Lucky Luciano and the Dannemora Priest

January 27, 2020

In this first of 2 episodes about Lucky Luciano, Gary tells a story about Lucky Luciano and the Dannemora priest. In 1936, the politically ambitious mob busting special prosecutor Thomas Dewey obtained a guilty verdict against Charles, “Lucky” Luciano for compulsory prostitution or for being a pimp. The state sent him to the Dannemora prison or Little Siberia which is as far away from New York City as possible. He arrived at Dannemora prison as just one more downstate inmate, a long fall from being the boss of bosses in New York City. Around this time the Catholic church assigned a young priest named Father Ambrose Hyland to minister to the inmates. Father Hyland asked himself, why is there no church building on the grounds. He proceeded to raise private money and obtained the warden’s permission to build a church on the actual prison grounds. By 1939 the inmates finished building the church and Father Ambrose would be able to say, “As far as I know, it is the first church in the United States to be dedicated to Saint Dismas.” He named the church after St. Dismas because he was known as the ‘good thief’ and is recognized as a Saint of the condemned. As the story goes, Dismas was one of the two thieves crucified with Christ.

Many convicts volunteered their time and talents like a safe-cracking nitroglycerin expert, a forger, and a stickup man. Charles “Lucky” Luciano called “the most dangerous gangster” by his prosecutor made an unusual offer to Father Hyland. Luciano learned that Father Hyland had $5,000.00 in seed money from the Cardinal, but the cost of construction would exceed that amount. Luciano told Father Hyland that he was an expert at picking the winners of horse races and the results were posted in the New York papers every day. He had a paper and pointed out three horses on the race card for the following day. Luciano pointed at those names and said, “Bet it on these three horses tomorrow.” Father Hyland declined but he had to look at the race results for the following day. Sure enough, all three were long shots and all three came in as winners.

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