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January 2006
The Lost Journals of Meyer Lansky

By Gary Cohen


Gary Cohen is a writer based in Washington D.C. This article originally appeared in the January 2005 issue of Ocean Drive magazine. For more information on Lansky's unpublished writings, visit the website of his granddaughter, Cynthia Duncan, at www.meyerlansky.com  .

* * *

At the end of his life, the legendary "Chairman of the Board" of organized crime began writing down his life story for posterity. What he said--and what he didn’t--is only part of the tale

     On February 17th, 1983, just a month after Meyer Lansky died, all of his family members gathered in the chambers of Dade County Judge Francis Christie for the reading of the will. As far back as 1965, the press, citing law-enforcement officials, said that Lansky was worth $300 million from his various criminal activities, including the skim off casinos in Las Vegas, Nassau and London. But the will scarcely revealed any secrets: A trust was set up with 35 percent of the income going to his widow, Teddy, and the rest of the income going for the care of his crippled son, Buddy. And the last pages of the will showed a final accounting of Lansky’s net worth: $57,000.

     "Everybody at the reading knew there was no $300 million, but we thought there would be at least $5 million," recalls Teddy Lansky’s granddaughter Cynthia Duncan. "I’m telling you that jaws dropped, including the judge’s. $57,000 cash—that’s it. Then we all went downstairs and had a drink--at lunch, yet."

     But Teddy didn’t appear too worried. What she didn’t admit to her family was that while Meyer lay dying in Mount Sinai hospital, he told her that a lawyer was holding a large amount of cash for her. Teddy also assumed some cash was earmarked for her in the safe of the Singapore Hotel in Miami Beach, Meyer’s long-time unofficial headquarters.

     The months dragged by, and the mystery lawyer never materialized with the cash. Teddy started to panic. She had been used to carrying around thousands of dollars in her pocketbook courtesy of Meyer, and once boasted to a reporter that in all their years of marriage, she never asked her husband what he did for a living.

     Finally, six months after Meyer died, his associate Vincent "Jimmy Blue Eyes" Alo showed up at Teddy’s apartment with $125,000 cash, the last of the moneys owed to Meyer that he could collect. Teddy invested the cash windfall along with some of her jewelry in stocks and bonds, which gave her a decent income, and continued to live quietly in the small apartment she shared with Meyer. When she died in 1997, the responsibility for emptying the apartment fell to her granddaughter Cynthia. Again the family dreamed of recovering the lost fortune: "I was ready to take a metal detector to the walls of the apartment if I thought I could find the cash," Duncan says today.

     While Duncan found no neatly bundled, sequential bills, no passbooks or traces of Swiss bank accounts, there was plenty of ephemera of a retired mobster: letters from strangers seeking business advice, loans or contract hits; a business card from Jimmy Hoffa’s attorney, Edward Bennett Williams; past indictments; and copies of Lansky’s favorite poem, "Desiderata." Duncan also found that her grandmother hid a $50,000 certificate of deposit in the laundry hamper, and deftly stashed jewelry between the towels and sheets: "Good stuff, like from Harry Winston, not dreck."

     In the wastebasket at Teddy’s bedside, Duncan found a manila envelope containing 200 handwritten pages of Meyer’s personal ramblings about his life and philosophy in four spiral-bound stenographer’s notebooks from Woolworth’s. On the first page of the first notebook, Lansky sized up three potential titles: "Who Am I; The Way It Was, How It Was; or The Life of a Mobster. And beneath thousands of S&H Green Stamps in the kitchen drawer, Duncan found hundreds of pages of Teddy’s own handwritten life story inscribed on stationery purloined from hotels along Collins Avenue. Teddy’s working title: Straight from the Horse’s Mouth (Always Together, Till Death Did us Part).

     Who was Meyer Lansky? His New York Times obituary reported: "He would have been chairman of General Motors if he had gone into legitimate business." And in the 1960s, Lansky himself allegedly boasted on an FBI wiretap that organized crime was "bigger than U.S. Steel," a line the Lansky alter ego Hyman Roth would repeat years later in The Godfather: Part II.

     Lansky started bootlegging in the 1920s with his Lower East Side friends Ben "Bugsy" Siegel and Charlie "Lucky" Luciano. By the end of the 1940s, he was known as the brains of the underworld, handling the accounting for the mob casinos and business ventures stretching from Havana to Vegas. The 1950 Kefauver Senate Crime Committee Hearings characterized Lansky as "one of the masterminds of modern organized crime," and by the late 1960s the Justice Department established an entire Strike Force charged with bringing Lansky to trial. When they eventually brought charges of skimming $36 million from Las Vegas casinos, Lansky fled to Israel in 1970. While Israel had established a law allowing all Jews a home in the Holy Land, Lansky became the first Jew to be turned away. He was arrested upon arrival in Miami, but eventually beat down all charges. He died peacefully in his sleep in 1983.

     The legend of Lansky was so vast that his name alone became a code word for the underworld. Some writers have alleged he possessed incriminating photographs of J. Edgar Hoover in the company of young boys by way of explaining why Hoover never laid a finger on Lansky or the Mafia during his decades-long tenure as FBI chief. Lansky was suspected of ordering mob slayings of "Boss of All Bosses" Salvatore Maranzano in 1931 and lifelong friend Bugsy Siegel in 1947. He was even rumored to have plotted to kill Hitler as early as 1934.

     "Good luck with your story, but you are going to find out that he was a nobody," warns E. David Rosen, Lansky’s criminal attorney. "He ran a professional game, and was a real good casino man, but it was the newspapers who made him into a somebody."

     But in 1975, Lansky began secretly writing his life story and keeping a diary at the behest of two men, New York Post executive editor Paul Sann (also author of a biography of gangster "Dutch" Schultz) and Carl Erbe, a publicist who had known Lansky since his nightclub days in the 1930s. Lansky told the men that he wanted to write his memoirs both "to get even" and "to square it with my children." Lansky’s words begin in a simple narrative style, with neatly scripted handwriting:

     "My wife, friends and many acquaintances have raised the subject of my writing a book. I gave some thought to writing my memoirs for posterity. This is it."

     "I was born July 2nd, 1902, in Grodno, Russia. I don't recall knowing my father in Russia at all, although my memories go far back. My father left for the U.S. soon after my brother was born. My brother [Jake] is two years, eight months younger than me. When my paternal grandfather decided to leave for Israel, my mother's brothers who were fearless men decided to force my paternal grandfather to buy passage for my mother, my brother and myself [to America]."

     The Lanskys moved first to the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, then to Manhattan’s Lower East Side, where "the Jews were locked in between the Italians and the Irish."

     "I loved school. Our teachers were strict. They didn't tolerate nonsense and if you wanted to learn you could learn very much. I learned a little bit about Shakespeare, was able to recite Merchant of Venice by memory, and a few more poems. We had a lot of arithmetic, spelling, geography, chemistry and science. I wanted to continue my education. I had a great desire for learning. I wanted to study engineering. Circumstances didn't permit it."

     Whatever his "circumstances," the gangs, gambling and prostitution that dominated Lansky’s Lower East Side intruded upon his life soon enough. One day after school, a pack of Irish toughs intercepted the 14-year-old Lansky, ordering him to pull down his pants to prove he was circumcised. Lansky lunged at his lead tormentor, shattering a china plate into a weapon and nearly killing the boy with a jagged piece of it.

     On the Lower East Side, Lansky cemented relationships with the two most important people in his life. Lansky met Benjamin Siegel (known as "Bugsy" for being crazy as a bedbug) when he thrust the gun out of Siegel’s hand as he tried to shoot someone. The two soon formed a "Bugs and Meyer Mob," which Lansky later characterized as a "self-defense group" to protect Jews from "hostile Irish boys." And when Salvatore "Lucky" Luciano tried to shake Lansky down, Lansky told Lucky to go fuck himself. This earned Lucky’s respect more than his ire. The two realized they had more to gain as allies than as enemies, and so brought their respective troops together to battle Irish gangs.

     By age 15, Lansky had left school to become a machinist, starting at 10 cents an hour, 52 hours a week. When Sann and Erbe asked Lansky if he and Siegel had ever worked as hired guns for Jack "Legs" Diamond, Lansky denied the connection:

     "I wasn’t hired as such. This is another myth for sensationalism. I might add a few writers when working daily or nitely [sic] and indulg[ing] in a little more liquor than they could handle would find [it] more effortless to write these fiction stories."

     As Prohibition dawned on January 15, 1920, Lansky’s mechanical training served him well in servicing and camouflaging stolen cars for bootleggers who required efficient, reliable transportation. And his garage business on the Lower East Side proved an effective cover, as well. At a New York bar mitzvah, he met Arnold Rothstein, the flamboyant gambler supposedly involved in fixing the 1919 World Series and, later, the model for The Great Gatsby’s dark eminence Meyer Wolfsheim. Rothstein soon enlisted Lansky in hijacking cars, guarding bootlegged liquor and servicing bootleggers’ vehicles.

     "We coined the word ‘underworld’ during Prohibition. We should have said ’overworld.’ [During] the last few years and still being exposed is the real underworld that really sucked people to death."

     "I don1t know anyone1s roll [sic] other than myself and that was to make money in what I didn1t class illegal or immoral. I believed in live and let live. I tried to be friendly with people that I had to do business with, also my competitors. There is an old adage, a thousand friends can1t protect you from one enemy."

     "My role wasn1t assigned to me. I chose my role, the same way as any businessman chooses his role. I listened and read about men in all kinds of endeavor: The men who mostly went to the top were men with integrety [sic]. Whatever business I decided to be in would never change my principals [sic]. Regardless of cost. No money would rule me."

     "In a world without filing cabinets, Lansky’s genius turned out to be the ability to act as a human cash register and ledger book in the succession of shifting partnerships and deals that were the essence of bookmaking," says Robert Lacey, author of the definitive biography Little Man: Meyer Lansky and the Gangster Life. "He could keep all the calculations in his head: the at-source cost, the allowances to be made for profit and protection, the profit margin, and, most important of all, the share-out among his partners."

     Lansky shrewdly deployed his share of the enormous criminal wealth and influence arising from Prohibition by branching out into "carpet joints" --as illegal casinos were known--in towns such as Hot Springs, Arkansas, and Saratoga Springs, New York, with such partners as Frank Costello and Joey Adonis. By this time, Bugsy Siegel was running crap games and bookmaking, and Lansky had steered clear of Luciano’s bookmaking, prostitution and narcotics trafficking, crimes for which Luciano eventually received a 99-year prison sentence. Unlike most other gangsters, Lansky avoided the violence and bloodshed permeating the underworld even as he literally and figuratively organized the mob along hierarchical lines, delineating authority and responsibility, and distributing shares of profits and proceeds.

     "Look at Meyer’s role in the early development of organized crime, guiding both Jewish and Italian gangs into gambling operations in Las Vegas and Cuba," says crime writer Nicholas Gage. "They all moved together, starting with the collapse of Prohibition, and Meyer helped them find the need to diversify. Suddenly they have financial interests all over the world. He didn1t have an enforcing arm, like some of the other mobsters. He made money for people. You don1t kill the goose who laid the golden egg."

     "What is organized crime? Your answer will be when people sit down to talk of committing an illegal act. But what about the acts that should be illegal and your establishment legalized only for yourselves?

1) License for certain ventures

2) Who received the licenses for banks and how many of you escounded [sic] with the money?

3) Your tax shelters. I could go on and on.

     If the rich didn't try to use the poor for their selfish interest organized crime could never exist. Don't blame the police, court and D.A. for their own evils."

     Gage points out that Lansky was never known for violence. "Meyer didn’t surround himself with killers--he didn’t have to. He could do things that even the threat of death couldn’t accomplish, like persuading powerful politicians to go along in places like Cuba. He had the ability to negotiate and not to seem scary."

     Lansky was unapologetic regarding gambling at his carpet joints, which by the 1930s included the Arrowhead and Piping Rock casinos in Saratoga Springs, the Plantation and Colonial Inn in Florida, and the Oriental Park Race Track in Havana:

     "After long observance of so-called legitimate people in business, it became a challenge; so did casino gambling. Choosing business associates. Some possess the character, integrity and morals fitting in good society; others are like the scum in any society."

     "Don't speak of gambling as though it is a commodity or new product. You have to look upon it as a pastime. I think it was developed as a pastime, later the smart guys made a business of it. When I speak of smart guys, I mean the puritan society who are in the gambling business now and here is who I mean."

     "I haven't dealt in narcotics and I dislike anyone dealing in narcotics, unless it is for medicinal purposes. I have read many times about chemical houses putting out drugs that were sold over the counter that had the same effect as narcotics and continued doing it until a lot of pressure was brought against them to force them to discontinue. Instead of blaming Jewish boys, lets [sic] get to the root of this evil: Didn't the English gentlemen of high nobility force it on the Chinese brought to China for India?"

     In February 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor, the French liner Normandie caught fire while docked on the Hudson River. Fearing that Italian dockworkers had initiated the violence, U.S. Naval Intelligence approached Joe "Socks" Lanza, head of the local United Seafood Workers union, who in turn deferred to Lucky Luciano. Despite his imprisonment, Luciano retained strong contacts to the underworld. U.S. Attorney Frank Hogan approached Lansky as a go-between.

     "I was approached to enlist Luciana’s [sic] services. I understood the feelings of Italians. It was really needed to convince Italians that their duty was first to help the U.S. and that would be helping Italy when the war was over. I was very happy to handle the contract. I knew it was very necessary to watch the docks and what was going on with Italian fishermen. I convinced Charlie, Frank and many others that this was their country. They owed a debt of gratitude. They thought I was right. After they heard from Charlie, that they follow what I put them, we set the wheels in motion. I1m sure a lot was accomplished."

     In 1946, Lansky was the key man providing supplemental financing to launch Bugsy Siegel in Las Vegas. Firmly entrenched in Florida, Lansky had no desire to move to the desert. He nonetheless staked $62,500 of his own money to start Bugsy’s Flamingo hotel and casino. But Siegel failed to finish the hotel in time, and his partners became homicidally impatient: Siegel eventually was found dead in Beverly Hills on girlfriend Virginia Hill1s chintz sofa. Had Lansky ordered the hit, a theory widely publicized at the time? He told Sann and Erbe:

     "If it was in my power to see Benny alive he would live as long as Matusula [sic]. This was a terrible shock to me."

     Life was little better at home for Meyer by this time. With his first wife, Anne, in and out of mental institutions, Meyer had grown increasingly unfaithful. He divorced Anne in 1946, and two years later met Thelma Sheer Schwartz, one of the owners of the Harlequin Nightclub in New York, while on vacation in Hollywood, Florida. Schwartz was short (5’ 1 in heels), with bright blonde hair, long red nails and an accent--and temperament--of Miss Adelaide in Guys and Dolls.

     In her unpublished autobiography, Teddy wrote:
"I sought a divorce in Florida and met Meyer in Hollywood as he was leaving his cottage next to mine. I was with a friend and recognized each other. I was amazed at this guest gentleman. We had a lovely evening and interesting and I was amazed. Several nights later he asked me out again. He seemed lonely. We were married latter part of 1948 at a senator's office in Cuba. Batista, who was a senator at the time, came to the office to meet me, Meyer's wife. He seemed like a fine man."

     "Life was not easy for a gal whose background was different, but it was worth it for knowing a kind man. When I married M., he seemed like a legitimate businessman, no drugs or prostitution from what he told me, two things he loathed. His business was bootlegging and gambling and I didn’t resent [that] either. The first was before I met him. So what? So did Joseph Kennedy and the Bronfmans from Canada engage in bootlegging. Gambling? I saw no wrong. He owned very classy clubs and only the most desirable people were there, drinking, dining, gambling and enjoying."

     Meyer and Teddy married on December 16th, 1948, and took a delayed honeymoon to Italy the following June, to see Charlie "Lucky" Luciano and his wife, Ilsa. While they were away, Teddy hired Oscar Hammerstein II1s wife, Dorothy, to decorate an apartment for them in New York1s Murray Hill district, and they spent their summers in Saratoga Springs:

     "Meyer ran a beautiful casino. We had top entertainers, Danny Thomas, Tony Martin and many others. It was closed when the Senator from Tennessee, Estes Kefauver, looking for the Presidency, joined Bureau of Investigation Civic Committee and finally clubs (gambling) ceased to exist. He should talk (Meyer told me), when he died, they found quite a large sum of money in his bank vault which was his winnings from gambling which he personally loved."

     Indeed, Lansky’s growing visibility and reputation as the Master Gambler brought unwanted attention. Senator Estes Kefauver named him among the principal partners in the National Crime Syndicate dominating New York and the eastern United States in 1951. The inquiries into organized crime by Kefauver1s Senate Crime Committee would horrify‹and fascinate‹the nation.

MEYER: "We speak of gambling as though it is a commodity one time, and a sin another time. Saratoga was a great example of how gambling was used as a political hammer to club a few tools to satisfy Kefauver’s desire for the Presidency and Dewey seeking the lamb to protect his innocency [sic]. I was picked as the lamb for Dewey. Here in Saratoga it was used for an economic purpose and pleasure. We should know that gambling was first created as a pastime pleasure. Later the smart boys turned it into a lucrative business, business for some, a pleasure for those with control."

     Lansky appeared before the Kefauver hearings three times. Eventually, a grand jury empanelled in New York returned a 21-count indictment against him for corrupt racetrack gambling. Lansky pled guilty to five counts and received three months in jail.

     Teddy’s spin on the plea:
"But Meyer disputed that and pleaded guilty, getting a misdemeanor then and there for six weeks. That, to my knowledge, was the only jail sentence. I moved up to Saratoga at once and visited daily, coming in every evening with a basket of home-cooked food made by two German sisters who rented me an apartment in their lovely home, had dinner in a little room in jail and went home until the following day. It was tough on both of us but at least I was with my man."

     After completing his jail sentence, Meyer and Teddy relocated to Hallandale in 1952. While gambling wasn’t legal in Hallandale, it wasn’t exactly ignored, either. Moving into an apartment in the Lansky-owned Tuscany Motel, Meyer and Teddy sought‹with great difficulty‹to attain some normal semblance of a family life.

     During that decade, Meyer, along with his friend and ally President Fulgencio Batista, built the Riviera Hotel in Havana, with one of the largest casinos in the world at the time. On opening night, December 10th, 1957, Ginger Rogers headlined the hotel’s Copa Room and Johnny Weissmuller inaugurated the three-tier diving tower while Lansky headquartered himself in the hotel’s top floor. The Riviera attracted high rollers from around the world. But the Cuban people overthrew Batista on New Year’s Eve, 1958. The Riviera was open for only a year, and Lansky lost an estimated $11 to $16 million on the venture when Castro took power; the Lanskys eventually fled back to Florida. Meanwhile, Lansky was forbidden to own outright any major casinos in Las Vegas, but in return for his highly regarded organizational capabilities, he held or controlled shares in various ventures through third parties, including the Flamingo, Desert Inn, Stardust, Sands, Fremont and Thunderbird hotels.

     "The last time I visited Las Vegas was September 1956. I’m sure [Howard] Hughes entering Vegas as a casino owner brought a lot of publicity, also encouraged what you call the legitimate businessman to participate in ventures that yesterday these hypocrites called immoral. The business of Vegas benefited, so did the FBI. I read most of his men were ex-FBI men. I read about them becoming the new Mafia. The pot calling the kettle black. They speak of organized crime. What was labeled organized crime was crime without an organization, lack of common sense or judgment mostly ignorant. Now you have really your organized crime and you try to get rid of it. Well trained in law schools, business schools, accounting schools and every other school."

     Yet if Lansky was an organized-crime mastermind, what did he have to show for it financially? Gus Russo, author of The Outfit: The Role of Chicago’s Underworld in the Shaping of Modern America, says it is all but impossible to undertake a complete accounting of a gangster’s financial resources. "Money just disappeared across the board with these people. The costs of operating casinos were incredibly huge. For instance, cutting in politicians, and huge crews that had to be taken care of. Also, nobody wrote any of this stuff down."

     According to one of Lansky’s former associates, the skimming worked like this: Each night in Las Vegas, some of the cash profits were taken off the top of the hotel’s winnings, and a "mule" would carry the money to Miami by train. Lansky and his associates would meet in the card room of the Singapore Hotel, distribute it amongst themselves by shares, and the remainder would be sent off to Switzerland.

     But even with this influx of cash, the Lanskys lived simply--driving, for example, Chevrolets. "Lansky was smart. He didn’t live lavishly, like Al Capone," says Russo. "He knew that every line of his tax return was going to be scrutinized. It1s one of those things to be careful what you wish for‹these poor immigrants finally had money, but they couldn’t spend it."

     By the 1960s, determined to prove Lansky’s involvement in numbers rackets, the FBI had illegally tapped his Hallandale phone. (It was on these wiretaps ’ "that Lansky allegedly made his "We’re bigger than U.S. Steel" remark, although no hard copy of that transcript exists.) Though all resulting evidence was later ruled inadmissible in a court of law, it offers insights into la vie quotidienne of a gangster.

6/17/62 7:05 p.m. Wife working crossword puzzle. She asks Meyer the name of a seaport in Central America that is six letters. He says it1s Honduras.

7/12/62 7 p.m. Teddy says the Jews got where they are by hard work, not sitting on their cans.

7/16/62 9:15 p.m. Watching To Tell the Truth. First game is about a counterspy for the FBI. Buddy thinks it is funny and is laughing. Teddy says #1 is a phony and not the real counterspy. Buddy says #3 does not look like a spy. Meyer says #3 is the real spy. Meyer is right. #3 is the real spy.

8/3/62 6:55 p.m. Teddy discusses a woman she met on the golf course. She said she was a real 14-karat bitch, "the kind that makes lampshades out of people."

12/5/62 10:12 a.m. Mrs. Lansky mentioned to a maid that she noticed a buzz on her line when she made a phone call a few minutes earlier. She also stated she called the phone company about the matter. At 10:24 Supervisor Swinny was advised. The unit was disconnected at 10:20 a.m. at Special Agent William Hiest1s request.

     To all who observed him, Lansky appeared to be just another typical Florida retiree. Most mornings, Lansky would have breakfast at Wolfie1s deli on Collins Avenue. He1d then drive to his ‘"office," the card room on the mezzanine of the Singapore Hotel, a vaguely Polynesian place just north of Miami Beach. In 1969, The Wall Street Journal reported that at the Singapore, "Lansky is said to spend much time thinking up and implementing new projects while his lieutenants run his established enterprises." Lansky would stay until 2 p.m., play cards out by the pool, and then play golf at a local public course, always booking his tee-time as "Mr. Smith" or "Mr. Jones."

     In 1969, the Nixon Justice Department1s Organized Crime and Racketeering Section established Strike Force 18 to track Lansky’s millions and identify his associates. Soon the Lanskys were under 24-hour surveillance.

Teddy:
"We were in Acapulco, I got ill, stomach problem, and thought I died. Got pills, over-the-counter (Donnatal), which Meyer also took for his bad ulcer conditions. Finally I was able to travel to U.S. after being detained for being ill, when, much to our surprise, as we were reaching the door at the airport in Miami, someone approached Meyer and asked that he come to a private room. After an hour or so, I became alarmed and opened several doors and found Meyer with inspectors who opened our bags and found the Donnatal, a legal drug. When finally released, two men came to the apartment the following day and arrested Meyer for drugs. The newspaper headlines were that Meyer Lansky was in jail on $250,000 bail for drugs. It appeared that it was drugs, cocaine and the like, when all it was [was] one Donnatal. All the while, it was evident they were trying to frame him. The real frame came when one of the FBI tipped Meyer off that he was definitely going to be framed. Meyer and I flew to Europe to seek out refuge in Israel. Only a man like Meyer with his connections could have accomplished this, but when his case came up, Israel forgot, although M. knew the score and realized they didn't have a choice."
Through wiretaps in a Las Vegas counting room, the FBI was able to charge Lansky and three other men with skimming $36 million from the Flamingo hotel between 1960 and 1967. The Lanskys fled to Israel on July 27th, 1970, just before a federal grand jury indicted him for tax evasion. That December, Meyer applied for a permanent visa under Israel’s Law of Return, granting citizenship to any Jew who was not mentally ill or the possessor of a major criminal record.
Following a lengthy court battle, Israel1s highest court ruled Lansky a "threat to public safety" and denied him citizenship in 1972. The U.S. cancelled Lansky’s passport, and the Israeli government issued him a "laissez-passer" document allowing him to travel to any country was willing to admit him. For $50,000 cash, Lansky received a visa allowing him to enter Paraguay as an agricultural worker.

Teddy:

     "He forgave, but I didn't. And so, after a tumultuous trip home (being at that point a sick man), after 37 hours of being denied entry into Paraguay, he arrived in the U.S. and was taken directly to the hospital. I was to meet him in about two months (not at this point knowing where). But I had an idea. When the news came over the air, I flew back at the break of dawn (through friends) to avoid publicity. I arrived in New York, was met by air officials, saying that the press and television people were there so they VIP me discreetly and put me on plane, but I had to put Bruzzer in baggage. It broke me up as he never traveled without me, always on plane with me. But I had no alternative. My son and daughter-in-law were waiting for me in Florida, but had I not had my dog in baggage, I would have left the plane in Fort Lauderdale and taken a cab to Miami, except Bruzzer was not with me so I stayed on the plane and when I arrived in Miami it was bedlam. My son rushed to the plane to tell me there were reporters and photography by the score. I felt defeated after a long trip. A reporter from television, Bernice Norton, attacked me verbally, called me ‘Godmother.’ I spat in her face."

     Lansky’s 13,000-mile odyssey included stops in Switzerland, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru and Panama. The Miami Herald reported that at each capital, he reportedly offered $1 million for sanctuary but was refused. As he landed in Miami, Lansky was dozing in a first-class seat. Moments later, an FBI agent touched his shoulder and informed him he was under arrest. Lansky’s attorney, David Rosen, posted $250,000 bail, then drove him to Miami Beach1s Mount Sinai hospital for "cardiac insufficiency."

     The FBI’s case against Lansky included the Las Vegas skimming charges, the contempt of court for failing to answer the subpoena, and charges he hid money from the IRS as part of a skim from London casinos. Vinnie Teresa, former number three of the New England Mafia, leveled the latter charges at Lansky. In February 1973, the jury deliberated just four hours before finding Lansky guilty of contempt of court for avoiding a subpoena while in Israel, and he was sentenced to a year and day in the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri.

     Lansky’s second trial was for tax evasion. Teresa testified that he organized gambling junkets from New England to London1s Colony Club in the mid 1960s, collected the gambling debts—"markers"of his junketeers and gave the proceeds, less 15 percent for his service, to Lansky in cash back in America.

     Here, Teddy saved the day, testifying that when "Fat Vinnie" claimed to be meeting with Meyer, her husband in fact was in Boston recovering from a double-hernia operation:

     ’"The evening before the trial, David Rosen, Meyer's attorney, called me and asked how I would feel being put on the stand to testify on Meyer’s behalf. I said of course, if it could help Meyer, my answer was yes, so the following morning we drove down to courthouse in Miami alone and [I] was sworn in by Mr. Rosen. When Mr. Rosen confronted me with the bona fide registry at the hotel where the bills were kept, I answered the question asked and truthfully replied. It showed the lack of skill and ethics that the government presented anything to frame my husband, and the judge ruled in our favor. Truth will come out. Meyer later told me that had he gone to jail for this low-down filthy liar, he didn’t think he would survive, so thank God for keeping the records and proving the government was using very bad procedures to ‘get this man Meyer.’ Maybe they should all be in jail instead. This fat man Teresa was then used and abused and died soon after with plastic surgery on his face. I’m sure he was a sorry liar."

     Fat Vinnie’s only rebuttal to Teddy’s testimony was that Lansky must have had a double. Through a technicality, Lansky’s lawyer was able to overturn the first conviction, and by 1975, the government had withdrawn all of their charges against Lansky.

     Shortly after the trial, Lansky was approached by Paul Sann and Carl Erbe to write his life story. At first Lansky shied away, but when Erbe suggested that the hardcover, soft cover, foreign sales and movie rights could easily clear $2.5 million, Lansky told the men bluntly, "I could sure use the money." They drafted a 20-page list of questions, telling Lansky that "there is ample room for you to respond in some detail, for the first time, to the half-century of ‘target practice’ that the law-enforcement authorities and the media have enjoyed at your expense."

     But Lansky must have realized--or was advised--that if he committed any incriminating information to paper or audiotape, the U.S. could have returned him to jail. For a year, he continued discussions with Sann over payphones up and down Collins Avenue. But in the end, Lansky’s reticence won the day. When Sann pressed Lansky on the "Bugs and Meyer Mob," Lansky feigned amnesia: "Who was that person? I don1t know what that guy was."

     Repudiating a "tell-all" memoir, Lansky chose instead to write about his life philosophy. In fact, the first page of the first notebook includes Lansky’s description of Machiavelli:

     "Machiavelli wiped out the churche1s [sic] arbitrary division of mankind into good and evil by pointing out that in this world the most unscrupulous are the most successful. To such might is right, and the Prince who uses the cloak of religion to mask his schemes is perfectly justified."

     "I often read of the purpose to get out the Syndicate. Whom did you replace them with? A few cunning businessmen with large tax shelters or they saw a good purpose for good depreciation? Who ever replaced them wasn1t the ignorant uneducated gangster, he was the swab [sic], silver-tongue, college graduated with a master’s degree in immoral training."

     "The only organized crime that I’m aware of is: the white-collar crime that includes many politicians, sophisticated college graduates who use their education for material monetary advantage; also to swindle and humiliate people who may have helped pay for their education but don’t possess the mental ability to detect their tricky frauds. Such as their stock swindles, land swindles and many more swindles."

     "I'm not trying to impress anyone that I'm a Yashiva [sic] student, but the revealing of what the do-gooders carried on and are still carrying on makes one wonder whether what I did in my past should be questioned and was a crime."

     Lansky also kept a book of quotes and random thoughts in his desk drawer, and jotted them down for his book:

"Take the responsibility on your shoulders and it will leave no room for chips."

"Worry, like a rocking chair, will give you something to do, but it won1t get you anywhere."

"Discretion of speech is more important than eloquence."

"Remember your character is your life. Your personality is the reflection of your character. Those who bark at another’s fame have none of their own to trumpet."

"Kindness is one of the most attractive assets of the human race. The spirit of kindness is the spirit of goodwill, humanity, compassion and benignity."

"When their [sic] is room in your heart, their [sic] is room in your house."

"I didn1t solicit the promise of immunity from prison. The establishment chooses the weapons. I refuse to be shackled by their threats."

     Lansky proudly photocopied his notebooks and what answers he chose to provide and forwarded the package to his lawyer Moses Polikoff, who showed it to Sann. Underwhelmed by the effort, Sann wrote Carl Erbe: "There isn’t enough in Lansky’s notebooks to peddle a third-rate magazine article for $200. It’s all Johnny-One-Note: Everybody’s a goddamned liar and everybody’s cleaning up a fortune making up stories about a guy who once sold some bootleg liquor."

     While the book project was stalled, Lansky still remained the "Chairman of the Board" of organized crime. He received a pitch letter from Jann Wenner, the young publisher of Rolling Stone, seeking not an interview about Lansky’s illegal activities but "a thoughtful, philosophical dialogue about your views and insights into America and the conclusions you have come to about this country." Broadway producers approached Lansky in hopes of creating a musical based on his life starring Eddie Fisher.

     In 1982, Forbes put Lansky on its list of the 400 Richest Americans, with the same $300 million net worth also credited to David Rockefeller. But at the same time, Lansky’s own personal notebooks and brokerage receipts indicate a total stock portfolio valued at $8,000, including 20 shares each of Caesars World, Resorts International, Harrah1s, the Del E. Webb Corporation and Hilton Hotels. Another small notebook shows a few other stocks‹20 shares of Knight Ridder newspapers, 10 shares of CBS, 15 shares of ABC, and 10 shares of RCA.

     "While he confided in me while they were living in Israel that he still had a couple of million socked away in Switzerland, the legal fees really drained him down," says Teddy’s daughter-in-law, Susan Schwartz. "Very little of his businesses were running towards the end. And nothing was ever written down."

     By late 1982, Lansky’s cancer had worsened, and he was hospitalized for six weeks at Mount Sinai hospital. He died on January 15th, 1983, and was buried the following day in Mount Nebo cemetery while a few dozen friends and family members paid their last respects. Hidden behind the tombstones were FBI agents, taking photographs of all the mourners’ license plates. A year after Meyer’s death, Teddy started writing her own autobiography, hoping to fill in where Meyer’s notes left off.

     "Now it can be told. You do a book, almost like a command. When I die, you do a book. I found his notes in the desk drawer, but I had plenty to write about our personal life together. I had Meyer and his illnesses to take care of, much caused by the grief with children .Anyhow, I never forgot his words, ‘You do a book.’ How about all the good he did for people? To know him is to love him."

     In Teddy’s eyes, Meyer had nothing to do with organized crime. When Paul Sann asked why she left out all the gangster stuff from her memoirs, she replied angrily: "Your newspaper killed more people than my husband." When Sann backed out of the project, Teddy enlisted Michael Fooner, an Interpol crime expert, but theirs was a strained relationship. "She wouldn’t really tell the truth about Meyer, which of course she knew," says Marianne Strong, their literary agent. "She thought writing the book would be a piece of cake, but the finished product was like a hollow drum. No publisher was going to buy a love story about Meyer Lansky."


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