A Rising Star
By the end of World War I, the Bugs and Meyer mob was in full swing, operating closely with Lucky Luciano and his right-hand man, Frank Costello. Although the Sicilians and the Jews were separate gangs, there was more than a loose association between the two groups, something that was unusual at the time. Both Lansky and Luciano refused to be limited by the old rules that said Italians were Italians, Jews were Jews and never the twain shall meet.
Unlike other gangs who spent their swag as soon as they acquired it, Meyer and Charlie (who adopted the anglicized name because his Jewish friends had trouble pronouncing "Salvatore") put aside their money in a special fund. As the war came to a close, neither man had a good idea as to what the bankroll would be used for, but they both knew that to hit the big time they had to have capital behind them.
Meyer, ever the businessman, was busy reading up on management practices and investment policies. He told Benny to case out a local bank to see if it was worth putting the funds in.
Benny returned from the visit unimpressed.
"Im not putting any of my money in there," he reported. "Anyone could bust in and steal every dime in the place."
Two weeks later, the Bugs and Meyer mob returned to the bank not to make a deposit, but to hold the place up. They overpowered the aged, half-blind security guard and escaped with eight grand.
Robbery, street corner craps and protection rackets were providing the gang with a quick infusion of funds, but Lansky, Siegel and Luciano were smart. They realized that it was only a matter of time before their luck ran out and one of them took a fall. They began to look for different ways to tap into the huge illegal gambling market in New York. The gang began to use its bankroll to buy into established bookmaking operations and to buy the protection of the police and politicians who ran the Lower East Side.
In early 1919, a crap game that was operating under the protection of Meyer was raided by a group of men who proceeded to beat up the games organizers, bodyguards and customers. The hoods told Lansky that this was a warning: unless tribute was paid, killings would follow.
Meyer and Bugs werent ready to cave in. They hunted down the Italian who led the raid and were prepared to exact revenge when the man told them that Joe the Boss would make them pay for their insolence with their lives. They backed off and regrouped. Masseria had decided to bring the Lower East Side under his control and the Bugs and Meyer mob was standing in the way. Masseria, an old-time gangster who was never interested in cooperation with non-Sicilians, was engaged in an effort to fill the void left by the imprisonment of the capo di tutti capo, Lupo the Wolf Saietta. He needed the money that a gambling operation in Brooklyn could provide to finance his move.
Bugs, as usual, was ready to go in shooting. It didnt matter to him that Masseria had a 200-man army and that the Bugs and Meyer mob was at best a couple dozen strong. Siegels honor was at stake and he wouldnt go down without a fight. This time, Lansky agreed with his boyhood friend. He knew that every other mobster in the city was gunning for Joe the Boss and that now was the time to go on the offensive.
Siegel and several other toughs from his gang returned to Masserias East Side lieutenant and this time they didnt back down. A huge fight ensued and the Masseria boys were routed. By the time the battle was over, the cops arrived and Lansky, Siegel and some other Bugs and Meyer hoods were arrested. The charge was disorderly conduct and carried a two-dollar fine.
Misdemeanor charges aside, the fight sent a clear message to Masseria, one he took to heart the Lower East Side belonged to the Bugs and Meyer mob.
Masseria took a different tack; he approached Lucianos gang (his pig-headedness refused to allow him to work with the Jews) and lobbied hard to get Charlie to join his team. Luciano held out, negotiating for a good deal. Luciano wanted to keep his Eastside rackets to himself, while Masseria wanted them under his control. Masseria also wanted Luciano to sever his ties with the Bugs and Meyer mob, something Charlie would not do.