This year’s second season of the critically-acclaimed television show Fargo is centered around a fictional organized crime family in Minnesota and North and South Dakota and their war with the Kansas City mafia in the late 1970s. While the Gerhardt syndicate never really existed and the war never actually happened, the area does have a history of mob activity. Minnesota underworld chief Isadore (Kid Cann) Blumenfeld, a Jewish gangster and Italian mafia associate, ruled the rackets in the Land of 10,000 Lakes for decades. Iowa-via-North Dakota-transplant David (Davey the Jew) Berman was almost equally infamous in the mob in the Minnesota, as well as someone who played a significant role in the American mafia’s first foray into Las Vegas. Notorious Chicago mobster Tony (The Ant) Spilotro, immortalized on the silver screen in the 1995 Martin Scorses-helmed film Casino by Academy Award-winner Joe Pesce, held nefarious business interests in the Twin Cities, too, according to his FBI file.

Kid Cann, who died peacefully in the early 1980s, was known locally as the Al Capone of Minnesota. He shot to prominence during Prohibition becoming the region’s biggest bootlegging boss by forging deep ties with Italian mobsters from Illinois and New York, including Capone himself. His close relationship with legendary Jewish mob czar and east coast Italian mafia associate, Meyer Lansky following Prohibition gave him the leverage to keep and expand his powerbase and gangland portfolio well beyond his home state.

Like Lansky, Kid Cann (pictured in this article’s featured image), was slippery and savvy in his ways, avoiding convictions in several cases brought against him through the years and leaving this earth on his own terms. Implicated in numerous murders, he was never nailed on a homicide. Depending on which story you choose to believe, the nickname either comes from a moniker he fought under as a young boxer referencing his ability to put his opponents on their cans (rear ends) or in honor of his penchant for hiding in the can (the outhouse) as a young boy whenever trouble arose.

Immigrating to America from Romania with his parents in 1902, Kid Cann got his start running errands for pimps and racketeers, rolling drunks and eventually robbing banks in North Minneapolis, the city’s Jewish section of town, until Prohibition got into full swing and he moved up to running illegal liquor with help from Al Capone’s Chicago Southside Outfit and Detroit’s iconic Purple Gang, a murderous Jewish mob led by Abe Burnstein and his three brothers. Kid Cann and his two siblings and top lieutenants, Harry and Isaac (Yiddy) Bloom – the family shortened their name when they came to the U.S.- headquartered their activities out of a barber-supply business called La Pompador. They hid liquor stills in the thick of the rural Minnesota forest country and avoided power struggles on the street by partnering with potential rivals like fellow Jewish hoodlum Davey Berman and local Irish mob boss Tommy Banks.

In the spring of 1924, Kid Cann was involved in a scuffle in a bar over a girl that resulted in Charles Goldberg, a cab driver who tried to break up the fist fight, getting accidentially shot and killed in the process. Kid Cann was arrested for Goldberg’s murder, but had the charges dropped before the case ever reached a courtroom. Nobody was ever prosecuted in Goldberg’s death.

Four years later in 1928, he engaged in an early-morning shootout with Minneapolis police at the Cotton Club, a favorite Kid Cann Gang hangout. The shootout ended with Kid Cann getting shot in the leg, one cop being paralyzed and 30 people being arrested. Again, Kid Cann walked.

Others were eliminated for far more sinister purposes. The Minnesota mob’s main numbers man, Conrad Althen was machine gunned to death in December 1933 after his loyalty came into question. Regular citizens weren’t protected either. Crusading newspaper reporters, Howard Guilford, Walter Liggett and Arthur Kasherman, were killed in 1934, 1935 and 1945 respectively. Using their journalistic pulpit to deride the underworld influences in the Twin Cities at every opportunity, all three scribes found pleasure in hammering hard away at Kid Cann and his varied political connections with unrelenting vigor and ultimately paid for it with their lives. Kid Cann was charged and tried in the Liggett homicide, however he was acquitted at trial in 1936.

Following the repeal of Prohibition, La Pompador, Kid Cann’s front for his bootlegging empire became Chesapeake Brand Liquor and he expanded into bookmaking, extortion, loan sharking, prostitution, labor-racketeering and narcotics trafficking, remaining the No. 1 gangland figure in Minnesota for the next 30 years, per his FBI file. He was arrested in 1934 for operating an illegal-liquor still and did a year on a prison work farm via a plea agreement. It would be more than two decades before he’d find himself convicted of anything again.

Throughout the 1950s, Kid Cann was continually hounded by government efforts to lock him up, indicted three times. He’s believed to have played a central role in a gigantic defrauding of municipal coffers by the Twin City Rapid Transit, which was taken over by New York Wallstreet corporate raider and Kid Cann-associate, Charles Green, in 1949 and slowly dismantled with company parts being sold at discount rates to mob-backed companies, but avoided ensnarement in the bust of TCRT’s corrupt leadership. Green was allegedly introduced to Kid Cann by Meyer Lansky and Kid Cann lined his pockets through TCRT’s self-initiated deconstruction – by 1954, all street cars in the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas had been replaced by city busses, by 1970, TCRT closed up shop.

Although he didn’t go down in the TCRT scandal, by the end of the decade Kid Cann was convicted of bringing a woman over state lines for illegal and immoral purposes, holding a series of illegal liquor licenses through a string of fronts, jury tampering and bribery. Typical of his smooth criminal ways, Kid Cann cut a sweetheart deal for himself and came away with a 7-year sentence, of which he only served three years for. Released in 1963, he relocated to Miami Beach, Florida, per his FBI file, and partnered with Lansky on various profitable real estate investments and white-collar corporate scams.

"Davey the Jew" Berman c. 1955

“Davey the Jew” Berman

For much of Kid Cann’s reign over the rackets in the Twin Cities, “Davey the Jew” Berman was his second-in-command. Raised in North Dakota, Berman moved to Iowa as a teen. When Berman first landed in Minneapolis from Sioux City, Iowa in the 1920s, he ran his operations opposite of Kid Cann and his brothers, until after Prohibition when they joined forces. Davey the Jew brought key political connections, a large sports book and his ace enforcer, the heavily-feared Israel (Ice Pick Willie) Alderman. Berman moved to Las Vegas (w/ Ice Pick Willie in tow) in the 1940s and helped Meyer Lansky, Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel and New York’s Genovese crime family get the soon-to-be gambling mecca off the ground. He died on the operating table during surgery in 1957. His daughter Susan was murdered in 2000 – her friend Robert Durst, an eccentric heir to a family real estate fortune was charged last March with killing her following what appeared to be an on-camera confession in the final episode of a multi-part HBO documentary series called “The Jinx.”

Kid Cann died of heart failure in 1981 at 80 years old. In typical mafia fashion, in the years after he and Berman left Minnesota for warmer climates, much of their old stomping grounds were quickly gobbled up by nearby mob factions. Specifically, high-profile Chicago Outfit lieutenant Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, was sent to Minneapolis by his superiors in the 1970s to assume control of certain formerly-run Kid Cann and Davey Berman gambling and juice loan operations, according to FBI and Chicago Crime Commission records. Spilotro was the Chicago mob’s rep on the west coast, stationed in Las Vegas overseeing casino skim activities in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s – Kid Cann’s FBI files indicates he was receiving “skim” tribute along with a who’s who of Midwest mafia dons, from the mob’s rule over the desert gaming paradise starting in the 1950s.

One federal document from 1978, relays informant intelligence that Herbert (Fat Herbie) Blitzstein, a childhood friend and strong arm of Spilotro’s, “ran point” for Tony the Ant in the Twin Cities and the document cites a number of plane-ticket reservations spanning 1975-1977 showing Blitzstein traveling between Las Vegas, Chicago and Minneapolis on a bi-monthly basis.

Tony Spilotro (L) & Fat Herbie Blitstein (R) C. 1982

Tony Spilotro (L) & Fat Herbie Blitstein (R) C. 1982

Blitzstein owned Tony Spilotro’s Vegas headquarters, The Gold Rush, an Old-West stylized jewelry and pawn shop, just off the Strip. Both the rotund and cheerful Fat Herbie and the tiny and ferociously-lethal Spilotro met brutal ends. Spilotro and his younger brother and protégé Michael were viciously beaten and strangled to death in a Chicago mobster’s suburban basement in June 1986 (a heinous double homicide depicted in the movie Casino and finally brought to justice in 2007 at the Family Secrets Trial). Fat Herbie Blitzstein was shot to death inside his own Vegas residence in a violent takeover of his post-Ant Era rackets in the City of Sin by L.A. and Buffalo crime families, in 1997.

 

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