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January 15: Meyer Lansky

Lawrence Bush
January 15, 2010

meyermugMobster Meyer Lansky died on this day in 1983, age 80, without ever being convicted for a major crime. He was a lifelong friend with Bugsy Siegel (they ran a violent Prohibition-era gang and launched formed Murder, Inc.) until he agreed to Siegel’s execution in 1947 for losing millions on Las Vegas hotels investments. With Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky built a national syndicate that gave a corporate flavor to organized crime. He was responsible for the mob’s heavy involvement in gambling and vice in the Caribbean, especially in pre-revolutionary Cuba. During the 1930s, he reportedly used gangsters to break up pro-Nazi rallies. In 1970, he fled prosecution by emigrating to Israel, but the country expelled him two years later. The inaugural Forbes 400 list (1982) included Meyer Lansky with a fortune of $200 million, but his estate in 1983 listed only $37,000 in cash.
“Look at the Astors and the Vanderbilts, all those big society people. They were the worst thieves — and now look at them. It’s just a matter of time.”
—Meyer Lansky

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.