Sept. 26, 2020

Lucky

Lucky

History has many twists, and often makes strange bedfellows. The story of Lucky is one such yarn. What could the U.S. Naval Intellegence and a new York crime boss possibly have in common?


History has many twists, and often makes strange bedfellows. The story of Lucky is one such yarn. What could the U.S. Naval Intellegence and a new York crime boss possibly have in common?

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Transcript

Born in Sicily in 1897, the son of a poor sulphur miner, Salvatore Lucania emigrated to the gritty, hard edged streets of New York in 1906. An enterprising young lad, In 1916 he was arrested for selling heroine & served 6 months in gaol, and thus begun a lifetime of crime, for this young impoverished Italian immigrant.

Salvatore’s brush with the law did little to dissuade him from his entrepreneurial activities. He continued his pursuits, and his rise to power came about in the 1920s during the prohibition.  Under the guidance and mentorship of Jewish Kingpin and racketeer, Arnold “The brain” Rothstein, Salvatore became one of the Big 6 of bootlegging,. 

Young Salvatore formed close friendships and business ties with a number of other young would be “businessmen” that worked for Rothstein, gentlemen such as Myer Lansky & Bugsy Siegel. By 1925 he was grossing over $12 million a year; with had a net income of around $4 million.

As often happens in life, he was touched by the hand of fate. In 1928, Arnold Rothstein refused to pay a large gambling debt after losing in a fixed poker game. His powerful banking & political connections couldn’t, or wouldn’t help him, and as a result he was murdered. His empire was soon broken up and the next generation of young Turks including Lucky Luciano Salvatore, started their rise to power.

Lucky went to work for crime boss Joe Masseria who was in opposition to Salvatore Maranzano.  In 1928 Lucky switched sides and moved over to Maranzano where he helped to arrange the murder of Joe Masseria in 1931.  Maranzano , now dubbed boss of bosses, made Lucky his lieutenant and he became the leader of one of New York’s 5 crime families.

But as is often the case of men with powerful egos, it wasn’t long before Maranzano started to view Lucky as a threat & ordered a hit on him. Lucky struck first however, having some of his associates take out Maranzano before the boss of bosses could get to him. (1931).

During late 1930s Lucky helped his Jewish buddy’s Meyer Lansky & Bugsy Segal in breaking up rallies of the pro-Nazi German – American Bund & caused havoc by beating up their leaders, throwing some of them out of the windows for promoting Hitler’s Nazi party in Germany.

Now Lucky  really began to start work, he formed the 5 New York crime families into a confederation just like a corporation with himself as the CEO. He focussed on how the crime families managed their businesses, and their disputes, he implemented guidelines. He brought in other crime figures from across the country including the likes of Al Capone, this confederation became known as the Commission.

By the early 1930s Lucky was living in New York’s  luxurious Waldorf Astoria hotel he had made it to the top, he was worth millions his lifestyle however, caught the attention of Thomas E Dewey, who in  1935 was appointed as special prosecutor. 

Lucky was arrested by Dewey for the only crime they could get him on, running a prostitution racket. He was sentenced to 30 – 50 years prison, and that looked like curtains for Lucky.

During the Second World War the mafia controlled the New York docks.  No one got in & nothing got out that wasn’t controlled by the mob, and from inside prison, Lucky controlled the mob. German U-boats were sinking American merchant ships that were the lifeline to Britain. U.S. Naval Intelligence suspected that German agents had infiltrated the docks and were sending information to the Kreigsmarine, such as the schedules of merchant shipping. The U.S. Navy’s other concern was sabotage. They needed to infiltrate the Mafia controlled shipyards, to gain intelligence, but that was proving to be, a mission impossible. The navy guys just couldn’t blend in, the Italians weren’t stupid, they could pick em a mile off. This was Lucky’s chance, he knew with a bit of luck this could be his ticket to freedom. 

The Navy intelligence department turned to Lucky’s associate, Myer Lansky, remembered for breaking heads at pro-Nazi rallies in the 30s.  Myer was allowed to visit Lucky in prison, to try to arrange for his assistance at the shipyards. Lucky said he could help if he wasn’t locked up in prison, but that was never going to fly. What Lucky needed was something really big to make sure that Naval intelligence realised just how much they needed his help.

As it happened, the Largest, fastest most luxurious cruise liner in the world the Normandie had been purchased by the U.S government and was being refitted as a troop carrier. In unusual and suspicious circumstances on February 9th 1942, the ship caught fire whilst work was being carried out. The official narrative was that a welder had accidentally caused the fire. The beautiful ship burned throughout the night, millions of dollars, and thousands of man hours were wasted as the once majestic Normandie which now filled with water from the firefighting efforts, listed, and rolled over onto her side in the early morning of February 10th.

From that point, the naval department hastened to make an agreement with Lucky in order to get cooperation with the workers at the docks. A deal was cut, and formerly silent and uncooperative dock workers at once, became the eyes and ears of the U.S. navy. Within a very short time eight German spies, who had landed by U-boat, were arrested, and explosives, maps and blueprints for sabotage were seized.

When the allies decided to invade Europe, Churchill insisted that it should be via the soft underbelly of Europe, Italy. As such a plan was drawn up and the island of Sicily was chosen for the first stage of the invasion. 

History is filled with coincidence, and when the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini came to power, he did so on a platform of law and order. As such, when he visited Sicily, and saw the extent of the Mafia control, he sent in his Black Shirts to arrest and incarcerate anyone suspected of being a part of “The family”. This action severely depleted the power of the mafia in Sicily, but didn’t destroy it all together. Lucky was Sicilian, he would have revenge on Mussolini.

When the allied invasion plan for Sicily was created, Lucky cooperated with allied command and arranged for mafia support for the allied invasion.  July 10th 1943 Local Sicilian people now became the eyes and ears of the allied invasion. The Sicilians drew up maps showing ports and harbours that could be used by the allies, as well as the defences of the Axis powers. The Sicilian mafia was now actively assisting the allied invasion of Europe.

On V-E day in 1945, Lukky’s lawyer petitioned for clemency, citing his war efforts. A deal was reached and lucky was deported to Italy after serving only 10 years of his 30 to 50 year sentence.

In October 1946 Lucky moved to Havana, Cuba, it was from here that he planned to continue running his New York business. He socialised with the likes of Frank Sinatra, and his old Friend Myer Lansky, - the casino Tsar was already established as a major investor in Cuban hotels and gambling. 

But, the U.S government didn’t like Lucky being so close to the states in Cuba, they threatened the Cuban government that the U.S. would block all shipments of prescription drugs to Cuba while Lucky was there. Two days later, the Cuban government deported Lucky to Italy.

Lucky’s influence in the New York business waned over the years, being so far away, it was impossible to have the control he needed to maintain his grip. 

In 1962 Lucky arranged a meeting with American producer Martin Grosch who was interested in making a film about Luckys life. Lucky went to Naples airport to meet Grosch, but he had a heart attack shortly after their meeting.

 Three days later around 300 people attended Lucky’s funeral in Naples. The U.S government gave permission for his body to be returned to the U.S. for burial. He was buried in St. John's Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens. More than 2,000 mourners attended his funeral. Luckys  long-time friend, and crime family boss Carlo Gambino, gave the eulogy.

In 1998, Time Magazine characterised Lucky Luciano as the "criminal mastermind" among the top 20 most influential builders and titans of the 20th century.