Pete McDonough

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Peter P. McDonough (1872 – 8 July 1947) was a wealthy and influential Irish-Catholic San Francisco bail bondsman. According to The San Francisco News and the San Francisco Chronicle, McDonough and his brother Tom founded the first modern Bail Bonds business in the United States, the system by which a person pays a percentage to a professional bondsman who puts up the cash as a guarantee that the person will appear in court, in 1898.

McDonough was a product of the post-earthquake Abe Ruef days of civic corruption. During his years as the pre-eminent bondsmen in San Francisco, McDonough was accused of bribery, perjury, suborning witnesses, tampering with judges, bootlegging, corrupting officials and controlling and paying off police. A 1919 Grand Jury exonerated San Francisco District Attorney Charles Fickert from charges made by John B. Densmore, investigator from Washington, Director General of Employment, in the framing of Thomas Mooney and Warren Billings and for Fickert having conspired with McDonough in the freeing of wealthy defendants. Labelled the "fountainhead of corruption" by Edwin Atherton in the 1937 Atherton Report on San Francisco police corruption, McDonough was considered the overlord of San Francisco vice, gambling and prostitution. At the offices known as "the corner", located at Clay and Kearney Streets, McDonough, his brother Tom and nephew Harry Rice controlled the San Francisco bail bonds business and were friendly with numerous police, public officials, judges and the District Attorney.

During prohibition, McDonough spent eight months in the Alameda County Jail for bootlegging and eventually sought a pardon from President Calvin Coolidge. He was jailed again in 1938 for refusing to discuss police corruption before the Police Graft grand jury headed by Marshall Dill.

Over the years, McDonough developed a network of wireless communications with outlying police stations. Within minutes of an arrest, McDonough's nephew was hailing a taxi to find a judge to sign an order of release form, and the client was soon free on bail.


McDonough's brother Thomas was born in San Francisco, February 19, 1870, and was educated in the public schools and Sacred Heart College. He became associated with his father in business in 1890, and in 1896 joined with his brother in the bail bond field of endeavor.

Thomas married to Mary McDonough, who was born in San Francisco. He was a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles and the Druids.


  • Obituary S.F. Chronicle 7.10.1947
  • The 1937 San Francisco Police Graft Report by Edwin Atherton [1] ISBN 9781466109292

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