Exclusive: Daughter Blows Lid off of Meyer Lansky’s Mafia Secrets
By Robert W. Welkos
HollywoodNews.com: For decades, underworld boss Meyer Lansky kept mob secrets so explosive that if the truth ever came out it would alter American history. Now his little-known daughter, who kept her own Code of Silence over the years about her father’s activities, is drawing back the dark veil of the mob’s influence at the highest reaches of government and world events.
Sandi Lansky Lombardo, now 72 and living in an undisclosed location in Florida, carried on the mob tradition of silence to protect her late father and family all the while knowing revealing details about President Nixon’s threat to withhold the sale of fighter jets to Israel because Lansky refused to cut Nixon in on a casino deal; Lansky and Charles “Lucky” Luciano’s plot to assassinate Hitler and Mussolini; and, legendary singer Frank Sinatra hiding out in the basement of a Catholic Church to avoid being killed on the orders of Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana.
For years, Sandi was tailed by FBI agents trying to put her dad behind bars. The late underworld chief had built a far-flung gambling empire while forging a nationwide crime syndicate with his boyhood pal Luciano, leaving a trail of bullets and blood across a continent.
She even had a torrid love affair with one of J. Edgar Hoover’s boys before finally breaking off the romance and remaining true to her father. The agent was assigned to investigate Meyer Lansky.
Producer/writer Bob DeBrino, who owns the film and literary rights to her story and whose critically-acclaimed film “Find Me Guilty” starred Vin Diesel and was directed by Sidney Lumet, and producer/writer Nicholas Pileggi, whose screenwriting credits include “Casino” and “Goodfellas,” are working with Sandi on her memoirs. DeBrino, with Pileggi’s help, is simultaneously preparing a pitch for a feature film.
“The story is not about Meyer Lansky,” said DeBrino. “This is her story, how she saw her father. We all know about Meyer Lansky but we don’t know the truth about what she knows. There are many discrepancies and inaccuracies that she will clear up. The studios have told me that there will eventually be a big Lansky movie. The fact that there is a living family member involved in the project also is important to the studios and talent.”
In interviews with Sandi Lansky Lombardo, including DeBrino’s meticulous research as well as independent research, HollywoodNews has been able to piece together some of the bombshell revelations that most thought Meyer Lansky took to his grave, but that, in truth, he revealed to his daughter during the final years of his life.
–President Nixon, already angry that Lansky had supported JFK for President years earlier, conducted a vendetta against the underworld boss after Lansky rebuffed Nixon’s attempt to be cut in on a lucrative casino deal in the Bahamas because in those days only “wise guys” were partners with each other. After being tipped by an FBI agent that he was being framed, Lansky fled to Israel to avoid prosecution on U.S. tax evasion charges. Nixon then threatened to withhold the sale of Phantom fighter jets, which Israel desperately needed to defend itself from its Mideast neighbors unless Prime Minister Golda Meir had Lansky deported. Lansky voluntarily left Israel before he could be deported and later was tried in the U.S. and acquitted of the tax allegations.
–Frank Sinatra cancelled all his engagements and hid out in the basement of a Catholic church (giving the priest $50,000 for the church because he helped him hide out), after hearing that Chicago mob boss Sam Giancana was plotting to kill him. Giancana was upset that Sinatra was becoming too arrogant and carless and was pushing around members of Giancana’s gang. Sinatra called Lansky in tears, saying he would do anything – even playing a million gigs in all of Giancana’s joints – if Lansky would ask him to call off the plot. What Sinatra didn’t know was that Giancana was listening in on the other line and that Lansky quietly hung up the phone just as Giancana was about to burst out laughing.
–Concerned that President Harry Truman was wobbly in his support for creating a new nation of Israel, Lansky reached out to the Kansas City underworld and they used their connections in the White House to persuade Truman, whose home state was Missouri, to change his mind, reminding the President of the union support that helped elect him to office.
–Lansky plotted with “Lucky” Luciano to have gangster Vito Genovese assassinate Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini. But by then, Mussolini had already been overthrown in Italy and Vito didn’t want to kill Hitler because he was raking in so much money on the black market that he didn’t want the war to end.
–The U.S. Navy sought out Lansky’s help to guarantee labor peace on the docks during World War II and to thwart any would-be Nazi saboteurs and spies on the waterfront. As a result of the cooperation with the mob, a Nazi submarine was reported by an Italian-American fishing fleet from the docks. The submarine was seen off the coast of Long Island where the Nazis helped several of their spies land on the each. This incident was reported by the fishermen to Luciano and Lansky, who gave the information to the FBI and Naval Intelligence. As a result, eight German spies were caught, tried, and six were executed. They had plans to blow up several key defense installations and to poison the water supply.
–The commonly held story that Bugsy Siegel was assassinated by the mob over money missing from the Flamingo Hotel-Casino in Las Vegas is a lie. Sandi said that according to Luciano’s lawyer, Moses Polakoff, and others close to Luciano and Lansky, Siegel was killed for disrespecting Luciano by telling the Boss of Bosses to “Go fuck yourself” after Luciano gave the cocky Siegel a dressing down for arriving late with bagels to an important meeting to discuss legal strategy to prevent him going to jail for life. She said there was nothing her father could do to save Siegel’s life after that happened.
–Joe DiMaggio tearfully asked Lansky if he could use his influence to reunite the Yankees slugger with his former wife Marilyn Monroe after Monroe’s divorce from playwright Arthur Miller. Lansky had his boys tail Monroe, but couldn’t do anything about Marilyn’s life spiraling out of control after her illicit affairs with John and Bobby Kennedy and her growing dependence on prescription pills.
As Meyer Lansky’s daughter, Sandi was always treated royally. She traveled the world, staying at 5-star hotels, attending private schools, driving luxury cars and having her pick of designer clothing. She met many high profile people from Sinatra and Dean Martin to Jack Kennedy and Revlon cosmetics executive Charles Revson.
But there were also men she called her “uncles” who drifted in and out of her life in those early days.
These “uncles” were mobsters like Bugsy Siegel (“We never used the name ‘Bugsy,’” she notes); Frank Costello, nicknamed the “Prime Minister of the Underworld” as head of the Genovese crime family; Santo Trafficante, the most powerful organized crime figure in Florida; Guarino “Willie” Moretti, an underboss of the Genovese crime family who was gunned down at Joe’s Elbow Room restaurant in Cliffside Park, New Jersey; Joe Adonis, a New York mobster who was deported to Italy; Anthony “Little Augie Pisano” Carfano, a New York gangster who was shot in the back of the head on his way to the airport; Samuel “Red” Levine, a member of Murder, Inc., and one of three hit-men reportedly sent by Lansky to assassinate Sicilian mafia boss Salvatore Maranzano; Abner “Longie” Zwillman, known as the “Al Capone of New Jersey”; Frank Erickson, right-hand man to early mob boss Arnold Rothstein; Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, who ran a $1million-a-year numbers racket in Harlem; and, Joe Fischetti, a Miami-based mobster who was one of Sinatra’s close pals.
Over the years, Sandi has turned down many offers to tell her life story. She even balked, she said, when “big shots” at Paramount Pictures tried to woo her cooperation’s for a movie.
“I was hounded by everybody,” she recalled. “They were like vultures. You can’t blame them. They wanted to do something about dad, but I wasn’t interested.”
Until she turned 13, Sandi said, she wasn’t aware of her father’s real line of work. As she tells it, she was heading home from school one day when she went to buy a movie magazine and saw her father’s picture staring at her from the cover of a magazine. This was in the early 1950′s, when Tennessee Sen. C. Estes Kefauver was conducting his much-publicized hearings on organized crime.
Her mother, Anne, who had been divorced from Meyer Lansky since 1947, discovered her daughter reading about him in her room and told her if she had any questions about her dad to ask her. “And then she told me how wonderful Dad was,” Sandi recalled.
Sandi’s life changed after her mom began showing signs of mental illness. “She was in and out of hospitals,” Sandi recalled. “Up until I was 13, she wasn’t that bad. When I turned 14, it was terrible. She was a very good mother but she couldn’t take care of herself.”
At 15, Sandi moved down to Florida to be with her father, who had remarried in 1948. But Sandi said didn’t get along with Lansky’s wife, Teddy, claiming she treated the teenager like the “other woman.”
It was on a trip to a horse show at Madison Square Garden in New York that teenager Sandi Lansky met up with a childhood friend, Marvin Rapoport, whose family owned the Rapoport Dairy Restaurant in New York. She was 16 and he was 24 when they married. On a visit to Europe, the couple went to Italy and visited Luciano, who put them up in a top hotel and accompanied them to an A-class dinner. While visiting Luciano, Sandi noticed they were being followed everywhere. The couple returned to America on the SS Andrea Doria, which would sink the following year in one of the world’s most famous maritime disasters.
After the birth of a son, Gary, the couple’s marriage fractured and they were divorced in 1957.
By now, Sandi had been transformed from naïve schoolgirl and young wife to self-confessed “party girl,” dancing the night away at swank NYC watering holes like The Copacabana, El Morocco and the 21 Club. She also frequented Basin Street East, The Harwyn, Bemelmans Bar at The Carlyle, The International Nightclub and Danny’s Hideaway, often ending up for breakfast at The Brasserie.
She knew singer Vic Damone, comedian Joe E. Lewis, performer Jimmy Durante, actor Walter Matthau, actor/comedian Dick Shawn and jazz great Duke Ellington. She hung out so often with crooner Bing Crosby’s son, Gary, at the Essex House in New York that people mistakenly thought they were having an affair. She also became friends with columnists Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan. Through her dad, she was introduced to future President Jack Kennedy at the Warwick Hotel in 1958.
She met her current husband, Vince Lombardo, a one-time “made-man” in the Genovese crime family, while “on a dopey date with a friend of his, who was a horror,” Sandi recalled with a laugh. It was a Saturday night and they went to a restaurant that Vince helped run, but she grew bored with her date and spent the night in a phone booth talking to her ex-husband. “That’s where (Vince and I) met,” she said. “I couldn’t stand his friend.”
Meyer Lansky liked Vince, but told him if he was going to marry his only daughter, there was one stipulation: Vince had to get out of the “family business.” So, her dad made all the arrangements and Vince separated from the mob without an obligation, payment or continued stipend to the family, something unheard of at the time.
She was 26 when she married Vince in 1964, but there was a nine-month period when her addiction to diet pills forced the couple to separate.
“I wanted to become a model,” she recalled. “That’s when I got addicted to diet pills. I’d stay up for days and then sleep for days. I’d do everything my way.”
She and Vince got back together and settled in Florida, where they ran a janitorial and chemical business.
The FBI would follow her around whenever her father would be away, she recalled.
One of her most memorable encounters with the FBI occurred in the fall of 1958, after her divorce from Marvin and before she had met Vince.
An FBI agent named Ed Hartnett had shown up at her apartment and told her he had been a cadet at West Point at the time Sandi visited her brother, Paul, who was also was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy. It was obvious that Hartnett was using his connection to West Point to get close to Sandi so he could get information about her father.
Sandi phoned her father from a pay phone and told him about the encounter. Lansky told his daughter he would call her back in 20 minutes. When he called back, she told him that Hartnett’s visit made her uncomfortable. Lansky put his daughter in touch with an old time associate, Bobby Blanch, who met her at a restaurant on Broadway and instructed her to call the FBI agent and agree to meet him again. Then after the meeting, Sandi was to tell Bobby whatever the agent had told her. If they offered her money, he said, take it and say she needed it for her rent.
But the meetings with Hartnett soon turned into romance. Neither was sure if they were in love or if they were each being set up. Sandi eventually decided to call it off.
After Meyer Lansky’s death at age 80 from lung cancer in 1983, it was widely rumored that he was worth a staggering $400 million, and maybe as high as $600 million. Sandi scoffs at that rumor.
“He had almost nothing (when he died),” she said. “When he got in trouble (with the IRS), he turned everything over to his brother. We calculated it was about $15 million. But (Dad) said there was nothing.” Asked who got rich, she said it was her uncle’s family. “His two children got it,” she said. “They’re multimillionaires.”
Still, producer DeBrino is convinced Lansky left a vast fortune.
“He might have had $15 million but he was controlling over $1 billion,” DeBrino told HollywoodNews, noting that much of Lansky’s fortune was likely laundered through Swiss banks.
“Meyer was good at that,” Debrino explained. “He took for himself a well deserved, huge salary, but he controlled and invested all the mafia families’ money. Remember, during this time, there were 34 mafia families spread across all the major cities. I’m sure by now this money is all cleaned up and in legitimate businesses. Come on, how can anyone believe Meyer had no money at the end? He had over 100 casinos that were known, race tracks, dog tracks, slot machines and many legitimate businesses.”
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