American Mafia

American Mafia
American Mafia
In Origins in Sicily, founded in New York City.
Years active Late 1800s–present
Territory Active in most parts of America during its peak, currently active mostly in Northeastern United States, Chicago and Florida.
Ethnicity Full members (made men) are Italian-American or Italian, other criminals of any ethnicity are employed as "associates".
Criminal activities Racketeering, counterfeiting, drug trafficking, extortion, fencing, illegal gambling, murder, prostitution

The American Mafia (or simply the Mafia in the United States), is an Italian-American criminal society. Much like the Sicilian Mafia, the American Mafia has no formal name and is a secret criminal society. Its members usually refer to it as Cosa Nostra or by its English translation "our thing" (or "this thing of ours"). The press has also coined the name "National Crime Syndicate" to refer to the entirety of U.S. organized crime, including the Mafia. The Mafia emerged in New York's Lower East Side and other areas of the East Coast of the United States during the late 19th century following waves of Italian immigration, especially from Sicily. It has its roots in the Sicilian Mafia, but is a separate organization in the United States. Neapolitan, Calabrian, and other Italian criminal groups merged with the Sicilians to create the modern pan-Italian Mafia in North America. Today, the American Mafia cooperates in various criminal activities with the Sicilian Mafia and other Italian organized crime groups, such as Camorra, 'Ndrangheta, and Sacra Corona Unita.

Although the Mafia is currently active in the New York metropolitan area, Philadelphia, New England, Detroit and Chicago,[1] for most of the 20th century there were 26 cities around the United States with Cosa Nostra families, with many more offshoots, splinter groups 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 Mafia dominated organized crime in the U.S. It used to maintain control over much of the organized crime activity in the country. While each crime family operates independently, nationwide coordination is provided by the Commission, which consists of the bosses of each of the strongest families.

Law enforcement still considers the Mafia the largest organized crime group in the United States. 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 street gangs and other organizations that are not of Italian origin.[2]


Usage of the term Mafia

The term Mafia was originally used in Italy by the media and law enforcment to describe criminal groups in Sicily. The origins of the term are debatable. Like the Sicilian Mafia, the American Mafia didn't use the term Mafia to describe itself. Neither group has a formal name for itself and instead used the term Cosa Nostra (Italian for our thing) when referring to themselves. When Italian immigrants started forming organized crime groups in America, the American press borrowed the term Mafia from Italy and used it to describe Italian organized crime groups.

Mafia properly refers to either the Sicilian or 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 Russian Mafia, Mexican Mafia or Jewish Mafia, as well as non-criminal organizations, such as the term Irish Mafia (not to be confused with the Irish Mob, also referred to as the Irish Mafia), applied to John F. Kennedy's political team.


Origins: The Black Hand

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 international organizations. The Black Hand was a name given to an extortion method used in Italian neighborhoods at the turn of the last century. It has been sometimes mistaken for the Mafia itself, which it is not. Giuseppe Esposito was the first known Sicilian Mafia member to emigrate to the United States.[1] 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.[1] He was arrested in New Orleans in 1881 and extradited to Italy.[1]

New Orleans was also the site of the first Mafia incident in the United States that received both national and international attention.[1] 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 against the reviled underclass immigrants.[1] 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.[1] 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. The lynching was the largest mass lynching in American history.[3][4][5]

From the 1890s to the 1900s in New York City, the Sicilian Mafia developed into the Five Points Gang and were very powerful in the Little Italy of the Lower East Side. 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 very active in Brooklyn, too. In Chicago, the 19th Ward, which was an Italian neighborhood, became known as the "Bloody Nineteenth" due to the frequent violence in the ward, mostly as a result of Mafia activity, feuds, and vendettas.

Although the Black Hand was not a secret society, there were many small Black Hand gangs. Black Hand extortion was often 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.[6]

Prohibition era

Al Capone's violent rise to power in Chicago and the media attention it brought made him a lasting figure of the prohibition era and organized crime in general.

Mafia activities were restricted until 1920, when they exploded because of the introduction of Prohibition.[7] An example of the spectacular rise of the Mafia due to Prohibition is Al Capone's syndicate that "ruled" Chicago in the 1920s.[7] Similar scenarios occurred in other US cities as Italian gangs fought each other and other ethnicities for control in the lucrative bootlegging rackets. Victorious factions would go on to dominate organized crime in their respective cities, setting up the family structure of each city. Despite alcohol production and consumption being made illegal, there was still a high demand for it from the public. This created an atmosphere that tolerated crime as a means to provide liquor to the public, even amongst the police and city politicians. The high demand and consumption made bootlegging the most lucrative crime and turned local criminal gangs into large crime syndicates. While illegal stills were used to make alcohol, most of the country's illegal alcohol was imported from Canada. Further expanding the Mafia's power was Benito Mussolini ruthlessly cracking down on the Mafia in Sicily during the 1920s, which led to many Mafiosi fleeing to the United States.[8]

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.[1] This caused the Castellammarese War, which led to Masseria's murder in 1931. Maranzano then divided New York City into five families.[1] 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.[1] One unique creation of Maranzano's was setting himself up as Boss of All Bosses and requiring all families to pay tribute to him. Such a position had never been done before in America or Sicily. This was received negatively by his men and Maranzano was himself murdered within six months, on the orders of Charles "Lucky" Luciano. Luciano was a former Masseria underling who had earlier worked with Maranzano to assassinate Masseria and switched sides to Maranzano.

The Commission

FBI chart of American Mafia Bosses across the country in 1963.

Instead of ruling as Boss of All Bosses, Luciano set up the Commission,[1] 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.[9] 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).[10] Each family operated independently from each other and generally had exclusive territory they controlled.[1] As opposed to the older generation of "Mustache Petes" such as Maranzano and Masseria, who usually only worked with fellow Italians, the "Young Turks" lead 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 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 is 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 within to continue making large sums of money. When alcohol ceased to be prohibited in 1933, the Mafia diversified its money-making criminal actives 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.[1] This allowed crime families to make inlays into very profitable legitimate businesses such as construction, demolition, waste management, trucking, and in the waterfront and garment industry.[11] In addition they could raid the unions' welfare, 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 than steal these products, pay off security, then sell the stolen merchandise.

Meyer Lanksy made inroards into the casino industry in Cuba during the 1930s while the Mafia was already involved in exporting Cuban sugar and rum.[12] When his friend Fulgencio Batista became president of Cuba in 1952, several Mafia bosses were able to make legitimate investiments in legalized casinos. One estimate of the number of casinos mobsters owned was no less than 19.[12] However, when Batista was overthrown following the Cuban Revolution, his successor Fidel Castro banned American investment in the country, putting an end to the Mafia's presence in Cuba.[12] Las Vegas was seen as an "open city" where any family can work. Due to Nevada legalizing gambling, the casino industry became very popular in Las Vegas and mobsters were quick to take advantage. 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.[13] When money came in to the counting room, hired men skimmed millions of dollars in cash before it was recorded, then delivered it to their respective bosses.[13] 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.[11] Many people within police forces and courts were simply bribed, while witness intimidation was also common.[11] 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.[1] 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.[1] In 1963, Joe Valachi became the first Mafia member to turn state's evidence, and provided deatailed information of the 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.[14] 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 nation-wide 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 in 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 stronghold on labor unions.


When the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act) became federal law, 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. The RICO Act has proven to be very powerful weapon, because it attacks the entire corrupt entity instead of individuals who can easily be replaced with other organized crime members.[1] 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.[11] 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 precedence 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.[8][15] 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 hundreds of mobsters put in prison. As a result, the Mafia saw a major decline in 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.[16] 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.[2] While other criminal organizations such as 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.[2] Law enforcement is concerned with the possible resurgence of the Mafia as it regroups from the turmoil of the 1990s and the FBI and local law enforcement agencies focus more on homeland security and away from organized crime since the September 11 attacks.[17][18] In 2002 the FBI estimated that the Mafia earns $50–$90 billion a year.[19] To avoid FBI attention and prosecution, the modern Mafia also outsources a lot of its work to other criminal groups, such as motorcycle gangs.[2]


Mafia family structure tree.en.svg

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. This provides what the intelligence community calls plausible deniability.

More recently, some families have used two new positions in the family leadership: the family messenger and street boss. These positions were created by former Genovese 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 taken on by every member of his family. 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.[20] In practice many of these elections are foregone conclusions 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 him. He 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. They usually get a percentage of the family's income from the bosses cut. The underboss is usually first in line to become acting boss if the boss is imprisoned, while 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". They are used as a mediator of disputes, representatives or aides in meetings with other families. In practice the consigliere is normally the third ranking member of the administration of a family and was traditionally a senior member familiar with how the organization is run. A Boss will often appoint someone close to him who they trust as their 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 overstep the 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 Capo (or several Capos) 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.
Although a Jewish associate, Meyer Lansky's (right) close association with Lucky Luciano made him an important figure in developing the American Mafia.
  • Associate — An associate is not a member of the Mafia, but works for a crime family none-the-less. An associate can include a wide range of people who work for the family. This is where prospective mobsters ("connected guys") start out to prove their worth. Once a crime family is accepting new membership, the best associates are evaluated and picked to become soldiers. 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. They are usually a go-between or sometimes deal in drugs to keep the heat 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.[20] Non-Italians will never go any further than this, although many like Meyer Lansky, Murray Humphreys, and James Burke wielded extreme power within their respective crime families.


The initiation ritual emerged from various sources, such as Roman Catholic confraternities and Masonic Lodges in mid-nineteenth century Sicily[21] 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 symbolising the annihilation of traitors. This was confirmed by the first pentito, Tommaso Buscetta.

A hit, or assassination, 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.[22]

Mafia rules and customs

In order to be invited into the American Mafia and become a member one must perform a series of tasks, such as committing murder for the family and not for one's own personal benefit. 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.[23][24]

  1. "Omertà" - is the oath or "code of silence", never talk to the authorities.
  2. "Ethnicity" - only men of Italian descent are allowed to become full members (made man) Associates, partners, allies etc. have no ethnic limits
  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) until the boss gives permission.
  5. "No fighting among members" - from fist fights to knife fights.
  6. "Tribute" - every month; member 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.[25][26]

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.[27]

Symbolism in murders

  • For allowing undercover FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family caporegime Dominic Napolitano 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 murder of Lucchese crime family soldier Bruno Facciolo, a dead canary was stuffed into his mouth after he was shot to death.
  • On April 18, 1980, Philadelphia Mafia Consigliere Antonio Caponigro had Angelo Bruno killed without the approval of The Commission. 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.[28]

List of Mafia families

Note that the Mafia has members, associates, and families in others region as well. The organization is not limited to these regions. Many of these families have influence in other U.S. states, cities, and areas also.

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.[29]

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.[30] Those allegedly involved included Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, Jr., and John Roselli.[31]

Recovery of murdered Mississippi civil rights workers

In 2007, Linda Schiro testified in an unrelated court case that her late boyfriend, Gregory Scarpa Sr., a capo in the Colombo family, had been recruited by the FBI to help find the bodies of three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi in 1964. 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 he told her he had threatened a Klansman by placing a gun in his mouth, forcing him to reveal the location of the bodies. Similar stories of Mafia involvement in the case had been circulating for years, and had been previously published in the New York Daily News, but had never before been introduced in court.[32][33]

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. The Jewish mobster 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. The Mafia did carry out hits on law enforcement 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.[34]

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.[35]

Apalachin Meeting

In 1957, the New York State Police uncovered a meeting of major American Cosa Nostra figures from around the country in the small upstate New York town of Apalachin (near Binghamton, New York). This gathering has become known as the Apalachin Meeting. Many of the attendees were arrested, and this event was the catalyst that changed the way law enforcement battled organized crime.

The establishment of the United States Organized Crime Strike Force facilitated efforts to prosecute members of the Mafia. The Strike Force was established in the 1960s through a joint congressional effort led by Robert Kennedy. It was under the Office of the Inspector General in the Department of Labor. It was later disbanded at the national level, but continues at the state and local level today. It was responsible for investigating and eventually helping to bring down high-level Mafiosos such as Joseph Aiuppa of the Chicago Outfit, Anthony Salerno of the Genovese crime family of New York and Paul Castellano of the Gambino Family. Also, the Strike Force eliminated much of the organized crime in the Teamsters across the country.

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 in 1970 made it a crime to belong to an organization that performed illegal acts, and it created programs such as the witness protection program. 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[36] and more than 110 arrests.[37] 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 US history.[38] 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.[39]

In popular culture

The Mafia has provided the setting and characters for many well-regarded films. Early gangster films depicting organized crime in America include Little Caesar (1931) and Scarface (1932), the latter loosely based on the story of Al Capone.

Arguably the most popular and most praised Mafia films are The Godfather and its sequel The Godfather Part II. Both films were based on Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather. Since their release, many other films have been produced, like Martin Scorsese's films Goodfellas and Casino, which were based on true stories. Other such films include The Untouchables, Mobsters, Donnie Brasco and the made-for-TV film Gotti.

Other films portraying the Mafia include Once Upon a Time in America, A Bronx Tale and comedies like Analyze This. American Mafiosi also appear in supporting roles in other films, such as True Romance, Carlito's Way, The Departed, and American Gangster.

While many TV shows like The Untouchables (1959–1963), Crime Story (1986–1988), and Wiseguy (1987–1990) have told fictional accounts of the Mafia, by far the most popular TV series has been HBO's The Sopranos (1999–2007). The show, set in Northern New Jersey, portrays fictional New Jersey Mafia boss Tony Soprano and the Soprano crime family he heads. HBO followed up this hit series with Boardwalk Empire, also based in New Jersey.

The Mafia is also the topic of many popular novels, most notably in the work of author Mario Puzo, which include The Godfather, The Sicilian, The Last Don, and Omertà, as well as James Ellroy's L.A. Quartet and Underworld USA Trilogy.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p "Italian Organized Crime". Organized Crime. Federal Bureau of Investigation. Archived from the original on October 10, 2010. Retrieved August 7, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d Barret, Devlin; Gardiner, Sean (January 21, 2011). "Structure Keeps Mafia Atop Crime Heap". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 22, 2010. 
  3. ^ Pontchartrain, Blake. "New Orleans Know-It-All". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  4. ^ "Under Attack". American Memory, Library of Congress. Retrieved February 26, 2010.
  5. ^ "1891 New Orleans prejudice and discrimination results in lynching of 11 Italians, the largest mass lynching in United States history", Milestones of the Italian American Experience, National Italian American Foundation. Retrieved February 26, 2010.
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b "Organized Crime - American Mafia - York, Families, Mob, Family, Bosses, and Prison". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  8. ^ a b Burrough, Bryan (2005-09-11). "'Five Families': Made Men in America". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ King of the Godfathers: Big Joey Massino and the Fall of the Bonanno Crime Family By Anthony M. DeStefano. Kensington Publishing Corp., 2008
  10. ^ "Rick Porrello's - 26 Mafia Families and Their Cities". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  11. ^ a b c d Busting the Mob: United States v. Cosa Nostra" James B. Jacobs, Christopher Panarella, Jay Worthington. NYU Press, 1996. ISBN 0814742300, 9780814742303. pages 3-5
  12. ^ a b c Salinger, Lawrence M. (2005). Title Encyclopedia of white-collar & corporate crime: A - I, Volume 1 Encyclopedia of white-collar & corporate crime: A - I, Volume 1. SAGE Publications. p. 234. ISBN 0761930043, 9780761930044. Title Encyclopedia of white-collar & corporate crime: A - I, Volume 1. Retrieved August 10, 2011. 
  13. ^ a b Mannion, James (2003). The Everything Mafia Book: True-Life Accounts of Legendary Figures, Infamous Crime Families, and Chilling Events. Everything series (illustrated ed.). Everything Books. p. 94. ISBN 1580628648, 9781580628648. 
  14. ^ "The Dying of the Light: The Joseph Valachi Story — Prologue — Crime Library on". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  15. ^ Sammy "The Bull" Gravano By Allan May. TruTV
  16. ^ "FBI — Italian/Mafia". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  17. ^ Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires by Selwyn Raab. 2005
  18. ^ Mafia is like a chronic disease, never cured By Edwin Stier. January 22, 2011
  19. ^ "Mob Money". News on News. 2010-06-03. Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  20. ^ a b Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002
  21. ^ "Mafia's arcane rituals, and much of the organization's structure, were based largely on those of the Catholic confraternities and even Freemasonry, colored by Sicilian familial traditions and even certain customs associated with military-religious orders of chivalry like the Order of Malta." The Mafia from
  22. ^ "Go to the mattresses" from
  23. ^ Mafia: A history of its rise to power. Thomas Reppetto. 2005-01-28. Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  24. ^ Rabb, Selwyn. "Five Families: The Rise, Decline and Resurgence of Americas Most Powerful Mafia Empires." (pg. 7-8)
  25. ^ Frankie Saggio and Fred Rosen. Born to the mob: the true-life story of the only man to work for all five of New York's Mafia Families. 2004 Thunder's Mouth Press publishing (pg.12)
  26. ^ Garcia,Joaquin and Levin, Michael. Making Jack Falcone: An Undercover FBI Agent Takes Down a Mafia Family 2008 Pocket Star Books Publishing (pg.121)
  27. ^ "Gay mobsters cower in the closet". PageOneQ. Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  28. ^ History The Nevada Observer. August 22, 2006
  29. ^ Tim Newark Mafia Allies, p. 288, 292, MBI Publishing Co., 2007 ISBN 978-0-7603-2457-8
  30. ^ Michael Evans. "''Bay of Pigs Chronology'', The National Security Archive (at The George Washington University)". Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  31. ^ Ambrose & Immerman Ike's Spies, p. 303, 1999 ISBN 978-1-57806-207-2
  32. ^ Brick, Michael (October 30, 2007). "At Trial of Ex-F.B.I. Supervisor, How to Love a Mobster". The New York Times. Retrieved February 20, 2010. 
  33. ^ "Witness: FBI used mob muscle to crack ’64 case",, October 29, 2007. Retrieved February 20, 2010.
  34. ^ Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America's Most Powerful Mafia Empires
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  36. ^ "91 Leaders, Members and Associates of La Cosa Nostra Families in Four Districts Charged with Racketeering and Related Crimes, Including Murder and Extortion". 2011-01-20. Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
  37. ^ Moore, Martha T. (2011-01-21). "Feds nab nearly 130 in Mafia crackdown". Usatoday.Com. Retrieved 2011-01-26. 
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  39. ^ ny fbi press release 2011.1.11. The release mentioned the 'New England LCN', but follow the article for Luigi Manocchio to see the Patriarca name


  • Arlacchi, Pino (1988). Mafia Business. The Mafia Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Oxford: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-285197-7
  • Chubb, Judith (1989). The Mafia and Politics, Cornell Studies in International Affairs, Occasional Papers No. 23.
  • Critchley, David. The Origin of Organized Crime: The New York City Mafia, 1891-1931. New York, Routledge, 2008.
  • Dash, Mike. The First Family: Terror, Extortion and the Birth of the American Mafia. London, Simon & Schuster, 2009.
  • Servadio, Gaia (1976), Mafioso. A history of the Mafia from its origins to the present day, London: Secker & Warburg ISBN 0-436-44700-2

Further reading

External links

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