Today we mark the birth of the father of organized crime in the United States. Born on November 24th, 1897 in Salvatore, Italy, Charles 'Lucky' Luciano would immigrate with his family to New York City from Sicily in 1906. At age 10 he was charged with shoplifting - his first crime. A few years later he developed his first protection racket by forcibly collecting the pocket change of local Jewish children as payment for safely escorting them to and from school. It was in this line of work that Luciano met Meyer Lansky, a young Jewish immigrant from Belarus with a gift for accounting who would eventually become his trusted partner-in-crime.
As a teenager Luciano was leader of the 5-Points street gang and as the 1920s unfolded he steadily rose through the ranks of New York's Mafia underworld, displaying a particular talent for bootlegging during the nation's misguided attempt at prohibition. Legend holds that he developed the nickname 'Lucky' after surviving a near fatal gang-land beating - one such attack would leave him marked with a permanent and distinctive scar near his right eye.
By 1931, Luciano had become the chief lieutenant of Salvatore Maranzano, the 'Boss of Bosses' and New York City's most powerful mob leader. Fearing Luciano's ambition, Maranzano secretly plotted the assassination of his second-in-command but Luciano uncovered the scheme and struck first, orchestrating Maranzano's execution with the help of his trusted associate, Bugsy Siegel.
After establishing himself as the Big Apple's preeminent Mafia leader, Luciano (alongside his book keeper Lansky) reorganized the Mafia's power structure by splitting the New York operation into five different families and radically expanding their involvement in bootlegging, prostitution, gambling, loan-sharking, narcotics and labor rackets. His greatest innovation was the creation of 'The Commission', a board of directors who would govern organized crime operations by settling disputes between rival gangs and dispensing mob justice to those who disobeyed orders. Spreading outwards from the five families of New York, representation in 'The Commission' would eventually encompass crime organizations across the United States, from Al Capone's Chicago outfit to crime families in Detroit, Los Angeles, Kansas City and many more. Chief among the many infamous deeds of 'The Commission' was their sanctioned hit of mobster Dutch Schultz in order to prevent his planned murder of U.S. Attorney Thomas Dewey.
Simply put, it was under the leadership of Luciano that organized crime in the United States became, well, organized.
Ironically, Dewey (an eventual Republican Presidential candidate) would successfully try, convict and imprison Luciano on trumped up prostitution related charges in 1936. During WWII, the incarcerated Luciano agreed to cooperate with a U.S. Naval Intelligence effort concerned with stopping Nazi saboteurs from targeting the New York waterfront - an area of the city long controlled by the mafia. By providing the government with valuable information and connecting Naval officials with the helpful services of mob informants, Luciano was able to achieve a commutation of his sentence in 1946, under the condition that he ultimately be deported back to the land of his birth, Italy.
Never one to sit still, the ever ambitious Mafioso would later smuggle himself into Havanna, Cuba in an attempt to reconstruct his North American criminal empire - but the U.S. Government got wind of his presence and pressured Cuba into expelling Luciano back to Italy within a year. Spending the rest of his days in Europe, Luciano remained a powerful, active member of both the Italian and American Cosa Nostra - heavily involved in international drug trafficking. He would expire of a heart attack in Naples, Italy at the age of 65 immediately following a meeting with a Hollywood producer interested in making a movie about his life.
Among Luciano's best remembered quotes is the following gem,