Famous Gangsters: Charles Lucky Luciano
Charles “Lucky” Luciano is known as the father of organized crime in the United States. With childhood friend Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel he went from running extortion rackets on the mean streets of New York to forming a National Crime Syndicate that spread the mob’s tentacles across the country.
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Charles “Lucky” Luciano is known as the father of organized crime in the United States.
With childhood friend Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel he went from running extortion rackets on the mean streets of New York to forming a National Crime Syndicate that spread the mob’s tentacles across the country.
He also orchestrated the carving up of New York into the territories of five different mafia families and the establishment of The Commission, a de facto governing body for organized crime.
Man on a Mission
The 'Lucky' nickname may have come from his survival after a vicious beating and stabbing in 1929.
Born Salvatore Lucania in Sicily in 1897, he came to America with his family when he was 10 and unable to speak a word of English.
He dropped out of school in 1914 and worked for a while delivering hats for $7 a week, but the lure of crime was too strong to resist for long.
His nickname may have come from his survival after a vicious beating and stabbing in 1929 when he refused to work for a rival boss.
It may also have had something to do with the fact that despite being arrested 25 times from 1916 to 1938 for crimes ranging from assault to gambling, blackmail and robbery he never spent a day behind bars during those years.
By the 1920s he was one of the “Big Six” that ruled over Prohibition era bootlegging on the East Coast and was reportedly grossing over $12 million a year.
In 1931, Luciano was ready to make his own move for a top job by engineering the death of Lower Manhattan boss Joe Massseria, a traditional mafia godfather who refused to work with non-Italians.
A 1931 New York Police Department mugshot of Lucky Luciano.
The hit was sanctioned by another old-time boss Salvatore Maranzano, who divided up New York among five bosses, giving Luciano Masseria’s gang as a reward for doing away with the old man’s biggest rival.
But that wasn’t enough for the ambitious Luciano, who was only biding his time before making the ultimate power play to murder Maranzano and become the dominant organized crime boss in the United States.
Maranzano caught wind of the plot and ordered his protégé to visit his New York office where he planned to have him killed. But Luciano smelled a rat and decided to hit first.
The Sicilian Vespers
He sent four Jewish gangsters to the meeting posing as government agents.
While two of them dealt with the bodyguards, the other pair stabbed and shot Maranzano.
The assassination was part of the fabled “Night of the Sicilian Vespers” in which all of Maranzano’s allies were taken out, including two lieutenants from New York and bosses in Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
Luciano had reached the pinnacle of America’s underworld and strictly enforced the law of Omerta – the oath of silence all “made men” were expected to keep.
Not So Lucky
His friends, Bugsy Siegel and Meyer Lansky, were Jewish and unable to take official positions in the exclusively Italian Cosa Nostra, but both were trusted advisors.
In the early 30s, Luciano was instrumental in founding The Commission, the gangland governing body that resolved disputes and was formed to help prevent future gang wars
Luciano’s lucky ran out in 1936 when he was arrested and indicted on 60 prostitution charges. In July of that year he was sentenced to between 30 and 50 years in prison.
Making A Deal
However, good fortune had not abandoned him.
World War Two came to his rescue, with his release being negotiated in return for his help guaranteeing no strike interruptions at the docks for the duration of the conflict and assistance providing military intelligence with mafia contacts in the run-up to the invasion of Sicily.
In 1946, the sentence was commuted as long as Luciano agreed to be deported to Italy.