‘Lucky’ Lu­ciano the mas­ter­mind

Sunday Express - - XPRESS PEOPLE -

THE mod­ern Amer­i­can Mafia took form un­der the lead­er­ship of Charles “Lucky” Lu­ciano (1897-1962). Born in Si­cily but raised in Man­hat­tan’s Lower East Side, Lu­ciano fa­cil­i­tated the killings of the city’s top two Mafia bosses and brought about fun­da­men­tal changes to or­ga­nized crime, set­ting up the Five Fam­i­lies to rule New York and es­tab­lish­ing a Na­tional Crime Syn­di­cate. Lu­ciano was con­victed on pros­ti­tu­tion charges in 1936 but was paroled and de­ported at the end of World War II. Ex­iled in Italy, Lu­ciano spent his last years help­ing the Ital­ian and Amer­i­can Mafias make a co­or­di­nated push into nar­cotics.

Lu­ciano was born with the name of Sal­va­tore Lu­ca­nia, and grew up in Ler­cara Friddi, which is sit­u­ated in the Ital­ian re­gion of Si­cily. His heart was al­ways in the USA though and he even claimed him­self that he was born in New York City.

He came from a medium sized fam­ily with four other sib­lings (Bar­tolomeo, Giuseppe, Filip­pia, and Con­cetta), his par­ents were An­to­nio and Ros­alia. How­ever as we es­tab­lish later on he didn’t get on with his par­ents.

By the age of 10, Charles and the rest of the Lu­ca­nia fam­ily had all moved to New York City but by the age of 14 he had dropped out of school and started work­ing as a ship­ping clerk for $5 a week. It was long af­ter this that he ended up win­ning $244 in a dice game which then lead him to leave the ship­ping clerk job to earn money from the street. His par­ents saw that Charles was go­ing off the rails and de­cided to send him to a Tru­ant School in Brook­lyn.

Dur­ing his teenage years Charles was the head of his own small-time gang, which in­ci­den­tally of­fered pro­tec­tion for Jewish and Ital­ian gang mem­bers for ten cents a week.

One of the Jewish gang mem­bers he met here was Meyer Lan­sky, who he would even­tu­ally build up a solid busi­ness part­ner­ship in later years.

His fam­ily pretty much disowned him due to his crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties and the di­rec­tion he was tak­ing; this is where he de­cided to change his sur­name to hon­our his fam­ily’s wishes. He changed it from Lu­ca­nia to Lu­ciano.

Roth­stein saves Lu­ciano

It was the Prohibition era that re­ally pro­pelled Lucky into the lime­light and would see him as a force to be reck­oned with in the mafia world.

In the 1920’s Lucky has met up with some of the big­gest names in the mob, in­clud­ing some of the most no­to­ri­ous lead­ers that in­cluded the likes of Vito Gen­ovese and Frank Costello.

It was also in the early part of the 1920’s where Lucky acted as gun­man for Joe “The Boss” Masse­ria but soon moved on to pas­tures greener when he met up with Arnold “the Brain” Roth­stein who had big con­tacts in the gam­bling and rack­e­teer­ing in­dus­try.

It with Roth­stein who helped Lucky by ed­u­cat­ing him on how to be­have (as Lucky had a bit of a short fuse), but more im­por­tant Roth­stein showed him how to run a boot­leg­ging busi­ness.

Climb­ing the lad­der

Dur­ing his time work­ing for Joe The Boss, the Castel­lam­marese War was in full swing which ac­counted for over 60 mafia deaths and drew con­stant at­ten­tion from the law. The war raged be­tween Joe The Boss and Sal­va­tore Maranzano who were both old tra­di­tional bosses from the Mus­tache Petes era. They be­lieved in “hon­our”, “tra­di­tion”, “re­spect”, and “dig­nity”.

The prob­lem was that nei­ther of th­ese two would work with any­one who wasn’t Ital­ian, or at least Ital­ian-Amer­i­can. At some points this even drilled down deeper and if you weren’t born in Si­cily they wouldn’t work with you.

Ob­vi­ously, Lucky re­alised that this was bad for busi­ness and in the later years of the 20’s and early 30’s he built up his own con­nec­tions who con­sisted of Frank Costello, Vito Gen­ovese, Al­bert Anas­ta­sia, Joe Ado­nis, Joe Bo­nanno, Carlo Gam­bino, Joe Pro­faci, and Tommy Luc­ch­ese.

They were called the Young Turks and shared the same opin­ion as Lucky, in that their bosses were cost­ing them money due to their old regimes.

Lucky wanted to form a na­tional crime syn­di­cate in which the Ital­ian, Jewish, and Ir­ish gangs could turn or­ga­nized crime into a well-oiled busi­ness.

How Charles be­came lucky

A lot of ex­perts in this field and wit­ness from around the time also said that he got his nick­name Lucky due to sur­viv­ing a beat­ing by some gang mem­bers in the 1920’s, due to Charles pledg­ing his al­le­giance to Joe “The Boss” Masse­ria , and not join­ing Sal­va­tore Maranzano’s gang. Close friends of Charles com­mented on this by say­ing that he was Lucky to come away with his life. Thus, the nick­name Lucky was born.

Lucky takes the reigns

The time had come where Lucky de­cided to make a brave move and or­ches­trate the hit of both bosses in a well thought out plan. In 1931 Lucky struck a se­cret deal with Maranzano in that he would or­der the hit on Joe The Boss in ex­change for his rack­ets and be­com­ing the un­der­boss to Maranzano.

Joe The Boss was dining at a restau­rant with Lu­ciano and two other as­so­ciates, where they en­gaged in a game of cards. At some point dur­ing the event Lucky got up to go to the bath­room which ini­ti­ated four gun­men to barge in and shoot at Joe The Boss from close range (as well as the two other as­so­ciates).

The four gun­men were Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Vito Gen­ovese, Al­bert Anas­ta­sia, and Joe Ado­nis

Joe was left hold­ing a play­ing card in his hand. This put an end to the Castel­lam­marese War and made Maranzano the Boss of all Bosses (capo di tutti capi). It was dur­ing this pe­riod that he then de­cided to re­struc­ture the way the mafia worked by cre­at­ing the Five Fam­i­lies which were fronted by Maranzano, Lu­ciano, Pro­faci, Gagliano, and Mangano.

How­ever, due to the power given to Maranzano it meant that he got greedy and sealed his own fate be­cause of it. He also tried to or­der a hit on Lucky as he didn’t trust him en­tirely and saw him as a ma­jor threat.

Lucky for Lucky, Tommy Luc­ch­ese found out the plan and got word back to him. On Septem­ber 10th 1931 Maranzano sent for both Lucky and Vito Gen­ovese to come to his Man­hat­tan of­fice. Con­vinced that the hit would take place dur­ing this meet­ing Lucky de­cided to not go and in­stead he sent five gang­sters dressed as gov­ern­ment agents.

None the wiser his body­guards were dis­armed by two of the agents whilst the other three en­tered Maranzano’s of­fice, locked the door and then pro­ceeded to stab, stran­gle and shoot him dead.

The Com­mis­sion Was Born

Lucky Lu­ciano had now got­ten rid of the two old time mafia bosses and with the ad­vice of Chicago’s Johnny Tor­rio he had setup The Com­mis­sion which was an or­ga­ni­za­tion to help put some struc­ture back into or­ga­nized crime by pro­vid­ing a place to set­tle dis­putes, an­swer ques­tions and pre­vent gang wars from break­ing out, caus­ing public ex­po­sure.

To begin with, the Com­mis­sion was made up from the Five Fam­i­lies of New York, but later more fam­i­lies were en­rolled.

In the mid 1930’s Thomas Dewey was ap­pointed as the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor to help beat the or­ga­nized crime ring in New York and to lower crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity by do­ing so. It was dur­ing the late 1930’s in which Thomas Dewey made good head way in break­ing down the bar­ri­ers to get to Lucky by raid­ing over 200 broth­els and help­ing to put high bail prices on each ar­restee in the hope some would come for­ward with more in­for- ma­tion on Lucky.

The strat­egy seemed to work as soon they started to talk and im­pli­cate Lucky Lu­ciano in sev­eral scan­dals.

In 1936 he was even­tu­ally ar­rested and held to 90 counts of com­pul­sory pros­ti­tu­tion, that even his legal team couldn’t help with. De­spite cer­tain bribes to the At­tor­ney Gen­eral (which was re­ported) Lucky was in for a long sen­tence.

Just a few months later Lu­ciano’s trial be­gan, in which Dewey was able to ex­pose Lucky on tax eva­sion claims in which his in­come tax stated that he made just $22,000 a year.

Dewey made a good case and in the end Lucky Lu­ciano was con­victed on 62 counts of com­pul­sory pros­ti­tu­tion, to be sen­tenced to 30 to 50 years in a state pri­son.

Joe Bo­nanno wrote in his book “A Man of Honor” that Lucky wasn’t di­rectly in­volved in pros­ti­tu­tion.

His Time in Pri­son

While in pri­son he con­tin­ued to head the Lu­ciano Crime Fam­ily us­ing his act­ing boss Vito Gen­ovese to re­lay any or­ders but a year later Gen­ovese him­self fled to Italy as he was up for a mur­der case which then lead to Frank Costello help­ing Lucky get word out of the pri­son.

Lu­ciano was so pow­er­ful that dur­ing World War II, even the U.S. gov­ern­ment turned to him for help. They knew that the mafia ran the wa­ter­front and in a con­fi­den­tial ap­proach they made a deal with him in 1942. The deal was that he would use his power to as­sist in pro­vid­ing in­tel­li­gence to the Navy as they were con­cerned about Ger­man and Ital­ian agents en­ter­ing the United States through the New York wa­ter­front.

Af­ter the war in 1946 Lucky was given the op­por­tu­nity to re­turn to Italy as a free man, and in early Jan­uary of that year de­por­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings had started. On the night be­fore his re­turn to Italy, Lucky shared a meal with Anas­ta­sia and other mob fig­ures who gave him a go­ing away present in the form of hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars stuffed into an en­ve­lope. This has been col­lected for him by con­tri­bu­tions from head of the five fam­i­lies.

While in Italy he would meet Amer­i­can tourists where he would chat and sign au­to­graphs for them, as leav­ing the USA was an up­set­ting time for Lucky as it was a place he called home

Get­ting One Back

In 1957 Gen­ovese took con­trol over the fam­ily af­ter a botched at­tempt at try­ing to take out Frank Costello us­ing Vin­cent “Chin” Gi­gante as the hit­man. Gen­ovese would then pick off an­other of Lu­ciano’s al­lies, Al­bert Anas­ta­sia, in or­der to get to the top. This didn’t last long though as Gen­ovese messed up big time in an event that would ex­pose the Mafia to the public at the Apalachin Meet­ing.

Lucky wasn’t com­pletely pow­er­less how­ever as he still had con­nec­tions, and al­ways knew Gen­ovese couldn’t be trusted.

This lead to a meet­ing in Si­cily be­tween Costello, Lu­ciano, and Gam­bino in which the re­sult was that Lu­ciano al­legedly paid an Amer­i­can drug seller $100,000 to falsely im­pli­cate Gen­ovese in a drug deal.

Gen­ovese was then con­victed and sent to jail for 15 years, while Gam­bino went on to be­come the mafia’s most pow­er­ful man.


On Jan­uary 26 1962, Charles “Lucky” Lu­ciano died from a heart attack af­ter meet­ing with a film pro­ducer, about mak­ing a film bi­og­ra­phy (which I should add in­fu­ri­ated other mob­sters who thought that the film would open up the mafia too much).

His body was pa­raded around the streets of Naples in a horse drawn car­riage, and the most stylish of pro­ces­sions, and he also had his wish of be­ing re­turned to his “home” in the USA in which he was buried.

Lucky’s long­time friend, Carlo Gam­bino, eu­lo­gized him at the fu­neral, and it was he that took over The Com­mis­sion.

This was the end of an era in the his­tory of the mob. — Na­tion­al­crimesyn­di­cate

A mugshot of Charles ‘Lucky ’ Lu­ciano

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