“Sad news here. You’re under arrest.”
If you heard these words you knew you had crossed paths with Isidore “Izzy” Einstein and his partner Moe Smith and that you had screwed up!
Einstein and Smith were Prohibition Agents who worked in New York between 1920 and 1925 and were colorful characters. As was the case with most Prohibition agents they were not professional lawmen. In fact Izzy transferred from his job at the US Post Office and Moe sold cigars. The duo’s method of nabbing law breakers was due to Izzy’s knack for languages and the pair disguising themselves. Izzy spoke Yiddish, Polish, Bohemian, Hungarian, German and pretty decent Italian. Never playing the same characters two days in a row, they would go out in search of a drink and when they were served the cuffs would come out and they would deliver the same “Sad News….” line.
News about the portly Prohibition Agents (Izzy was 5’5″ and 225 pounds, Moe was around the same build) spread throughout the city and many bartenders kept a warning notice behind the bar to keep an eye out for them. The problem was that they never looked or acted the same. Izzy and Moe became a national sensation. In one instance Moe jumped in to freezing water so Izzy could rush him, dripping wet, into a Speakeasy to seek help. When a nice warming shot of booze was passed to the couple in an effort to help, the bartender heard ” Sad news here!” Another instance had the pair disguise themselves as muddy football players looking to cool off at an ice cream vendors that sold more than ice cream. The vendor got some time to cool off! One time, Izzy even played……a Prohibition Agent! Tossing his badge on the bar in a Bowery bar room he told the bartender..
“How about a pint of whiskey for a deserving Prohibition Agent?”
Thinking the short portly guy was a great wit, he sold it to him. But he wasn’t amused for long. Some of the disguises Izzy and Moe used: German pickle packer, Polish Count, Hungarian violinist, Jewish gravedigger, French maître d’, Italian fruit vendor, Russian fisherman, Chinese launderer, streetcar conductor, ice deliverer, Opera singer, truck driver. Judge, traveling cigar salesman, street cleaner, Texas cattleman, movie extra, football player, beauty contest judge, grocer, lawyer, librarian, Rabbi, college student, musician, plumber, delegate to the Democratic National convention.
Isidore was born in 1880 somewhere in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He immigrated to the United States in 1901. Izzy married a woman named Esther in 1906 who was also an immigrant from Galicia Spain which was also part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the time. Esther was brought to the States as a toddler in 1891. Izzy and Esther would have seven children, the first two of which died before 1910. Izzy first found work as a salesman and then later landed a job working for the Post Office but he struggled to support his family on that salary.
Moe was born in New York around 1887. He would marry an immigrant woman named Sadie Strauch, also born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, sometime before 1920. They would have one child together in 1925. Moe started his working life as a cigar salesman and boxer. He later managed a fight club and owned a cigar store. Then his friend asked him to become his partner.
It’s not exactly known how Izzy and Moe met each other but it appears they were both Masons of Emanuele Lodge and likely met each other through that fraternal order. Reportedly neither man was much of a believer in Temperance or Prohibition but they did believe the law should be upheld. The pair would use the press to get attention to their exploits. After finding out that Monday mornings were a typically slow period for news the couple started to conduct raids on Sundays so they could get the most print in the next days papers. One Sunday they managed to conduct 72 raids. Eventually those scofflaw bartenders/waiters/bootleggers wouldn’t serve anyone if there was even a rumor that Moe and Izzy were in the area and the action began to slack a bit for the dynamic duo. The pair were a national sensation by now of course and other cities began to ask for the help of the pair so as a goodwill gesture his New York Office lent Izzy out to other cities around the country to catch those elusive, lawless drinkers (No word if Moe was with him). He went to El Paso, Providence and Detroit. In Detroit a bartender refused to pour him a drink and Izzy asked why. “Because you’re that Izzy Epstein.” “You mean Einstein” replied Izzy. The bartender insisted it was Epstein so Izzy bet him a drink, a bet the bartender accepted. After Izzy showed his ID and the bartender poured the drink he heard “Sad news here. You’re under arrest.” Izzy bragged that he could find a drink in under 30 minutes in any city he went to. Chicago and St. Louis…. it took 21 minutes, 17 minutes in Atlanta and 11 in Pittsburgh. The only time he failed to find a liquor libation in less than that time was in Washington D.C.
But you might have been wondering what this has to do with New Orleans. Well, the Crescent City was where Einstein set his record for obtaining the fastest illegal drink. After leaving the train station and getting into a cab he asked the cabbie where he could cure his thirst. The hack reached under his seat grabbing a bottle, then reached back with the cure for his fare’s thirst. The cuffs went around the hack’s wrist and he heard
“Sad news here….”
It took all of 35 SECONDS!!
Izzy and Moe worked for the Treasury Department from 1920 to 1925. The official reason the pair lost their jobs was due to restructuring the New York department Unofficially it was rumored that the new head of operations, Lincoln Andrews, and other officials in Washington D.C. were unhappy about the amount of attention and press that the agents got and the restructuring was the perfect excuse to get rid of them. Both went to work as insurance agents and reportedly did well through the Depression years. In 1932 Izzy wrote a book about his time as an agent and dedicated Prohibition Agent No. 1 to the 4,932 people they had arrested saying “Hoping they bear me no grudge for doing my duty.” Izzy died in February 1938 several days after having a leg amputated (possibly because of diabetes). Moe died in 1960 in Yonkers, New York.
Upon their deaths each man got some space in Time magazine with an obituary listing their accomplishments as Prohibition agents. Of their almost 5000 arrests they had a 95% conviction rate and confiscated around 5 million bottles of booze. In 1985 a movie was made about the pair recounting their time as agents.