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Meyer Lansky, the “Mob’s Accountant” Re: His Flight To Israel
Single page autograph letter signed on lined paper. Dated “July 6, 1980”, and signed by Meyer Lansky as “Meyer”. 8.5″ x 11″. Fine condition with two punch holes along right edge affecting one word of text,
Meyer Lansky, known as the “Mob’s Accountant”, was an American major organized crime figure who, along with his associate Charles “Lucky” Luciano, was instrumental in the development of the National Crime Syndicate in the United States. An intriguing letter by Lansky which although written in 1980, discusses his attempted flight to Israel, where he first tried to escape charges of tax evasion back in 1970/1971.
Lansky rise first had his start after Prohibition ended in 1933, Lansky successfully parlayed his fortune into gambling interests around the United States (and ultimately internationally). He encouraged other mobsters to invest in Cuba, where eventually he owned or had financial interest in at least three casinos: the Habana Riviera, the Hotel Nacional and the Montmartre Club. In the 1940s, Lansky also began investing in Las Vegas casinos, and assigned his friend Siegel to oversee construction of the Flamingo Hotel.
That project did not go well, at least initially. Cost overruns ballooned the budget from $1.2 million to $6 million, and some of Lansky’s fellow Mob investors were unhappy. Some believed that Siegel, who also tightly controlled income from the telephone “race wire” providing sports results to bookie parlors and casinos, was stealing a portion of their investment.
Several chroniclers claim that Lansky, at a Havana meeting of leading organized crime figures from across the United States, approved of Siegel’s assassination, which occurred on June 20, 1947. Although he never openly admitted to approving the hit, Lansky said that if it had been up to him, Siegel never would have been killed – as close to an expression of remorse as you would find from any of the Mob. Other theories surrounding Siegel’s murder suggest Lansky had nothing to do with it. Either way, Lansky’s associates immediately took over the Flamingo upon Siegel’s death, and the property generated income for Lansky and others for decades.
It was around the time of these Syndicate meetings that Lansky allegedly made the famous comment that the American Mafia was “bigger than United States Steel,” at one time the world’s largest corporation. The quote was also used by the fictional character Hyman Roth in the film The Godfather, Part II. Lansky is widely viewed as the inspiration for the Roth character.
Lansky’s gambling operations ran into a multimillion-dollar disaster with the Cuban Revolution of 1959. Rebel leader Fidel Castro nationalized all of Lansky’s casino interests on the island. Lansky also suffered from crackdowns on illegal gambling in the United States, including casinos in Florida.
Despite his efforts to conceal income, in 1970 Lansky was indicted on federal tax evasion charges. He and his family fled to Israel under the Jewish nation’s “right of return,” but that right did not extend to criminals. Lansky returned to the United States and was arrested in the Miami International Airport.
This letter alludes to those years as shown in part below:
“It is very thoughtful for you to call me … Yoram Sheffi Sheftel is the young lawyer who raised a petition in 1971 of law students, Law teacher and Law Professors on my behalf. He asked my permission to intercede with Burg to permit me to visit Israel, permission is granted if it isn’t recalled and health permits I intent to visit Israel at the end of October.
You made mention of publicity pertaining to me, I would appreciate to hear something more definite about my visa. I would hate to find myself travelling to Israel and then not being permitted to enter …”
Lansky was ultimately acquitted or had charges dropped against him, in part because no direct connection or evidence linked him to major crime. He was convicted of contempt charges, but by that time he was in poor health due to lung cancer and the decision was overturned. He had suffered his first heart attack more than a decade earlier.
Lansky lived in Miami until his death of lung cancer in 1983. Federal authorities claimed the mobster still had hidden wealth to the tune of $300 million, but Lansky himself, the man who built and sold casinos like chess pieces, said he was nearly broke.