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Charles “Lucky” Luciano

  • Born Salvatore Lucania in Sicily, Charles “Lucky” Luciano (played by Rich Graff) was one of the most powerful and enduring kingpins of the modern American mafia. At the peak of his career, from 1931-1936, he dominated the New York City underworld of illegal gambling, bookmaking, loan-sharking, drug trafficking and extortion. He was involved with labor unions and controlled the New York docks, among other key local industries. And he cut a dashing figure in New York society, sporting custom shirts, natty suits and, underneath it all, silk underwear.

    Luciano was nine years old when his family left Italy for the U.S., joining the countless other Italian, Jewish and Irish immigrant families on New York’s Lower East Side. He made his first forays into crime at age 10, and as a teenager forged lasting friendships with other ambitious young crooks like Meyer Lansky. In the early years of Prohibition, he went to work for Arnold Rothstein, a Jewish gambler and racketeer whose lessons about efficient management and social graces would leave a lasting impact. By the mid-20s, Luciano was making millions as a partner in the biggest bootlegging operation in New York. Working for reigning mafia don Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria, Luciano bridled at the traditional clannish-ness and economic short-sightedness of Sicilian-bred leaders like Masseria and his chief rival, Salvatore Maranzano. A bloody war erupted between the factions in 1930, opening the door for Luciano and like-minded young allies to depose the old regime. By late 1931, both Masseria and Maranzano were dead, due in no small part to Luciano’s machinations. The New York rackets had been divided into the Five Families, and Luciano established the Commission, a governing authority that would privately resolve all intra-family disputes.

    In 1936, Luciano was sentenced to 30-50 years in prison on pandering charges, but he continued to run the Luciano family in absentia. During World War II, he made a deal with the government to monitor New York’s docks for potential sabotage or infiltration. After the war he was deported to Italy, where he remained heavily involved in gambling rackets and moved decisively into heroin trafficking. He died of a massive heart attack in Naples International Airport, just as U.S. and Italian officials were moving in to arrest him on narcotics charges.