Meyer's Legacy

Lansky lived an additional six years after his final court battles. In that time he never gave up hope of returning to Israel either as a tourist or as a citizen. But his health became poor and on January 15, 1983, Meyer Lansky, the mastermind of the mob, died at his home.

"’He would have been chairman of the board of General Motors if he’d gone into legitimate business, an agent of the FBI once said of Meyer Lansky with grudging admiration" wrote the New York Times in his obituary. "And in a moment of triumph, Mr. Lansky once boasted to an underworld associate, "We’re bigger than U.S. Steel."

Superlatives and apocryphal statements filled the Little Man’s obituaries. He was called "treasurer of the mob" and "frequent advisor to the Chicago mob" and "The most influential Godfather in the history of American organized crime."

"In all the hyperbole on a poor weekend for news, only the Miami Herald…pointed out that Lansky’s reputation was a matter of ‘popular belief, never proved legally,’ and that Lansky’s links to mob killings were "more by speculation than by proof," Lacey wrote.

Bugsy Siegel once told a non-mobster that people had nothing to fear from men like himself and Lansky.

"You see," he said. "We only kill each other."

But even though Meyer Lansky was never convicted of murder, and shunned criminal enterprises like narcotics and prostitution and gave people the illicit things they really wanted like alcohol and gambling, he shouldn’t be dismissed as just an interesting underworld figure.

Every time an honest citizen buys clothes, they are paying for protection from the garment industry racketeers. And in many cities, particularly large ones, garbage collection includes the hidden cost of mob tribute. Payoffs made to crooked politicians help them remain in office and contribute to the malaise that Americans feel about our political system.

Meyer Lansky didn’t invent graft, and he didn’t install the protection rackets in the unions and garment industry, but it was through his guidance that the Syndicate was able to prosper in the United States. He might not have been the one to suggest the idea that the mob get involved in narcotics, but his system of cooperation between various gangsters regardless of race or ethnic background paved the way for today’s organized gangs.

He prided himself on his honesty and his commitment to working a fair deal, but his vision has been perverted by others with fewer scruples. If Meyer Lansky has left a legacy, it is in the widespread corruption which pervades our society. In the final analysis, Meyer Lansky was a criminal. He could have devoted himself to building an honest career where a man with his talents could have gone far. Maybe antisemitism held him back, maybe not. But the fact that he chose to be a criminal rather and a law-abiding lifestyle means any admiration we feel for Meyer Lansky should be mixed with contempt.

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Lansky, the "Chairman of the Board" 

1. The Mythical Meyer

2. A Fortune Found

3. Bugs & Meyer Mob

4. Meeting with the Brain

5. Italian and the Jew

6. The Carpet Joints

7. Havana

8. Vegas

9. Israel

10. Lansky's Legacy

11. Bibliography

12. The Author
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