Also Knows As: Lucky Luciano, Salvatore Lucania
Born: Wednesday November 24th 1897
Died: Friday January 26th 1962
Cause of Death: Heart Attack
Crime Family Association: Genovese Crime Family
Charles Luciano was born with the name of Salvatore Lucania, and grew up in Lercara Friddi, which is situated in the Italian region of Sicily. His heart was always in the USA though and he even claimed himself that he was born in New York City.
He came from a medium sized family with four other siblings (Bartolomeo, Giuseppe, Filippia, and Concetta), his parents were Antonio and Rosalia. However as we establish later on he didn’t get on with his parents.
By the age of 10, Charles and the rest of the Lucania family had all moved to New York City but by the age of 14 he had dropped out of school and started working as a shipping clerk for $5 a week. It was long after this that he ended up winning $244 in a dice game which then lead him to leave the shipping clerk job to earn money from the street. His parents saw that Charles was going off the rails and decided to send him to a Truant School in Brooklyn.
During his teenage years Charles was the head of his own small-time gang, which incidentally offered protection for Jewish and Italian gang members for ten cents a week. One of the Jewish gang members he met here was Meyer Lansky, who he would eventually build up a solid business partnership in later years.
His family pretty much disowned him due to his criminal activities and the direction he was taking; this is where he decided to change his surname to honour his family’s wishes. He changed it from Lucania to Luciano.
It was the Prohibition era that really propelled Lucky into the limelight and would see him as a force to be reckoned with in the mafia world. In the 1920’s Lucky has met up with some of the biggest names in the mob, including some of the most notorious leaders that included the likes of Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. It was also in the early part of the 1920’s where Lucky acted as gunman for Joe “The Boss” Masseria but soon moved on to pastures greener when he met up with Arnold “the Brain” Rothstein who had big contacts in the gambling and racketeering industry. It with Rothstein who helped Lucky by educating him on how to behave (as Lucky had a bit of a short fuse), but more important Rothstein showed him how to run a bootlegging business.
I think without the inspiration of Rothstein things may have been different for Lucky, as it was again Rothstein who helped save Lucky’s reputation after he messed up a drug deal and lost a reportedly $150,000. With his reputation in pieces, he turned to Rothstein who told him to buy 200 of the most expensive seats at the local Jack Dempsey fight and then syndicate the tickets out to the most notorious Politian’s and mob figures. He also bought Lucky an expensive suit for the fight.
It was in the late part of the 1920’s when Rothstein was murdered after racking up debts of over $300,000 in what he claimed were fixed games. This was yet again a testing period for Lucky who had to turn back to Joe The Boss, who took him in and soon made him one of the key people in the Masseria Crime Family.
During his time working for Joe The Boss, the Castellammarese War was in full swing which accounted for over 60 mafia deaths and drew constant attention from the law. The war raged between Joe The Boss and Salvatore Maranzano who were both old traditional bosses from the Mustache Petes era. They believed in “honour”, “tradition”, “respect”, and “dignity”.
The problem was that neither of these two would work with anyone who wasn’t Italian, or at least Italian-American. At some points this even drilled down deeper and if you weren’t born in Sicily they wouldn’t work with you.
Obviously, Lucky realised that this was bad for business and in the later years of the 20’s and early 30’s he built up his own connections who consisted of Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, Joe Bonanno, Carlo Gambino, Joe Profaci, and Tommy Lucchese. They were called the Young Turks and shared the same opinion as Lucky, in that their bosses were costing them money due to their old regimes.
Lucky wanted to form a national crime syndicate in which the Italian, Jewish, and Irish gangs could turn organized crime into a well-oiled business.
A lot of experts in this field and witness from around the time also said that he got his nickname Lucky due to surviving a beating by some gang members in the 1920’s, due to Charles pledging his allegiance to Joe “The Boss” Masseria , and not joining Salvatore Maranzano’s gang. Close friends of Charles commented on this by saying that he was Lucky to come away with his life. Thus, the nickname Lucky was born.
The incident took place on October 1929 in which he was forced at gun-point into a limo and then beaten, stabbed and dumped on a beach at Staten Island. This left him with some serious facial marking including a scar and a droopy eyelid, which in all honesty just added to the look he had.
In true mafia fashion he didn’t identify his attackers but years later in 1953 he said that the police did it (I think this was probably just an attack on the Police rather than the truth though).
One thing was for sure though; the American public now knew who Lucky Luciano was.
The time had come where Lucky decided to make a brave move and orchestrate the hit of both bosses in a well thought out plan. In 1931 Lucky struck a secret deal with Maranzano in that he would order the hit on Joe The Boss in exchange for his rackets and becoming the underboss to Maranzano.
Joe The Boss was dining at a restaurant with Luciano and two other associates, where they engaged in a game of cards. At some point during the event Lucky got up to go to the bathroom which initiated four gunmen to barge in and shoot at Joe The Boss from close range (as well as the two other associates).
The four gunmen were Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, and Joe Adonis
Joe was left holding a playing card in his hand.
This put an end to the Castellammarese War and made Maranzano the Boss of all Bosses (capo di tutti capi). It was during this period that he then decided to restructure the way the mafia worked by creating the Five Families which were fronted by Maranzano, Luciano, Profaci, Gagliano, and Mangano.
However, due to the power given to Maranzano it meant that he got greedy and sealed his own fate because of it. He also tried to order a hit on Lucky as he didn’t trust him entirely and saw him as a major threat.
Lucky for Lucky, Tommy Lucchese found out the plan and got word back to him. On September 10th 1931 Maranzano sent for both Lucky and Vito Genovese to come to his Manhattan office. Convinced that the hit would take place during this meeting Lucky decided to not go and instead he sent five gangsters dressed as government agents. None the wiser his bodyguards were disarmed by two of the agents whilst the other three entered Maranzano’s office, locked the door and then proceeded to stab, strangle and shoot him dead.
Lucky Luciano had now gotten rid of the two old time mafia bosses and with the advice of Chicago’s Johnny Torrio he had setup The Commission which was an organization to help put some structure back into organized crime by providing a place to settle disputes, answer questions and prevent gang wars from breaking out, causing public exposure.
To begin with, the Commission was made up from the Five Families of New York, but later more families were enrolled.
In the mid 1930’s Thomas Dewey was appointed as the special prosecutor to help beat the organized crime ring in New York and to lower criminal activity by doing so. It was during the late 1930’s in which Thomas Dewey made good head way in breaking down the barriers to get to Lucky by raiding over 200 brothels and helping to put high bail prices on each arrestee in the hope some would come forward with more information on Lucky.
The strategy seemed to work as soon they started to talk and implicate Lucky Luciano in several scandals.
In 1936 he was eventually arrested and held to 90 counts of compulsory prostitution, that even his legal team couldn’t help with. Despite certain bribes to the Attorney General (which was reported) Lucky was in for a long sentence.
Just a few months later Luciano’s trial began, in which Dewey was able to expose Lucky on tax evasion claims in which his income tax stated that he made just $22,000 a year.
Dewey made a good case and in the end Lucky Luciano was convicted on 62 counts of compulsory prostitution, to be sentenced to 30 to 50 years in a state prison.
Joe Bonanno wrote in his book “A Man of Honor” that Lucky wasn’t directly involved in prostitution.
While in prison he continued to head the Luciano Crime Family using his acting boss Vito Genovese to relay any orders but a year later Genovese himself fled to Italy as he was up for a murder case which then lead to Frank Costello helping Lucky get word out of the prison.
Luciano was so powerful that during World War II, even the U.S. government turned to him for help. They knew that the mafia ran the waterfront and in a confidential approach they made a deal with him in 1942. The deal was that he would use his power to assist in providing intelligence to the Navy as they were concerned about German and Italian agents entering the United States through the New York waterfront.
The Navy had contacted Meyer Lansky who then spoke with Luciano about the situation, and in return
For a transfer to a prison closer to New York City, Lucky would speak with Albert Anastasia (who controlled the docks) to promise no strikes during the war.
After the war in 1946 Lucky was given the opportunity to return to Italy as a free man, and in early January of that year deportation proceedings had started. On the night before his return to Italy, Lucky shared a meal with Anastasia and other mob figures who gave him a going away present in the form of hundreds of thousands of dollars stuffed into an envelope. This has been collected for him by contributions from head of the five families.
While in Italy he would meet American tourists where he would chat and sign autographs for them, as leaving the USA was an upsetting time for Lucky as it was a place he called home
Not being the type of person to settle in Italy he managed to get to Cuba for a meeting which saw the heads of major crime families come together. As Meyer Lansky ran gambling projects and hotels in Cuba it was the perfect place for Lucky to go.
The apparent reason for the meeting was to watch Frank Sinatra but the underlying reason was to discuss a few points on the mob’s agenda. These including action to be taken on Bugsy Siegel and the money he was spending on the Flamingo Hotel as well as gambling and heroin projects.
Due to the publicity, the US government put pressure on Cuba to export Luciano and made an attempt to block all narcotic prescription drugs going into Cuba if Lucky remained there. Obviously this was a point of his life where he was becoming a problem for the smooth running of the mob, so he ended up returning to Italy under police surveillance.
This would be the last time he would leave Italy.
Apart from a few brushes with the police in Italy during the late 40’s, early 50’s he was still able to expand the drug trafficking from the US to Sicily which would benefit all members involved in the deal.
His power soon waned though, mainly due to the tight restrictions that were put in place, such as the 1952 revoking of his passport and the 1954 order for his to report to the Police on a weekly basis.
In 1957 Genovese took control over the family after a botched attempt at trying to take out Frank Costello using Vincent “Chin” Gigante as the hitman. Genovese would then pick off another of Luciano’s allies, Albert Anastasia, in order to get to the top. This didn’t last long though as Genovese messed up big time in an event that would expose the Mafia to the public at the Apalachin Meeting.
Lucky wasn’t completely powerless however as he still had connections, and always knew Genovese couldn’t be trusted.
This lead to a meeting in Sicily between Costello, Luciano, and Gambino in which the result was that Luciano allegedly paid an American drug seller $100,000 to falsely implicate Genovese in a drug deal.
Genovese was then convicted and sent to jail for 15 years, while Gambino went on to become the mafia’s most powerful man.
On January 26th 1962, Charles “Lucky” Luciano died from a heart attack after meeting with a film producer, about making a film biography (which I should add infuriated other mobsters who thought that the film would open up the mafia too much).
His body was paraded around the streets of Naples in a horse drawn carriage, and the most stylish of processions, and he also had his wish of being returned to his “home” in the USA in which he was buried.
Lucky’s longtime friend, Carlo Gambino, eulogized him at the funeral, and it was he that took over The Commission.
This was the end of an era in the history of the mob.