Charles “Lucky” Luciano (born Salvatore Lucania, November 24, 1897 – January 26, 1962), was an Italian-born, naturalized American mobster.

Luciano is considered the father of modern organized crime in the United States, for splitting New York City into five different Mafia crime families and for the establishment of the first Commission.

He was the first official boss of the modern Genovese crime family.

He was, along with his associate Meyer Lansky, instrumental in the development of the National Crime Syndicate in the United States.

In the 1997 film “Hoodlum”, Luciano was portrayed by Andy García.

Video comes courtesy of YouTube. It’s overdubbed in Russian, I think; in case you’re wondering about the overlapping audio:

That’s what Hollywood had to say.

Here’s what history has to tell us:

Luciano’s Early Life

Salvatore Lucania was born on November 24, 1897 in Lercara Friddi, Sicily.

Luciano’s parents, Antonio and Rosalia Lucania, had four other children: Bartolomeo, Giuseppe, Filippia, and Concetta. Luciano’s father worked in a sulfur mine in Sicily.

When Luciano was 10 years old, the family emigrated to the United States. They settled in New York City in the borough of Manhattan on its Lower East Side, a popular destination for Italian immigrants.

At age 14, Luciano dropped out of school and started a job delivering hats, earning $7 per week. However, after winning $244 in a dice game, Luciano quit his job and took to earning money on the street. That same year, Luciano’s parents sent him to the Brooklyn Truant School.

While a teenager, Luciano started his own gang.

Unlike other street gangs whose business was petty crime, Luciano offered protection to Jewish youngsters from Italian and Irish gangs for ten cents per week. It was during this time that Luciano met Jewish teenager Meyer Lansky, his future business partner.

Charlie “Lucky”

Soon after emigrating, Luciano changed his forename to Charlie, or Charles, which he felt to be more “American” sounding than Salvatore.

It is not clear how Luciano earned the nickname “Lucky”.

It may have come from his surviving a severe beating by three men in the 1920s, as well as a throat slashing.

From 1916 to 1936, Luciano was arrested 25 times on charges ranging from assault, to illegal gambling, to blackmail, as well as robbery, but spent no time in prison. Lucky breaks, all.

The name “Lucky” may have also been a mispronunciation of Luciano’s surname “Lucania”.


On January 17, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified. The Amendment prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. As there was still a substantial demand for alcohol, this provided criminals with an additional source of income.

By 1921, Luciano had met many future Mafia leaders, including Vito Genovese and Frank Costello (his longtime friend and future business partner), through the Five Points Gang. Also in 1921, Brooklyn gang boss Joe Masseria recruited Luciano as one of his gunmen.

Luciano soon left Masseria and started working for gambler Arnold “the Brain” Rothstein. Rothstein immediately saw the potential from Prohibition and educated Luciano on running bootleg alcohol as a business.

With financing and mentoring from Rothstein, Luciano, Costello, and Genovese started their own bootlegging operation.

By 1925, Luciano was grossing over $12 million a year. He had a net income of around $4 million each year after the costs of bribing politicians and police.

Luciano and his partners ran the largest bootlegging operation in New York – one that also extended into Philadelphia. He imported Scotch whisky from Scotland, rum from the Caribbean, and whisky from Canada. Luciano was also involved in illegal gambling.

On November 2, 1928, a bookkeeper shot and killed Rothstein over a gambling debt.

With Rothstein’s death, Luciano pledged loyalty again to Masseria.

The Young Turks

Luciano soon became a top aide in the Masseria organization.

By the late 1920s, Masseria’s main rival was boss Salvatore Maranzano, who had come from Sicily to run the Castellammarese clan activities. This rivalry escalated into the Castellammarese War, which raged from 1928 to 1931, and resulted in 60 mobster deaths.

Masseria and Maranzano were so-called “Mustache Petes” – older, traditional Mafia bosses who had started their criminal careers in Italy. They believed in upholding the supposed Old World Mafia principles of “honor”, “tradition”, “respect”, and “dignity”. These bosses refused to work with anyone who was not Italian or Italian-American, and were even skeptical of any man who was not Sicilian or Sicilian-American.

Luciano, by contrast, was willing to work with Jewish and Irish gangsters, if there was money to be made.

Luciano began cultivating ties with other younger mobsters who had started their criminal careers in the United States.

Known as the Young Turks, they chafed at their bosses’ conservatism. Luciano wanted to use lessons he learned from Rothstein to turn their gang activities into criminal empires.

As the war progressed, this group came to include future mob leaders such as Frank Costello, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, Joe Bonanno, Carlo Gambino, Joe Profaci, Tommy Gagliano, and Tommy Lucchese.

Luciano’s vision was to form a national crime syndicate in which the Italian, Jewish, and Irish gangs could pool their resources and turn organized crime into a lucrative business for all.


In October 1929, Luciano was forced into a limousine at gun point by three men, beaten and stabbed, then dumped on a beach on Staten Island. He somehow survived the ordeal, but was forever marked with a scar and droopy eye. The identity of his abductors was never established.

When picked up by the police after the beating, Luciano said that he had no idea who did it. However, in 1953, Luciano told an interviewer that it was the police who had kidnapped and beat him. Another theory was that Maranzano ordered the attack.

The most important consequence of this episode was the press coverage it got, which introduced Luciano to the New York public.

Power Play

In early 1931, Luciano moved to eliminate Masseria. The war had been going badly for him, and Luciano saw an opportunity to switch allegiance.

In a secret deal with Maranzano, Luciano agreed to engineer Masseria’s death, in return for receiving Masseria’s rackets and becoming Maranzano’s second-in-command.

On April 15, 1931, Luciano invited Masseria and two other associates to lunch in a Coney Island restaurant. After finishing their meal, the mobsters decided to play cards. At that point, Luciano went to the bathroom.

Four gunmen – Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, and Joe Adonis – then walked into the dining room and shot and killed Masseria and his two men.

With Maranzano’s blessing, Luciano took over Masseria’s gang, and became Maranzano’s lieutenant. The Castellammarese War was over.

The Five Families

With Masseria gone, Maranzano divided all the Italian-American gangs in New York City into Five Families.

The five newly formed crime families were headed by Maranzano, Luciano, Profaci, Gagliano, and Vincent Mangano.

Maranzano promised that all the families would be equal, and free to make money. However, at a meeting of crime bosses in Upstate New York, Maranzano declared himself capo di tutti capi – the absolute boss of all of the crime families. Maranzano also whittled down the rackets of the rival families in favor of his own.

Takeover Bid

Luciano appeared to accept these changes, but was merely biding his time.

By September 1931, Maranzano realized that Luciano was a threat, and hired Vincent “Mad Dog” Coll, an Irish gangster, to kill him. However, Lucchese alerted Luciano that he was marked for death.

On September 10, Maranzano ordered Luciano and Genovese to come to his office at 230 Park Avenue in Manhattan.

Convinced that Maranzano planned to murder them, Luciano decided to act first. He sent five Jewish gangsters dressed as government agents to Maranzano’s office.

While two of the “agents” disarmed Maranzano’s bodyguards, the other three stabbed Maranzano multiple times, before shooting him.

Reorganizing the Mafia

With the death of Maranzano, Luciano became the dominant organized crime boss in the United States.

Luciano now had his own crime family, which controlled lucrative criminal rackets in New York City such as illegal gambling, bookmaking, loan-sharking, drug trafficking and extortion. Luciano also became very influential in labor and union activities, and controlled the Manhattan Waterfront, garbage hauling, construction, Garment Center businesses, and trucking.

Luciano abolished the title of Capo Di Tutti Capi, insisting that the position created trouble between the families. Luciano preferred to quietly maintain control through unofficial alliances with other family bosses.

Luciano felt that the ceremony of becoming a “made-man”, or an amico nostro (literally “our friend”), in a crime family was a Sicilian anachronism that should be discontinued. However, Meyer Lansky persuaded Luciano to keep the practice, arguing that young people needed rituals to promote obedience to the family.

Luciano also stressed the importance of omertà, the oath of silence.

In addition, Luciano kept the five crime families that Maranzano had instituted.

Luciano elevated his most trusted Italian associates to high-level positions in what was now the Luciano crime family. The feared Vito Genovese became underboss (chief lieutenant), and Frank Costello consigliere (chief counsel). Michael “Trigger Mike” Coppola, Anthony Strollo, Joe Adonis, and Anthony Carfano all served as caporegimes (secondary lieutenants).

Because Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel were non-Italians, neither man could hold official positions within any Cosa Nostra family. However, Lansky was a top advisor to Luciano, and Siegel a trusted associate.

The Commission

Under the urging of former Chicago boss Johnny Torrio, Luciano set up the Commission, to serve as the governing body for organized crime.

The Commission was originally composed of representatives of the Five Families of New York City, the Philadelphia crime family, the Buffalo crime family, Los Angeles crime family, and the Chicago Outfit of Al Capone. Later, the Detroit crime family and Kansas City crime family were added. The Commission also provided representation for the Irish and Jewish criminal organizations in New York.

All Commission members were supposed to retain the same power and had one vote – but in reality some families and bosses were more powerful than others.

In 1935 – in its first big test – the Commission ordered gang boss Dutch Schultz to drop his plans to murder Special Prosecutor Thomas Dewey. Luciano argued that a Dewey assassination would bring undue pressure from the law.

When Schultz announced that he was still going to kill Dewey, or his Assistant David Asch, the Commission quickly arranged Schultz’s murder.

On October 24, 1935, Dutch Schultz was murdered in a tavern in Newark, New Jersey.

In hindsight, this may have been a costly move.

Prostitution Loophole

During the early 1930s, Luciano’s crime family started taking over small scale prostitution operations in New York City.

In June 1935, New York Governor Herbert H. Lehman appointed U.S. Attorney Thomas E. Dewey as a special prosecutor to combat organized crime in New York City. Dewey realized that he could attack Luciano – the most powerful gangster in New York – through this prostitution network, with the assistance of his aide David Asch.

On February 2, 1936, Dewey launched a massive police raid against 200 brothels in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Ten men and 100 women were arrested.

Unlike previous vice raids, Dewey did not release the suspects. Instead, he took them to court, where a judge set bails of $10,000 – far beyond their means to pay.

By mid March, several defendants had implicated Luciano. Three of the prostitutes named Luciano as the ringleader, who made collections, although David Betillo was in charge of the prostitution ring in New York, and any money that Luciano received was from Betillo.

In late March 1936, Luciano received a tip that he was going to be arrested, and fled to Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Unfortunately for Luciano, a New York detective in Hot Springs on a different assignment spotted Luciano, and notified Dewey.

On April 1, 1936, Luciano was arrested in Hot Springs on a criminal warrant from New York. The next day, Dewey indicted Luciano and his accomplices on 90 counts of compulsory prostitution. Luciano’s lawyers in Arkansas then began a fierce legal battle against extradition.

On April 6, someone offered a $50,000 bribe to Arkansas Attorney General Carl E. Bailey to facilitate Luciano’s case. Bailey refused the bribe and immediately reported it.

On April 17 – after all of Luciano’s legal motions had been exhausted – Arkansas authorities handed Luciano to three New York City Police Department detectives, for transport by train back to New York for trial.

When the detectives and their prisoner reached St. Louis, Missouri and changed trains, they were guarded by 20 local policemen to prevent a mob rescue attempt. The men arrived in New York City on April 18, and Luciano was held without bail.

Prosecution for Pandering

On May 13, 1936, Luciano’s pandering trial began.

He was accused of being part of a massive prostitution ring known as “the Combination.”

During the trial, Dewey exposed Luciano for lying on the witness stand through direct questioning, and records of telephone calls. Luciano also had no explanation for why his federal income tax records claimed he made only $22,000 a year, while he was obviously a wealthy man.

Dewey ruthlessly pressed Luciano on his long arrest record and his relationships with well-known gangsters such as Ciro Terranova, Louis Buchalter, and Joseph Masseria.

On June 7, 1936, Luciano was convicted on 62 counts of compulsory prostitution.

On July 18, 1936, Luciano was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in state prison, along with Betillo and others.

Many observers questioned the pandering charges against Luciano. It would have been significantly out of character (they said) for him to be directly involved in any criminal enterprise – let alone a prostitution ring.

In her memoirs, New York society madam Polly Adler said that if Luciano had been involved with “the Combination,” she would have known about it. Bonanno – the last surviving contemporary of Luciano’s who wasn’t in prison – also denied that Luciano was directly involved in prostitution in his book, “A Man of Honor”.

Prison Time

Luciano continued to run the Luciano crime family from prison, relaying his orders through acting boss, Vito Genovese.

When Genovese fled to Naples, Italy in 1937 to avoid an impending murder indictment in New York, Luciano appointed his consigliere, Costello as the new acting boss and overseer of Luciano’s interests.

Luciano was first imprisoned at Sing Sing Correctional Facility in Ossining, New York, but was moved later in 1936 to Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York – far away from New York City.

At Clinton, co-defendant Dave Betillo prepared special dishes for Luciano in a kitchen set aside by authorities. Luciano himself was assigned a job in the prison laundry.

Luciano used his influence to help get the materials to build a church at the prison, which became famous for being one of the only freestanding churches in the New York State correctional system, and also for the fact that on the church’s altar are two of the original doors from the Victoria – the ship of Ferdinand Magellan.

Legal appeals of Luciano’s conviction continued until October 10, 1938, when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review his case.

At this point, Luciano stepped down as boss, and Costello formally took over the family.

Freedom and Deportation

During World War II, the U.S. government struck a secret deal with the imprisoned Luciano.

In 1942, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence was concerned about German and Italian agents entering the United States through the New York waterfront. They also worried about sabotage in these facilities.

Knowing that the Cosa Nostra controlled the waterfront, the Navy contacted Meyer Lansky about a deal with Luciano. To facilitate negotiations, the State of New York transferred Luciano from Clinton prison to Great Meadow Correctional Facility, which was much closer to New York City.

The Navy, the State of New York, and Luciano eventually concluded a deal.

In exchange for a commutation of his sentence, Luciano promised the complete assistance of his organization in providing intelligence to the Navy. Luciano ally Albert Anastasia (who controlled the docks) allegedly promised no dockworker strikes during war. And in preparation for the 1943 allied invasion of Sicily, Luciano allegedly provided the U.S. military with Mafia contacts in Sicily.

On January 3, 1946, Governor Thomas E. Dewey reluctantly commuted Luciano’s pandering sentence, on condition that he did not resist deportation to Italy.

Luciano accepted the deal – although he still maintained that he was a U.S. citizen and not subject to deportation.

On February 2, 1946, two federal immigration agents transported Luciano from Sing Sing prison to Ellis Island in New York Harbor, for deportation proceedings.

On February 10, 1946, Luciano’s ship sailed from Brooklyn harbor for Italy. This was the last time he would see the United States.

On February 28, Luciano’s ship arrived in Naples. On arrival, Luciano told reporters he would probably reside in Sicily.

During his exile, Luciano frequently encountered US military men and American tourists during train trips in Italy. Luciano enjoyed these meetings and gladly posed for photos and signed autographs.

The Havana Conference

In October 1946, Luciano secretly moved to Havana, Cuba.

Luciano first took a freighter from Naples to Caracas, Venezuela, then flew to Rio De Janeiro. He then flew to Mexico City and doubled back to Caracas, where he took a private plane to Camaguey, Cuba, finally arriving on October 29. Luciano was then driven to Havana, where he moved into an estate in the Miramar section of the city.

Luciano’s objective in going to Cuba was to be closer to the United States, so that he could resume control over American Cosa Nostra operations and eventually return. Lansky was already established as a major investor in Cuban gambling and hotel projects.

In December 1946, Lansky called a meeting of the heads of the major crime families, in Havana. The ostensible purpose was to see singer Frank Sinatra perform. However, the real reason was to discuss mob business with Luciano in attendance.

The three topics to discuss were: the heroin trade, Cuban gambling, and what to do about Bugsy Siegel and the floundering Flamingo Hotel project in Las Vegas.

The Conference took place at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, and lasted a little more than a week.

Deported, Again

Soon after the Havana Conference began, the U.S. government learned about Luciano’s presence in Cuba, which was no secret; Luciano had been publicly fraternizing with Sinatra, as well as visiting numerous nightclubs.

The U.S. started putting pressure on the Cuban government to expel him.

On February 21, 1947, U.S. Narcotics Commissioner Harry J. Anslinger notified the Cuban government that the United States would block all shipment of narcotic prescription drugs to Cuba while Luciano was there.

Two days later, the Cuban government announced that Luciano was in custody, and would be deported to Italy within 48 hours.

Luciano was placed on a Turkish freighter that was sailing to Genoa, Italy.

Operating in Italy

After Luciano’s secret trip to Cuba, he spent the rest of his life in Italy under tight police surveillance.

Despite the law enforcement surveillance, Luciano was able to greatly expand narcotics trafficking to the United States, making it one of organized crime’s most lucrative ventures.

Between October 10 and October 14, 1957, Luciano oversaw a parley of more than thirty Sicilian and American Mafia leaders to draw up plans for the smuggling and distribution of heroin into the United States.

According to Selwyn Raab, an investigative reporter for The New York Times, it was at the Luciano meeting (held in the Grand Hotel et des Palmes in Palermo, Sicily) that a plan was put into place through which Sicilians were responsible for distributing heroin in the U.S., while the American mobsters collected a share of the income as “franchise fees”.

Luciano’s plan included a scheme to expand the tiny heroin and cocaine market in the U.S. by reducing the price and focusing on working class white and black urban neighborhoods.

American Power Struggle

By 1957, Genovese felt strong enough to move against Luciano and his acting boss in New York, Frank Costello. He was aided in this move by Anastasia crime family underboss Carlo Gambino.

On May 2, 1957, Costello was shot and slightly wounded by a gunman outside his apartment building. Soon after this attack, Costello conceded control of what is today called the Genovese crime family to Genovese. Luciano was powerless to stop it.

On October 26, 1957, Genovese and Gambino arranged the murder of Albert Anastasia, another Luciano ally.

Gambino took over what is now called the Gambino crime family.

Genovese now believed himself to be the top boss in the Cosa Nostra.

The Apalachin Meeting

In November 1957, Genovese called a meeting of Cosa Nostra bosses in Apalachin, New York to approve his takeover of the Luciano family, and to establish his national power.

Instead, the Apalachin Meeting turned into a terrible fiasco, when law enforcement raided the venue.

Over 65 high ranking mobsters were arrested, and the Cosa Nostra was subjected to publicity and numerous grand jury summons.

The enraged mobsters blamed Genovese for this disaster, opening a window of opportunity for Genovese’s opponents.


Costello, Luciano, and Gambino met in a hotel in Palermo, Sicily, to discuss their plan of action. In his own power move, Gambino had deserted Genovese.

After their meeting, Luciano allegedly paid an American drug seller $100,000 to falsely implicate Genovese in a drug deal.

On April 4, 1959, Genovese was convicted in New York of conspiracy to violate federal narcotics laws.

Sent to prison for 15 years, Genovese tried to run his crime family from prison until his death in 1969. Meanwhile, Gambino now became the most powerful man in the Cosa Nostra.

Death and Legacy

On January 26, 1962, Luciano went to Naples International Airport to meet with American producer Martin Gosch about a film biography.

After the meeting with Gosch, Luciano was stricken with a heart attack, and died.

Unbeknownst to Luciano, Italian drug agents had followed him to the airport in anticipation of arresting him on drug smuggling charges.

Three days later, 300 people attended a funeral service for Luciano in Naples.

Luciano’s body was conveyed along the streets of Naples in a horse-drawn black hearse.

After receiving permission from the U.S. government, Luciano’s relatives brought his body back to New York for burial.

He was buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens. More than 2,000 mourners attended his funeral.

Luciano’s longtime friend, Gambino crime family boss Carlo Gambino, eulogized him at the funeral.

In 1998, Time magazine characterized Luciano as the “criminal mastermind” among the top 20 most influential builders and titans of the 20th century.

And here ends this titanic tale.

Hope you’ll be here, for our next story.

Till then.