Played A Big Role
he used his involvement in boxing as a front for his other activities,
boxing played an important role in Boo Boo's life. In the late 1920s, he
had the largest stable of prizefighters in the nation, and he staged
boxing matches for many years at several Philadelphia sites. None of his
boxers won a world championship, but several were highly ranked contenders
in a period when boxing was a widely popular form of sports entertainment.
Boo Boo's stable of boxers became Max Hoff Inc. in 1928. It was the first
group of fighters in the nation to be incorporated.
of Boo Boo's most publicized ventures in boxing was the $350,000 lawsuit
he filed against Gene Tunney and his manager, Billy Gibson, in 1927. The
suit was based on a disputed agreement, which Hoff claimed was signed by
Tunney and Gibson the day before Tunney's first fight with the heavyweight
champion, Jack Dempsey, in 1926. Tunney won the historic battle, fought in
a driving rainstorm before a crowd of more than 120,000 fans - including
six governors and three cabinet secretaries - at Philadelphia's
Sesquicentennial Stadium (subsequently known as Municipal Stadium and JFK
Stadium before it was razed). Boo Boo said he loaned Tunney and Gibson
$20,000 as an advance to bind an oral agreement. Tunney and Gibson claimed
they needed money right away because they owed thousands of dollars to Tex
Rickards, who promoted the fight and had loaned them money to cover
training and other expenses. The deal called for Boo Boo to receive 20
percent of Tunney's championship fight earnings and to be joint-manager,
with Gibson, in exchange for the loan. According to newspaper accounts,
Hoff and Gibson signed the contract, but Tunney wrote "Eugene Joseph
Tunney" on the document. His real name was James Joseph Tunney.
Despite his insistence that he had a strong case, Boo Boo mysteriously
dropped the suit in 1931, without discussing a possible settlement with
A Fortune Dduring Prohibition
Boo kept a lower profile with his other activities until the late 1920s.
Although he had made his first million from small-time gambling operations
while he was still in his twenties, it wasn't until the Prohibition Era,
1919 to 1933, that he and his cronies made a fortune by taking advantage
of opportunities offered by the Volstead Act and corruption of police,
political and banking officials. His bootlegging operation included an
office with 175 phones and a weekly payroll of $30,000 in 1920s dollars.
Illegal booze manufacturing and distribution operations were netting Boo
Boo's syndicate an estimated $5 million annually by the late 1920s.
Transposed into current dollars, those profits would add to more than $50
Boo enjoyed the good life that went with being one of the nation's richest
gangsters. He hosted elaborate parties, where stars of the sports and
entertainment worlds partied with his cronies. One New Year's Eve, he
rented a hotel ballroom for a party in honor of Al Jolson, a top Broadway
entertainer at the time and the star of "The Jazz Singer," the
first "talkie" moving picture. The doors to the ballroom were
opened to anyone in evening clothes, and Boo Boo reportedly didn't know
half of the hundreds of guests. Boo Boo never smoked or drank. His idea of
fun at parties was to shoot tiny tinfoil pellets at guests with a rubber
band. He paid a boy to keep him supplied with the pellets. Some said he
could hit a target from as far away as 50 feet.
found out about his bootlegging operation when they read daily newspaper
accounts of a Grand Jury investigation, conducted over a seven-month
period in 1928 and 1929. Boo Boo, who wore a different outfit each of the
eight times he was called to the stand, was one of 748 witnesses who
Boo Boo insisted that he "was never connected to the liquor industry
in any way, shape or form," Philadelphia District Attorney John
Monaghan characterized him as "King of Philadelphia's
Bootleggers" during the investigation. Despite mountains of
circumstantial evidence against him, Boo Boo wasn't indicted because he
"had scrupulously avoided signing any documents connected to the
undercover operations," according to a New York Times reporter.
are just a few details that were revealed by the Grand Jury investigation:
Boo Boo and his cronies set up The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Co.,
which was a front for several industrial alcohol companies they took over
and operated. In just one three-month-period, for example, 350,000 gallons
of denatured alcohol were transported from the Publicker plant in South
Philadelphia by the Reading Railroad in large drums marked "tar"
and "asphaltum," to just one of the alcohol companies under the
syndicate's control. After it was processed, the alcohol was bottled and
fictitiously labeled as "hair oil" or "perfume."
Boo's association with the Union Bank and Trust Co. in Philadelphia
enabled him to finance the bootleg syndicate via a $10 million
money-laundering scheme. That's equivalent to more than $100 million
today. Normal banking procedures were waived, allowing Boo Boo to open 14
accounts, using the names of phantom depositors. The bank's president was
forced to resign after it was determined that he had served as a dummy
owner of several blocks of Atlantic City real estate, worth millions of
dollars, which were actually bought by Boo Boo and his friends.
ensure delivery of bootleg booze to speakeasies and restaurants, members
of the Philadelphia Police Department were paid off handsomely by
bootleggers and bar owners. It was estimated that the bribes paid to cops
by saloonkeepers totaled $2 million a year, in excess of $20 million
today. Of the 87 officers (including several inspectors, nearly half of
the precinct commanders and many detectives) who were questioned, many of
them were fired or resigned because they couldn't explain how they could
afford such sharp increases in their bank accounts and real estate and
stock holdings. One said he had made $7,000 in two years playing craps in
the Navy, and another said he generated thousands of dollars by raising
S. Goldberg, owner of Military Sales Co., which was operated out of the I.
Goldberg store in Philadelphia, admitted he had sold machine guns and
bulletproof vests to Hoff. On one raid, 450 machine guns were discovered
in the store's basement. In 1929, the New York City Police complained that
more than half of the machine guns they had confiscated had been purchased
$500,000 (more than $5 million now) worth of choice European liqueurs and
champagne--seized in a raid after a barge transported the cargo from a
ship in the Atlantic, towed it up the Delaware River to Rancocas Creek and
landed it near Mount Holly, N.J.--was traced to Boo Boo's gang.
New York Times reporter noted that Boo Boo "was often arrested but
never jailed, often accused but never convicted." However, Boo Boo's
luck ran out, especially after Prohibition was repealed in 1933. The IRS
sued him for $21,000 in unpaid income taxes; his home in the Cobbs Creek
Park area was sold by the sheriff for $1,500, and his car was sold to
cover $240 in back garage rent. It had a bullet hole in it. Also, he was
arrested at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station for allegedly attempting to
pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Although he also was accused of tearing up
several thousand dollars and washing them down a drain in the station's
lavatory, he was acquitted. Hard luck forced him to sell his last
entertainment venture, an ice cream parlor known as the Village Barn, near
the University of Pennsylvania campus.
Boo died broke on April 27, 1941, at the age of 48. His second wife,
Margaret, found his body in the bedroom of their West Philadelphia home.
His death was initially suspected of being a suicide because an
almost-empty bottle of sleeping pills, which he had been taking for three
years, was found on a table near the bed. However, an autopsy determined
that he died of a heart ailment.