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10 Biggest Mistakes in AMC’s Making of the Mob

Real-life mafia expert and author C. Joseph Greaves breaks down the errors and omissions in AMC's latest historical docu-drama.


The AMC docu-drama Making of the Mob: New York (June 15 – August 3, 2015) gave its viewers an inside look at the origins of organized crime in New York – and added compelling live-action color to our static, sepia images of legendary gangsters Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Frank Costello, and Vito Genovese.

While it was not unexpected that some deformities would result from compressing 50 years of history into eight hour-long episodes, there were at least 10 areas in which Making of the Mob simply got it wrong, in the sense that what was depicted onscreen ran contrary either to provable fact or to the accepted consensus of those who’ve studied the history of organized crime in America.

Related: Lucky Luciano: The Making of a Mobster

This latter qualification is an important one, since, as I write in the afterword to my forthcoming novel Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo), “Luciano’s was a life lived mostly in secret and chronicled mostly in hindsight. Where the truth ends and the myths begin, none can honestly say.”

So with that caveat in mind, let’s examine the 10 most flagrant errors – or omissions – in Making of the Mob.


1. The Five Families

making of the mob - five familiar

In both the first and third episodes of MOTM we see Lucky Luciano organizing the New York underworld “like we did in Sicily,” wherein decini are led by a capo, with each capodecina reporting to a sottocapo, all under the umbrella of five New York capo famiglia. But it was actually Salvatore Maranzano, Lucky’s predecessor as the head of organized crime in New York, to whom mob historians credit this organizational structure.

Maranzano, who’d been a seminary student in his native Sicily, was a pupil of Roman history who took his inspiration from the hierarchy of Julius Caesar’s Roman legions. Maranzano anointed himself capo di tutti capi, or boss of bosses, after Lucky engineered the murder of Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria on April 15, 1931, ending the protracted and bloody Castellammarese War and installing Maranzano in power.

While Lucky inherited this structure from Maranzano, he clearly was not its architect.

2. Joe the Glutton

Joe Masseria died during a card game at Coney Island’s Nuova Villa Tammaro when four men entered the restaurant at approximately 3:20 p.m. with guns blazing. Episode two of MOTM depicts Lucky in the restaurant’s bathroom when the (nighttime) shooting occurs, washing up after a sumptuous dinner while Joe the Boss finishes his dessert.

In Masseria’s autopsy report dated April 16, 1931, however, medical examiner G. W. Ruger confirms that the victim’s stomach was “practically empty,” containing “about 2 ounces of thin, greenish bile.”  While perhaps a small matter, the MOTM version of the killing perpetuates the unfortunate myth of a gluttonous Joe the Boss getting shot with his mouth full.

3. The Ride

On October 16, 1929, Staten Island police officers found a beaten and bloody Charlie Luciano staggering along Hylan Boulevard. That Luciano survived being “taken for a ride” is such an integral part of his personal legend, no biography can possibly avoid it.

But episode two of MOTM makes a particularly egregious hash of the incident by (a) misplacing it in the context of the 1930-31 Castellammarese War, (b) attributing it to Salvatore Maranzano rather than to the New York police officers who were almost certainly responsible, and (c) concluding that it “earned [Luciano] a nickname that would last a lifetime” when, in fact, contemporaneous newspaper accounts of the incident confirm that Luciano was already known as “Lucky.”

4. Night of the Sicilian Vespers

Making of the Mob - Night of Sicilian Vespers

Episode three of MOTM perpetuates yet another persistent mob myth, the so-called Night of the Sicilian Vespers in which Lucky, after commissioning the September 10, 1931 murder of Salvatore Maranzano, unleashes an “army of hitmen” to eliminate Maranzano loyalists and consolidate his power.

But this scenario, so familiar to fans of The Godfather film franchise, is belied by exhaustive subsequent research revealing that no such purge of Maranzano loyalists ever, in fact, occurred.

5. Lucky and Heroin

When it comes to Lucky and the drug trade, MOTM both understates and embellishes the historical record.  Take, for example, episode one in which we see Joe Masseria ordering a reluctant, 25-year-old Lucky Luciano to begin dealing heroin during Prohibition, in 1922, resulting in Lucky’s arrest and incarceration.

In fact, Lucky was arrested and jailed for selling heroin in June of 1916, before Prohibition had even begun, and almost certainly before he’d ever met or worked for Joe the Boss.

Conversely, episode seven has Lucky, living in exile, masterminding a heroin smuggling pipeline from Italy to Cuba to America – an allegation that neither the Italian authorities nor the U.S. Narcotics Bureau could ever prove, and one that Luciano himself continued to deny until his death on January 26, 1962.

6. Dewey and the Dutchman

While it’s true that Thomas Dewey, while serving as an assistant U.S. Attorney from 1931 to 1933, had hoped to prosecute gangster Arthur “Dutch Schultz” Flegenheimer for income tax fraud, the Dutchman’s uncanny ability to avoid arrest denied Dewey the opportunity. Instead it fell to John H. McEvers, a veteran of the Al Capone prosecution team hired as a special assistant to New York attorney general Homer Cummings, to face off against Schultz in a Syracuse, New York courtroom in April of 1935.

When that trial ended in a hung jury, U.S. Attorney Martin Conboy took a second crack at the Dutchman, this time in July of 1935 in the Canadian border town of Malone, N.Y. – a trial that resulted in Schultz’s acquittal.

Episode three of MOTM inexplicably conflates these two trials, then casts Thomas Dewey in the role of prosecuting attorney.

7. Cokey Flo

making of the mob - cokey flo

In episode four of MOTM, Lucky “begins frequenting one of his own brothels, run by a woman named Cokey Flo.” However one assesses the veracity of Cokey Flo Brown, who was the star witness in Luciano’s 1936 vice trial, neither she nor Thomas Dewey, now acting as a special prosecutor for New York County, ever claimed that Lucky visited Cokey Flo’s brothel, let alone canoodled with or gave drugs to Cokey Flo.

Her only connection to Luciano, assuming you credit her testimony at all, was as the girlfriend of James Frederico, whom Dewey alleged to be a Luciano subordinate. What made her a valuable trial witness was her claim to have attended several restaurant meetings with Frederico at which prostitution was discussed in Luciano’s presence.

8. The Vice Trial

In his zeal to convict Luciano of the crime of compulsory prostitution, Dewey prevailed upon the state legislature to change New York law and allow multiple crimes and multiple defendants to be tried together under a single indictment.

The resulting trial – the first of its kind in New York State – was a three-ring circus featuring 13 defendants, 16 defense lawyers, various combinations of up to 20 different prosecutors, and 68 prosecution witnesses, most of whom were either prostitutes or madams who’d been threatened with prosecution and incarcerated by Dewey for up to four months before the trial began. Even so, only four eyewitnesses (Cokey Flo among them) ever testified against Luciano.

Episode four of MOTM, in contrast, depicts Lucky as the lone defendant in a hushed courtroom in which all of Dewey’s witnesses testify to his guilt.

9. Dewey’s Cross

As a veteran trial lawyer, I cringe whenever a fictional prosecutor turns to the jury and delivers what amounts to his final argument in the middle of cross-examining a witness. Needless to say, and in contrast with episode four of MOTM, this never happened during the Luciano vice trial. And while Dewey’s cross-examination of Luciano was, in fact, the trial’s dramatic climax, it must be noted that Dewey never succeeded in tying Luciano to the prostitution conspiracy that was subject of the indictment.

Instead he skillfully – and prejudicially – depicted Lucky as a gunman, a gangster, a perjurer, and a tax cheat. That the jury found Luciano guilty on 62 counts of compulsory prostitution shocked the reporters who’d covered the trial, some of whom had voted 13-to-1 for acquittal in a pre-verdict straw poll.

10. Lucky’s Guilt

making of the mob - lucky luciano trial

This last item is less of an error than a sin of omission.  In accepting as true Dewey’s premise that Lucky Luciano, the richest and most powerful gangster in America, had stooped to skimming nickels off the earnings of two-dollar prostitutes, MOTM  ignores a plethora of contrary evidence that came to light after the jury’s guilty verdict had been rendered.

This evidence included (a) eyewitnesses Nancy Presser and Thelma Jordan receiving a three-month trip to Europe after the trial, with all their expenses paid by the prosecution, (b) eyewitnesses Mildred Harris and Cokey Flo Brown receiving a lucrative film-and-magazine deal after the trial, all arranged and negotiated by the prosecution, and (c) all of the eyewitnesses against Luciano (and other witnesses as well) recanting their trial testimony after they’d been released from Dewey’s custody and the emoluments of their cooperation ran dry.

But that, as they say, is another story, and one that, thanks to a trove of never-before-seen documents culled from the files of Luciano defense attorney George Morton Levy, I endeavor to tell in Tom & Lucky, which will be in bookstores worldwide in November of 2015.

tom and lucky and george and cokey floC. Joseph Greaves is the award-winning author of five novels including the forthcoming Tom & Lucky and George & Cokey Flo (Bloomsbury.)  You can visit him at chuckgreaves.com.





Photos: Courtesy of AMC