Siegel, Benjamin "Bugsy"
SIEGEL, BENJAMIN "BUGSY"
SIEGEL, BENJAMIN "BUGSY" (1906–1947), U.S. mobster. Born Benjamin Hymen Siegelbaum in Brooklyn, New York, to Russian-born Jewish immigrant parents, Siegel, one of five children, grew up in Hell's Kitchen, where he joined a street gang on Lafayette Street. He started out as a thief, but soon resorted to extorting "protection" money from street vendors by pouring kerosene on their merchandise and setting it ablaze. Fellow gang members took notice of Siegel's quick, sociopathic temper, naming him Bugsy after the expression "crazy as a bedbug"; Siegel preferred to be called Ben and would attack anyone that used the nickname in his presence. At 14, Siegel merged his gang with Meyer *Lansky's. Known as the Bugs-Meyer Mob, the gang was based in Manhattan's Lower East Side and evolved to include gambling, car theft, bank robbery, and murder for hire. In 1930, the gang joined forces with Charles Luciano in an otherwise unheard of union at the time between Jews and Italians. As they began buying protection from police and local politicians, mobster Arnold *Rothstein took notice and turned to Luciano and the Bugs-Meyer Mob for help with bootlegging. Before long the gang was folded into the Syndicate, a collection of mobsters from around the nation, where Siegel would have a hand in creating Murder, Inc. A high-profile gang hit forced Siegel underground. The Syndicate sent Siegel, who was tired of being second to Lansky, to California in 1937 to establish a gambling presence. Siegel moved to Beverly Hills, hired Mickey Cohen as his lieutenant, and looked up an old friend from the neighborhood, actor George Raft. Together with local gang leader Jack Dragna, Siegel established a wire service to aid in bookmaking, illegal gambling operations, drug smuggling, and union racketeering. Siegel threw lavish parties at his mansion, rubbing elbows with some of Hollywood's biggest names. In Siegel's absence, Lansky became head of the Syndicate. In 1945, Siegel and Lansky set down plans for a gambling hotel in Las Vegas, The Flamingo. The projected cost of the hotel was $1.2 million, but the construction firms took advantage of Siegel's poor business acumen, driving costs up to $6 million. Siegel's girlfriend, Virginia Hill, took multiple trips to Zurich at the time, which led mob investors to suspect that Siegel was funneling money to Swiss bank accounts. Angry mob bosses discussed the possibility of a hit on Siegel during a December 1946 meeting in Havana, Cuba. The unfinished resort enjoyed a gala opening on December 26, 1946, but was closed soon after to finish construction. The Flamingo reopened again in March 1947 and by May was finally turning a profit. But it was too late. Mob patience had worn thin, and Siegel was gunned down in the living room of his Beverly Hills mansion one month later.
"Siegel, Benjamin," in: Outlaws, Mobsters and Crooks: From the Old West to the Internet (1998); "Siegel, Benjamin," in: Encyclopedia of World Biography (19982); "An American Experience: Las Vegas – An Unconventional History." Benjamin Siegel Biography. pbs, at: www.pbs.org
[Adam Wills (2nd ed.)]