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They Thought They Were Untouchable

From the history archives: Bootleggers raided in Franklin Lakes

Franklin Lakes started out life as a heavily wooded area. Then small saw mills were established to clear the trees and supply lumber to build the homes and barns that dotted the landscape. Once that land was cleared the land was turned into farms. Crops were planted and the town moved toward an agricultural base. But this was not the only enterprise to be practiced in town. Whiskey making came into fashion. 

In the early 1930s Still Raids in and around the town of Franklin Lakes became prevalent. As time went on the operations became more complex. Such was the still found in a barn on the property located on Old Mill Road owned by Jacob Dross. This operation had a 1,000 gallon output and had lookout to warn the operators. Chief August Bender along with Officers Charles Gorman and Hiram Meredith and two Agents from the ABC made up the raiding party.

As the raid unfolded the warning post was the first to be addressed. The post was hit so fast that the man there could not sound the alarm. He fled into the woods with Chief Bender giving chase. He did not find that man but did find another man hiding in the woods. He took him into custody. When the rest of the raiders entered the barn they found the still in full operation.

Arrested at the raid was Jacob Dross, 25, a mechanic and owner of the barn; his brother, Archie Michael Weedo, 28, chauffeur, of 172 Ninth Street, Lodi; Dominick Lazzafo, 50, laborer of 23 Manhattan Ave., Clifton; and Charles Sorce, 50, Italian laborer of 130 Jefferson St., Passaic. All were taken to Hackensack and booked for operation of an illicit still. Bail was set at $5,000 for each man. Also confiscated in the raid was two tons of coke, a large supply of sugar, yeast, 65 five gallon cans with 180 proof alcohol ready for shipment, and several autos. The next day the operation was destroyed by the wrecking crew from the ABC.   

Later, a larger raid was conducted at a bungalow on Franklin Avenue owned by Ivan Payne. Participating in the raid was Chief County Detective John E. Guidetti, Chief Bender, Marshal Meredith, Investigators Charles Dietriech, Victor Bucichol and Leo Baur of the Prosecutor’s Office along with John B. Storms Court Officer. The raid was conducted at 9 p.m. under the cover of darkness. They arrested William Mania, 21, of 92 Thomas Street, Paterson, and Salvatore Baeli, 20, of 105 Seventh Ave., Hawthorne. Both were working the still when the readers entered. Both men were removed to Hackensack and held without bail.

Also seized in the raid was a 250 gallon Sugar Alcohol Still, 3,000 gallon of Mash, a half ton of sugar, several gallons of pure Alcohol and quantities of Yeast and Coke. The Sugar and Coke was distributed to the needy in town.

During the search of the area a trap door and tunnel was discovered. The tunnel ran 50 feet from the still and into the woods behind the house.  When questioned about the operation Mr. Payne stated that he only collected two months rent of $50 and had no idea or knowledge of the operation. Officials stated that the operation was only six weeks old. A peculiar odor is believed to have lead to the raid of the house fifty feet off of Franklin Ave on Cherry Street.       

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