All About Thomas Dewey

The Man Who Put Lucky Luciano Away

Thomas Dewey, Governor of New York and Man Who Put Lucky Luciano in Jail
Thomas Dewey, Governor of New York. Library of Congress, cph 3b29710

Thomas Dewey was born March 24, 1902, in Owosso, Michigan.  In 1923, Dewey graduated from the University of Michigan, and then in 1925, he graduated from Columbia Law School in New York City.  A year later, Dewey was admitted to the New York bar and entered private practice, where he stayed for five years.  Dewey then took a position as the chief assistant to the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York – which includes Manhattan and the Bronx, but does not include Queens, Kings (Brooklyn), or Richmond (Staten Island) counties which are in the Eastern District of New York.

Dewey's first major prosecution of a gangster occurred in 1933 when he obtained a ten-year prison sentence against bootlegger Waxey Gordon.  Gordon worked for Arnold Rothstein, who was the boss of the Jewish mob in New York.  Rothstein is credited with helping change the mob from being a group of thugs to running their operation like a corporate business.  After Rothstein died in 1928, Gordon got involved in a struggle with Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky over who was going to take over for Rothstein.  Over time, Luciano and Lansky allegedly gave Dewey the evidence that was needed to prosecute Gordon.

Dewey then turned his attention to Jewish mobster Dutch Schultz, a gang leader who was involved in bootlegging and illegal gambling.  Dewey indicted Schultz for tax evasion in 1933 and his first trial ended in a deadlock.  Schultz then moved to Syracuse, New York where he donated money to charities and churches which gained him popularity.

Schultz was able to have his second trial moved to Syracuse, and he was found not guilty by a sympathetic jury in 1934.

In 1935, Dewey was appointed as a Special Prosecutor for Manhattan by New York Governor Herbert H. Lehman because it was widely believed that the New York District Attorney was not prosecuting mobsters like the Governor and New York Mayor Fiorello H.

La Guardia desired. Dewey quickly hired 60 people to work under him, and La Guardia hand-picked over 60 police officers who he assigned to assist Dewey

Since Dewey had unsuccessfully prosecuted Schultz on two occasions, when he was named special prosecutor he let it be known that Schultz was his first target.  Schultz hatched a plan to murder Dewey, but Luciano feared that Dewey’s murder would be the death knell for the New York families. Luciano ordered that Schultz be killed, which occurred in a bar restroom in Newark, New Jersey.  In some ways, the plan backfired because now Dewey's next target would be Luciano.

Dewey had 80 houses of prostitution raided in New York City. Then in 1936, Dewey brought Luciano to trial on extortion and prostitution charges, where Luciano was found guilty and sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison.

Between 1935 and 1937, Dewey gained convictions after trial for 72 out of 73 mobsters. He was elected district attorney in 1937 due to his outstanding efforts in cleaning up New York City.
In 1938, Dewey lost his bid to be elected the Governor of New York, running on the strength of his record as a New York City prosecutor.  Then in 1940, Dewey attempted to receive the Republican nomination to run against incumbent Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but he lost to Wendell Wilkie.

 Dewey again ran for and was elected as the New York Governor in 1942. He was reelected in 1946 and again in 1950.  

In between his re-elections as governor, Dewey ran for U.S. President in both 1944 and 1948, receiving the Republican nomination each time. In 1944, Dewey lost to Roosevelt, but he had received nearly 46 percent of the popular vote (but just under 19 percent of the electoral vote).  Then in 1948 against Harry S. Truman, America went to bed with Dewey as the projected winner, but the next morning – Dewey lost having received 45 percent of the popular vote, but only 35.6 percent of the electoral vote.

Although Dewey did not run for President in 1952, he did have a huge role in assisting General Dwight David Eisenhower in obtaining the Republican for President, as well as Richard Milhous Nixon as the candidate for vice president.

When his term as New York Governor ended in 1954, Dewey retired from public life and returned to the private practice of law.  He died on March 16, 1971, in Bal Harbour, Florida.