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Valley’s Vice King gave Madera a try

For The Madera Tribune

Carol Saunders and Alex Corinblit are shown here on the front page of The Madera Tribune after hearing a verdict of “Guilty” in their trial on organizing a prostitution ring in Madera in 1949.


Alex Corinblit came to America with his family on Independence Day, 1919. They were Russian Jews who were fleeing their homeland, which the year before had become Poland. On Oct. 26, 1928, he and his father filled out papers to become U.S. citizens. His father completed the process, but Alex did not. He had much more exciting plans that didn’t require citizenship.

By the time Alex was 40, he had become known as the Vice King of the San Joaquin Valley. Using borrowed money, the suave, brown-haired, black-eyed, charming, little ladies’ man had established a string of brothels throughout the Valley, and by 1949, he had his eyes on Madera, but Police Chief Walter Thomas was watching, too. Corinblit would never be able to add Madera to his empire.

On the evening of Feb. 28, 1949, several Madera policemen and sheriff’s deputies raided the Menlo Hotel, sometimes known as the Sierra, on East Yosemite Avenue. They arrested five women, one of whom, Carol Saunders, was the landlady of the place. Four of the women were charged with prostitution, and Saunders was charged with “willfully and unlawfully keeping a house of ill fame for purposes of prostitution and lewd acts” Her bail was set at $2,500, while that of the other four women was set at $1,000 each.

Also taken into custody were 22 adult men and 6 boys who were between the ages of 16 and 20. The males were questioned, and after they admitted the reason for their presence at the hotel that night, they were released. The law only needed them to prove the charge of prostitution on the women. The male complicity didn’t matter.

Chief Thomas was pleased. He was certain the closing of the hotel would put an end to organized vice in Madera. He had, however, missed the center piece in Madera’s prostitution problem. Alex Corinblit had brothels in Tulare, Delano, Porterville, Bakersfield, Coalinga, Lemore, Hanford, and Fresno. Now It was Madera’s turn.

A year or so before the Feb. raid at the Menlo, Corinblit had a meeting with Saunders in Tulare where they planned their Madera operation. With Corinblit supplying the funds, Saunders rented the Sierra Hotel and changed its name to the Menlo. In October or November they opened up and were doing a land office business, especially on weekends.

In the meantime, Corinblit came under suspicion in Tulare, and the authorities there shared what they knew about the Polish immigrant. It was enough for the Madera authorities to be able to tie Corinblit to the shenanegans going on at the Menlo Hotel. He was arrested and charged, along with Saunders, with operating a house of prostitution. On April 28, 1949, Corinblit and Saunders were both arraigned in Madera County Superior Court. They stood trial, and on June 15, after 9 hours of deliberation, both were found guilty. Their attorneys asked that they both be allowed to remain free on bail until sentencing. Judge Stanley said no, so to jail they went.

On June 29, Corinblit and Saunders stood before the judge again, this time for sentencing. Judge Murray gave Corinblit three years in San Quentin, and Saunders got off with a $2,500 fine. A very grateful and contrite Saunders paid her fine and went free. Corinblit went back to jail to prepare for his trip to San Quentin with Undersheriff Marlin Young.

Corinblit served 21 months of his sentence and then was paroled. In March 1951, he was back in prison, this time in Folsom, for parole violation. By Aug. 1, 1953, he was out of prison again, but now his troubles really began. The federal government wanted him out of the country because of the morals charges that had landed him in prison.

Corinblit claimed U.S. citizenship on a “derivative basis” because his father, who had brought him to the United States, had become a naturalized citizen. Corinblit claimed this made him a citizen too, but the government didn’t agree. He was scheduled for a deportation hearing on December 7, 1953, but he never showed up. Now the immigration service was after him.

In 1954, the INS caught Corinblit, and in November of that year he sailed off to Poland, a country he never knew, courtesy of the United States.

Things would have turned out a whole lot better if he had been serious about those words he wrote back in 1928:

“I am not an anarchist, I am not a polygamist, not a believer in the practice of polygamy, and it is my intention in good faith to become a citizen of the United States and to permanently reside therein: So help me God.”


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