15 August 2017

Meyer Lansky: Opponent of the American Nazi Bund

Meyer Lansky was a mobster who today is known for his longevity and intensity.

A taciturn man, Meyer Lansky nevertheless put his money where his mouth was in the 1930s, when he challenged the rise of United States-based Nazism and Fascism.  To Lansky, a Jewish man, this was personal.

Lansky's attempts to send in roughnecks to disrupt and prevent the meetings of the German-American Bund are documented in at least two published works.  These stories are familiar to gangster buffs.  His commitment to stopping the growth of Nazism in America was transmitted through columnist Walter Winchell and within unpublished interviews with author Paul Sann that Lansky gave later in his life.

He is credited with creating at least one riot that prevented the leader of the German American Bund, Fritz Kuhn, and his wife, Elsa, from speaking at a Nazi-Fascist event on New York's Upper East Side in the 1930s.

Lanski used his muscle and might to fight the bigotry of the German-American Bund.  Its members stood to "unite the various forces of intolerance, racial hatred, Nazism and Fascism in the United States," according to a congressional report into Un-American Propaganda activities which was conducted in 1940.




The face of the Bund was undoutedly Fritz Kuhn.  During his rise to power in the thirties, Kuhn raised $3,000 and presented it to Adolph Hitler in 1936.  Kuhn would be defeated via imprisonment by 1939.  Yet during his few short years in the spotlight, Kuhn sponsored many extremist Nazi and Fascist groups, and encouraged them to attend his meetings. During the height of his power, Kuhn controlled at least seventy "posts," or units of the Bund.  These groups had deceptive names which evoked a religious component -- the "Christian Front," and the "Social Justice Society" to name two.  While hiding behind this fraudulent labeling, Kuhn led his factions and would mislabel his organization as "a political group whose primary purpose was to promote the welfare and best interests of the citizens of the United States."






By 1939, Lansky's anti-Nazi /Fascist mission -- which never ameliorated his guilt in the eyes of the criminal justice system -- was taken over by the Non-Sectarian Anti-Nazi League, which tried to seek the deportation of Kuhn.  Their basis for pursuing deportation was information that Kuhn possessed a criminal record.  On November 3, 1939, Kuhn was convicted of grand larceny and forgery in theft of money stolen from the Bund.  The United States Government then went about trying to effect the deportation of Kuhn's wife, Elsa Kuhn.













In 1943, it was reported that Kuhn was imprisoned at Dannemora.  In the 1940s, Dannemora or Clinton Correctional Facility a/k/a "Siberia",  also housed Inmate Charles "Lucky" Luciano and his co-defendant from the Prostitution Bonding Combination Conviction of 1936, David "Little Davie" Petillo (shown at right).

One might assume that Meyer Lansky's friend, Lucky Luciano, with the possible help of Petillo, found ways to get revenge on Kuhn "mob style" once the American Nazi was imprisoned inside the walls of Dannemora.      

(Photo source of David "Little Davie" Petillo:  NYC Municipal Archives)





Sources:

Report of the Un-American Propaganda Activities under the category of Nazi-Fascist organizations, Wednesday, January 3, 1940; H. Rpt. 1476.  Serial Set Vol. No. 10440, pp 14-16, 18, 24.

The Jewish Chronicle, May 12, 1939.

Miami Herald, November 30, 1939.

Lacey, Robert. Little Man:  Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life. Little, Brown & Co., 1991

Newark, Tim.  Mafia Allies.  Zenith Press, 2007.  



Ellen Poulsen is the author of The Case Against Lucky Luciano:  New York's Most Sensational Vice Trial, and "Don't Call Us Molls:  Women of the John Dillinger Gang, as well as a forthcoming book tentatively entitled, Chasing Dillinger:  Indiana's Matt Leach Collides with the F.B.I.

www.Dillingerswomen.com
www.Lucianotrial1936.com

11 August 2017

Live by the sword...

Mafia assassin Umberto Valente
killed in East Village shooting

On this date in 1922: Mafia assassin Umberto Valente was gunned down in a bold daylight shooting on a busy Manhattan street corner.

Valente was seen with a group of men at the intersection of East 12th Street and Second Avenue at about noon, when he suddenly darted into the intersection toward a taxicab. Two other men also moved into the intersection, drew handguns and opened fire on the fleeing man.

Valente reached the runningboard of the taxi and tried to return fire before collapsing unconscious to the street. His attackers fired a few shots toward a gathering crowd and made their escape through the basement of an apartment building at 233 East 12th Street.

Stray slugs wounded a New York street cleaner and an eleven-year-old girl from New Haven, Connecticut, who was in New York City visiting her grandfather.

NYPD Detective Sgt. Kirk witnessed the end of the gunfight from a streetcar. He rushed to the fallen Valente and commandeered an automobile to take Valente to St. Mark's Hospital. Valente never regained consciousness. He died of his wounds about an hour later.

According to an often repeated underworld legend (told and likely created by the notoriously inventive David Leon Chandler), the gunman who fired the fatal shots into Valenti was Salvatore Lucania (later known as Charlie Luciano), at that time an underling of Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. Evidence in support of the tale is lacking. Lucania's only documented brush with the law in August of 1922 occurred near the end of the month when his car was pulled over for a traffic violation.


Investigators determined that Valente had been responsible for the attempted murder of Giuseppe Masseria a few days earlier on August 8. Masseria surprisingly escaped unharmed - except for a couple of bullet holes through his straw hat - after being cornered by a gunman near his home, 80 Second Avenue (less than half a mile from the spot where Valente was killed). On the afternoon of the eleventh, police found Masseria at his home, insisting that he had not been out of the building and knew nothing of the attack on Valente. His denials were unconvincing. It was assumed that Masseria either directly participated in or ordered the shooting of Valente.

Already awaiting a murder trial for the shooting death of Silvio Tagliagambe two months earlier, Masseria was charged also with the murder of Valente.

Police hypothesized that Masseria and Valente, both known to be involved in Manhattan bootlegging and gambling rackets, had become underworld rivals. Much later, authorities learned that Masseria and allies were engaged in a gangland war with reigning Mafia boss of bosses Salvatore D'Aquila. Valente had been assigned by D'Aquila to eliminate Joe the Boss.

Sources:
  • "Eight men shot in mysterious battle on street," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 8, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Gunmen shoot six in East Side swarm," New York Times, Aug. 9, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Cloakmaker, victim of gunman, dies; 3 more in hospital," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 9, 1922, p. 20.
  • "Gunman's volley fatal to striker," New York Times, Aug. 10, 1922, p. 13
  • "Car used in street battle traced here," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 10, 1922, p. 18.
  • "1 dead, 2 shot, as bootleggers again fight on East Side," Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "One killed, two shot in pistol battle," Brooklyn Standard Union, Aug. 11, 1922, p. 1.
  • "One man killed, two wounded, in gang war," New York Call, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 4.
  • "Mystery in rum street battle near solution," New York Tribune, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 16.
  • "East Side bad man killed as shots fly," New York Herald, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 16.
  • "Gang kills gunman; 2 bystanders hit," New York Times, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 20.
  • "Valente's arrest balked by murder," New York Evening World, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 3.
  • "New Haven girl wounded in New York bootleggers' feud," Bridgeport CT Telegram, Aug. 12, 1922, p. 1.
  • "Bootleggers at war," Philadelphia Inquirer (Associated Press), Aug. 12, 1922, p. 2.
  • Chandler, David Leon, Brothers in Blood: The Rise of the Criminal Brotherhoods, New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1975.
  • Gentile, Nick, with Felice Chilanti, Vita di Capomafia, Rome: Crescenzi Allendorf, 1993.

27 July 2017

1909 Connecticut murder linked to NYC Mafia

On this date in 1909...
An orchardman in Danbury, Connecticut, is ambushed and shot to death at his doorstep on Hospital Avenue. Newspaper reports immediately link his murder to the Morello-Lupo Mafia organization in New York City and to the famous Barrel Murder case.

Giovanni Zarcone of Danbury
Near the centennial of this murder (now eight years ago), I was invited to speak about it at the Danbury Museum and Historical Society. A couple of documents were prepared for that event: One was the text of my remarks and the other was a collection of related images. Links to these documents are provided below.

An article relating to the murder and its background was published in the July 2009 issue of Informer: The Journal of American Mafia History. That issue remains available in print and electronic formats through the MagCloud service.


26 July 2017

Embryo of the FBI

On this date in 1908: Former U.S. Secret Service operatives were assigned to serve under Chief Examiner Stanley Wellington Finch of the Justice Department. The following year, the DOJ's new investigative arm was given the name, "Bureau of Investigation." In 1935, it was rechristened, "Federal Bureau of Investigation."

Stanley W. Finch
Aside from a staff of accountants used to monitor financial dealings of the U.S. court system, the DOJ had no investigative staff before July 26, 1908. When it needed to engage in an investigation of a federal crime, it hired private detectives or "rented" operatives from the U.S. Secret Service.

The practice had a number of flaws. It was costly and inefficient. The quality and technique of a private investigator could not be controlled. Secret Service agents were primarily loyal to their full-time bosses in the U.S. Treasury Department. The inter-department renting of operatives also could be cut off at any moment through Congressional budgeting measures.

Finch reportedly argued for some time for the creation of an investigative unit within the DOJ. U.S. Attorney General Charles Bonaparte of the Theodore Roosevelt Administration was convinced to give the idea a try. He hired a group of former Secret Service men in the summer of 1908. On July 26, Bonaparte placed the group under the command of Finch.

Finch remained at the helm until 1912, when he was appointed special commissioner for the suppression of white slave traffic. His successor at the Bureau of Investigation was Alexander Bruce Bielaski, who continued as chief through the Great War and into the early stages of America's first "Red Scare."