Julius Bernstein Is "The Last Jewish Mobster"

Julius Bernstein was a relic of a different era: Raised in the Depression, a genuine World War II hero — and the last of New York’s great Jewish gangsters.

Julius Bernstein, dubbed the last Jewish Mobster. 

While the Brooklyn native connived for decades in anonymity, his once-secret FBI file — obtained by the Daily News — exposes for the first time a life devoted to earning crooked cash with the Genovese family.

Pages of confidential documents provided via the Freedom of Information Law detail Bernstein’s extraordinary mob life and times:

Shaking down the Sbarro restaurant chain for cash payoffs across four decades.

Seizing control of a bus drivers’ union to amass an illegal fortune.

Working side-by-side with legendary Gambino family capo Matthew Ianniello.

When he finally flipped and became a federal informant shortly before his October 2007 death, no one was more surprised than the gangster known as Spike.

“Wiseguys trust me,” he said on his first day as a turncoat. “That’s why sitting here is killing me.”

Bernstein was born in 1922, before New York’s five Mafia families even existed, and lived long enough to see both the rise and not-quite fall of La Cosa Nostra.

He grew up in gritty East New York in the 1930s, when it was an Italian/Jewish neighborhood and underworld breeding ground.

Jewish gangsters like Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel partnered with Italian mobsters like Charles (Lucky) Luciano. Louis (Lepke) Buchalter ran Murder Inc., a franchise of Jewish and Italian assassins.

Bernstein, after storming the beach at Normandy with U.S. forces on D-Day, formed his own alliance in a midtown restaurant owned by a kindred spirit: Matthew Ianniello.

To his Genovese crime family friends, Ianniello was known as Matty the Horse, a mob up-and-comer who would someday control most of the strip clubs and bars in Times Square.
The two fast friends shared an imposing presence: The 6-foot Spike looked like a longshoreman, while the 6-foot-1 Matty was built like a refrigerator.

Matty served as best man at Spike’s wedding, but there was one thing he couldn’t do for his pal: Bring Bernstein into the Mafia. His Jewish heritage meant Spike would never be a made man.

Bernstein served instead as an “associate,” one of the hangers-on who generate much of the cash that funds organized crime.

“I’ve been a thief all my life,” Bernstein once bragged.

Bernstein was busy doing what he described to the FBI as “street stuff” when his big criminal break came in 1971.
The Genovese were seizing control of labor unions to fatten their bankroll, and Spike was installed at Local 1181 — a school bus drivers’ union that became a crime family ATM.