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Beyond booze

The strange roots of the McCain family fortune

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The McCain campaign’s links to the booze industry are no secret. The McCain family fortune comes from his wife, Cindy, who serves as chairwoman of Hensley & Company — the beer distributor that her father, James Hensley, founded and operated until his death in 2000.

But have you heard the one about Cindy McCain’s family and the reputed mobster?

James Hensley formed a relationship early in his career with the late Kemper Marley, Sr., a purported Mob boss linked to the 1976 car bombing of Arizona investigative reporter Don Bolles. Although never charged for Bolles’s murder, a key witness testified that the reporter’s stories on Marley had gotten under the liquor magnate’s skin. The Bolles case became a cause célèbre for American journalists, who formed the Arizona Project to investigate the killing. Determined to send a message to the Mob that hits on journalists were off limits, a team of 30 volunteers from a dozen media outlets spent five months going after Bolles’s killers.

Among their many ties, Hensley and Marley worked together at United Sales Incorporated in Phoenix and United Distributors Incorporated in Tucson; Hensley was secretary and Marley was listed as vice president (though he actually owned the companies). While working under Marley, Hensley was convicted of falsifying liquor records and served six months probation. Five years later, he was charged with falsifying records again, but was acquitted. In 1955 Hensley landed the lucrative distribution deal with the Anheuser-Busch company — a deal to which the Hensleys owe their success and wealth. Marley, it has long been rumored, had a major hand in Hensley’s landing the deal. Today, Hensley is the third largest Anheuser-Busch distributor in the country.

Hensley’s success has been John McCain’s good fortune. McCain’s campaigns have long benefitted enormously from Hensley & Company. By 2000, Hensley & Company had become McCain’s number two career patron, according to Buying of the President 2000. This election cycle, Hensley employees have donated $22,700 to McCain.

Calls to the McCain campaign and Hensley & Company were not returned.