Authors: Sandra Lansky
AUGHTER OF THE
Copyright © 2014 by Sandra Lansky Lombardo
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ISBN: 978-1-60286-216-6 (e-book)
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To the memory of Daddy
would like to acknowledge the wonderful support of the following people: Dick Cami and Nick Pileggi, who always believed that I had a story to tell. Vince Lombardo, Gary Rapoport, and Aaron and Kaley Lombardo, who have always encouraged me. And especially my Daddy, Meyer Lansky, who never gave up on me; without him I wouldn’t have a story to tell. To Rusty Goodman and Micki Marlo, who have been there for me forever. To my brother Paul and my nephew Meyer Lansky II, for keeping the family name alive. Special thanks to Bill Stadiem for his skill, help, and patience in helping me tell my story; to Dan Strone for selling it; and to Weinstein Books for publishing it.
had known Sandi Lansky for about twenty years before I could get her to even think about writing a book. She was smart and charming and she and her husband of many years, Vincent Lombardo, were great company, but she had no interest in writing about growing up as Meyer Lansky’s daughter. It was clear that she loved her father and enjoyed travelling the world with him and was clearly pained by what she saw as his harassment by the government, especially toward the end of his life when the Justice Department exerted extraordinary political pressure on Israel to extradite him on bogus charges that were quickly dismissed.
When I first laid eyes on Sandi, I saw her father. The slight build and dark piercing eyes were unmistakable. While I had never met Meyer Lansky, I had seen him on several occasions having dinner with his pal and partner, Vincent “Jimmy Blue Eyes” Alo, at Frankie and Johnny’s Steakhouse, on East 45th street, in Manhattan’s theater district. (It’s still there and still good.) Lansky’s and Alo’s presence was not only fascinating to a young police reporter like me, but the restaurant’s usually disagreeable waiters, long bored by Broadway’s
biggest stars, were suddenly transformed. “He’s here.” “Did you see him?” “Where?” “Table six?” Their excitement was palpable in the room. They were so in awe of him that the usually surly waiters were giddy with excitement.
The irony, of course, was that many of the waiters excited by Lansky’s presence had also been his victims. Some of the older waiters, still hefting dishes on bad feet, often lamented they were only working because they were in hock to their bookmakers. These were the men who had lost their cars, lost their houses, even lost their wives because of the quiet unpretentious man at table six sawing away at his steak. Somehow, it did not seem to matter to them. They were simply in awe of the man who had turned their vice into a national pastime and made illegal betting routine. Because of Lansky, they could place their bets and collect their winnings as reliably as Wall Street—maybe more so. It was Lansky who created and presided over the
guys and dolls
America that did not exist until he started putting it together during the Prohibition years.
However, while I always knew that Meyer Lansky was one of the most intriguing of organized crime’s founding fathers, he was probably the least known. Oh, there had been articles and books and television documentaries and movies about him, but somehow the “Little Man” was always missing. In
, Mario Puzo and Francis Coppola came close with their fictional “Hyman Roth,” a part played by the great Lee Strasberg, but all it did was make me want to know more about the real man himself.
I wanted to know, for instance, how a slight, five-foot-five-inch, Lower East Side youngster, born in Grodno, in 1902, survived growing up on some of the most dangerous streets in America. How did an impoverished eighteen-year-old maneuver his way through the Roaring Twenties and murderous gang wars of Prohibition to emerge a multimillionaire and one of the key men responsible for organizing organized crime? And, of course, how could an elementary school
dropout create a multibillion-dollar, nationwide illegal gambling empire without an office, a secretary, or even an untapped phone? Today, math whiz casino executives go to MIT, the Harvard Business School, and Wharton to try and master the gambling algorithms that Meyer Lansky carried around in his head.
We know, according to the Kefauver Senate Hearings in 1951, that Lansky prospered not only because he knew how to count, but because he was adept at bribing the sheriffs, judges, and county officials wherever he opened a speakeasy or an illegal casino. He even put the off-duty deputy sheriffs on the payroll as valet parkers to dampen any potential for whistleblowing in the ranks. In 1933, when Prohibition ended, Lansky was thirty-one years old and had earned the trust of some of the least trusting men in America. With the support of his boyhood pal, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, he convinced the syndicate bootleggers to convert their speakeasies into roadhouses and nightclub-casinos catering to illegal gambling just as they had catered to illegal booze. The local politicians and sheriffs were now happy to go along and continue to take bribes to “overlook” the new illegal casinos just as they had “overlooked” speakeasies.
For Lansky and company, the timing could not have been better. When Prohibition ended in 1933, the nation was in the middle of its worst depression. Banks were closed. CEOs were selling apples on the street. Stockbrokers were going out Wall Street windows, while Lansky and his bootlegger pals were one of the only sources of major capital in the country. They were sitting on suitcases of cash, and it was Lansky who began investing their money in the illegal casinos, sports books, and telegraph wires that have kept the bookmakers around the country busy until the present day.
With Lansky’s death I had given up even getting the details of
life, but as my conversations with Sandi continued over the years, I realized that
life would make an incredible book. Here was the story of a willful adolescent daughter who could not be controlled by one
of the most powerful and feared men in the country. In many ways, I came to realize, she was too much like him.
Sandi’s was a rich life. She grew up in a vast apartment at the Beresford on 81st Street and Central Park West and later in a huge suite at the St. Moritz Hotel on Central Park South and Sixth Avenue. The Beresford apartment had a terrace so large she could ice skate on it all winter. There were piano, singing, and ballet lessons at which she was not very good, but she had a horse and she loved to ride. She rode and took lessons in Central Park and was good enough to show at Madison Square Garden. Her father was so proud he would follow her around from one horse show to the other when he wasn’t out of town. He was her biggest fan.
When you grow up in her father’s world, you rarely had any friends from the outside. Sandi had Joe Adonis’ daughter, Benny Siegel’s two daughters, Abner “Longy” Zwillman’s son, among other mob princes and princesses down at the Jersey Shore, which was known as the Gangster Riviera. These children lived lives almost as insular as their parents. They weren’t encouraged to bring strangers into the house. Looking back there’s no question that Sandi and the other progeny of the men who created organized crime were terribly isolated.
As a twelve-year-old, Sandy walked around with far more money than she does today. She always had $20 bills stuffed in her pockets and she was always instructed to take taxis, which were considered a luxury back then. Sandy had been repeatedly told never to take a bus or public transportation because her mother was worried that she’d be kidnapped. The children of wealthy mobsters like Lansky were often the subject of kidnappings because it was impossible for men like her father to go to the FBI or police for protection. If their kids were kidnapped, Lansky and his cohort would be forced to pay the ransom and straighten things out later.
As Meyer Lansky’s daughter she moved about town like some sort of a “Mob Deb.” She had her own table at night clubs like the
Harwyn, the Embers, El Morocco, and the Copacabana before she was even old enough to legally enter such places. Sandi’s mother, who was often institutionalized for nervous breakdowns, was not a disciplinary force. Marriage to the mob had taken her as its toll. Lansky, who was travelling around the country, Cuba, and Europe setting up casinos and clubs, would hear about Sandi’s precocious exploits, but there wasn’t much even he could do about his own daughter. He had thought about barring her from the places he controled, but then he was afraid she’d go to the kinds of deadfalls that would be even more dangerous. In the end he tolerated Sandi’s frequenting the places he controled because at least he could have some very tough guys keeping an eye on her.
Lansky tried to exert some parental control over his fun-loving daughter by insisting she travel with him. Because of his schedule, however, Sandi’s schools pretty much followed the racing seasons. She’d start her school year at the toney Birch Wathen School in New York and move her schooling to and equally posh Miami Beach academy during the winter racing season. In the spring, she and her dad would move back north and she’d be re-enrolled in her New York school. This didn’t make for stability or scholarship.
This school-hopping went on until her fifteenth year when Sandi decided to get married to a twenty-three-year-old dashing playboy who later turned out to be a gay fortune hunter. While her father tried to dissuade Sandi from getting married, the headstrong and independent Sandi was determined. Eventually he relented when some of his friends convinced him that it was better for her to get married rather than continue to live her rootless life. Once she was married, they reasoned to Lansky, her husband would be responsible for her and Lansky could relax. Concentrate on the business at hand.