The National Crime Syndicate was the name given by the press to the multi-ethnic, loosely connected American confederation of several criminal organizations, a confederation that mostly consisted of the closely interconnected Italian-American Mafia and Jewish mob but also included to various lesser extents Irish-American criminal organizations and other ethnic crime groups. The name's origins are uncertain.
According to writers on organized crime, the Syndicate was an idea of Johnny Torrio, and was founded or established at a May 1929 conference in Atlantic City, attended by leading underworld figures throughout the United States, including Torrio, Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, Frank Costello, Joe Adonis, Dutch Schultz, Abner "Longie" Zwillman, Louis "Lepke" Buchalter, Gambino crime family head Vincent Mangano, gambler Frank Erickson, Frank Scalice and Albert "the Mad Hatter" Anastasia. Others described the Atlantic City meeting as a coordination and strategy conference for bootleggers.
According to the findings of the U.S. Senate Special Committee in the 1950s chaired by Estes Kefauver, it was a confederation of mainly Italian and Jewish organized crime groups throughout the United States.
The media dubbed the enforcement arm of the Syndicate "Murder, Inc.", a gang of Brooklyn mafiosi who carried out murders in the 1930s and 1940s for various crime bosses. It was headed by Buchalter and Anastasia, who reported to commission members Lansky and Adonis, and included many infamous mobsters. Murder Inc. consisted of two factions, The Jewish Brownsville Boys headed by Abe "Kid Twist" Reles, who reported to Lepke Buchalter and Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro, and the Italian Ocean Hill Hooligans led by Harry "Happy" Maione, who reported to Albert Anastasia. Bugsy Siegel was involved in many of Murder Incorporated's murders, but as a leading figure instead of a soldier.
In his 1991 biography of Meyer Lansky, Little Man, journalist Robert Lacey argued that no National Crime Syndicate ever existed. "The idea of a National Crime Syndicate is often confused with the Mafia. Yet they are not the same thing," probably referring to the American Mafia.
Although many of its members were imprisoned and some were executed, the demise of the organization is as uncertain as its origins. By the late 1940s, Murder Inc. and most of its non-Italian components were defunct. Some individuals, such as Lansky, continued to operate as affiliates of Italian groups.
The National Crime Syndicate was the subject of numerous movies, mostly in the 1950s, some of which were inspired by the Kefauver hearings. Among them were The Phenix City Story, which described the real-life takeover of a southern town by organized crime, and 711 Ocean Drive, which focused on the nationwide gambling syndicate.
A variation on the National Crime Syndicate (simply called 'The Syndicate') is the main antagonist in most of the later seasons of Mission: Impossible, and in the film Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
Along with the lives of its main members, the fictionalized founding of the Syndicate was depicted in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire.
The National Crime Syndicate features heavily in Thomas Steadman's book The Flames of the West.