|“||All you have to do is recognize an opportunity.||„|
|~ Meyer Lansky|
Meyer Lansky (born Meier Suchowlański; July 4, 1902 – January 15, 1983), known as the "Mob's Accountant", was a Polish-American major organized crime figure who, along with his associate Charles "Lucky" Luciano, was instrumental in the development of the National Crime Syndicate in the United States.
Associated with the Jewish mob, Lansky developed a gambling empire that stretched across the world. He was said to own points (percentages) in casinos in Las Vegas, Cuba, The Bahamas and London. Although a member of the Jewish mob, Lansky undoubtedly had strong influence with the Italian-American Mafia and played a large role in the consolidation of the criminal underworld. The full extent of this role has been the subject of some debate, as Lansky himself denied many of the accusations against him.
Despite nearly fifty years as a member-participant in organized crime, Lansky was never found guilty of anything more serious than illegal gambling. He has a legacy of being one of the most financially successful gangsters in American history. Before he fled Cuba, he was said to be worth an estimated $20 million (equivalent to $193 million in 2019). However, when he died in 1983, his family was shocked to learn that his estate was worth around $57,000.
Meyer Lansky was born Meier Suchowlański in Grodno, Russian Empire (now Belarus), to a Polish-Jewish family who experienced antisemitism and pogroms from Imperial authorities. When asked about his native country, Lansky always responded "Poland" (Grodno was in the former lands of Crown of the Kingdom of Poland). In 1911, Lansky emigrated to the United States through the port of Odessa with his mother and brother Jacob, and joined his father, who had immigrated in 1909, and settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York.
By 1918, he and Bugsy Siegel were running a floating crap game and then graduated into highly lucrative auto theft and resale. In the course of the 1920s Lansky’s gang branched into burglaries, liquor smuggling, and other rackets and came under the aegis of crime boss Giuseppe Masseria. Lansky and Siegel had also developed a squad of professional murderers for hire, the prototype for the later Murder, Inc., headed by Louis Buchalter and Albert Anastasia. Lansky became a naturalized citizen in 1928.
It was allegedly Lansky who persuaded Lucky Luciano to have Masseria assassinated in 1931 and loaned Bugsy Siegel for the purpose, making the four-man hit team representative of the major New York factions. Between 1932 and 1934 Lansky joined Luciano and Johnny Torrio, among others, in forming the national crime syndicate and became one of its major overseers and bankers, often laundering funds through foreign accounts.
By 1936 Lansky had begun to develop gambling operations in Florida and New Orleans and also in Cuba, where he arranged payoffs to Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista. He also financed Bugsy Siegel’s casino developments in Las Vegas (and ordered Siegel’s execution in 1947, when Siegel welshed on the syndicate).
When Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959, Lansky turned to the Bahamas, building casinos on Grand Bahama and Paradise islands in the 1960s after nurturing government cooperation. He also extended his gambling empire to other areas of the Caribbean and even across the Atlantic to London. He was also into narcotics smuggling, pornography, prostitution, labour racketeering, and extortion and had control of such legitimate enterprises as hotels, golf courses, and a meat-packing plant. Monies were secreted in Swiss banks. By 1970 his total holdings were estimated at $300,000,000.
Lansky is credited with having "controlled" compromising pictures of a sexual nature featuring former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover with his longtime aide, Clyde Tolson. In his book, Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, biographer Anthony Summers cites multiple primary sources regarding Lansky's use of blackmail to gain influence with politicians, policemen and judges. One such stage for the acquisition of blackmail materials were orgies held by late attorney and Lansky protégé Roy Cohn and liquor magnate Lewis Rosenstiel, who had lasting ties with the Mafia from his bootleg operations during Prohibition.
The release of FBI files on Lansky revealed extensive monitoring and investigation, which makes it harder to explain why Lansky was not pursued to conviction, unless he successfully evaded it by blackmail. Cohn copied this model of blackmail to control politicians and evade conviction himself. Cohn worked for Senator Joseph McCarthy and allegedly influenced the judge in the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, indicating he had significant political influence, probably enhanced by knowledge of Lansky's operations and contacts both during World War II and in Cuba. Whether Cohn continued any part of Operation Underworld remains a matter of controversy.
In 1970, fearing both a call to a grand jury and indictment for income-tax evasion, he fled to Israel, seeking to remain under the Law of Return; however, Israel eventually expelled him, and he ended up back in the United States facing several indictments. In 1973 he was convicted of grand jury contempt, a verdict overturned on appeal, but acquitted of income-tax evasion. Indictments on other charges were abandoned in 1974, partly because of his chronic ill health. In 1979 the House of Representatives Assassinations Committee, ending its two-year investigation of the Warren Commission report, linked Lansky with Jack Ruby, the nightclub owner who killed presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.
Lansky died of lung cancer and was buried in Miami in an Orthodox Jewish ceremony.