Not only did the Atlantic City political kingpin declare himself a pauper, but he also put all of his assets in his wife's name, Flossie.
The book, Nucky, The Real Story of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Boss, was written by Frank J. Ferry, a Ventnor lawyer who defended Johnson when the Justice Department tried to collect the overdue fine, 20 years after it lapsed. Ferry offers an insider's account of how Nucky outmaneuvered the agency.
In the 1940s, after Nucky was paroled from his 10-year-sentence for tax evasion, one of Nucky's earlier lawyers - not Ferry - advised him to take a "Pauper's Oath." He transferred all of his money into Flossie's name and paid cash for whatever he wanted, often with $100 bills, Ferry said.
But after Nucky won a settlement in a libel case against The Saturday Evening Post and actor David Niven, who had claimed Nucky harrassed him, Nucky came back on the government's radar screen, the book says. "Nucky was convinced that some past political enemy was seeking a finder's fee and reported to the IRS" that he settled the case and now had money, Ferry wrote.
Nucky also wondered whether LBJ, elected in 1964, revived the file because he was looking "to raise money for his social programs," the book says.
Ferry, who once worked for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Camden, called his former boss and explained that Nucky had no assets and that he was in failing health. At the time, Nucky was in his 80s, and the lump settlement had been put into Flossie's name. Upon Nucky's death, the fines would expire, Ferry said.
The government agreed to close the file and "Nucky didn't have to pay a penny," Ferry wrote.
It wasn't the first time the mobster escaped punishment. Though the HBO series is far more dramatic, focusing on Nucky's friendship with Al Capone and his penchant for violence, Ferry's book is one of several that provide the historical background of the man who ruled for 30 years. Nucky funded much of his empire with protection money he collected from bootleggers and with donations he demanded from patronage employees.
HBO based its series on the non-fiction book, Boardwalk Empire, The Birth, High Times and Corruption of Atlantic City by Nelson Johnson, a judge who was not related to Nucky. The award-winning series just finished its third season.