Late superstar Frank Sinatra managed to escape arrest with a briefcase containing $3.5 million (GBP1.8 million) in cash during his brief serving as a mafia courier, according to celebrity pal Jerry Lewis.

In the forthcoming unauthorised biography SINATRA: THE LIFE, authors ANTHONY SUMMERS and ROBBYN SWAN have written about Sinatra's alleged brush with customs officers, as told to them by 79-year-old funnyman.

Despite Sinatra's repeated denials of mafia connections, the FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION (FBI) released files seven years ago (98) claiming the MY WAY crooner was a close acquaintance of Chicago gangster SAM GIANCANA.

The FBI files also suggested Sinatra had contact with notorious mobster Lucky Luciano during a 1947 trip to pre-communist Cuba.

In the book, Lewis says, "He volunteered to be a messenger for them (the mafia). And he almost got caught once... in New York."

Lewis told Summers and Swan, Sinatra was stopped at customs with the costly luggage, containing "three and a half million in fifties".

Luckily for Sinatra, his screaming fans quickly spotted their idol and rushed for him, leaving officers to rush Ol' Blue Eyes through customs.

Summers and Swan do not state Lewis' claims as an eyewitness account, but rather "as a fact of which he had knowledge".

Lewis said the customs incident happened soon after Luciano was deported from the US to Italy in 1946.

04/05/2005 09:23