The Corrupt New York Congressman Who Faced Prison Time and Made a Daring Escape

One hundred and fifty years ago, Rep. George Santos faced a series of financial crime charges, much like former New York congressman William Magear "Boss" Tweed did in the past. Tweed was accused of misappropriating public funds and faced 55 charges, each involving multiple counts. In November 1873, he was found guilty of 102 separate crimes, resulting in a 102-year sentence. The jury had to provide a written breakdown of the indictment due to the numerous verdicts. Tweed's conviction added to the scandal surrounding him, as he was a powerful figure in 19th-century New York.

Despite the extensive charges against him, Tweed managed to evade prison and was later incarcerated again. His journey began with humble origins, as he grew up on Cherry Street in today's Lower East Side. Leaving school at the age of 11, Tweed worked in his family's furniture-making business. He later joined the Americus "Big Six" volunteer fire company, known for its tiger artwork on the pump wagon and rival brawls during fire responses. Eventually, Tweed became the crew's foreman and caught the attention of Tammany Hall, a private group and Democratic political machine that supported immigrants in New York by providing shelter, jobs, and food.

Initially declining Tammany's offer to run as an alderman, Tweed eventually accepted in 1851. He had witnessed vote-buying during the 1844 presidential election and decided to utilize his bookkeeping skills, which he learned from his father while working in his store.

Tweed was chosen as alderman for the Seventh Ward in New York in 1851 and successfully ran for the House of Representatives the following year. Although he was unsuccessful in his bid for re-election to the House, by 1856 he had been elected as school commissioner and later became a member of the New York County Board of Supervisors. In 1867, he was elected to the state Senate.

Tweed's popularity was not a coincidence; he took advantage of the city's immigrant communities by selling citizenship documents. These documents were issued by compliant local judges in exchange for a promise to vote for Tweed. By 1863, he was exempting workers, police, and fire crews from conscription during the Civil War or allowing them to pay a $300 fee instead.

His power continued to grow. In 1870, Tweed used the Democratic majorities in the state legislature to introduce a new charter that changed the governing structure of New York City. This charter gave local representatives more control over political appointments. Tweed then appointed his friends to influential positions, many of whom praised his hardworking public image and civic accomplishments.

As a result, Tweed played a role in the construction of Central Park Zoo, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Upper West Side, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Brooklyn Bridge. With the authority to oversee construction contracts, he skimmed off money - usually 15 to 35 percent - from city development projects through his board of supervisors.

Tweed's associates also benefited financially. Together, they bribed, stole, and misused millions of dollars from New York's budget through falsified leases, inflated service prices, and purchases from co-conspirators. Selected companies deliberately carried out subpar construction work that required subsequent repairs - repairs that other bidders connected to the Tweed Ring would handle.

One scheme involved delaying the construction of New York's pneumatic transit system, a precursor to today's subway. Tweed had significant investments in streetcar and omnibus lines and saw the potential new alternative as a threat to his income.

As Tweed's control over the city tightened, his corruption became increasingly brazen. A reform movement emerged, demanding his imprisonment. Prominent figures such as George Jones, publisher of the New York Times; Samuel J. Tilden, a prominent reform lawyer; and Thomas Nast, a cartoonist for Harper's Weekly, were among the voices calling for Tweed's prosecution. Despite bribery attempts by Tweed's representatives.

طلحة عبد الكريم
By : طلحة عبد الكريم
مدير و محرر مدونة الموقع التقني.