A Deal With the Devil: Operation Underworld, Governor Dewey, Lucky Luciano, and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics

John C. McWilliams, Pennsylvania State University

In the spring of 1954, while the nation's attention was riveted to the nationally televised and emotionally charged Army-McCarthy hearings, another investigation, conducted in secrecy, was underway in Albany, New York. In response to continued criticism of his decision to commute Lucky Luciano's 30-to-50-year sentence based on the gangster's alleged cooperation with naval officials, Governor Thomas E. Dewey appointed the state commissioner of investigations to conduct a formal inquiry to determine the nature, extent, and value of Luciano's contribution to the Navy's "Operation Underworld" to protect the Brooklyn waterfront from possible sabotage attacks. Using recently declassified Federal Bureau of Narcotics files at the National Archives, testimony provided during the investigation, and other primary source material, this paper assesses the validity of Dewey's allegation and the impact of the unprecedented secret collaboration between organized crime and the federal government.

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Updated 05/20/2006