Mobster's Tampa family seeks millions from Cuba

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A Tampa family says it is considering a colorful and intriguing idea to monetize the Obama administration's move toward re-establishing relations with Cuba.

The central figure in the family's story was portrayed in the movie "The Godfather: Part II." The character's name was Hyman Roth, but his persona was based on the real life mobster, Meyer Lansky, who has been called "The Banker of the Mafia."

"Forbes Magazine said he had a value of $600 million. Well, we've dug up the backyard and haven't found it yet," Lansky's grandson, Gary Rapoport said through a grin.


Rapoport, 55 , and his mother Sandi, who is Meyer Lansky's daughter, live in a modest bungalow in Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood. It's a far cry from what Lansky built in Cuba in the late 1950s -- the luxurious Habana Riviera Hotel and Casino.

"It was gorgeous," Sandi said. "It was the first totally air conditioned hotel they had in Havana."

The family says Lansky spent between $6-million and $8-million building the Riviera, but it all came crashing down. 

When Fidel Castro and his communist revolutionaries took over Cuba in 1959, most of the mobsters --including Lansky -- quickly fled. His family said he left behind millions and now they believe there's a chance the Cuban government might pay some of it back.

"I have to thank our current president for that," Rapoport said.

He added he didn't believe, until recently, there was any chance of repayment. 

"I didn't think they ever would. I don't think my grandfather ever felt that they would," Rapoport explained.


Rapoport says his grandfather was liked by the Cuban employees of the Riviera.  Lansky was known as the brains of the mob, not the muscle.

"I thought my dad was a traveling salesman," said Sandi. "You never asked what your dad did."

They've never made any previous claim for Lansky's losses,  but  they think it's worth a shot now.

"I don't believe in fantasies," Rapoport said. "And I don't think anyone's going to drop $8-million on us, but the property has value."

Meyer Lansky's decedents have never been able to find his reputed millions, but now, with doors opening to Cuba, they hope to bring back some of the fortune they say Lanksy left behind.