David Rabinovitch is an award winning producer, screen writer and now author who was born and grew up in Morden. This past Friday, in his hometown, he officially released his first book "Jukebox Empire - the mob and the dark side of the American Dream" which focuses on the true story of his uncle Bill "Wolfe" Rabin who was also born in Morden. The story is is what Hollywood blockbusters are made of, but through extensive research and government documents, David pieced together how his Uncle built a jukebox empire with the backing of the Mob.
"I grew up in Morden, and my grandfather came to Morden about 1891," explained Rabinovitch. "My family was in business there for 97 years. My grandfather, and then my father, operated a a store that lasted 63 years until 1990, right in the center of town on Stephen Street."
It was a family connection, and a black and white photo locked away in a strongbox, that kickstarted the idea for the book which tells the true story of Rabin, and aspiring tycoon who partners with a racketeer to build a jukebox that makes millions, then takes the fall for the largest money-laundering scheme in history.
"Since I was a teenager, I was quite fascinated by my Uncle Bill, because my father was one of seven in his family, and this was his brother, whom I had never met," he said. "It was very unusual, in a close family, and so I had a lot of curiosity about him. What sparked my interest, particularly, was as maybe 12 or 13 years old, kind of hidden away, I found a photograph of this uncle with my father, and it looked like something out of an old gangster movie. There's a pile of money on the table in front of them. This photo is in the book so you can can see this. When I got my father to talk about it, he said look closely at the money. Those are $1,000 bills, which I learned later, were the mob's preferred unit of money transfer. That's how the story began, my curiosity into it, and what that led to was my dad said, 'Bill, he built the first jukebox that could play more than 10 records.' When I began drilling into. A lot of other things opened up."
Rabin was a self-taught electronics genius and pilot, and his nephew Rabinovitch notes there are two major aspects to the book.
"The first third of the book covers the development of the jukebox, and its technology, and how for about a three-year period the jukebox that my uncle built was the absolute king of the heap," he said. "They made millions of dollars. He bought a surplus plane from the United States Army, and barnstormed the country with these jukeboxes. Well, the whole thing fell apart in a patent case, sued from another Manitoban from David Rockola, who was from Virden. When that blew up, my uncle was concerned because he owed his investors, who were the racketeers, who collect all the coins that go through jukeboxes for their investment in his company. That led me to the second narrative in the book, which leads to the largest money laundering scheme in history. That's what the U.S. Department of Justice called it."
Rabin’s trajectory from inventor to promoter to outlaw is set against the Mob’s growing infiltration of the jukebox industry.
The research for the book took place over the course of several years, and the first real breakthrough in doing the research came from the National Archives and Records Administration in the United States where Rabinovitch found the transcripts of court cases in 1949 that led up to a patent case about his uncle's jukebox design. Those initial transcripts led to additional court case documentation related to the money laundering case which happened between 1959 and 1962.
Now that "Jukebox Empire" has been released, does Rabinovitch think it will add to or change the perception of his Uncle Bill within in his own family, and from the larger context, of Southern Manitoba?
"Everyone who knew him told me he had a special charisma, and whatever he set out to do, he aimed for the big score," said Rabinovitch. "He lived large, and we have that sense of him, so I don't view him as a criminal. More as a rogue who enjoyed the caper. He enjoyed the high life. They went to Europe, and at one point, according to the court testimony, he actually offered to buy a German bank, and said the banker said, how can you buy my bank? What's your financing? And his response was we have unlimited financing, every coin that goes through every machine in the United States. So he lived large, and saw himself in this way, but in the end, and I don't want to spoil the book, I do view him as rather a tragic figure."
You can listen to Morning Show Co-Host Chris Sumner's conversation with David Rabinovitch below.
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