Counterfeiting story gets an added twist in attempted extortion

The story of Latvian counterfeiters Albert Leon, Fred Marneek, and Rudolph Swanson, outlined in an earlier post, keeps getting more interesting. Among the twists is one that could be filed under “No Honor Among Thieves.”

Recently obtained documents from the National Archives have provided some details on proceedings in the U.S. District Court in Chicago, where the three men were indicted in late 1911 by a federal grand jury. They were accused of counterfeiting $10 bills.

Marneek and Swanson were arrested by federal authorities in Chicago, while Leon managed to get away to New York. From there, according to reports, he was hoping to board a ship bound for South America. But federal authorities caught up with Leon and he was returned to Chicago to face prosecution.

Mittenberg bench warrant
A bench warrant for the arrest of Fred Mittenberg was issued in November 1911. (National Archives at Chicago)

While Leon was in New York, according to another grand jury indictment, a Latvian immigrant in Chicago named Fred Mittenberg wrote a letter to the counterfeiting expert. Mittenberg said he would not reveal Leon’s whereabouts if Leon paid him $300. That, according to the federal prosecutor, amounted to obstruction of justice. Mittenberg was arrested Nov. 15, 1911, and taken to the Kane County Jail in Geneva, Illinois. What happened to him after that has yet to be determined.

Mittenberg was born Jan. 14, 1889, in Latvia. He came to the United States in June 1907, arriving in New York aboard the S.S. Arconia, according to his Declaration of Intention. When he filed his Naturalization Petition in 1917, he was living in California.1 He noted on the petition that he was an honorably discharged soldier in the U.S. Army, having served in the Signal Corps, and that he was studying at the North Island Aviation School in San Diego.

That final bit of information is interesting, because the San Diego school is where Oscar Littchen, another person of interest in the counterfeiting case, became an instructor of navigation. Littchen, Leon, and Marneek were connected through land deals during 1910 in Beaumont, California, where Littchen and Marneek were among organizers of The Baltic Farm and Orchard Association. The association was founded as a Latvian immigrant cooperative to buy and manage land for fruit orchards.

1. U.S., Naturalization Records, 1840-1957 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.