Lucky Luciano was the man who put the “organised” into organised crime. A visionary as well as a killer, he turned the Mafia from an unruly collection of warring gangs into a “crime corporation”, as big as General Motors or US Steel. In 1999, Time Magazine put him among the 100 most important people in America’s history.
Luciano began as a low-level hoodlum, making hits, bootlegging and running prostitutes. But he also had a dream. To become really rich, the Mafia needed to copy the methods of legitimate business. It needed business divisions, a board of directors who could agree strategy, allocate resources and resolve disputes.
It worked. Under Luciano the Mafia entered a golden phase, expanding into transport, gambling and narcotics. The Mob started to buy control of politicians and judges. It became untouchable.
Watching his rise with horror was Thomas Dewey, the New York Attorney-General. Dewey was a man-on-the-make, with huge political ambitions. He would very nearly become president. His problem was that J. Edgar Hoover didn’t care about eh Mafia. Hoover just thought it was a disconnected collection of small gangs that the local law enforcement should handle. So Dewey had to take on the mob alone.
What then followed was a gripping tale of cat and mouse, as Dewey slowly built his case against Luciano. It seemed to end in a classic court-room trial, with Luciano being sent to jail for up to 50 years. But there would be even more twists to come. Because when World War 2 broke out, the US government found it needed Lucian’s help…