Feature Articles

February 2002

Reprieve In Broward

By John William Tuohy

     Jimmy Blue Eyes Alo rolled his new Cadillac carefully down the wide open coastal road to Hallendale, swerving to avoid the occasional gigantic wave that crashed and spilled over onto the blacktop and driving slowly around the shells of the huge land crabs that seemed big enough to puncture a car's tires. A city boy, born and raised in the hell holes of New York's Lower East Side, Jimmy Blue Eyes wasn't used to all the nature of the still rugged Florida coastline, but he loved it. He loved every clean and uncluttered foot of it, the salt smell of the ocean, the long open blue skies. He had already decided that this was where he would rebuild his life.

     A decade before Jimmy had strolled out of Sing Sing prison after a three stint for robbery. He did his time right. He never ratted on his friends. To his credit, Alo never made excuses about his time behind bars. He did the crime. He served the time and he was sorry that the whole thing had happened. When he walked out of prison in 1926, he was Made in the Mafia and went to work under "Joe the Boss" Masseria, one of the old-fashioned Mafia bosses, the "Mustache Petes," who ruled the Mafia in the new world as though they had never left the old world.

     Alo was tired beyond his years. He wanted to rebuild his life and Florida, as foreign to him as another universe, beckoned.

     Another hood who found his way south to fulfill Young's dream was Julian Kaufman, although everybody in the underworld knew him simply as "Potatoes."

     Kaufman was a Chicagoan on the run from Al Capone. He had started his criminal career as a fence for stolen mail loot before he learned that gambling offered twice the profit at half the risk. Working on Chicago's North Side, by 1923, Kaufman, along with his sometime partner Dion O'Bannion, was enough of an underworld power to receive an engraved invitation from Johnny Torrio, boss of the Chicago mob, to the funeral of Torrio's top gunner, Frank Capone, brother to Al Capone, who had been gunned down by police during the mob takeover of the city of Cicero.

     Three years later, he was still a power in the Windy City, no small thing considering the turnover in the business, and he held enough financial interest, in the O'Bannion gang, to be invited to the Hotel Sherman Treaty on October 26 of that year. The peace treaty was called between Chicago's gang leaders after the Capone's gunned down the O'Bannion gang's leader, Hymie Weiss, elevating Schemer Drucci into the gang's leadership position. By 1931, Drucci was dead, shot to death by police in the back seat of a squad car while on his way to jail. Following him to the gang's leadership was the highly incompetent Bugs Moran.

     Kaufman and Moran operated the ritziest casino in the city, if not in the entire country, the Sheridan Wave Tournament Club. Admission to the club was by invitation only and uniformed waiters and doorman catered to the customers' every need, including free food, drink and women. It was worth it. Each night the club cleared at least $10,000, of which Bugs Moran took 25% for protection and the police took an additional 10% through their bagman, newspaper legman Jake Lingle, a cocky runt with direct ties to his childhood friend, the Chief of Police.

     After a change of administrations at city hall, and with a decline of the power of the Moran gang, the club was raided in 1929 and locked up for two years. Then, Moran and Kaufman, backed up with a hefty cash investment from super pimp Jake Zuta, decided to reopen the club and sent out engraved invitations to their old clientele. It was at that point that Jake Lingle reappeared demanding a 50% cut on the club's take. When Moran and Kaufman refused, Lingle told them, "If this joint is opened, you'll see more squad cars in front, ready to raid it than you's two ever seen before in your life."

     Several days later, as Jake Lingle was strolling through a sidewalk underpass, Leo, a professional killer with ties to labor corruption, walked up behind Lingle, pointed a pistol at the back of his head and fired off a round that tore through Lingle's skull and poured his brains out on to the sidewalk, and then calmly walked away.

     The murder created sensational headlines in Chicago and the Chicago Tribune, Lingle's newspaper, offered a $55,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his killer. That, with the public's outrage at the killing, caused a police crackdown on all of the city's gangs, with some 700 known felons being dragged into police headquarters for questioning. Al Capone, who suffered the most from the crackdown, decided that somebody had to pay for Lingle's killing and all the aggravation it caused, and Moran, Kaufman and Zuta were the mob's first targets.

     Jake Zuta was the first to go. On August 1, 1930, Zuta was hiding out at the Lake View Hotel on the shores of Lake Nemahbin, a summer resort near Delafield, Wisconsin. He had registered under the name Goodman and was known to the staff as big tipper. It was a busy night at the Hotel, couples were swimming in the lake just below the hotel, the beach under the bar was crowded and couples were jam-packed into the Hotel ballroom, and dancing to a local orchestra.

     Zuta was the life of the party: "Every time she stops the nearest one will feed her a nickel, let's go, this is the life!"

     Zuta was in the main lobby dropping nickels into a player piano when seven men walked in. The leader was carrying a machine gun under his arm, the other men were armed with rifles, shotguns and several pistols. They disarmed the doorman Joe Selby. At that very second, Zuta walked past them to make change, and then walked back to the jukebox. The hit men stepped into front of the piano where Zuta had his back turned and lined up firing squad style, and called "Hey Jake!"

     Zuta turned, half smiling and they opened up on him as the piano played a song called, "It may be good for you but it's bad for me" from a popular musical of the day, "Flying High."

     One of the gunmen grabbed Zuta by the shoulder as he fell to the floor. He picked him and dragged his dead body to a corner and put him in a chair, and then wordlessly, he was machine gunned twenty-eight bullets in him. As the killers left, one of them turned and said to the dancer, "Don't come out of this place or we starts shooting."

     Desperate to save his own life, Kaufman fled to New York and fell under the paid protection of Vincent Alo, AKA Jimmy Blue Eyes. As a made member of the Mafia (most of Capone's people weren't), Alo was untouchable by the Chicago outfit, and his word was final; as long as Kaufman paid Alo for his protection, he stayed alive.

     By 1936, Al Capone was in jail, Frank Nitti was running Chicago, the Lingle incident was ancient history and Potatoes Kaufman thought it safe to move out of New York, but not safe enough to return to Chicago.

     Instead, he headed south and discovered Broward County, and Hallendale, Florida. Back then, Hallandale's main source of income came from the fruit pickers who flooded into the area during the harvest months and holed up at the local boarding house, a rundown shack called the Collins Hotel that rented rooms for a dollar a night, less for weekly guests. Kaufman saw the potential anyway and quickly struck up a partnership with a bookie named Claude Litteral, who had the outlet for the local wire service. Litteral, who was missing an arm, was better known in the area as, "The one armed Bandit."

     Kaufman and Litteral ran the wire service and bookmaking operation out of a large tomato packing shed and over time, moved in a roulette wheel and a few crap tables and a bingo parlor. Business boomed and Kaufman added other extras, including a name for the place, The Plantation, taken from a top notch casino that Al Capone had run on the Indiana-Illinois line, back in the roaring twenties.

     Adding to the pot, was the fact that Hallendale City officials, desperate for income, were willing often to look the other way, not ask too many questions, and bend the law in Kaufman's favor if needed.

     Jimmy Blue Eyes knew that Kaufman's Plantation, as successful as it was, was already a creature of the past. What America wanted now were "carpet joints," the new breed of casino that separated itself from the smelly, crowded, inner city gambling houses by embellishments, uniformed doormen, a restaurant and Black Hat chef, and of course, carpeting. Carpet joints were the wave of the future, it was what Americans, flush with cash and ready for fun, wanted. A clean, safe place to spend an evening out on the town, enjoying good food, a floor show and gambling. A dozen of them already dotted the growing suburban towns outside of New York, and with Florida quickly becoming the number one vacation destination of North America, it was just a matter of time before Broward was flooded with the places.

     But even if the Plantation wasn't a carpet joint, Jimmy Blue Eyes liked what he saw. He understood its potential but he also understood that in order to make the Hallendale deal work, Alo knew he would need a gambler to run the casino floor, a manager to keep the books and big cash to get the joint off the ground.

     Alo wasn't a gambler by career or a manager by nature and his money, although he had a lot of it, was out on the street. He would need a partner and there was no question who that would be, Alo's old friend from back in New York, Meyer Lansky. Lansky has already earned a reputation for being scrupulously honest, a wise choice on his part, considering whose money he was handling and he and Alo were close. Ann Lansky, Esther Siegel and Flo Alo all used the same interior decorator and dropped small fortunes on Fifth and Madison Avenues shopping district together.

     Lansky and Alo had met back in 1929, when Charlie Luciano called Jimmy Blue Eyes to his apartment high up in the Barbizon Plaza Hotel on Central Park West, and told Alo that he wanted him to guard Lansky, that there might be a street war, and Luciano would need Lansky's money-making abilities.

     Alo and Lansky hit it off from the start. Both were small men, five foot three inches, and only a year apart in their ages. They were both basically shy men who had crawled out of the almost unbelievable poverty of the New York slums. They were bookloving, low profile, chain-smokers without much to say to those they didn't know. Over the years, Alo had grown to represent Lansky's muscle, a perpetual reminder to the outside world that the reasonable and businesslike Lansky was protected by the Mafia.

     They were alike on another level as well. Alo knew that Meyer wanted the same thing he did, a way out, respectability. Meyer had said once, "Don't worry, don't worry. Look at history. Look at the Astors and the Vanderbilts, all those big society people. They were the worst thieves, and now look at them. It's just a matter of time."

     Before the end of the day, Jimmy Blue Eyes announced to Potatoes Kaufman that he had a new set of partners, and Kaufman, without any other avenues open to him, welcomed Alo with open arms.

     When Meyer Lansky arrived in Hallendale to look over the casino he learned what Kaufman probably already knew, that the Plantation was about to be put out of business. A vigilante committee, concerned with the town's growth and public image, brought an injunction against the casino, called the Plantation, as a public nuisance and had secured a judgement against the property's land deed, which forbade gambling on the property.

     Lansky, always at his best in the worst situation, calmly examined the problem. He read the wording for the injunction carefully and saw that the judgement forbade gambling on a specific parcel of land, so Lansky decided to pick the casino up, place it on trucks and move it to a different parcel of land, end of problem.

     It was a brilliant move but still the nagging problem of concerned citizens had to be addressed, so Lansky placed his brother Jake, the casino's new manager, in charge of corrupting the town. Unlike Meyer or Alo, Jake had already made Hollywood his home, and within weeks of being given the job, Jake had dolled out tens of thousands of dollars to the Elks, the Shiners, local hospitals.

     With Lansky in control, the casino exceeded expectations and according to at least one gambling expert, the Barn may have been the biggest money-maker in the entire history of illegal casino gambling, bringing in an estimated $10 million a year between 1947 and 1949.

     With the profits they earned from the Plantation, Alo and Lansky opened another casino in Hallendale, the Colonial Inn, along with a small but lucrative handbook in Fort Lauderdale that they named "The It Club" and, old habits being hard to break, Alo and Bugsy Siegel, a childhood friend of Meyers, ran a bookie operation out of the Hollywood Yacht Club, if, for no other reason, they weren't supposed to do it.

     By 1939, Siegel, who was then living between New York and Los Angeles, was a regular at Hallendale casinos in which he held a small interest. But it wasn't always in the casinos' best interest to have him around. Once, when a customer recognized him from his newspaper photographs, he walked over to Siegel's table and said, "Hello Bugsy!"

     Within seconds the customer was laying on the floor, his nose broken with Siegel standing over him, ranting, "Don't you ever call me Bugsy!" and then, before walking away, kicked the man in the ribs repeatedly. When Frank Costello, another owner in the casinos, heard what happened, he said, "You never should have kicked him in the ribs, that was bad manners."

     Business boomed, Meyer's friends opened a dog track in Hollywood in 1936 and three years later, other friends built the Gulf stream Race Track in Hallendale whose mile long entrance was lined with royal palms.

     Where success goes, others follow and by 1948, Hallendale was "a gambler's paradise...a little Las Vegas before its time" and was sarcastically known as the "Wall Street of South Florida", due to its unusually high number of banks, investment and brokerage firms that cropped up in the area. More gamblers were opening bigger, better and cleaners casinos on the border of the Dade and Broward county lines, an estimated thirty-six carpet joints in all and then there were the smaller Mom and Pop backroom places, wire rooms, hundreds of crap game places, horse parlors run by snow bird Mafioso on vacation and wire rooms. And big name hoods like Bugsy Siegel, Moe Sedway, Joe Adonis and Longy Zwillman were Hallendale regulars making deep financial interests with Lansky and Jimmy Alo. The law wasn't a problem

     Walter Clark was old time Broward county. Popular and likable with a pot belly, enormous hands and ready laugh, he had swept into office as Broward County Sheriff in a landslide vote in 1933, his campaign "funded" in no small part by Jimmy Alo. Once, when asked by a newsman why he allowed so much gambling to go on in Broward county, Sheriff Walter Clark answered: "Why? Because I'm a Goddamn liberal, that's why. I will not go around these parts and stick my nose into the private business of the people." When the governor's office asked why Clark didn't do anything about the gambling resorts that dotted the Broward-Dade lines, Clark said he had heard about those places, but as long as none of his constituents complained about them, so be it.

     The Hallendale police force, three men in all, worked as traffic supervisors outside the casinos and the County sheriff would send over a squad of men each night to escort the casinos' manager to the banks nigh depository. The armored truck company that took the money from the bank was owned by Robert Clark, the sheriff's younger brother. Otherwise, justice in Hallendale in 1947 was swift and sure. There is the famous story of a hapless Black man, a field hand who had come into town and lost every cent he had in a crap game. To get money for food, he started to panhandle outside one of the casinos and was arrested on the spot by one of the town's three policemen. Brought before the court, presided over by H.L. Chancey, who was also the town's mayor, the man was found guilty and sentenced to one year at hard labor. The sentence was stayed in as long as the Black man agreed to leave town within ten minutes and never return again.

     Justice in Hallendale was also profitable. Under Judge Chancey's reign, the city made as much money from fines levied from bogus "disorderly conduct" charges as it did from standard taxes. Each Monday morning, the names of several representatives from the various casinos operating within the city limits appeared on Chancey's docket, charged with disorderly conduct. Chancey would impose a fine on each, the amount depending the gross receipts of the individual casinos they represented. The representatives were never actually in court, so a bailiff was sent to the casino managers with the bill for the fine.

     "We filled up the treasury in the winter months," said Joe Varon who was then the city attorney, "and by the end of the summer we would be running low. So in September we would get a loan of ten thousand dollars from the bank to tide us over until the casinos opened again."

     By 1940, the "disorderly conduct" scam was a major source of income for the city and a large number of its citizens. Registered voters, there were only several hundred before the 1950s, received $35 over the course of the gambling season, about the size of the average middle class pay check back then.

     Hallandale's farmers also made a handsome living selling their products to the casinos' massive kitchens and the gambling dens provided well paying employment for hundreds of locals, many of whom were recommended, in writing, by the city's mayor, H.C. Schwartz.

     With the money they made from the Hallendale operations, Costello, Lansky and Alo founded the Emby Distributing Company, which had a lock on the distribution of jukeboxes and cigarette vending machines in the greater New York area. Working under a legitimate and exclusive license as the sole distributor on the East coast of the Wurlitzer Juke Box Corporation, Emby gave Lansky and his partners control of the popular music outlet during the 1940s and to no small degree Frank Sinatra's amazing career took off as a result of the hoods control of what records appeared in their jukeboxes. Unfortunately for Sinatra, Costello's mob was also pressing bootleg copies, millions of them, of Sinatra's records.

     Then the bosses at Wurlitzer realized who really ran Emby and asked Lansky, the group's front man, to sell out his routes. "They said I was a bad risk for them," Lansky said later, and without trouble, he and the others sold off their Juke Box routes to outside investors.

     With the cash Lansky and Alo made from the sale of Embry (it's not known if Costello was involved), they invested in a corporation called Consolidated Television with $15,000, owning about 10% of the company. But the gangsters weren't able to understand the big picture behind television, they didn't understand how it could generate any steady cash, and that was the key word, cash, and in the late 1940s they withdrew from the business.

     When the war ended in 1945, Americans leaped into their search for relaxation and fun and for the first time, millions of them, loaded with cash, found it in Florida. So many people flooded into the Sunshine state, that for the first time, reservations were needed even in the smallest roadside motel, if one could be found.

     Smack in the middle of all this post war wealth and affluence was the Lansky-Alo gambling operation which now included two more clubs, the Club Boheme on the coast road that offered gambling and a floor show and the Green Acres, which was off of Route US 1 which was still unlighted and unpaved. The Green Acres, which was actually little more than the packing plant it had been before Lansky converted it into a casino, offered old style gambling without chips, just dollar bills.

     There was competition of course, mostly from independents operating down in Miami, that wasn't a problem. What was a problem for them was the ever-changing and complex politics of the area. Right after the war, Lee Hills, a bright and ambitious editor of the Miami Herald newspaper, launched a weekly series called "Know your neighbor" which not only identified known gamblers in the Miami area, it pasted their pictures alongside their home address. This prompted the mostly do-nothing Miami police to start raids on the casinos, and by early 1946, Lansky's competiton from Miami was all but over.

     Estes Kefauver took his committee to Florida and opened up an investigation into the campaign contributions to Governor Fuller Warren from mafia gambling syndicates made up of Chicago and New York organizations. Billy Johnston, who worked for Capone and later for Tony Accardo as Chicago's operative in Miami, was one of the governor's three largest contributors at just over $400,000. Johnson couldn't account for the source of the money and the fact that the contribution were uncovered at all made the bosses in Chicago very uneasy.

     In Broward county, County Sheriff Walter Clark was questioned for hours in public and all laid out his complicity in gambling there. All of the payoffs made by Lansky to the government and people of Hallendale were documented as business expenses by Lansky with IRS, since he feared a tax charge more than anything else, and Kefauver was using those records to close the city down.

     Kefauver's staff never actually went to Hallendale, but described it as "the sin city capitol of the South, a wide open den of inequity."

     But although the committee never went to Hallendale, after those statements television stations from around the world flooded into the city reporting on everything. But, aside from the closed casinos, they found very little in the way of sin. In fact, Broward county was one of the safest, crime free areas in the world.

     Unlike Miami, which the Chicago and Trafficante mobs had flooded with prostitutes and underground porn shops, Broward had few if any hookers in operation largely because they were bad for the gambling business. Anything that took the men away from the tables to spend their money elsewhere, was bad for business.

     Lansky appeared before the committee three times, all to undramatic results, except one. During questioning by Kefauver, Lansky asked, "What's wrong with gambling, Senator? I mean you like it yourself. I know you've gambled a lot."

     "That's true," Kefauver responded, "that's quite right, I do," referring to his large, but legal, bets at racetracks. "But I don't want you people to control it."

     Lansky, assuming that Kefauver meant Jews and Italians instead of gangsters fired back, "I'm not one of those Jewish hotel owners in Miami Beach who tell you all sorts of stories just to please you," referring to the parade of hotel investors who appeared before the committee testifying about gambling in Florida. "I will not allow you to persecute me because I am a Jew."

     Kefauver's response was to have a federal grand jury return a 21 count indictment against Lansky for his dealing in corrupting racetrack gambling. He pled guilty to five counts and was given three months and a fine of $2,500 plus probation. It was a slap on the wrist and the underworld figured that he had fixed the courts, but he didn't. At best the indictment was weak but it served its purpose, it punished Lansky.

     Still, as a result of Kefauver's attention, there was a general assault of federal and Florida State inspectors into the Broward county. The massive Boheme and Green Acres casinos were closed and Lansky, Alo and others were arrested and convicted on gambling charges there as well. That charge, a felony, stripped Lansky of his civil right to vote which the government had managed to hold in suspension until 1974. When the government finally dropped its claim, Joe Varon, using his considerable contacts in the Florida State capitol, had the conviction dropped, telling the Governor's office that the conviction was a technicality, it was thirty years old and reflected the values of a different age. So at age 83, Lansky could now vote.

     The attention that Kefauver brought closed down Hallendale as an open city. Hallendale was closing anyway, and it had been since 1947, when Hollywood moved to shut down gambling within its city limits and the state of Florida started to snoop around the area, thanks largely to the efforts of R.H. Gore, publisher of the local newspaper, whom Lansky tried to bribe.

     The Hollywood problem started in 1947, when a local lawyer named William Flacks took the floor during a town meeting and asked the mayor, Robert Haymaker, what he intended to do about gambling. "You know the situation," the lawyer said, "and you know that the police chief has been given no instruction to stop it. You know that every tavern, every pool room and nightspot runs gambling. It's got to come to a stop and I ask for a motion from the floor to stop it."

     Mayor Haymaker was quick on his feet. "Every citizen," he said, "should proceed on his own account." But Flacks wouldn't back down and before the meeting ended, the Hollywood police chief was instructed to shut down gambling, every type and sort, in Hollywood city limits. A few months later, citizens of Hallendale, inspired by its neighbors' clean up, started rumbling about closing down the casinos there and in February of 1948, the Colonial Inn was closed.

     In 1948, Lansky sold one of his Hallendale casinos to New York burlesque impresario John Minsky, leaving a heavy hint that he intended to sell all of his casinos to Minsky, leaving the Hallendale vigilantes to decide if they wanted illegal gambling in their city or legal strip clubs. They took the clubs. In 1949, Lansky was allowed to reopen his casinos. But the signals had been sent. The end was near, postwar prosperity to the county meant they no longer needed the money casinos could bring in. The image of lawlessness that came with casinos was bad for the county's image. It was time to move along. Vegas was a possibility. In 1948, Meyer funded the Thunderbird casino and placed his brother Jake inside the counting room to make sure no one stole money from the money they were stealing. But Vegas was dominated by the Chicago outfit and it was still, in 1948 with only four casinos, little more than the desert strip Bugsy Siegel had found it to be ten years before. Instead, Lansky turned his attention to Cuba.

Mr. Tuohy can be reached by writing to

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