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Maier Suchowljansky (July 4, 1902 - January 15, 1983), better known as Meyer Lansky, was a Russian born gangster of Jewish parents.
Lansky's family moved to the United States in 1911, and settled in New York. While Lansky was in school, he met a young Lucky Luciano, who shook down other kids for protection. When Lansky refused to pay, Luciano fought him, but came away impressed with Lansky's toughness, creating a bond that would make them friends for life.
Lansky met Bugsy Siegel in 1920. They also became friends for life and, together with Luciano, formed part of what became known as the Five Points Gang. Lansky was instrumental in Luciano's rise to power, when he helped in the killing in 1931 of his boss, Joe The Boss Masseria, and later warned Luciano of the plans by Salvatore Maranzano (the other major New York mafia boss of the time) to kill Luciano and Vito Genovese. Alerted to the danger they killed Maranzano first. As a youngster, Lansky's life was saved many times by Siegel, a fact Lansky always appreciated.
Lansky had established gambling operations in Florida, New Orleans and Cuba by 1936, the year Luciano was convicted and sent to prison. Lansky also became a big investor in Siegel's Las Vegas project. After Luciano was paroled on the condition that he return to Sicily and never leave Italy, Luciano secretly snuck out to Cuba, from where he began to resume his control over the American mafia operations.
Siegel's projects in Las Vegas were failing miserably and all mafia bosses, Lansky included, were called for a secret meeting at Havana. While everyone else wanted Siegel killed, Lansky begged for a second chance for his friend. He was able to persuade the bosses to give Siegel a second chance, but Siegel's casino kept on losing money and a second meeting was called. This time the casino was able to turn in a small profit during the month of their second meeting, and that, together with Lansky's pleading and Luciano's hopes that their old friend could still do good in Vegas, convinced them to give Siegel a third chance. But that small profit turned out to be only a small hurrah, and, after a third meeting in Cuba, despite Lansky's insistence that they give Siegel another chance, the order was given to kill Siegel, which happened in 1947.
Later on, during the 1960s, Lansky became involved in drug smuggling, prostitution, extortion, investing in hotels and golf courses. It is said that he made around 300 million dollars from those investments. Luciano was unhappy with the fact Lansky was gaining more money than he was, but because of Luciano's bad health, he wasn't able to do much about it.
In the 1970s, Lansky faced tax evasion charges. Upon learning of his impending problems, he fled to Israel, where he lived for three years before being apprehended and returned to the United States. He served time and was released shortly after.
Lansky died of lung cancer, leaving a fortune of over 400 million dollars behind.