Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Bill Bonelli Indicted on Bribery Charges by Grand Jury.

Webmaster's note.

William G. "Bill" Bonelli, founder of the Saugus Speedway, the Santa Clarita Water Company and the "Bonelli tract" in Saugus, was indicted in 1939 on charges of taking bribes from liquor distributors and running a protection racket on Los Angeles nightclub owners whose liquor licenses he controlled as their representative on the State Board of Equalization. (One question for the grand jury in 1939 was how he came up with $100,000 to buy the Saugus Speedway property and ranch land in Arizona.) He kept getting reelected, and the charges kept piling up. In 1955 he fled to Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, where he lived until his death in 1970. Nonetheless, he had many friends in the L.A. area and would occasionally show up in the Santa Clarita Valley while he was on the lam.

Bonelli Indicted in Liquor Pay-offs

Board of Equalization Member and Six Others Accused of Bribe Solicitation in Asserted $10,000,000 Shakedown

Click to enlarge.

William G. Bonelli, member of the State Board of Equalization, and six other men were indicted late yesterday by the grand jury on charges of bribe solicitation as the outgrowth of a month-long investigation of a $10,000,000 annual liquor license pay-off scandal.

Those named with Bonelli, who represents the Los Angeles and Southern California district, are:

Gilbert Forte, supervising inspector for the State board, declared to have accepted pay-offs from Main St. establishments maintaining B-girls;

Edward Levine, reputed brains of the syndicate, declared to have planned the shakedown;

Maier (Maxie) Joskowitz, confessed collector of the pay-off association;

Ray Huntsman, accused as strong-arm member of the extortion syndicate;

Burton Walters, secretary of the Associated Beverage Council, which assertedly acted under Bonelli's domination, exacting tribute from wholesale and retail liquor agencies, and

John Lewis, suspected of being the leading light in a plan to pack liquor-dispensing agencies, particularly barrooms and cafes, with "protected" bookmakers, after the move to legalize bookmakers in the Stale failed to pass at the last Legislature,

Sixty-Six Counts.

The indictment, it was learned, included one count of conspiracy to commit the crimes of giving and accepting bribes, grand thefts and the crimes of soliciting others to join in the offer of bribes."

Only one count of conspiracy was listed, but the truebill contained 66 counts of soliciting bribe offers.

Three John Does also were named defendants, giving rise to the rumor that others may soon be taken into custody as defendants in the case.

Intensified Inquiry.

The secret indictment, returned at 4:30 p.m., climaxed nearly three weeks of intensified investigation into charges that Bonelli sought to set himself up as a "czar" of the liquor industry here.

Not more than a half hour after Bonelli concluded his testimony before the jury, 16 members of the body filed into Superior Court Judge Clarence L. Kincaid's court and voted a true bill.

Thus ended a concerted investigation started by Dist. Atty. Buron Fitts following reports of independent cafe operators that they had been "shaken down" by representatives of an asserted syndicate which demanded from $20 to $40 a week pay-off under threat of causing the proprietors to lose their liquor licenses.

Bonelli in Denial.

Denying the charges, Bonelli yesterday was on the witness stand before the grand jury explaining his recent $100,000 ranch purchases in Arizona and near Saugus.

While testifying, it was learned, Bonelli admitted he is an intimate friend of Levine and had frequently consulted with him in performing his duties as a member of the State Board of Equalization.

Likewise, Bonelli admitted he had on numerous occasions borrowed money from Bill Simons, brother of Mike Lyman, cafe proprietor, and had applied the money borrowed on his ranch purchases.

Will Surrender.

Informed that the indictment was returned, Bonelli readily admitted he was willing to surrender to the Sheriff's office, probably today, to answer to the charges.

Bail for the seven accused conspirators was set at $15,000 each.

"As always, I want to say this is a trumped-up case against me, engineered by powerful liquor agencies whom I have consistently fought as a member of the board," Bonelli asserted.

"Due to my antagonism, I am convinced that those who sought to control the liquor industry here sought my scalp and fought my presence on the board in an effort to discredit me."

This was in direct rebuttal to charges of witnesses before the grand jury that Bonelli, using his official position on the hoard, used Levine, a lobbyist, and others in the asserted plot to control the sale of liquor throughout Southern California.

Meeting Told.

In this connection, Joskowitz testified that he met Bonelli in the latter's office following a conference with the late Attorney Clare Woolwine, and was introduced to Levine.

As an outgrowth of this conference, Joskowitz asserted he went to various Main St. and E. Fifth St. liquor dispensing establishments and there acted as collector for the asserted shakedown syndicate which collected $1,400 a month.

Testifying yesterday, his second day on the witness stand, Bonelli offered the grand jury an explanation of his extensive ranch holdings and asserted the money represented his life's savings and mortgages on his home.

He readily admitted, it was learned from sources close to the jury, that he now has 715 steers from the Arizona ranch being fattened in El Centro and expects to receive $50,000 at market prices from their anticipated sale.

Talk with Bodkin.

During his testimony Bonelli admitted close friendship with Levine and also that he talked with Henry Bodkin, Police Commissioner, regarding license difficulties affecting 23 establishments in the Los Angeles area.

Admitting he was cognizant of B-girl activities in downtown Los Angeles, according to reports, Bonelli is said to have told the jury he suggested revocation of the licenses of the 23 establishments.

He admitted that the personal reports relative to the 23 establishments which lost their licenses, assertedly without proper hearings, were guilty of violating rules prescribed by the board.

In this connection, it was learned, the original investigation reports of agents of the State board are missing, and are now the object of an extended search.

History of Liquor Pay-off Case as Told in True Bill.

Total of 41 Overt Acts and 67 Felony Counts Set Forth in 156-Page Document Accusing Seven.

Click to enlarge.

Politics, dating back to the time when William G. Bonelli was running for office on the State Board of Equalization in 1938, forms the background of the indictment returned by the county grand jury yesterday naming Bonelli, six others and three John Does as defendants.

They are charged with conspiracy and 66 counts of soliciting commission of a crime — bribery.

The true bill sets forth 41 overt acts and 67 felony counts in 156 pages of typewritten matter.

The first scene of the dramatic picture is placed in Los Angeles on or about Aug. 1, 1938, when the late Clare Woolwine, attorney, assertedly had a conversation with Maier Joskowitz suggesting that he contribute funds to Bonelli's campaign.

Mayor of Main St.

Joskowitz, also known as the Mayor of Main St., promised to give Woolwine about $500 for Bonelli's campaign fund, but insisted upon meeting the man personally, according to the indictment.

The next day, it is charged, Joskowitz met Woolwine and went to Bonelli's office where he was introduced to Edward E. Levine and that several days later gave Attorney Woolwine $500 for having introduced him to Levine and Bonelli.

Shortly afterward, according to the indictment, Joskowitz went to Levine's office and stated that he was having trouble getting his liquor licenses straightened out and requested Levine's aid. The licenses were soon restored to good standing, it is charged, as a result of this arrangement.

Collections Charged.

From this beginning, the situation soon developed into a wholesale graft scheme, the indictment charges, for Irvine assertedly called Joskowitz to his office and asked that he go to certain Los Angeles cafes operating with B-girls and raise money to pay off a deficit in Bonelli's campaign fund.

Declaring that his honesty might be questioned by the cafe owners, Joskowitz suggested that Gilbert Forte, supervisor of the downtown district for the Board of Equalization, accompany him to lend authenticity to their visits. Thereafter, it is charged, Levine arranged a meeting between the two men and they went out and collected $650 from cafe owners, $350 of which was handed over to Levine.

Further Charges.

Not long afterward, the indictment charges, Levine again called Joskowitz to his office and told him that he and other cafe owners in downtown Los Angeles operating with B-girls would have to pay so much a week to operate or lose their licenses, and again Joskowitz and Forte went out and collected funds from cafe owners, which they handed to Levine.

The true bill accuses Levine of demanding $25 a week from small cafes and more from larger ones.

Beginning in January, last, these collections were made regularly, it is charged, under threats that certain E. Fifth St. cafe owners would be closed up by the Board of Equalization unless they paid the money. In delivering these collections to Levine, Joskowitz and Forte were told that Bonelli would get his share, according to the indictment.

List of Cafe Owners.

Listed as some of the cafe owners who paid money to the two men are Don Ritton, Sam Webber, Tona Ness, William Ness, Sam Mellos, Bert Wadley, Joe Cooper, Ben Gold, Max Silverman and William Mitchener. The payments assertedly ranged from S10 to $40 a week.

Levine then ordered that similar collections be made from Main St. cafe owners, it is charged, and Joskowitz and Forte began collecting money from them so successfully that the total collections reached $350 a week, and soon afterwards when Levine left town, he received $1,100 a month from Joskowitz and Forte.

'Legal Services.'

When rumors of investigation into the situation were heard, Attorney Woolwine cautioned Joskowitz and Forte to have the money paid to another attorney, Louis Most, the indictment asserts, and have him give a receipt to the cafe owners once a month "for legal services."

But, according to the grand jury's accusation, Levine called Joskowitz to his office and declared: "I have heard that you and other cafe owners and operators who have been paying this weekly pay-off are now paying the money and giving the money to a lawyer to make it look good. The Boss doesn't like that. He thinks that it is dangerous to have a lawyer mixed up in this and you will have to stop that."

Trouble on Horizon.

It was stopped, and thereafter Ray Huntsman was chosen to receive the money, receiving a fee of $25 a week to collect it under an agreement with Joskowitz.

Then trouble appeared over the horizon and Joskowitz, it is charged, went to Levine saying:

"Things are getting pretty hot in the city. The city might cause us some trouble and has caused some trouble to some of the people that have been paying off. I am getting worried. What can we do about it?"

Joskowitz Worries.

"Don't worry," Levine assertedly answered. "The city is being taken care of by Ray Haight." (Haight was then a member of Mayor Bowron's Police Commission.)

The indictment then charges that the conspiracy broadened after that, and Irvine asked Joskowitz to get him a list of all places on Seventh and Hill St. operating with B-girls and Max Silverman went with Joskowitz on a survey of the districts to obtain the list.

Fear again besieged Joskowitz, according to the grand juror's charges, for he assertedly went to Levine and said that he believed he was being followed and that the city intended to close many of the places operating with B-girls and Levine assertedly told him, "Well, I will have to see the boss."

Christmas Pajamas.

It was finally decided, the grand jury charges, that a notice should be sent to all establishments in the downtown districts to discontinue the practice of using B-girls at midnight, Aug. 5, 1939, and the order was delivered to all such cafe operators.

Christmas was not overlooked by Joskowitz, either, it is charged, for among the overt acts the grand jury sets up a charge that Joskowitz, in furtherance of the conspiracy, purchased three pairs of pajamas for Bonelli, Levine and Woolwine and had their initials embroidered on them for Christmas gifts in 1938.

At this time the B-girl situation in Los Angeles became such a subject of controversy that steps were taken to provide an alibi by causing revocation of licenses of other places operating with them that had not been paying off, the grand jury charges.

Licenses Revoked.

A list of names of such places submitted to the State Board of Equalization in Sacramento resulted in their licenses being revoked, the indictment states. But two of the names on this list, Samuel W. Wershub, 324 S. Main' St., and Charles Roselli, 614 E. Seventh St., were placed on the list by mistake and when Joskowitz informed Levine of the error, their licenses were restored, at once, according to the true bill.

The indictment also sets forth other overt acts supporting its charge that the defendants entered into a conspiracy seeking money from eastern wholesale liquor distributors and held numerous meetings with William Simon, Parker S. Childs, Gus Kallas and others and received certain sums of money, the amount of which is unknown to the grand jurors.

Fitts' Charge.

As a result of this phase of the conspiracy, it is charged, licenses were suspended in California for the National Distillers Products Corp., Frankfort Distilleries Inc., and Schenley Distilleries Inc.

Thereafter, the indictment states, the licenses of 23 retail liquor dealers were suspended, a charge was placed against McKesson & Robbins Inc., charging violation of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Act, and a similar charge was placed against Young's Market Co.

There the story ends, as for as the terse language of the overt acts set forth in the indictment are concerned. The activities suddenly ceased, Dist. Atty. Fitts charges, soon after his office brought the investigation out into the open.


* Saugus Speedway
* Bonelli House


Grand Jury Indictment 1939


Calls for Midnight Liquor Curfew 1942

Bio from Billion Dollar Blackjack (1954)

Charges Reinstated 1971

Pollack Story 2011

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