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Diebold, heirs of Prohibition agent Ness squabble over stock find

The Associated Press
EliotNessStockJPEG03e7a
FILE - This undated file photo provided by The Plain Dealer shows Eliot Ness in Cleveland. Ness, the famed Prohibition agent who led the “Untouchables” in their crusade against Chicago gangster Al Capone’s liquor bootlegging rackets, later became the top executive at bank services company Diebold Inc. Part of his compensation appears to have been company stock that recently surfaced in Florida, sparking a new legal fight between the company and the Ness estate. (The Plain Dealer via AP, File)

MIAMI — A legal fight is brewing in Florida between the estate of “Untouchables” Prohibition agent Eliot Ness and an Ohio company over some long-undiscovered stock that apparently belonged to Ness and may be worth more than $1 million.

Ness, the famed Prohibition agent who led the “Untouchables” in their crusade against Chicago gangster Al Capone and his mob accomplices, later was the top executive at bank services company Diebold Inc.

A 50-share Diebold stock certificate, along with Ness’ old federal badges and credentials, languished for years in a box in the South Florida apartment of Winnie Higgins Knorr, Ness’ longtime personal secretary. When Knorr died several years ago in Fort Lauderdale, her belongings, including the Diebold stock, passed on to an acquaintance, Debra Hole.

Attorney John F. Bradley said it could be worth more than $1.1 million because of stock splits and dividends over the years that could swell the number of shares to about 29,500. Bradley represents the Ness estate, with at least three surviving heirs, in a federal lawsuit seeking to force Diebold to pay up.

“I’m kind of picturing him as America’s first superhero. Sadly, he died with not that much,” Bradley said of Ness. “It’s just a simple debt as far as I’m concerned.”

North Canton, Ohio-based Diebold declined to comment, but in court filings the company has tried to get the lawsuit dismissed. Diebold provides financial services, including ATMs and drive-through teller equipment.

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