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The Teapot Dome Trials: 1926-30

Fall Owed Eight Years' Back Taxes, "sluice-way For Ninety Percent Of The Corruption"

Defendants: Sherman Burns: trial 3; William J. Burns: trial 3; Henry Mason Day: trial 3; Edward L. Doheny: trials 1 and 8; Albert B. Fall: trials 1, 3, and 7; Harry F. Sinclair: trials 2, 3, and 4; and Robert W. Stewart: trial 6
Crimes Charged: Conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government: trials 1 and 4; Contempt of the U.S. Senate: trials 2 and 5; Contempt of court for jury shadowing: trial 3; Perjury: trial 6; Accepting a bribe: trial 7; Giving a bribe: trial 8
Chief Defense Lawyers: Frank J. Hogan, George P. Hoover, Wilton J. Lambert, William E. Leahy, Martin W. Littleton, R.W. Ragland, G.T. Stanford, and Mark B. Thompson
Chief Prosecutors: Neil Burkinshaw, Peyton C. Gordon, Atlee W. Pomerene, Owen J. Roberts, and Leo A. Rover
Judges: Jennings Bailey, William Hitz, Adolph A. Hoehling, and Frederick L. Siddons
Place: Washington, D.C.
Dates of Trials: November 22-December 16, 1926; March 3, 1927; December 5, 1927-February 21, 1928; April 16-21, 1928; May 31-June 14, 1928; November 12-20, 1928; October 7-25, 1929; March 12-22, 1930
Verdicts: 1: Not guilty; 2: Guilty; 3: Guilty; 4: Not guilty; 5: Not guilty; 6: Not guilty; 7: Guilty; 8: Not guilty
Sentences: Three months imprisonment and $500 fine: trial 2; Sinclair, six months, Day, four months, Sherman Burns, $1,000, William Burns, 15 days: trial 3; One year and $100,000: trial 7

SIGNIFICANCE: Teapot Dome in the "roaring twenties" was the largest scandal in the U.S. government since the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant. It became a permanent symbol of corruption in government. It marked the first time in U.S. history that an officer in a president's cabinet was convicted of a felony and served a prison sentence.

Oil for the U.S. Navy mixed with the greed of men in power to produce the Teapot Dome trials. American naval ships had been converted from coal to oil power before World War I. In 1909, President William Howard Taft had reserved public lands containing oil as Naval Petroleum Reserves in case of war. One such area, in Wyoming, was called Teapot Dome.

Civilian use of oil was expanding rapidly. Throughout President Woodrow Wilson's Democratic administration (1913-20), freshly made multimillionaire oil barons tried unsuccessfully to obtain leases from the government to drill the naval reserves, arguing that valuable oil was draining into private fields nearby. Finally, in 1920, Congress gave the Navy secretary broad powers to lease naval reserves, selling oil or exchanging it for supplies or construction the Navy needed.

Shortly, Republican candidate Warren G. Harding was elected president. Assembling his cabinet, Harding appointed his friend Albert Bacon Fall, with whom he had served in the U.S. Senate, as secretary of the interior.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1918 to 1940