By Thom L. Jones
Any one interested in the subject of Italian-American organized crime, is probably familiar with the story concerning Charlie Luciano’s final departure from New York.
After serving 10 years of a thirty year sentence for compulsory prostitution, he was released from prison by the very man who sent him away, New York State Governor, Thomas Dewey, transferred to Ellis Island in New York Harbour, and on February 10th 1946, sailed away on a rust-bucket of a steam ship, never to return.
Charlie had apparently done such a great service for America’s war effort, that the governor (who as a hell-bent New York District Attorney, pursued Luciano and had him sent away for a crime that most observers thought was the biggest frame-up since Sacco and Venzetti were executed for a murder they never did, back in July, 1921,) agreed to a commutation of sentence, subject to a deportation order, and sent Luciano back to his birth place, the small, sulphur-stinking town of Lecara Friddi in the wilds of Western Sicily .
Luciano’s conviction was so dodgy in fact, that in a memo dated April 18th 1946, R.A. Rosen Assistant Director of the FBI, stated:
‘...... considerable opinion exists to the effect that Luciano was not guilty of the charges for which he was convicted and that Governor Dewey’s parole of Luciano was motivated partially as an easing of Dewey’s conscience.’
Luciano’s sentence was the largest ever imposed at that time in the state of New York for compulsory prostitution, and the Feds, who knew a lot about Charlie, but almost nothing about what he really represented, uncharacteristically went to bat for him, at least in an inter-office memo.
But just how Charlie got his pass, and why he was allowed to sail off into the evening glow so to speak, on that miserable, rainy day in February, has always been a bit of a mystery. There have been lots words written about it, in a number of different books, with the basic premise something along these lines:
The New York Harbour, the biggest and most important in the USA, and the staging post for any future American involvement in World War Two, was at risk from Nazi attacks, both overt and subvert. The eyes and ears needed to aid Naval intelligence services were the dock workers and fishermen, and everyone knew that the mob controlled the waterfront, and Luciano, a.k.a. Salvatore Lucania, also known as Charlie Lucky, was obviously a very important man in the underworld. Ergo, he should be able to help secure the cooperation of the waterside workers to aid any intelligence operations.
A FBI report dated May, 1946 states:
In 1941, the security of the port of New York was a matter of great concern, not only to the Third Naval District, but to the Secretary of the Navy and the President of the United States, and further that in accordance with the directive issued by the Secretary of Navy, the activities of the District Intelligence Organization (DIO), in the Third Naval District were expanded to afford the required coverage in the port of New York.
It was also pointed out that considerable newspaper publicity concerning the Navy’s responsibility in this regard occurred in 1941, and as a result of it, the District Attorney of New York County, invited the DIO to discuss matters concerning the port of New York. At a meeting subsequently held, the District Intelligence Officer was informed that the ‘Rackets‘ Section of the District Attorney’s Office had numerous contacts in the underworld familiar with waterfront situations. Arrangements were made whereby pertinent information would be called to the attention of the DIO.
Then there was Lucky’s part in the invasion of Europe. A letter send to Charles Brietel, Secretary to Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, stated that the author:
was confident that the greater part of intelligence developed in the Sicilian Campaign was directly responsible to the number of Sicilians that emanated from the Charlie ‘Lucky‘ Luciano’s contacts.
And so, not only did Charlie save the port of New York from the fiendish Krauts, but he paved the way for a successful invasion of Sicily that helped shorten the war and save untold number of military lives. The least the state could do was give this guy a break and turn him loose from a conviction that was to say the least, a bit dodgy.
The author of the letter to the governor’s aide was naval officer Charles Radcliffe Haffenden, known more often as ‘Red,’ and he lies, maybe unwittingly, at the very core of what may have been a classic mob scam to get something they really wanted badly- Charlie out of the pen. Sixty years after the event, everyone is dead and gone, so we are never going to know for sure, but this is what may have gone down in those early years of World War Two.
Charlie was incarcerated in one of America’s more dismal penitentiaries, located not far from Canada; a bleak, inhospitable place known as Clinton, an armpit of a prison. Situated in the small township of Dannemora, twenty miles south of the border, it had opened in 1845, housing prisoners who were free labour for the iron mines of Clinton and Essex counties.
After his conviction on the prostitution charges, he was sent first to Sing Sing prison arriving there on June 18th 1936. On July 2nd he was moved north, to the prison the American underworld referred to as Little Siberia, and it looked as though he would spend the rest of his life, or at least twenty years of it, stewing here in the summer and freezing in the winter. He would not be even considered for parole until 1956.
Inmate 24086 settled down for a long and miserable stay, at this bleak and depressing facility, hidden away behind fourty-foot high walls and watch towers manned by armed guards.
Warden William Snyder assigned Lucky a cell in ‘the Flats,’ the first-floor gallery in West Hall, which came to be equipped with an electric stove, curtains and a pet canary.
In March 1937, Luciano was transferred to C Block, ‘one of the best and cleanest blocks,’ according to James D. Horan, a fellow inmate who recalled his hard time with Luciano in his 1959 autobiography, ‘The Mob's Man.’ Horan was happy to have the daily job of cleaning Lucky's cell and pressing his clothes (silk shirts and creased slacks,) for which he was paid handsomely in cigarettes, and other valuable contraband.
‘Little Davie’ Betillo, one of Lucky’s associates, who had received 24 to 40 years for a supporting role in Luciano's prostitution ring, often prepared Charlie‘s food, in a corner of the prison kitchen that had been made available to him. Betillo cooked Luciano's meals, before serving them to him in his cell, where the mob boss would listen to comedy shows on the radio. (Lucky's favourite was apparently Abbott and Costello.)
Something went badly wrong with their relationship however, for Betillo corned Luciano one day, and beat him badly with a baseball bat. ‘Little Davie’ headed up a group of Italian-American convicts who were constantly fighting with another group of non- Italians. Luciano warned Davie off a number of times, and one day ordered him to stop the brawling. Betillo took umbrage and went for Luciano. Charley was saved, only by the intervention of another prisoner, who came to his aid, and as a result, apparently was awarded an early release. Betillo spent some time in solitary. It seems Charlie was incredibly lucky to escape with little injury. Betillo had started his career in the Chicago mob, working as a bodyguard for Al Capone, and was a seasoned killer. From that point on, Charley always had at least two inmates act as his bodyguards, no doubt rewarding them well for their trouble.
He seemingly accepted and adjusted to his incarceration, making the best of his situation. On a hill overlooking a recreation area called ‘the Courts,’ he drank coffee, played gin rummy and held daily counsel with the prison's extensive Italian population.
By 1937, New York District Attorney Dewey’s newest target was racketeer Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter. Luciano had allegedly arranged maximum security for Lepke in New York, on the run from the law, through underworld contacts Albert Anastasia and Louis Capone, and Buchalter operated without impunity for the next two years. In 1939, an FBI agent paid Luciano a visit over the still at-large ‘Lepke,’ and it’s possible that Luciano agreed to disclose his whereabouts (an apartment in Brooklyn,) but only if J. Edgar Hoover would arrange to have his sentence commuted. The agent refused. Not long after, Luciano, whose freedom was increasingly dependent on gubernatorial parole, may have tricked Buchalter into surrendering so that Dewey, an as-yet unannounced candidate, would owe him a favour.
Lepke had jumped bail on July 6th 1937 while indicted by a Federal grand jury for violation of the Sherman Anti-trust Act; the first time the government had used it to try a convict a racketeer. A deal was set up, it seems, by Frank Costello, using the only man Lepke trusted- Moe ‘Dimples’ Wilensky-a long time associate of Bucahalter in the garment industry, to persuade Lepke to surrender to J. Edgar Hoover.
Louis Buchalter would ultimately die in the electric chair in 1944, the first and only New York mob boss to-date, to have met this fate. If this is actually what did transpire, then Charles Luciano would have been the first major ‘rat’ or informer in the Italian-American underworld: One boss squealing on another boss in order to gain some kind of benefit for himself.
This may have been the first, in a series of attempts by Luciano, to gain clemency on his prison sentence by becoming a government informer.
The second, involved Dixie Davies, the lawyer who represented Dutch Schultz, the notorious New York numbers racket king. Davies was arrested in his hideaway, a Philadelphia hotel, where he had been in hiding with his mistress, Hope Dore, in February, 1938.
Schultz had been murdered in 1935, and it seems Luciano had arranged protection for Davies following the murder of his boss. In 1939, Thomas Dewey, mounted a major indictment against corrupt Tammany leader, Jimmy Hines, who was allegedly a major player in Schultz’s gang. The underworld gossip was that Lucky had turned in Davies, allowing the law to catch him, so that he could provide the damming evidence needed to convict Hines.
More Brownie points for Charlie, maybe?
It is also possible that while in Clinton, Lucky was approached to help out a new, up-coming Italian-American singer, a crooner from Hoboken, called Frank Sinatra. Legend has it that Lucky financed Frank into the big time, and that Sinatra would later show his appreciation by singing at Luciano’s mobster conclave in Havana on Christmas Eve 1946.
Sinatra’s wife, Nancy Barbato, was related to a senior member of a Luciano crew, controlled by New Jersey gangster, Willie Moretti, who himself was close to both Charlie and Frank Costello. Frank also had an uncle, on his mother’s side of the family, Babe Garavante, who was also allegedly linked into Moretti’s team. The links between Sinatra and Luciano went even deeper than that. Frank’s father may have actually been born in the same street in the same small town where Charlie Luciano had been born, in Western Sicily.
This wasn’t the first time Charley had been into the ‘North Country.’
In 1920, he’d helped to manage an upscale casino called ‘Brooks,’ opened in 1919 and owned by Arnold Rothstein, which was located in Saratoga Springs. Rothstein had also helped finance Charley, and his good friend Meyer Lansky, and a group of other investors, into their own place-‘The Chicago Club’- located near the railway station in the Springs.
Luciano (right) had been one of the pivotal players in the establishment of what we now recognize as the Mafia crime families of New York. Born in Sicily in November 1897, he came to America in 1905 or 1907 depending on which source you choose to believe, along with his parents, Antonio and Rosalia Cafarella and his brother Bartolo. Charlie said in his autobiography it was April 1906, but there are so many things in that book that are suspect; perhaps he even got this date wrong as well! By 1931 at the early age of 34, he was heading up the Mafia clan formerly under the command of Giuseppe ‘Joe the Boss’ Masseria, who had been gunned down in a restaurant on Coney Island. This was the penultimate act of violence bringing to a close what has since been referred to as The Castellammarese War of 1930-31.
Charlie was developing a nice little business, running what may have been the biggest mob in a city full of mobsters, when D.A. Dewey came along and upset the apple cart, which resulted in Charlie spending winter 1936 in the can, freezing off his tootsies, and knowing the only way from there, was down. He kept on running his criminal empire through intermediaries like Frank Costello and Vito Genovese, and kept closely in touch with the little Jewish criminal kingpin, Meyer Lansky, dubbed ‘the Mafia’s Henry Kissinger’ by comedian Jackie Mason. They had been close friends and confidents since their youthful days growing up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Moses Polakoff, Lucky’s attorney, visited him at the prison, on a regular basis, and along with another outstanding trial lawyer, George Wolfe, he was working around the clock on Luciano’s appeal against his sentence, but not getting anywhere fast.
While imprisoned in the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, Charley would use his influence to help organize the necessary materials to build a church at the prison in 1941, 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 explorer Magellan's ship. This church of St Dismas was called, not unsurprisingly, ‘The Church of the Good Thief!’ No doubt many of the convict penitents would kneel here in supplication to the mob prayer:
‘O Lord, give me the strength to rob again.’
And then on March 25th 1942, a meeting took place in the office of New York District Attorney Frank Hogan, that would trigger a sequence of events leading up to the release and deportation of Charlie Luciano.
The meeting was held between Hogan, ADA Murray Gurfein, head of the DA’s racket squad section and three Naval men-Lt. James O’Malley Jnr., Lt. Anthony Marsloe and Lieutenant Commander Haffenden.
Between December 7th 1941 and February 1942, the United States and its allies had lost 71 merchant ships to marauding Axis U-boats operating in the North Atlantic Ocean. It was suspected by Naval intelligence, that German U-boats were being refuelled and supplied with provisions by fishing smacks.
Rear Admiral Carle Espe, Director of Naval Intelligence, believed the outcome of the war appeared extremely grave. There were serious concerns over possible destruction of essential ports. It was necessary to use every means to prevent and forestall sabotage, and to prevent this supplying of and contact with, enemy submarines.
The Atlantic sea-lanes had to be made safe if the basic strategy of the war -Victory in Europe-was to be achieved. Also, on February 9th the S.S Normandie, a luxury cruise liner waiting refitting into a war vessel, caught fire, burnt out and rolled over on her moorings in the Hudson River. There was a very strong possibility at first that it was an act of sabotage, carried out right in the heart of New York, although in fact subsequent inquiries revealed it was simply an accident.
At the meeting in Hogan’s office, it was suggested that the New York waterfront was very much influenced by Italian-Americans, as was the fishing fleets that operated out of the upper North East seaboard harbours. A name came up in the meeting, a man who was very important on the New York piers, a man who ran the biggest fish market in America, at the Fulton Street complex, on the lowers East Side of Manhattan. His name was Joseph Lanza, known to his friends as ‘Sox.’ He was a mobster, working in the crime family run by Luciano, and he was also, currently under indictment on racketeering charges.
It was proposed that Lanza (left) be approached initially through his lawyer, Joseph K. Gueria.
Gurfein and Gueria met the next day, and the mobster’s attorney was asked if he would approach his client to see if he would help the government, through his contacts on the waterfront, to find out how German U-boats were being supplied and refuelled, and by whom and where. There was apparently no offer made by the DA’s office to go easy on the indictment looming over Lanza. Gurfein was in fact laying the ground to persecute Lanza on seven counts of extortion and conspiracy, charges which had been two years in development, in connection with racketeering activities in the Fulton Fish Market, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. What Lanza was being asked to do was simply be a patriot, and help out his country in a time of deep need.
Following this meeting, Haffenden was appointed as Naval Intelligence Officer in charge of the project, working directly under the officer in control of the Navy’s 3rd District, Captain Roscoe C. MacFall, who was Chief Intelligence Officer of the Third Naval District, covering New York and New Jersey, which Navy wags in the intelligence department referred to as S.S. Concrete. A few days later, ADA Gurfein, attorney Gueria and Lanza met at 11.30 p.m. and drove to Riverside Park. Lanza wanted this level of secrecy. He did not want anyone to see him conferring with someone from the District Attorney’s office.
Seated on a bench, they discussed the proposal, and Lanza agreed. The following day, he met up with Haffenden at an office the Naval Commander maintained at the Astor Hotel on West 44th Street near Broadway. As a result of this rendezvous, Haffenden and ‘Sox’ Lanza agreed to work together in one of the strangest alliances of the war: the Mafia and Naval Intelligence combing to fight another, different kind of enemy.
Haffenden hired two brothers, Dominick and Felix Saco to act as his liaison with Lanza in the unusual arrangement that was about to be set up.
An associate of Haffenden’s remembers him saying at some time in the early stages of the strange alliance between the government and organized crime:
‘I’ll talk to anybody, a priest, a bank manager, a gangster, the devil himself, if I can get the information I need. This is a war. American lives are at stake.’
Lanza and Haffenden were the left and right bowers in a game of hide and seek that perhaps went deeper than just naval intelligence. Lanza was forty-one years old and had been a career criminal most of his life. He had been in trouble with the law since he was seventeen. His arrest record read: juvenile delinquency, conspiracy and extortion, theft, breaking/entering, homicide, unlawful possession of a weapon, coercion and conspiracy and violating antitrust laws. He was firmly established in the crime family controlled by Luciano, and lived at 101, West 65th Street with his second wife, Ellen Connor. As head of Local 16975 of the United Seafood Workers, he ran the Fulton Fish Market like a dictator, nothing moved in or out without his permission. A fearsome plug of a man with premature gray hair, he was a street brawler, who tended to solve problems with his fists, hence his nickname, and a man who also mixed with the upper echelon of the Mafia, associating with the top men in most of the five Cosa Nostra crime families operating across the city.
Joseph Lanza was born in Palermo, Sicily around the turn of the 20th century, according to some sources. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics has him listed as being born in New York in August 1900. At the age of 14, he went to work at The Fulton Fish Market, as a fish handler. In the early part of the 20th Century, workers at the market were mainly Irish. By the 1920’s they had been replaced by the Italians.
Established in 1835, it started business in a large, wooden shed in 1848 and grew to become the biggest wholesale market of its type in America, eventually establishing a complex covering five square blocks near what is now the South Street Seaport, between Fulton and Beekman Streets. In the period 1920-1930, it was estimated one quarter of all seafood sold in America passed through the Fulton.
A reporter at the New York Times, Emanuel Perlmutter, claimed Lanza earned his nickname ‘Sox’ or sometimes ‘Socks’ because of his propensity to settle disputes by using his fists. Ralph Salerno, who headed up the NYPD organized-crime task force between 1946 and 1967, claimed the nickname came from Lanza’s habit of thumping fish wholesalers and deliverers who refused to pay him for permission to do business.
He also acquired some other nicknames along the way: The Czar of the Fulton Market; Sea Food Papa and Joe Zotz.
Tough as he undoubtedly was, he had a soft side as well. One of the workers at the market bred Pomeranian dogs, which curiously, seemed to be a favourite pet of mobsters during the 1930’s. Joe Lanza bought one of the pups, and the dog was his constant companion for years. He apparently doted on the animal.
Short, stock and immensely tough, by the age of 20, Lanza had become involved in labour union activities, and an organizer for the United Seafood Workers Union (USW) through Local 359 which represented almost 1000 workers employed at the market.
Lanza started his operation from a shoe-shine stand in the market, demanding a penny for every fish sold, and charging a $10 tax on every boat unloading. He also levied every stall holder an annual fee of $2500 to keep the peace.
Sometime between 1920 and 1930, he also became part of the Mafia crime family that would come to be headed by Charley Luciano, and during this period, may have worked as an enforcer for Michael ‘Trigger Mike’ Coppola, a psychopathic capo regime, or crew captain, in the family, who was based in Harlem.
Lanza had three brothers, Nunzio (Harry) Anthony and Salvatore. Harry joined him at the market and it’s thought he also joined the Luciano family, rising in rank to sit alongside his brother as a capo. Salvatore, often called ‘Solly’ was also connected into the mob, but probably as an associate rather than a ‘made’ man.
The 1963 Valachi hearings inferred Lanza was a soldier in the crime family, working under Michele Miranda, although most sources believe by the 1940’s, ‘Sox’ was in fact a capo himself, and generating huge earnings for the mob.
‘Sox’ Lanza created his own fiefdom at the Fulton Market. All fish, either landed from sea at the nearby docks, or shipped in by ‘reefers,’ the huge refrigerated trucks, hauling shrimp from Florida or Georgia, had to be unloaded and distributed to the fish wholesalers in the market by union workers, supervised by Lanza or his brother Harry. Lanza also operated his criminal control beyond the confines of the market walls, through a security force operating a watchman’s service for retail shops and vehicles parked around the perimeter of the waterfront complex; in addition, fish processing plants in the area paid Lanza thousands of dollars annually to ensure their shops stayed non-union.
In 1933, along with Local 954 president Charles Skillen, Lanza was indicted by a federal grand jury for racketeering, but due to witness tampering, the case was dismissed. Tried again, in 1935, he was the beneficiary of a mistrial. Tried again in the November, he was found guilty and sentenced to 2 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. He final went to Flint Prison, Michigan, in 1937.
Although a thug and part of the New York Mafia underworld, Joe Lanza was a man with strong political ties. His brother-in-law, Vincent Viggiano, was a Tammany leader of the 2nd Assembly District in Lower Manhattan. Lanza was also very close to Frank Costello, himself a consummate political fixer, known as ‘The Prime Minister’ of the underworld, and Joe was often a guest at Costello’s luxurious apartment at The Majestic on West 72nd Street, across from Central Park. Frank and Joe were so close, that Costello had been the best man at Lanza’s wedding, to his second wife Ellen.
Charles Haffenden (left) was an unorthodox, controversial Naval Reserve Officer, heading up the B-3 investigating section of the district intelligence office. His superiors considered him to be zealous, loyal, energetic and a gifted intelligence officer. His civilian aides worshipped him because he cut the bull and avoided the red tape inherent in any government bureaucracy.
Running into his 50’s, he was not only an intelligence buff, but also an underworld one as well. Flamboyant and gregarious, some considered him a blowhard whose judgment needed constant supervision. He had joined the navy during World War One, winning his commission on active service. Between the wars, he held down a variety of jobs, working as an agent, in advertising; general manager of a gasoline pump manufacturer and as a vice-president for a construction company. His other main activity during the 1930’s was as a coordinator for the Executive Association of Greater New York, an organization with similar aims to the Rotary Club.
His office was at the Astor Hotel, where he maintained a suite of three interconnecting rooms. He had held his commission in the Naval Reserve, re-joining the service and being transferred into the 3rd District intelligence office based at 50 Church Street, on July 8th 1940.
The B-3 investigation section was known as “The Ferret Squad,” and Haffenden answered only to his immediate bosses, Captain William B. Howe, and Roscoe MacFall. He had initially, a staff of eight to help him run his operation, which grew into 150 agents dispersed around the New York area.
Lanza carried out a lot of inquires searching for the information the Navy wanted, travelling as far north as Maine and south down to Virginia and North Carolina, checking out information from fishing fleets. He reported in to Haffenden at least a dozen times at the Church Street office with his findings.
Lanza arranged for some of Haffenden’s men to work in a trucking company run by Hiram Swezey, out of Long Island. Swezey also introduced agents to fishermen who agreed to act as observers, searching for any signs of enemy activity, when they went fishing in the Atlantic.
In April 1942, Lanza told one of the many undercover informers being used by section B-3, that due to the indictments pending against him, he was not getting total support from the Italian underworld. Because he was asking so many questions, some people believed he was in fact, working as an informant for law enforcement in order to get a possible deal on his impending case.
He knew that he could really kick-start things by contacting the man who “could snap the whip in the entire underworld,” and that this person should be introduced to Haffenden. The man was Charley Luciano, and the contact in B-3 passed the word on down to Red. There are some sources that believe that Lanza was ‘coached’ in this approach by Frank Costello, who may have been the first one to see the opportunity to use the situation as leverage in springing his old partner from prison. Frank Costello at this time was the street boss of the family, running it for Luciano. They were partners in crime, going back over twenty years.
At the end of April, Lanza confessed he had reached a dead-end and that the section really needed the help of the mob boss up in Dannemora Prison to open the doors into the Longshoreman’s Association and access all the potential information in the teeming docks and waterfronts of New York. By May 1942, shipping losses were reaching epidemic proportations-272 ships had been sunk along the Eastern Seaboard Frontier, since the war started. Drastic action was needed, unorthodox as it might have to be.
The danger facing America was dramatically highlighted on June 12th 1942, when a German U-Boat, U-202, landed a team with explosives and plans at East Hampton, Long Island. The group of four men, led by George John Dasch, had a mission to destroy power plants at Niagara Falls and three Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) factories in Illinois, Tennessee and New York. However, Dasch and his team were observed by coastguards and Dasch was apprehended, whereupon hr decided to turn himself in to the FBI, providing them with an account of the planned mission, which led to the arrest of the complete team. Four more secret Axis agents were discovered in Florida at about the same time. They had landed with cash and explosives, along with maps and plans for a prolonged attack on railroads, waterworks and bridges up the eastern seaboard of the United States.
The security operation in New York was not the first time that the government would become involved with the mob in its desire to try and safeguard its shores from foreign invasion at the beginning of World War Two. In the Gulf of Mexico, between May 1942 and December 1943, German submarines attacked 72 Allied merchants’ ships in the Gulf, killing over 500 crew members, and sinking 56 vessels. U.S. Custom Agent Al Scharff enlisted the help of Galveston mob boss Sam Maceo to use his contacts to watch out for submarines along the coast line. Maceo worked closely with Silvestro Carollo, the boss of the New Orleans Mafia family, and through these connections, Scharff received numerous sightings of enemy vessels, information that was fed into the Naval defence system, allowing attack frigates to concentrate their efforts around the danger zones.
Back in New York, Charlie Luciano was emerging as the key to any strategy in obtaining information from the New York waterfront sources, but getting to the mobster would be tricky. Haffenden contacted a senior upstate police officer, Inspector Howard W. Nugent, and he suggested that the man to reach out to was Commissioner of Correction, John A. Lyons. Haffenden then went back to ADA Gurfein, and suggested that Lanza be allowed to visit Luciano in prison. However, approval on a higher level was needed for this, and so Gurfein made a visit to District Attorney Hogan. The D.A. agreed to the proposal, but suggested that to keep legal lines of communication clear, Luciano’s attorney, Moses Polakoff be contacted with the suggestion.
Gurfein met Polakoff, and explained that in the interests of national security, Naval Intelligence needed to enlist the help of his client. However, Polakoff said he did not feel either comfortable or qualified to broach Luciano with the proposal, suggesting instead, that another contact would be eminently suitable, a patriot, and a prince of the underworld, called Meyer Lansky, who was a man Luciano trusted explicitly.
Gurfein and Polakoff met up with Lansky (left) at Longchamps Restaurant on West 58th Street, between 5th and 6th Avenues for breakfast. After their meal, they all made their way to the Astor Hotel to talk with Haffenden in his suite of offices.
Following this meeting, the Office of Naval Intelligence sent a letter to John A. Lyons, the prison commissioner, requesting that Luciano be transferred to a ‘better facility, where he could be interviewed by ONI officers and others. It needed to be somewhere closer to New York; more convenient for people to visit him.’
A Naval Intelligence internal memo recorded this request, and also states ‘…..we are advised that contacts were made with Luciano thereafter, and that his influence on other criminal sources resulted in their co-operation with Naval Intelligence which was considered useful to the Navy.’
In view of later events, this letter and internal memo would become highly significant.
On May 12th 1942, Lucy Luciano was transferred from bleak Danemorra Prison to the more comfortable restrictions of Great Meadows, in Comstock, 60 miles from Albany.
To avoid any publicity, or media interest in this move, Luciano was accompanied by a number of criminal inmates who were also moved. Although it was a high-security prison, it was a lot more acceptable than the place he had left. He was told by the Governor that the move was for ‘administration purposes.’ A week later, he had his first meeting with Polakoff and Meyer Lansky.
On June 4th ‘Sox’ Lanza at last got his audience with Lucky. He travelled to Comstock with Polakoff and Lansky, and met up with the man who in many ways still controlled his destiny, even from a prison cell. The meeting started at 10 a.m. and lasted until 1.30 p.m. By the time the meeting was over, Luciano had his organization plan primed, and one of the leading players would be Frank Costello. Following this meeting the word got out to the movers and shakers on the New York waterfront, guys like Johnny ‘Cockeye’ Dunn boss of the West Side piers, the men who controlled Brooklyn’s waterfront, and Jerry Sullivan the leading ILA organizer, and their cooperation was formally established.
By June 27th dividends were already paying off, with 8 German secret agents arrested in New York and Chicago thanks to information supplied by underworld contacts established on the docks of New York and New Jersey.
On July 17th Lansky, Lanza and Polakoff again visited Luciano, but this time they were accompanied by Mike Lascari, an old boyhood friend of Lucky’s and a power on the New Jersey waterfront. On August 25th another meeting was convened at Comstock that involved seven visitors, again including Frank Costello.
In December, on the 29th, Meyer Lansky, Polakoff and Lascari again visited, and this time they came with a newcomer, Michael Miranda, a business partner of Longy Zwillman, the New Jersey Jewish mobster. Miranda, born in Naples, had been a major player in Luciano’s crime family for a number of years. Forty-six years old, short and stocky, Miranda had been involved with Vito Genovese in the murder of Ferdinand Boccia eight years before, a crime that had force Genovese to flee New York and settle in Italy. Miranda had a prison record that dated back to 1915, including arrests for murder and obstruction of justice. The meeting lasted for over three hours, but what possible connection could Miranda have with the Naval Intelligence project? Polakoff claimed that he was very influential with the Italians in New York, and that was why he was there for the meeting. He may also have attended the meeting to receive instructions from Luciano regarding their crime family activities.
Into December 1942, Haffenden’s administrative staff had grown to fifty commissioned officers and eighty-one enlisted and civilian men. Emissaries were spread out across New York, working closely with their underworld connections, set up through Lanza. District Attorney Hogan, the man who had helped to kick-start the operation, was keeping his own, surreptitious watching brief on the way the operation was proceeding. Probably highly conscious of the ramifications if something went badly wrong, he arranged, on November 23rd to have telephone wiretaps installed in Meyer’s Hotel, at 117 South Street, which Lanza used as an office base from which to oversee his activities at the fish market. The transcripts of the intercepted calls confirmed that the Mafia was keeping up its end of the unwritten agreement. But in return, it was equally obvious that Luciano was extracting every concession and favour in respect to visitors and unregulated conferences, to conduct his own Mafia business from the prison.
Towards the end of the year, the verdict was that the Navy-Mafia alliance was helping to secure the New York waterfront. Intelligence reports were flowing in; there was no active sabotage, no labour disputes, and no disruption of shipping. The Port of New York seemed secure. As one B-3 agent recalled, ‘We had everything sewed up tight: unions, docks, trucks, everything coming and going out of New York.’
With New York safe and secure, attention now zeroed in on efforts to help the Allied invasion of Sicily. During the Casablanca Conference of January 1943, the combined chiefs of staff had decided to invade Europe from North Africa, via Sicily as they built up their resources ready for the major assault on Germany, across the English Channel from Great Britain.
The Office of Naval Intelligence set up a new department called F-Section which was created to collect strategic information that would assist in the invasion of Sicily. Lt. Commander Haffenden was transferred from Section-B and placed in charge of this new unit.
The ONI was the oldest military intelligence unit in the USA, dating back to 1882.
Set up to collect and disseminate information on technological developments abroad, by 1916, one of its primary functions was domestic security, including protection of America’s ports, harbours and defence plants from enemy infiltration, subversion and sabotage.
Data was collected on military and economic installations in Sicily, and Italians who had emigrated from the island to live in New York, were interviewed to gain background knowledge on the island. Moses Polakoff brought numerous people into Church Street, with photos and other items of information on the places they had left behind, which where added into the intelligence pool. Haffenden later recalled that dozens of Sicilian men, many with long, flowing moustaches, who were referred to as padrones, visited the office, supplying an amazing amount of delineation and extremely valuable information of the most minute nature, regarding the Sicilian terrain.
Meyer Lansky was again approached, and he introduced another well known underworld figure as his aide. This was Joe Adonis, a handsome, suave forty-one year old career criminal who had risen high in the New York Mafia. He was the primary player in the gambling industry in Brooklyn and was a close friend of Meyer and Luciano who he had known for at least a dozen years. He was even closer to Frank Costello.
Adonis also arranged for dozens of Sicilians to come in and be interviewed with ONI officers Paul Alfieri and Anthony Marzulla. They were assisted by navy cartographer George Tarbox. These interviews produced over 5000 files, copies of which were sent to the war planners in Washington D.C. Tarbox created dozens of large-scale maps of Sicily, showing roads, mountain passes, docks and Germany installations. When Allied troops landed in Sicily, Lt. Alfieri was in the vanguard, making contact with members of the local Mafia clans who would help the invasion force, providing intelligence and surveillance reports on the Germans.
Also brought into the scheme of things was Vincent Mangano, who headed up his own powerful Mafia crime family, based in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, close to the huge, sprawling waterfronts and docks that were one of his prime interests. He had come to New York from Palermo, where he had been born in 1888, arriving in 1905 as a callow youth of seventeen. By 1942 he was heading up one of the five New York Mafia crime families, and it was claimed he was a major link between the old Sicilian and new American Mafias. He apparently supplied hundreds of informants. Mangano was a close friend of Michael Miranda, but he knew Luciano as a fellow mob boss. They were in fact, two of the foundling fathers of the Mafia’s Commission, the governing body set up in 1932 to arbitrate on mob disputes on a nation wide basis. Mangano had been appointed the chairman of this commission, a position he still held at this time.
According to ‘Sox‘ Lanza, ‘ That’s where all the Italy stuff was put together-with the Commander, and this fellow Vincent and Joe Adonis, to my knowledge.’
As part of his strategy in the creation of intelligence gathering, Haffenden in 1943, put forward one of his more audacious proposals, that Charlie Luciano be released from prison and be sent to Sicily in advance of the Allied invasion, to gather support from the local population, in particular during the amphibian phase of the operation. Haffenden even intimated that Luciano had suggested the ideal place for this to take place, the Bay of Castellammarese del Golfo, about eighty miles west of Palermo.
The top brass in the Navy department, already highly uneasy about their service’s involvement with the criminal underworld in the securing of New York harbours, turned Haffenden’s proposal down flat.
Charles Haffenden had no doubt that Lucky was an essential element in the creation of information that would be of great value to America’s war effort. In a letter he wrote to Charles Breitel, counsel to the Governor of New York, dated May 17th 1945, he stated:
‘I am confident that the greater part of the intelligence developed in the Sicilian campaign was directly responsible to the number of Sicilians that emanated from the Charlie ‘Lucky’ contact.’
In 1946, in receipt of an enquiry from the office of the FBI, the Navy stated:
‘A thorough search of the files of the District Intelligence Office, Third Naval District, failed to indicate that Luciano furnished any information to that office.’
The naval bureaucrats were already running for cover.
On January 29th 1943, Joseph Lanza ran out of time and was sentenced to a lengthy prison term on the counts of extortion and conspiracy, charges which had been hanging over him for two years. He went down for fifteen years, although he served only seven of them. Shortly after, Hogan's wire-tap at Meyer’s Hotel heard Haffenden commiserating with Ben Espy, one of Lanza’s associates, suggesting it was a “damn shame” that the judge had hit his chief informant with such a heavy sentence. Fortunately for the Commander, the information was never passed on to his superiors in Naval Intelligence. There had been a number of indications that perhaps Haffenden was getting too close to the mobsters, and he had on one occasion, even accepted a parcel of fresh caught lobsters and crabs from the Fulton Fish Market king.
On February 1st a motion was made to be argued before Justice Phillip McCook (the same judge who had sent Luciano down, 7 years before,) to modify the mobster’s sentence. Along with affidavits and memorandum of law to support their case, lawyers Polakoff and Wolfe submitted the names of Haffenden and Murray Gurfein (now a captain in the Army,) who could support their claim that Luciano had been of help and assistance in America’s war effort. Although the judge subsequently interviewed the two men, he denied Luciano’s application for sentence modification. He did however, leave the door open, stating in his opinion:
‘If the defendant is assisting the authorities and he continues to so, and remains a model prisoner, Executive Clemency may become appropriate at some future date.’
On July 10th 1944, the U.S. Seventh Army landed in Sicily, and less than a year later the war with Germany was over. Two month’s earlier, on May 8th 1945, Moses Polakoff issued a petition for the grant of executive clemency for Charlie Luciano. It was addressed to the man who had lead the trial against the mobster in 1936, Governor Dewey. As part of the appeal, the lawyer stated, ‘that his client had caused to be furnished valuable, substantial and important aid to the United States Military Authorities.’
As part of the application, Polakoff had enlisted the aid of Haffenden who was recuperating in the Naval Hospital in Brooklyn. He had volunteered for active service in June 1944, and had been sent home from Iowa Jima, following problems he received with internal bleeding resulting from a shell exploding near him on the beach, in February 1945.
Haffenden wrote a letter to Charles Breitel, the governor’s counsel, confirming that in his opinion the greater part of the intelligence developed in the Sicilian campaign was directly responsible to the number of Sicilian informers that emanated from the Charlie Luciano contacts. The letter was highly irregular since it did not go through the correct Naval bureaucratic channels, and would later cause Haffenden a lot of grief. He was subsequently censored for his lack of judgment by the Navy, which went on record to state that his actions were expressions of his personal opinion which official records failed to substantiate. The Navy in fact, went out of its way to be obstructive when the parole board decided to examine Luciano’s background. Files were destroyed, personnel were shifted around, Haffenden was ostracized, and Luciano’s assistance was denied. As far as Naval intelligence was concerned, ‘Operation Underworld’ never even happened.
The word that the mobster Luciano was seeking executive clemency soon hit the news stands, with the New York Herald-Tribune running an article on May 23rd headlined:
‘Luciano Seeks Clemency. Says he helped Navy.’
Moses Polakoff had in fact sworne out this petition for a grant of executive clemency on behalf of his client on V-E Day, fifteen days earlier.
Following an initial investigation of the application by the State Board of Parole, its chairman, Frederick A. Moran visited Luciano and interviewed him at Great Meadows Prison on June 13th. Then followed months of further protracted inquiries and investigation, and eventually on December 3rd 1945, the board of parole reached its verdict. Chairman Moran wrote to Dewey recommending that commutation of the sentence be granted for deportation only. Charlie would go free, but would not be able to stay in America. Unlike his father Antonio and brother Bartolo, he had never taken out citizenship in his own right.
Dewey followed the board’s recommendation.
Deporting foreign-born citizens as a stipulation of parole or commutation was quite common; Dewey actually signed seven such commutations on the same day as he signed off Charley Luciano.
Maybe also deep down, he had always harboured a feeling of guilt for dobbing Charlie on a charge that in the first place was to say the least, questionable.
Early in January 1946, Luciano was transferred to Sing Sing prison, and from there he was shipped to Ellis Island in New York harbour to await transfer to the vessel that would take him for ever from the city he loved so much. His attorney Polakoff, his old New Jersey friend Mike Lascari, Meyer Lansky and Frank Costello met up with him there, on February 2nd. According to an FBI informant, the gangster friends brought along a new wardrobe for Lucky and $2500 in unsigned traveller’s cheques.
Sometime during the night of February 8th Luciano was moved from the island to a vessel moored at pier 7 on the Bush Terminal, at the mouth of Gowanus Bay, part of the Brooklyn waterfront. The S.S. Laura Keene, a converted liberty ship, was to take on a cargo of flour to ship into the port of Genoa, Italy. It was under the command of Captain R.H. Salter and was scheduled to depart on Sunday, February 10th. The day before, the pier was besieged by newspaper reporters desperate to get an interview with the man who was probably the most famous mobster in America. They found their way blocked by a line of tough longshoremen who would allow no access to the ship. It must have been a real donnybrook! James Reardon, the executive in charge of all the piers for the Universal Terminal Stevedoring Company claimed that one of his men had been abused by a woman reporter whose language was ‘foul and filthy.’ Coming from a tough stevedore, it must indeed have been something to hear!
Later, in the afternoon of that miserable and wet Saturday, a group of men did indeed board the ship, flashing longshoremen’s cards. The group included Frank Costello and his top aide, Wille Moretti, but none of the others has ever been positively identified, although they were described as ‘being very well dressed and wearing diamond rings.’ Hardly the kind of gear you would don to load a consignment of flour onto a freighter. Some of these men may have been Joe Adonis and the group that had met on February 2nd. One who was definitely not there, was Meyer Lansky. On the night the men gathered in the dining room, on board the ship, Lansky was 200 miles away, registered at a hotel in Maryland. Along with Moses Polakoff, he’d said his final good-byes at the meeting on Ellis Island.
Immigration guard, Dave Incarnato stated later, that food was brought on board from the Fulton Fish Market-lobsters, spaghetti and several bottle of wine, and Luciano and his friends ate and talked quietly in the mess hall. The visitors stayed until midnight, making their farewells.
At about 9 p.m. on Sunday, February 10th the Laura Keene, built by the Kaiser Company in Vancouver, and weighing 7,000 tons, sailed out of New York harbour, safe and protected through the war years, perhaps in some way because of the man who probably stood at the stern rail and gazed with pain and sadness as the Statute of Liberty disappeared into the haze and rain. It was the last vision he would ever see of America. Perhaps he was even remembering that it was also the first sight of America he ever had, as well.
I can picture him, standing there, smoking a cigarette, watching the lights of lower Manhattan fading into the gloom, then flicking the butt, out and over into the aft-wash, a crazy fire-fly of a light, shining bright and then extinguished, just as his time in American had been.
He would never get a chance to return, although he did get close, when he visited Havana, Cuba, towards the end of 1946 for the famous mob conference held in December at the Hotel Nacionale.
Stories circulated in July 1946 that he was in Tijuana, Mexico trying to establish residency. There was also, a possible sighting of him at Ensenada, in Baja California earlier in the year in May. This whole area of Northern Mexico was classified as a ‘free zone‘ following World War Two, and did not require a visa for entry. It was used often as a haven by mobsters from the United States.
As Luciano’s story had unfolded over the years, the FBI had been keeping a close watch on the development. On May 17th, 1946 in an inter-office memorandum, J. Edgar Hoover scrawled across the report:
‘This is an amazing and fantastic case. We should get all the facts for it looks rotten to me from several angles……..a shocking example of misuse of Naval authority in the interests of a hoodlum. It surprises me that they didn’t give Luciano the Navy Cross.’
The Feds also dug up some interesting scuttlebuck on Commander Charles Radcliffe Haffenden.
On January 1st 1946, he was appointed Commissioner of Marine and Aviation for the city of New York. This was a position of extreme importance, for in addition to having control of the docks of the city, the Commissioner also had under his jurisdiction, the LaGuardia and Idlewild Airports. Democratic leader James A. Roe of Kings County, Queens, who lived across the street from Red, was the driving force in persuading newly elected Mayor William O’Dwyer that Red was the man for the job. There were some interesting rumours that the man behind Roe was none other than Frank Costello, the man who had run the crime family while Luciano had languished all those years in prison.
Haffenden had been interviewed at one time and asked if he knew Costello; he had denied this until it was pointed out that he had been seen playing golf with Frank at the Pomonk Country Club in Flushing. He then admitted that he was familiar with Costello, although not strictly as a friend, more a casual acquaintance. Frank Costello was probably at this time the most powerful mobster in New York, perhaps even in America. His political clout was unequalled.
If ‘Sox‘Lanza and Charles Haffenden were the left and right bower, Frank Costello was the Ace card in the game of intrigue that involved Charlie Luciano.
Photo: Frank Costello - Credit: NYPD
O’Dwyer was also a friend of Costello’s and had visited him at the mobster’s opulent apartment: 18F, 115 Central Park West, in Manhattan, in December 1942. After drinks and conversation they had gone for dinner to the famous Copacabana Club. According to lawyer George Wolfe ( who also represented Costello,) O’Dwyer met up with Costello for the simple purpose of getting the mobster’s approval to run for the mayor of New York City at the next election. That’s how powerful a guy Frank Costello was!
A report on the FBI files states that ‘Costello was largely responsible for Haffenden’s appointment as Commissioner of Marine and Aviation.’ The same report also indicates that a FBI informant disclosed that it was common knowledge in the Luciano crime family that a large sum of money ($250,000) had been paid to aid Luciano’s release. Mike Stern, an American author living in Italy, in his book No Innocents Abroad, claimed that Luciano stated a bribe of $75,000 had been paid to the Republican Party in New York State in return for Dewey’s commutation of the sentence. Was it just rhetoric as a form of revenge against a man Luciano loathed and detested, or was there something in it?
According to George White, the infamous FBN agent, the parole fix on Lucky was arranged by Frank Costello through James Bruno, a Republican ex-Deputy Commissioner.
On May 24th, 1946 just four months into it, Charles Haffenden lost his job as the boss of the docks and airports. He claimed he resigned over a difference of personality; in fact he was served a notification of dismissal, delivered to his home by a New York Police officer. Haffenden stated in a response to this:
‘I am making a statement that I no longer wish to serve in the present City administration…….I hereby order all advertised contracts at Idlewild Airport are cancelled and they must be re-advertised under my successor.”
A rumour spread that Haffenden and two Congressmen from Brooklyn had plotted to get a monopoly on all the concessions coming up for tender at Idlewild as the airport was expanded. They were then going to sub-lease them off at huge profits. A scam worthy of a mobster had it eventuated. So was Red Haffenden the beneficiary of Frank Costello’s largess, and did he then get too greedy, too soon? Why did the Navy disassociate itself entirely from the very operation they had instigated in the first place? Did Luciano in fact get out of jail and pass go because he was able to bribe the people who counted, or was his help in securing the Eastern Seaboard enough to convince the powers that be, that he should go free?
There is a third and even more Machiavellian interpretation of the springing of Luciano. In his autobiography, which admittedly is highly suspect, he claimed the main lever he used was to get Costello to dig up all the dirt he could find on Dewey and the witnesses who had buried him at his prostitution trial. The people apparently recanted their testimony, claiming they perjured themselves because they were drug addicts and their supplies had been withheld from them by the prosecution, and that Dewey’s staff had fed them testimony which they simply repeated on the witness stand. He also claimed Dewey’s men went out visiting all the ‘madams’ running the prostitution ring and told them if they wanted to stay in business they would have to testify that they were paying protection money to Luciano.
He also made this claim to Sal Vizzini, an agent of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who was working undercover in Italy, and became involved in a three-year operation, investigating Luciano, the bureau called ‘Operation Lepo’ which ran from1959 until Lucky’s death.
‘My lawyer walked right into Dewey’s office in the State House in Albany,’ Luciano claimed, ‘he was governor of New York by then……..my lawyer threw the file down in front of him and told him if I didn’t get out we were going to make it public. So he deported me.’
With this dossier of evidence, Luciano’s idea was to use it to demand a re-trial. He didn’t necessarily expect to win, but knew it would cause Dewey embarrassing publicity especially as he was looking towards a second try for the Presidency, and the move might push him into agreeing to a deal.
Polakoff had seemingly told some of his friends: ‘While there is no question that the information created through Luciano for Naval Intelligence was useful, that was the excuse given for his release, but certainly not the reason.’
This story was confirmed years later by syndicated columnist Drew Pearson, and was also stated as a fact by Leonard Katz in his autobiography of Frank Costello.
In 1950 a story appeared in ‘True Parade’ magazine quoting Luciano as confirming that he had donated $75,000 to the New York Republican Party in return for their help in springing him from prison.
Senator Estes Kefauver, Chairman of the Senate Crime Investigating Committee 1950–1951, referred in his book Crime in America, to the background of the rumours surrounding Luciano and the security of New York’s docks:
‘During World War II there was a lot of hocus-pocus about allegedly valuable services that Luciano, then a convict, was supposed to have furnished the military authorities in connection with plans for the invasion of his native Sicily. We dug into this and obtained a number of conflicting stories. This is one of the points about which the committee would have questioned Governor Dewey, who commuted Luciano’s sentence, if the Governor had not declined our invitation to come to New York City to testify before the committee.
One story which we heard from Moses Polakoff, attorney for Meyer Lansky, was that Naval Intelligence had sought out Luciano’s aid and had asked Polakoff to be the intermediary. Polakoff, who had represented Luciano when he was sent up, said he in turn enlisted the help of Lansky, an old associate of Lucky’s, and that some fifteen or twenty visits were arranged at which Luciano gave certain information.
...On the other hand, Federal Narcotics Agent, ((the ubiquitous George White,)) who served our committee as an investigator for several months, testified to having been approached on Luciano’s behalf by a narcotics smuggler named August Del Grazio. Del Grazio claimed he ‘was acting on behalf of two attorneys... and... Frank Costello who was spearheading the movement to get Luciano out of the penitentiary,’ White said.
He [Del Grazio] said Luciano had many potent connections in the Italian underworld and Luciano was one of the principal members of the Mafia,” White testified. The proffered deal, he went on, was that Luciano would use his Mafia position to arrange contacts for undercover American agents and that therefore Sicily would be a much softer target than it might otherwise be.’
There have been many apocryphal versions of what followed these government and legal machinations, some of them wildly improbable. It has, for example, been reported that Luciano was secretly released from prison in 1943 to accompany the invasion force into Sicily, that he was freely to be seen in the town of Gela where the Seventh Army’s first headquarters were established, and even that he was a member of the crew of the tank that picked up Don Calò Vizzini, the island’s major Mafia boss, at Villalba. There is no real evidence of Don Calò and Luciano getting together, however, until late in 1946, when they occupied adjoining suites in the Hotel Grande Abergo Sole on the Corso Vittoria Emanuele, during the formation of the Sicilian Separatist Party.
Luciano and his connection to the war effort is a complex and fascinating story. The first and only time that the government of the United States worked hand in glove with the Mafia, at least with enough records and links to establish that it actually happened (unlike the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the alleged mob involvement in that,) and then eventually, let one of their top leaders out of prison for being part of the exercise.
In 1947, famous media reporter and commentator Walter Winchell, the man who had helped arrange the surrender of Louis ‘Lepke’ Buchalter, actually suggested that Luciano should be nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honour for his work in connection with the defence of New York and the successful invasion of Sicily.
In 1954, William B. Herlands, the New York Commissioner of Investigation, who had worked under Dewey (right) as an ADA in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, carried out an enquiry, at Dewey’s request, into the events surrounding Luciano’s part in the Eastern Seaboard security operation. Dewey had become concerned that rumours were spreading, allegations that his part in the commutation of Lucky’s sentence was part of some crooked scheme, an act of duplicity on his part for some unknown benefit.
The Navy agreed to allow the O.N.I. to cooperate, but under three conditions:
1. No classified information was to be released for general publication.
2. Naval security officers would monitor all interviews with former agents.
3. The final report would not be released for public viewing.
Herlands (left), a short, stocky, and very methodical lawyer, agreed to the terms. Thomas Dewey had every confidence in the ability of the man who had served under him as head of the rackets squad in the 1930’s.
Herland’s investigation included testimony from Captain McFall, 3 other captains, five commanders, two lieutenants, a Marine Corps colonel and an army colonel. Hearing documents ran to 2993 pages, and the investigation was completed September 17th 1954. The main conclusion of the report, which in itself, ran to 101 pages with appendices, was:
‘The evidence demonstrates that Luciano’s assistance and cooperation was secured by Naval Intelligence in the cause of developing requirements of national security.’
Following the successful implementation of the operation to secure the Eastern Seaboard, the top brass in the military became concerned about the image of a government agency working in tandem with the New York mob to guarantee the safety and security of the nation’s docks and seaways, and consequently did not want the report made available for public dissemination. After the act, it was a lot more circumspect to close the door on this episode and pretend it never happed. When push came to shove, the Faustian pact Naval Intelligence made with a man who may have arguably, been the most important gangster in America at the time, was a potential scandal that none of the generals or admirals wanted on their conscience, let alone their obituaries.
Dewey accepted the results of the inquiry, and the papers were stored by him in his personal files, where they remained until discovered by author Rodney Campbell in 1974, filed away at the Thomas E. Dewey archive in the University of Rochester Library, State of New York. Campbell had been commissioned by the Dewey family to write the official biography of the late politician, and his discovery of the Herlands Report was the basis for his book, The Luciano Project, the first in-depth investigation into the whole affair.
During the Herlands Investigation, Charles Siragusa, a senior agent in the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, claimed he had a source in the New York County D.A.’s office who had been given information that Lucky Luciano, knew the identity of the men involved in the murder of Carlo Tresca, the radical newspaper owner who had bee shot dead on 5th Avenue in 1943. Luciano it was claimed, offered to disclose the identities of these murderers in return for outright parole and permission to remain in the United States. Dewey allegedly rejected the offer. (Kenny Link into the Galante Story here please.)
If this disclosure was in fact true, it may have been the third example of Luciano, a so-called man of honour, attempting a release from prison, or some form of clemency on his sentence by becoming a government informant. Evidence that perfidy at the highest level of mob management may well have existed, fifty years before Sammy Gravano, and Joe Massimo flipped and became government witnesses to try and cut themselves a deal. The image that Mafioso projected as ‘Men of Honour’ was tarnished even before it was imbedded into the myth.
Anthony J. Marsloe, a fourty-year old lieutenant in the Navy, assigned to work under Haffenden, was under no illusion about the morality of the task at hand during the early 1940‘s in New York. He told Herlands:
‘The exploitation of informants is not only desirous, but necessary when the nation is struggling for existence. Intelligence, as such, is not a police agency. Its function is to prevent. In order to prevent, you must have a system…..which will prevent the enemy from securing aid and comfort from others….by any and all means in which I include the so-called underworld.’
Marsloe would subsequently operate in North Africa and Sicily, where he came into contact many times with (Mafioso) on the island. Giving testimony to the state inquiry into the Luciano affair, he also stated:
‘Commander Haffenden’s theory was correct….it neutralized the possible use of the underworld by the enemy…..and was used as a possible means of obtaining information in order to aid our war effort……every source of information is warranted by the unusual circumstances.’
Charley Luciano spent the rest of life in exile, and died of a heart attack at Naples Airport on January 26th 1962.
He was ranked among the top 100 most important people of the 20th century by Time Magazine. Now there's a thought.
‘Sox‘Lanza died of cancer in October 1968, at Memorial Hospital, New York.
Meyer Lansky also died from cancer, January 15th 1983, in Miami, Florida.
Frank Costello an old man of eighty-two, passed away peacefully, at the Doctors Hospital in upper Manhattan, on February 18th 1973.
Thomas Dewey tried twice to be president. He was beaten by Roosevelt in 1944 and then again by Harry Truman in 1948. He went back into private law practice, and died in Florida on March 16th 1971. He was sixty-nine years old.
Following his dismissal from his city job, Charles Haffenden’s career slid downhill and his health deteriorated. He was working as a Dictaphone salesman when he died on Christmas Eve, 1952.
If his involvement with Operation Underworld was more about making money that serving his country, as some sources have indicated, it was not apparent in his wealth. At his death, his assets, including his home in Flushing, on 167th Street, a number of insurance policies and a 1951 two-door Hudson sedan, came to $27,061.66.
A few weeks before he died, Charley Luciano gave an interview to an A.P. reporter, who asked him why he had gotten his release from prison.
‘I got my pardon because of the great service I rendered the United States,’ said Lucky. Then he grinned at the reporter. ‘And because, after all, they realized I was innocent.’
When the reporter wondered, if he could live his life over, would he do it again the same way, the mobster replied:
‘I’d do it legal. I learned too late that you need just as good a brain to make a crooked million, as an honest million. These days, you apply for a license to steal from the public. If I had my time again, I’d make sure I got that license first!’
In light of the financial earthquake that shook the world in October 2008, it seems he was right on the button!
16 years after leaving America, the body of Salvatore Lucania, aka Charley Luciano, aka Lucky Luciano, was flown into New York’s Idelwild Airport. His brothers, Bart and Anthony waited there, with a hearse. The body was driven to St. John’s Cemetery, in Middle Village, Queens, and placed in the family crypt in the mausoleum Charlie had purchased in 1935. His mother and father lay there, along with an aunt and an uncle.
Bartolo Luciano is recorded saying, as the coffin was interred:
‘Tutti finito, Salvatore.’
It’s all over.
© Thom L. Jones
By Thom L. Jones