All The Times The U.S. Government Worked With The Mafia To Get Things Done
Sicilian-born American gangster Charles Luciano relaxes in exile from the FBI after helping the U.S. government in Operation Husky. Source: (Photo by Slim Aarons/Getty Images)
Let’s face it: Sometimes, you have to fight criminals with criminals. The United States government knew it, and they took it to heart on at least a few occasions. Of course, not just any petty criminal would do; they needed professional criminals, and the best place to find experienced, expert-level criminals is in the Mafia. Let's take a look at those instances when the government and the Mafia teamed up together to face a common enemy---at least, the ones we know about.
Lucky Luciano and Operation Husky
During World War II, the Allied forces were battling the Germans and Italians in the Mediterranean and North Africa, and they were beginning to gain the upper hand. British prime minister Winston Churchill proposed that the Allied forces invade Italy to overthrow the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. At first, Franklin D. Roosevelt (then the U.S. president) was reluctant, but Churchill was persuasive and finally convinced Roosevelt to join the invasion, codenamed "Operation Husky." In truth, Churchill needed the Americans to make this operation a success. Meanwhile, Lucky Luciano, the father of organized crime, was sitting in his jail cell reading about the war and plotting ways to get out of prison.
Sicily, a Mafia Mecca
The Allied forces quickly settled on the island of Sicily as their attack point in Italy. Although there was a strong military presence on the island, it was a softer target than mainland Italy. Plus, many of the residents of Sicily were members of the Mafiosi. Several years earlier, in the 1920s, Mussolini sent troops to Italy to kill, torture, and imprison Mafia members and their families, many of whom fled to the United States. The ones who stayed had a vendetta. The U.S. hoped to exploit that vendetta for their own benefit.
Lucky, the Intelligence Officer
Lucky Luciano realized that he could leverage his connections in Sicily to secure himself a little pardon action. He offered to help the U.S. government by putting them in contact with some of his men, who were well-acquainted with the ports, harbors, and inlets of Sicily. He also offered to persuade his people in Sicily to facilitate the Allied invasion of the island. It worked. Thanks to Luciano, the Allied commanders had intimate knowledge of the geography of the island, and insiders on Sicily prepared for the Allied invasion by planting explosives at Italian military bases. Operation Husky was put into motion on July 9, 1943, and the Allied troops managed to secure the island and seize the capital city of Palermo. For his help with Operation Husky, Lucky Luciano was granted a pardon and deported to Sicily.
Another Government Collaboration with the Mafia
This wasn't the first time the U.S. government accepted help from the Mafia. In fact, just a year prior to the invasion of Sicily, they not only accepted the aid of New York City's Mafia to help keep the American harbors safe from Axis saboteurs, they straight-up recruited it.
It all stemmed from the fiery destruction of the SS Normandie, a French ocean liner that the U.S. military had outfitted to serve as a troopship. While docked in New York City, the SS Normandie mysteriously caught fire. The United States feared the enemy had infiltrated the harbor and that more sabotage was on its way. Well, no one had tighter control of the New York waterfront---indeed, the waterfront of the entire East Coast---than the Mafia. They reached out to underworld bosses, including Lucky Luciano, and asked for help in monitoring the waterfronts for suspicious activities. Since this was also in the best interest of the Mafia, they agreed.
Mafia Hitmen in 1960s Cuba
In the 1960s, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro posed a threat to U.S. security by bringing communism ever closer to American soil. The solution? Take out Castro. In August 1960, the director of the Office of Security for the CIA suggested hiring Mafia hitmen to eliminate Castro. In the next few years, the CIA was in talks with several known Mafia members, including Carlos Marcello, Sam Giancana, John Roselli, and Santo Trafficante, Jr. Numerous plots were discussed, including suggestions to shoot and poison the Cuban dictator. None came to fruition.
The Mafia and Recovered Bodies
Rumors have circulated for years that the FBI and CIA have sought the help of Mafia informants to lead them to the bodies of slain people, but most of the stories have remained uncorroborated. In 2007, however, a woman named Linda Schiro testified under oath that her former boyfriend, a Mafia member named Gregory Scarpa, was contacted by the FBI in 1964 to help locate the remains of three Civil Rights workers who had gone missing in Mississippi and were presumed murdered.
According to Schiro's sworn testimony, her former boyfriend confronted a member of the Mississippi Ku Klux Klan and shoved a gun in his mouth, threatening to pull the trigger unless he revealed where the workers' bodies were dumped. Although Schiro's testimony came 43 years after the fact, it still marked the first time collaboration between the U.S. government and the Mafia was entered as testimony in court, and it will presumably be an amazing Scorsese movie.
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