Eunice Carter Story: How A Black Lawyer Took Down Perhaps The Biggest Mob Boss In History


Born: July 16, 1899, Atlanta, Georgia
Died: January 25, 1970, New York City
Nicknames: None
Associations: Thomas Dewey, Lucky Luciano

Eunice Hunton Carter was the first African-American woman to work as a prosecutor in the New York County (Manhattan) District Attorney’s Office. As a key assistant to special prosecutor Thomas Dewey, she is credited with establishing key facts in the prosecution of mobster Charlie “Lucky” Luciano.

Carter might seem an unlikely hero to bring down the “chairman of the board” of the Five Families of New York, but everyone knew she was smart. She graduated cum laude from Smith College in 1921 with both undergraduate and graduate degrees, then earned her law degree from Fordham Law School in 1932 – the first black woman to graduate from that school.

She was a social worker in New York City before Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia appointed her as a prosecutor in what was then called “women’s court” — that is, a court for the prosecution of women, especially prostitutes.

What Carter saw there was interesting: It appeared that women arrested for prostitution from all over New York City were represented by the same lawyers and bail bondsmen. And those agents had a relationship with Charlie “Lucky” Luciano. Bringing that information to Dewey, Carter meticulously built a case that led to raids of brothels in the city and, finally, the successful prosecution of Luciano, at the time the most powerful racketeer in the country.

Carter and Dewey established that prostitutes were required to kick back half of their earnings to crime bosses in exchange for legal representation – in effect, Luciano was profiting from prostitution. Luciano was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in 1936. (Luciano was released from prison and deported to Italy 11 years later in exchange for his help in preventing problems on the New York City docks during World War II.)

Carter continued working with Dewey and the District Attorney’s Office until 1945, when she entered private practice. She was active with the United Nations, the National Council of Negro Women and the YWCA until her death in 1970.



Last Updated On: October 6th, 2016 – By Jeff Burbank

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Eunice Carter

Eunice Carter made history throughout her life. But the crucial evidence she presented to New York State special prosecutor Thomas Dewey in the mid-1930s would result in one of the greatest prosecutions against organized crime in American history, sending Mafia “boss of bosses” Charles “Lucky” Luciano to a long stretch in prison.

Carter was born in 1899 in Atlanta. Her parents, who were social activists, instilled in her a sense of duty to serve. While making a living as a social worker in New York and New Jersey in the 1920s, she took classes at Fordham Law School and became the first African-American woman to receive a law degree there.

Her talents drew the attention of New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and newly appointed state special prosecutor Dewey in 1935. La Guardia and Dewey hired a large staff to fight organized crime and selected Carter to work in the predominately black area of Harlem. Carter thus became the first female African-American assistant district attorney in the state of New York. Her boss was Dewey, who while chief assistant U.S. attorney had won a conviction against New York bootlegger Waxey Gordon in 1933 and whose 1935 prosecution of mobster Dutch Schultz crippled Schultz’s operations.

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Lucky Luciano

Carter’s destiny would be to catch an even bigger fish among the city’s Mob bosses – Lucky Luciano. Luciano rose to prominence as a bootlegger for the Sicilian Mafia during Prohibition. In 1931, he eliminated the old guard Sicilians through murder and intimidation. He then created America’s first national organized crime syndicate, the “Commission,” run by New York’s five Italian crime families and some top Jewish mobsters, such as Schulz and Luciano’s longtime friend, Meyer Lansky. By the mid-’30s, Luciano had his hands in multiple rackets, from drugs and illegal liquor to loan sharking, the numbers and prostitution, either by overseeing them or demanding payments from other operators.

Many of Carter’s cases as assistant district attorney in 1935 were brought against women charged with prostitution. As prosecutor, she noticed that some defendants were using the same bondsman and lawyers and told similar tales while trying to beat their raps. Carter reasoned that this cast of characters meant that hoodlums perhaps controlled New York’s prostitution as a racket. She approached Dewey and an investigation by his office confirmed her theory – racketeers were indeed deeply entrenched in illegal prostitution and collected 50 percent of their employees’ earnings.

Dewey, Thomas Governor Portrait
Thomas Dewey

Dewey ordered a raid of scores of brothels and arrested 100 illegal sex workers, several of whom agreed to testify about the Mob’s ties to the business. Luciano was charged with pandering on a large scale. His defense was that he was not directly linked to the brothels and was being railroaded by the prosecution. But Dewey, in a dramatic cross-examination of Luciano, asked how the rich mobster could afford an extravagant lifestyle on the $22,500 reported on his tax returns. The sensational trial ended in a guilty verdict and a sentence of 30 to 40 years for Luciano (who was paroled in 1946 and deported to Italy).

Luciano’s conviction, based on Carter’s discovery, was considered the most successful court action against organized crime in U.S. history. It put a dent in the Luciano syndicate’s illicit activities and political corruption. In 1937, Dewey, then New York’s City’s district attorney, assigned Carter to head his Special Sessions Bureau involving cases brought in municipal court, where she remained until 1945.

Carter thereafter worked as a private attorney, advised the United Nations on women’s rights issues, worked for the National Council of Negro Women and served as a national board member of the YMCA for many years. She died in 1970.

Eunice Carter: Key player in Luciano conviction

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