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.
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.
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.
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.