Childhood & Early Life
Lucky Luciano was born as Salvatore Lucania on November 24, 1897, in Lercara Friddi, Sicily, to Antonio and Rosalia Lucania. He had four siblings.
His father worked in a sulfur mine in Sicily. The family migrated to the United States in 1907 when Salvatore was nine and settled in New York City.
He dropped out of school when he was 14 and started working odd jobs to make a living. He soon took to earning money on street and fell in the bad company.
Aggressive and shrewd, he started his own gang as a teenager and was also a member of the old Five Points Gang. But his interest was not limited to petty crimes; Luciano also offered protection to Jewish youngsters from Italian and Irish gangs for 10 cents per week.
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Lucky Luciano soon gained notoriety as a ruthless thug and was arrested several times on charges including assault, illegal gambling, blackmail and robbery. However, he spent no time in prison.
In the 1920s, an amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibited the manufacture, sale, and transportation of alcoholic beverages. Since there was still a substantial demand for alcohol, the prohibition provided a lucrative opportunity to the criminals for illegal sale of alcohol.
By this time Luciano had become friends with many future Mafia leaders, including Vito Genovese and Frank Costello. His notoriety as a rising figure in the criminal underbelly of New York led to the chance to work as a gunman for Lower Manhattan gang boss Joe Masseria. Around this time he also started working for gambler Arnold "The Brain" Rothstein.
Rothstein recognized the illegal opportunities the alcohol prohibition offered and trained Luciano on running bootleg alcohol as a business. Luciano, along with Costello, and Genovese, started their own bootlegging operation with financing from Rothstein.
Under Rothstein’s guidance Luciano’s criminal career flourished and his bootlegging operation became the largest in New York and also extended into Philadelphia. He was involved in illegal gambling, prostitution, narcotics distribution, and other rackets too. By the mid-1920s, he was earning over $12 million a year.
In October 1929, he was abducted by a group of men, who beat, stabbed him, and slit his throat. Left for dead on a beach, he was discovered by a police officer who took him to the hospital. Even though it was unclear who had ordered the attack, some speculated that it was the crime boss Masseria.
Masseria was involved in a terrible gang war with rival boss Salvatore Maranzano. Deciding to make the best of this opportunity, Luciano had Masseria assassinated in April 1931. Six months later, he had Maranzano murdered by four Jewish gunmen. After eliminating these two powerful crime lords, Luciano became capo di tutti capi (“boss of all the bosses”), without ever claiming the title.
By the mid-1930s, he had teamed up with the leaders of other crime “families” to develop the national crime syndicate or cartel. In 1935, Thomas E. Dewey was appointed to serve as a special prosecutor to look into organized crime. Dewey wasted no time in gathering evidence against Luciano.
Luciano, along with eight members of his racket was brought to trial in May 1936. He was convicted on charges of extortion and prostitution and sentenced to 30 to 50 years in jail. He was then sent to the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York.
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When the World War II started, the U.S. government struck a secret deal with the imprisoned Luciano. He agreed to use his criminal connections in Italy to advance the Allies' cause and to facilitate negotiations, the State of New York transferred Luciano from Clinton prison to Great Meadow Correctional Facility in Comstock, New York.
Luciano promised to completely assist the Navy in exchange for a commutation of his sentence. Accordingly, it is believed that he provided the U.S. military with Mafia contacts in Sicily and also informed his contacts to co-ordinate with the U.S. military.
After the war he went to Italy briefly before travelling to Cuba. The Cuban government sent him back to Italy in 1947 where he spent the remainder of his days.
Lucky Luciano is most notorious for his role in the establishment of the National Crime Syndicate, a multi-ethnic American confederation of several crime organizations. At least 14 criminal organizations were members of the syndicate. Along with Luciano, other leading underworld figures like Meyer Lansky, Al Capone, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, and Dutch Schultz were also affiliated with the syndicate.
Personal Life & Legacy
Lucky Luciano met Gay Orlova, a featured dancer in one of Broadway's leading nightclubs, Hollywood, in 1929. They became involved in a romantic relationship that lasted till he went to prison.
He fell in love with Igea Lissoni, an Italian nightclub dancer in 1948. The couple started living together and there were rumors that they got married. In spite of his love for Igea, he continued having flings with other women. Igea died of cancer in 1959. Lucky Luciano never had any children.
Lucky Luciano died of a heart attack on January 26, 1962.