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Allan May, Crime HistorianCrime Historian -Allan May

Allan May is an organized crime historian, writer and lecturer. He teaches classes on the history of organized crime at Cuyahoga Community College. Contact him at AllanMay@AmericanMafia.com
Havana Conference – 1946
(Part Two)
By Allan May

     On the morning of December 24, 1946 the Havana Conference was underway. Luciano states that he sat at the head of a large rectangular table with Lansky, Costello, Genovese and Adonis at his side. Other than this arrangement, there was no protocol for the seating. Luciano opened the meeting by thanking the boys for their monetary donations. He explained that the money would be invested in the hotel’s casino. He then explained his need to be addressed as Salvatore Lucania so as not to draw attention to the former Charles “Lucky” Luciano now that he had left Italy.

     Luciano then brought up the subject of the “Boss of Bosses” title in which he “casually mentioned” that he felt it was time for him to don that designation. Anastasia stood up and, glaring over at Genovese, stated, “For me, you are the Big Boss, whether you like it or not. That’s the way I look at it, and I would like to hear from anybody who don’t feel the same way.”

     There was silence in the room. Luciano claims, “That was all I was after – first, to teach Vito a lesson in public without him losin’ face and also to get the title without havin’ to fight for it. So I won my first point, and frankly, I didn’t give a shit what happened after that.”

     Luciano claimed that he had heard rumors of infighting between Anastasia and Genovese. He told them they needed to work out their differences in able to avoid the problems that occurred between Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, which resulted in the Castelammarese War in 1930-31.

     He next spoke about his feelings regarding the narcotics trade. “I told ‘em I want ‘em to get the hell outa that business, to stop it right then and there, and to forget it.” However, this argument was falling on deaf ears. As the discussion continued about the huge sums of money that could be made from drugs, Luciano could see this was a conflict he was not going to win. Soon Costello leaned over and whispered, “Charlie, don’t hit your head against the wall. Vito rigged it before the meet started. Try to get out of it as soon as you can. Someday, they’ll all be sorry.”

     This discussion was followed by what Lansky introduced as “The Siegel Situation.” Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel had not been informed of, or invited to, the meeting mainly because he would be chief among the topics covered. Sent out to the West Coast in the mid-1930s to oversee the New York mob’s gambling and labor racketeering interests, Siegel quickly became a Hollywood mob celebrity. He later became preoccupied with constructing a grandiose hotel and casino in the small town of Las Vegas in Nevada, a state that had legalized gambling. Working through Lansky he got the New York mob to finance the Flamingo. The original cost had been calculated at $1.5 million. However, a year later, either through the bungling or dishonesty of Siegel, the price tag had risen to $6 million.

     Although not yet completed, Siegel set a date of December 26, 1946 for the casino’s grand opening. Lansky reported he had information that Siegel’s girlfriend, Virginia Hill, had been making trips abroad to deposit money in a Zurich bank account. Although friends since childhood, Lansky said he believed his old partner would skim even more money and possibly flee the country if the Flamingo was a bust.

     Luciano says a vote was taken, minus Lansky and Phil Kastel who were both Jewish, and it was decided that Siegel was to be killed. The contract was given to Charles Fischetti of Chicago to be carried out by Los Angeles Family boss Jack Dragna. In a possible attempt to save Siegel, Lansky suggested that they wait until after the grand opening, which was just days away.

     Christmas Eve arrived and the meeting’s participants took a break. The wives and girlfriends of the mobsters had arrived and a grand party was held at the hotel in honor of singer Frank Sinatra, then a rising star who had traveled to Havana with the Fischetti brothers.

     On the day after Christmas, the meeting reconvened in the evening as everyone was anxious to hear how the opening at the Flamingo was received. Since there was a three-hour time differential between the two cities and it was well after midnight before the first reports were received. Rain and cold weather had prevented planes from bringing customers in from Los Angeles and the opening was considered a disaster.

     Despite the flop, Lansky convinced the group that he could salvage the project. The Flamingo closed, work was completed, and it reopened a couple of months later. It would soon become a financial success and mobsters across the country would become rich from it and all the casinos and hotels that followed. Unfortunately for Siegel, he would not live to see his vision fulfilled. He was cut down by a hitman using a rifle on June 20, 1947 as he sat reading a newspaper on a couch in Virginia Hill’s Los Angeles home.

     After the conclusion of the Havana Conference, Genovese asked Luciano if he could speak to him in private. In Luciano’s room Genovese revealed to him that:

     “I heard that Washington knows that you’re in Havana and they’re getting’ ready to put the screws to these jerks in Cuba to get you thrown out. There’s gonna be so much heat that nobody can do nothin’ to help you. Charlie, you’re gonna have to get outa here and go back to Italy. By rights, everything that’s over there is half mine – and I want it.”

     Luciano was livid. He was sure that Genovese had gotten word to Washington D.C. that Luciano was in Cuba. At this point Luciano claims he gave Genovese a beating – punching and kicking him, and breaking three of his ribs. He says he intentionally avoided marking his face. It took three days before Genovese could travel. Luciano states he and Anastasia put Genovese on an airplane and warned him that if he ever mentioned the incident to anyone, “then I – Charlie Luciano – will get back into New York, if only long enough to do a final job on you.”

     Luciano’s fears of being discovered were soon realized. Due to a series of events, some caused by Luciano’s own indiscretion, the New York newspapers reported his presence in Havana. In February, Harry Anslinger (Luciano would always refer to him as Asslinger) sent a letter to the Cuban government formally demanding that they deport Luciano back to Italy. When the Cuban government balked, Anslinger went to President Harry S. Truman and was told to take whatever steps were necessary to force Cuba to deport Luciano.

     Anslinger went public and announced that until Luciano was sent packing the United States would put a halt to all shipments of medical supplies to the island. Lansky and Batista met with Luciano and suggested that he leave the country voluntarily so the Cuban officials would not be forced to deport him. Luciano refused, feeling that his position as the leader of the American underworld would be threatened. He hired an attorney who concocted a plan to counter the United States embargo by having Cuba cut off sugar shipments to the United States. This plan of action never materialized and Luciano was arrested on February 23, 1947.

     After receiving house arrest for a few days to settle personal matters, Luciano was placed in an immigration lockup while his fate was decided. A last effort by the Cuban government to allow Luciano to seek sanctuary in Caracas, Venezuela was voided by Anslinger who was adamant that the mob boss be shipped back to Italy.

     In early March, Luciano was placed aboard the S. S. Bakir, an old Turkish cargo steamer. Traveling through bad weather it took the boat over a month to reach Italy. The boat docked at Genoa on April 11, 1947, and Luciano was immediately arrested.

     It would be fifteen years before Luciano would finally get his wish and return to the United States. However, the journey this time would be in a coffin aboard a Pan American Airway’s cargo plane after his death on January 26, 1962. Luciano’s remains were claimed by relatives and interred in the family vault at St. John’s Cemetery. Ironically, seven years later, Vito Genovese would be buried in a vault just one hundred feet away. Even in death, Luciano could not escape the “greedy bastard” who betrayed him.

Author’s disclaimer: Most, but not all, of the information for this article comes from The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano, written by Martin A. Gosch and Richard Hammer, which was published twelve years after Luciano’s death. Luciano helped dictate much of the book himself during the final months of his life. Since its publication, many mistakes have been found. In Virgil W. Peterson’s The Mob: 200 Years of Organized Crime in New York, he writes, “Many statements attributed to Luciano are replete with arrogance, exaggerations, and inaccuracies and must be viewed with skepticism.”

While many of Luciano’s statements used in this article are self-serving, the topics covered during the meeting have been confirmed by other authors including George Walsh in Public Enemies, Dennis Eisenberg, Uri Dan and Eli Landau in Meyer Lansky: Mogul of the Mob, Curt Gentry in J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, and in Peter Maas’s The Valachi Papers. In Joseph Bonanno’s A Man of Honor, he claims that after Luciano was sent to prison in 1936 he never saw him again.

Participants at 1946 Havana Meeting
Name Age in 1946 City St. Demise
         
First set of names are according to The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano:
Accardo, Anthony 40 Chicago IL Died May 27, 1992
Adonis, Joe 44 Brooklyn NY Died Nov. 26, 1972
Anastasia, Albert 43 Brooklyn NY Murdered Oct 25, 1957
Bonanno, Joseph 41 New York City NY Alive in March 2000
Carfano, Anthony 47 New York City NY Murdered Sept 25, 1959
Costello, Frank 55 New York City NY Died Feb. 18, 1973
Fischetti, Charles 45 Chicago IL Died April 11, 1951
Fischetti, Rocco 43 Chicago IL Died July 6, 1964
Genovese, Vito 49 New York City NY Died Feb. 11, 1969
Kastel, Phil 52 New Orleans LA Suicide Aug 16, 1962
Lansky, Meyer 44 Miami FL Died Jan. 15, 1983
Lucchese, Thomas 46 New York City NY Died July 13, 1967
Luciano, Charles (Lucky) 49 Naples, Italy - Died Jan. 26, 1962
Magaddino, Stephano 55 Buffalo NY Died July 19, 1974
Magliocco, Giuseppe 48 Brooklyn NY Died Dec. 30, 1963
Marcello, Carlos 36 New Orleans LA Died March 2, 1993
Miranda, Mike 50 New York City NY Died 1973
Moretti, Willie 52 Newark NJ Murdered Oct 4, 1951
Profaci, Giuseppe 50 Brooklyn NY Died June 7, 1962
Trafficante, Santos 32 Tampa FL Died March 17, 1987
         
Listed in some books as being there:
Dalitz, Morris 48 Las Vegas NV Died Sept. 1, 1989
Stacher, Doc   Israel - Died March 1977
Zwillman, Abner (Longy) 47 West Orange NJ Suicide Feb 27, 1959

Notes to this listing:

a) It is interesting that New York family leaders Gaetano “Tom” Gagliano and Vincent and Philip Mangano were not among the attendees.
b) Chicago mob leaders Paul Ricca and Louis Campagna would probably have been in attendance had they not been serving prison terms.
c) The last three names on the list came from other sources, not Luciano’s book. However, Luciano, in his narrative specifically points out that Lansky and Kastel were the only non-Italians in attendance. Zwillman’s biographer, Mark Stuart, never mentions the Havana Conference in his book Gangster #2.

Copyright A. R. May 2000


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