• Art S.

Passing of Meyer Lansky, 1983

On This Day in Jewish History: January 15, 1983


The Jewish contribution to American culture and society includes important figures in the arts, law, business and science. It also includes notorious

figures in 20th century crime, chief among them perhaps, Meyer Lansky. On this date in 1902, Meier Suchowlanski was born in Grodno, Russia. He immigrated to the United States in 1911, grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and in partnership with his boyhood friend, and fellow Jew, “Bugsy” Siegel, entered the world of bootlegging. With a well-earned reputation for violence, Lansky moved on to a close association with Lucky Luciano, who in 1931 assumed control over organized crime in America. A powerful and feared man in the “tradition” of Jewish gangsters, a lineage that includes Arnold Rothstein, Bugsy Siegel, Lepke Buchalter and Moe Dalitz, Lansky’s greatest expertise was gambling and he ran operations in Florida, New Orleans, and most notably, Cuba. In Havana, he worked with the corrupt government of Fulgencio Batiste to create an incredibly lucrative set of hotel-casinos, an operation that profited the mob and Batiste. The December 1946 Havana Conference marked the culmination of Lansky’s dream to bring together the major American crime syndicates, both Italian families and the Jewish mob, from New York, Chicago, New Orleans and Florida. The Cuba operation was finally stopped by the revolution, led by Fidel Castro, in 1959. Lansky also invested in the emerging pleasure capital of Las Vegas, backing his friend Siegel’s new hotel, The Flamingo. A number’s man, often referred to as the Mob’s Accountant, Lansky exploited blackmail when possible and it is alleged he avoided government persecution by having secrets on J. Edgar Hoover. But in 1970 he was charged with tax evasion and fled to Israel. Two years later, he as deported back to the US where he was acquitted of the charges in 1974. He died in Miami Beach in 1983 at age 80.

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