Our memories from high school are a bit murky, but if there are two things we remember from government class, it's that Suzy Moorman had an awesome butt and we were really good at carving the anarchy symbol into particleboard. If there are two more things we remember, it's that crime is bad and generally governments at least pretend to fight it. But every once in a while it becomes necessary for a government to bend its own rules a bit ...
5The U.S. Enlisted the Father of Organized Crime to Help Win WWII
During World War II, the best route to invade Italy was by first taking Sicily, and the American brass was eager to obtain any sort of intel that might lube their efforts to give the island a steaming hot freedom injection. Luckily, they had an ace in the hole: the father of organized crime himself, Lucky Luciano, a Sicily-born American citizen who was, at the time, an inmate of the Clinton Correctional Facility in New York.
Luciano was surprisingly patriotic, or perhaps just surprisingly eager to escape: His initial offer was to personally parachute behind enemy lines and act as a liaison for Allied troops, and totally for-realsies he promised to come back to prison when it was all over. Once Naval Intelligence officers finished sharing a healthy belly laugh, they realized that Luciano's involvement -- while perhaps not to the extreme that he'd suggested -- wasn't such a crazy idea after all. His extensive network of Mafia contacts, plus the weight his name carried, could very well help the American military establish covert operations on the island.
The intel provided by Luciano's contacts proved invaluable, as did the doors that opened up with the mere mention of his name (some agents referred to it as a "magic word"). In one daring heist on an Italian naval base, Mafiosos rolled up, peppered the German guards outside with their Tommy guns, blew open a safe containing a veritable paint-by-numbers schematic of the island's defenses, and handed that treasure straight over to the Americans. Gangsters vs. Nazis sounds like a far-fetched Call of Duty mod, but at one point, it was a wartime reality.
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Jazz hands beat Sieg Heil! Fix your rock-paper-scissors style accordingly.
Just over a month after troops landed, Operation Husky -- the Allied liberation of Sicily -- was complete. Luciano didn't get to parachute to freedom like he wanted. The poor guy had to settle for walking to freedom instead, like a chump: After the war, in exchange for his assistance, the U.S. canceled his 50-year prison sentence -- the only catch being that he had to head to Italy, never to return to the U.S. Lucky presumably cried himself to sleep every night in a Mediterranean villa, surrounded by gorgeous women who liked wine almost as much as they liked bad boys and war heroes.
4The Union Encouraged Counterfeiters to Collapse the Confederate Economy
Samuel Upham was a small-time Philadelphia shopkeep during the Civil War. One day in 1862, customers swarmed his store looking for copies of The Philadelphia Inquirer -- he simply couldn't keep the paper on his shelves. When he asked one customer what all the hullabaloo was about, the customer pointed to the front page, where the paper's editors had printed a $5 Confederate note. People in the North had never seen themselves an honest-to-goodness Confederate note before -- yes, as unfathomable as it seems, there was once a time before Google Image Search.
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"If you're curious about what anatomy looks like, please visit the produce aisle."
Cartoon dollar signs popped into Upham's eyes. He purchased the printing plate for the bill from the Inquirer and made thousands of copies. Now, it's important to note that these weren't counterfeits: Upham was careful to print "Facsimile Confederate Note," along with his name and address, at the bottom of each one. You know, right where it could easily be trimmed off, making the bill virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
Before long, Upham was offering them countrywide via mail order -- he even expanded his product line to offer pretty much any denomination a collector might fancy. His reproductions were so good that some unscrupulous fellows could have waltzed right into the South and used them to purchase whatever the hell they wanted ... which, of course, is precisely the type of thing that unscrupulous fellows did. It's estimated that Upham singlehandedly produced $15 million in fake Confederate cash -- about 3 percent of the entire Southern economy.
And 60 percent of the economy not made of human flesh.
Of course, you can't run a counterfeiting operation of that size without attracting the attention of the Feds, and Upham soon found himself under the scrutiny of the U.S. government. Presumably after nervously sweating in the foyer for a few hours, trying to figure out if he could kill himself with a fountain pen before the Union could prosecute him, Upham finally came face to face with the secretary of war, Edwin Stanton ... who allegedly simply tossed him a supply of authentic Confederate banknote paper.