Jewish Gangsters

Jewish gangsters rode organized crime out of the ghetto to a life of violence and crime.

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Rothstein understood the logic of coordination and the potential of organized crime. He is most remembered as the man allegedly responsible for the "Black Sox scandal," the attempt to fix the 1919 baseball World Series between the Chicago White Sox and the Cincinnati Reds. However, that was really small potatoes for him. It was Rothstein who, during the 1920's, put together the largest gambling empire in the United States and controlled most of the gangs in New York, as well as that city's traffic in bootlegging, narcotics, and gambling.

Rothstein attempted to bring order to the extreme competition prevailing in the bootlegging business. He supplied money, manpower, and protection; and if things went wrong, he was ready to provide bail and attorneys.

Rothstein moved freely in all circles, from politicians and statesmen to bankers and bums. On his payroll at one time or another were gangsters such as Waxey Gordon, Jack "Legs" Diamond, Lepke Buchalter, Albert Anastasia, and Frank Costello (who later rose to become a "boss" of the mob and the star attraction of the Kefauver Crime Committee Hearings), as well as a goodly number of public officials.

So successful was Rothstein in organizing criminal enterprises and staying out of jail, that Damon Runyon dubbed him "The Brain." And his fame was such that he was immortalized during his lifetime by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby as Meyer Wolfsheim. Despite this notoriety, Jewish community leaders in New York asked for (and received) his help in settling a strike in the garment district in 1926.

Rothstein's life of crime, for which he never spent a day in jail, ended when he was shot to death in New York's Park Central Hotel. True to his underworld creed, he refused to divulge the name of his assailant before he died. The final irony was that Arnold received an Orthodox Jewish funeral.

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel

Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel (1905-1947) was the archetypal movie mobster: handsome, hotheaded, ambitious, and ruthless. A petty thief and muscleman who rose to become a crime lord, he played an important role in New York City's underworld activities during the 1920's and 1930's. He became a member of the East Coast crime syndicate's board of directors at the age of 28.

Siegel established the beachhead of organized crime in California and opened Las Vegas for the mob. He recognized the tremendous opportunities for profit from legalized casino gambling in Nevada and with syndicate help built the Flamingo Hotel. After it was built, however, he tried to keep most of the profits for himself. This defiance of the Syndicate was to cost him his life.

On a June evening in 1947 someone pointed a rifle at Siegel's face as he sat in the apartment of his girl friend, Virginia Hill, and pumped three bullets into his head. Siegel thus had the distinction of being the first member of the Syndicate's board of directors to be executed by one of his own.

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