Jack Dragna from a Los Angeles Police Department Mug Shot – 1946
Jack Dragna, born Giacomo Tommaso or Ignazio Dragna in Corleone, Sicily, in 1891, was a notorious American mobster who rose to power in the early 20th century, leading one of the most powerful criminal organizations in Southern California.
After immigrating to the United States in 1898, Dragna grew up in New York City, where he reportedly became involved in petty crime at a young age. By 1912, he had moved to Los Angeles, where he continued his criminal activities, including extortion, loan sharking, and bootlegging.
However, it wasn’t until the 1920s that Dragna emerged as a significant player in the world of organized crime in Los Angeles. During this time, he became associated with Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Meyer Lansky, both members of the National Crime Syndicate, which most people call the Mob.
Dragna’s power and influence rapidly grew throughout the 1920s and 1930s as he expanded his criminal empire into various industries, including gambling, prostitution, and narcotics. By the 1940s, he had become the Los Angeles crime family’s undisputed boss, known as The Commission.
Dragna was known for his shrewd business acumen and ability to maintain a low profile, which allowed him to avoid the attention of law enforcement for many years. He was also notorious for his violent and ruthless tactics, which included ordering the murders of rival gang members and associates who crossed him.
One of Dragna’s most infamous acts of violence occurred in 1937 when he ordered the murder of Harry “Big Greenie” Greenberg, an associate of Bugsy Siegel. The killing was reportedly carried out by a member of Dragna’s organization, whom Siegel allegedly paid to carry out the hit.
While Dragna had many enemies and rivals, he stayed in power through cunning, ruthlessness, and savvy business dealings. When the Continental and Trans America wire services were combined and reestablished by the Chicago Outfit, likely resulting in the murder of Bugsy Siegel, Mickey Cohen and Jack Dragna both struggled for maintain majority control of sports wagering in Southern California.
The status quo was impossible to keep, and Dragna eventually tried to kill Cohen. When his first attempt went poorly, Dragna had Cohen’s home bombed, but again, there were no fatalities. Afterward, the police searched for Jack Dragna before apprehending Tom, Frank Dragna, Guillermo Adamo, and Louis Dragna. None were arrested or charged with crimes. Neither was Jack.
However, Jack’s arrest and trial on conspiracy charges to commit extortion happened soon afterward. Although he was ultimately acquitted of these charges, the case crippled his organization. He was forced to curtail his illegal activities in 1953 when the federal government ordered Dragna to be deported to Sicily. The order came about because Dragna was never a US citizen and had violated immigration law by illegally entering the United States at the San Ysidro border crossing after visiting Mexico.
Under constant surveillance and harassment by LAPD Chief William H. Parker, Dragna spent the mid-‘50s away from criminal activities but instead spent his time and money chasing women.
He died of an apparent heart attack on February 23, 1956. He was 64. It’s unknown whether the constant police harassment, a life of crime, or the ladies of the evening were most damaging to his physical condition.
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