Petro, Julius (1922-1969)

Born Cleveland, OH, June 13, 1922.

Killed Los Angeles, CA, Jan. 10, 1969

Julius Anthony Petro was born June 13, 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio, to John and Lydia Petro, Italian immigrants. One of three children, he grew up in a residential area several blocks from the rail yards in the South Collinwood neighborhood on Cleveland's east side.

As a young man, Petro became involved in a gang of robbers and safecrackers in northwest Ohio. As a result of his illegal activities, he came close to death at least twice.

He survived an Ohio execution sentence handed down following his October 1946 conviction for murder. He was believed responsible for killing Theodore "Bobby" Knaus, his accomplice, following the robbery of $4,000 from Green's Cafe in Cleveland. While on death row, Petro won a retrial on appeal. He was acquitted of the murder on June 16, 1948.

Just three months later, Petro was identified as one of five gunmen who robbed the Green Acres casino in Struthers, just outside of Youngstown, Ohio. Two hundred and fifty patrons were inside the casino at the time of the 4 a.m. robbery on Sept. 17, 1948. An estimated $30,000 of cash and jewels was taken from the casino and its gamblers. According to rumors, a three-and-a-half-carat diamond ring belonging to Joseph DiCarlo was part of the loot. DiCarlo and regional gambling racketeer Frank Budak were believed to be the operators of the Green Acres.

During the robbery, shots were exchanged between the intruders and casino guards, and, on Sept. 18, Petro was brought into Cleveland's Emergency Clinic Hospital with gunshot wounds to his right chest and arm. Petro recovered from his wounds and went back to his old ways.

At 9:40 in the morning of Aug. 14, 1952, Petro and accomplice Joseph J. Sanzo stopped a car driven by Charles J. Foley, branch manager of Union Savings and Trust Company in Warren OH. The two men, wearing burlap hoods, approached the car. One broke the passenger window of the car with a sawed-off shotgun, while the other stood at the driver's side window with a revolver. Foley turned over a money bag containing $71,000.

Petro and Sanzo were identified fleeing from the scene. They had also been seen in the vicinity at the time of the robbery and previous to it. When arrested, each had in his possession money taken from Foley.
Petro was convicted of armed bank robbery and sentenced to 25 years in prison. He served about 13 years of that term, and was released in May of 1966.

Upon his release, he joined a number of Cleveland racketeers who had relocated to southern California. There he reportedly became an enforcer for a gambling operation. By the end of 1968, Petro was seen as a threat to John G. "Sparky" Monica, who ran the gambling rackets. Monica approached another former Cleveland-affiliated gangster, Raymond W. Ferrito of Erie, Pennsylvania, to deal with the threat.

On Jan. 10, 1969, Petro borrowed a 1966 Cadillac convertible from friend Roberta Miller in order to make a drive to Los Angeles International Airport.

Two days later, police were alerted to a man slumped over the steering wheel of a car in the airport parking lot. They found the man dead with a small caliber gunshot wound at the base of his skull. No identifying papers were found with the body. Through fingerprints, police identified the murder victim as Petro.

A federal grand jury was convened in Los Angeles in 1969 to look into the activities of the regional underworld, in particular the murder of Petro. Nick Licata, 72, believed to be the Mafia boss of southern California, was brought in for questioning early in July. Though granted immunity from prosecution, Licata refused to answer questions and was jailed for contempt of court.

Nine years later, Ferrito turned informant and admitted to being the gunman in the Petro murder. He pleaded guilty to second degree murder. He told authorities that John Monica paid him $5,000 to kill Petro. Monica denied ordering the murder. Ferrito also claimed responsibility for the October 1977 bombing murder of racketeer Daniel Greene in Cleveland.

  •  California Death Index.
  •  Demaris, Ovid, The Last Mafiosi, 1981.
  •  Dye, Lee, “Parolee’s murder mystifies police,” Los Angeles Times, Jan. 16, 1969, p. 1
  •  Farr, Bill, “’Hit man’ admits murder at airport,” Los Angeles Times, May 19, 1978, p. 5
  •  Hazlett, Bill, “1969 gangland slaying case headed for trial,” Los Angeles Times, Feb. 8, 1982, p. C6.
  •  Hertel, Howard, and Gene Blake, "Reputed Mafia chief defies court, jailed," Los Angeles Times, July 10, 1969, p. 1.
  •  Hunt, Thomas, and Michael A. Tona, DiCarlo: Buffalo's First Family of Crime, Volume II, 2013.
  •  "In the matter of proceedings to compel Robert J. McAuley as a witness in a criminal proceeding in California," Court of Appeals of Ohio, decided Aprl 12, 1979.
  •  "Informers said to give key testimony on crime figures," New York Times, Feb. 8, 1978, p. 16.
  •  Petro v. United States, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, Feb. 12, 1954. (Also Joseph J. Sanzo v. U.S.)
  •  “Petro, freed in killing, is found shot,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept. 18, 1948.
  •  Porrello, Rick, Superthief, 2006.
  •  Porrello, Rick, To Kill the Irishman, 1998.
  •  U.S. Census of 1930
  •  U.S. Census of 1940

Zwillman, Abner "Longie" (1904/5-1959)

Born Newark, NJ, July 27, 1904/5.
Died (apparent suicide) West Orange, NJ, Feb. 26, 1959.

Abner Zwillman was born July 27, 1905 (some records indicate 1904) in Newark, New Jersey. He was one of seven children born to Reuben and Anna Slavinsky Zwillman, Russian immigrants. Zwillman was raised in one of Newark's poorer neighborhoods. He reportedly dropped out of grammar school in the eighth grade. Zwillman's departure from school roughly coincided with the disappearance of his father from available records.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, as Zwillman advanced in rank within the Newark underworld, he had his first brushes with the law. He was arrested by the Newark Police Department on March 8, 1927, for assault and battery. The charge was later dismissed. In November 1928, an additional charge of assault and battery was filed against him, this time by the Essex County Sheriff's Office. Zwillman remained free until December 1930. He was convicted on the charge on Dec. 11, 1930, and was sentenced to six months in Essex County Penitentiary and a $1,000 fine.

Outwardly a fruit and vegetable dealer, Zwillman actually controlled much of the illicit alcohol flowing into the State of New Jersey during Prohibition. Around 1926, he had begun a close association with New York racketers Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro, Morris Samuel "Dimples" Wolinsky and Benjamin "Cuddy" Kutlow, and also became acquainted with Mafiosi Willie Moretti, Charlie "Lucky" Luciano, Frank Costello, "Trigger Mike" Coppola, Giuseppe "Joe Adonis" Doto, Anthony "Little Augie Pisano" Carfano, Gerardo Catena and Charles and Rocco Fischetti.

His underworld relationships were not always positive. Press reports discussed a rivalry between Zwillman, de facto political boss of Newark's Third Ward, and Ruggiero "Richie the Boot" Boiardo of the First Ward. At one point, Zwillman's Third Ward Political Club at Waverly and Avon Streets was held up by armed intruders, presumably Boiardo men. There followed a peace conference between the Newark factions, brokered by Mafia leaders.

With the end of Prohibition, Zwillman moved to 120 Hansbury Avenue and later to South Munn Avenue in East Orange from 1936 to 1946. On July 7, 1939, he married Newark native Mary Mendels Steinbach, previously divorced mother of a five-year-old son. The wedding was attended by 300 people, and the press indicated that most of the attendees were racketeers from eastern U.S. criminal syndicates. After returning from a honeymoon lasting 40 days, Zwillman found himself in a federal courtroom. Called as a witness before a Southern District of New York grand jury looking into the disappearance of Lepke Buchalter, Zwillman was asked about his business and business associates. He refused to answer the questions. Judge Johnson J. Hayes found Zwillman in contempt and sentenced him to six months in prison. The conviction was overturned on appeal.

The Zwillman family moved to 50 Beverly Road in West Orange in 1946. Costly improvements made to the household in the following years caught the attention of federal investigators, who determined that the improvements could not have been paid for with the meager income Zwillman and his wife reported on their tax returns.

In the summer of 1950, Zwillman appeared before the U.S. Senate's Kefauver Committee for questioning in its investigation of organized crime in interstate commerce. At that time, Zwillman was regarded as the boss of the New Jersey underworld. His rackets included gambling operations and coin-operated vending and jukebox machines (a racket allegedly shared with Charlie Luciano). His legitimate business interests included Public Service "PS" Tobacco cigarette vending company (shared with Luciano's close friend Michael Lascari), Federal Automatic washing machine company, E&S Trading scrap iron company, A&S Trading machinery company and Greater Newark GMC Truck Sales Co.He was said to have considerable influence in politics and labor unions.

A first effort to prosecute Zwillman for tax evasion failed in summer 1953, when a federal grand jury would not indict. In the spring of 1954, Zwillman was indicted by a federal grand jury in Newark on two counts of income tax evasion. The charges related to tax returns filed by Zwillman and his wife in 1947 and 1948. Trial began before Judge Reynier J. Wortendyke Jr. in January 1956 and concluded with a hung jury on March 1.

In January 1959, an FBI microphone installed at Newark's Supreme Beverage Company overheard Zwillman men conversing about steps that were taken to ensure that Zwillman would not be convicted in the 1956 trial. Federal prosecutors early in February filed charges against Peter Dominick LaPlaca, Samuel "Big Sue" Katz and Edward A. Goodspeed for offering and paying bribes to two jurors in the 1956 Zwillman tax trial.

On Feb. 26, 1959, Zwillman was found dead in his West Orange home. That morning, his wife discovered his lifeless body suspended from its neck by an electrical cord tied to a basement rafter. She told police she recalled her husband getting up in the middle of the night complaining of chest pains. Zwillman had reportedly battled deep depression since Senate investigators recently began examining his role in the jukebox industry.

(See an expanded Zwillman article on the American Mafia website: The Capone of New Jersey - Abner 'Longie' Zwillman.)


  •  Abner Zwillman FBI files.
  •  Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce (Kefauver Committee) hearings, Volume 12.
  •  New York Times archives.
  •  Washington Post archives.
  •  1910 and 1940 U.S. Census.
  •  1927 Newark City Directory.

Lombardo, Antonino (1891-1928)

Born Galati, Sicily, Nov. 23, 1891.

Killed Chicago, IL, Sept. 7, 1928.

Antonino Lombardo

Lombardo, a trusted Capone adviser and perhaps his organization's consigliere, was one of the tools used by Capone in his effort to penetrate Chicago's Unione Siciliana.

In the chaos following Unione leader Mike Merlo's death in November 1924, Samuel Amatuna briefly held the presidency of the Sicilian underworld network in the Chicago area. Amatuna got in the way of some bullets five days after the first anniversary of Merlo's death, and the Unione leadership was once again vacant.

According to legend, Capone, who had taken over Johnny Torrio's operations in January of that year, used his influence to shove Lombardo into the president's chair. Reportedly many objected to the move but were too fearful of Capone's wrath to oppose it. The legend is probably inaccurate. Capone's authority within Chicago's Sicilian-Italian underworld was limited in 1925. However, it could be the case that Lombardo - a respected figure in the immigrant Sicilian community - took Capone under his wing.

Antonio Lombardo was born to Salvatore and Rosaria Lombardo on Nov. 23, 1891. Little is known for certain of his early life. It appears he entered the United States early in 1909. By the Prohibition Era, he was living in Cicero, Illinois, and running a successful wholesale grocery in Chicago.

Legend says that, by 1926, Lombardo was preparing the way for a direct takeover of the Chicago-area Unione Siciliana fraternal organization by Capone. Lombardo supposedly opened the membership of the group to non-Sicilian Italians, allowing the Neapolitan Capone to become a member. As a sign of the policy change, the organization changed its name to the Italo-American National Union. While the name change portion of this legend is accurate, the Unione fraternal organization had actually been open to non-Sicilian Italians for some time but remained closed to any who had criminal records. So, either the legend of Capone's takeover is incorrect or the name Unione Siciliana was applied at the time to more than the fraternal organization. If Unione Siciliana was a term used to refer to an underworld network in the Chicago area, it would explain Capone's long struggle to earn its recognition.

By 1927, Capone's meddling in the Unione and his aggressiveness in the Chicago rackets had forced the Aiello Brothers into an alliance with the North Side Gang against Capone. In January 1928, there were demands that Lombardo surrender the local Unione presidency to Joe Aiello. That did not happen.

The Sicilian underworld in Chicago took aim at Lombardo and blew him away in early September. He was shot in the head in front of 61 East Madison Street on Sept. 7, 1928. Lombardo's funeral was elaborate, in the gangland tradition. Mourners lined the streets, and floral decorations filled his home and spilled out onto the lawn. An enormous floral heart containing the words, "My Pal," was provided by Capone. Lombardo was buried in Mount Carmel Cemetery on Sept. 11.

After Lombardo, there followed a succession of short-lived presidents of the Chicago Unione, and the Unione itself began to diminish in importance as the Chicago Sicilian-Italian criminal societies consolidated.

Lombardo death certificate

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Lolordo, Pasqualino (1885-1929)

Born Ribera, Sicily, June 28, 1887.

Died Chicago, IL, Jan. 8, 1929.

Lolordo was one of the unfortunate leaders of the Chicago Unione Siciliana of the late Prohibition Era. He stepped to the Unione presidency upon the death of Antonio Lombardo in September of 1928.

Lolordo's place of birth appears to have been Ribera, Sicily. The date of his birth was June 28, though the year is recorded differently in public records. A 1917 World War I draft registration shows his birth year as 1887. Lolordo's Cook County, Illinois, death certificate states that he was born in 1885. The later year seems the more reliable of the two. Lolordo entered the U.S. about 1907 and initially settled in New York City. He married Lena Mule. After serving time in a New York prison before Prohibition, he migrated westward to Chicago, where he became a successful merchant.

Police initially suspected Pasqualino's brother Joseph Lolordo - a Lombardo bodyguard - of performing the 1928 assassination of Lombardo. Newspapers noted that Joseph Lolordo and Al Capone had the same attorney at that time.

Pasqualino Lolordo's dreams of becoming a second Mike Merlo - and, in fact, his dreams of anything at all - stopped abruptly on Jan. 8, 1929. On that day, he was assassinated by visitors to his home. It is believed that the killing was ordered by the Aiello Mafia clan.

After Pasqualino's death, his wife Lena returned to New York City and lived with in-laws there.

Joseph "Hop Toad" Giunta, who had begun a Sicilian revolt within the Capone organization, bravely took over the Unione presidency. But he wouldn't survive to see the summer.

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Licata, Nicola "Nick" (1897-1974)

Born Camporeale, Sicily, Feb. 20, 1897.

Died Santa Monica, CA, Oct, 19, 1974.

Nick Licata is remembered as the boss who presided over the dramatic decline of the Los Angeles crime family.

Licata was born in Camporeale, in the Sicilian province of Palermo. He entered the U.S. through New York on Dec. 7, 1913, settling first in Detroit. He later married there. He and his wife Josephine had two children in Highland Park, Michigan. He resettled in southern California in 1929.

First a grocer and then the owner of a Burbank cafe, Licata earned notice in the underworld through the summer 1951 murders of Kansas City Mafiosi Tony Brancato and Tony Trombino. Brancato and Trombino were moving into some of the Los Angeles rackets, apparently as part of a westward push by the Kansas City crime family. In mid-August, police rounded up Jimmy and Warren Fratianno, Sam London, and Sam Lazes, while they searched for missing Fratianno associates Charles Battaglia and Angelo Polizzi. Fratianno was considered the prime suspect in the killings, but Licata provided him with an alibi.

Licata became a front man for boss Jack Dragna during the later years of Dragna's reign. He served under Frank DeSimone for a decade after Dragna's death. After DeSimone passed in August 1967, Licata took control of a deeply divided crime family. Longtime California racketeer Joseph Dippolito served as underboss.

Law enforcement authorities had learned a great deal about the L.A. family by that time, and Licata was constantly hounded by police and federal agents. He was unable to consolidate his power. A branch of the criminal organization appears to have come under the control of Jack Dragna's son shortly after Licata ascended to the boss position.

Though he had earlier convinced Kansas City mafiosi to stay out of California, boss Licata also had to deal with incursions by the Cleveland mob family.

In July 1969, Licata was called before a grand jury to answer questions about the Jan. 10, 1969, slaying of Julius Anthony Petro of Cleveland. Known for committing bank robberies and suspected of murder in Cleveland, Petro was found shot to death in a parked car at the Los Angeles International Airport. Licata refused to testify and was ordered to prison for contempt of court. The following May, U.S. District Court Judge Jesse Curtis released Licata on $2,500 bail while he appealed the contempt order. Judge Curtis said he expected Licata would never answer questions on the Petro case.

With his family and his territory in disarray, Licata retained the title of boss - though probably not the power - until his death in fall of 1974. Licata died Oct. 19, 1974, at St. John's Hospital in Santa Monica.

A Requiem Mass was celebrated for Licata Oct. 23 at St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church in downtown Los Angeles. He was buried at Holy Cross Cemetery. About 150 people attended the services.

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Lazia, Johnny (1895-1934)

Born Brooklyn, NY, Sept. 28, 1895.

Killed Kansas City, MO, July 10, 1934.

Lazia likely started his underworld career as a thug for the Tom Pendergast political machine in Kansas City. By 1928, he had graduated to leader of the North Side Democratic Club and controlled much of the organized criminal activity in the region.

Lazia was born in Brooklyn, NY (the family name was Lazio) to immigrant parents Giuseppe and Frances. His birth year is generally recorded as 1896, which appears on his gravestone. A date of Sept. 28, 1895, appears on Lazia's World War I draft registration. The family relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, shortly after his birth and settled on Campbell Street.

Lazia was arrested in 1915. He was charged with armed robbery and with firing a weapon at a local police captain. His conviction resulted in a prison sentence of 15 years. The local political machine had an interest in Lazia, however, and he was paroled after serving just eight months behind bars.

As he matured, Lazia's underworld specialty became gambling. He operated a dog racing track and the swank Cuban Gardens club. Other business ventures included a night club and soft drink concessions. He appears to have coordinated bootlegging operations in the region during and following the Prohibition Era.

Lazia served as mentor for Charles "Mad Dog" Gargotta and Anthony Gizzo. Gargotta later allied with Lazia successor Charles Binaggio. (Gargotta and Binaggio were both killed in the Jackson County Democratic Club headquarters on April 5, 1950. Gizzo briefly served as top boss of the Kansas City Mob in the early 1950s.)

The influence of the Pendergast machine kept local law enforcement off Lazia's back. However, federal tax agents managed to nab the North Side gangster in 1930. He was tried and convicted of tax evasion. Though he was sentenced to a year in prison, he remained free during appeals.

While the appeal process dragged on, Lazia was believed to be involved in the Union Station Massacre and a gang shootout on Armour Boulevard.

Underworld rivals caught up with Lazia before the law did. Early on July 10, 1934, two men - one carrying a machine gun and the other carrying a shotgun - attacked and mortally wounded the Kansas City gang boss as he stepped from his car at his apartment house. With him at the time of the shooting were his wife and their trusted friends Mr. and Mrs. Charles Carolla. (Charlie "the Wop" Carolla served as Lazia's bodyguard.) Lazia was rushed to St. Joseph's Hospital where surgery was performed. He lingered for eight hours before succumbing to his wounds.

Lazia's funeral cortege stretched for several miles. A dozen motorcycle police officers served as escort. Ceremonies began at the home of his older sister Mary Antonello (she married Joseph Antonello in January 1910). They continued at Holy Rosary Church. Burial took place at St. Mary's Cemetery. Lazia was laid to rest beside his parents.

Lazia's pall bearers included his longtime friends James Balestrere, Joseph Gallucci and Charles Gargotta.

Local police rounded up more than two dozen suspects. Rumors indicated that hours before the Lazia shooting, Lazia had argued with operators of a South Side beer tavern. There was wide speculation that his murder was related to alcohol rackets.

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Lauritano, Leopoldo (1889-?)

Born Naples, Italy, Dec. 30, 1889.

Died ?, after 1942.

Lauritano was a Brooklyn-based Camorra leader who ran a coffeehouse/saloon at 113 Navy Street and also conducted a lucrative murder-for-hire business.

Born in the Naples area near the end of 1889, Lauritano reached the United States in 1906 and was naturalized an American citizen in January 1915. He lived and worked in the area of the Brooklyn Navy Yard and participated in the operation of the infamous Navy Street Gang. His brother Anthony appears to have been acquainted with if not involved with the gang.

In the 1910s, as the Sicilian Mafia and Neapolitan Camorra in the New York area cooperated to monopolize rackets, Lauritano became a sort of sergeant-at-arms for the budding syndicate. He commanded what may have been the first Brooklyn-based murder-for-hire organization.

It was to Lauritano that Bronx Mafia boss Ciro Terranova allegedly ran to contract a hit on Joe DeMarco in 1916.

Camorra bosses took offense at Morello-Terranova actions and decided to dissolve the partnership and eliminate as much of the Sicilian Mafia leadership in New York as possible. Lauritano gunmen were employed later in 1916 to perform the executions, which resulted in the deaths of Terranova's brother Nicholas and aide Charles Ubriaco.

According to testimony from hitman Johnny "Lefty" Esposito, Lauritano paid his gunmen a steady salary to keep them on retainer. (Esposito complained that Lauritano lowered his pay as a result of the accidental killing of Lauritano friend Charles Lombardi during the DeMarco hit.)

In 1918, Lauritano was arrested for his involvement in the 1916 murder of Giuseppe Verrazano at the Italian Gardens in Manhattan. While held for that crime, he was tried and convicted of manslaughter in connection with another killing. He was sentenced to serve 20 years in state prison. The 1920 Census found him at Clinton State Prison in Dannemora.

On Jan. 12, 1926, Lauritano was released from prison on parole. He had served just seven and a half years of his original 20-year sentence. He was immediately rearrested on a 1918 indictment in the Verrazano murder case. On Jan. 14, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Selah B. Strong released Lauritano on a habeas corpus writ. Strong noted that he had dismissed the murder indictment against Lauritano two and a half years earlier.

Lauritano's discharge resulted in an bitter public feud between Justice Strong and Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Dodd. Strong insisted that Dodd had approved the dismissal of the murder charge in the summer of 1923. Dodd denied having any part in the dismissal.

In March of 1927, Lauritano was taken into custody as a material witness against accused Camorra assassin Anthony "Shoemaker" Paretti. He was held on $100,000 bail at the Raymond Street Jail in Brooklyn. Paretti went to trial that June. Camorra leaders Lauritano, Allessandro Vollero and Pellegrino Morano were all called to testify. All denied knowing Paretti. Lauritano further denied knowing his fellow witnesses and any members of the Navy Street Gang.
Paretti was convicted and sentenced to die in the electric chair at Sing Sing Prison. Lauritano's testimony caused him to be tried for perjury.

The perjury trial began on Feb. 10, 1927. On the following day, Assistant District Attorney James I. Cuff confronted Lauritano with a photograph showing him at a gathering of the Navy Street Gang. Lauritano changed his plea to guilty and admitted that he lied about his associations with gang members.

On March 1, Justice James C. Cropsey of Brooklyn Supreme Court sentenced Lauritano to serve five years in Sing Sing Prison. According to reports, Lauritano narrowly avoided a more serious sentence because his perjury occurred two days before the effective date of the strict Baumes laws.

After his release, Lauritano went to live with his brother Anthony on Adelphi Street in Brooklyn. The two worked together on Navy Street. Documentation on Lauritano after the start of World War II is lacking.

  • "10 held when gunman exposes 23 murders," New York Tribune, Nov. 28, 1917, p. 16.
  • "Armored car owner queried on Marlow," New York Times, July 11, 1929, p. 1.
  • "Assassin, hired at $15 a week, admits part in 6 murders," New York Tribune, June 7, 1918, p. 16.
  • "Convicts at trial refuse to testify," New York Times, July 1, 1926.
  • "Dodd charges plot to Justice Strong," New York Times, Jan. 28, 1926.
  • "'Judge, I lied,' he says," New York Times, Feb. 12, 1927.
  • "Justice accuses Dodd of blunder," New York Times, Jan. 29, 1926.
  • "Lauritano held in $100,000," New York Times, March 27, 1926.
  • "Paretti witness gets five years," New York Times, March 2, 1927.
  • "'Shoemaker,' fugitive for 10 years, surrenders on indictment for murder by Navy St. Gang," New York Times, March 17, 1926.
  • Leopoldo Lauritano Naturalization Petition No. 12129 dated Jan. 28, 1915.
  • Leopoldo Lauritano World War II draft registration, 1942.
  • U.S. Census of 1920, Clinton Prison at Dannemora, Jan. 7, 1920.

Lansky, Meyer (1902-1983)

Born Grodno, Russia, July 4, 1902.

Died Miami, FL, Jan. 15, 1983.

Lansky was a long-time friend and "business" associate of Charlie Luciano, Benjamin Siegel, Frank Costello and other big-name Prohibition Era gangsters.

He was born Maier Suchowljansky in Grodno, Russia. Various dates of birth range from 1898 to 1902. Social Security death records and FBI files contain a birthdate of July 4, 1902. Some believe that his birthdate was erroneously recorded upon his entry into the U.S. and was actually Aug. 28, 1900. Lansky appears to have used the 1902 date in official papers.

The Jewish community in his native Grodno surrounded by and often assaulted by non-Jewish residents of the area. Lansky's earliest memories reportedly were of Jewish versus Gentile warfare. Lansky, his mother and his younger brother Jacob "Jake" sailed to America in 1911. They arrived in New York harbor on April 4, and were met by Lansky's father Max, who had traveled to the U.S. years earlier and was living on Lewis Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, in sight of the Williamsburg Bridge. They subsequently moved a very short distance to an apartment building near the corner of Columbia and Grand Streets.

In that neighborhood, populated by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, Lansky met and befriended Benjamin Siegel (known as "Bugsy"). A friendship also developed with young Salvatore Lucania - later known as Charlie Luciano - who lived nearby. Luciano, Lansky and Siegel cooperated on some minor criminal enterprises, possibly working for Arnold Rothstein on occasion, and in scuffles with the nearby Irish-dominated gangs. They joined in racketeering ventures - likely including bootlegging, narcotics smuggling and labor racketeering - with Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, and possibly had business relationships with Dutch Schultz.

On Oct. 23, 1918, a teenage Lansky was arrested for felonious assault. He was later discharged. During Prohibition, Lansky, Siegel and Luciano engaged in rum-running. Lansky and Siegel regularly served as guards for illegal liquor shipments sent from New York to Chicago by Dutch Goldberg, Charlie Kramer and Bill Heisman. The two men also may have worked at hijacking competitors' liquor shipments. In the late 1920s, Lansky was suspected of involvement in the murder of Kiddy Kolbrenner, he was arrested for felonious assault, for violation of penal law and for homicide. Each time, he was discharged.

Luciano was absorbed into the New York Mafia organization of "Joe the Boss" Masseria, and Lansky and Siegel served informally as his advisors and enforcers.

In the early 1930s, Lansky became a trusted financial adviser to the Mafia's ruling Commission. His presence in Chicago in the spring of 1932 was documented by his April 19 arrest. He began setting up gambling facilities in Miami and Cuba and stayed regularly at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana. He also initially supported Siegel's vision of a gambling and entertainment Mecca in Las Vegas. Lansky reportedly held a secret financial interest in the Flamingo for many years.

In 1939, Lansky reportedly attended a top-level meeting of racketeers which considered how best to handle the law enforcement pursuit of fugitive Lepke Buchalter. Buchalter was wanted on narcotics charges and other racketeering offenses. Prosecutors in Brooklyn also were investigating Buchalter's connections to a series of murders. At the meeting, Lansky, Doc Rosen, Longie Zwillman and others decided that Buchalter must leave the country. Buchalter remained and eventually turned himself over to the authorities.

Lansky is generally credited with serving as an early 1940s go-between for the jailed Luciano and officials with U.S. Naval Intelligence. Lansky was among the noteworthy underworld visitors to Luciano at Great meadows Prison in Comstock, NY.

After World War II, Lansky and his brother Jake ran a gambling house near Miami known as the Colonial Inn. They took part in gambling operations in Saratoga and Hollywood. Lansky is believed to have collaborated with Frank Costello and Phil Kastel in the opening of the Beverly Club just outside of New Orleans in 1946.

In 1948, as Florida began to crack down on illegal gambling, Lansky sold off Colonial Inn. Pressure by the U.S. government against organized crime increased in the late 1940s, and Lansky was called before the Kefauver Committee Oct. 11, 1950. By that time, he was invested in a number of legitimate enterprises, including alcohol distributorships, food companies and coin-operated machines.

Lansky's major gambling investment, the Riviera Hotel in Havana, was lost with a change in Cuban leadership. Tourists had been discouraged from traveling to Cuba during the revolution of Fidel Castro's force. When Castro took over the government and embraced Communism, tourism shut down completely. The hotel, which by some estimated cost $14 million to build, had not be open long enough to recover more than a third of the initial investment.

Lansky's health, already an issue while developing his casino in Cuba, suffered further upon the casino's shutdown. He dealt with ulcers and chest pains and was hospitalized after a heart attack.

U.S. federal law enforcement agencies hounded Lansky for much of the rest of his life. In the early 1970s, he attempted to retire to Israel. Under pressure from the U.S., which wanted Lansky back home to face charges of skimming from the Flamingo, the Israeli government refused his request for permanent citizenship in 1971. Late in 1972, the Israeli Supreme Court backed the decision and Lansky was forced to attempt to find refuge elsewhere.

An airplane exodus took him first to Switzerland, then to Rio, then to Buenos Aires and on to Paraguay, where he hoped to set up a quiet life for himself. But U.S. authorities headed him off, and Paraguayan officials refused to let Lansky off the plane. The aircraft continued on with stops in La Paz, Lima and Panama before returning Lansky to Miami and the waiting American officials.

Lansky avoided conviction but three other attempts to go to Israel were blocked. He died in Miami on Jan. 15, 1983.

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