Showing posts with label Lucania. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lucania. Show all posts

12 May 2018

'Lucky' transferred at request of spy agencies

On this date in 1942...

The Mafia boss widely known as Charlie "Lucky" Luciano was transferred between prisons in New York State at the extremely curious request of representatives from the United States Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) and Office of Strategic Services (OSS).

Salvatore "Charlie" Lucania, whose surname was mangled by police and press through the years to become "Luciano," was moved on May 12, 1942, from Clinton Prison at Dannemora to Great Meadow Prison in the hamlet of Comstock, New York.

Lucania was serving a 30- to 50-year sentence imposed June 18, 1936, eleven days after his conviction on state compulsory prostitution charges.

Following sentencing, his first stop in the New York State prison system was Sing Sing Prison in the Westchester County village of Ossining. He was admitted there on June 19, 1936. Within a week, prison Assistant Physician James A. Kearney made an issue of Lucania's past history with narcotics. Kearney recommended that Lucania be transferred to Clinton State Prison in the northern New York village of Dannemora (Clinton County), a facility better able to handle inmates with addiction and psychiatric problems.

Lucania arrived at Clinton Prison on July 2, 1936. He spent most of the next six years in a desperately humdrum existence within the Clinton Prison walls. He was largely out of touch with his underworld associates. While his brother Bert regulary made the difficult journey to remote Dannemora to visit with him, Lucania saw other visitors, including his own attorneys, far less frequently.



Lucania's situation improved following a Feb. 9, 1942, ship fire at a North River pier in New York City. The recent Japanese surprise attack at Pearl Harbor had brought the U.S. into World War II, and authorities were concerned about the presence and activities of enemy agents within America's borders. The fire, which destroyed a former French ocean liner the Navy was converting into a U.S. military troop transport, was initially thought to be the result of sabotage. Though the fire was later determined to be accidental, the incident caused the Navy ONI to resort to unconventional means to secure U.S. ports.

Gurfein
Understanding organized crime's control of dock unions, ONI Captain Roscoe C. MacFall, Commander Charles Radcliffe Haffenden and Lieutenant James. O'Malley, Jr., sought underworld assistance. They approached Frank Hogan, Manhattan district attorney, and Murray I. Gurfein, assistant D.A. in charge of the Rackets Bureau, seeking an introduction to the Mafia. Gurfein and Haffenden became the primary contacts between the D.A.'s office and ONI as the government established a relationship with racketeers.

Gurfein put Haffenden in touch with Joseph "Socks" Lanza, who controlled unions at the giant Fulton Fish Market, then located at the east end of Manhattan's Fulton Street (moved late in 2005 to its current location in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx). Lanza, a member of Lucania's crime family, suggested that ONI involve Lucania in its security arrangements.

Haffenden called on former Lucania defense attorney Moses Polakoff to open discussions with the Mafia boss. Apparently uncomfortable with the idea - Polakoff had not spoken with Lucania since an August 1939 visit to Clinton Prison - the attorney suggested using Lucania's close associate Meyer Lansky as an intermediary.

Lyons
Lansky was brought in on the discussions in April. He agreed to assist but noted that it would be a problem to travel the great distance to Dannemora. In the same month, Commander Haffenden submitted a written request for Lucania to be transferred to a more easily reached institution. The request was sent through Lieutenant Commander Lawrence Cowen of ONI in Albany to New York State Corrections Commissioner John A. Lyons. Cowen refused to leave the document with Lyons. After Lyons read it, Cowens took it back and destroyed it.

Commissioner Lyons met with Murray Gurfein to discuss the matter on April 29, 1942. Gurfein recently gave up his position as assistant district attorney to join the Army's Office of Strategic Services (OSS) - the wartime precursor of today's CIA. On May 6, Lyons issued an order to transfer Lucania to Great Meadow Prison. While still some distance from New York City, Great Meadow was easily accessible and sat only a short drive from the underworld's summer playground in Saratoga Springs, New York.

Lyons then met directly with Great Meadow Prison Warden Vernon A. Morhous to discuss the extraordinary bending of prison rules relating to visits to Lucania. Lyons said the rules regarding visitor logs and visitor fingerprinting were to be waived and visitors were to be allowed to speak in complete privacy with Lucania. Morhous was told that the only records should be separate memos he submitted to the corrections commissioner recording the date and length of the visits.

To keep the arrangements with ONI secret, Lyons called for a number of other prisoner to be moved between Clinton and Great Meadow at the same time as Lucania's May 12, 1942, transfer.

Great Meadow Prison


The impact of this U.S. intelligence program is uncertain. It is probable that some measure of labor peace on the docks was achieved through cooperation with the underworld. There is reason to believe that ONI interests were discussed - if not enhanced - by Lucania, Lansky, Lanza, Frank Costello, Brooklyn underworld powers Joe "Adonis" Doto and Albert Anastasia, West Side underworld leader John "Cockeye" Dunn and others. Some of those crime figures met directly with Haffenden.

As Haffenden's role at ONI changed, the focus of his relationship with crime bosses also changed. During 1942, Haffenden was removed from the ONI's security-oriented B-3 Section to its "Target Section," responsible for collecting strategic intelligence on possible Allied invasion sites. After the transfer, Haffenden sought to acquire information from Lucania and his Mafia colleagues that might be helpful in the planned invasion of Sicily. Michele "Mike" Miranda and Vincent Mangano became participants in that discussion.

Lansky
It seems unlikely that any significant contribution to the Allied war effort was made by Lucania during this phase - records relating to the secret project were destroyed following the Allied victory. But Lucania remained at Great Meadow Prison and continued his private visits with mob colleagues through the end of the war. Later visitors included Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel and Guarino "Willie Moore" Moretti, The final known visit - last of twenty-two outlined in records pieced together by state authorities and the FBI - occurred with Meyer Lansky and another visitor who was not named on Nov. 29, 1945, more than three months after the final Japanese surrender.

Four days later after that visit, the Board of Parole issued a favorable recommendation on a plan to commute the remainder of Lucania's prison sentence and deport him to Italy. On Jan. 3, 1946, Governor Thomas E. Dewey officially commuted the remainder of the sentence upon the condition of deportation. Lucania was transferred back to Sing Sing Prison on Jan. 9. A parole was granted on Feb. 2, and Lucania was transferred to Ellis Island. On Feb. 8, he was placed aboard the S.S. Laura Keene at Pier 7, Bush Terminal in Brooklyn. The ship left harbor on Feb. 10 and reached Italy seventeen days later.

Haffenden's connections to Lucania and his associates were later criticized by U.S. officials. Exposure of the favors he granted the crime boss resulted in a Navy censure. On May 31, 1946, evidence of corruption caused Haffenden to lose his postwar job as New York City commissioner of Marine and Aviation.

For more on this subject:

"When Lucky was locked up," American Mafia history website.

30 January 2018

When 'Lucky' was locked up

Salvatore Lucania, widely known as Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, late in 1931 became the most powerful crime boss in the U.S. He personally commanded a sprawling New York-based Mafia organization, held one of seven seats on the Mafia's ruling Commission and maintained valuable alliances with non-Italian racketeering organizations across the country.

Less than five years after achieving gangland eminence, however, Lucania was taken into custody on compulsory prostitution charges. Due to the efforts of Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey, Lucania spent most of the next decade - from the prime years of his life into middle age - behind prison bars.

Held at Clinton State Prison beginning in the summer of 1936, he was largely out of touch with the rich criminal empire he assembled and remote from friends and family. He depended upon pennies earned through manual toil and occasional contributions from relatives and associates to finance his many purchases through prison commissaries.

Yet, even during a lengthy and humiliating prison stay, Lucania found a way to make himself important. In the spring of 1942, Lucania convinced New York County prosecutors, New York State corrections officials and the United States Office of Naval Intelligence that he was indispensable to the U.S. war effort.

In the remaining years of World War II, Lucania arranged for a more convenient placement at Great Meadow Prison in the Lake George area and for suspension of visitation rules and recordkeeping. He managed in those few years to build a reputation for patriotic service that led to a 1946 commutation of sentence.

Very few official records remain of Lucania's long term in state prisons. From the period before 1942, only a small collection of documents is held at the New York State Archives. These include receiving blotter pages, health and psychiatric reports, visitor logs and financial transactions that shed some light on his brief time at Sing Sing Prison and his longer incarceration at Clinton Prison. From the period between his 1942 transfer to Great Meadow Prison and his 1946 parole and deportation, even less survives. Some details of these later years were pieced together when the State of New York, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Navy looked into Lucania's alleged contributions to the war effort. Wartime records of the Office of Naval Intelligence, which could have provided the most useful window into Lucania's service, were deliberately destroyed.

Available details of Lucania's time in prison and related events have been assembled into a 1936-1946 timeline on The American Mafia history website. These details range in excitement level from hum-drum to spectacular. Quotes from documents and links to documents - including all available pages of the Clinton Prison files - are included.

See: "When 'Lucky' was locked up."

19 April 2017

April 19, 1932: Luciano, Lansky nabbed in Chicago

Paul Ricca, Sylvester Agoglia, Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania,
Meyer Lansky, John Senna, Harry Brown.

On this date in 1932: Police arrested New York racketeers Salvatore "Charlie Luciano" Lucania and Meyer Lansky during their visit to underworld colleagues in Chicago. 

The two men had been under surveillance around the clock since arriving in the Windy City two days earlier. They were picked up by police as they headed out of their hotel to board a train back to New York. Police found them in the company of Chicago Outfit figures Paul Ricca, Sylvester Agoglia, Harry Brown and John Senna.

Chicago Daily Tribune, April 20, 1932.


02 January 2017

3 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Lucky Luciano

Charlie Lucky Luciano cracks a smirk in 1946.


Books and movies and hearsay... oh my!  A century's worth of material has been written on the life and crimes of Salvatore Lucania, the fella we better recognize as Lucky Luciano, but still his story is filled with as many holes as some of the gang war victims he once caroused with.  The 'mystery' that surrounds Lucky is ultimately the kind of thing researchers, historians and mob history aficionados live for, because we all love discovering a new clue or factoid that better paints the true picture. History itself, no matter the realm or subject matter, never ceases to amaze; there's always, ALWAYS something more to discover.  And with that said, here are three cool little facts about Charlie Lucky that you may have not known:


3. Gun Control

Not all RAP Sheets (record of arrest & prosecution) are created equal, keep that in mind especially when studying organized crime of the early twentieth century. Besides the facts that law enforcement entities obviously didn't have many options of technology to share information, and, most mobsters adopted an alias or two (and some literally juggled dozens of aka's) which made identification difficult enough in that era, rap sheets were often innately cryptic, and absolutely subject to human error and/or omissions.Some legal infractions just didn't get listed.

"Eight Gun Permits Ordered Revoked When Probe Shows Wholesale Falsifications" - The Troy Times, July 15, 1933.

Luciano was known to pack heat, as referenced when he (along with an ensemble of notable gangsters including Joe 'The Boss' Masseria and Bugsy Siegel - who was using an alias) was booked in Miami on gambling charges on February 28th, 1930, but the gun wasn't a big issue. Miami authorities only fined him for the gambling violation, although he was required to register with police if and when he ever returned to the city.  A few years later though, Lucky got into a little more gun-related trouble, but oddly it wasn't the weapon he was caught with.

The murders of several witnesses in a case against racketeer Waxey Gordon in 1933 is what prompted authorities in Troy, New York to investigate an unusual common denominator in the slayings - most of the witnesses were known gangsters and possessed gun permits issued in Troy.  Furthermore, many of the permit holders were from out of town (NYC, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles), and all of their permit 'sponsors' had apparently falsified documents. That discovery led to the questioning of  individuals issuing those permits, who incidentally had very groggy memories of why, exactly, they approved the permits.
FBI Record Charles Lucania

On July 15th, authorities revoked eight gun permits, and published the names of both permit holder and the individuals who sponsored them. Among those stripped of a license to carry was of course Lucky Luciano, who almost always used his real surname on official documents. Charles Lucania of 226 Hill Street; vocation listed as 'salesman' on the application. His address in Troy (and Lucky was known to maintain multiple addresses at the time) was less than an hour drive from his old pal Legs Diamond's home in Acra.  Interestingly, within the following two years, Lucky had instituted a contingency plan by securing the bodyguard services of  Lorenzo 'Chappy' Brescia, a big guy who carried a gun and a permit.


2. Inked Up

From comic book series LUCKY
Tattoos, even Lucky Luciano had some.  He was however quite meticulous in hiding epidermal decorations from public view, hence why very few images of his ink have ever surfaced and why little has ever been mentioned in historical accounts.  Despite his efforts to keep the ink under wraps, the tattoos were noted and described - sometimes in great detail - by a handful of eagle-eyed journalists, and of course by police.

"He constantly mopped his neck with a handkerchief as we talked, then shed his suit coat and drew back his shirt sleeves, revealing faded tattoos on each forearm.There was a nude on the left arm and a crest with the face of a jack on the right. If the tattoos clashed with his immaculate attire, so did his language. His soft-spoken conversation was flavored with Brooklynese, and the "youse guys" kept creeping in." - Jack Anderson, 1959.

Here's the lowdown on Lucky Luciano's skin art:

Tattooed Gangster
He acquired the tattoos as a teenager, the year was 1913 to be exact.  The right, inner forearm featured a 'Sailor's head' (though the design could easily be confused with a 'Jack'), stars and a heart, the word 'Lucky', and the date '1913'.  The left, inner arm was adorn with a bawdier imagery: a topless pinup girl, kneeling with her arms placed behind her head, and two banners reading, respectively,  'True Love' and 'Forever'.


Lucky took particular care to shield the pinup girl tattoo from photographers, but glimpses of the larger inkwork, located on his right arm, can bee seen in a few accessible press photographs, while far more detailed representations are present within the very-rare-yet-very-much-existing personal photo albums of he and his close friends (*even in personal photos he was methodical in keeping the pinup girl out of view).

"These tattoos...I got them when I was seventeen." - Luciano's reply to journalist Oscar Fraley's question, 'Regrets?' 1960.




1. Television Interview... With SOUND

It was no secret that Lucky hated being exiled to Italy. Although the press (and police) had hounded Lucky relentlessly with questions, flashbulbs ( and even some silent film footage) ever since his headline-making vice trial in 1936, it wasn't until around 1949 that Lucky had begun to willingly accept the occasional interview request - particularly from visiting American journalists (and usually with the caveat of no audio or motion picture recording). Some have suggested it was Luciano's way of connecting with a home he'd never get to visit again, and his interviews became more frequent through the 1950s.
Lucky gives interview in 1949


"It has-gotten so that every time a columnist gets within feet-wetting distance of the coast of Italy he owns to two objectives: the interviewing either of Luciano or Ms Ingrid Bergman, on the basis that they provide provocative copy." - Columnist Whitney Bolton, 1952

In early 1952 NBC dispatched newsreel photographers Charles and Eugene Jones to Europe. The brothers - known for traveling the world equipped with a state of the art camera - had gained notoriety for their coverage of the Korean War and their films were often featured during NBC's Camel News Caravan. In sending them to Europe, the network basically wanted the twenty-five year old twins to get stories on anything relevant, from politics to society. Gene's wife Natalie accompanied them on the European trek, and she would become a groundbreaking history-maker in her own right.

Stopping in Naples, Italy that April, the Jones trio became aware of Lucky Luciano's presence, so they took a room in the same hotel and set out to request an interview. Lucky refused at first, though he invited them to the track and to dine. Surprisingly though, the Jones's convinced Lucky to do an on-camera interview, sound included. Besides the significance of the interview being the only known audio/visual combo recording of the exiled gangster, the interview was conducted by Natalie Jones - and this was a time in history when the phrase 'Good Ol' Boy Network' applied to many segments of society, not the least of which being television journalism.

Luciano's mere agreement to do such an interview made the newspaper columns back in the States, which included teasers of the conversations viewers would soon see and hear. Some reports of the exclusive interview were straightforward, others quite scornful. Regardless of the opinions, this was to be a pretty big television event it seemed and the Jones family had more locations, personalities and subjects to cover before returning home at the end of the year.  When they returned, brothers Charlie and Gene had a book published - Double Trouble: The Autobiography of the Jones Twins and Natalie had become a staff foreign correspondent and then in the 1970's - an Academy Award nominee.

Now for the disheartening part of this all...

As of this writing, the author (me) had tried, in vain, for several weeks to locate the Lucky Luciano recording. Upon contacting NBC,a representative of the NBC News archives expressed that while the footage may still exist somewhere, the odds are it doesn't anymore. All things considered, the mission is now in full effect... let's find this piece of history, shall we?!