Jewish Criminals and
These excerpts are compiled from the
• The American Jews
• An Empire of Their Own
• Heil Kahane
• Jews and Money
• The Rest of Us
• The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America
• Jewish Criminals and Their Activities
Jews: portrait of a split personality
Yaffe ©1968 Publisher: Random House Library of Congress No. 68-28553 ISBN No. N/A
61, 62 -- Jews Fear Headlines Exposing Jewish Criminal Activity
many Jews live in terror of the banner headline that screams out the guilt of someone with an obviously Jewish name. If
a Jew must commit a murder or an embezzlement, let him be named Smith or Robinson. ...
of some people to this kind of thing can hardly be exaggerated. Every time they read that bookies have been arrested, draft
dodgers have been exposed, building inspectors have been accused of taking bribes, they automatically check the list for
Jewish names. Jews felt as grieved at President Kennedy’s death as all other Americans; but I wonder how many of them,
in the first hour after the assassination, didn’t say a little prayer to themselves, “Please God, make it not
be a Jew!”
Not only must Jews keep their own sins out of the gentile gaze, they must be careful
not to expose the sins of their fellow Jews. this is the source of the friction which has existed since time immemorial
between the official Jewish community and the Jewish writers. The writer feels that his first obligation is to deal honestly
with the world he knows best. The official community feels that his first obligation is to make that world look attractive
to the gentiles.
Book Title: An Empire of Their Own
Author: Neal Gabler ©1988 Publisher: Crown Publishers Inc. ISBN No. 0-517-56808-X
304 -- Put Ficticious Jewish Hero Into Movie: Stone
effect, though, Stone’s [John Stone, formerly John Strumwasser] work mainly came down to picking nits: influencing
the producer of The Sands of Iwo Jima to incorporate a fictitious Jewish soldier; advising the producer of I Can get It for
You Wholesale, a film about the garment industry, that he must proceed cautiously since the general public associated Jews
with the garment trades; trying to beef up the role of Justice Brandeis in a film biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes; leaning
on the writer of Murder Inc., about the Jewish gangster Louis Lepke, to include a crusading Jewish prosecutor as well; and
most ludicrously, suggesting that Sammy Glick, the conniving Jewish protagonist of Budd Schulberg’s novel What Makes
Sammy Run?, be changed to someone of indeterminate ancestry.
Book Title: Esau’s Tears
Author: Albert S. Lindemann ©1997 Publisher: Cambridge University
Press ISBN No. 0-521-59369-7
66 -- Eastern European
Jews and Criminal Activity
Eastern European Jews were also infamous in the nineteenth century
for involvement in activities associated with the saloon, as pimps, or in the language of the time, in “white slavery,”
but also in other illegal activities. A substantial Jewish subculture of criminality thrived in cities like Odessa and Bucharest.
Anti-Semitic conclusions were frequently drawn from the prominent participation of Jews in the liquor trade, saloons,
usury, prostitution, smuggling, and racketeering. Such conclusions were drawn in the West as well as in eastern Europe and
were part of the reason that western Jews often tended to consider Jews from eastern Europe to be social deviants, parasites,
and criminals. Jewish reformers did not deny the existence or extent of Jewish criminality but rather emphasized how much
the environment in eastern Europe encouraged criminality. They expressed concern about what they termed the “unnatural
situation of Jews in eastern Europe and the unhealthy Jewish character that resulted from it. Western Jewish leaders campaigned
with special vigor to root out the large participation of Jews in prostitution.
The Rise and
fall of the Jewish Gangster in America
Fried ©1980 Publisher: Holt Rinehart Winston ISBN 0-03-021371-1
Dust Jacket Introduction
Once there was a Jewish ghetto in every major American city, each
with its own distinctive underworld culture, its own amalgam of prostitutes and pimps, gamblers and gangsters. From the
largest and most famous of these ghettoes, New York City’s Lower East Side, there emerged in the years from 1880 to
1914 some of the best known criminals of their time, the likes of Monk Eastman, Kid Twist, Gyp the Blood, Big Jack Zelig,
Dopey Benny, Yoski Nigger, Kid Dropper, Little Augie, Arnold Rothstein...
... The prominent Jewish gangsters
of a later day came from the same ghetto environment. One group specialized in industrial and labor racketeering, from garments
to baking and movies. Of these racketeers none were more powerful, none more feared and despised after World War I than
Lepke Buchalter and his sidekick Gurrah Shapiro; they and their Murder Incorporated allies cut a swath of terror that is
without precedence in the annals of American crime...
... The other group specialized in bootlegging. Soon after Prohibition
went into effect Jewish gangs sprang up in Chicago, Cleveland, Boston, Detroit, Newark, Minneapolis, and of course New York,
calling forth such celebrated men of the age as Waxey Gordon, Dutch Schulz, Bugs and Meyer (Benjamin Siegel and Meyer Lansky),
King Solomon, Longy Zwillman, Moe Dalitz and the Cleveland Four, the Purple Gang and Kidd Cann. These mobs evolved into
giant syndicates as they joined or merged with their (mostly) Italian counterparts in each city and formed cooperative arrangements,
regional and national in scale, to control the illicit alcohol market. And it was these very gang/syndicates, with their
concentrations of wealth and muscle, that expanded into new commercial realms, especially gambling, after Prohibition ended
in 1933. Organized crime had by then become an established institution.
18 -- Pimps
were large-scale indeed. Motche Goldberg (“King of the Vice Trust”) had started out in the 1890s with one girl;
by 1912 he had a controlling interest in eight whorehouses and 114 women and was earning $4,000 a month, an incalculable
amount by today’s standards. Capitalists like Goldberg, furthermore, possessed resources that enables them to go far
afield in pursuit of business, to ship their women wherever the traffic was most profitable — out west, even to the
remotest mining towns, and abroad as well.
25, 26 Fagins and Fences
Like his counterparts
in every other poor neighborhood the Jewish criminal exploited the opportunities that lay close at hand. He shook down peddlers
and pushcart vendors and storeowners, anyone with property vulnerable to assault, anyone whose livelihood could be easily
impeded. He was occasionally a burglar or thief or “fagin.” One such fagin, Harry Joblinsky, had fifteen nimble
pickpockets under his wing, another, Abe Greenthal, commanded the notorious Sheeny Gang. More often, the criminal was a
fence, a receiver and mover of stolen goods. For years the untitled queen of the fences was “Mother Fredrika Mandelbaum,
squat and corpulent, citywide, indeed nationwide if the accounts about her are true, complete with a battery of defense
lawyers and a whole communications network. Common too, and especially loathsome for obvious reasons, was the arsonist who
would gut a store or house for the insurance it brought him or his employer. In the early 1890s, after an epidemic of neighborhood
fires, the authorities sent eighteen of the worst arsonists to jail, some for life. The most fiendish of them, Isaac Zucker,
had a ring of “mechanics,” each of whom he paid $25 for burning down a building or store which he, Zucker, had
95, 96 “Black Sox” Scandal
[Arnold] Rothstein had vaulted far
beyond the stuss parlors and pool halls and political clubhouses of his Lower East Side youth and was now America’s
premier gambler, certainly its cleverest, best known, and most daring gambler. It was no surprise that Rothstein’s
name had recently surfaced as the evil genius behind the 1919 “Black Sox” scandal, the worst, or the only serious,
scandal in baseball history. And though Rothstein denied having anything to do with the fix, and was never brought up on
charges, he bore the inescapable presumption of guilt: only he could have inspired such a heinous deed, the corruption of
the great American pastime (and the World Series at that!). Nor was gambling his only claim to notoriety. The press also
referred to him as a “sportsman and man about town” who consorted with the rich (even as he fleeced them) in
Saratoga and Long Island and elsewhere, who had his own stable of fine race horses and belonged to the exclusive New York
103 Dutch Schulz
Arthur Flegenheimer is an improbable
name for an aspiring gangster. So this child of Austrian-Jewish parents, brought up in the sinkholes of the South Bronx,
chose as his nom de guerre Dutch Schulz. “the Dutchman” demonstrated his exemplary gifts at an early age; he
was smart and quick and demonically cruel, and he had no trouble becoming the leader of his local street gang. After serving
as a freelance gunman with several bootlegging and highjacking outfits the Dutchman struck out on his own. His South Bronx
gang, a grab bag of Jewish, Italian, and Irish hoods, a ruthless assemblage if there ever was one, beat down, muscled in
on, or co-opted one neighborhood rival after another, supplying beer and liquor to speakeasies, restaurants and clubs as
far away as Manhattan’s Upper West Side and Harlem. It was a foolhardy adventurer who dared challenge the Dutchman’s
234-238 Meyer Lansky in the 30s
No one in America, it seems, was
busier in the 1930s than Meyer Lansky, ambassador extraordinaire of organized crime. Here is a checklist of some of his
endeavors at that time. ...
With a number of his colleagues, among them Bugsy Siegel, Frank
Costello and Joey Adonis, he owned shares in Capitol Wines and Spirits, a giant New York distributor. ...
Lansky joined the Cleveland outfit — Dalitz, Tucker, Kleinman (who happened then to be in jail), Rothkopf,
and the Polizzis — in building a series of distilleries strung across the northern tier of the country from Ohio to
New Jersey, the largest illicit operation of its kind uncovered by revenue agents. ...
instrumental in converting Hot Springs, Arkansas, from a venerable watering hole into an up-to-date casino gambling town
— though it never lost its quaintness — and an ideal refuge for syndicate gangsters on the lam. ...
Lansky was a partner in the enormously lucrative slot machine business
that Frank Costello opened in New Orleans. ...
In Cuba, Lansky dealt with another kind of boss, ex-army sergeant
Fulgencio Batista, who late in 1933, and with the help of the United States, made the law himself, giving the stamp of legitimacy
to whatever he authorized. He and Lansky were the closest of friends. Catching the vision Lansky outlined, Batista would
rent Havana to the American underworld, not at once but bit by bit and for as long as he could. In return Lansky and his
associates would build up the tourist industry as only they knew how, and the whole island, from Batista to the humblest
campesino (though in unequal measure), would enjoy the blessings of their largesse.
241 Meyer Lansky
in the 40s
Now it was universally assumed that the Mafia controlled the International Longshoreman’s
Association of the Port of New York, and so the commanding officer of the Third Naval District concluded that the best way
to improve security was to win the cooperation of the ILA. (It never occurred to the Navy to appeal directly to the patriotism
of the longshoremen. There is an implied racism here: Italians equal Mafia.)
In the spring of 1942, the head of
Naval intelligence operations for the Third District called on the New York District Attorney for help. The D.A. got in
touch with Joseph “Socks” Lanza, boss of the Fulton Fish Market on the east River. Lanza, a tertiary figure
in the gang/syndicate order, could not do very much and referred the government officials to Luciano. This they did through
one of Luciano’s lawyers in the 1936 trial, Moses Polakoff, who happened also to be Meyer Lansky’s lawyer. It
was Lansky who conveyed the government’s message to Luciano, secured Luciano’s agreement to do whatever he could
in behalf of the war effort, and as Luciano’s emissary worked closely with the ILA leaders. Luciano granted the government
one more favor: he saw to it — again through Lansky — that his Sicilian Mafia paisanos lent the American and
Allied expeditionary forces every assistance (quite valuable as it turned out) when they landed there in 1943. ...
Messick quotes from a secret Narcotics Bureau memo sent by one of its agents to Italy on December 4, 1951. “Lucky
Luciano,” the memo goes, “came to an understanding with Mafia elements in the U.S.A.,” the burden of which
was this: “If anyone in the U.S.A. interfered or muscled in on Lansky’s activities Lucky Luciano would take
appropriate strong actions from Italy.
261, 262 Going Straight?
That the Mafia
was hardly the point at issue — in the form the Committee imagined at any rate — was blatantly obvious from
the number of Jewish gangsters who appeared before it, gangsters as rich and powerful as the most notorious of the Italian
witnesses. With the exception of King Solomon’s men — Joe Linsey, Hyman Abrams, and Louis Fox (Kefauver having
inexplicably omitted Boston from his itinerary) — and Kidd Cann, just about every important Jewish gangster testified.
And on the whole they comported themselves very well. They pictured themselves as men who after a few youthful peccadilloes
and false starts were trying earnestly to make a go of it in business. There was of course some truth in this misrepresentation.
Detroit’s Bernstein Brothers, retired Purples, were raising horses and selling real estate in California; Moe Dalitz,
besides running a huge Las Vegas hotel with his partners, had many legitimate concerns in Cleveland and Detroit, from scrap
iron and laundries to steel mills; Nig Rosen had dress factories in the Bronx and Pennsylvania; Longy Zwillman rented cigarette
vending and washing machines and sold cars, among other things; Lansky lamented his failure in selling jukebox television
to bars and restaurants (“We should have gone into the home set end, and maybe I would have been a rich man today”);
and so on and on went the parade of gangster-entrepreneurs.
When pressed hard and forced to admit
that they were still friendly with “known underworld figures,” were indeed still engaged in illegal activities,
they shifted ground, pleading for sympathy, claiming they were trapped, overwhelmed by circumstances. Addressing Moe Sedway,
Bugsy Siegel’s ex-sidekick and now one of the Flamingo’s bosses (he also had risen to considerable respectability:
he was in 1950 the chief fund-raiser for the Nevada United Jewish Appeal), Senator Tobey said with unflagging righteousness:
“You are in cahoots with a lot of people like Bugsy Siegel, and you wonder whether it all pays or not or what it amounts
to, and why men do these things. I look upon these people in my state of New Hampshire that till the soil and make $2,000
a year as a lot richer than these people down here. They have peace of mind and can look everybody in the eye.”
286 The Present
It is a fading memory enveloped in twilight now: the Lower East Side of Maier
Luchowljansky’s childhood, where Big Jack Zelig and his men (Lefty Louie, Whitey Louis, and Gyp the Blood) still commanded
the streets, taking up where Monk Eastman and Kid Twist had left off, where the whores and gun molls and cadets and gamblers
and guerrillas and life-takers met at Segal’s Cafe and in scores of hangouts like it, where youth gangs abounded on
every block, where aspiring criminals learned the technique of survival and with luck and audacity and brains achieved success
as well. But the Lower East Side and every other urban ghetto — Chicago’s and Philadelphia’s and Cleveland’s
and Boston’s and Detroit’s and Newark’s — once tenanted by Eastern European Jews are gone, and so
are all the children of the underworld, those who fell in battle and those who died peacefully in the bosom of respectability,
the anonymous mass and the privileged few. That past is vanquished. Meyer Lansky is the last of its heroes.
Author: Yair Kotler © 1986 Publisher: Adama Books ISBN No. 0-915361-35-3
46, 47 -- Kahane & the Mafia
received substantial aid from the New York Mafia. The first real link between Meir Kahane and Joseph (Joe) Colombo, a Mafia
figure in New York, was formed in May 1971, when Kahane was in jail on a charge of illegal possession of weapons and explosives.
He wanted to be freed on bail, but the JDL treasury was empty, as usual. Imprisonment drove Kahane mad. He had always feared
it and done everything (even informing on his comrades to the authorities) in order to avoid going to jail. Kahane knows
that he can attract publicity only when he is free.
Nine other JDL activists were imprisoned along with Kahane. In 1972
Kahane stated that a total of $155,000 out of a budget of $250,000 was spent on bail. In order to leave jail as quickly
as possible, Kahane was willing to make a pact with the devil himself.
Kahane’s criminal lawyer was
Barry Slotnick, one of the leading criminal lawyers in New York, who was also Joe Colombo’s lawyer. Kahane asked Slotnick
to make the connection with the Mafia leader. Kahane’s arrest attracted the attention of the media. He found the attention
flattering, but the imprisonment unbearable. Colombo listened attentively to Slotnick, who told him that Kahane wanted Colombo’s
help in raising bail. Colombo jumped at the opportunity. He replied that Kahane was a man after his own heart, a man “fighting
for his people.” As a veteran Mafioso, Colombo could appreciate Kahane’s violent methods. He realized he could
use Kahane to improve his own image: public disclosure of the link between the two would benefit Colombo. He immediately
agreed to provide bail for all the prisoners.
50 -- Firearms
Colombo’s group treated Kahane
as a hero after he was charged with possession of firearms without a license — a serious offense which further distanced
Kahane from the Jewish leadership. Both Kahane and Colombo were regarded as pariahs by their respective communities.
51 -- Mafia Connections
critics in the United States maintain that the JDL also had ties with Meyer Lansky, the Cosa Nostra’s financial wizard,
and that JDL activists were used to smuggle hard drugs into the United States. When the Italian police arrested a drug smuggling
ring led by Salvatore Zizzo in September 1974, Kahane’s opponents charged that the Zizzo family had close ties to a
JDL branch — ties that were forged by Colombo in the late sixties. The Zizzo ring was involved in smuggling drugs
from the Far East to the U.S. and Canada. Many are aware that some JDL members have been addicted to drugs in both the United
States and Israel. Several were charged with the use and distribution of drugs in the United States. The charges were inexplicably
dropped, suggesting that they may have served as informers.
63 -- Time Bomb
Jewish impresario, Sol] Hurok refused to bow to JDL pressure. In retaliation, they determined to destroy his offices. On
January 26, two young well-dressed men entered Hurok’s twelfth-floor office suite and politely asked for the date of
a future performance. They were asked to wait for the information, but they quickly left the offices, leaving behind a vinyl-covered
briefcase. A time bomb quietly ticked away inside the case. At the same time, two other young men were similarly engaged
at a Manhattan location nearby: the offices of Columbia artists, a film company that also organized visits to the U.S. by
Before anything could be done, the two bombs exploded. Flames burst forth.
The offices were filled with dense, choking smoke. The fire caused great heat. Panic-stricken employees jumped from the
windows of the Columbia Artists office, fought their way through the smoke filling the lobby, and escaped to the street.
Hurok’s office, on a high floor of a skyscraper, encased in hermetically sealed glass, became a deathtrap, filled
with lethal smoke. the windows could not be opened. The central air conditioning system spewed forth smoke. Hurok almost
choked and was rescued by firefighters; he had to be rushed to the hospital, more dead than alive.
Iris Kones, a 27-year-old Jewish woman who worked in the accounting department, and two other women with whom she worked
tried to escape the smoke. They kept their faces close to the floor, which was covered with wall-to-wall carpeting. The firefighters
found them like that when they entered the room, with their faces buried in the carpet and their hair burned. All three
were unconscious. Two were successfully resuscitated with the use of oxygen, but Iris inhaled too much smoke. She died of
suffocation. (Twelve other employees were injured; two suffered serious burns.
65 -- Kahane
The police arrested seven people, including three minors, all JDL members. (One of them, Michael
Brown, was a planted agent arrested by mistake; he was soon released) The League responded by picketing police headquarters
and charging the chief of police with harassment and anti-Semitism. Those directly responsible for Iris’s death, either
hid or fled to Israel. The fugitives included Jerome Zeller and several others subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating
The police nets soon drew in Stuart Cohen, Sheldon Davis, and Sheldon Seigel, three
members of the top echelon of the JDL. They were arrested and charged with causing the death of Iris Kones. Kahane hurried
back to the United States, and held a press conference at the Belmont Plaza. Kahane charged Nixon with attacking the League.
He repeated his denial of JDL complicity in the bombing, and said that the “beautiful Jewish children” taken
into custody had been arrested solely because they were JDL leaders.
68 -- Serious Incidents
The grand jury met in closed session and heard Seigel’s testimony. Indictments were returned against Seigel
and six others for the bombs in Amtorg and Glen Cove. In the meantime another serious incident occurred. A JDL sniper fired
into the seventh-floor bedroom of the residence of the Soviet delegate to the UN. Fortunately none of the diplomat’s
four children asleep in the room were harmed. The sniper fired from the roof of Hunter College, using a Remington 243.
Seigel named the real sniper: Gary Shlian, a seventeen-year-old. Shlian was arrested while on his way to the airplane
which was to take him to Israel.
Seigel told about fantastic plans against Soviet diplomats envisioned
by the JDL with the grandiose notion of damaging an emerging détente between the U.S. and the USSR. The first plan
had reached the operational stage. JDL members built a radio-controlled model airplane, with a wingspan of 6 feet, which
could carry 66 sticks of dynamite. The plane could be transported on the top of an automobile and controlled from a distance.
JDL members planned to land the plane on top of the Soviet mission to the UN on Park Avenue and explode it.
The second plan concerned dynamiting a Soviet diplomat’s car while it was parked in the underground garage
of the Soviet Mission. League members conducting surveillance on the diplomat discovered that he parked his car in an accessible
location during weekly visits to his mistress. The dynamite would be attached to the bottom of his car at that time, to
be detonated by remote control, when the car was later parked in the Soviet Mission’s underground garage. Other plans
included shelling the Soviet residence in Glen Cove, Long Island and murdering the Soviet ambassador to Washington, Anatoly
Dobrynin, as he entered the Soviet embassy.
on Seigel’s information, police located the miniature plane in the basement of a house in Borough Park. They also
scotched notions of shelling the residence in Glen Cove and assassinating the Soviet ambassador.
and Money: the myths and the reality
Krefetz ©1982 Publisher: Ticknor and Field ISBN No. 0-89919-129-0
112 -- La Kosher Nostra
Of all the areas of Jewish enterprise, none has been so overlooked
as the field of crime. And it isn’t because of a lack of Jewish criminality. For an introspective people, this oversight
is significant. It is as if Jewish crime did not exist, an unsavory skeleton best left in the family closet. Naturally,
it goes against the grain to think that among all the other Jewish-American prototypes — doctor, lawyer, businessman,
financier, artist, musician, scientist, and academician — there is also a Jewish gangster. Recent circumstances have
forced this unpleasant recognition, for Jewish criminals are again in the limelight.
114, 115 --
Unzer Shtik (Our Thing)
While contemporary Jews believe that crime is someone else’s problem,
Jewish criminality is well-established. Perhaps the refusal of the Jewish establishment to examine dispassionately the record
of Jewish-American crime “reveals a fundamental lack of security and self-respect.” Jewish criminals, however,
cut out a niche for themselves quite a while ago, whether or not other Jews wish to recognize their achievements. The list
of prominent villains is long and the aliases are intriguing: Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, Mickey Cohen, “Tootsie”
Feinstein, Solly Gross, Jake Guzik, Phil “The Stick” Kovolick, Abe “Kid Twist” Relis, Arnold “The
Brain” Rothstein, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, and Maier Suchowljansky, a.k.a. Meyer Lansky.
For the most part, Jewish crime has followed the tradition of the
Jewish people: it is verbal, intellectual, quasilegal, and non-violent. From the beginning, Jewish criminal activity has
mirrored the activities of legitimate business. While some Jews were involved in the seamy, violent forms of crime, especially
the gang warfare of the Prohibition era, more Jews drifted to white-collar crime and to the economic organization of crime.
They left the more vigorous bully work to the Italians, with whom they allied in their joint effort to make a name for themselves.
In the 1920s, rum-running and manufacturing illegal liquor were the major underworld activities. However, smuggling drugs
and diamonds, loansharking, betting, numbers, stock swindles, and securities fraud were also rackets.
the most notorious Jewish criminal of that period was Arnold Rothstein. After fixing the 1919 World Series, Rothstein turned
to smuggling whiskey across the Atlantic, but not before bribing the Long Island police and the Coast Guard commanders in
the area. Rothstein retired before he was caught, and provided the financial backing and the political protection for his
one-time bodyguard, Legs Diamond. Rothstein was murdered, but his two spiritual heirs, Dutch Schulz (nee Arthur Flegenheimer)
and Waxey Gordon (nee Irving Wexler), took over. Also around that time, Meyer Lansky and “Bugsy” Siegel were
busy making their reputations as killers and hijackers.
In 1934, the criminals got together in an ecumenical congress, a
clandestine gathering that became the National Crime Syndicate. It was Rothstein’s vision to organize lawlessness on
a regular, paying basis, and reduce intergang homicides. Organized by men of ethnic backgrounds, the syndicate was led by
Luciano, Lepke, Lansky, and Siegel. Lansky, the chairman of the board, set up an organization to settle jurisdictional disputes.
Under Lansky, crime was no longer a cottage industry of small, warring groups disposed to petty rackets and grand
violence, but an elaborate corporation with subsidiaries and affiliates in gambling, prostitution, narcotics, industrial
racketeering, bribery, and political corruption. Muscle was still used, and Lansky, the “little enforcer,” knew
when to apply it. But the wholesale slaughter that existed earlier was largely a thing of the past. Some observers mark the
Lansky chairmanship as a maturation of American crime, a watershed. A contemporary, Al Capone, was a product of the era
of guts, while Lansky was a forerunner of the era of brains. Capone didn’t have a bank account; Lansky left a trail
of paper. The former died from syphilis in jail; the latter retired with an officially reported net worth of $300 million.
129-139 -- The Bernard Bergman Saga
Central casting could not have found a more perfect image of orthodoxy
and self-righteousness — that mixture of piousness and studied indifference to modernity — than Bernard Bergman.
He was born in Hungary but in 1929, immigrated to the United States, where he was ordained in 1934 at Yeshiva University.
After a brief visit to Jerusalem, he returned to New York City. At about the same time, his stepfather was arrested in Paris,
passing himself off as the “grand rabbi of Brooklyn,” trying to smuggle seventeen pounds of heroin among his
religious books. Bergman’s mother pleaded guilty as an accomplice.
Bergman’s first association
with a nursing home was as a rabbi at a Lower East Side establishment. After the war, he gave up the active rabbinate and
moved into nursing homes and real estate as businesses. His first partner was sued by the state for bilking Jews out of
$2.3 million in a cemetery swindle. Bergman attracted characters of dubious ethics.
was busy wheeling and dealing, he maintained an active role in Zionist activities and Jewish philanthropic work. ...
... As his holdings grew, he had few qualms about using his contacts to expedite permits, quash unfavorable reports,
and promote rate increases. From an inheritance of $30,000, left to him by the founders of the first nursing home he worked
in, Bergman’s net worth grew to exceed $10 million by 1960.
By that time, his nursing homes earned
big money and had attracted the attention of city authorities. Some of the practices of the nursing facilities were fraudulent.
The Commissioner of Investigation, Louis Kaplan, found that the private nursing homes were overbilling the city for the
care of welfare patients — giving them minimal care but charging maximum rates. Kaplan found the records so badly
kept that his accountants had to extrapolate a formula for the erroneous billing. He concluded that the city had been overcharged
$3.7 million in a two-year period in the late fifties, much of it due to simple fraud. One Bergman home was responsible
for $213,000 in overcharges, and the president of the trade association, Eugene Hollander, had overbilled by $237,000. The
case was forwarded to the District Attorney for legal action while the corporation counsel recovered $650,000 for “unjust
enrichment,” an out-of-court settlement in which the city collected seventeen cents on a dollar. If the recovery was
incomplete, due to the difficulties in proving the case in court, the criminal acts of the defendants were mysteriously forgotten.
Forty out of 119 houses were closed after Kaplan’s report. However, the nursing home operators filed for and received
rate increases of thirty percent. ...
131 ... As
a consequence of the Kaplan report, Bergman was notified by the New Jersey authorities that he was “persona non grata.”
Undeterred, Bergman moved into that state through front organizations nominally owned by members of his family. ...
... Bergman’s “success” in the nursing home business
can be attributed to a number of things: his presence in the right field at the right time; the indulgence of government
agencies, which seemed more concerned with custodial space than care for the elderly; but probably most of all, to chutzpah,
135 Bergman’s single-minded profiteering was his undoing. He milked Medicaid,
taking advantage of the latest government-sponsored program to aid the aged and indigent. What was heinous about Bergman’s
activities was not the theft of government funds — in those terms he was no different than the wanted men on post office
bulletin boards — but that he was preying on people who were unable to defend themselves. It can, of course, be argued
that Bergman was no different from any other fast-buck artist. He was just dealing in volume. But perhaps he should have
been different — as a man of the cloth, he should be devoted and held to higher standards of morality. ... 136, 137
Dr. Fleck, the first Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Health summarized Bergman’s
A long history of repetitive arrangements ... which follow a consistent pattern
under which the parties fulfill, on an alternating basis, roles as buyers and sellers, lessors and lessees of real estate
devoted to nursing home purposes. The only standardized and consistent relationship in these arrangements is continued inflation
of paper real estate values. ... Dr. Bergman wishes to choose among the various options available to him under our current
laws and regulations in order to maximize the profits he can obtain by an eventual sale of real estate. Apparently, the
quality of the nursing home operation and the service to be provided to the public is not an important consideration influencing
Dr. Bergman’s choices. ... The Public Health Council is concerned about the inflation of costs as a result of this
type of decision-making which is characterized by them as “trafficking in nursing home real estate values” with
regard to its effect on patient welfare.
138, 139 ... When the courts caught him, Bergman was sentenced in
federal court to four months for Medicaid and tax fraud and in state court to one year for bribery of a state legislator.
He signed over his assets to satisfy a government claim of $2.5 million as the judge termed him “an unscrupulous and
corrupt individual” with “little or no remorse.” Bergman then left for a minimum security prison with
minimum fences “not designed to keep people in or out, they’re just designed to let us know where our property
ends,” said the superintendent. Fences are probably a good idea; otherwise Bergman might have tried to subdivide the
property and build a nursing home after he arranged a sale-and-leaseback dodge with the warden. Bergman served ten weeks
for his federal offenses.
Book Title: “The Rest of Us”
Stephen Birmingham ©1984 Publisher: Little, Brown & Company ISBN 0-316-09647-4
77 -- Beginnings
And crime, of course, carried the highest risks of all. It was a business so unbusinesslike that it could not properly
be called a business at all, and yet the Lower East Side would also produce some of the most successful and powerful gangsters
in the world. One of these arrived at Ellis Island in April, 1911, as a ten-year-old boy named Meyer Suchowljansky.
141 -- Among Jews, Jewish Criminal Viewed as Part of American Landscape
That the East Side had produced a number of criminals was well known, and the attitude toward these people among
the Russian-Jewish community was somewhat ambivalent. On the one hand, Jewish parents did not point out these men to their
children as examples of American success. And yet, at the same time, there was a certain grudging admiration for men who
could buck the system and get away with it. The Jewish criminal wore snappy clothes, drove an expensive car, was good to
his wife, and could afford to send his sons to Harvard instead of the City College of New York. There was a certain glamour
about him, rather like a Hollywood movie star. Crime, after all, was another way out of the ghetto, and nobody could be
faulted for wanting to get out. And, for some, it was proving a very rapid way out of the ghetto — as whirlwind a
way as Rose Pastor’s engagement and marriage. Also, for otherwise perfectly legitimate Jewish businessmen, it was often
useful to have a friend with “connections” who could get things done expeditiously, without going through a
lot of legal red tape. Union problems, for example, could often be handled with a little muscle from certain quarters. And
so the Jewish criminal was not regarded, among Jews, as an enemy of society, but more as a part of the general American
landscape. By 1920, Meyer Lansky had become part of this panorama.
142 -- The Lansky-Luciano Connection
There are at least two versions of how Meyer Lansky first became friendly with another tough young East Sider named
Salvatore Luciana, later to become known as Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Lansky liked to recall that they had first
encountered each other at what had threatened to become a Lower East Side street battle between the Italians and the Jews,
and how Luciano had been attracted by the tiny — fully grown, he was only a few inches over five feet tall —
Lansky’s spunk and nerve. Luciano had called off the fight, and later taken Lansky under his protection, gratis. Luciano
would recall the initial meeting somewhat differently. Luciano had been earning extra pin money collecting pennies from
Jewish youths for protection, but when he approached Lansky with the usual proposition, Lansky had replied, “Fuck
you!” Impressed, Luciano had offered to supply Lansky with free protection, to which Lansky had replied, “Shove
it up your ass!” Realizing that they were kindred spirits, the two became lifelong friends and business associates.
This friendship, too, marked the beginning of a Jewish-Italian alliance against a common East Side enemy, the Irish.
Soon, into the Lansky-Luciano group came another, somewhat older Jewish youth named Benjamin Siegel.
143 -- Crime As A Business
Lansky never liked to think of his chosen means of livelihood as
anything other than a business. It might not be a legitimate business, but it was still a business, and Lansky tried to
keep it on as businesslike a level — no tampering with the books — as possible. It was a business, as he saw
it, that was designed to cater to certain basic human needs — a service business. Human beings liked to gamble, and
would gamble whether gambling was legal or not, and so Lansky and his associates would put themselves at the service of
gamblers. At the same time, Lansky had his own strict moral code. He would not, for example, involve himself in prostitution.
Prostitution could also be rationalized as fulfilling a human need, but Lansky would have none of it.
On January 16, 1919, the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United
States was ratified, to become law one year later. The amendment banned the manufacture, sale, and transportation of liquor,
wine, beer, or other intoxicating substances. Nine months later, over President Wilson’s veto, the Volstead Act was
passed by Congress, toughening the Prohibition laws and setting up the machinery for their enforcement.
145 -- Prohibition A Golden Door to Riches For Lansky
It also allowed men like Meyer Lansky
and his friends the time to develop an elaborate game plan for buying and marketing alcoholic beverages, so that when the
Volstead Act finally went into effect, they had a virtually foolproof strategy for working around the law. On the very eve
of Prohibition, nightclub comics joked about the various ways of obtaining liquor that would become available the following
day. Had it not been for Prohibition, men like Lansky, Luciano, and Siegel might have continued as operators of small-time
gambling parlors, living in a series of cold-water tenement flats. But Prohibition offered a golden door to riches —
for Lansky, what would become one of the larger personal fortunes in America — all for helping Americans defy an unpopular
149 -- A Canadian Jewish Connection
Meanwhile, to the north of Lake Erie,
another gentleman was emerging who was becoming very important to Meyer Lansky and his flourishing American bootleg business.
His name was Samuel Bronfman, and it was not long before Lansky and Bronfman had entered into an arrangement that would
be enormously profitable to both. ...
153 What impressed Lansky the most was that what Bronfman was doing
was all perfectly legal — in Canada, that is. Bronfman had no trouble with customs or police on the Canadian side of
the border. In fact, the Ottawa government actually encouraged the export of liquor to the United States by refunding the
nine-dollar-a-gallon tax that is imposed on all liquor sold for consumption within Canada.
-- The Jewish Lake
Meanwhile Sam’s [Bronfman] profitable connection with Meyer Lansky and
his growing organization continued apace. Sam Bronfman might not consider himself a bootlegger, but Lansky and Company certainly
did. As Lansky’s chief confederate, Lucky Luciano, put it, Sam Bronfman “was bootleggin’ enough whiskey
across the Canadian border to double the size of Lake Erie.” It was no wonder that wags in the liquor trade were beginning
to refer to Lake Erie as “the Jewish lake.”
-- Lansky and The Cause of Israel’s Independence
During the war years, while Lansky, Mickey Cohen, and their friends
— now beginning to be known as the “syndicate” — had been devoting much energy and money to the cause
of Israel’s independence, huge reserves of capital had been lying, untouched, in Swiss bank accounts, quietly accruing
interest. In Lansky’s personal accounts reposed something in the neighborhood of thirty-six million dollars, most
of it from Prohibition profits. All this was fine, though Lansky did not consider earning interest a very exciting way to
make money. The problem was that the syndicate was cash poor. It had an excess of venture capital, but no new venture to
invest it in. On the drawing boards, in the meantime, lay Benny Siegel’s idea for Las Vegas.
343, 344 -- Lansky Looks to Israel for Sanctuary
1970, meanwhile, Lansky had begun to weary of the constant surveillance under which the government was keeping him. He was
sixty-eight years old, his heart had been giving him a bit of trouble, and there was the recurring problem of his stomach
ulcers. Over the years, he had been very generous to Israel — not only with personal contributions, but also by regularly
turning over his Las Vegas hotels and casinos for Bonds for Israel rallies. Israel continued to offer itself as a land of
refuge to Jews of any nationality. ...
spent his two tourist years in Israel pulling every string, using every contact and connection he could muster to try to
gain his citizenship. he even had a friend who was on good terms with Golda Meir take his case directly to the prime minister.
Mrs. Meir was sympathetic, and agreed that the one gambling charge for which Lansky had been convicted was definitely minor.
But she refused to commit herself. The original blanket invitation to all Jews had been given a bothersome amendment in
1950 to bar any Jewish “undesirable.” It was in this category that the FBI insisted that the Israelis place
Lansky in order that he could be returned to the United States to face the various indictments it had waiting for him.
345 -- Lansky Reluctantly Heads Homeward
In November, 1972, a few days before his visa would expire, Lansky
realized that his cause was hopeless. If Israel did not want him, he decided, he would leave the country voluntarily. Armed
with a clutch of airplane tickets and entry visas to a number of South American countries that he hoped might take him in,
he headed to the Tel Aviv airport. He had no sooner passed through Passport Control, however, than he was joined by FBI
agents, who followed him on a zigzag journey halfway around the globe — to Geneva, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, Paraguay
— where, at each stop, he was denied entry despite his valid documents. His last hope was Panama, for which he also
had a visa. Alas, he was denied entry to Panama. The FBI had done its advance work well. The next stop was Miami.
The irony was that, during the decade that followed, in none of the cases that the government had arrayed against
him was the government able to obtain a conviction. Millions of dollars of American taxpayers’ money were spent, only
to have case after case dismissed for insufficient evidence. And so, in the end, officially declared innocent of all his
crimes, Lansky was allowed to live out his life in retirement at Imperial House, forbidden to leave the country, his passport
revoked, forbidden to go to Israel — the man who may have been the most successful criminal in American history sentenced
to life imprisonment in Miami Beach. At the time of his forced return, Lansky was both bitter and philosophical. “That’s
life,” he told reporters. “At my age, it’s too late to worry. What will be will be. A Jew has a slim chance
in the world.” He died in Miami in January, 1983 at eighty-one.