Wartime can bring about strange alliances and so it was that during W.W.11 the most powerful Mafia Don in NYC entered into an agreement with an important USA Government agency that was mutually beneficial.
As soon as the US declared war on Germany and Japan in Dec 1941 the nation’s Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) found itself dealing with very effective and aggressive Nazi submarine fleet that harassed and sank Allied shipping and deposited saboteurs and spies on the shorelines of Allied nations including those of America.
In 1942, with the ONI already very worried about how to deal with what was happening, the SS Normandie which was in NYC being retrofitted as a warship, went up in flames. Though it was later found to have been an accident, at the time it kicked up the level of anxiety about the possible activity of Nazi spies and saboteurs to fever pitch in the ONI. Yet just when it was crucial that everyone was pulling together, there were labor problems on the waterfront, there was fear that Nazi submarines were being illegally fueled up the coast from NYC and the ONI couldn’t break the wall of silence that operated on the waterfront.
This was because at the time the waterfront was totally run by Italian and Jewish crime bosses who controlled all activities including the Fulton Fish Market. The interlocking levels of command and responsibility within the Mafia meant the only person who could unlock the so far inpenetrable wall of silence about what was really going on was Lucky Luciano, the top Don in the NYC Mafia. But he was in prison serving a long sentence.
The ONI rolled up their sleeves and did what had to be done. A deal was struck between Luciano and the ONI to get the intelligence needed and to calm down labor disputes on the waterfront in exchange Luciano’s sentence would be commuted.
As soon as the deal was struck the ONI got valuable information about secret refueling activities offshore, information about shady characters who were entering the country illegally and all labor disputes stopped. Luciano also facilitated a relationship between the US army and the Italian Mafia which was very useful in supporting the US army in their campaigns in Italy.
When the war ended, somewhat redfaced law enforcement officials owned up to the deal and eventually Luciano received his pardon and he was deported to Italy where he died in 1962. However he arranged to have his body brought back to NYC and he was buried in Saint Johns Cemetary in Queens.
What became clear as a result of this collaboration was that while the official government agencies were well disciplined and effective as far as they went, the same was also true of the extensive web of Mafia crime control in NYC and beyond. Their intelligence network and levels of command in key industries were just as complex and successful as those of the Government at that time. it would be many years before the Mafia’s control of some industries was watered down.