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THE 1961 LIQUOR SCANDAL

In the 1950s, the procedures for issuing licenses to establishments selling liquor hadn't changed since the city was founded. The City Council could issue only 1 license per person, but 1 person could have an interest in several establishments. In 1959, the state legislature banned anyone from having a financial interest in more than 1 bar, night club or liquor store.

On June 21, 1961, came a crack-down. Three aldermen were indicted: George Johnson (8th Ward), for Malfeasance and bribery; Romeo Riley (7th Ward), for Malfeasance; and Frank Wolinski (3rd Ward), for unlawful interest in a lease by a public official. Also indicted were Harry Smull, for multiple ownership of liquor establishments, and several members of the notorious Kid Cann Syndicate, including Cann himself (aka Isadore Blumenfeld), who was serving time in Leavenworth.

All 3 of the aldermen were serving only until July. None had been re-elected in June. This fact had a impact on the result of the affair.

At the time of the indictments, some interesting information was already known about these aldermen and the liquor establishment. Lake Street Liquor Store, for example, was owned by Kid Cann. The store had loaned Alderman Johnson a total of $12,000 between 1953 and 1956. According to the store's books, the loans were written off as bad debt. Romeo Riley bought the property at 1922 Hennepin (in his Ward) in 1959, and soon afterward a liquor license was granted that spot. Frank Wolinski was President of Crystal Pool Health Club. The club building was owned by the city and leased to private organizations. The City Council handled leasing the building, on the recommendation of its Public Grounds and Buildings Committee. Wolinski chaired the Committee while president of the Club. At least 50 of the city's retail liquor store and bar owners were members.

In September 1961, Judge Hall dismissed all 26 indictments, ruling that the 1959 law was unconstitutional. In October, Frank Wolinski was acquitted of having an unlawful interest in the Crystal Pool. a Shortly after, George Johnson, too, was acquitted of bribery. On Nov. 6 Hennepin County Attorney George M. Scott asked that the malfeasance indictments against Riley and Johnson be dismissed. He felt the cases were weak and convictions unlikely, with the aldermen now out of office. Changing the liquor license laws was now up to the City Council. The City Council didn't relax its liquor policies, however, until the 1970s.

— Neal Baxter

Highwood Press — Minneapolis, MN — (612) 872-9156

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