11. The Rise of Lepke Buchalter
Lepke Buchalter’s rap sheet began with his first arrest while still a teenager, in 1915, for assault and burglary. He did a year in a juvenile reformatory, and soon after his release in 1917, was rearrested and sentenced to a year and a half in Sing Sing prison for grand larceny. When he got out, he got into labor racketeering, and via violence and intimidation, began to exert control over New York’s garment industry unions. He then used the unions to shake down factory owners for weekly payments, and threatened them with strikes, labor troubles, and other workplace unrest if they did not pony up.
Simultaneously, he raided the unions’ bank accounts and treated them as his private slush fund. By the mid 1920s, Buchalter was in a charge of a highly profitable protection racket, and in alliance with the Lucchese crime family, one of New York City’s five Italian-American crime syndicates, he effectively controlled NYC’s garment industry. Then, in the early 1930s, at the behest of mob boss and visionary Lucky Luciano, Buchalter created the lethal system that came to be known as Murder Incorporated.