The Land Journal recently sat down with Scott M. Deitche, author of Cigar City Mafia, to talk about the history of organized crime in Tampa.
Dietche pinpointed prohibition as the genesis of organized crime not only in Tampa, but around the nation. Prohibition was a constitutional ban on alcoholic beverages. It outlawed the importation, transportation, production, and sale of any alcoholic beverages. The idea of prohibition had been hotly debated in America throughout the later half of the nineteenth century with many believing alcoholism to be a blight on the average American family. The passage of the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1920 made prohibition the law of the land.
"What really gave organized crime it's boost in Tampa was Prohibition." Dietche said.
"Once prohibition started, Tampa became one of the larger points of entry for illegal booze into the United States." Dietche continued, "You have a very large natural protected harbor in Tampa Bay."
Dietche also described how many of Tampa's population were of Spanish and Italian descent, and still followed traditions of drinking a glass of wine with their dinner. To these communities, alcohol was not as taboo and controversial.
"You pretty soon had not only people just making their own little stuff in the basement, but it sort of began to lead to larger bootlegging operations. It was predominantly rum that was being brought up from the Caribbean and Cuba."
Dietche laid out how bootlegging operations in Tampa laid the groundwork and formed the infrastructure that would eventually traffic narcotics.
"By the mid-1920s, Tampa was second only to New York City as the largest point of entry for illegal narcotics. And you had a couple of major narcotics operations that were organized here in Tampa that distributed narcotics up and down not only the East Coast but also the Midwest."
To hear more about organized crime in Tampa, watch the video below. Click here for more articles about Florida History.