Maybe he said it and maybe he didn't, but Meyer Lansky will
forever be identified with the statement that the Syndicate, the underworld conglomerate
of hoodlums, mobsters and killers from across the nation, was bigger than U.S. Steel. The
boast made for good headlines and helped politicians like Estes Kefauver and Bobby Kennedy
build their reputations and later achieved near-factual status when Hyman Roth, the Meyer
Lansky-inspired character in the Godfather II repeated it to Michael Corleone.
Whether or not Lansky ever really said it, it was probably true. Organized crime in
America from the 1930s to the 1980s was big business and Meyer Lansky had helped make it
There is a lot about Lansky that is apocryphal. Did he, for instance,
meet Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano on the same day? Probably not, but the story still
floats around about how Lansky, the hard working son of Jewish immigrants, happened along
one day and found Siegel and Luciano brawling over the favors of a prostitute the Italian
Lansky, the story goes, hit Luciano over the head with a tool from his
apprentice's box and stopped the fight. The known facts fit --Luciano did run some
bordellos and no one disputes that Benny Siegel liked the ladies.
But Lansky never mentions the story in his authorized biographies and
Luciano remembers meeting Lansky when Lucky's gang tried to shakedown the young Meyer and
was told in no uncertain terms to go f__ themselves.
"Ok, Little Man," Luciano remembers telling the diminutive
Lansky. "You get your protection for free."
"Shove your protection up your ass," Lansky shot back.
"I dont need it."
And Lansky, who would never grow much above five feet, proceeded to
prove it to the older boy.
"Believe me, I found out he didnt need it," Luciano
recalled years later. "Next to Benny Siegel, Meyer Lansky was the toughest guy, pound
for pound, I ever knew in my whole life and that takes in Albert Anastasia or any of them
Brooklyn hoodlums or anybody anyone can think of."
Mug shot of Meyer Lansky