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Willard Powell

In March 1910, Willard Powell, a horse owner and jockey from Denver, Colorado, was tried with a group of men for conspiracy to defraud by unlawful use of the United States mails in promoting betting on fake sporting events. He was convicted in the United States District Court, Southern District of Iowa and sentenced to two years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Powell was pardoned by President Taft three months later, based on evidence that Powell was actually in Florida during the time when the victim who identified Powell had been swindled.
Willard Powell’s conviction was primarily the result of the testimony of Henry Stogsdill, a stock trader and storeowner from Cabool, Missouri. In March 1908, Stogsdill was approached by his friend, William Scott, about a money making scheme. Scott introduced Stogsdill to an old acquaintance of his, Billy Conners. Conners claimed to have a cousin in Denver, Colorado, named Frank Maxwell, who had access to a group of millionaires. According to Scott and Conners, Maxwell could arrange for Scott, Conners, and Stogsdill to profit off the millionaires’ high-stakes betting. However, Stogsdill would have to put a substantial amount of money up front to be involved. Conners and Scott duped Stogsdill into traveling with them to Denver to meet with Maxwell and become involved in what was, unbeknownst to Stogsdill, a fraudulent betting scheme. The scheme played out as Scott and Conners intended, and they took off with a substantial amount of Stogsdill’s money.
In the spring of 1908, J. S. Swenson, an investigator for the U.S. Post Office Department, was assigned to investigate various swindling schemes that had been reported to the authorities. He discovered that John C. Mabray was the ringleader of the scheme in which Scott and Conners were involved.
Between January and February 1909, Mabray was arrested in Little Rock, Arkansas. In his trunk, authorities found a documentary record of the operations of the gang, showing that millions of dollars had been collected by them and that nearly two hundred people had assisted in one way or another in carrying out the swindle. Also in the trunk was a list of the victims and a detailed history of each transaction. In fourteen cities where the scheme was worked, post-office lock boxes had been rented.
On September 23, 1909, a Federal Grand Jury in Iowa indicted Mabray and approximately 80 co-defendants, including Willard Powell, for conspiracy to use the U.S. mail to defraud under Section 5480 of the Revised Statutes of the United States.
On March 1910, seventeen of the defendants, including Willard Powell, were tried before Judge Smith McPherson in the United States District Court, Southern District of Iowa, Western Division, at Council Bluffs. George H. Mayne represented Powell. The trial began on March 11, 1910 and lasted for ten days, during which time the prosecution called numerous swindled victims. Stogsdill testified in great detail regarding his experience. The prosecution was able to corroborate Stogsdill’s testimony since the government had induced William Scott to turn state’s witness and tell the whole story. However, none of the men involved in Stogsdill’s swindle were on trial.
Two other witnesses, Joseph Walker and John Sizer, testified that Willard Powell knew and associated with certain people involved in the scheme. Sizer testified that Powell was a jockey in the gambling scheme in which $8,500 was lost. He testified that Powell deliberately “took me down the chutes and cleaned me for the eighty-five hundred.”
On the seventh day of trial, Stogsdill was recalled by the prosecution and identified Powell as one of the swindlers present in Denver. Although at trial Stogsdill could not remember the date of the race (he testified it was sometime between March 20 and April 10, 1908) or the name of the hotel at which he had registered, he was able to identify Powell with great certainty.
Powell’s attorney argued that Powell was in Cuba in March 1908 and that he had not returned to Denver until after the middle of April. Powell produced witnesses to corroborate the alibi. However, Stogsdill could not fix the date of the horse race, and the defense was unable to win over the jury.
On March 20-21, 1910, Powell and fourteen other defendants were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud by unlawful use of the United States mails in promoting betting on fake sporting events. On March 21, 1910, Judge McPherson sentenced Powell to the maximum penalty under the statute, two years in the penitentiary at Leavenworth and a fine of $10,000.
On March 26, 1910, nine of the defendants who had been found guilty, including Powell, filed an Assignment of Errors requesting that the decision of the district court be reversed based on the district court’s error in admitting certain evidence and testimony.
Between April and June 1910, Powell’s defense was able to determine that the date of the race at issue was March 28, 1908. This determination was made using Stogsdill’s hotel records in Denver, which the defense had been able to locate after the trial.
Using ship passenger lists, the defense was also able to determine the dates that Powell had arrived in and returned from Havana, Cuba. The ship passenger lists confirmed that Powell did not return to Florida until March 26, 1908, and the defense was able to find evidence corroborating that Powell had remained in Florida until April 8, 1908. This evidence was further supported by affidavits from reputable citizens confirming the fact that Powell was in Florida during this time. The new evidence regarding the timeline and Powell’s whereabouts was submitted to Judge McPherson, who believed that it was a case of mistaken identity and recommended a pardon. The attorney general concurred with the recommendation.
On July 12, 1910, President Taft granted Powell a full pardon based on the recommendation of the attorney general.
Four years later, Powell began to act as an informer for the State of Illinois attorney’s office, and was pivotal in the 1914 drive against bunco men. He assisted the Chicago Police Department and sent other swindlers to prison by turning State’s evidence and obtaining immunity.
On or about March 25, 1921, Powell was shot five times and killed while dining at a resort hotel in St. Augustine, Florida. The shots were fired in such a way that the bullets came from more than one gun. The gunmen escaped.
— Researched by Rachel Rosati Warner
State:IA - Federal
Most Serious Crime:Fraud
Reported Crime Date:1908
Sentence:2 years and $10,000 fine
Age at the date of crime:38
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID