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Mickey Cohen became the West Coast racket boss in 1947, after his mentor and predecessor, Bugsy Siegel, was assassinated.
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Returning to L.A., Cohen was now hardened, still illiterate and pugnacious. His mentors arranged an alliance with the charismatic and murderous New York mob legend, Ben "Bugsy" Siegel, who was on the west coast to set up an extension of the East Coast Syndicate and the horserace wire service that controlled gambling on a national scale. Fighting the local, well-entrenched L.A. racketeers, and their cop allies, in short order, Siegel, with Cohen as his lieutenant,
took control of the rich and hedonistic territory. By the early 1940s, their lucrative operations encompassed a mix of gambling, prostitution, narcotics and control of labor unions.
After pioneering undeveloped Las Vegas, Siegel, who had not played by mob rules, was assassinated in 1947 by a sniper, just months after opening his Flamingo casino. Mickey Cohen, age thirty-four, took over as the West Coast racket boss. With the backing of the mob royals, profitable Mickey Cohen's plan for total control included a newspaper, a wiretapper and the state's attorney general. He also hired a private tutor, who taught him to read and write, and added some polish to his manners. He became involved with major Hollywood figures, as well as L.A.'s top politicians of the time. Frank Sinatra, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Sammy Davis Jr. were just a few of the stars that bowed to the new boss.
Following Siegel's murder, old school and ineffectual L.A. Mafia boss Jack Dragna considered Cohen his main rival. After Cohen disrespected him, gang war broke out in the streets of Los Angeles. Several attempts were made on Cohen's life, including ambushes in the streets and in restaurants, and a bomb detonated at his home. Local law enforcement went after Cohen with a vengeance, and the headlines that ensued from the years-long gang war attracted attention in Washington. A senate committee, commonly known as the Kefauver committee, after Senator Estes Kefauver who chaired it, was formed. In 1950-51, the entire underworld was unmasked and jeopardized by the Kefauver committee, exposed for the first time on the new medium, television. After Kefauver, the feds indicted, tried, and convicted Cohen of income tax evasion. He was sentenced to four years in federal prison. This was his first conviction.
On his return to Hollywood in 1955, Mickey Cohen staged a successful comeback. He was professing to be reformed, and Reverend Billy Graham, the most famous religious figure in the county, tried to convert him to Christianity. More headlines ensued. When Cohen wasn't socializing at posh restaurants and clubs with the glitterati, he was exploiting them. One of his specialties was blackmailing movie stars with secrets, often of a sexual nature, that they wanted hidden from the public. A recording of screen goddess Lana Turner having sex with John Stompanato, a handsome Cohen associate, was a much sought-after entertainment piece, and a lucrative endeavor.
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