by C. Joseph Greaves | November 3, 2015
The year is 1936. Lucky Luciano is the most powerful gangster in America. Thomas E. Dewey is an ambitious young prosecutor determined to bring him down, and Cokey Flo Brown – grifter, heroin addict, and sometimes prostitute – is the witness who claims she can do it. Only a canny Long Island defense attorney named George Morton Levy stands between Lucky and a life behind bars, between Dewey and the New York Governor’s mansion.
Four colorful lives, each on its own incandescent trajectory. Dewey would nearly become President of the United States, and would ultimately lead one of the world’s largest law firms. Levy would found Roosevelt Raceway in 1940, only to briefly return to the national spotlight as the first witness called before the U.S. Senate’s 1951 Kefauver Committee hearings in New York, famously depicted in The Godfather, Part II. Luciano would serve ten years in Dannemora prison before winning a pardon from then-Governor Dewey for his role in assisting the U.S. war effort in Europe. Deported to Italy, he would briefly reside in Havana, Cuba, from which he – along with boyhood chums Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky – would finance construction of the Flamingo hotel-casino in Las Vegas. For her part, Cokey Flo Brown would move to California, would see herself portrayed on screen by Bette Davis, and would ultimately disappear into obscurity and addiction in the brothels of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
But for four short weeks in the spring of 1936, the intersection of these four lives – in their respective roles as defendant, prosecution and defense attorney, and star witness – would enthrall the nation, introducing America to the violent and darkly glamorous world of organized crime and leaving our culture, laws, and politics forever changed.
This is their story.