Wednesday, May 24, 2000 | 4:59 a.m.
WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - A safe believed to have been installed by mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel in the 1940s was opened Wednesday but it held nothing but rust.
Reporters and camera crews gathered round while a safecracker drilled through the first door, then used a key found inside to open an inner door.
The safe - a double-door model installed in the floor at the Formosa Cafe - was discovered in 1999 during the conversion of an old office and storeroom at the restaurant by third-generation owner Vince Jung. Siegel used the office in 1947.
"When I first saw it, I didn't even think it was a safe," Jung said. "But then I asked my father about it and he said that it had been there for ages."
Jung contacted a local safe company - the same company that manufactured and installed the safe for Siegel 53 years ago.
"We received a call in early February when they wanted to open the safe," said safe company owner Carl Belknap. "When we came here, the combination knob and handle were missing but the name plate with our company name on it was still intact."
The safe was to be opened Feb. 14, but questions over who legally owned any property that might have been found inside forced delays.
Belknap said the patent numbers on the safe told them early on it was installed during the time Siegel occupied the office. After it was opened Wednesday, Belknap confirmed through a serial number on the inside wall that it was installed in 1947.
Born in 1906, Siegel got his start in organized crime with boyhood friend Meyer Lansky and eventually joined Lucky Luciano's gang in 1930. He moved to Los Angeles in 1937 after several contracts were put out on his life.
In Los Angeles, Siegel befriended many of Hollywood's elite, including studio executives Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner.
Siegel founded the Flamingo Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip in December 1946 before being gunned down at millionaire Virginia Hill's Beverly Hills home on June 20, 1947.