Arnold Rothstein and the Broadway Mob

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Arnold Rothstein created and led the Broadway Mob in the early 1920s. He is the earliest known financial backer of smuggling to New York City during Prohibition.  He was the black sheep of a well-to-do family in the garment industry. His knowledge of business principles came from his father. He was known for dressing like a successful businessman, not like a gangster.  He owned several holding companies. His business interests were real estate, selling insurance, posting bail bonds,  and backing smugglers and bootleggers. Banks loaned him money and asked few or no questions about the purpose of these loans as he could post millions in collateral.

He kept his criminal activities separate from family life. He and his wife had no children.  In her autobiography, published after his death, Carolina Rothstein claimed she had no idea he was involved in the Broadway Mob. In fact, he told her he was most suited for one political office, that of Police Commissioner! This was probably because he knew about crimes before the police since he personally bankrolled the criminals involved.

The Broadway Mob leader did not like alcohol except for a glass of champagne or wine here and there.  According to his wife, he would eat cake and drink milk before going to sleep.  He only  bet on sure things e.g. the Black Sox Scandal of which he had advance knowledge. For example, he would sometimes bet on races as he and others were driving to the Saratoga race track. By then,  he already knew the outcome of the race but the others did not. This was because he had an associate stationed beside the road gesturing  the results to him. (This was long before the advent of car radios and cell phones.)

In the musical Guys and Dolls, the character Nathan Detroit skulks in doorways and gives tips on the locations of a moving crap game. He was modeled on Rothstein who was known to skulk in doorways. Rothstein is also credited with adding a zero to the roulette wheel, thus significantly improving the odds for the House.

Rothstein was murdered in 1928, probably due to a gambling debt. After that Charles “Lucky” Luciano (a.k.a. Salvatore Lacania and Mr. Charles Ross) ran the Broadway Mob along with Frank Costello, and Meyer Lansky.  Luciano was arrested briefly in connection with the Rothstein murder and his occupation was listed as waiter or dishwasher! This information is tantalizing because perhaps Rothstein was not killed by a fellow gambler but by Luciano and his friends? They were his proteges and known to have later engineered the deaths of Italian mobsters Joe Masseria,  and Salvatore Maranzano.

The Broadway Mob after Rothstein’s death

Luciano, who succeeded Rothstein,  was convicted of running a prostitution ring. He complained after he was  sent to prison in upstate New York by Judge Philip McCook,  Luciano said he did not feel safe. McCook then visited the prison to double-check. The judge concluded the gangster was in no danger.  Luciano, in his “autobiography,” recalls this  visit differently. He says McCook visited the prison to beg Luciano to remove a Sicilian curse!

During World War II, Italy was an ally of Germany.  The S.S. Normandie (renamed the Lafayette and retrofitted as a troop ship) was sabotaged at Pier 88 on the Hudson River. Albert Anastasia, also in the Mob, may have engineered this  to empower Luciano, still Boss despite being in prison, to negotiate an early release. Supposedly, Luciano promised authorities to use his influence in the Mob to stop further wartime sabotage on the waterfront. Whatever the reason, Luciano was  released early (1946). He was deported to Italy where he died  in 1962. His body was returned to NYC and is buried in Queens.

An interesting story about Frank Costello, who also succeeded Rothstein in the Broadway Mob,  was that Costello taught  longshoremen a litany to recite to the police if  they were arrested during Prohibition. Basically the litany went, ” I don’t know what is in the crate. It is none of my business. I don’t give a damn what I am handling. etc.”

 

[For more, see Smugglers, Bootleggers and Scofflaws: Prohibition and New York City by Ellen NicKenzie Lawson, SUNY Press, 2013, available in paperback and as an e-book. The book is scholarly and dense (less than 200 pages total) with photographs, footnotes, primary documents, bibliography, and index. ]