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Mobster Meyer Lansky’s WWII Medal of Freedom to go under hammer

Honor awarded to notorious gangster in secret 1945 ceremony expected to fetch $60,000 at auction, offered alongside personal items of ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, Al Capone and others

Meyer Lansky, reputed king of American gambling, takes a break outside the High Court of Israel where he was appealing for permission to stay in the Jewish state as an immigrant, March 1972. (AP)
Meyer Lansky, reputed king of American gambling, takes a break outside the High Court of Israel where he was appealing for permission to stay in the Jewish state as an immigrant, March 1972. (AP)

LOS ANGELES, California — A Medal of Freedom awarded to a notorious mobster by then-US President Harry S. Truman is set to go under the hammer in California.

The honor — a forerunner to the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom — was bestowed by Truman on Meyer “The Little Man” Lansky in a secret 1945 ceremony.

Meyer was a leader of the National Crime Syndicate, a confederation of organized crime groups that was responsible for hundreds of murders in the 1930s and 1940s.

It was for his role in “Operation Husky” during World War II that Lanksy and his fellow gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano were awarded one of the highest civilian honors in the United States.

The two mobsters passed information and contacts to Allied Forces during the 1943 invasion of Sicily, connecting advancing soldiers with high-ranking members of the Sicilian Mafia.

Introductions included Calogero “Don Calo” Vizzini, a man sometimes dubbed “the boss of bosses” in the Cosa Nostra.

Items on display on June 13, 2022, in Beverly Hills, California, at a preview of Julien’s Auctions ‘The Mob: A History of Organized Crime’s Most Notorious Artifacts’ include Meyer Lansky’s bow-tie collection, estimated between $3,000-$5,000. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP)

Vizzini helped lead the invading Allies through a difficult mountain pass, as well as provided maps that were key to the defeat in Sicily of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.

The medal, which is expected to fetch up to $60,000, is among a raft of mob memorabilia coming up for auction.

Personal items owned by Ben “Bugsy” Siegel are also on the block.

Both Lansky and Siegel were Jewish. Lansky attempted to immigrate to Israel in the early 1970s to escape US prosecution, but was denied citizenship due to his criminal history.

Items on display on June 13, 2022, in Beverly Hills, California, at a preview of Julien’s Auctions ‘The Mob: A History of Organized Crime’s Most Notorious Artifacts’ include the Medal of Freedom awarded to Meyer Lansky for his involvement and assistance during World War II helping in ‘Operation Husky,’ in a 1945 secret ceremony by then-US President Harry S. Truman, estimated between $40,000-$60,000. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP)

Siegel was a key figure in establishing the Las Vegas strip as we know it today, having overseen the opening of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.

Hand-painted statues of flamingos — which are expected to fetch up to $3,000 — were gifted to VIPs on the 1946 opening night of the $6 million hotel, ushering in the era of luxury resorts.

The hotel was not, however, an immediate success, and its budget overshoot of $1 million aroused suspicion among other mobsters that Siegel had his hand in the till.

They shot him dead in 1947 at a luxury mansion in Beverly Hills owned by his moll, Virginia Hill.

The collection, which goes under the hammer in Beverly Hills on August 27 and 28, also includes Siegel’s original Smith and Wesson .38 CTG Revolver and a letter written by Al Capone while imprisoned at Alcatraz.

Other highlights include a collection of home movies from Anthony Spilotro, a member of the “Hole in the Wall” group of murderers and thieves who served as inspiration for Joe Pesci’s character in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 film “Casino.”

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