While 68 witnesses – a rogues’ gallery of prostitutes and madams, pimps and bookers – were eventually called by the prosecution, it was the testimony of four supposed eyewitnesses – Nancy Presser, Thelma Jordan, Mildred Balitzer/Harris, and Cokey Flo Brown – that effectively slammed the prison doors on the man Dewey called “the greatest gangster in America” and “the czar of organized crime in this city.”
But was Luciano actually guilty of the sordid crimes of which he was convicted?
Once the key prosecution witnesses were released from Dewey’s custody, they enjoyed some very unusual benefits. Jordan and Presser, for example, embarked on a three-month European vacation with all expenses paid by Dewey’s staff. But once these emoluments ran dry, and once the sword of prosecution had been removed from over their heads, all recanted their trial testimony and exonerated Luciano from any connection to the prostitution bonding combination.
Helen Horvath aka Hellen Kelly was a prosecution witness who, while still in Dewey’s custody, made several attempts to contact the defense in order to expose what she believed to be egregious examples of undue influence and outright bribery by Dewey and his staff. Once released from Dewey’s custody on Friday, July 3, 1936, Horvath/Kelly finally spoke with George Morton Levy, who made arrangements to take her witness statement the following week. This 23-page carbon copy of the original Horvath/Kelly affidavit, which bears her handwritten corrections and initials, was the result of that witness statement.
A sanitized version of this affidavit – 19 pages in length – was eventually filed with the court along with the recanting affidavits of prosecution witnesses Presser, Balitzer/Harris, and Brown, all in support of Luciano’s motion for a new trial. Luciano attorney Moses Polakoff would later testify that he deleted certain matters “detrimental towards the People” from the original Horvath/Kelly affidavit in order not to further antagonize Dewey and the trial judge, Philip J. McCook. Conversely, the filed affidavit omits the fact that, when Horvath/Kelly arrived at Levy’s office, she did so in the company of “a relative of Luciano” – presumably Lucky’s brother Bartolo – a fact that Levy, ever scrupulous, insisted upon disclosing in the original affidavit.
Read the original, unexpurgated Horvath/Kelly affidavit: