Head Of The Commission: The Rise Of Charles “Lucky” Luciano

Lucky Luciano

The prohibition era in the United States saw its fair share of gangsters and rum runners. Some are more well-known than others. Many have been glorified in popular culture. They are featured in movies, documentaries, and books. The most popular gangster to date is probably the infamous Alphonse (Al) “Scarface” Capone. But other names come to mind as well, such as George “Bugs” Moran, Arnold Rothstein, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Dutch Schultz, Vito Genovese, and Charles “Lucky” Luciano. While all of those men held power and high ranks in the mafia, Lucky Luciano topped them all as the founder of the Commission. He was also low key a babe. I might have dated him if I was alive at that time. Power, money, pretty good looking, what’s not to love? I bet he got “lucky” a lot. Wow, I’m so hilarious. It’s funny how your taste changes over the years, at one point I was all about blonde hair and blue eyes, now I like my men tall, dark, and handsome. Yes, at one point in time Charles “Lucky” Luciano had New York and almost all of the nation in the palm of his hand. His rise to power did not come without its fair share of struggles. But in the end, you wanted the man who took omerta and Cosa Nostra to heart on your side.

Charles “Lucky” Luciano was born Salvatore Lucania on November 24, 1897, in Lercara Friddi, Sicily, Italy to Antonio Lucania and Rosalia Capporelli. His dad was very ambitious and persistent in moving his family to the United States and would save money for the trip in a jar under his bed. In 1906, his dream was realized and the family moved to New York City in the borough of Manhattan. At the time this area was a popular destination for Italian immigrants. When Luciano was 14 years old, he dropped out of school and found a job delivering hats, making $7.00 a week. However, after winning $244.00 in a dice game, he quit his job and began earning money on the street.

That same year Luciano’s parents shipped him off to Brooklyn Truant School. Spoiler alert! It didn’t help very much. When he was still a teenager, Luciano started his own gang and also became a member of the Five Points Gang. Unlike other street gangs, the Five points gang was known for petty crime. For a tiny fee of 10 cents a week, just one little dime, Luciano would offer protection to Jewish youth from the Italian and Irish gangs. Oh, he was also learning the trade of pimping during World War I. Just a little side hustle, I guess.

Luciano met Meyer Lansky (the mob’s accountant) as teenagers when he attempted to extort Lansky for protection money on his walk home from school. Lucky Luciano respected the younger boy’s defiant responses to his threats and the two formed a lasting partnership. It’s not clear how Luciano earned his infamous nickname of “Lucky”. One theory is that he was given it after surviving a severe beating and throat-slashing by 3 men in 1929 after he refused to work for another mob boss. Another theory is that the name is attributed to his luck when it came to gambling. Luciano was arrested 25 times between 1916 and 1936, on charges including assault, illegal gambling, blackmail, and robbery but never spent any time in prison. Well, that sounds pretty damn lucky to me. The changing of his surname from Lucania to Luciano is believed to be due to misspellings and mispronunciations by others and the media.

On January 17, 1920, the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S Constitution was put in place and prohibition lasted until the amendment was repealed in 1933. While in effect Prohibition well, prohibited, the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. Naturally, the demand for alcohol continued, and the resulting black market for alcoholic beverages provided criminals with another source of income. By this time Luciano had met multiple future Mafia leaders, including Vito Genovese and Frank Costello, his longtime friend, and future business partner. That same year, Lower Manhattan mafia boss Joe Masseria recruited Luciano as one of his gunmen. During that time, Lucky Luciano and some close associates started working for high-profile gambler Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein. Rothstein immediately saw the potential in prohibition and educated Luciano on running bootleg alcohol as a business. Soon Luciano, Costello, and Genovese started a bootlegging operation with financing from Rothstein. Rothstein became a mentor to Luciano, among other things, Rothstein taught him how to make his way in high society.

In 1923, Lucky was caught in a sting selling heroin to undercover agents. Although, he served no jail time, being outed as a drug dealer damaged his reputation among his high-class associates and customers. To save face, Luciano bought 200 seats for the Jack Dempsey-Luis Firpo boxing match in the Bronx and gave them to top gangsters and politicians. Rothstein took Luciano to Wanamaker’s Department Store in Manhattan to buy expensive clothes to wear to the fight. The strategy worked and Luciano’s reputation was salvaged. By 1925, Lucky Luciano was grossing over $12,000,000 per year and made a personal income of approximately $4,000,000 from running illegal gambling and bootlegging operations in New York and parts of Philadelphia.

Lucky soon became a top aide in Joe Masseria’s criminal organization. Unlike Rothstein, Masseria was uneducated, had no manners, and limited managerial skills. Masseria’s main rival was Salvatore Maranzano, who immigrated from Sicily to run the Castellammarese clan. After one of Masseria’s lieutenants, Gaetano Reina flipped sides to Maranzano, Masseria ordered Luciano to put a hit out on the traitor. Reina was murdered on February 26, 1930, and the rivalry between Masseria and Maranzano escalated into the Castellammarese War. Both Masseria and Maranzano were older, traditional Mafia bosses who started their criminal careers in Italy. They believed in upholding the supposed “Old World Mafia” principles of “honor”, “tradition”, “respect”, and “dignity”. Both bosses refused to work with non-Italians and were suspicious of working with non-Sicilians. Luciano, on the other hand, was willing to work with anyone, as long as there was money to be made. That’s my kind of man. Get that money, boo! He was shocked to hear traditional Sicilian Mafiosi lecture him about his dealing with his close friend Frank Costello, whom they bad-mouthed and called “the dirty Calabrian” (he was from Calabria, Italy).

Luciano soon began growing relationships with other young mobsters who like him, had been born in Italy but started their criminal careers in the United States. Luciano wanted to use lessons he learned from Rothstein to turn their gang activities into criminal empires. As the “war” progressed, Luciano’s group came to include future mob leaders Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, Joe Bonanno (that’s such a fun name to say…BONANNO), Carlo Gambino, Joe Profaci, Tommy Gagliano, and Tommy Lucchese. They believed that their bosses’ greed and conservatism were keeping them poor while other gangs got rich. Luciano had an idea to form a national crime syndicate in which the Italian, Jewish, and Irish gangs could all pull their resources and work together to turn organized crime into a lucrative business for everyone. An organization was founded after a conference in Atlantic City was hosted by Luciano, Torrio, Lansky, and Costello in May 1929. In October of that same year, Lucky Luciano was forced into a limousine at gunpoint by three men who drove him to a warehouse in Staten Island. Once there, Luciano was beaten, stabbed, and strung up by his hands. He survived the attack but was left with a scar on his cheek and a wonky eye (it was permanently droopy). When Luciano was picked up by the police after the ordeal, he told them that he had no idea who had attacked him. However, in 1953, Luciano told an interviewer that it was law enforcement who kidnapped and beat him.

In early 1931, Luciano decided to eliminate Joe Masseria. The war had not been going in Masseria’s favor, and Luciano saw a chance to flip on him. In a secret deal with Salvatore Maranzano, Lucky agreed to plot Masseria’s death in return for his rackets and becoming Maranzano’s underboss. When Masseria caught wind of Luciano’s plan he asked Joe Adonis to put a hit out on him. Instead, Adonis warned Luciano about the murder plot. On April 15, 1931, Joe Masseria was killed at Nuova Villa Tammaro, a Coney Island restaurant in Brooklyn. Luciano excused himself to go to the bathroom while playing cards with Masseria. While he was gone Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Bugsy Siegel entered the restaurant. The men gunned down Masseria and left. Ciro “The Artichoke King” (I’m not making that name up, I swear) Terranova drove the getaway car, but legend has it that he was too shaken up to drive away and had to be shoved out of the driver’s seat by Siegel. With Maranzano’s blessing, Lucky Luciano took over Masseria’s gang and became Maranzano’s lieutenant. The Castellammarese war had finally come to an end.

With Masseria out of the picture, Salvatore Maranzano reorganized the Italian American gangs in New York City into the Five Families headed by Lucky Luciano, Joe Profaci, Tommy Gagliano, Vincent Mangano, and himself. The American Mafia in New York still operates by this system today. During a meeting all the crime bosses attended in Wappinger Falls, New York, Maranzano declared himself capo di tutti capi (“boss of all bosses”). He also whittled down the rival families in favor of his own. Luciano seemed to accept these changes, but in reality, was biding his time before taking out Maranzano. Although Maranzano was more forward-thinking than Masseria had been, Luciano started to get the feeling that he was greedier and more hidebound than Masseria ever was. By September 1931, Maranzano started to realize that Lucky Luciano was a threat, and hired Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, a member of an Irish gang to whack him. Whack him as in killing him not jack…..nevermind. However, Tommy Lucchese found out about the hit and warned Luciano. On September 10, 1931, Maranzano ordered Luciano, Genovese, and Costello to meet him at his office at the Helmsley Building in Manhattan. Convinced that Maranzano was going to murder the men, Luciano acted first. He sent four Jewish gangsters to Maranzano’s office disguised as government agents. Two of the gangsters disarmed Maranzano’s bodyguards, while the other two, stabbed him multiple times before shooting him. Talk about over-kill my dudes. The assassination was the first of what would later be dubbed the “Night of the Sicilian Vespers”.

On September 13th, the bodies of two of Maranzano’s allies, Samuel Monaco and Louis Russo, were pulled from Newark Bay, both victims showed signs of torture. Meanwhile, Joseph Siragusa, head of the Pittsburgh crime family, was gunned down in his home. On October 15th, the head of the Los Angeles crime family, Joe Ardizonne, disappeared. This was thought to be part of a plan to quickly eliminate the old-world Sicilian bosses. But, the idea of an organized mass purge, orchestrated by Luciano had been debunked as a myth. With Maranzano out of the picture, Lucky Luciano became the dominant crime boss in the United States. He reached the top of the underworld and began to set policies and direct activities along with other Mafia bosses. His own crime family controlled lucrative criminal rackets in New York City such as illegal gambling, extortion, bookmaking, loansharking, and drug trafficking. He also became very influential in labor union activities and controlled the Manhattan Waterfront, garbage pickup, construction, Garment District businesses, and trucking. Even though there would have been few objections to Luciano declaring himself capo di tutti capi, he abolished the title, believing the position created nothing but trouble between the families and made himself a target for ambitious challengers. Instead, Luciano began to think up an idea to maintain control through a new governing body called, the Commission. He would make unofficial alliances with other bosses and keep control over the families quietly and inconspicuously. Although he made changes Luciano also kept some things the same. He believed that the ceremony of becoming a “made man” (a fully initiated member of the mafia) was an old-fashioned Sicilian tradition. However, Genovese convinced Luciano to keep the title, arguing that young people needed rituals to show loyalty to the family. Luciano also remained committed to keeping omerta, the oath of silence, to protect the families from legal prosecution as part of the mafia lifestyle. Man, if you broke omerta, you basically signed your own death warrant. Good luck, trying to get out of that mess with your life. He also kept the structure of five crime families in New York City.

Luciano promoted his most trusted associates to high-level positions in what was now known as the Luciano crime family. Vito Genovese became underboss, and Frank Costello consigliere (advisor to the boss). Joe Adonis, Michael “Trigger Mike” Coppola, Anthony Strollo, Willie Moretti, and Anthony Carfano all served as caporegimes (captains). Since Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel were non- Italians, neither man could hold an official position within any Mafia family. However, Lansky was a top advisor to Luciano and Siegel a trusted associate. Later in 1931, Lucky Luciano called a meeting in Chicago with numerous bosses. It was there that he proposed a Commission to serve as the governing body for organized crime. He designed it to settle all disputes and decide which families controlled which territories; the Commission has been called Luciano’s greatest innovation. His goal was to maintain his power over all the families and prevent future gang wars. All the bosses in attendance approved the idea. The Commission was originally made up of representatives of the Five Families of New York City, the Buffalo crime family, and the Chicago Outfit. Later, the Philadelphia and Detroit crime families were added. The Commission also provided representation for Jewish criminal organizations in New York as were smaller crime families. Cosa Nostra (“this thing of ours”) more commonly known as the American Mafia was born.

The groups’ first obstacle appeared in 1935 when it ordered fellow gangster Dutch Schultz to drop his plans to murder Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey. Luciano told Schultz that Dewey’s assassination would cause a massive law enforcement crackdown; the national crime syndicate had already enacted a hard rule stating that law enforcement and prosecutors were not to be harmed. Schultz became enraged, claimed he would kill Thomas Dewey anyway, and stormed out of the meeting. Murder, Inc (another organized crime group) leader Albert Anastasia later gave Luciano information that Dutch Schultz had asked him to stake out Dewey’s apartment building on Fifth Avenue. Upon gaining the information, the Commission held a discreet meeting to discuss the matter. After 6 hours of deliberations, the Commission ordered Lepke Buchalter (another member of Murder, Inc) to take out Schultz. On October 23, 1935, before he could carry out his plot to kill Dewey, Dutch Schultz was shot in a tavern in Newark, New Jersey, and died from his injuries the next day.

Throughout the early 1930s, Luciano’s crime family started taking over small-scale prostitution operations in New York City. In June 1935, New York Governor Herbert H. Lehman made Thomas E. Dewey, a U.S Attorney, as a special prosecutor to combat organized crime in the city. Dewey’s assistant district attorney Eunice Carter led an investigation into prostitution racketeering that connected Luciano, to this prostitution network. Carter investigated the flow of money in the New York/New Jersey prostitution network and began to build a case of prostitution racketeering based on evidence from interviews with prostitutes and wiretaps. On February 2, 1936, Dewey authorized Carter to raid 200 brothels in Manhattan and Brooklyn, earning him nationwide recognition as a major “gangbuster”. Carter made sure to take precautions to prevent police corruption from impeding the raids as many members of law enforcement were on the mafia’s payroll. She assigned 160 police officers outside of the vice squad to conduct the raids. The officers were instructed to wait on street corners until they received their orders, minutes before the raids were to begin. 10 men and 100 women were arrested. However, unlike past vice raids, the arrestees were not released but taken to court, where they were given a $10,000 bail which many did not have the means to pay.

Carter had built trust with a number of the arrested prostitutes and madams, some of whom reported being beaten and abused by members of the mafia. She was able to convince many of them to testify in court rather than serve additional jail time. By the middle of March, several defendants had implicated Luciano. 3 of the prostitutes pointed him out as the ringleader, who made collections. Luciano’s associate David Betillo was in charge of the prostitution ring in New York, any money that Luciano received was from Betillo. In late March 1936, Lucky Luciano received a tip that he was going to be arrested and fled to Hot Springs, Arkansas. However, a New York detective on an unrelated assignment in Hot Springs saw Luciano and notified Thomas Dewey. On April 3rd, Luciano was arrested in Hot Springs on a criminal warrant from New York. The next day Dewey indicted Luciano and his accomplices on 60 counts of compulsory prostitution.

Lucky Luciano’s mugshot (C. 1931)

Luciano’s lawyers in Arkansas began fighting against extradition. On April 6th, Owney Madden, the one-time owner of the Cotton Club offered a $50,000 bribe to Arkansas Attorney General Carl E. Bailey to facilitate Luciano’s case. Bailey refused the bribe and reported it. Wow, he is dumb. He is really dumb, he should have taken the money and run. Not going to lie, that’s what I would have done. On April 17, 1936, after all of Luciano’s legal options had been exhausted, Arkansas authorities gave him to 3 New York City detectives to be extradited to New York for his trial. When the men arrived in St. Louis, Missouri, they changed trains. During the switch over, they were guarded by 20 local policemen to prevent a mob rescue attempt. The detectives and Luciano arrived in New York on April 18th and Lucky Luciano was sent to jail without bail. Luciano’s trial began on May 13th, Thomas Dewey prosecuted the case that Carter built again the mob boss. During the trial, Dewey exposed Luciano for lying on the witness stand through telephone records; Luciano also had explanations for why his federal income tax records claimed he made $22,000 annually when he appeared to be a very rich man. Dewey also accused Luciano of being part of a massive prostitution ring known as “the Combination”. On June 7, 1936, Charles “Lucky” Luciano was convicted on 62 counts of compulsory prostitution, and on June 18th, he was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in state prison.

In his book, Five Families, The New York Times organized-crime columnist Selwyn Raab wrote that a number of scholars have questioned whether Luciano was directly involved “the Combination.” According to Raab, there was evidence that Luciano profited from prostitution, and that several members of his family ran a prostitution ring that included many of New York’s madams and brothel keepers. However, Raab wrote that several mafia and legal scholars believed that it would have been “out of character” for a mob boss of Luciano’s position to be directly involved in a prostitution ring. He furthermore wrote that that the evidence Dewey presented against Luciano was “astonishingly thin”, and argued that it would have been more appropriate to charge Luciano with extortion. Raab believes that Luciano’s defense team made a grave mistake when they allowed him to take the stand in his own defense as this allowed Dewey to attack the crime boss’ credibility on cross-examination. 

At least 2 of Lucky’s acquaintances have denied that he was ever part of “the Combination”. New York society madam Polly Adler wrote in her memoirs that if Lucky Luciano had been involved with “the Combination”, she would have known about it. Joe Bonanno, the last surviving partner of Luciano’s who wasn’t incarcerated, also denied that Luciano was directly involved in the prostitution ring in his book, A Man of Honor. Bonanno believed that many of Luciano’s soldiers used his name to intimidate brother keepers into paying for protection. Bonanno also argued that Dewey built his case “not so much against Luciano as against Luciano’s name.” However, key witnesses at Luciano’s trial testified that Luciano was involved with prostitution racketeering, and often discussed the sex industry business. So pretty much, we don’t know the truth. It’s all a bunch of he said she said bullshit. 

Do you really think prison could stop a man like Lucky Luciano? Absolutely not! He continued to run his crime family while behind bars, relaying his orders through his acting boss Vito Genovese. But, in 1937, Genovese fled to Naples to avoid an impending murder indictment in New York. Luciano appointed his consigliere, Frank Costello, as the new acting boss and overseer of his interests. Luciano was first imprisoned at Sing Sing Correctional Facility but was later transferred to Clinton Correctional Facility, a more remote prison far outside of New York City. At Clinton, David Betillo prepared specials meals for Luciano in a kitchen set aside by authorities. Luciano passed the time by working in the prison laundry. He used his influence to help get married to build a church at the prison, which became famous for being one of the only freestanding churches in the New York State correctional system. Luciano’s legal appeals continued until October 10, 1938, when the U.S Supreme Court refused to review his case. At that time, Luciano stepped down as family boss and Frank Costello formally replaced him.

During World War II, the US government struck a secret deal with the jailed Luciano. Is anybody surprised by this? In 1942, the Office of Naval Intelligence was worried about German and Italian agents entering the US through the New York waterfront. They were also concerned about sabotage in these facilities. Knowing that the mob controlled the waterfront, the US Navy reached out to Meyer Lanksy about a deal with Luciano. He was transferred to Great Meadow Correction Facility to facilitate negotiations. The Navy, the State of New York, and Lucky Luciano eventually reached a deal: in exchange for a commutation of his sentence, Luciano promised the complete assistance of his organization in providing intelligence to the Navy. Alber Anastasia, Luciano’s ally who controlled the docs, promised no dockworker strikes would occur during the war. To prepare for the 1943 allied invasion of Sicily, Luciano provided the US military with Sicilian Mafia contacts. The collaboration between the Navy and the Mafia became known as “Operation Underworld.” The value of Luciano’s contribution to the war effort is still highly debated. In 1947, the naval officer in charge of “Operation Underworld” downplayed the value of his wartime aid. A 1954 report ordered by Governor Thomas Dewey (oh, he got a promotion) stated that Luciano provided many valuable services to Naval Intelligence. The enemy threat to the docks, Luciano allegedly said, was manufactured by the sinking of the SS Normandie in the New York harbor, supposedly directed by Albert Anastasia’s brother, Anthony Anastasio. But the official investigation of the ship sinking found no evidence of sabotage.

On January 3, 1946, Dewey reluctantly commuted Luciano’s pandering sentence on the condition that he not resist deportation to Italy. Luciano accepted the deal but maintained that he was a US citizen and not subject to deportation. Apparently, he was wrong. On February 2, 1946, Lucky Luciano was transported from Sing Sing prison to Ellis Island for deportation proceedings. On February 9th, the night before he was scheduled to head back to Italy, Luciano shared a spaghetti dinner on his freighter with Anastasia and 5 other guests. On February 10th (the best day of the whole year), Luciano’s ship left the Brooklyn Harbor and headed for Italy. After a 17-day trip, Luciano arrived in Naples. On arrival, Luciano told reporters that he planned to reside in Sicily. In October 1946, Lucky secretly moved to Havana, Cuba, and settle in an estate in the Miramar section of the city. His goal was to be closer to the US so that he could resume control over the American Mafia operations and eventually return home. Meyer Lansky was already an established investor in Cuban gambling and hotel projects.

In December 1946, Lansky called a meeting of the heads of the major crime families in Havana, this was dubbed the “Havana Conference”. The stated reason for the meeting was to see singer Frank Sinatra perform. But the real reason for the meeting was to discuss mob business while Luciano was in attendance. The main discussion was: the heroin trade, Cuban gambling, and what to do about Bugsy Siegel and his failing Flamingo Hotel project in Las Vegas. Jesus, that’s a story for a different day. The “Havana Conference” lasted a little more than a week. On December 20, 1946, Luciano had a private meeting with Genovese in his hotel suite. The year before, Genovese had returned from Italy to New York to go to trial for his 1934 murder charge. However, the charges against him were dropped in June 1946 and Genovese was free to return to the mafia business. Unlike Costello, Luciano had never fully trusted Genovese. In the meeting, Genovese tried to convince Luciano to become a titular (It’s a real word, google it!) “capo di tutti capi” and let him run everything. Luciano very calmly rejected Genovese’s suggestion telling him; “There is no “capo di tutti capi”. I turned it down in front of everybody. If I ever change my mind, I will take the title. But it won’t be up to you. Right now, you work for me and I ain’t in the mood to retire. Don’t you ever let me hear this again, or I’ll lose my temper.”

The US government eventually learned that Luciano was in Cuba since he had been seen publicly fraternizing with Frank Sinatra and visiting nightclubs. The United States started putting pressure on the Cuban government to make Luciano leave. On February 21, 1947, U.S Narcotics Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger informed the Cubans that the US would block all shipment of narcotic prescription drugs while Luciano resided there. 2 days later, the Cuban government announced that Luciano was in custody and would be deported to Italy within 48 hours. Damn, people really love their narcotics. Lucky Luciano would spend the rest of his life in Italy under tight police surveillance.

When he arrived in Genoa on April 11, 1947, Italian police arrested him and sent him to jail in Palermo. On May 11th, a regional commission in Palermo warned Luciano to stay out of trouble and released him. In early July 1949, police in Rome, Italy arrested Luciano on suspicion of taking part in the shipping of narcotics to New York. On July 15th, after spending seven days in jail, police released Luciano without filing any charges. However, he was permanently banned from visiting Rome. On June 5, 1951, he was questioned by Naples police on suspicion of illegally bringing $57,000 in cash along with a car. After 20 hours of questioning, police released Luciano without any charges. In 1952, the Italian government revoked Luciano’s passport after receiving complaints from US and Canadian law enforcement officials. On November 1, 1954, an Italian judicial commission in Naples applied limits on Luciano for 2 years. He was required to report to the police every Sunday, stay home every night, and not leave Naples without police permission. The commission cited Luciano’s alleged involvement in the narcotics trade as a reason for these restrictions.

By 1957, Vito Genovese felt strong enough to move against Luciano and his acting boss, Frank Costello. He was assisted by the Anastasia (now Gambino) family underboss Carlo Gambino. On May 12, 1957, Genovese sent Vincent “Chin” Gigante to Genovese’s Central Park apartment building where he was ambushed in the lobby. Gigante allegedly called out, “This is for you, Frank.” before shooting Costello in the head. After firing his weapon, Gigante quickly left, thinking he had killed Costello. However, Costello got very lucky and the bullet only grazed his head. He was not seriously injured. Although Costello stuck to the code of omerta and refused to cooperate with the police, Gigante was eventually arrested for the murder attempt. Vincent Gigante went to trial and was later acquitted. He thanked Costello after the verdict was read. Costello was allowed to retire after handing over control to what is now known as the Genovese crime family to Vito Genovese. Lucky Luciano was powerless to stop it. On October 25, 1957, Genovese and Gambino successfully arranged the murder of Albert Anastasia, another ally of Luciano. Carlo Gambino successfully took control of the Anastasia crime family. A month after Anastasia’s assassination, Genovese called a meeting of bosses in Apalachin, New York to approve his takeover of the Luciano (now Genovese) family and establish his national power. The meeting turned into a shit show when law enforcement conducted a raid. Over 65 high-ranking members of the mafia were arrested and the organization was subjected to publicity and a number of grand jury summonses.

The enraged bosses blamed Genovese for the disaster, opening a window of opportunity for Genovese’s opponents. Around this time Luciano allegedly attended a meeting in a hotel in Palermo, Sicily to discuss the heroin trade as part of the French Connection. After the meeting, Lucky Luciano allegedly helped pay part of $100,000 to Puerto Rican drug dealer to falsely implicate Genovese in a drug deal. On April 4, 1959, Vito Genovese was convinced in New York of conspiracy to violate federal narcotics laws. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison for 15 years. Genovese attempted to run his crime family from prison until he died in 1969. Meanwhile, Carlo Gambino now became the most powerful man in the Cosa Nostra.

Charles “Lucky” Luciano, died of a heart attack on January 26, 1962, at the age of 64 while at the Naples International Airport. He had gone to the airport to meet with American producer Martin Gosch to discuss a film based on his life. To avoid antagonizing other members of the mafia, Luciano had previously refused to authorize the film but reportedly changed his mind after the death of his longtime lover, Igea Lissoni. We’ll talk about his personal life at the end of the article. Luciano suffered a heart attack after the meeting with Gosch had concluded. He was oblivious to the fact that Italian drug agents had followed him to the airport in anticipation of arresting him on drug smuggling charges. Well, mother nature got to Luciano before the agents could. Luciano’s funeral was held in Naples 3 days after his death. 300 people attended the service. His body was conveyed along the streets in a horse-drawn black hearse. With permission from the US government, Luciano’s relatives took his body back to New York for burial. He was buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens. More than 2,000 mourners attended Luciano’s funeral service in New York. Gambo, Luciano’s longtime friend, gave his eulogy. In 1998, Time Magazine characterized Luciano as the “criminal mastermind” among the top 20 most influential builders and titans of the 20th century.

Now that we’ve heard about his criminal life, I will touch on Luciano’s personal life. Hey, mobsters need love too. In 1929, Luciano met Gay (I swear that’s her name) Orlova, a featured dancer in one of Broadway’s leading nightclubs. They were inseparable until he went to prison, but never married. In early 1948, he met Igea Lissoni, a Milanese ballerina, whom he later described as the love of his life. She was 20 years his junior. Although some reports claimed that the couple got married in 1949, others state that they only exchanged rings as a sign of their commitment to one another. The couple lived together in Luciano’s home in Naples. Lucky continued to have affairs with other women, which resulted in many arguments with Lissoni. During these confrontations, he would physically abuse her. In 1959, Igea Lissoni passed away from breast cancer at the age of 39. Luciano never had children and had good reason for his decision. During an interview he gave a reason for his decision, saying: “I didn’t want no son of mine to go through life as the son of Luciano, the gangster. That’s the one thing I still hate Dewey for, making me a gangster in the eyes of the world.”

The mafia still uses the structure Lucky Luciano put into place today. Although the five families have changed hands numerous times, they still run the five boroughs in New York City, and the Commission still reigns supreme in the crime organization. If you ask me, Cosa Nostra isn’t dismantling anytime soon. 


“Lucky Luciano” – Wikipedia

“Lucky Luciano” – The Mob Museum

“Mafia’s Greatest Hits” – AHC

“Charles “Lucky” Luciano” – HISTORY


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