It was an unlikely — and coveted — find: a thick US government file discovered on the backseat of a New York taxi, its pages containing mug shots, criminal associates and the favorite hangouts of more than 800 Mafia members during the 1950s and early 1960s. Such notorious figures as Carlo “Don Carlo” Gambino, Meyer Lansky and Salvatore “Lucky Luciano” Lucania each had their own entries.
Nearly 20 years after it was found inside the yellow cab by a passenger, the 7.5cm thick, three-ring binder stamped “Mafia” and “United States Treasury Department Bureau of Narcotics” is being offered for sale at Bonhams in New York on Wednesday. Its pre-sale estimate is US$10,000 to US$15,000.
The file was compiled sometime between 1957 and 1962 by the Bureau of Narcotics, an early iteration of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Robert F. Kennedy is believed to have used a copy of the file while he was US attorney general in 1963 during the televised McClellan Hearings into organized crime.
Only 50 copies of the file were believed to have been printed. The one for sale at Bonhams is No. 31 and the other copies were probably destroyed, said Christina Geiger, director of fine books and manuscripts at Bonhams.
Geiger said the passenger found the binder inside a black bag on the seat of the cab on a snowy night in the early 1990s after leaving Radio City Music Hall.
“He basically just kept it to himself until contacting HarperCollins in 2006,” Geiger said.
The owner, who is connected with the film and music industry in Hollywood, did not wish to be identified by name.
HarperCollins published a facsimile of the book a year later, with some sections redacted.
Wiseguy author Nicholas Pileggi called the publication “a treasure trove for true-crime buffs and mob aficionados.”
The book is arranged regionally by state and country. One page is dedicated to each hoodlum and a quick glance identifies New York as the capital of the underworld in the US, with 350 criminals listed.
Anyone interested in The Godfather and The Sopranos will find the files fascinating, Geiger said.
“It really gives the flavor of organized crime in the middle of the century,” she said. “From a book collecting perspective, this is the first time that the Mafia is acknowledged by the federal government and probably the first time that the word was used in that context because [FBI director J. Edgar] Hoover was still denying the existence of organized crime not long before this was produced.”
“What’s so interesting is so much work went into this — 843 people, and each of them has a list of localities frequented, who they’re married to, what their kids’ names are, who their friends are, where they traveled to,” she added.
The entry for Lansky, for example, says he was born Meyer Suchowlansky in 1902 in Poland and is “one of the top non-Italian associates of the Mafia,” who “controls gambling in partnership with leading Mafiosi and finances large-scale narcotic smuggling and other illicit ventures.”
Lansky was portrayed in The Godfather II as Hyman Roth, who whispers to Michael Corleone: “We’re bigger than US Steel.”
The Bureau of Narcotics file lists Lucky Luciano among his criminal associates, his favorite hangouts as Hollywood, Miami and Las Vegas, and his business interests as hotels and casinos in Cuba and Nevada.