Charles “Lucky” Luciano
Name at birth: Salvatore Lucania
Charles "Lucky" Luciano was one of the most famous gangsters in the U.S. during most of the 20th century, credited with turning syndicated crime into a nation-wide organization based on legitimate business models. Born in Sicily, he and his family moved to New York City in 1906. At an early age he established himself as a creative thug on the Lower East Side and eventually worked his way up to being a top aide to crime boss Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria. In the 1920s Masseria was involved in a prolonged turf war with rival crime boss Salvatore Maranzano. Luciano, who by this time had earned the nickname "Lucky" (supposedly by surviving a brutal attack on his life), made a deal with Maranzano and arranged for Joe the Boss to be assassinated in 1931. Luciano then arranged for the murder of Maranzano and became the biggest boss in New York City. With the help of childhood friend Meyer Lansky and strongman Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Luciano then restructured organized crime. Together they created an organization that had a board of directors that focused on profits instead of traditional ethnic loyalties.
Luciano became a celebrity, living in high style and having celebrity pals such as actor George Raft and singer Frank Sinatra. His gangster fame caught up with him in 1936, when special prosecutor (and later New York's governor) Thomas E. Dewey charged Luciano with 62 counts of compulsory prostitution. Luciano was convicted and sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in prison. In February of 1946 Governor Dewey struck a deal that released Luciano from prison and deported him to Italy (the legend is that during World War II Luciano used his contacts to help the U.S. government fight the Nazis). Luciano, who had never lost his position as crime boss, even in prison, popped up in Cuba in 1947 and was again deported to Italy by U.S. officials. As he aged, his influence in the world of organized crime waned, but his celebrity status as one of the most flamboyant and creative criminals in modern history remained. He died of a heart attack in 1962.
The Lansky-Luciano friendship supposedly began in childhood, when Luciano tried to beat up Lansky and Lansky stood up to him. Although Luciano was Italian and Lansky was Jewish, they became friends and, later, business partners… Luciano is said to have created a group of professional assassins known as Murder, Inc…. After he died, Luciano was allowed back into the United States: he is entombed at St. John’s cemetery in New York City.