January 28, 1910
Little Italy was never before stirred as it was yesterday, when the announcement was made that Peter Isnardi, consular agent of the United States government, had left for parts unknown. Several hundred Italians are worried about sums aggregating about $12,000, the savings of years, which they had deposited with him. Most of those who entrusted their money to Isnardi were railroad section hands and laborers, recent arrivals from Sunny Italy, and unable to speak the English language. Some had been saving to pay the passage of wives or sweethearts to the land of promise; others that they might some day return to their old homes in Italy and to pass the sunset of their lives among friends and amid familiar scenes and surroundings.
A subscription paper will be started today by J. P. Deo, publisher of an Italian newspaper at 210 East Fifth street, to raise money with which to hire lawyers and detectives to seek Isnardi. A committee of Italians will call upon the United States district attorney today to learn what can be done in the matter.
"We intend to secure an order tomorrow from the prosecuting attorney," said Deo last night, "to open Isnardi's safe. He kept all his books locked in it. Not until we can see the books will we know the facts in the case."
A telegram was sent to the minister of foreign affairs at Rome to find whether or not the money that Isnardi was to forward to the bank at Rome was ever received there.
The Italian consul-general at Chicago announced yesterday that the Kansas City office would be abolished. Roma Ladife, vice consul at Chicago, arrived here yesterday to close the office. He took possession of the Italian flag, which hung in front of the agency at 512 East Fifth street, also the seal of the Italian government and the coat-of-arms. Consul Guido Sabetta, in Chicago, that the Italian government funds were not involved.
In addition to occupying the office of consular agent, Isnardi operated a private bank. This was wholly outside of his official duties, and for any losses that might occur the Italian government is in no way responsible. The consular agent is supposed to have received nearly $8,000 in savings of Italians in the three and one-half years he has held the office. The remaining $4,000 is money he collected for steamship tickets and to be sent to Italy, to be deposited in the bank of Rome.
Local Italians were opposed to Isnardi from the day he was appointed. charges have been filed against him several times with the Chicago office. Though there were rumors among Italians in Kansas City regarding the consular agent, deposits continued to come from those who lived in the country or in railroad camps.
Ten per cent interest was offered by Isnardi on deposits. This was more than the Italian Central bank at Rome pays, which they had all known in Italy. The Italian bank pays 3 1/2 per cent on time deposits. Those who did not want to send their money to Rome could deposit it with their consular agent, Peter Isnardi, in his private bank.
The office of consular agent pays no salary. It is an honorary position. Isnardi had no other business here, and no apparent private income. The Italians say his sole income was from money he collected from his private bank.
Isnardi succeeded G. G. Lanvereri as consular agent in Kansas City. Isnardi was appointed by Count A. L. Rozwadowski, who died shortly after the appointment. His office was in Chicago. Signor Sabetta succeeded him. A committee of Italians went to Chicago when the count died and asked for the removal of Isnardi. Charges of dishonesty were made against him, but Sabetta refused to act without first having an investigation.
Before his appointment as consular agent here, Isnardi was a traveling book agent. H represented an Italian publishing house and sold his books for $10 each. His home was then in Pueblo, Col. Isnardi was in Kansas City when the question of a vice consul arose.
Isnardi went immediately to Chicago. Count Rozwadowski and he had known each other in Italy. Against the protests of a committee of Kansas City Italians, who wanted a man from here appointed, Isnardi returned two weeks after the dismissal of Lancereri with the commission of consular agent. His appointment, though recommended by the consul at Chicago, was made directly by the foreign minister at Rome.
The consular agent is an American citizen. A consul general, however, must be a subject of the king. This being the case, as an American citizen, the Italians here think that Isnardi can be prosecuted under the laws of this state, in case the funds are not intact. The consul general, under the extra-territorial provision of international law, is immune from arrest and prosecution in the country where he represents his government.
"I will thoroughly investigate these charges," said Virgil Conkling, prosecuting attorney, last night. "If I find that consular agents are amenable to the laws of this state, Isnardi will probably be arrested and prosecuted."
A dozen complaints have been made the past two months at the prosecuting attorney's office against the consular agent. Isnardi was charged with taking money from Italians to send to the bank at Rome, and appropriating it to his own use. Two weeks ago today the consular agent was called to the prosecutor's office. There he was told that if he did not refund $800 to an Italian who gave him the money for deposit, that criminal action for embezzlement would be begun. He was given until March 1 to refund the money.
Isnardi left Kansas City January 16. His wife said yesterday he had gone to Chicago, but reports from that city say he has not been seen by the consul general. Mrs. Isnardi has been conducting the business since her husband left.
When the news that the office had been closed spread among the Italians in the North End a crowd of 200 m en and women, most of them depositors in the consular agent's private bank, gathered in front of Isnardi's office. At dark the crowd dispersed. when the door to the office would rattle a dog's bark could be heard. The dog had been turned loose in the office to prevent the angry foreigners from making a forcible entrance.
"What will you do if he does come back?" was asked one in the crowd.
"String him up," was the prompt answer of an Americanized Italian.
Labels: banking, Chicago, embezzlement, federal court, Fifth street, immigrants, newspapers, Prosecutor Conkling