Give us back the empire built on mob blood money


EXCLUSIVE Give us back the empire built on mob blood money: Mobster Meyer Lansky's family tell of fight to get his Havana hotel and casino back from Castro's clutches after Obama's end to embargo

Meyer Lansky became known as the 'mob's accountant' and managed to persuade Italian mafia boss 'Lucky' Luciano to join forces

His daughter, Sandi, 78, and grandson Gary Rapoport, 60, hope to gain his property assets he lost when Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959
Lansky created the Havana Riviera and then jointly owned the Marina Hemingway with Frank Sinatra
'The Cuban people who were involved always made money, had great jobs and were happy,' reveals Lansky's grandson about his Cuban casinos
Rapoport says family was told hotel was worth $70 million - in contrast Meyer left virtually nothing when he died


By SHEKHAR BHATIA IN TAMPA, FLORIDA FOR DAILYMAIL.COM
He was a ruthless gangster who in a twist of fate lost his most prized asset not to the FBI but to the Communists.
Meyer Lansky was, in life, one of the gangster era's most notorious figures, a diminutive Jewish immigrant who became known as the 'mob's accountant', and linked to death after death.
Now his long shadow is about to be cast over the new relationship between the White House and the Castro brothers' Communist regime in Cuba as his family demands Washington help get his Cuban property empire back.
Lansky lost it all when Castro came to power and seized American assets throughout Cuba.
The jewel in the crown was Havana's most prestigious hotel and casino, the Havana Riviera, and the Marina Hemingway - which according to his family, he jointly owned with Frank Sinatra.
It exuded the glamour of a lost age, with the guest list including Marlon Brando, Sir Winston Churchill, Spencer Tracy, Ava Gardner, Buster Keaton, Rocky Marciano, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper.
Now Lansky's daughter Sandi, 78, and her son Gary Rapoport, 60, have told Daily Mail Online how they want President Barack Obama to help them recover what they see as their family's rightful inheritance.
The mother and son, who live in a modest bungalow, talked exclusively to Daily Mail Online, giving an insight into the heady gangster days of mob rule in Havana, which started in the 1930s - and ended abruptly in 1959 thanks to Fidel Castro.
They have set their sights on the twenty-one floor casino hotel established by the gangster called the Havana Riviera and the Marina Hemingway in the Cuban capital which they say he jointly owned with Frank Sinatra.
There are several other Cuban properties which the Lanskys will brief their legal advisers to investigate including the Hotel Nacional de Cuba.
The family - Sandi, her brother Paul and her son Gary - have begun seeking compensation from the Cubans through the US government's Foreign Claims Settlement Commission.
Rapoport said: 'We hope to get some sort of compensation which will help us in our retirement.'
The banker added: 'It was through my grandfather's hard work that the hotel was built. We are his natural relatives and along with my Uncle Paul, the only surviving ones. By rights, it should be our property.'
Asked about whether it was right to seek part of a fortune built on crime, he said: 'Murder was their business and one might say it was all built illegally and on blood money, but we are proud of my grandfather who was a leader in whatever he did.'
Meyer Lansky came to America with nothing.
The jewel in the crown was Havana's most prestigious hotel and casino, the Havana Riviera. Lansky jointly owned the Marina Hemingway with Frank Sinatra and guest list included Marlon Brando, Sir Winston Churchill, Ava Gardner, Marlene Dietrich and Gary Cooper
Born in 1902 in Grodno, then in the Polish territory of the Russian Empire, now part of Belarus, to a Polish-Jewish family, Lansky immigrated to the US in 1911 with his mother and brother Jake.
The family joined his father who had arrived two years earlier and they settled on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York.
The future mobster, who stood at five feet four inches, had a tough childhood but was known for his mathematical abilities.
It was on the streets of New York City that Lansky met lifelong friend - and partner in crime Bugsy Siegel. Lansky began by selling cigarettes and bootleg alcohol.
Then when Lansky came up against Italian opposition for the spoils in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Jersey, he managed to persuade Italian mafia boss Lucky Luciano to join forces.
It was reported that Lansky arranged the 1931 murders of Luciano's rivals Joe Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano and once they were out of the way, the two men widened their empire to Las Vagas, Miami, Chicago and Cuba.
Lansky was known to have traded illicit booze with Joe Kennedy, father of assassinated President John F. Kennedy.
'I see this guy who came from another country as a young kid who had no way to make it other than to start with bootlegging and to do things which were not even illegal when he was doing then like street gambling,' Rapoport tells Daily Mail Online.
'He watched guys do crap tables and realized there was a probability. He had a great mind for only having had an eighth grade education.
'He had a tough time, but the time that he grew up was so fascinating because you had all these people coming to New York and none of them had anything.
'The Jews were getting beat up by the Irish and the Italians were getting in there too. But my grandfather was the guy who if you knocked him down, he would get back up. That's what built the relationship between Charlie Luciano and my grandfather.'
Lansky and his men were considered to be among the most violent gangs during Prohibition.
But he and his fellow mobsters were more than just violent - they turned the illicit trade in alcohol into a goldmine, then set about securing their wealth.
First Lansky opened up roadhouses across the United States with the cash from his alcohol racket.
Then he invested in real estate ventures including his pal Siegel’s casino developments in Las Vegas, while he also continued to earn money from both legitimate and illegal activities.
Siegel was murdered, shot dead, in June 1947.
Then came another big money venture: Cuba.
'He worked for the Cuban President Fulgencio Batista in the fifties running casinos and gambling,' Rapoport said.
The Cuban people who were involved always made money, had great jobs and were happy, says Lansky's grandson.
'There was gambling and sex shows. The whole country was open for free enterprise.'
It was a glamorous - and freewheeling - time. Stars gathered in Cuba for its alcohol-soaked sense of freedom.
For mobsters the freedom from government oversight was just as appealing, and Lansky threw money from his American operations into the country. 
He built The Riviera from the ground up with air conditioning, a first in Havana. He used the finest china, silverware, table cloths, all brought in from prestigious companies in the US.
Cuban craftsmen and the best builders were hired. During the hurricane season, storms hit Cuba and it still stands today.
According to Lansky's family he was also the title holder to the Marina Hemingway, with Frank Sinatra.
The pair were never photographed together, but Sinatra's mob links are well documented. Lansky's daughter Sandi also had an affair with Sinatra's fellow rat pack member Dean Martin.
'But then there was the Communist Castro revolution and everything went including the $8 million hotel grandfather had built in 1957,' says Rapoport.
The story of how Lansky's luck ran out is simple: Fidel Castro seized power in 1959 and shortly after - early in 1960 - nationalized the island's hotels and casinos.
He essentially wiped out Lansky's assets in Cuba - the mobster reportedly lost $7 million in the values of the time.
It was the first of a series of blows to Lansky, and to the wider mob. The gangster era was drawing to an end, with the JFK administration, particularly Robert Kennedy, turning the FBI on the mafia, and as the years passed Lansky became one of the prime targets for action.
In 1970, fearing prosecution over federal tax evasion charges, Lansky tried to immigrate to Israel  - where the Israeli Law of Return allows any Jew to settle there.
But due to his criminal past, Israel deported him back to the US. Lansky was arrested and brought to trial but the decision was overturned and other charges were dropped because of his poor health.
For his family, however, the man they knew was entirely different: gentle, diffident, an exemplar of the American dream.
Rapoport said: 'My grandfather loved to eat and talk about school when we were in Miami. He was over every weekend for breakfast of bagels, lox and white fish.
'He insisted I read books and did my math. In order for me to drive the golf cart, he would quiz me on multiplication tables.
'He was always asking what was I reading and studying and a big fan of history and politics.
'He would get into debate with my stepfather Vince and it was fun to watch. Grandfather had a home in Hallandale, Miami, with a big library with bookends of the Abraham Lincoln memorial .
'Any time I talked about a subject I was interested in, he would get me a book on it. He really loved the fact that I would get into something and was willing to read.
'I have never told anybody this before, but I used to call him "Popeye" and he would address me as "Gary Boy".
Mayer Lansky's grandson seeks to reclaim seized hotels
Family knew Meyer Lansky to be gentle, someone who lived the American dream. Pictured is Meyer with a 2-year-old Gary Rapoport, his grandson, and Meyer's sister Ester
'We looked at him as 'grand pa'. We never looked at him as Meyer Lansky the financial wizard of organized crime and any of that.
'But over the years you see movies, you read books, you talk to people who were around him and you get to know the character and the person.'
There is little doubt how much Lansky has hit the big and small screen. The Hyman Roth character in 'The Godfather Part II' was based on Lansky.
Roth, in the Godfather Part II, is about to do lucrative business in Cuba with the Batista leadership, but is thwarted by the rise of Castro.
Unlike the real Lansky, Roth was gunned down at the end of a bitter dispute with the Corleones.
Most recently Lansky was played in the HBO series 'Boardwalk Empire by English actor Anatol Yusef.
Other actors to play him are a who's who of Hollywood - Dustin Hoffman, Ben Kingsley, Richard Dreyfuss and Patrick Dempsey.
 Innocent people may have been killed now and then, but not like crimes of today. That is why my grandfather's era of crime is so popular. They were like gentlemen killers and they dressed nice, had good times at parties, dances and casinos.
Rapoport says the reason for the popularity lies in the conduct of the mob.
'I think they were smarter businessman and sure there was a lot of killing, but usually those who got killed were guys from their own industry or trade.
'These would be people who had wronged them or that knew them. Innocent people may have been killed now and then, but not like crimes of today.
'Today you can have a Colombian drug lord who is going after one person in a building and everyone inside dies too.
'That is why my grandfather's era of crime is so popular. They were like gentlemen killers and they dressed nice, had good times at parties, dances and casinos.'
Now nearly 60 years later Lansky's daughter and grandson hope some of the proceeds of that era can be returned to their family.
'Being a Communist country we never saw much hope of getting it back until President Obama decided he was going to re-open relations with Cuba, says Rapoport.
'There are a lot of people who had things taken from them in Cuba and if they are going to be paid back on their properties, I feel it is only fair that our family should be able to gain something back from Grandfather's property.
'We feel that there is something owed to my Grandfather. When people take tours in Cuba, it is still known as the Meyer Lansky Riviera. It is still open and operating and the government there takes all the proceeds.'
Talking about the moves in 2016 to seek financial awards from the Cubans, he said: 'We have been told the hotel is worth $70 million.
'It is hard to estimate because it is a Communist country and until it is an open island again and the people can breath freely in Cuba, I am not sure.
'I would just like see that it is ours and find somebody who is willing to develop it back to what it was and maybe my grandfather having a landmark back in Cuba. 
'My dad was the best. As a child, he took me to floor shows, ice skating, the theater, movies and for long walks. I was his spoiled rotten brat,' says Lansky's daughter Sandi
'Mother and Uncle Paul and myself would have security in retirement. 'I am very proud of my heritage. It was a business.'
Sandi added: 'My dad was the best. As a child, he took me to floor shows, ice skating, the theater, movies and for long walks. I was his spoiled rotten brat.
But he always said 'treat everybody equally.'
'He was very low key. It seemed like people knew who he was, but I just saw him as my dad.
'He was a friend as well as a father. He was terrific.'
Explaining her lack of knowledge about the brutal side to her father, she said: 'I thought he traveled a lot. In my time, you never asked what your parents did.
'But my mom said they were all very nice people and that if I wanted to know any more, I could go to her.
'My father as far as I know, never killed anybody.
'But the hotel and Hemingway Marina belong to my dad. It was his property... there should be some restitution.'
Meyer Lansky died on January 15, 1983 at his home in Miami Beach of lung cancer - and was worth officially almost nothing. His family were left to fend for themselves.
But the FBI believed he left behind over $300 million in hidden bank accounts - they never found any money.

Now finally, his descendants hope some of his hidden wealth may be about to come home to his family.