The American Mafia (commonly referred to as the Mafia or the Mob, though "the Mob" can refer to other organized crime groups or organized crime in general) or Italian-American Mafia  is a highly organized Italian-American criminal society. The organization is often referred to by members as Cosa Nostra (Italian pronunciation: [ˈkɔsa ˈnɔstra], 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 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.
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 Detroit, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Cleveland, St. Louis, Kansas City, 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. 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.
|Founded||Late 19th century|
|Founding location||Founded in U.S. in New Orleans, Chicago, New York City, Philadelphia, and various East Coast cities|
|Years active||Late 19th century–present|
|Territory||United States; active in many parts of the country during its peak, currently active mainly in the Northeast; Midwestern industrial cities such as Chicago; Las Vegas and Florida; offshoot in Canada.|
|Ethnicity||Full members (made men) are of Italian descent, other criminals of any ethnicity are employed as "associates."|
|Membership (est.)||Over 3,000 members and 25,000 associates|
|Criminal activities||Racketeering, smuggling, fraud, counterfeiting, robbery, bribery, assault, money laundering, illegal gambling, loan sharking, weapons trafficking, drug trafficking, extortion, fencing, murder, prostitution, pornography, theft|
Sacra Corona Unita
various independent Italian-American street gangs and crime groups (such as South Brooklyn Boys)
occasionally the Albanian Mafia and Russian Mafia
various gangs and organized crime groups
|Rivals||Various gangs and organized crime groups, historically rivals of the Irish Mob|
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" (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.
The first published account of what became the Mafia in the United States dates to the spring of 1869. The New Orleans Times reported that the city's Second District had become overrun by "well-known and notorious Sicilian murderers, counterfeiters and burglars, who, in the last month, have formed a sort of general co-partnership or stock company for the plunder and disturbance of the city." Emigration from southern Italy to the Americas was primarily to Brazil and Argentina, and New Orleans had a heavy volume of port traffic to and from both locales.
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.
Giuseppe Morello was the first known Mafia member to immigrate to the United States. 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. He was arrested in New Orleans in 1881 and extradited to Italy.
New Orleans was also the site of the first possible Mafia incident in the United States that received both national and international attention. 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. 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. 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.
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.
On January 17, 1920, 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. 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. 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, 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. This caused the Castellammarese War, which led to Masseria's murder in 1931. Maranzano then divided New York City into five families. 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. 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.
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, 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. 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). Each family operated independently from the others and generally had exclusive territory it controlled. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. When money came into the counting room, hired men skimmed cash before it was recorded, then delivered it to their respective bosses. 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. Many people within police forces and courts were simply bribed, while witness intimidation was also common. 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. 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. 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. 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.
By the late 1970s, the Mafia were involved in many industries, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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". Many credit the Mafia with being a big part of the city's development in the mid 20th Century. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. Over 1000 crime family figures were convicted by 1990. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. In 2002 the FBI estimated that the Mafia earns $50–$90 billion a year. To avoid FBI attention and prosecution, the modern Mafia also outsources a lot of its work to other criminal groups, such as motorcycle gangs.
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.
The initiation ritual emerged from various sources, such as Roman Catholic confraternities and Masonic Lodges in mid-19th century Sicily 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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."
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. Those allegedly involved included Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante Jr., and John Roselli.
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.
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.
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.
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. 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. An estimated 100 Mafiosi from the United States, Italy, and Cuba are thought to have attended this meeting. 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". 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. 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.
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.
On January 20, 2011, the United States Justice Department issued 16 indictments against Northeast American Mafia families resulting in 127 charged defendants and more than 110 arrests. 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. 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.
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. 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. The Sopranos was an award-winning HBO television show that depicted modern day American-Italian mob culture in New Jersey. Although the show is fictional, the general storyline is based off of David Chase’s, the creator of the show, 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 to the different rules of the five families, and how they virtually remained untouchable for quite some time. The documentary also features the decline over time with the infiltration of the FBI.
A barrel murder was a method of "execution" used by early American mafiosi since the 1870s, although the earliest recorded barrel murders in New York were reported in 1895 and 1900.The victims, usually Italian immigrants, would be found stuffed inside a barrel after being shot, stabbed, or strangled to death, and left on a random street corner or back alley, or shipped to a nonexistent address in another city. First used by the Sicilian Provenzano crime family in New Orleans and the Morello crime family in New York City, the barrel murders eventually alerted authorities to the existence of the Mafia, leading to the later investigation by New Orleans police chief David C. Hennessy, whose own eventual assassination was attributed to Sicilian mafiosi in 1890, resulting in one of the largest mass lynchings in U.S. history. New York detective Joseph Petrosino's early investigations into the New York barrel murders would lead to a crackdown against the Black Hand and the Morellos until his assassination in 1909. The Morellos, suspected of over 100 murders, continued to use the barrel murder for over thirty years until eventually ceasing after the (now well-publicized) murders resulted in unwanted attention from local authorities. Other non-Italian criminals used the same method to draw police suspicion away from themselves onto the Morellos and other Italian mafiosi.Capo dei capi
Capo dei capi (Italian: [ˈkapo ˈdɛi ˈkapi]; "boss of [the] bosses") or capo di tutti i capi (Italian: [ˈkapo di tutti i ˈkapi]; "boss of all [the] bosses") is a phrase used mainly by the media, public and the law enforcement community to indicate a supremely powerful crime boss in the Sicilian or American Mafia who holds great influence over the whole organization. The term was introduced to the U.S. public by the Kefauver Commission (1950).Castellammarese War
The Castellammarese War was a bloody power struggle for control of the Italian-American Mafia, from February, 1930 to April 15, 1931, between partisans of Joe "The Boss" Masseria and those of Salvatore Maranzano. It was so called because Maranzano was based in Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily. Maranzano's faction won, and he declared himself capo di tutti capi ("boss of all bosses"), the undisputed leader of the entire Mafia. However, he was soon murdered in turn by a faction of young upstarts led by Lucky Luciano, who established a power-sharing arrangement called "The Commission," a group of five Mafia families of equal stature, to avoid such wars in the future.Consigliere
Consigliere (; Italian: [konsiʎˈʎɛːre], plural consiglieri) is a position within the leadership structure of the Sicilian, Calabrian and American Mafia. The word was popularized by the novel The Godfather (1969) and its film adaptation. In the novel, a consigliere is an advisor or counselor to the boss, with the additional responsibility of representing the boss in important meetings both within the boss's crime family and with other crime families. The consigliere is a close, trusted friend and confidant, the mob's version of an elder statesman; he is an advisor to the boss in a Mafia crime family, and sometimes is his 'right-hand man'. By the very nature of the job, a consigliere is one of the few in the family who can argue with the boss, and is often tasked with challenging the boss when needed, to ensure subsequent plans are foolproof. In some depictions, he is devoid of ambition and dispenses disinterested advice. This passive image of the consigliere does not correspond with what little is known of real-life consiglieri, however.
A real-life Mafia consigliere is generally the number-three person in a crime family, after the boss and underboss in most cases. The boss, underboss, and consigliere constitute a three-man ruling panel, or "administration". The Genovese crime family are credited with inventing the rank of Messaggero, who is tasked with serving as a liaison between the other American Mafia families.East Harlem Purple Gang
The East Harlem Purple Gang was a semi-independent gang of Italian American hit-men and heroin dealers who, according to federal prosecutors, dominated heroin distribution in East Harlem, Italian Harlem, and the Bronx during the late 1970s and early 1980s in New York City. Though mostly independent of the Italian-American Mafia and not an official Mafia crew, the gang was originally affiliated with and worked with the Lucchese crime family and later with the Bonanno crime family and Genovese crime family. It developed its "closest ties" with the Genovese family, and its remnants or former members are now part of the Genovese family's 116th Street Crew.Five Families
The Five Families are the five major New York City organized crime families of the Italian American Mafia.
The term was first used in 1931, when Salvatore Maranzano formally organized the previously warring gangs into what are now known as the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese, and Lucchese crime families, each with demarcated territory, organizationally structured in a now-familiar hierarchy, and having them reporting up to the same overarching governing entity. Initially Maranzano intended each family's boss to report to him as the capo di tutti capi (boss of all bosses), but this led to his assassination and by September the role was replaced by The Commission, which continues to govern American Mafia activities in the United States and Canada.Jewish-American organized crime
Jewish-American organized crime emerged within the American Jewish community during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It has been referred to variously in media and popular culture as the Jewish Mob, Jewish Mafia, Kosher Mafia, Kosher Nostra, or Undzer Shtik (Yiddish: אונדזער שטיק). The last two of these terms are direct references to the Italian Cosa Nostra; the former is a play on the word kosher, referring to Jewish dietary laws; while the latter is a direct translation of the Italian phrase Cosa Nostra (Italian for "our thing") into Yiddish, which was at the time the predominant language of the Jewish diaspora in the United States.
In the late 19th century in New York City, Monk Eastman operated a powerful Jewish gang that competed with Italian and Irish gangs, notably Paul Kelly's Five Points Gang, for control of New York City's underworld. Another notorious gang, known as the Lenox Avenue Gang, led by Harry "Gyp the Blood" Horowitz, consisted of mostly Jewish members and some Italian members (such as Francesco Cirofisi). It was one of the most violent gangs of the early 20th century and became famous for the murder of gambler and gangster Herman Rosenthal.
In the early 1920s, stimulated by the economic opportunities of the roaring twenties, and later prohibition, Jewish organized crime figures such as Arnold Rothstein were controlling a wide range of criminal enterprises, including bootlegging, loansharking, gambling, and bookmaking. According to crime writer Leo Katcher, Rothstein "transformed organized crime from a thuggish activity by hoodlums into a big business, run like a corporation, with himself at the top." Rothstein was allegedly responsible for fixing the 1919 World Series. At the same time, the Jewish bootlegging mob known as The Purple Gang dominated the Detroit underworld during prohibition, while the Jewish Bugs and Meyer Mob operated in the Lower East Side of New York City before being absorbed into Murder, Inc. and becoming affiliates of the Italian-American Mafia.
The largely Jewish-American and Italian-American gang known as Murder, Inc. and Jewish mobsters such as Meyer Lansky, Mickey Cohen, Harold "Hooky" Rothman, Dutch Schultz, and Bugsy Siegel developed close ties with and gained significant influence within the Italian-American Mafia, eventually forming a loosely organized, mostly Jewish and Italian criminal syndicate known in the press as the "National Crime Syndicate." Jewish and Italian crime groups became increasingly interconnected in the 1920s and 1930s, as they often occupied the same neighborhoods and social statuses of the time. The two ethnic crime groups became especially close in New York City following the establishment of the close relationship between partners Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky and their subsequent elimination of many of the so-called "Mustache Pete", or the Sicilian-born gangsters that often refused to work with non-Italians and even non-Sicilians. The Cohen crime family of Los Angeles and Las Vegas was notably part of both the Jewish Mafia and Italian-American Mafia, and lines between the two ethnic criminal organizations often blurred throughout the 20th century. For decades after, Jewish-American mobsters would continue to work closely and at times compete with Italian-American organized crime.Joseph Valachi
Joseph Michael "Joe Cargo" Valachi (September 22, 1904 – April 3, 1971) was an American gangster who is notable as the first member of the Italian-American Mafia to acknowledge its existence publicly. He is credited with popularization of the term cosa nostra.In 1963, Valachi testified before a U.S. Senate committee, known as the Valachi hearings, and disclosed previously-unknown information about the Italian-American Mafia including its structure, operations, rituals and membership. His testimony was the first major violation of omertà, the mafia's code of silence, and the first concrete evidence that the Italian-American Mafia existed to federal authorities and the general public. Valachi died in 1971 while he was serving a life sentence at the Federal Correctional Institution, La Tuna.List of Italian-American mobsters by organization
This is a list of Italian American Mafia crime families and their leading members.Mafia
A mafia is a type of organized crime syndicate whose primary activities are protection racketeering, arbitrating disputes between criminals, and brokering and enforcing illegal agreements and transactions. Mafias often engage in secondary activities such as gambling, loan sharking, drug-trafficking, prostitution, and fraud.
The term "Mafia" was originally applied to the Sicilian Mafia and originates in Sicily, but it has since expanded to encompass other organizations of similar methods and purpose, e.g., "the Russian Mafia" or "the Japanese Mafia". The term is applied informally by the press and public; the criminal organizations themselves have their own terms (e.g. the Sicilian Mafia and Italian-American Mafia refer to their organizations as "Cosa Nostra"; the "Japanese Mafia" calls itself "Yakuza"; and "Russian Mafia" groups often call themselves "Bratva").
When used alone and without any qualifier, "Mafia" or "the Mafia" typically refers to either the Sicilian Mafia or the Italian-American Mafia and sometimes Italian organized crime in general (e.g., Camorra, 'Ndrangheta, Sacra Corona Unita, Stidda, etc.).Mafia initiation ritual
To become a full member of the Mafia or Cosa Nostra (both the original Sicilian Mafia or the Italian-American offshoot often known as the "American Mafia") – to become a "man of honor" – an aspiring member has to pass a Mafia initiation ritual. The ceremony involves significant ritual, oaths, blood, and an agreement is made to follow the rules of the Mafia as presented to the inductee. The first known account of the ceremony dates back to 1877 in Sicily.The typical sequence of the ceremony according to several distinct descriptions has common features. First, the new recruit is led into the presence of other members and presented by a member; the association is explained including its basic rules; then his finger is pricked with a needle by the officiating member; a few drops of blood are spilled on a card bearing the likeness of a saint; the card is set on fire; finally, while the card is passed rapidly from hand to hand to avoid burns, the novice takes an oath of loyalty to the Mafia family.Milwaukee crime family
The Milwaukee crime family or Balistrieri crime family is an American Mafia crime family based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The crime family was considered a branch of the Chicago Outfit. The family's most influential boss was Frank "Mr. Big" Balistrieri, who was greatly involved in the Las Vegas skimming casinos. Today, the crime family is nearly extinct, since Balistrieri died in 1993, with the Chicago Outfit gaining control over some of the illegal rackets in the area.Mustache Pete
A Mustache Pete is a member of the Sicilian Mafia who came to the United States (particularly New York City) as adults in the early 20th century.National Crime Syndicate
The National Crime Syndicate was the name given by the press to the multi-ethnic, loosely connected American confederation of several criminal organizations, a confederation that mostly consisted of the closely interconnected Italian-American Mafia and Jewish mob but also included to various lesser extents Irish-American criminal organizations and other ethnic crime groups. The name's origins are uncertain.Operation Wasteland
Operation Wasteland was an undercover investigation into organized crime control of the waste disposal industry in New York City.
The investigation resulted in the indictment and conviction of over one hundred participants in price-fixing and bid rigging of waste hauling contracts in the city.
The story is detailed in the book, Takedown, the Fall of the Last Mafia Empire, by Detective Rick Cowan and co-author Douglas Century, and in Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers.Shotgun Man
Shotgun Man was an assassin and spree killer in Chicago, Illinois in the 1910s, to whom murders by Black Hand extortionists were attributed. Most notably, Shotgun Man killed 15 Italian immigrants between January 1, 1910 and March 26, 1911 at "Death Corner," the intersection of Oak Street and Milton Avenue (now Cleveland Avenue) in what was then Chicago's Little Sicily. In March 1911, he reportedly murdered four people within 72 hours.Although witnessed by dozens of bystanders, the Chicago police were never able to identify the murderer. However, he was said to be well known throughout the Italian community and, with the political influence of the Black Hand, residents may have been hesitant to turn in the assassin. Although the fate of Shotgun Man is unknown, he seems to have disappeared from Little Italy shortly before Prohibition, as extortion operations of the Black Hand all but faded away by the end of the decade.Sixth Family
A Sixth Family is a crime family or criminal organization, usually an Italian-American or Italian-Canadian crime group, that has become powerful or notable enough to rise to a level comparable or close to that of the Five Families of the New York City Italian-American Mafia. A criminal organization deemed a "Sixth Family" may rival the Five Families or, alternatively, work closely enough with the Five Families that it appears to be a peer or near coequal of the families.The Commission (mafia)
The Commission is the governing body of the American Mafia, formed in 1931. The Commission replaced the "Boss of all Bosses" title with a ruling committee consisting of the New York Five Families bosses and the bosses of the Chicago Outfit and the Buffalo crime family. The last known Commission meeting held with all the bosses was in November 1985.The Tanglewood Boys
The Tanglewood Boys was an Italian-American recruitment gang or "farm team" for the American Mafia, specifically the Lucchese crime family. The gang frequently operated from the Tanglewood Shopping Center in Yonkers, New York.
Italian American Mafia
Organized crime groups active in the Americas
See: Organized crime groups in Canada