The Italian Mafia
|Throughout history, crime has
existed in many different forms and has been committed by not only
individuals, but by groups as well. Crime is something that knows no boundaries; it exists in all cultures, is committed by all races, and has
existed in all time periods. Crime exists as a part of the economic
institution and is a lifestyle for many people. Crime also exists in
both organized and un organized forms. Since the early 1900's,
"organized" crime has existed in the United States. The
following will show where, when, and why the mafia came to the United
States, who organized it in the United States, and how it differed from
its origins in the European mafia.
In the ninth century, Sicily was occupied by Arab forces. The native Sicilians were oppressed and took refuge in the surrounding hills. The Sicilians formed a secret society to unite the natives against the Arab and Norman invaders. This secret society was called Mafia after the Arabic word for refuge. The society's intentions were to create a sense of family based on ancestry and Sicilian heritage. In the 1700's, pictures of a black hand were distributed to the wealthy. This was an unspoken request for an amount of money in return for protection. If the money wasn't paid, the recipients could expect violence such as kidnappings, bombings, and murder. By the nineteenth century, this society grew larger and more criminally oriented. In 1876, Mafia Don Rafael Palizzolo, ran for political office in Sicily. He forced the voters to vote for him under gunpoint. After being elected into office, he promoted Mafia Don Crispi as Prime Minister. Together the two put Sicily under government control and funneled government funds to the society known as the Mafia.
In the 1800's, New Orleans was the largest Mafia site in the United States. It was while investigating the murder of an Italian immigrant that the current Police Chief, David Hennessey discovered the existence of this secret society. Police Chief Hennessey was assassinated before this murder case could go to trial. Twelve men were charged with this assassination but were lynched by a newly formed vigilante group. The Italian Ambassador demanded that the vigilantes be tried. President Harrison who disproved of the vigilantes and gave a large cash settlement to the families of the lynched men. This was a widely publicized case because of its' foreign ramifications and the involvement of the President of the United States. Don Vito, Vito Cascio Ferro, was the first Sicilian Capo de Tutti Capi. He fled to the United States in 1901 to escape arrest and formed a group of the Black Hand. Its' members were hardened criminals currently fugitives from Sicily. He is known as the Father of the American Mafia. In 1924, Mussolini was determined to rid Italy of the Mafia so many members fled to the United States to avoid persecution . This increased the numbers of members in the organization.
These fleeing Italians were well aware there was money to be made in the United States through extortion, prostitution, gambling and bootlegging. Every large city soon had its own Mafia chapter. Prohibition which was a legal ban on the manufacturer and sale of intoxicating drinks generated a wave of illegal activity since there was big money to be made. During this time, gangsters openly flaunted their wealth and power. This period established many young men as leaders in the New Age American Mafia.
Charles Luciano, born in 1897 in Sicily, came to New York in 1906. He trained in the Five Points Gang, a Mafia crew, under John Torrio. In this gang, he became friends with Al Capone and other prominent gangsters. Luciano started his own prostitution racket in the early 1920's and was in total control of prostitution in Manhattan by 1925. In 1929 he was kidnapped, beaten and stabbed severally with an icepick. He miraculously survived but maintained "omerta", which is a vow never to reveal any Mafia secrets or members under penalty of death or torture. By 1935, Luciano was known as The Boss of Bosses. He had previously established Murder Inc. with Bugsy Siegel and Myer Lansky, two other well known gangsters. Luciano's wide spread criminal activities led to his being investigated by District Attorney Thomas E. Dewey. He was eventually sentenced to thirty to fifty years for extortion and prostitution. Luciano was considered to be a powerful Mafia member with strong ties to Sicily. After his conviction, the United States government approached him with a deal. In exchange for his assistance in the Allied invasion of Sicily, he was offered deportation to Rome. Luciano contacted his Mafia associates in Italy and the deal was made. Luciano died of a heart attack in 1962 while meeting an American movie producer to do his life story.
Myer Lansky was never an initiated member of the Mafia since he was not Italian. Lansky became a close associate of Luciano after his rise to power and influence among the Jewish gangsters, known as Myer's mob. His specialty was gambling. He formed Murder Inc. which was a group of specialized contract killers which was hired out to other mobs. Lansky was instrumental in working out the deal with the government for Luciano in the Allied invasion. While Luciano was in jail and later deported to Italy, he entrusted the running of the crime syndicate to Lansky. By the 1960's, Lansky's gambling operations extended half way around the globe with departments all over South America and as far as Hong Kong. In 1970, the federal government was planning to charge Lansky with tax evasion , so he fled to Israel. In Tel Aviv, the Israeli government under pressure by the U.S. revoked his visa and Lansky was forced to stand trial. He avoided conviction because of his high level government contacts and retired to Miami, Florida and died in 1983. At the time of his death, his estate was valued at 4 million dollars.
The third member of Murder Inc. was Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel. He was born in Brooklyn, NY in 1906. While still a teenager, he met Myer Lansky and went on to form the Bug and Myer Mob which specialized in gambling and car theft. In the 1930's, this mob joined with Luciano and formed Murder Inc. Siegel eventually killed Joe. "The Boss", Masseria which ended the present mob wars at that time. Siegel continued to carry out murders for Luciano and by 1937 there was a large number of contracts out of Siegel's life since he had angered so many of the bosses. To protect him, Lansky and Luciano persuaded him to move out to California. In California, Siegel he was the main man in the Luciano and Lansky gang and extorted money from movie studio owners. He continued to do murders for Luciano. Siegel " borrowed" five million dollars of syndicate money to build the first super casino/hotel in Las Vegas. The Flamingo hotel turned out to be a fiasco and lost money. Luciano demanded repayment of the funds and Siegel refused, thinking he was as powerful as Luciano. Luciano ordered his death. Although Siegel was warned by Lansky of this plan, he continued to refuse to repay the money. On June 20, 1947 he was killed.
Dutch Schultz, was another major player in organized crime He opened a saloon in the Bronx, New York during prohibition and organized a group of thugs to expand his bootlegging operations. His empire soon grew to large proportions with many illegal establishments in the Bronx and Manhattan. During his trial for tax evasion, many of his rackets were taken over by Luciano, who expected Schultz to be convicted. Although this prompted him to move his operation to New Jersey, Schultz was still considered so influential Luciano asked him to be a member of the Board of Directors of the crime syndicate. The District Attorney of New York, Thomas E. Dewey was not finished with Schultz though and continued investigating his activities. Schultz decided it was in his best interest to eliminate Dewey but the crime syndicate disagreed. They feared the killing of a District Attorney would only add to their problems but Schultz would not drop his plan. On the evening of October 23, 1935, while Schultz was informing his New Jersey associates of his plan, a Murder Inc. hit man assassinated all of them, Schultz included. He died later that evening in a Newark City hospital.
Alphonse "Scarface" Capone was another organizer of the early American Mafia. He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1899. His involvement with organized crime began when he was eleven years old. As he got older, he graduated to the more powerful "Five Pointers Gang" where he became acquainted with Luciano. When Johnny Torrio, the original leader of the "Five Pointers Gang" moved to Chicago, he invited Capone to be his sidekick. Torrio's uncle, "Big Jim" Colisimo was the crime boss in Chicago. Trouble between uncle and nephew started and Capone was hired to kill the uncle leaving Torrio in charge of all Chicago. In 1925 when Torrio was severally wounded in a shoot out, he gave Capone his vast business empire, valued at fifty million dollars a year. During this time, Capone fell out of favor with other Mafia gangsters and several attempts were made on his life. Capone took revenge by staging the infamous St. Valentine's Day massacre in which he killed several of his enemies ending resistance to his continuing business dealings. He was finally sentenced for tax evasion and spent most of his eleven year sentence in Alcatraz. In 1939 he was released from prison because he was in the advanced stages of syphilis. He died of this disease in 1947.
At the turn of the century the American Mafia was different from the Sicilian Mafia in a number of ways. The European Mafia was founded on a sense of loyalty and respect for culture, family and the Sicilian heritage. The Mafia was to protect its' members interests and grant them freedom in business in exchange for absolute loyalty and submission to the "family". The Sicilian Mafia was based on the belief that justice, honour and vengeance are for a man to take care of, not for a government to take care of. The Sicilian mafia valued the code of "omerta" , the code of honour and silence and strictly adhered to the ruling that this was a secret society, open only to those who shared Sicilian blood. In contrast to the noble Sicilian mafia, the American mafia has proved to be a conniving, cold hearted organization. The American Mafia consists of a large group of glorified thieves, pickpockets and murderers. Although it began with the adoption of much of the Sicilian heritage it has evolved into an organization that's sole purpose is to make money using any illegal means possible. The members of the American mafia use extortion, bootlegging, prostitution, gambling, kidnapping, and murder to achieve their ends.
The above research has shown that the Mafia has become a wide spread problem. The Mafia has continued to grow and infest our society from the early 1900's. It continues to exploit and destroy the honest citizens of our country. Now, these criminal organizations not only control the adults of our communities but have begun , through the sale and distribution of narcotics, to control our children. Crime organizations must be stopped however this is a difficult task. They have infiltrated members of our government and law enforcement agencies with the lure of money. Unfortunately crime does pay in many instances. It is up to each of us to not look the other way, but be aware that their are really no victimless crimes. One way or another, we all pay either by higher taxes or by a more violent society.
Bonanno Crime Family
|Estimate members: Around 120
First Don: Salvatore Maranzano, but the Family has got the name of Joe Bonanno.
Primary activities: La Cosa Nostra’s primary drug dealers.
Also allegedly involved in home video pornography, pizza parlours and espresso cafes.
Despite John Gotti’s plans to make the Bonanno family subservient to the Gambino family, the Bonannos appear to be gaining strength.
Boss: Joseph Massino, 57, currently part owner of the famed Casablanca Restaurant in Queens.
According to authorities, he is currently the only New York Mafia boss not serving time. His principal source of legitimate income, authorities say, is King Caterers, a Long Island business that provides food to street vendors.
Underboss: Salvatore A. Vitale, Massino’s brother-in-law.
Colombo Crime Family
|Estimate members: 200
First Don: Joe Profaci
Primary activities: Narcotics, gambling, loan-sharking, cigarette smuggling, pornography, counterfeiting, hijacking, bankruptcy fraud, and so on. Despite the small size of the Colombo family, it maintains an impressive presence in a wide variety of criminal activities.
Boss: Carmine 'The Snake' Persico, currently serving 139 years for murder and racketeering. His grip on the organization is said to be tenuous.
Acting boss: Carmine’s son, Alphonse “Allie Boy” Persico, currently serving an 18-month sentence issued in February 2000 for illegal gun possession in Miami.
The Colombo Crime Family was founded by Joseph Profaci a close friend of Joseph Bonanno, boss of the Bonanno Crime Family. When Profaci was boss he was challenged by the Gallo brothers who did not condone him as there leader, they also were supported by Gambino, Lucchese and Genovese, so they went to war. In this war Profaci eventually died of natural causes, leaving the space for the Gallo brothers. However they were now weakened by the war and also lost there support from the other 3 family's, Gambino chose Joe Colombo to be new boss. With the expectation that the young, inexperienced gangster would be his puppet. However, Colombo became enamoured with being famous after starting a pro Italian civil rights organization which captured the imaginations of many. The unexpected success of these activities soon had Colombo speaking in public denying the existence of the mafia. On one memorable occasion, he appeared on the Dick Cavett television show to promote his cause. It was at this time that the media began referring to the Profaci Family as the Colombo Family.
All this publicity eventually unnerved the other bosses, especially Gambino, and coincidentally the volatile Joey Gallo was released from a long prison sentence. Gallo, sensing that Colombo had fallen from favour, began stirring the pot. It was a situation ready to explode. At that moment in 1971, Colombo was shot and severely wounded by a lone black gunman as he was about to preside at a large Italian American Civil Rights League rally. It was widely - and incorrectly - assumed that Gallo had hired the would-be assassin to take out Colombo. It was further assumed that Gallo had received the support of Gambino. Both of these assumptions were false. It is true that Gallo had been trying to kill Colombo, but that had nothing to do with the shooting that took place. In turn, while Gambino was not sorry to see the troublesome Colombo go, he had not conspired to have this come about.
With the incapacitation of Colombo, the Persico crew came to power. Under the leadership of the very tough Carmine Persico, this crew dominated the family for the next twenty years. During much of this time Carmine was in jail but surrogates such as Tom Dibella, Gennaro (Jerry Lang) Langella and Andrew Russo, a cousin, carried on his policies. Like most of the other families, the Colombo's had become very active in drug dealing along with their assorted other illegal activities. Associated with three of the other New York families, the Colombo leadership was also becoming rich with labour racketeering.
It all began to unravel with the full court press of the federal and state governments in the mid 1980's. Persico was handcuffed with his numerous legal problems and Vic Orena became acting boss. When Orena was convicted of racketeering and murder in 1992 a power vacuum occurred. Soon open warfare broke out between Persico loyalists and Orena supporters. It became apparent that Persico wanted his son to eventually take over leadership of the family. The Orena camp had different ideas. The shootings were highlighted by the participation of controversial capo Greg Scarpa on the Persico side. He had contacted AIDs during a blood transfusion and went public when he sued the hospital and doctor involved. In addition, it was suspected and later confirmed that he had been a long time FBI informant. Some authorities felt that Scarpa was benefiting from insider information in the shooting war that left 12 dead and many wounded.
As the shooting war ended, it was clear that Persico had won when his choice, Andy Russo, became acting boss, then official boss, only to be jolted by federal convictions for labor racketeering and jury tampering and jailed. As the 20th Century wound down, Persico's son Alphonse was anointed family boss but by time the new Millennium rolled around, Alphonse was cooling his heels in federal prison and former underboss William (Wild Bill) Cutolo was missing and declared dead. Successor underboss John (Jackie) DeRoss was awaiting trial for racketeering with Alphonse. Being boss of the Colombo family is not as appealing as it once was. Many of its members are jailed, the internal war created great and lasting mistrust, and the loss of significant income from major labor racketeering has crippled the organization.
Gambino Crime Family
|Estimate member count: around 200
First Don: Vince Mangano
Primary rackets: Narcotics (including heroin operations ranging from Sicily to Asia), gambling, and car theft.
The number and power of their stolen car outlets in Kuwait have led several newspapers to brand the country "Gambino, Inc." Under bosses Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano and John Gotti, the Gambino family became the most powerful crime family in the country. The imprisonment of John, "Junior" at al has greatly decreased their strength.
Boss: John Gotti, currently serving a life
sentence for murder and racketeering. His son, John "Junior"
Gotti, was a short-lived acting boss before he received a six-year
sentence on extortion conspiracy in 1999.
Genovese Crime Family
|Estimate members: around 250
First Don: Charles “Lucky” Luciano
Primary activities: Arguably the most powerful and wealthy crime family in the New York area, and perhaps the entire country, the Genovese family maintains major muscle in narcotics, loan-sharking, extortion rackets, pornography, labour union racketeering, restaurants, seafood distribution and vending machines. They are known for doing everything quietly and for the reserved manner in the way they conduct business.
Boss: Vincent "the Chin" Gigante, arraigned in 1996 federal murder, labour racketeering and other charges, Gigante is serving a 12-year sentence in a Fort Worth, Texas, prison hospital. He has reputedly delegated many duties but still maintains control of the organization.
Acting boss: Dominick “Quiet Dom” Cirillo.
The Genovese Family lost a major source of income when the Mafia's "concrete club" was shut down in the mid 1980's with the Commission indictment and conviction. Profits from another long standing money producer, the Fulton Fish Market, has diminished as well. The F.B.I. and New York city have combined to eliminate the family's 70-year control of the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy. In addition, convictions of the family's acting boss, acting underboss, and consigliere on racketeering charges have hurt the family. So too did the 1991 racketeering conviction of underboss Benny Eggs Mangano, as did the July 25, 1997 racketeering conviction of Chin Gigante some seven years after he and Mangano were named in the same indictment.
But the family's structure is still solid and in place.
A close ally of Gigante who seems and acts like a carbon copy minus the crazy act, Dominick (Quiet Dom) Cirillo, has been serving effectively as the family's street boss for several years. Nicknamed Quiet Dom for his laid back, reserved manner, Cirillo is much like Gigante in the way he conducts his Mafia business, shunning telephones and social clubs in favor of walk talks in public streets, and opting for older, less flashy cars than the Mercedes Benz's and Lincoln Continentals that Gotti favored. Like Gigante, he had a narcotics conviction in the 1950's and toiled as an amateur and professional boxer before turning to organized crime.
Liborio (Barney) Bellomo, the capo Gigante tabbed as acting boss when he was indicted in 1990, is serving a ten year sentence, but Bellomo is young, and due out in 2004.
And with a membership of nearly 250 soldiers, and only two known (Valachi and Cafaro) informers, the Genovese Family is still strong. It's the richest and most powerful family in the New York area, and arguably the entire country. (The only other candidate, the Chicago Outfit, is aided by it's one-family monopoly over the second city's rackets.)
Lucchese Crime Family
|Estimate members: Around 120
First Don: Tom Gagliano
Primary activities: Narcotics, gambling, loan-sharking, waste management, construction, and involvement in the garment industry.
Boss: Last known boss was Anthony “Tony
Ducks” Corallo, who, facing a 100-year sentence in 1987, was said to
have named longtime confidant Aniello Migliore as acting boss.
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