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Mobster Meyer Lansky (Meier Suchowlański), a co-founder of Murder, Inc., died on this day in 1983, age 80, without ever being convicted for a crime worse than illegal gambling. He was a lifelong friend with Bugsy Siegel (they ran a violent Prohibition-era gang and launched Murder, Inc. together) 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, and during World War II, he secured the release of Luciano from prison by helping the Office of Naval Intelligence watch out for German infiltrators and saboteurs by having the Mafia provide security for naval ships built in New York docks. In 1970, Lanky 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. To see him interviewed on Israeli television (English with Hebrew subtitles), look below.
“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.