The origins of the Mega Group Mafia
The Mega Group — a secretive group of billionaires to which Lauder belongs — was formed in 1991 by Charles Bronfman and Leslie Wexner, the latter of whom has received considerable media scrutiny following the July arrest of his former protege Jeffrey Epstein. Media profiles of the group paint it as “a loosely organized club of 20 of the nation’s wealthiest and most influential Jewish businessmen” focused on “philanthropy and Jewishness,” with membership dues upwards of $30,000 per year. Yet several of its most prominent members have ties to organized crime.
Mega Group members founded and/or are closely associated with some of the most well-known pro-Israel organizations. For instance, members Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt formed Birthright Taglit with the backing of then- and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Steinhardt, an atheist, has stated that his motivation in helping to found the group was to advance his own belief that devotion to and faith in the state of Israel should serve as “a substitute for [Jewish] theology.”
Other well-known groups associated with the Mega Group include the World Jewish Congress — whose past president, Edgar Bronfman, and current president, Ronald Lauder, are both Mega Group members — and B’nai B’rith, particularly its spin-off known as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The Bronfman brothers were major donors to the ADL, with Edgar Bronfman serving as the ADL’s honorary national vice-chair for several years.
(Whitney Webb) When Edgar Bronfman died in 2013, long-time ADL Director Abe Foxman said, “Edgar was for many years Chair of our Liquor Industry Division, Chair of our New York Appeal, and one of our most significant benefactors.” Other Mega Group members that are donors and major supporters of the ADL include Ronald Lauder, Michael Steinhardt and the late Max Fisher. As previously mentioned, Roy Cohn’s father was a long-time leader of B’nai B’rith’s influential New England-New York chapter and Cohn was later a celebrated member of its banking and finance lodge.
In addition, Mega Group members have also been key players in the pro-Israel lobby in the United States. For instance, Max Fisher of the Mega Group founded the National Jewish Coalition, now known as the Republican Jewish Coalition — the main pro-Israel neoconservative political lobbying group, known for its support of hawkish policies, and whose current chief patrons, Sheldon Adelson and Bernard Marcus, are among Donald Trump’s top donors.
Though the Mega Group has officially existed only since 1991, the use of “philanthropy” to provide cover for more unscrupulous lobbying or business activities was pioneered decades earlier by Sam Bronfman, the father of Mega Group members Edgar and Charles Bronfman. While other North American elites like J.D. Rockefeller had previously used philanthropic giving as a means of laundering their reputations, Bronfman’s approach to philanthropy was unique because it was focused on giving specifically to other members of his own ethno-religious background.
Sam Bronfman, as was detailed in Part I of this series, had long-standing deep ties to organized crime, specifically Meyer Lanksy’s organized crime syndicate. Yet, Bronfman’s private ambition, according to those close to him, was to become a respected member of high society. As a consequence, Bronfman worked hard to remove the stain that his mob associations had left on his public reputation in Canada and abroad. He accomplished this by becoming a leader in Canada’s Zionist movement and, by the end of the 1930s, he was head of the Canadian Jewish Congress and had begun to make a name for himself as a philanthropist for Jewish causes.
Yet even some of Bronfman’s activism and philanthropy had hints of the mobster-like reputation he tried so hard to shake. For instance, Bronfman was actively involved in the illegal shipping of arms to Zionist paramilitaries in Palestine prior to 1948, specifically as a co-founder of the National Conference for Israeli and Jewish Rehabilitation that smuggled weapons to the paramilitary group Haganah.
At the same time Bronfman was abetting the illegal smuggling of weapons to the Haganah, his associates in the criminal underworld were doing the same. After World War II, close aides of David Ben-Gurion, who would later become the first prime minister of Israel and was instrumental in the founding of Mossad, forged tight-knit relationships with Meyer Lansky, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, Mickey Cohen and other Jewish gangsters of the period. They used their clandestine networks to establish a vast arms smuggling network between the United States and Zionist settlements in Palestine, arming both the Haganah and the Irgun paramilitary groups. As noted in Part I of this report, at the same time these gangsters were aiding the illegal arming of ZIonsit paramilitaries, they were strengthening their ties to U.S. intelligence that had first been formally (though covertly) established in World War II.
After Israel was founded, Sam Bronfman worked with future Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres to negotiate the sale of Canadian armaments at half-price to Israel and the bargain weapons purchase was paid for entirely by a fundraising dinner hosted by Bronfman and his wife. Many years later, Peres would go on to introduce another future prime minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, to Jeffrey Epstein.
The rest of the Bronfman family’s march on “the road to respectability” was undertaken by Bronfman’s children, who married into aristocratic families such as the European Rothschilds and the Wall Street “royalty” of the Lehmans and the Loebs.
The Bronfmans’ newfound respectability did not mean that their association with the Lansky-led criminal empire had dissolved. Indeed, prominent members of the Seagrams dynasty came under fire in the 1960s and 1970s for their close association with Willie “Obie” Obront, a major figure in Canadian organized crime, whom Canadian professor Stephen Schneider has referred to as the Meyer Lansky of Canada.
However, Edgar and Charles Bronfman were hardly the only members of the Mega Group with deep and long-standing ties to the Lansky-led National Crime Syndicate. Indeed, one of the group’s prominent members, hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt, opened up about his own family ties to Lansky in his autobiography No Bull: My Life in and out the Markets, where he noted that his father, Sol “Red McGee” Steinhardt, was Lansky’s jewel fence of choice and a major player in New York’s criminal underworld. Sol Steinhardt was also his son’s first client on Wall Street and helped him jumpstart his career in finance.
The ties between the Mega Group and the National Crime Syndicate don’t stop there. Another prominent member of the Mega Group with ties to this same criminal network is Max Fisher, who has been described as Wexner’s mentor and is also alleged to have worked with Detroit’s “Purple Gang” during Prohibition and beyond. The Purple Gang were part of the network that smuggled Bronfman liquor from Canada into the United State during Prohibition, and one of its founders, Abe Bernstein, was a close associate of both Meyer Lansky and Moe Dalitz. Fisher was a key adviser to several U.S. presidents, beginning with Dwight D. Eisenhower, as well as to Henry Kissinger.
In addition to Fisher, Mega Group member Ronald Lauder was connected to Roy Cohn and Tom Bolan, both of whom were closely associated with this same Lansky-led crime network (see Part I and Part II) and who regularly represented top Mafia figures in court. Furthermore, another member of the Mega Group, director Steven Spielberg, is a well-known protege of Lew Wasserman, the mob-connected media mogul and long-time backer of Ronald Reagan’s film and later political career, discussed in Part II of this series.
One surprise connection to Cohn involves Mega Group member, and former president of U.S. weapons firm General Dynamics, Lester Crown, whose brother-in-law is David Schine, Cohn’s confidant and alleged lover during the McCarthy hearings, whose relationship with Cohn helped bring about the downfall of McCarthyism.
Another member of the Mega Group worth noting is Laurence Tisch, who owned CBS News for several years and founded Loews Corporation. Tisch is notable for his work for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA, where Donald Barr, who hired Epstein at the Dalton School, also served and which forged ties with Lansky’s criminal empire during World War II.