Cohen crime family

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Cohen crime family
Founded byBen Siegel
Founding locationLos Angeles, California, U.S.
Years active1933–1961
TerritoryVarious neighborhoods in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
EthnicityJewish Americans and Italian Americans were official members; other ethnicities were known as "associates."
Membershipestimated 370 members
Criminal activitiesMurder, illegal gambling, bookmaking, racketeering, labor racketeering, extortion, prostitution, drug trafficking, political corruption, police corruption, money laundering, loan sharking, smuggling and contract killing
AlliesChicago Outfit
Genovese crime family
Dallas crime family
RivalsLos Angeles crime family

The Cohen crime family, or the Siegel crime syndicate, was an Italian-American Mafia / Jewish Mafia crime family created by New York Jewish American mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel in the early 1930s. Siegel ran Los Angeles and later Las Vegas' illegal gambling and prostitution rings with his lieutenants Mickey Cohen, David Berman, Harold "Hooky" Rothman, Moe Sedway and boss of the L.A. family Jack Dragna.

Although founded and largely run by Jewish mobsters, the family was often considered to be a part of the Italian-American Mafia, due in part to Siegel and Cohen's associations with the Italian New York and Chicago families. Furthermore, although many of the Cohen family's most high-ranking members and "soldiers" were Jewish gangsters, a large part of the Cohen family's members were ultimately Italian-American. The Cohen family also adopted the Italian Mafia's machismo culture and operated under the Italian Mafia's structure, rules, and customs, such as omertà. However, uniquely, the family generally did not employ the traditional Italian Mafia "made" man system, a system that involves an exclusive Mafia initiation ritual used to induct only men of Italian ethnicity into the Italian-American Mafia. The traditional Italian Mafia initiation ritual was incompatible with the multi-ethnic nature of the family, as the ritual would inherently exclude the many Jewish-American members of the Cohen Family from obtaining high ranking within the family.[original research?]

After Siegel's murder in June 1947, his chief lieutenant Mickey Cohen inherited his rackets, thus making Cohen a crime boss in the criminal underworld, causing a power struggle between him and the boss of the LA crime family Jack Dragna, another lieutenant in Siegel's organization. This would lead to a war breaking out between the two organizations in the Hollywood and West Hollywood neighborhoods of Los Angeles, dubbed the "battle of Sunset Strip" by media.

The organization was allied with the Five Mafia Families—specifically the Luciano crime family—in New York, the Chicago Outfit in Chicago, and the Dragna crime family in Los Angeles (prior to Siegel's death). Cohen's family was the primary target for organized crime police squads, particularly the LAPD squad ran by Police Chief Bill Parker called the Gangster Squad, who also targeted Jack Dragna and the family during pre-Cohens reign.

The family was ruled by Cohen from 1947 to 1961, in which he was arrested and convicted on charges of tax evasion twice. After his second conviction in 1961, the family was essentially decimated, with its administration either in prison or deceased.


Prohibition and Murder, Inc.[edit]

During the 1920s, teenage Jewish mobster Benjamin Siegel and Meyer Lansky smuggled and ran bootlegging and heroin operations for Jewish mob boss Arnold Rothstein, until his death in 1928.

Siegel and Lansky also ran the Bugs and Meyer Mob from the 1920s to the mid-1930s. The gang would smuggle and bootleg illegal liquor during Prohibition from 1920 to 1933. The gang also served as muscle for other gangs in New York and New Jersey. Future U.S. Mafia Luciano family boss Charlie Luciano used the men to carry out hits on rival gangs.

In 1929, Atlantic City Irish mob boss Enoch "Nucky" Johnson hosted the Atlantic City Conference. The two men that headed the conference was Masseria family lieutenant Charles Luciano and former Chicago Southside Gang boss Johnny Torrio. Siegel and Lansky were hired as the muscle for the meeting. At the meeting, Torrio and Luciano formed the National Crime Syndicate.

Castellammarese War[edit]

In 1930, Castellammarese Mafia boss Salvatore Maranzano started moving in on rival Sicilian Joe Masseria's territory on orders of Sicilian don Vito Cascioferro; this caused a war between the two factions, lasting from February 1930 to April, 1931.[1]

Luciano, Joe Adonis, Vito Genovese, and Siegel's partner in New Orleans, Frank Costello, were lieutenants in the Masseria crime family. In 1931, Luciano knew that Masseria was going to lose and secretly switched sides with Adonis, Genovese, and Costello; he met with Maranzano and had Siegel, Albert Anastasia, Adonis, and Genovese kill Masseria in a Coney Island restaurant on April 15, 1931.[2][3]

And on September 10, Luciano had Siegel, Samuel Levine, and two other Lansky-Siegel gang members[4][5] kill Maranzano in his office, after Luciano found out that Maranzano ordered Vincent Coll to kill Luciano.[6]

Murder, Inc.[edit]

In 1935, Siegel, Lansky, Jacob Shapiro, Louis Buchalter and Albert Anastasia founded a joint Italian-Jewish crime syndicate, used for contract murders and muscle for both Italian and Jewish mobs alike.[7][8] It was called by the press, "Murder, Inc."


Around the time that Luciano and Lansky were forming the Commission, Siegel had a disagreement with Philadelphia bootlegger Waxey Gordon and some of his associates, the Fabrizzo brothers.[9] Siegel and Lansky had given the IRS information about Gordon's tax evasion; this led to Gordon being imprisoned in 1933.[10][11]

Gordon hired the Fabrizzo brothers to kill Lansky and Siegel. After failed attempts on Lansky and himself, Siegel killed two of the brothers.[11] When a third brother, Tony Fabrizzo, planned on writing a memoir about Siegel's nationwide kill-for-hire squad with his attorney,[12] Siegel killed him. In 1932, Siegel checked into a hospital and later snuck out; Siegel and two other men approached Fabrizzo's house disguised as detectives in order to lure him out, and killed him.[11][13]


Soon after the hit, Siegel learned from his associates that he was in danger. Due to his hospital alibi falling through, Siegel was in danger with his enemies wanting him dead.[14] [15] In the mid-late 1930s, the East Coast mob sent Siegel to California.[16] Since 1933, Siegel had traveled to the West Coast several times,[17] and in California, his mission was to develop syndicate gambling with Italian Los Angeles crime family boss Jack Dragna.[18]

When he got to Los Angeles, Siegel removed Dragna as his chief lieutenant and made Jewish gang boss Mickey Cohen his chief lieutenant.[19] With Siegel's reputation as a violent man and with the backing of Lansky,[20] Dragna accepted a subordinate role when Luciano (from prison) asked him to do so.[14] Siegel took over the numbers racket in Los Angeles.[21] He used money from the syndicate to build a drug trade route from the U.S. to Mexico and organized gambling circuits with the Chicago syndicate's Trans-America Wire Service.[22][23][24]

By 1942, about $500,000 was coming from the syndicate's bookmaking wire operations each day.[21][22] In 1946, due to complications with Siegel, the Chicago Outfit took the Continental Press and handed over the operation to Dragna, enraging Siegel.[24][25] Despite those complications, Siegel controlled several illegal casinos and a major prostitution ring. Siegel maintained close relationships with politicians, businessmen, attorneys, accountants, and lobbyists who fronted for him.[26]

Las Vegas[edit]

Bugsy's original Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, 1947.

Siegel wanted to become a legitimate businessman, and he saw the chance in 1945 with William Wilkerson's Flamingo Hotel and Casino.[27] Siegel named it the "Flamingo" after his girlfriend, Virginia Hill, because of her long-flamingo-like legs. During the 1930s, Siegel had traveled to Southern Nevada with Sedway on Lansky's orders to explore expanding operations; due to possible opportunities in providing illegal services to crews building the Hoover Dam. Lansky gave Nevada to Siegel, but Siegel turned it down and gave it to Sedway and went to Hollywood.[28][29]

In the mid-1940s, while Siegel was setting things up in Vegas, his lieutenants worked on a business policy to secure all illegal gambling in Los Angeles.[30] In May 1946, Siegel decided the agreement with Wilkerson had to be altered to give Siegel control of the project.[31]

The Flamingo opened its doors on December 26, 1946, which to poor reception it soon closed. It reopened in March 1947 with a finished hotel. Three months later, on June 20, 1947, Siegel was shot dead at the home of his girlfriend, Virginia Hill, in Beverly Hills, California.

Cohen's reign[edit]

After the death of Siegel, Cohen became enraged and went to the Hotel Roosevelt (the hotel in which it was rumored that Siegel's killers were staying) and fired his two .45 caliber pistols into the lobby ceiling demanding the murderers of Siegel to face him. The men never did come down and he was forced to flee when police sirens were near.

Battle of Sunset Strip[edit]

Cohen inherited Siegel's rackets and became the new kingpin of Los Angeles. But, Dragna wasn't about to let Cohen inherit Siegel's empire without a fight and after a blockade made by Cohen, "The Battle of Sunset Strip" began. Dragna started to move in on Cohen's territory and killing Cohen's associates and even made numerous attempts on Cohen's life too. Cohen hired former U.S. Marine Johnny Stompanato as his bodyguard until he was killed by Lana Turner's daughter.[32]

Soon, Cohen's rackets were getting hit by Dragna and his men were getting murdered, starting a full-scale war between the two factions. Two of his top men, Neddie Herbert and Hooky Rothman were murdered, and an actress, a reporter, and Harry Cooper (a bodyguard assigned to Cohen by Attorney General Frederick N. Howser) were all injured in the attempt on Cohen's life that claimed Herbert's life.[33][34]

Flamingo robbery[edit]

Cohen had made Missouri criminals Tony Brancato and Tony Trombino his lieutenants. But, soon they became freelance killers and worked for both Dragna and Cohen during their power struggle following Siegel's death. On May 28, 1951, the "Two Tonys" robbed the Flamingo and were later called the "Flamingo Robbers". In retaliation, Dragna ordered their deaths and Jimmy Fratianno carried out the hit. On August 6, 1951, the Two Tonys were found dead in a car. Jimmy and Warren Fratianno, Nick Licata, Charlie Battaglia, Angelo Polizzi, and Leo Moceri were the ones who carried out the hit but were never charged.

End of war[edit]

In 1951, Cohen was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to five years in prison, effectively ending the war with the LA crime family. After his release from prison, Cohen would begin see his empire decline due to heavy casualties in the war with Dragna and the several crackdowns and arrests made by the LAPDs special organized crime Gangster Squad unit, which was created by the departments Chief of Police Clemence B. Horrall to target Cohen, Dragna and their associates personally.

The Outfit and decimation[edit]

Since the family's decimation starting to begin, Los Angeles saw the rise of various black and Hispanic gangs such as the Crips, Bloods and the Sureños in the late 1960s and early 1970s, thus entering the era of the street gang culture among the criminal underworld, which would continue strong into the 1980s, with street gangs spreading and popping up all over Southern California, leaving any remnants of the Italian American Mafia in Los Angeles ceasing to exist.

In the early 1960s, Las Vegas at the time was considered "open-territory" for the East Coast and Midwest Italian crime families, who took full advantage of Mickey Cohen's decimation as well as the diminishing influence of Jack Dragna's family, which began shortly after his death during the leaderships of boss' after him. By the early 1970s, the Chicago Outfit and other crime families from the Midwest and the East Coast soon started applying for Nevada state gambling licenses, and began building and taking over casinos, resorts and hotels in Las Vegas and other parts of Southern Nevada and assigned men like Frank Rosenthal and Anthony Spilotro to run and enforce them. Cohen around the same time was arrested, and was convicted for tax evasion a second time in his years of reigning as the family's boss and was sentenced to 15 years in a federal prison in Atlanta, Georgia, where two attempts on his life were made. Serving only 12 years of his 15, Mickey was released in 1972. Shortly after his release, he had been misdiagnosed with a stomach ulcer, which turned out to be stomach cancer, and it ultimately led to his death in 1976, completely ending any remnants and influence of the family in Los Angeles.

Known members[edit]

Throughout the family's history, the family has had over 64 well-known mobsters as members or associates of the family.




  • Meyer Lansky: 1933–1947—Jewish mob boss; Siegel's close friend; born in 1902, died in 1983.
  • Meyer "Mike" Horowitz: 1947-?—Adviser; Cohen's mentor; born in, died in ?


  • Mickey Cohen: 1933–1947—Siegel's right-hand man; born in 1913, died in 1976 (62 years old).
  • Jack Dragna: 1933–1947—Lieutenant; boss of the Los Angeles crime family that would go to war with Cohen after he became the boss of Siegel's empire after his death; born in 1891, died in 1956 (64 years old).
  • Moe Sedway: 1933–1952—Lieutenant; casino owner; born in 1894, died in 1952.
  • David Berman: 1933–1957—Lieutenant; casino owner; born in 1903, died in 1957 (54 years old).
  • Edward "Neddie" Herbert: 1947–1949—Lieutenant and bodyguard; Cohen's trusted associate; born in 1907, died in 1949 (41 years old).
  • Elihu "Black Dot" McGee: 1934–1960s—Racketeer; Cohen's African American partner in Los Angeles' South Central section; born in ?, died in ?


  • Johnny Stompanato: 1947–1952—Enforcer and Bodyguard; Cohen's personal bodyguard; born in 1925, died in 1958 (32 years old).
  • Hooky Rothman: 1945–1947—Enforcer; Cohen's toughest enforcer; born in 1910, died in 1947 (38 years old).
  • Jack Whalen: 1941–1959—Enforcer; Siegel and Cohen's top hitman and bookmaker; born in 1918, died in 1959 (41 years old).
  • David Ogul: 1940–1949—Bodyguard and robber; former Chicago associate; born in 1919, died in 1949 (30 years old).
  • Harold "Happy" Meltzer: 1940s–1950s—Drug trafficker; Cohen's heroin trafficker; born in ?, died in ?
  • Eddie Nealis: 1930s–1960s—Racketeer; gambler; Movie Producer, Casino Owner, Horse Track Operator, Oil Man, inspiration for Mr. Lucky, born Mar 18, 1899 in Los Angeles & Died May 5, 1969 in Los Angeles of a heart attack (70 years old)
  • Curly Robinson: 1930s–1950s—Racketeer; Nealis' partner; born in ?, died in ?
  • Sam Rummel: 1930s–1950—Fixer; mob lawyer; born in ?, murdered by the Dragna family, 1950.
  • William "Stumpy" Zevon: 1903- 1976 was a Ukrainian-born Jewish mobster and member of the Cohen gang. He was the father of rock musician Warren Zevon.

Appearances in media[edit]


  1. ^ Sifakis, Carl (2005). The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Checkmark Books. p. 56. ISBN 978-0816056958.
  2. ^ Sifakis, The Mafia Encyclopedia. (2005). p. 304
  3. ^ Pollak, Michael (June 29, 2012). "Coney Island's Big Hit". The New York Times. Retrieved October 31, 2012.
  4. ^ Raab, Selwyn (2006). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York City: St. Martin's Griffin. p. 84. ISBN 978-0312361815.
  5. ^ Dennis Eisenberg; Uri Dan; Eli Landau. Meyer Lansky: mogul of the mob. (1979). pp. 140–141
  6. ^ Newark, Tim (August 31, 2010). Lucky Luciano: The Real and the Fake Gangster. Macmillan. pp. 62–66. ISBN 978-0-312-60182-9.
  7. ^ "Killer Ring Broken; 21 Murders Solved". New York Daily News. March 19, 1940. Retrieved February 19, 2013.
  8. ^ Raab, Selwyn (2006). Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires. New York City: St. Martin's Griffin. pp. 32–34.
  9. ^ Their last names are spelled Frabrazzo in different sources. See Gribben, Mark. "Bedrest". Crime Library.
  10. ^ "Bugsy Siegel Part 3". FBI Records: The Vault. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved September 21, 2012.
  11. ^ a b c Gribben, Mark. "Bugsy Siegel: Bedrest". Crime Library. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  12. ^ Turkus & Feder 2003, p. 264.
  13. ^ Turkus & Feder 2003, pp. 264–265.
  14. ^ a b Gribben, Mark. "Bugsy Siegel: Ben Heads West". Crime Library. Archived from the original on April 28, 2013. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  15. ^ Turkus & Feder 2003, pp. 267–268.
  16. ^ Koch, Ed (May 15, 2008). "'Bugsy Siegel – The mob's man in Vegas". Las Vegas Sun. Retrieved October 6, 2012.
  17. ^ Siler, Bob. "Walking In Their Footsteps – A Look At The Mob In Los Angeles" Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine. (September 2005). Retrieved January 20, 2013.
  18. ^ Sifakis, The Mafia Encyclopedia. (2005). p. 156
  19. ^ Tereba 2012, pp. 37–38.
  20. ^ Sifakis, The Mafia Encyclopedia. (2005). p. 417
  21. ^ a b "Crime: Murder in Beverly Hills". Time Magazine. June 30, 1947. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
  22. ^ a b "page on Bugsy Siegel". PBS. July 11, 2005. Retrieved March 31, 2015.
  23. ^ Tereba 2012, pp. 76–77.
  24. ^ a b Tuohy, John William (October 2001). "Bugsy". PLR International. Retrieved September 21, 2012.
  25. ^ Capeci, Jerry (2002). The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia. Alpha Books. p. 92. ISBN 0-02-864225-2.
  26. ^ Tereba 2012, p. 63.
  27. ^ Wilkerson III, The Man Who Invented Las Vegas. (2000). p. 62
  28. ^ Wilkerson III, The Man Who Invented Las Vegas. (2000). p. 74
  29. ^ Griffin, The Battle for Las Vegas: The Law Vs. the Mob. (2006). pp. 6–7
  30. ^ Turkus & Feder 2003, p. 288.
  31. ^ Wilkerson III, The Man Who Invented Las Vegas. (2000). p. 80
  32. ^ Palm Beach Post. 1958-04-11,1831399. Archived from the original on 2013-02-16. Retrieved 2014-01-15. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  33. ^ Long Beach Independent, July 21, 1949, pp. 1, 32.
  34. ^ Los Angeles Times, "Gang Guns Wound Cohen". July 20, 1949, p.1