shipman lectured Wood in strong words, because he said it was his “duty to the officers of the Government.”

Shipman took exception with Wood’s interrogation practices. “There is a practice of removing prisoners who are arrested beyond the limits of this district after their arrest,” Shipman began. “The officers should know that that is a violation,” he criticized Wood’s methods.

Parenthetically, we recall from our earlier discussions that for Wood it had been a customary practice to remove witnesses and prisoners arrested in New York across the Hudson River to New Jersey, where he would interrogate them mercilessly at Taylor’s Hotel in Jersey City free of the jurisdiction of New York judges like Shipman. At Taylor’s behind closed doors, Wood beat confessions out of prisoners with alacrity.

“When the fact comes to the knowledge of an officer that an offence has been committed, he should make an affidavit, or procure it to be made, communicate with the District-Attorney, get a warrant and have the party arrested. This transporting of a prisoner to Jersey City or anywhere else out of the district and holding a kind of inquest over him by officers of the detective service has no warrant (permission) in law,” he continued.

“When a prisoner is arrested he is to be brought before a Commissioner and prosecuted according to the law,” Shipman reminded Wood and members of his court. “As this practice has been disclosed TWICE (emphasis added) in the progress of this trial, I have deemed it my duty to say this because, if pursued, the officers may sometime, find it to prove an inconvenient experiment.” Wood was being put on notice. Shipman was threatening future nullification of testimony and evidence obtained illegally in this manner.

Having read the riot act to the chief federal law dog, Shipman then told Brockway’s accomplice Clogston to stand and proceeded to address his case. Shipman said that because he doubted the confession wrought from Clogston “in that house,” (i.e., Taylor’s Hotel) he had permitted this defendant to change his guilty plea to not-guilty, and had released him on his own recognizance to return to his parents in New Hampshire and resume work on his folks’ farm there. “It is better to turn a grindstone than the crank of a counterfeiter’s press,” Shipman advised the young man, who was Brockway’s half-brother. Then reminding Clogston of the indictment still over his head, Shipman added “If you do not do well you may at any time be brought here and tried under it.” “I trust you will not misunderstand this leniency of the Court,” he quickly noted, “and think it reason for other misdemeanors, but that you will behave yourself properly and well.”

Shipman then sentenced co-defendant Dietrich to two years in Albany Penitentiary and a fine of one dollar for passing counterfeit money, and Haley, another convicted “shover” with prior convictions on his record to a seven year stint at Albany and a dollar fine. Oakley, another of the gang, drew a three and one-half year prison sentence and a similar dollar fine.

On learning that he was going to prison, Oakley shot back that Wood had promised him he “would not be harmed” if he pleaded guilty. Shipman disavowed the pledge. He retorted smartly. Shipman said that he had nothing to do with such a promise and that “if Col. Wood had made promises he must keep them” himself.

Shipman then asked Brockway if he had anything to say. Seeing how it had gone for his confederates Brockway took the opportunity to make a lengthy and convoluted plea on his behalf. In an “excited and rambling manner,” Brockway slyly said he had no hope that anything he said would mitigate his sentence, because he expected, he said, “nothing but the severest penalty.” However, like Shipman he also felt a “duty,” which similarly required that he make a statement, too, he said.

Brockway’s allocution began simply enough. He once again admitted that he owned the house in Mount Vernon, but said he had not purchased it for the business of counterfeiting as had been said by a female witness. Brockway called upon Atkinson to back him up. When Atkinson didn’t jump to Brockway’s defense and a heated quarrel broke out between the felons, Shipman intervened and instructed Brockway to proceed. Brockway threw Atkinson under the bus. He vehemently denied his colleague’s version of the story, and told the court that the counterfeiting of fractional currency had been Atkinson’s doing. Atkinson had engraved the plate in question. Furthermore he (Broickway) did not even know the man Reason, who had engraved the portrait on the fake Spinner fractional plate.

According to Brockway, it was Atkinson and not himself who had initiated contact by coming to his house originally and leaving word with his (Brockway’s) wife that he (Atkinson) was eager to see him (Brockway). Furthermore, a man named Spike had gotten hold of the plate and committed the actual counterfeiting accompanied by several female offenders, Brockway’s yarn continued.

“That is false,” Atkinson interjected, but undeterred Brockway continued with his tale. Spike, Atkinson and the women had printed $3,000 worth of fake 50-cent notes, which Spike made off with beating him (Brockway) out of his share. After this, over the objection of his own wife, he had entered into a further agreement with Atkinson to get up another, even better plate and strike off impressions, but Brockway was not to be involved in the matter until “the stuff was ready for the market.” In other words, Brockway believed he could mitigate his sentence by claiming he was only involved as a low-level shover and not the kingpin of the racket.

He had done the deal over his wife’s objections, Brockway said, because “he himself saw there was money in it.” Brockway had then gone to Philadelphia, and Atkinson having by then convinced him to assist in the manufacture of the bogus notes, he belatedly consented. So he moved up to Mount Vernon, where he had indeed paid Atkinson $135, but denied that the money was for Reason’s work engraving the portrait.

Brockway said his appearance at Mount Vernon was to build a carriage house not for the purpose of counterfeiting, and also that he had employed the boy Clogston (his half brother) to help with putting up the shed and not for the criminal purpose of counterfeiting currency.

When he heard the disturbance downstairs (on the day that the citizens made the bust), he had fled to a place of safety and sent for his wife. She had told him that Abner Bowman Newcomb had told her that if he came back “he (Newcomb) could arrange matters.” Newcomb (b. 1833 in Boston), a former reporter, had been appointed a private secretary to the U.S. Marshal’s Office. He was also on the payroll of the U.S. Secret Service as an operative. Brockway said he had been willing “to pay a good price” to “arrange matters” and that if “Col.Wood, or Marshal Murray or any of the parties were approachable, he was willing to pay a good price” to them. Newcomb had come to the house in Mount Vernon repeatedly to discuss the matter, according to Brockway’s narrative.

At length, after much discussion, with Newcomb, Brockway had indeed returned under the promise that he would be unmolested if he turned state’s witness, after which in the presence of his lawyer, detective marshal Newcomb had promised him protection and an appointment as an officer of the government. Furthermore, Wood had told him, Brockway said, “Brockway, don’t you try to beat me, or I will crucify you, but if you are faithful to me, and don’t play me any tricks” you will be protected. “Yet here I stand a convicted felon,” he pleaded to Judge Shipman.

Referring to previous testimony by Murray, Brockway said that he had walked into the U.S. Marshal’s Office voluntarily and was not under arrest at that time. He said that had been offered a government position by Wood for $3 a day, “and if you were in the Government employ the Government could not go back on you,” Wood had told him. That had been music to his ears, Brockway said, and he “accordingly took the position and received the pay; and that when Newcomb paid money to his assistants such as himself there were vouchers drawn up and sworn to by Marshal Murray, [so] he must have known what it was for” also, Brockway continued.

Shipman urged Brockway to hurry up, because he was taking “a good deal of time.”

Brockway then told Shipman he wanted the court to understand the motives of those now bent on sending him to prison. He was being wronged, and was laying it at the feet of Abner Newcomb, who unknown to the defendant was then on the payroll of BOTH (emphasis added) the U.S. Marshal’s Office in New York and the United States Secret Service. Brockway said that he had gone into federal service and remained in it for some time believing Newcomb his friend, that he had faithfully taught Newcomb his business, and that he and Newcomb had done business for several months “and did several things that would not bear scrutiny” (alluding to criminal activity). Furthermore Newcomb had told Brockway that if he had any friends in trouble and they were willing to pay they could be gotten off too.

Brockway said that he had then arranged a deal through Newcomb that Wood had approved to entrap a counterfeiter named Hod Wilson. Accordingly Brockway had rented a room, and that he and a friend of his, a counterfeiter named Dow, had put a press and plates in the room, and that Newcomb had given him a roll of bank note paper. They had struck off some notes, and word had gone out that a counterfeiting establishment was operating in the neighborhood so the Secret Service could make the bust, but it was all a “put up job,” according to Brockway.

They then lured Hod Wilson to the room, but Wood having smelled something of a rat, threatened Newcomb, who had then turned on Brockway fearing that his own complicity would get out and compromise his standing. “Brockway was proceeding to further attack Newcomb, when the Court again checked him, saying that these circumstances had nothing to do with his sentence,” the newspaper account continued.

Brockway summarily ended his harangue, and thanked the court.

Newcomb jumped up and asked for permission to address the court because, as he said, “he wished to show that all which Brockway had said was false.”

The judge declined accepting Newcomb’s statement, saying it was not proper. Shipman then proceeded to sentence Brockway.

“Brockway, you have, after a fair trial, been convicted of the offence of making counterfeit money,” the judge intoned. “Of your guilt there is not a shadow of doubt. Of the precise relation in which you stood to the enterprise we may not be exactly informed.” However, “upon the evidence, as it appeared on your trial, you were the principal—the owner of the plates, presses, paper and inks, and the owner or lessee of the building. You were found on the premises, though you escaped, either through your agility or through the carelessness or connivance of those who undertook to capture you. I am well aware that the seizure of your establishment at Mount Vernon was brought about by persons who are no better probably than you. Hickey, Clark and Spike, who conspired against you for purposes of plunder, were not officers of the Government, so far as I know. They evidently had some knowledge of you and your business, and thought to betray you for their own private gain. But that does not lessen your crime. You were willingly engaged in a nefarious and fraudulent business, by means of which honest people were to be cheated for your benefit.” Shipman said.

“You were a prominent, if not the principal actor in this work of fraud and forgery. The crime which you committed was an aggravated one. A series of similar offences has thrown upon the community millions of fraudulent currency, by which others have been swindled—often the poor out of their hard earnings. There are no paliating circumstances in you case. You voluntarily entered upon this business, and even drew your young half-brother into it, though I recollect the explanation which you have given of how he came to be brought in. And that you found a ready and willing tool or confederate in the old man Atkinson, does not diminish your offence. Even if you were his tool, it does not help your case. You knew better, and entered upon this business with a full knowledge of its guilty character, and the consequences which must follow detection, if you were to be dealt with as others have been under the same circumstances. It is true that you were taken into the employ of the Government, after your crime became known, as an assistant to the officer for the alleged purpose of aiding in the detection and punishment of other counterfeiters; and from some facts disclosed on the trial, I infer that those who employed you, gave you encouragement to believe that you would not be punished.

“Col. Wood, who says he has charge of the detective service of the Treasury Department, states that he authorized your employment, with a full knowledge of your crime. What promises he made you, if any, does not appear, nor is it material here. Your connection with the service was long after the commission of the offence for which you have been convicted.

“The Attorney General laid your case before the Grand Jury,” Shipman reminded Brockway. “They indicted you, and the petit jury found you guilty.”

“It is true, too, that Col. Wood presented himself in Court, sat by your counsel, and apparently aided in your defense, while the United States Attorney was pressing your conviction. We had thus had the unseemly spectacle before this Court of an officer of the Treasury Department encouraging the defense of a prisoner, while the regular prosecuting officers were presenting proofs of his guilt. This fact will not induce me to moderate your sentence. If promises of immunity have been made to you, you must look to those who made them to redeem them.

“The Government, by the regular officer appointed to conduct all prosecutions in this District, has presented your case to the jury, and they have found you guilty. It is my duty to pronounce the sentence of the law, and to inflict such a punishment as the facts proved warrant,” Shipman continued.

“The fact that you have been in the employ of agents of the Treasury who had full knowledge of your crime, does not change my duty. There is no law which exempts employes (sic) of the Government from punishment for their offences. Nor has Col. Wood, or any other person, except the President the power of pardon. No one has authority to regulate, by promises to felons, the clemency of this Court. So far as the prosecution or punishment of offenders depends upon executive officers of the Government, this Court looks to the District-Attorney and holds him responsible as the officer entrusted by law with the duty of informing the Court, of any official action that many have been taken by such officers, which requires judicial notice. I have explained this matter at length that there many be no mistake hereafter,” Shipman cautioned. Following his long lecture to defendant and Secret Service agents, Shipman leveled his gaze at the dock sizing up Brockway to mete out his punishment. “It only remains for me to pronounce the sentence of the law,” Shipman intoned. “As your case is an aggravated one, it is my duty to inflict a severe sentence. The judgment and sentence of the court is that you be imprisoned and kept at hard labor in the Penitentiary at Albany, in the State of New York, for the term of fifteen years and pay to the United States a fine of $1.”

The severity of his sentence must have taken Brockway’s breath away. His “get-out-of-jail-free card” had been canceled. The court had repudiated Secret Service protection of its informants and assistant operatives and warned Wood to desist interrogating suspects illegally across the river in New Jersey.

When Shipman called up Atkinson for sentence, the Secret Service chief was also hauled into further official censure. Shipman prefaced his sentence by recounting how Atkinson had turned state’s evidence and how Wood had assured him he should not be harmed. However, “You have pleaded guilty to an indictment charging you with making counterfeit money,” Shipman noted.

“It is my painful duty to pronounce the sentence of the law. Your counsel has feelingly appealed to me in your behalf. He has asked me to temper justice with mercy; and no one knows better than he does that, in administering justice in this Court, I have never inclined to undue severity. Where mitigating circumstances have appeared, I have lent a willing ear when asked to moderate punishment. Here there are no mitigating, but only aggravating circumstances. The extreme penalty of the law was intended for extreme cases. I consider your case extreme in every respect in which it can be reviewed. Your age does not mitigate your offence.

“Your wife may think herself fortunate that she has escaped the fate to which you are about to be consigned. Your children, according to the common course of events, could receive aid from you but little longer. A confirmed criminal at seventy-three, there is little hope of your reform. If there is any hope of your repentance that hope will not be diminished by consigning you to prison, where you will have abundant opportunities for serious reflection. Society has a right to be protected against you, and to that end the judgment and sentence of this Court is, that you be imprisoned and kept at hard labor in the Penitentiary at Albany, in the State of New York, for the term of fifteen years, and pay to the United States a fine of $1,” Shipman declared.

Like co-conspirator Brockway, Atkinson’s Secret Service “get-out-of-jail card” was also torn up by the federal judge’s ruling.

So Atkinson would join Brockway up-river for their crimes. But not only Brockway and Atkinson were losers in Shipman’s courtroom that day. The reputation of the U.S. Marshal’s Office and the United States Secret Service had been sullied from the bench and in the media. From newspaper editorials, and judge’s bench warnings, the gathering backlash that was rising against the federal anti-counterfeiting campaign led by Wood, was about to break wide open with the arrest of one of Wood’s Secret Service agents on bribery charges stemming from the Brockway affair.

 



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