Feature Articles

July 2001

The Short Return of Charlie Lucifer

(Part 2)

By John William Tuohy

     Luciano stayed in Naples only long enough to solidify his control over the black market there.

     In the early fall he received a message from Lansky that said: "December--Hotel National."

     "The messenger also brought me some disturbing news. He said that Vito (Genovese) was start'n to act like I wasn't never coming back. He was outa jail and walk'n around my territory in New York like he owned it. And then, right on top of that, I heard from (Frank) Costello that the 'California matter' was bad. I knew right away what he meant, that Bugsy was probably tappin' the till for even more dough than I knew about..."

     In October of 1946, Luciano boarded a freighter set for South America and at its first port of call (Caracas, Venezuela), the hoodlum disembarked and caught a plane for Mexico City where he stayed for several days and then chartered a private plane to fly him in to Havana.

     Meyer already knew it was the end of the line for Charlie Lucky but he waited at the airport for his friend, more out of respect to what the man had once been, than anything else.

     As he waited for the plane to land, Meyer remembered his first meeting with Charlie Lucky back in 1914 when Charlie and his gang of Italian punks were running a protection racket, prying on lone Jews who crossed their paths.

     Meyer Lansky, all five foot three inches of him, crossed their path. "Pay up," Luciano told him.

     "Go fuck yourself," Lansky answered.

     Luciano said later, "We both had a kind of instant understanding. It was something that never left us."

     It was Luciano who had made their lives when he, and he alone, decided it was time to push the mob into the American mainstream.

     Charlie, Jimmy Blue Eyes, Meyer and even Frank Costello had been with Joe the Boss Masseria back during the prohibition. Charlie had brought them in, he was Masseria's underboss.

     They had encouraged Lucky to meet with Salvatore Marranzano, the arch rival to Joe the Boss. The two oldtimers had been locked in a vicious street war and everybody was suffering because of it.

     When Marranzano asked for Lucky's help in wiping out Joe the Boss, Meyer and Costello had encouraged him to take up the offer.

     In April of 1931, Charlie took Masseria out to a restaurant on Coney Island. They talked, they ate, they played cards and then Charlie Lucky excused himself and went into the bathroom.

     The moment that the bathroom door shut, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, Albert Anastasia and Bugsy Siegel came into the dining room and blasted Joe the Boss back to hell.

     After that, the war drew to a close, and Marranzano built the national commission and structured the Mafia. There would be five families operating in New York. Each family would have a boss, an underboss and the Consiglieri, or advisor. Under them would be the capos and then the crew bosses who would run the crews.

     Marranzano declared himself not only boss of all bosses, but the head of his own family with Angelo Caruso as his underboss and Joe Bonanno as his first Capo.

     Joe the Boss's old organization would be headed by Luciano whose underboss would be Vito Genovese and Frank Costello as his Consiglieri.

     Tommy Gagliano would have a family with Tommy Lucchese as his underboss, Vincent Mangano would have a family with his underboss Albert Anastasia, and Joseph Profaci would run another family.

     Marranzano turned out to be a bigger dictator than even Joe the Boss, so Luciano planned to get rid of him.

     Lucky, Lansky, and Tommy Lucchese traveled to Pittsburgh and met with Santo Trafficante and Frank Milano, John Scalish and Moe Dalitz who vowed to support Luciano and Lansky's bid to overthrow Marranzano.

     Somebody must have talked because Marranzano hired Vincent "Mad Dog" Coll to kill Luciano, Capone, Costello, Willie Moretti, Joe Adonis and Dutch Schultz. He would start with Luciano and Costello by inviting them to a meeting at his office on September 10, 1931.

     But, again, someone talked, and Luciano is tipped off. He has one of his boys invite Marranzano's bodyguard, Joe Valachi, out to dinner and then they called Marranzano and confirmed their appointment with him.

     That afternoon, Sam Levine and his crew of Jewish killers arrive in Marranzano's office and murder him.

     They had all played a part in it, but it was Luciano who saw the big picture first, it was Luciano who had the balls to change things, and now the very organization that he had molded and nurtured, was about to dump him like yesterday's trash.

     Lansky drove Luciano from the airport to his suite of rooms at the Hotel Nacional. A few days later, Luciano moved into a home in the affluent suburb of Miramar.

     Frank Sinatra wasn't in the mob meeting, in Havana, but he was in the hotel.

     The singer had arrived in Havana, by plane, with the Fischetti brothers out of Chicago, three of the most desperate criminals who ever ruled over the streets of the Windy City.

     The night before they arrived, Sinatra and the Fischettis stopped off at the Colonial Inn in Hallendale, where Frank put on a free show.

     A week after Sinatra left Cuba, the newspapers picked up the story that Sinatra had spent several nights drinking with Lucky Luciano and the other mob bosses in Havana's nightclubs. When asked about his contacts with Charlie Lucky, Sinatra insisted it was the first time he had met Luciano, and that he had merely shaken the pimp's hand as a courtesy and wouldn't be able to recognize Luciano if he passed him on the street.

     However, two years later when the Italian National Police raided Lucky Luciano's apartment in Rome they found a cigarette lighter inscribed, "To my dear pal Lucky, From his friend, Frank Sinatra."

     Frank denied knowing anything about it. It must have been, he said with a straight face, a gift from a different Frank Sinatra.

     Another story that made the rounds, then and now, and later portrayed in the film, The Godfather, was that Rocco Fischetti had several travel bags stuffed with two million dollars, the proceeds from dope sales that was owed to Lucky Luciano. Fearing that he was being tailed by narcotics agents, which he was, and terrified that he would be stopped and searched as he left the United States, Fischetti had brought Sinatra along to carry the bags into Cuba because Fischetti knew that, traditionally, starstruck customs agents didn't check celebrities' baggage.

     None of it was true. The money in the suitcase story was spread by a writer named Lee Mortimer who disliked Sinatra intensely and at one time the dispute brought the two men to blows. Years later the FBI expanded on Mortimore's story who said that Sinatra carried the money to Lansky in one briefcase.

     For decades Sinatra denied the story saying, "If you can show me how to get two million dollars into a briefcase, I'll give you the two million dollars."

     The fact is, the syndicate didn't need Frank Sinatra to lug around its dope proceeds for them. By the time of the mob conference in Havana, the hoods had worked out an almost flawless and nearly legal cash transportation system, thanks to the genius of Meyer Lansky. And, if they had to lug it across the country, as Sam Giancana said later, "Sinatra is the last guy you would use for that. He would draw attention. When you transport money you always use a woman with a child or a grandmotherly type. Not movie stars."

     It would be the first full scale meeting of the national syndicate since the Capone sponsored conclave in Chicago back in 1932.


     The hotel's mezzanine was off limits to all but the invited thugs, after each Don arrived he and his entourage would take the elevator up to Luciano's suite to greet him.

     The boys retired to Luciano's hotel suite. The first issue, as far as Luciano was concerned anyway, was his problems with Meyer Lansky.

     Lansky had reason to be concerned with Luciano climbing back to power. Johnny Roselli, a Chicago hood in Vegas once told Jimmy Fratianno: "He's (Lansky) is lucky to be alive. You know he really fucked Lucky when he was deported. Meyer sent him peanuts. The only reason he's alive today is because he's under the thumb of Jimmy Blue Eyes. Meyer makes no moves without clearing it with Jimmy Blue Eyes."

     When Luciano went to Italy, Lansky reneged on his promises in the amounts he had vowed to send Luciano and Lucky decided that Lansky should be hit because of it.

     The others vetoed that. Lansky was too valuable to them. It was decided that Lansky would fall under the watchful eye of Vincent Alo, Jimmy Blue Eyes they called him, of the Genovese family.

     If Lansky got cute again, then it was the fault of the Genovese family.

     That was agreeable to Luciano. Now he understood everything. Lansky was with Genovese.

     Overall, the conference had gone badly for Luciano. Vito Genovese had stolen the show from under him. First, Genovese called for a hit on Albert Anastasia, whom he called "kill crazy" because Anastasia wanted to assassinate Harry Anslinger, head of the Federal Office of Narcotics control. Everyone agreed that was nuts. It would bring down too much pressure.

     Next Genovese called for Luciano's retirement from the syndicate.

     It was his contention that Luciano would only bring trouble to everybody else. He was better off retired in Italy. No one had anything to add to that. It was to personal.

     Luciano concluded the meeting by stating that he fully intended to remain active in the organization by making his base in Cuba and if Genovese didn't like, well, too bad.

     Genovese didn't like it. When he returned to the States the first thing he did was to call the press and tell them that Lucky Luciano was alive and well and living in Cuba, only 90 miles off the American coastline, and that he intended to use the island as his base of vengeance to flood the United States with addictive narcotics.

     Within a month, the State Department put enough pressure on President Batista to have Luciano sent packing back to Italy. For all given purposes, the Havana convention did nothing more than signal the end of Lucky Luciano.

     There are two versions as to what actually happened. One was that Luciano's presence in Havana was discovered by freelance journalist Henry Wallace, an American and a gossip columnist for the Havana based Post.

     According to Luciano, Wallace came to him for a shake down and said that "he could protect me and not let it out who I was and so forth."

     Luciano's boys tossed Wallace out of the casino on his ass and beat him for good measure. Columnist Drew Pearson and Robert Ruark wrote about Luciano and his visitors in Havana.

     Another version says that Genovese was the one who sent Wallace to Luciano in the first place and that it was Genovese who paid Wallace to write the story.

     However, before being deported out of Cuba, Luciano set up the working for a heroin distribution plant there.

     Luciano decided that his family would pioneer the heroin trade into America in a huge way, just like Arnold Rothstein had taught him all those years ago.

     The dope would come from Turkey to Sicily for preparation and then into Cuba for packaging and then shipped into New York and California to the distribution points Lucky had set up over the past three decades.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached at

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