Lucchese Crime Family


The Lucchese Crime Family are one of the five major crime families in the New York metropolitan area. Crimes that the Lucchese Crime Family are known for involve gambling, extortion, drug trafficking, aircraft hijacking, murder, and many others. They were at the height of their power at the beginning of the 1950s. Idlewild Airport (known today as John F. Kennedy International Airport) was a main target for the family as they created rackets and robbed cargo planes. The Lucchese Crime Family played a major role in the politics and economy of New York City as they controlled many major unions. Their power dissolved and their hierarchy eventually came falling apart as they became too rich and too powerful. New York City’s police department developed new ways to stop crime that are still being used today.

It would be hard to pinpoint an exact time of origin for the Lucchese Crime Family due to it being an underground organization rather than a public society or organization. Italians in general found their way to the United States in the late 1800s and the early 1900s. Many of the Italians came from southern Italy and Sicily and arrived to the United States via Ellis Island. Once they were processed they settled in the Mulberry part of Manhattan which little became known as Little Italy. According to a report by the New York Times, the Italians had many different trades, “They are laborers; toilers in all grades of manual work; they are artisans, they are junkmen, and here, too, dwell the rag pickers….There is a monster colony of Italians who might be termed the commercial or shop keeping community of the Latins. Here are all sorts of stores, pensions, groceries, fruit emporiums, tailors, shoemakers, wine merchants, importers, musical instrument makers….There are notaries, lawyers, doctors, apothecaries, undertakers…. There are more bankers among the Italians than among any other foreigners except the Germans in the city.”[1] The Italian people came from all walks of life. There is no specific occupation that the Italians dominate. One thing that is pointed out is that most Italians work in some sort of manual labor. The Italians lived within close proximity to each other there was a sense of community amongst the working class immigrants, many criminals who immigrated to New York City were able to take advantage of their fellow Italians.  The Luccheses can find its origins in a street gang known as the Morello crime family. The Morello crime family had its origins in the Italian enclave of Harlem that existed at the time

Giuseppe Morello

. The group was named after the Sicilian-born Giuseppe Morello. The Morello gang eventually evolved into the Lucchese Crime family which was controlled by Gaetano Reina.[2] Reina was able to establish the Lucchese family as a powerful organization by avoiding conflicts with other gangs as well as dominating the New York prohibition era bootlegging scene.


Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Tommy Gagliano and Tommy Lucchese led the family into a areas of business that were profitable. They worked within the clothing and trucking industries. Gagliano realized that staying out of the picture was best for business. Almost never seen in public, Gagliano stayed at home most of the time. Gagliano passed his orders to his soliders through Lucchesse and other people in his close chircle that he trusted. Lucchese was a much more prominent figure, he was always in the public’s eye. Gagliano was so rarely out in public his whereabouts were entirely unknown from 1951-1953.[3] Secrecy and privacy was the key to the success of the Lucchese Crime family. Gagliano used proxies in order to prevent  Decades later, the Lucchese crime family was made the dominate crime family and remained the dominate crime family through the 1950s-1980s.

From the 1950s to the 1980s, the Lucchese crime family dominated the organized crime world through numerous crimes such as extortion, racketeering, bootlegging and gambling. One particular front the family specialized in was heists. The heists were of mainly trucks and airplanes. Trucks were often heisted and racketed in the city’s Garment District. Heists of airplanes were quite common at Idlewild Airport.[4] Planes would arrive in New York City with jewels, imports and currency. Rackets in Manhattan’s Garment District as well as the trucking industries were also expanded upon by the Lucchese crime family. The family built close relations with some of the most powerful politicians in New York. Mayor William O’Dwyer, Vincent Impellitteri as well as many judges were aids to the family in several occasions. Throughout his regime as boss, Tommy Lucchese thought it to be important to keep out of the public eye. His soldiers and associates did much of the public work.[5]  Having these relationships with such major politicians was extremely important to the Lucchese family. Relationships with the mayor gave them the freedom to run rackets freely. Relationships with judges allowed the family to be tried in court without any problems if a police officer ever arrested them. Lucchese replicated Gagliano’s tactic of having an extremely private life due to the success of it in the past. It was difficult for someone not at the crime scene to be accused of any wrong doings.Despite rackets and heists leading to the Luchesse family’s fortune and power, it also lead to their ultimate demise.

On December 11th 1978, associates of the Lucchese crime family robbed a Lufthansa plane of over $5 Million dollars which is estimated at over 20 million dollars after inflation. At the time, it was the biggest heist in American history.[6] The amount of money robbed caused a concern amongst authority figures.By this time, airport heists are so common, the FBI was heavily invested in stopping organized crime. Investigations are occurring all over New York City and Long Island.  The Lufthansa Heist is considered to be the point in which the Lucchese Crime Family lost control due to its enormity, by this time the FBI had gained a lot of information and evidence from murders, missing people and tips.

Even though the FBI was active searching for evidence in order to incriminate and arrest the Luccheses for their crimes, the family was able to stay in power despite their organized crime empire coming crashing down.

The city of New York took measures in order to constrict organized crime. Whenever arrests of associates of the crime family were made, extraordinary monetary dues were posted. Bail was made almost unpayable. The amount of bail posted shows the sheer power and magnitude of these individuals. The average New Yorker would be unable to pay the posted amount let alone commit a crime calling for millions of dollars of bail. Even towards their decline the Lucchese Family still had enormous wealth.[7]This newspaper article was written right at the time of the collapse of the organized crime   empire. The F.B.I. have taken into account the local crime groups and have made   themselves familiar with them. By this time, they were able to minimize the Lucchese family’s activities.[8]





[1] Staff. “Little Italy in New York.” New York TImes, May 31, 1896.

[2] The Lucchesse Family: Blood and Gravy. Directed by Anthony Bruno.

[3] Ibid

[4] Raab, Selwyn. The Five Families: The Rise, Decline & Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empire. New York: St. Martins Press, 2005.

[5]  The Lucchesse Family: Blood and Gravy. Directed by Anthony Bruno.

[6] Maitland, Leslie (December 14, 1978). “Airport Cash Loot Was $5 Million; Bandits’ Van Is Found in Canarsie”. The New York Times. New York. p. A1.

[7]Gruntzer, Charle. “$1.3-MILLION BAIL FREES 13 OF MAFIA; Racketeers in Queens Raid   Not Charged but Arrested as Material Witnesses Mafia Leaders Freed After $1.3-Million      Is Posted.” New York TImes, September 24, 1966.

[8] Fried, Joseph P. 1980. “F.B.I. Profiling 5 Crime ‘Families.’.” The New York Times, 1980.   Opposing Viewpoints in Context