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American Mafia

American Mafia

The American Mafia,[2][3][4] commonly referred to as "the Mafia" or sometimes "the Mob", though "the Mafia" can also refer to the original Sicilian Mafia, while "the Mob" can refer to other organized crime groups or organized crime in general, or Italian-American Mafia,[2][3][4] is a highly organized Italian-American criminal society. The organization is often referred to by members as Cosa Nostra (Italian pronunciation: [ˈkɔːsa ˈnɔstra, ˈkɔːza -], "our thing") and by the government as La Cosa Nostra (LCN). The organization's name is derived from the original Mafia or Cosa nostra, the Sicilian Mafia, and it originally emerged as an offshoot of the Sicilian Mafia; however, the organization eventually encompassed or absorbed other Italian-American gangsters and Italian-American crime groups (such as the American Camorra) living in the United States and Canada that are not of Sicilian origin. It is often colloquially referred to as the Italian Mafia or Italian Mob, though these terms may also apply to the separate yet related Sicilian Mafia or other organized crime groups in Italy.

The Mafia in the United States emerged in impoverished Italian immigrant neighborhoods or ghettos in New York's East Harlem (or Italian Harlem), Lower East Side, and Brooklyn. It also emerged in other areas of the East Coast of the United States and several other major metropolitan areas (such as New Orleans[5] and Chicago) during the late 19th century and early 20th century, following waves of Italian immigration especially from Sicily and other regions of Southern Italy. It has its roots in the Sicilian Mafia but is a separate organization in the United States. Neapolitan, Calabrian, and other Italian criminal groups in the U.S., as well as independent Italian-American criminals, eventually merged with Sicilian Mafiosi to create the modern pan-Italian Mafia in North America. Today, the American Mafia cooperates in various criminal activities with Italian organized crime groups, such as the Sicilian Mafia, the Camorra of Naples, and 'Ndrangheta of Calabria. The most important unit of the American Mafia is that of a "family," as the various criminal organizations that make up the Mafia are known. Despite the name of "family" to describe the various units, they are not familial groupings.[6]

The Mafia is currently most active in the northeastern United States, with the heaviest activity in New York City, and with a substantial presence in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Buffalo and New England, in areas such as Boston, Providence and Hartford. It is also highly active in Chicago and other large Midwestern cities such as Kansas City, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Cleveland, and St. Louis, a smaller presence in places like New Orleans, Florida, Denver, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and with smaller families, associates, and crews in other parts of the country.[7] At the Mafia's peak, there were at least 26 cities around the United States with Cosa Nostra families, with many more offshoots and associates in other cities. There are five main New York City Mafia families, known as the Five Families: the Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, Bonanno, and Colombo families. At its peak, the American Mafia dominated organized crime in the United States. Each crime family has its own territory (except for the Five Families) and operates independently, while nationwide coordination is overseen by the Commission, which consists of the bosses of each of the strongest families.

Today, most of the Mafia's activities are contained to the northeastern United States and Chicago, where they continue to dominate organized crime, despite the increasing numbers of other crime groups.[8][9]

Italian-American Mafia
FoundedLate 19th century
Founding locationFounded in U.S. inNew Orleans,Chicago,New York City,Philadelphia, and various East Coast cities
Years activeLate 19th century–present
TerritoryUnited States; active in many parts of the country during its peak, currently active mainly inthe Northeast;Midwesternindustrial cities such asChicago;Las VegasandFlorida; offshoot inCanada.
EthnicityFull members (made men) are ofItalian descent, other criminals of any ethnicity are employed as "associates."
MembershipOver 28,000 members and associates[1]
Criminal activitiesRacketeering,smuggling,fraud,counterfeiting,robbery,bribery,assault,money laundering,illegal gambling,loan sharking,weapons trafficking,drug trafficking,extortion,fencing,murder,prostitution,pornography,theft,hijacking
AlliesSicilian MafiaCamorra'NdranghetaSacra Corona Unitavarious independent Italian-American street gangs and crime groups (such asSouth Brooklyn Boys)Chaldean MafiaJewish MafiaGreek MafiaCorsican mafiaUnione Corseoccasionally theAlbanian MafiaandRussian Mafiavarious gangs and organized crime groups
RivalsVarious gangs and organized crime groups, historically rivals of theIrish Mob

Usage of the term Mafia

The term Mafia was originally used in Italy by the media and law enforcement to describe criminal groups in Sicily. Mafia was also associated with phrases such as manly, and with standards of protecting one’s family at all necessary costs. The origins of the term are debatable, though most agree the term is derived from the word ma'afir, a term rooted in Arabic and meaning 'shelter' or 'place of refuge'. Like the Sicilian Mafia, the American Mafia did not use the term mafia to describe itself. Neither group has a formal name and instead used the term cosa nostra (Italian for 'our thing') when referring to themselves. When Italian immigrants started forming organized crime groups in the United States, the American press borrowed the term mafia from Italy and it became the predominant name used by law enforcement and the public.

"Mafia" properly refers to either the Sicilian or Italian-American Mafia. In modern usage, when referring to the Mafia, there may be several meanings, including a local area's Italian organized crime element, the Mafia family of a major city, the entire Mafia of the United States, or the original Sicilian Mafia. Widespread recognition of the word has led to its use in the names of other criminal organizations, such as the Jewish Mafia, Mexican Mafia, or Russian Mafia, as well as non-criminal organizations, such as John F. Kennedy's political team, referred to as the "Irish Mafia"[10] (not to be confused with the Irish Mob).

The press also coined the name "National Crime Syndicate" to refer to the entire network of U.S. organized crime, which includes the Jewish Mafia elements and the Italian-American Mafia. It was described as a confederation of mainly Italian and Jewish-American organized crime groups throughout the U.S., as revealed by the findings of a U.S. Senate Special Committee in the 1950s chaired by Estes Kefauver.


Origins: The Black Hand

The first published account of what became the Mafia in the United States dates to the spring of 1869.

The New Orleans Times

Mafia groups in the United States first became influential in the New York City area, gradually progressing from small neighborhood operations in poor Italian ghettos to citywide and eventually national organizations. The Black Hand was a name given to an extortion method used in Italian neighborhoods at the turn of the 20th century. It has been sometimes mistaken for the Mafia itself, which it is not. The Black Hand was a criminal society, but there were many small Black Hand gangs. Black Hand extortion was often (wrongly) viewed as the activity of a single organization because Black Hand criminals in Italian communities throughout the United States used the same methods of extortion.[11]

Giuseppe Morello was the first known Mafia member to immigrate to the United States.[7] He and six other Sicilians fled to New York after murdering eleven wealthy landowners, and the chancellor and a vice chancellor of a Sicilian province.[7] He was arrested in New Orleans in 1881 and extradited to Italy.[7]

New Orleans was also the site of the first possible Mafia incident in the United States that received both national and international attention.[7] On October 15, 1890, New Orleans Police Superintendent David Hennessy was murdered execution-style. It is still unclear whether Italian immigrants actually killed him, or whether it was a frame-up by nativists against the reviled underclass immigrants.[7] Hundreds of Sicilians were arrested on mostly baseless charges, and nineteen were eventually indicted for the murder. An acquittal followed, with rumors of bribed and intimidated witnesses.[7] On March 14, 1891, the outraged citizens of New Orleans organized a lynch mob after the acquittal, and proceeded to kill eleven of the nineteen defendants. Two were hanged, nine were shot, and the remaining eight escaped.[12][13][14]

From the 1890s to 1920 in New York City the Five Points Gang, founded by Paul Kelly, were very powerful in the Little Italy of the Lower East Side. Kelly recruited some street hoodlums who later became some of the most famous crime bosses of the century such as Johnny Torrio, Al Capone, Lucky Luciano and Frankie Yale. They were often in conflict with the Jewish Eastmans of the same area. There was also an influential Mafia family in East Harlem. The Neapolitan Camorra was also very active in Brooklyn. In Chicago, the 19th Ward was an Italian neighborhood that became known as the "Bloody Nineteenth" due to the frequent violence in the ward, mostly as a result of Mafia activity, feuds, and vendettas.

Prohibition era

On January 16, 1919, Prohibition began in the United States with the 18th Amendment to the United States Constitution making it illegal to manufacture, transport, or sell alcohol. Despite these bans, there was still a very high demand for it from the public. This created an atmosphere that tolerated crime as a means to provide liquor to the public, even among the police and city politicians. Not explicitly related to Mafia involvement the murder rate during the Prohibition Era rose from 6.8 per 100,000 individuals to 9.7 and within the first three months proceeding the Eighteenth Amendment, a half million dollars in bonded whiskey was stolen from government warehouses.[15] The profits that could be made from selling and distributing alcohol were worth the risk of punishment from the government, which had a difficult time enforcing prohibition. There were over 900,000 cases of liquor shipped to the borders of U.S. cities.[16] Criminal gangs and politicians saw the opportunity to make fortunes and began shipping larger quantities of alcohol to U.S. cities. The majority of the alcohol was imported from Canada,[17][18] the Caribbean, and the American Midwest where stills manufactured illegal alcohol.

In the early 1920s, fascist Benito Mussolini took control of Italy and waves of Italian immigrants fled to the United States. Sicilian Mafia members also fled to the United States, as Mussolini cracked down on Mafia activities in Italy.[19] Most Italian immigrants resided in tenement buildings. As a way to escape the poor lifestyle, some Italian immigrants chose to join the American Mafia.

The Mafia took advantage of prohibition and began selling illegal alcohol.

The profits from bootlegging far exceeded the traditional crimes of protection, extortion, gambling, and prostitution.

Prohibition allowed Mafia families to make fortunes.[18][21][22] As prohibition continued, victorious factions went on to dominate organized crime in their respective cities, setting up the family structure of each city. The bootlegging industry organized members of these gangs before they were distinguished as today’s known families. The new industry required members at all different employment levels, such as bosses, lawyers, truckers, and even members to eliminate competitors through threat/force. Gangs hijacked each other's alcohol shipments, forcing rivals to pay them for "protection" to leave their operations alone, and armed guards almost invariably accompanied the caravans that delivered the liquor.[23][18]

In the 1920s, Italian Mafia families began waging wars for absolute control over lucrative bootlegging rackets.

As the violence erupted, Italians fought Irish and Jewish ethnic gangs for control of bootlegging in their respective territories.

In New York City, Frankie Yale waged war with the Irish American White Hand Gang. In Chicago, Al Capone and his family massacred the North Side Gang, another Irish American outfit.[21][16] In New York City, by the end of the 1920s, two factions of organized crime had emerged to fight for control of the criminal underworld, one led by Joe Masseria and the other by Salvatore Maranzano.[7] This caused the Castellammarese War, which led to Masseria's murder in 1931. Maranzano then divided New York City into five families.[7] Maranzano, the first leader of the American Mafia, established the code of conduct for the organization, set up the "family" divisions and structure, and established procedures for resolving disputes.[7] In an unprecedented move, Maranzano set himself up as boss of all bosses and required all families to pay tribute to him. This new role was received negatively, and Maranzano was murdered within six months on the orders of Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Luciano was a former Masseria underling who had switched sides to Maranzano and orchestrated the killing of Masseria. Charles “Lucky” Luciano was a significant figure in the bootlegging business. He held a major stake in the black market, and realized the potential success of taking his leadership and alliances into other industries, such as the garment industry.

After prohibition ended in 1933, organized crime groups were confronted with an impasse and needed other ways to maintain the high profits that they had acquired throughout the 1920s.

The smarter of the organized crime groups expanded into other ventures, such as unions, construction, sanitation, and drug trafficking.

On the other hand, those Mafia families that neglected the need to change eventually lost power and influence and were ultimately absorbed by other groups.[26]

The Commission

As an alternative to the previous despotic Mafia practice of naming a single Mafia boss as capo di tutti capi, or "boss of all bosses," Luciano set up The Commission,[7] where the bosses of the most powerful families would have equal say and vote on important matters and solve disputes between families. This group ruled over the National Crime Syndicate and brought in an era of peace and prosperity for the American Mafia.[27] By mid-century, there were 26 official Commission-sanctioned Mafia crime families, each based in a different city (except for the Five Families which were all based in New York).[28] Each family operated independently from the others and generally had exclusive territory it controlled.[7] As opposed to the older generation of "Mustache Petes" such as Maranzano and Masseria, who usually worked only with fellow Italians, the "Young Turks" led by Luciano were more open to working with other groups, most notably the Jewish-American criminal syndicates to achieve greater profits. The Mafia thrived by following a strict set of rules that originated in Sicily that called for an organized hierarchical structure and a code of silence that forbade its members from cooperating with the police (Omertà). Failure to follow any of these rules was punishable by death.

The rise of power that the Mafia acquired during Prohibition would continue long after alcohol was made legal again.

Criminal empires which had expanded on bootleg money would find other avenues to continue making large sums of money.

When alcohol ceased to be prohibited in 1933, the Mafia diversified its money-making criminal activities to include (both old and new): illegal gambling operations, loan sharking, extortion, protection rackets, drug trafficking, fencing, and labor racketeering through control of labor unions. In the mid-20th century, the Mafia was reputed to have infiltrated many labor unions in the United States, most notably the Teamsters and International Longshoremen's Association.[7] This allowed crime families to make inroads into very profitable legitimate businesses such as construction, demolition, waste management, trucking, and in the waterfront and garment industry.[29] In addition they could raid the unions' health and pension funds, extort businesses with threats of a workers' strike and participate in bid rigging. In New York City, most construction projects could not be performed without the Five Families' approval. In the port and loading dock industries, the Mafia bribed union members to tip them off to valuable items being brought in. Mobsters would then steal these products and fence the stolen merchandise.

Meyer Lansky made inroads into the casino industry in Cuba during the 1930s while the Mafia was already involved in exporting Cuban sugar and rum.[30] When his friend Fulgencio Batista became president of Cuba in 1952, several Mafia bosses were able to make legitimate investments in legalized casinos. One estimate of the number of casinos mobsters owned was no less than 19.[30] However, when Batista was overthrown following the Cuban Revolution, his successor Fidel Castro banned U.S. investment in the country, putting an end to the Mafia's presence in Cuba.[30] Las Vegas was seen as an "open city" where any family can work. Once Nevada legalized gambling, mobsters were quick to take advantage and the casino industry became very popular in Las Vegas. Since the 1940s, Mafia families from New York, Cleveland, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Chicago had interests in Las Vegas casinos. They got loans from the Teamsters' pension fund, a union they effectively controlled, and used legitimate front men to build casinos.[31] When money came into the counting room, hired men skimmed cash before it was recorded, then delivered it to their respective bosses.[31] This money went unrecorded, but the amount is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Operating in the shadows, the Mafia faced little opposition from law enforcement.

Local law enforcement agencies did not have the resources or knowledge to effectively combat organized crime committed by a secret society they were unaware existed.[29] Many people within police forces and courts were simply bribed, while witness intimidation was also common.[29] In 1951, a U.S. Senate committee called the Kefauver Hearings determined that a "sinister criminal organization" known as the Mafia operated in the nation.[7] Many suspected mobsters were subpoenaed for questioning, but few testified and none gave any meaningful information. In 1957, New York State Police uncovered a meeting and arrested major figures from around the country in Apalachin, New York. The event (dubbed the "Apalachin Meeting") forced the FBI to recognize organized crime as a serious problem in the United States and changed the way law enforcement investigated it.[7] In 1963, Joe Valachi became the first Mafia member to turn state's evidence, and provided detailed information of its inner workings and secrets. More importantly, he revealed Mafia's existence to the law, which enabled the Federal Bureau of Investigations to begin an aggressive assault on the Mafia's National Crime Syndicate.[32] Following Valachi's testimony, the Mafia could no longer operate completely in the shadows. The FBI put a lot more effort and resources into organized crime actives nationwide and created the Organized Crime Strike Force in various cities. However, while all this created more pressure on the Mafia, it did little to curb their criminal activities. Success was made by the beginning of the 1980s, when the FBI was able to rid Las Vegas casinos of Mafia control and made a determined effort to loosen the Mafia's strong hold on labor unions.

Mafia involvement in the US economy

By the late 1970s, the Mafia were involved in many industries,[7] including betting on college sports.

Several Mafia members associated with the Lucchese crime family participated in a point shaving scandal involving Boston College basketball team. Rick Kuhn, Henry Hill, and others associated with the Lucchese crime family, manipulated the results of the games during the 1978–1979 basketball season. Through bribing and intimidating several members of the team, they ensured their bets on the point spread of each game would go in their favor.[33]

One of the most lucrative gains for the Mafia was through gas-tax fraud.

They created schemes to keep the money that they owed in taxes after the sale of millions of dollars' worth of wholesale petroleum.

This allowed them to sell more gasoline at even lower prices.

Michael Franzese, also known as the Yuppie Don, ran and organized a gas scandal and stole over $290 million in gasoline taxes by evading the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and shutting down the gas station before government officials could make him pay what he owed. Franzese was caught in 1985.[34][35]

Labor racketeering helped the Mafia control many industries from a macroeconomic scale.

This tactic helped them grow in power and influence in many cities with big labor unions such as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit and many others.

Many members of the Mafia were enlisted in unions and even became union executives.

La Cosa Nostra was a Mafia group that rose to economic power through their heavy involvement in unions. The Mafia has controlled unions all over the U.S. to extort money and resources out of big business, with recent indictments of corruption involving the New Jersey Waterfront Union, the Concrete Workers Union, and the teamster union.[36]

Restaurants were yet another powerful means by which the Mafia could gain economic power.

A large concentration of Mafia owned restaurants were in New York City.

Not only were they the setting of many killings and important meetings, but they were also an effective means of smuggling of drugs and other illegal goods.

From 1985 to 1987, Sicilian Mafiosi in the U.S. imported an estimated $1.65 billion worth of heroin through the Al Dente Pizzeria Chain, hiding the cargo in various food products.[3]

Another one of the areas of the economy that the Mafia was most influential was Las Vegas, Nevada, beginning just after World War II with the opening of the first gambling resort "The Flamingo".[38] Many credit the Mafia with being a big part of the city's development in the mid 20th Century.[39] It was through millions of dollars in capital flowing into new casino resorts that laid the foundation for further economic growth. This capital didn't come from one Mafia family alone, but many throughout the country seeking to gain even more power and wealth. Large profits from casinos, run as legitimate businesses, would help to finance many of the illegal activities of the Mafia from the 1950s into the 1980s.[38] In the 1950s more Mafia-financed casinos were constructed, such as the Stardust, Sahara, Tropicana, Desert Inn, and Riviera. Tourism in the city greatly increased through the 1960s and strengthened the local economy.

However, the 1960s was also when the Mafia's influence in the Las Vegas economy began to dwindle.[38] The Nevada State government and Federal government had been working to weaken Mafia activity on the Strip. In 1969, the Nevada State Legislature passed a law that made it easier for corporations to own casinos. This brought new investors to the local economy to buy casinos from the mafia. The U.S. Congress passed the RICO Act a year later. This law gave more authority to law enforcement to pursue the mafia for its illegal activities. There was a sharp decline in the mob involvement in Las Vegas in the 1980s. Through the RICO law, many in the Mafia were convicted and imprisoned.[40]


When the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act) became federal law in 1970, it became a highly effective tool in prosecuting mobsters. It provides for extended criminal penalties for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. Violation of the act is punishable by up to 20 years in prison per count, up to $25,000 in fines, and the violator must forfeit all properties attained while violating the RICO Act.[15] The RICO Act has proven to be a very powerful weapon, because it attacks the entire corrupt entity instead of individuals who can easily be replaced with other organized crime members.[7] Between 1981 and 1992, 23 bosses from around the country were convicted under the law while between 1981 and 1988, 13 underbosses and 43 captains were convicted.[29] Over 1000 crime family figures were convicted by 1990.[15] While this significantly crippled many Mafia families around the country, the most powerful families continued to dominate crime in their territories, even if the new laws put more mobsters in jail and made it harder to operate. With Sammy Gravano agreeing to cooperate with the FBI and turn state's evidence in 1991, he helped the FBI convict top Mafia leaders in New York. Although not the first Mafia member to testify against his peers, such a powerful mobster agreeing to do so set a precedent for waves of mobsters thereafter to break the code of silence to do the same; giving up information and testifying in exchange for immunity from prosecution for their crimes.[19][42] Aside from avoiding long prison stretches, the FBI could put mobsters in the United States Federal Witness Protection Program, changing their identities and supporting them financially for life. This led to dozens of mobsters testifying and providing information during the 1990s, which led to the imprisonment of hundreds of mobsters. As a result, the Mafia has seen a major decline in its power and influence in organized crime since the 1990s.

In the 21st century, the Mafia has continued to be involved in a broad spectrum of illegal activities.

These include murder, extortion, corruption of public officials, gambling, infiltration of legitimate businesses, labor racketeering, loan sharking, tax fraud schemes and stock manipulation schemes.[7] Another factor contributing to the Mafia's downfall is the assimilation of Italian Americans, which left a shallower recruitment pool of new mobsters. Although the Mafia used to be nationwide, today most of its activities are confined to the Northeast and Chicago.[8] While other criminal organizations such as the Russian Mafia, Chinese Triad, Mexican drug cartels and others have all grabbed a share of criminal activities, the Mafia continues to be the dominant criminal organization in these regions, partly due to its strict hierarchical structure.[8] Law enforcement is concerned with the possible resurgence of the Mafia as it regroups from the turmoil of the 1990s, although FBI and local law enforcement agencies now focus more on homeland security and less on organized crime since the September 11 attacks.[45][46] In 2002 the FBI estimated that the Mafia earns $50–$90 billion a year.[47] To avoid FBI attention and prosecution, the modern Mafia also outsources a lot of its work to other criminal groups, such as motorcycle gangs.[8]


The American Mafia operates on a strict hierarchical structure.

While similar to its Sicilian origins, the American Mafia's modern organizational structure was created by Salvatore Maranzano in 1931.

All inducted members of the Mafia are called "made" men. This signifies that they are untouchable in the criminal underworld and any harm brought to them will be met with retaliation. With the exception of associates, all mobsters are "made" official members of a crime family. The three highest positions make up the administration. Below the administration, there are factions each headed by a caporegime (captain), who lead a crew of soldiers and associates. They report to the administration and can be seen as equivalent to managers in a business. When a boss makes a decision, he rarely issues orders directly to workers who would carry it out, but instead passed instructions down through the chain of command. This way, the higher levels of the organization are insulated from law enforcement attention if the lower level members who actually commit the crime should be captured or investigated, providing plausible deniability.

There are occasionally other positions in the family leadership.

Frequently, ruling panels have been set up when a boss goes to jail to divide the responsibility of the family (these usually consist of three or five members).

This also helps divert police attention from any one member.

The family messenger and street boss were positions created by former Genovese family leader Vincent Gigante.

  • Boss – The boss is the head of the family, usually reigning as a dictator, sometimes called the Don or "Godfather". The boss receives a cut of every operation. Operations are taken on by every member of the family and of the region's occupying family.[15] Depending on the family, the boss may be chosen by a vote from the caporegimes of the family. In the event of a tie, the underboss must vote. In the past, all the members of a family voted on the boss, but by the late 1950s, any gathering such as that usually attracted too much attention.[49] In practice, many of these elections are seen as having an inevitable result, such as that of John Gotti in 1986. According to Sammy Gravano, a meeting was held in a basement during which all capos were searched and Gotti's men stood ominously behind them. Gotti was then proclaimed boss.

  • Underboss – The underboss, usually appointed by the boss, is the second in command of the family. The underboss often runs the day-to-day responsibilities of the family or oversees its most lucrative rackets. He usually gets a percentage of the family's income from the boss's cut. The underboss is usually first in line to become acting boss if the boss is imprisoned, and is also frequently seen as a logical successor.

  • Consigliere – The consigliere is an advisor to the family and sometimes seen as the boss's "right-hand man". He is used as a mediator of disputes and often acts as a representative or aide for the family in meetings with other families, rival criminal organizations, and important business associates. In practice, the consigliere is normally the third ranking member of the administration of a family and was traditionally a senior member carrying the utmost respect of the family and deeply familiar with the inner-workings of the organization. A boss will often appoint a trusted close friend or personal advisor as his official consigliere.

  • Caporegime (or capo) – A caporegime (also captain or skipper) is in charge of a crew, a group of soldiers who report directly to him. Each crew usually contains 10–20 soldiers and many more associates. A capo is appointed by the boss and reports to him or the underboss. A captain gives a percentage of his (and his underlings') earnings to the boss and is also responsible for any tasks assigned, including murder. In labor racketeering, it is usually a capo who controls the infiltration of union locals. If a capo becomes powerful enough, he can sometimes wield more power than some of his superiors. In cases like Anthony Corallo they might even bypass the normal Mafia structure and lead the family when the boss dies.

  • Soldier (Soldato in Italian) – A soldier is a member of the family, and traditionally can only be of full Italian background (although today many families require men to be of only half Italian descent, on their father's side). Once a member is made he is untouchable, meaning permission from a soldier's boss must be given before he is murdered. When the books are open, meaning that a family is accepting new members, a made man may recommend an up-and-coming associate to be a new soldier. Soldiers are the main workers of the family, usually committing crimes like assault, murder, extortion, intimidation, etc. In return, they are given profitable rackets to run by their superiors and have full access to their family's connections and power.

  • Associate – An associate is not a member of the Mafia, but works for a crime family nonetheless. Associates can include a wide range of people who work for the family. An associate can have a wide range of duties from virtually carrying out the same duties as a soldier to being a simple errand boy. This is where prospective mobsters ("connected guys") start out to prove their worth. Once a crime family is accepting new members, the best associates are evaluated and picked to become soldiers. An associate can also be a criminal who serves as a go-between or sometimes deals in drugs to keep police attention off the actual members, or they can be people the family does business with (restaurant owners, etc.) In other cases, an associate might be a corrupt labor union delegate or businessman.[49] Non-Italians will never go any further than this, although many non-Italians like Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Murray Humphreys, Mickey Cohen, Gus Alex, Bumpy Johnson, Frank Sheeran, Gerard Ouimette, and James Burke wielded extreme power within their respective crime families and carried the respect of actual Mafia members.


The initiation ritual emerged from various sources, such as Roman Catholic confraternities and Masonic Lodges in mid-19th century Sicily[50] and has hardly changed to this day. The Chief of Police of Palermo in 1875 reported that the man of honor to be initiated would be led into the presence of a group of bosses and underbosses. One of these men would prick the initiate's arm or hand and tell him to smear the blood onto a sacred image, usually a saint. The oath of loyalty would be taken as the image was burned and scattered, thus symbolizing the annihilation of traitors. This was confirmed by the first pentito, Tommaso Buscetta.

A hit, or murder, of a "made" man had to be approved by the leadership of his family, or retaliatory hits would be made, possibly inciting a war. In a state of war, families would "go to the mattresses"—an Italian phrase which roughly meant to go into battle.[51]

Mafia rules and customs

When the boss decides to let a member into the family one will be part of a ceremony, involving the drawing of blood, swearing an oath over a gun or holy picture, and obeying the rules of the organization.

In New York City, the Mafia created customs and traditions which the members have to follow. If one breaks any of the rules they can be killed by another member of the family and usually the murder is committed by the people closest to that person.[52][53]

  1. Omertà" – is the oath or "code of silence", never talk to the authorities.

  2. "Ethnicity" – only men of Italian descent through their fathers' lineage are allowed to become full members (made men

  3. "Family secrets" – members are not allowed to talk about family business to non-members.

  4. "Blood for blood" – if a family member is killed by another member, no one can commit murder in revenge unless the boss gives permission.

  5. "No fighting among members" – from fist fights to knife fights.

  6. "Tribute" – every month, members must pay the boss, also giving the boss a cut on any side deals.

  7. "Adultery" – members are not allowed to commit adultery with another family member's wife.

  8. "No facial hair" – members were not allowed to grow mustaches; part of the Mustache Pete way.[54][55]

Homosexuality is reportedly incompatible with the American Mafia code of conduct. In 1992, John D'Amato, acting boss of the DeCavalcante family, was killed when the family learned of his sexual relationships with other men.[56]

Symbolism in murders

  • On April 18, 1980, Philadelphia Mafia consigliere Antonio Caponigro had Angelo Bruno killed without The Commission's approval. Caponigro and his brother-in-law Alfred Salerno were taken to an isolated house in upstate New York and tortured before being killed. Salerno had been shot three times behind the right ear and once behind the left ear. The autopsy showed that a rope had been tied around his neck, wrists, and ankles, and most of his neck and face bones shattered. Caponigro had been suffocated, beaten, repeatedly stabbed and shot, and was found in a garbage bag. Around $300 was stuffed up Caponigro's rectum as a sign that he had become greedy.[57]

  • In 1981, for allowing undercover FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone (alias Donnie Brasco) to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family, caporegime Dominic Napolitano, also known as Sonny Black, had his hands severed after he was killed. This was because he had Pistone shake hands and introduced to others as a "friend of ours" or a made man when he was not.

  • In the 1990 murder of Lucchese crime family soldier Bruno Facciolo, a dead canary was stuffed into his mouth after he was shot to death. This signifies that the Mafia thought he was an informer. He had also been stabbed and shot in both eyes.[58][59][60]

List of Mafia families

The following is a list of Mafia families that have been active in the U.S.

Note that some families have members and associates working in other regions as well.

The organization is not limited to these regions.

  • Magaddino crime family (Buffalo, New York)

  • Chicago Outfit (Chicago, Illinois)

  • Cleveland crime family (Cleveland, Ohio)

  • Dallas crime family (Dallas, Texas)

  • Denver crime family (Denver, Colorado)

  • Detroit Partnership (Detroit, Michigan)

  • Kansas City crime family (Kansas City, Missouri)

  • Houston crime family (Houston, Texas)

  • Los Angeles crime family (Los Angeles, California)

  • Milwaukee crime family (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

  • Patriarca crime family (New England)

  • DeCavalcante crime family (New Jersey)

  • The Five Families (New York, New York) Bonanno crime family Colombo crime family Gambino crime family Genovese crime family Lucchese crime family

  • New Orleans crime family (New Orleans, Louisiana)

  • Bufalino crime family (Northeastern Pennsylvania)

  • Philadelphia crime family (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

  • Pittsburgh crime family (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)

  • Rochester crime family (Rochester, New York)

  • San Francisco crime family (San Francisco, California)

  • San Jose crime family (San Jose, California)

  • St. Louis crime family (St. Louis, Missouri)

  • Trafficante crime family (Tampa, Florida)

Cooperation with the U.S. government

During World War II

U.S. Naval Intelligence entered into an agreement with Lucky Luciano to gain his assistance in keeping the New York waterfront free from saboteurs after the destruction of the SS Normandie.[62] This spectacular disaster convinced both sides to talk seriously about protecting the United States' East Coast on the afternoon of February 9, 1942.

While it was in the process of being converted into a troopship, the luxury ocean liner, Normandie, mysteriously burst into flames with 1,500 sailors and civilians on board. All but one escaped, but 128 were injured and by the next day the ship was a smoking hulk. In his report, twelve years later, William B. Herlands, Commissioner of Investigation, made the case for the US government talking to top criminals, stating "The Intelligence authorities were greatly concerned with the problems of sabotage and espionage... Suspicions were rife with respect to the leaking of information about convoy movements. The Normandie, which was being converted to war use as the Navy auxiliary Lafayette, had burned at the pier in the North River, New York City. Sabotage was suspected."[63]

Plots to assassinate Fidel Castro

In August 1960, Colonel Sheffield Edwards, director of the Office of Security of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), proposed the assassination of Cuban head of state Fidel Castro by Mafia assassins. Between August 1960 and April 1961, the CIA, with the help of the Mafia, pursued a series of plots to poison or shoot Castro.[64] Those allegedly involved included Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante Jr., and John Roselli.[65]

Recovery of murdered Mississippi civil rights workers

In 2007, Linda Schiro testified in an unrelated court case that her late boyfriend, Gregory Scarpa, a capo in the Colombo family, had been recruited by the FBI to help find the bodies of three civil rights workers who had been murdered in Mississippi in 1964 by the Ku Klux Klan. She said that she had been with Scarpa in Mississippi at the time and had witnessed him being given a gun, and later a cash payment, by FBI agents. She testified that Scarpa had threatened a Klansman by placing a gun in the Klansman's mouth, forcing the Klansman to reveal the location of the bodies. Similar stories of Mafia involvement in recovering the bodies had been circulating for years, and had been previously published in the New York Daily News, but had never before been introduced in court.[66][67]

Law enforcement and the Mafia

In several Mafia families, killing a state authority is forbidden due to the possibility of extreme police retaliation.

In some rare strict cases, conspiring to commit such a murder is punishable by death.

Jewish mobster and Mafia associate Dutch Schultz was reportedly killed by his Italian peers out of fear that he would carry out a plan to kill New York City prosecutor Thomas Dewey and thus bring unprecedented police attention to the Mafia. However, the Mafia has carried out hits on law enforcement, especially in its earlier history. New York police officer Joe Petrosino was shot by Sicilian mobsters while on duty in Sicily. A statue of him was later erected across the street from a Lucchese hangout.[68]

Kefauver Committee

In 1951, a U.S.

Senate special committee, chaired by Democratic Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver, determined that a "sinister criminal organization" known as the Mafia operated around the United States. The United States Senate Special Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce (known as the "Kefauver Hearings"), televised nationwide, captured the attention of the American people and forced the FBI to recognize the existence of organized crime. In 1953, the FBI initiated the "Top Hoodlum Program". The purpose of the program was to have agents collect information on the mobsters in their territories and report it regularly to Washington to maintain a centralized collection of intelligence on racketeers.[69]

Apalachin meeting

The Apalachin meeting was a historic summit of the American Mafia held at the home of mobster Joseph "Joe the Barber" Barbara, in Apalachin, New York, on November 14, 1957.[70][71][72][73][74][75] Allegedly, the meeting was held to discuss various topics including loansharking, narcotics trafficking, and gambling, along with dividing the illegal operations controlled by the late Albert Anastasia.[76][77] An estimated 100 Mafiosi from the United States, Italy, and Cuba are thought to have attended this meeting.[77] Vito Genovese, then head of the renamed Genovese family, initially called the meeting as a way to recognize his new power as capo dei capi

Local and state law enforcement became suspicious when numerous expensive cars bearing license plates from around the country arrived in what was described as "the sleepy hamlet of Apalachin".[78] After setting up roadblocks, the police raided the meeting, causing many of the participants to flee into the woods and area surrounding the Barbara estate.[79] More than 60 underworld bosses were detained and indicted following the raid. One of the most direct and significant outcomes of the Apalachin Meeting was that it helped to confirm the existence of a nationwide criminal conspiracy, a fact that some, including Federal Bureau of Investigation Director J. Edgar Hoover, had long refused to acknowledge.[77][80][81]

Valachi hearings

In 1963, Joe Valachi became the first American Cosa Nostra member to provide a detailed look at the inside of the organization. Having been recruited by FBI special agents, and testifying before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the U.S. Senate Committee on Government Operations, Valachi exposed the name, structure, power bases, codes, swearing-in ceremony, and members of this organization. All of this had been secret up to this point.


The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act), passed as part of the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970, made it a crime to belong to an organization that performed illegal acts. The witness protection program was also enhanced by the same legislation. Frequent use of the act began during the late 1970s and early 1980s. Charges of racketeering were successfully pressed against scores of mobsters, including three of New York's Godfathers, Anthony Corallo, Carmine Persico and Philip Rastelli during the Mafia Commission Trial in 1985. Others like Anthony 'Fat Tony' Salerno, was thought of as the Genovese Godfather but was only a front-boss while Gambino boss Paul Castellano was murdered before the trial began. The act continues to be used to great effect today and has hurt the Mob severely.

2011 indictments

On January 20, 2011, the United States Justice Department issued 16 indictments against Northeast American Mafia families resulting in 127 charged defendants[82] and more than 110 arrests.[83] The charges included murder, murder conspiracy, loansharking, arson, robbery, narcotics trafficking, extortion, illegal gambling and labor racketeering. It has been described as the largest operation against the Mafia in U.S. history.[84] Families that have been affected included the Five Families of New York as well as the DeCavalcante crime family of New Jersey and Patriarca crime family of New England.[85]

The film Scarface (1932) is loosely based on the story of Al Capone.[86]

In 1968, Paramount Pictures released the film The Brotherhood starring Kirk Douglas as a mafia don, which was a financial flop. Nevertheless, Paramount's production chief Robert Evans subsidized the completion of a Mario Puzo novel with similar themes and plot elements, and bought the screen rights before completion.[87] Directed by Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather became a huge success, both critically and financially (it won the Best Picture Oscar and for a year was the highest-grossing film ever made). It immediately inspired other mafia-related films, including a direct sequel, The Godfather Part II (1974), also (partly) based on Puzo's novel, and yet another big winner at the Academy Awards, as well as films based on real Mafiosi like Honor Thy Father and Lucky Luciano (both in 1973) and Lepke and Capone (both in 1975). An ambitious 13-part miniseries by NBC called The Gangster Chronicles based on the rise of many major crime bosses of the 1920s and 1930s, aired in 1981.[88]The%20Mafia%3A%20A%20Cultural%20]] The Sopranos on show that depicted modern day American-Italian mob culture in New Jersey. Although the show is fictional, the general storyline is based on its creator David Chase’s experiences growing up and interacting with New Jersey crime families. Ex-members of the Mafia came together in Inside the American Mob documentary where they spoke about the different rules of the five families, and how they remained virtually untouchable for quite some time. The documentary also features the Mob's decline over time due to infiltration by the FBI.

See also

  • March 14, 1891 lynchings

  • Atlantic City Conference

  • Havana Conference

  • Irish Mob

  • Jewish-American organized crime

  • Albanian mafia

  • Russian mafia

  • Greek mafia

  • Sicilian Mafia

  • Timeline of organized crime

  • Triad ("Chinese mafia")

  • Unione Corse ("Corsican mafia")

  • Yakuza ("Japanese mafia")

  • the Corporation ("Cuban Mafia")

Further reading

  • Gambetta, Diego (1996).

  • The Sicilian Mafia : The Business of Private Protection (1st ed.). Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674807426. OCLC 34911262 [192].

  • Varese, Federico (2001).

  • The Russian Mafia : Private Protection in a New Market Economy. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198297369. OCLC 45715859 [193].

  • Wang, Peng (2017).

  • The Chinese Mafia: Organized Crime, Corruption, and Extra-Legal Protection (First ed.). Oxford, United Kingdom. ISBN 9780198758402. OCLC 969637061 [194].

  • Hill, Peter B. (2003).

  • The Japanese mafia : Yakuza, law, and the state. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199291618. OCLC 52486010 [195].

  • Chu, Yiu Kong (2002).

  • The Triads in Business. London. ISBN 9780415757249. OCLC 890163346 [196].

  • Capeci, Jerry (2002).

  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia [96]. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha. ISBN 978-0028642253. OCLC 48978297 [198].

  • Dainotto, Roberto M. (2015).

  • The Mafia: A Cultural History. Princeton University Press. p. 239. ISBN 9781780234434. ASIN 1780234430 [90].

  • Reuter, Peter.

  • "The decline of the American Mafia [99]."

  • (Archive [100], Info page [101], Archive [102] ) National Affairs

  • United States. Congress. Senate. Select Committee on Improper Activities in the Labor or Management Field Publication. 1959.

  • Select Committee On Improper Activities In The Labor Or Management Field, United States.

  • Congress.

  • Senate (1957).

  • Investigation of Improper Activities in the Labor Or Management Field [103]. Retrieved 2011-01-26.

  • United States. Congress. Senate.

  • Commerce. 1972. Commerce, United States.

  • Congress.

  • Senate (1972).

  • Effects of organized criminal activity on interstate and foreign commerce [104]. Retrieved 2011-01-26.

  • United States. Congress. Senate.

  • Committee on Governmental Affairs.

  • Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. 1980. Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations, United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on Governmental Affairs (1980). Organized Crime and Use of Violence: hearings before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations [105]. Retrieved 2011-01-26.

  • United States. Congress. Senate.

  • Committee on Governmental Affairs.

  • Permanent Subcommittee On Investigations, United States.

  • Congress.

  • Senate.

  • Committee on Governmental Affairs (1988).

  • Organized crime: 25 years after Valachi : hearings before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs [106]. Retrieved 2011-01-26. For sale by the Supt. of Docs., Congressional Sales Office, U.S. G.P.O., 1988.


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