No other New York gangster in the twentieth century matched the capabilities of the sinister, crafty, powerful, and secretive Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Who with the help of his closest friends and allies, even enemies, established the National Crime Syndicate in the early 1930s, which still remains today (Nash 251). Lucky Luciano, the “true” American gangster, rewrote the rules of the Italian Mafia, under control of old-line Sicilian rule, and created an organization open to all ethnic backgrounds (Dewey). He worked his way from being a struggling messenger for a small gang, to eventually becoming the “Capo di Tutti Capi”(the Boss of All Bosses), the highest ranking in the Mafia (Dewey). During his reign, Charles Luciano decided that in order to make the most money possible, he needed to combine all of the crime “families” in the United States. He established this organization, la Cosa Nostra, and appointed a board of directors, including the legendary Al “Scar-face” Capone, with himself as the Chief Executive Officer. Luciano’s presence demanded respect from everyone and aided in the creation of the American Mafia, a malignant but far-reaching underworld force that, to this day, continues to flourish (Nash 251).
Born to the name Salvatore Luciana on November 24, 1897 in Lercardia Friddi, Sicily, the third child in the Luciana family, little Charles had a penchant for hanging around older kids that contributed to his mischievous behavior. The Lucianas set out for a better life in the great land of America in 1906, where they soon found it to be not so great. He logged his first arrest just a few months after his arrival for shoplifting in 1907, and started his first racket during that same year. For a penny or two a day, he offered younger and smaller Jewish children his personal protection against beatings on the way to school; if they didn’t pay, he beat them up. One runty boy, Meyer Lansky, refused to pay, so he and Luciano fought. It amazed Luciano how hard Lansky fought back, and they became best of friends from that day forward (Nichols). Luciano’s genius sense for the business world began to take shape at an early age. Arrested numerous times until the age of 18, Luciano struggled to stay alive by selling narcotics for the notorious Five Points Gang. Charles Luciana soon changed his name to Charles Luciano to protect his family from any embarrassment or shame caused by publicity. When Luciano went to jail for dealing heroin for them, the police set up an offer for him if he identified the members of the dope ring. However, Luciano kept the
code of omerta (silence) and served his jail time (Kohn). Proving his loyalty, the Five Points Gang made him a full-fledged member.
Luciano, a quick witted and pleasurable personality, liked the highlife. He lived by one simple fact; “Money is everything” and he went through anything in order to get that money (Mobsters). Luciano believed in his friends, and later took a face-altering knife wound in the face, that left him with an evil droop in his right eye. This was the aftermath of the “ride”, where he was bound, beat up, and left to die, only because he refused to do business with people that refused business with non-Italians. His best friend and business partner, Meyer Lansky, happened to be Jewish. Lansky later helped Luciano win the Castellammarese War by giving him this advise, which Luciano would forever live by: “The winner will be the one who gets his enemy to trust him” (Mobsters).
The strengths of Luciano stood out above everything else, loyalty being just one of them. Luciano showed great compassion towards his friends, and always seemed to be one step ahead of everyone else. He possessed the ability to be able to see around the next corner. This helped him tremendously during the Castellammarese War; a war between the two Sicilian bosses of New York, Joe “The Boss” Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano, that broke out just as the Great Depression hit the United States. By this time, Luciano worked under Joe “The Boss” as his number-two man, the heir to the throne if anything happened to Masseria. As the war went on, Luciano knew that killing Masseria was the only way for him to emerge on top. Using this, Luciano went to Maranzano, his enemy and offered a trade; the death of Masseria and the win of the war for Maranzano, for making Luciano his number-two man (Nash, 252). Maranzano agreed but, as Luciano thought, marked Luciano for death after he eliminated his own crime boss. Luciano’s hit men sent out for Joe “The Boss” while Luciano took a bathroom break during lunch between the two, for an unwritten rule states that a Sicilian cannot kill another Sicilian to become a Don, or boss. They were successful and as soon as Maranzano heard word, he sent out a contract for Luciano’s death. Using his ability to see around the corners, Luciano caught wind of this and acted first, killing Maranzano and becoming the Boss of All Bosses (Nash 252).
Luciano’s mind and way of thought, allowed him to excel at anything he sought out. “He would have been chairman of the board of General Motors is he’d gone into legitimate business.” said a FBI agent with a grudging admiration (Nichols). However, Luciano went into a business where the real money was. By 1927, Luciano’s income exceeded $1 million a year, and after the Castellammarese War and becoming the Boss of All Bosses, it exceeded one hundred times that amount. Unlike Al Capone (who later went to prison for income tax evasion), Luciano was careful to file tax returns each year for his stated profession as a gambler. His income never varied from year to year, claiming that he made $22,500 on wagers each year and paid taxes on this amount.
The average American in the 1930’s went though some tough times. The Depression left numerous people homeless and without jobs. Luciano and other Mafioso took advantage of the nation in need. Luciano knew that people were the same regardless of social status, when it came to gambling, drinking and prostitution, the more the merrier. This insight enabled Luciano to reap enormous profits from these vices for him and others in the syndicate. Luciano’s forte became prostitution, and he mastered the art of pimping. “But like a drug dealer shouldn’t sample his product, Luciano shouldn’t have sampled his girls” (Nichols). During a massive prostitution sting in the 1930s, hundreds of Luciano’s girls were brought in.
Then Luciano was caught, and it was an astonishing story. Lucky had worried most about his prostitution business for good reason. Under Dewey’s pounding, it began to fall apart. The prostitutes were talking. The madams were talking. Soon the bookers of the women were talking. As the weeks passed, Dewey, who at first had not wanted to venture into prostitution, a social matter, realized he had an unassailable case against Luciano in just this one field (Nichols).
Luciano denied all charges, however, the jury convicted him of an onslaught of charges and the judge gave Luciano, thirty-eight years old, a thirty to fifty year sentence in a maximum-security prison. Lucky’s luck had finally run out (Nichols).
Luciano ran his organization from inside prison, and convinced the guards to allow him visitors. Luciano became a model prisoner, and his wishes became granted. During World War II, Luciano worked with the United States government and used his connections in Italy to allow the United Stated Navy to gain access to Europe though Italy. In return for this favor, Luciano was released from prison and deported to Italy where he remained for the rest of his life. He never gave up hope for return, but he never did, alive. Lucky Luciano did at an airport in Sicily of a major heart attack, on January 26, 1962. He planned on meeting a Hollywood director to make a movie about his life; he died just inched away from shaking this man’s hand.
Luciano’s impact reaches far beyond today. He successfully removed the racist Sicilian Mafia out of New York, and created an organization with order. He reduced the number of killings inside of the Mafia by creating a counsel to review life contracts before they were put into action. Where once laid the vast underworld of crime in New York, now only remains one street with some Old Italian restaurants that only know of stories of the Old Mafia. Even though Luciano masterminded many killings, beatings, and various other illegal activities, he never once betrayed a close friend. He gets bonus points in the humanitarian portion of life, for kept in touch with his lifelong friend Meyer Lansky long after he was deported to Italy. Everything meant business for Lucky, and thus justified the contract for his life long business associate “Bugsy” Siegel, for looting the syndicate’s money to build the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. Luciano struggled his entire life to find his place, and he eventually found it in becoming the Boss of All Bosses. He was definitely not the nicest guy in the world, but he did have some good characteristics that made him become extremely successful in life.
Charles “Lucky” Luciano, a cold-hearted killer, knew how to make money. That one motive drove him to be one of the richest men ever, and one of only few that avoided suffrage during the depression. Along with his good friend Meyer Lansky, he created an organization that lasted beyond his years. La Cosa Nostra, better known as the American Mafia, still presides in society today. Although ridiculed by Hollywood film writers, who cannot seem to get enough of it, Luciano created an organization so ingenious and successful, that not even Microsoft ever will top. Luciano’s presence demanded respect from everyone and aided in the creation of the American Mafia, a malignant but far-reaching underworld force that, to this day, continues to flourish (Nash 251). Luciano died on January 26, 1962, but his legend will live on forever.