Behind Every Great Fortune There is a Crime

Behind Every Great Fortune There is a Crime
James Willis Hensley and his 1948 arrest mugshot, from Kontar 7.

Behind every great fortune there is a crime.
— Attributed to Honoré de Balzac (1799 – 1850), in

 I’m very proud of Cindy’s father. He’s a guy who barely got out of high school, fought in World War II in the Army, came home and made a business and made the American dream.
— Senator John McCain
to Jay Leno on the “Tonight Show,” August 25, 2008 (video)

My father had nothing. He and my mother sold everything they had to raise $10,000. I’m proud of what my dad and my mother did and what they built and left me.  And I intend to carry their legacy as long as I can.
Cindy Lou Hensley McCain, on “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,”  August 30, 2008 (video)

With all due respect to Ms. McCain, it seems that her father, James Willis (“Jim”) Hensley, was set up in the beer distribution business by Kemper Marley, a businessman and landowner with ties to gambling and other rackets, who owned two Arizona liquor distribution companies and employed Mr. Hensley and his brother Eugene.

The Hensleys were convicted of multiple federal felony counts of selling black-market whiskey and  a Federal conspiracy charge after their falsified liquor sales invoices, prepared in a criminal conspiracy benefiting Kemper Marley, were brought to the attention of the Alcohol Tax Unit at the U.S. Treasury Department. 

 Jim Hensley received a fine, a suspended two-year sentence, and probation; his brother Eugene went to prison for a year. The most readable account of these years is by John Dougherty and Amy Silverman.

James Hensley went back to work for Kemper Marley’s liquor distribution company, and was back in federal court in 1953, charged with falsifying tax records, but charges against Hensley and other company officers were dropped, and only the company was brought to trial, found not guilty.

Kemper Marley was never convicted of a crime and died in 1980, worth $28 million. If he is remembered at all today, it is as the man police suspected of ordering the car-bomb murder of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles in 1976.

If James Hensley sold anything to get start-up capital for his beer company, it was probably his share of the Ruidoso Downs racetrack in New Mexico. The Hensley brothers bought controlling interest in the racetrack in 1952. After prison, brother Eugene and his wife had operated Phoenix nightclubs, including one named “Hensley’s Horseshoe Bar.”

As convicted felons with ties to known gamblers, James and Eugene Hensley should not have been able to buy the racetrack, nor should they have sold a third of the enterprise to Phoenix gambler Clarence E. “Teak” Baldwin. James sold his share of Ruidoso Downs after three years, but Eugene Hensley retained part ownership of the track, and became embroiled in later skimming and tax-evasion issues.

James Hensley sold his interest in Ruidoso Downs in April 1955. Company mythology gives this as the founding year of Hensley & Co., now the third largest Anheuser-Busch distributor in the United States.

The McCains edit out the decades between James Henley’s decorated wartime service and 1955, glossing over the squalid and the criminal, saying that hard work and sacrifice built their fortune. James Hensley does seem to have worked hard for crime boss Kemper Marley; he certainly sacrified weeks in jail, months in the courtroom, and a clean criminal record for him.

The question is not how James Hensley got start-up capital for his beer distribution business, but how this convicted felon received federal and state permits to distribute beer at all.

This is the American Dream, the John and Cindy McCain version.

NotionsCapital has heard the unproven rumors about Joseph P. Kennedy and bootlegging before; save them for your own blog.  J.P.’s dad started as a saloonkeeper before prohibition, and J.P.’s company imported scotch and gin when it ended.  James Hensley was convicted of federal liquor and conspiracy felonies; don’t kid yourself into thinking it’s the same.

3 Responses to “Behind Every Great Fortune There is a Crime”

  1. No-Talk Express — Re-Doubled « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] anybody see the manuscript of the book you cancelled, the one that explains that your father was a federal felon and his mob connections got him the stake for his beer fortune. Shred the chapter that describes […]

  2. Palin Pals Around With Admitted Drug Thief and Addict « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] You would think Governor Palin would avoid resorting to “Guilt by Association,” since she regularly “pals around” with an admitted felon who stole prescription drugs from a children’s charity to feed her own drug habit: Cindy McCain. Mrs. McCain paid her debt to society, sentenced to a vacation at an expensive celebrity spa. Of course, felony runs in the family. […]

  3. John McCain — From Spoiled Brat to Grumpy Old Man « NotionsCapital Says:

    […] before staking him to a Congressional race and, later, the Senate seat vacated by Barry Goldwater. Jim Hensley also introduced McCain to wealthy business associates and political donors, including Charles […]

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