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Organized crime, corruption part of Reading's history

By Ryan Hughes, Reporter, RHughes@wfmz.com
Published On: Feb 18 2013 04:13:33 PM CST
Updated On: Feb 18 2013 04:59:34 PM CST

It was a dark chapter in Reading's history -- a time when mobsters and organized crime were in control.

READING, Pa. -

It was a dark chapter in Reading's history -- a time when mobsters and organized crime were in control. The Pretzel City was better known as "sin city."

It was a city crippled by corruption and organized crime. Reading was overrun by rackets, and alliances were reportedly forged between pistol-packing mobsters and elected officials.

According to historians, organized crime in Reading dates as far back as the 1920s under leader Max Hassel. During the Depression, it was Tony Moran. At its peak in the 50s and 60s, Abe Minker brought criminal activity under his control. He became known as "The General."

"Minker was the kingpin, yes, for a good 10 years," said Ed Taggert, a local historian and former newspaper reporter in Reading, who witnessed the organized crime firsthand. "We had gained quite a reputation, by then, that we had a pretty wide open town here. Number writing and the gambling machines, they were both very big, and they made a lot of money."

Back then, it was easy to place a number bet or a horse bet. In a four block radius, experts said you would have run into three or four number writers. It could be a nickel or dime bet, and by the end of the week, corner stores were earning nearly 40 percent of the take.

According to Taggert, city leadership was considered the crux of the corruption. Danny McDevitt was elected mayor in 1956. After him, John Kubacki's administration was voted in.

Elected officials received kickbacks on the illegal activity in Reading, said Taggert. He detailed these dark days in his book, "When the Rackets Reigned."

"Kubacki got elected and he took it over and right away, he was worse than McDevitt was. He wanted his finger in everything," said Taggert.

Kubacki could be seen eating dinner with Minker. At that time, detective Charlie Wade was gunning to be police chief in the city. He supported Kubacki, but he quickly learned the facts of political life. He would have to pay his way in.

"I bought the job. It was a disgusting way to reach the pinnacle of what I always dreamed of," Wade said during a television documentary about Reading, called, "The Corrupt City."

Law enforcement was, at best, considered lax regarding racketeering. Officers were often times told to look the other way, said Taggert.

Stratton Marmarou was on the force and became detective 1st class in 1965.

"Do what you have to do, but don't overstep," recounted Marmarou. "Do as much as you can just to resolve it, and a lot of times you could."

In 1962, J. Edgar Hoover sent a brigade of FBI agents into Reading. More than 100 gamblers were arrested.

In 1965, after being indicted for perjury, Charlie Wade testified to a grand jury.

According to "The Corrupt City," 'Former chief Wade's testimony was instrumental in sending "The General" to federal prison on charges of extortion and conspiracy.'

Kubacki was also taken down and convicted. Soon after, organized racketeering eventually lost control in the city.

Decades later, Reading has changed. The gangsters may be gone, but is the city any safer?

69 News will answer that question and have more on crime then and now. Tune in Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. on the Berks Edition.