Zion Island 2.

TO: J. Edgar Hoover, Director, Federal Bureau of Investigation.

 

FROM: FBI Criminal Branch.

 

DATE:  25 December 1952.

 

RE: Query from the Police Department of Cleveland, Ohio.

 

The Investigations Division of the Police Department of Cleveland, Ohio has contacted the Bureau regarding one of its current operations.  They have requested any information on “Alexander Berg.”

The Cleveland police have been surveilling a local organized crime figure, Alexander “Shondor” Birns.[1]

On 7 November 1952, the Cleveland police surveilled Birns when he made a telephone call from a phone booth in a neighborhood drugstore.  Subsequently, the telephone company provided information on that call.  It was made to another phone booth located in the lobby of “The Desert Inn,” a casino and hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.  While one Wilbur Clark is the original owner and public face of “The Desert Inn,” Las Vegas police believe that the real owner now is Morris “Moe” Dalitz.[2]

On 14 November 1952, the Cleveland police surveilled Birns at one of his restaurants, where he uses a back office for business.  Here he met two other men.  One was easily identified as “Moe” Dalitz.  Subsequently, police identified the other man as Alexander Berg, an accountant living in Cleveland.

The Bureau assesses that “Berg” is an alias used by Lev Lazarevich Feldbin, b. 1895 in Babryusk, Russian Empire.  Feldbin served as an intelligence officer of the Soviet Union from 1918 to 1938.  He had many foreign postings (including in the United States, where he has relatives).  His career peaked in the Spanish Civil War when he served as chief of NKVD operations in the Spanish Republic.  Most of his work involved organizing the murders of non-Communist leftists.  In addition, he managed the transportation of the Spanish Republic’s gold reserve to the Soviet Union “for safe-keeping.”  Feldbin also has experience in “guerrilla” warfare, both in the Russian Civil War and in Spain.

In 1938, as the “Great Purge” spread into the Soviet special services, he abandoned the Soviet Union and fled abroad.  Eventually, we believe, he went underground in this country.

Feldbin is an expert at the clandestine movement of things and people across national borders.  Also, he is an experienced and remorseless killer.

The purposes of the meeting between the three men is not known.

 

EVALUATION.

The obvious explanation for the meeting is that two American organized crime figures have–by some means–identified a renegade Russian intelligence officer living in their area of operations.  They may be recruiting him to their service.  If this is the case, then any rivals to Birns and Dalitz in the Cleveland area can be expected to meet an unhappy fate.

Feldbin’s expertise in the clandestine movement of people and goods might also be useful to Birns and Dalitz.  Thus, Feldbin’s expertise could facilitate the movement of drugs from Mexico to the United States.  The market for such drugs remains limited to marginal populations (Mexican laborers, jazz musicians, and third-tier Hollywood actors like Robert Mitchum).  It does provide a profit stream.

 

[1] Birns was born in 1907 as Alexander Birnstein in Lemes, the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  His parent immigrated to the United States that same year and settled in Cleveland.  By 1925 Birns had become a professional criminal involved in bootlegging and vice, while also working as a much-feared “enforcer.”  Now, he also owns several celebrated restaurants.

[2] Dalitz was born 1899 in Boston, MA, to parents who had immigrated from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but lived his early life in Michigan.  He became involved in bootlegging during Prohibition, and developed extensive contacts with suppliers in Canada and Mexico.  He also entered illegal gambling, running several important “protected” games in the Mid-West.  For the last half-dozen years he has been a powerful behind-the-scenes figure in Las Vegas, NV.  However, he retains an extensive range of contacts among organized crime figures throughout the country.

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