Sep 09 2007
The Mafia (also known as Cosa Nostra) is a notorious Italian criminal secret society which first developed in the mid-19th century in Sicily. An offshoot emerged on the East Coast of the United States and in Australia during the late 19th century following waves of Sicilian and Southern Italian emigration (see also Italian diaspora). In North America, the Mafia often refers to Italian organized crime in general, rather than just traditional Sicilian organized crime. According to historian Paolo Pezzino: “The Mafia is a kind of organized crime being active not only in several illegal fields, but also tending to exercise sovereignty functions – normally belonging to public authorities – over a specific territory…”
Some observers have seen “mafia” as a set of attributes deeply rooted in popular culture, as a “way of being”, as illustrated in the definition by the Sicilian ethnographer, Giuseppe Pitrè, at the end of the 19th century: “Mafia is the consciousness of one’s own worth, the exaggerated concept of individual force as the sole arbiter of every conflict, of every clash of interests or ideas.”
Many Sicilians did not regard these men as criminals but as role models and protectors, given that the state appeared to offer no protection for the poor and weak. As late as the 1950s, the funeral epitaph of the legendary boss of Villalba, Calogero Vizzini, stated that “his ‘mafia’ was not criminal, but stood for respect of the law, defense of all rights, greatness of character. It was love.” Here, “mafia” means something like pride, honor, or even social responsibility: an attitude, not an organization. Likewise, in 1925, the former Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando stated in the Italian senate that he was proud of being mafioso, because that word meant honorable, noble, generous.
The word “mafia” is taken from the old Sicilian adjective mafiusu, which has its roots in the Arabic mahyas, meaning “aggressive boasting, bragging” or marfud meaning “rejected”. Roughly translated, it means “swagger”, but can also be translated as “boldness, bravado”. In reference to a man, mafiusu in 19th-century Sicily was ambiguous, signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising, and proud, according to scholar Diego Gambetta.
According to the Sicilian ethnographer Giuseppe Pitrè, the association of the word with the criminal secret society was made by the 1863 play I mafiusi di la Vicaria (The Beautiful (people) of Vicaria) by Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaetano Mosca, which is about criminal gangs in the Palermo prison. The words Mafia and mafiusi (plural of mafiusu) are never mentioned in the play, and were probably put in the title because it would add local flair.
The association between mafiusi and criminal gangs was made by the association the play’s title made with the criminal gangs that were new to Sicilian and Italian society at the time. Consequently, the word “mafia” was generated from a fictional source loosely inspired by the real thing and was used by outsiders to describe it. The use of the term “mafia” was subsequently taken over in the Italian state’s early reports on the phenomenon. The word “mafia” made its first official appearance in 1865 in a report by the prefect of Palermo, Filippo Antonio Gualterio.
Leopoldo Franchetti, an Italian deputy who travelled to Sicily and who wrote one of the first authoritative reports on the mafia in 1876, described the designation of the term “Mafia”: “the term mafia found a class of violent criminals ready and waiting for a name to define them, and, given their special character and importance in Sicilian society, they had the right to a different name from that defining vulgar criminals in other countries”.
The real name: Cosa Nostra
According to some mafiosi, the real name of the Mafia is “Cosa Nostra” (“Our thing”). Many have claimed, as did the Mafia turncoat Tommaso Buscetta, that the word “mafia” was a literary creation. Other Mafia defectors, such as Antonio Calderone and Salvatore Contorno, said the same thing. According to them, the real thing was “cosa nostra”. To men of honour belonging to the organization, there is no need to name it. Mafiosi introduce known members to other known members as belonging to “cosa nostra” (our thing) or la stessa cosa (the same thing), meaning “he is the same thing, a mafioso, as you”. Only the outside world needs a name to describe it, hence the capitalized form “Cosa Nostra”.
Cosa Nostra was first used, in the early 1960s, in the United States by Joseph Valachi, a mafioso turned state witness, during the hearings of the McClellan Commission. At the time, it was understood as a proper name, fostered by the FBI and disseminated by the media. The designation gained wide popularity and almost replaced the term Mafia. The FBI even added an article to the term, calling it ‘La Cosa Nostra’. In Italy the article ‘la’ is never used when the term refers to the Mafia.
The Mafia has used many other names to describe itself throughout its bloody history, such as The Honoured Society. Mafiosi are known among themselves as Men Of Honour.
Rituals of Sicilian Cosa Nostra
The orientation ritual in most families happens when a man becomes an associate, and then, a soldier. As described by Tommaso Buscetta to judge Giovanni Falcone, the neophyte is brought together with at least three “men of honor” of the family and the oldest member present warns him that “this House” is meant to protect the weak against the abuse of the powerful; he then pricks the finger of the initiate and spills his blood onto a sacred image, usually of a saint. The image is placed in the hand of the initiate and lit on fire. The neophyte must withstand the pain of the burning, passing the image from hand to hand, until the image has been consumed, while swearing to keep faith with the principles of “Cosa Nostra,” solemnly swearing “may my flesh burn like this saint if I fail to keep my oath.” Joseph Valachi was the first person to mention that in court.
The Sicilians also have a law of silence, called omertà; it forbids the common man, woman or child to cooperate at all with the police or the government, upon pain of death.
History of Sicilian Cosa Nostra
It has long been debated whether the mafia has medieval origins. Deceased pentito Tommaso Buscetta thought so, whilst modern scholars now believe otherwise. It is possible that the “original” mafia formed as a secret society sworn to protect the Sicilian population from the threat of Catalan marauders in the fifteenth century. However, there is very little historical evidence to suggest this. It is also feasible that the “Robin Hood” myth was perpetuated by the earliest known mafiosi as a means of gaining goodwill and trust from the Sicilian people.
After the Revolution of 1848 and the revolution of 1860, Sicily had fallen to complete disorder. The earliest mafiosi, at that time separate, small bands of outlaws, offered their guns in the revolt. Author John Dickie claims that the main reasons for this were the chance to burn police records and evidence, and to kill off police and pentiti in the chaos. However, once a new government was established in Rome and it became clear that the mafia would be unable to execute these actions, they began refining their methods and techniques over the latter half of the nineteenth century. Protecting the large lemon groves and estates of local nobility became a lucrative but dangerous business. Palermo was initially the main area of these activities, but the Sicilian mafia’s dominance soon spread over all of western Sicily. In order to strengthen the bond between the disparate gangs and so ensure greater profits and a safer working environment, it is possible that the mafia as such was formed at this time in about the mid-19th century.
Mafia after the unification of Italy
From 1860, the year when the new unified Italian state first took over both Sicily and the Papal states, the Popes were hostile to the state. From 1870, the Pope declared himself besieged by the Italian state and strongly encouraged Catholics to refuse to cooperate with the state. Broadly speaking, in mainland Italy, this took a peaceful character. Sicily was strongly Catholic, but in a strongly tribal sense rather than in an intellectual and theological sense, and had a tradition of suspicion of outsiders. The friction between the Church and the state gave a great advantage to violent criminal bands in Sicily who could claim to peasants and townspeople that cooperating with the police (representing the new Italian state) was an anti-Catholic activity. It was in the two decades following the 1860 unification that the term Mafia came to the attention of the general public, although it was considered to be more of an attitude and value system than an organization.
The first mention in official law documentation of the ‘mafia’ came in the late 1800s, when a Dr. Galati was subject to threats of violence from a local mafioso, who was attempting to oust Galati from his own lemon grove in order to move himself in. Protection rackets, cattle rustling and bribery of state officials were the main sources of income and protection for the early mafia. Cosa Nostra also borrowed heavily from masonic oaths and rituals, such as the now famous initiation ceremony.
During the Fascist period in Italy, Cesare Mori, prefect of Palermo, used special powers granted to him to prosecute the Mafia, forcing many Mafiosi to flee abroad or risk being jailed. Many of the Mafiosi who escaped fled to the United States, among them Joseph Bonanno, nicknamed Joe Bananas, who came to dominate the U.S. branch of the Mafia. However, when Mori started to persecute the Mafiosi involved in the Fascist hierarchy, he was removed, and the Fascist authorities proclaimed that the Mafia had been defeated. Though the mafia was weakened, it had not been defeated as claimed. Despite his assault on their brethren, Mussolini had his admirers in the New York Mafia, notably Vito Genovese (although he was from Naples and not from Sicily).
The post-war revival
After Fascism, the Mafia did not become powerful in Italy again until after the country’s surrender in World War II and the U.S. occupation. The United States used Italian connections of American Mafiosi during the invasion of Italy and Sicily in 1943. Lucky Luciano and other Mafiosi, who had been imprisoned during this time in the U.S., provided information for U.S. military intelligence and used Luciano’s influence to ease the way for advancing troops. Furthermore, Luciano’s control of the ports prevented sabotage by agents of the Axis powers.
Some say that the U.S. Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA, deliberately allowed the mafia to recover its social and economic position as the “anti-State” in Sicily, and with the U.S.-mafia alliance forged in 1943, this became the true turning point of mafia history and the new foundation for its subsequent 60-year career. Others, such as the Palermitan historian Francesco Renda, have argued that there was no such alliance. Rather, the mafia exploited the chaos of post-fascist Sicily to reconquer its social base. The OSS indeed, in its 1944 “Report on the Problem of Mafia” by the agent W. E. Scotten, pointed to the signs of mafia resurgence and warned of its perils for social order and economic progress.
An alleged additional benefit (from the American perspective) was that many of the Sicilian-Italian Mafiosi were hard-line anti-communists. They were therefore seen as valuable allies by the anti-communist Americans, who allegedly used them to root out socialist and communist elements in the American shipping industry as well as wartime resistance movements and postwar local and regional governments in areas where the Mafia held sway.
According to drug trade expert Dr. Alfred W. McCoy, Luciano was permitted to run his crime network from his jail cell in exchange for his assistance. After the war, Luciano was rewarded by being released from prison and deported to Italy, where he was able to continue his criminal career unhindered. He went to Sicily in 1946 to continue his activities and according to McCoy’s landmark 1972 book The Politics of Heroin in South-East Asia, Luciano went on to forge a crucial alliance with the Corsican Mafia, leading to the development of a vast international heroin trafficking network, initially supplied from Turkey and based in Marseille — the so-called “French Connection”.
Later, when Turkey began to eliminate its opium production, he used his connections with the Corsicans to open a dialogue with expatriate Corsican mafiosi in South Vietnam. In collaboration with leading American mob bosses including Santo Trafficante Jr., Luciano and his successors took advantage of the chaotic conditions in Southeast Asia arising from the Vietnam War to establish an unassailable supply and distribution base in the “Golden Triangle”, which was soon funneling huge amounts of Asian heroin into the United States, Australia and other countries.
Maxi Trial and war against the government
The Second Mafia War in the early 1980s was a large scale conflict within the Mafia that also lead to the assassinations of several politicians, police chiefs and magistrates. Salvatore Riina and his Corleonesi faction ultimately prevailed in the war. The new generation of mafiosi placed more emphasis on “white-collar” criminal activity as opposed to more traditional racketeering enterprises. In reaction to these developments, the Italian press has come up with the phrase Cosa Nuova (“the new thing”, a play on Cosa Nostra) to refer to the revamped organization.
The first major pentito (a captured mafioso to collaborate with the judicial system) was Tommaso Buscetta who had lost several allies in the war and began to talk to prosecutor Giovanni Falcone around 1983. This led to the Maxi Trial (1986-1987) which resulted in several hundred convictions of leading mafiosi. When the Italian Supreme Court confirmed the convictions in January 1992, Riina took revenge. The politician Salvatore Lima was killed in March 1992; he had long been suspected of being the main government connection of the Mafia (later confirmed by testimony of Buscetta), and the Mafia was clearly displeased with his services. Falcone and fellow anti-Mafia prosecutor Paolo Borsellino were killed a few months later. This led to a public outcry and a massive government crackdown, resulting in Riina’s arrest in January 1993. More and more pentitos started to emerge. Many would pay a high price for their co-operation usually through the murder of relatives. For example, Cosa Nostra defector Francesco Marino Mannoia’s, mother, aunt and sister were murdered.
The Corleonesi retaliated with a campaign of terrorism, a series of bombings against several tourist spots on the Italian mainland: the Via dei Georgofili in Florence, Via Palestro in Milan, and the Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano and Via San Teodoro in Rome, which left 10 people dead and 93 injured and caused severe damage to cultural heritage such as the Uffizi Gallery. Bernardo Provenzano took over as boss of the Corleonesi and halted this campaign and replaced it with a campaign of quietness known as pax mafiosi. This campaign has allowed the Mafia to slowly regain the power it once had. He was arrested in 2006, after 40 years on the run.
The modern Mafia in Italy
The main split in the Sicilian Mafia at present is between those bosses who have been convicted and are now imprisoned, chiefly Salvatore ‘Totò’ Riina, and Capo di tutti i capi Bernardo Provenzano, and those who are on the run, or who have not been indicted. The incarcerated bosses are currently subjected to harsh controls on their contact with the outside world, limiting their ability to run their operations from behind bars under the Italian law 41 bis. Antonino Giuffrè – a close confidant of Provenzano, turned pentito shortly after his capture in 2002 – alleges that in 1993, Cosa Nostra had direct contact with representatives of Silvio Berlusconi who was then planning the birth of Forza Italia.
The deal that he says was alleged to have been made was a repeal of 41 bis, among other anti-Mafia laws in return for electoral deliverances in Sicily. Giuffrè’s declarations have not been confirmed. The Italian Parliament, with the support of Forza Italia, extended the enforcement of 41 bis, which was to expire in 2002 but has been prolonged for another four years and extended to other crimes such as terrorism. However, according to one of Italy’s leading magazines, L’Espresso, 119 mafiosi – one-fifth of those incarcerated under the 41 bis regime – have been released on an individual basis. The human rights group Amnesty International has expressed concern that the 41-bis regime could in some circumstances amount to “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment” for prisoners.
In addition to Salvatore Lima, mentioned above, the politician Giulio Andreotti and the High Court judge Corrado Carnevale have long been suspected of having ties to the Mafia.
By the late 1990s, the weakened Cosa Nostra had to yield most of the illegal drug trade to the ‘Ndrangheta crime organization from Calabria. In 2006, the latter was estimated to control 80% of the cocaine import to Europe.
Prominent Sicilian mafiosi
Vito Cascio Ferro Prominent early Don, imprisoned by Cesare Mori.
Calogero Vizzini (1877 – 1954), boss of Villalba, was considered to be one of the most influential Mafia bosses of Sicily after World War II until his death in 1954.
Stefano Magaddino (1891 – 1974), “The grand old man of the Cosa Nostra”. Original member of the National Commission and was very prominent in the cities of Buffalo and Detroit
Giuseppe Genco Russo (1893 – 1976), boss of Mussomeli, considered to be the heir of Calogero Vizzini.
Michele Navarra (1905 – 1958), boss of the Mafia Family in Corleone from 1930 to 1958
Salvatore “Ciaschiteddu” Greco (1923 – 1978), boss of the Mafia Family in Ciaculli, he was the first “secretary” of the first Sicilian Mafia Commission that was formed somewhere in 1958.
Gaetano Badalamenti (1923 – 2004), boss of the Mafia Family in Cinisi
Angelo La Barbera (1924 – 1975) boss of the Mafia Family in Palermo Centro
Michele Greco (born 1924), boss of the Mafia Family in Croceverde
Luciano Liggio (1925 – 1993), boss of the Mafia Family in Corleone
Tommaso Buscetta (1928 – 2000), Sicilian Mafioso who became a pentito (informant) in 1984. Buscetta’s evidence was used to great effect during the Maxi-Trials.
Salvatore Riina (born 1930), also known as Totò Riina is one of the most infamous members of the Sicilian Mafia. He was nicknamed The Beast, or sometimes The Short One (‘U Curtu in Sicilian) and ruled the Mafia with an iron hand from the 1980s until his arrest in 1993.
Bernardo Provenzano (born 1933), successor of Riina at the head of the Corleonesi and a such considered one of the most powerful bosses of the Sicilian Mafia. Provenzano was a fugitive from justice since 1963. He was captured on 11 April 2006 in Sicily. Before capture, authorities had reportedly been ‘close’ to capturing him for 10 years.
Stefano Bontade (1939 – 1981), boss of the Mafia Family in Santa Maria di Gesù
Leoluca Bagarella (born 1941), member of the Mafia Family in Corleone arrested in 1995
Salvatore Lo Piccolo (born 1942), considered to be one of the successors of Provenzano.
Salvatore Inzerillo (1944 – 1981), boss of the Mafia Family in Passo di Rigano
Giovanni ‘Lo Scannacristiani’ Brusca (born 1957), who was involved in the murder of Giovanni Falcone.
Matteo Messina Denaro (born 1962), considered to be one of the successors of Provenzano.
Michele Cavataio died in Mafia hit in 1969
Benedetto Santapaola (born 1938), the most important boss of Catania.
Structure of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra
Known as the Honored Society among Mafiosi, the chain of command is organized in a pyramid similar to a modern corporate structure.
Capo di Tutti Capi (the “Boss of All Bosses”, namely Matteo Messina Denaro for the Sicilian Mafia and Renato Gagliano for the Sacra Corona Unita)
Capo di Capi Re (a title of respect given to a senior or retired member, equivalent to being a member emeritus, literally, “King Boss of Bosses”)
Capo Crimine (“Crime Boss”, known as a Don – the head of a crime family)
Capo Bastone (“Club Head”, known as the “Underboss” is second in command to the Capo Crimine)
Consiglieri (an advisor)
Caporegime (“Regime head”, a captain who commands a “crew” of around ten Sgarriste or “soldiers”)
Sgarrista or Soldati (“Soldier”, made members of the Mafia who serve primarily as foot soldiers)
Picciotto (“Little man”, a low ranking member who serves as an “enforcer”)
Giovane D’Onore (an associate member, usually someone not of Italian ancestry)
Italian Mafia structure
Capofamiglia – (Don)
Consigliere – (Counselor/Advisor)
Sotto Capo – (Underboss)
Capodecina – (Group Boss/Capo)
Uomini D’onore – (“Men of Honor”)
American Cosa Nostra
The Italian Mafia continues to dominate organized crime in the U.S. It uses this status to maintain control over much of both Chicago’s and New York City’s organized criminal activity, as well as criminal activity in other cities in the Northeast and across the country, such as Philadelphia, Las Vegas, New Orleans, and many others. The Mafia and its reputation have become entrenched in American popular culture, being portrayed in movies, TV shows, commercial advertising and video games.
The American Mafia, specifically the Five Families of New York, has its roots in the Sicilian Mafia, but has been a separate organization in the United States for many years. Today, American Cosa Nostra cooperates in various criminal activities with the different Italian organized crime groups, such as Camorra, which are headquartered in Italy. It is wrongly known as the “original Mafia”, although it was neither the oldest criminal organization, nor the first to act in the U.S. In 1986, according to government reports, it was estimated that there are 1,700 members of “La Cosa Nostra” and thousands of associate members. Reports also are said to include the Italian-American Mafia as the largest organized crime group in the United States and continues to hold dominance over the National Crime Syndicate, despite the increasing numbers of street gangs and other organizations of neither Italian nor Sicilian ethnicity. American Cosa Nostra is most active in the New York metropolitan area, Philadelphia, New England (see the Patriarca crime family), Detroit (see the Detroit Outfit, and Chicago, but there are actually a total of 26 La Cosa Nostra family cities around the United States.
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 American Mafia started with the La Mano Negra, “The Black Hand”, extorting Italians (and other immigrants) around New York city. Black Hand gangsters would threaten them by mail if their extortion demands were not met. The threats were sometimes marked with a hand-print in black ink at the bottom of the page. As more Sicilian gangsters immigrated to the U.S., they expanded their criminal activities from extortion to loan-sharking, prostitution, drugs and alcohol, robbery, kidnapping, and murder.
Giuseppe Esposito was the first known Sicilian Mafia member to emigrate to the United States. He and six other Sicilians fled to New York after murdering eleven wealthy landowners as well as 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 Mafia incident in the United States that received both national and international attention. On October 15, 1890, New Orleans Police Superintendent David Hennessey was murdered execution-style. Hundreds of Sicilians were arrested, and nineteen were eventually indicted for the murder. An acquittal followed, with rumors of bribed and intimidated witnesses. The outraged citizens of New Orleans organized a lynch mob and proceeded to kill eleven of the nineteen defendants. Two were hanged, nine were shot, and the remaining eight escaped.
In the 1910s and 1920s in New York City, the Sicilian Mafia developed into the Five Points Gang.
The rising: the Prohibition
Mafia activities were restricted until 1920, when they exploded because of the introduction of the prohibition. Al Capone’s Syndicate in the 1920s ruled Chicago.
By the end of the 1920s, two factions of organized crime had emerged, causing the Castellamarese war for control of organized crime in New York City. With the murder of Joseph Masseria, the leader of one of the factions, the war ended uniting the two sides back into one organization now dubbed Cosa Nostra. Salvatore Maranzano, the first leader of American Mafia, was himself murdered within six months and Charles “Lucky” Luciano became the new leader. Maranzano had established the code of conduct for the organization, set up the “family” divisions and structure, and established procedures for resolving disputes. Luciano set up the “Commission” to rule their activities. The Commission included bosses from six or seven families. Mike “MIcro” Natale is also known to play a big role in the DFP Familia.
In 1951, a U.S. Senate Committee, led by Democratic Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver, determined that a “sinister criminal organization”, with ties to the USSR, also known as the Mafia operated around the United States.
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. This gathering has become known as the Apalachin Conference. Many of the attendees were arrested and this event was the catalyst that changed the way law enforcement battles organized crime.
In 1963, Joseph 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 US Senate McClellan Committee, 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.
Today Cosa Nostra is involved in a broad spectrum of illegal activities. These include murder, extortion, drug trafficking, corruption of public officials, gambling, infiltration of legitimate businesses, labor racketeering, loan sharking, prostitution, pornography, tax fraud schemes, and most notably today, stock manipulation schemes.
In the mid-20th century, the Mafia was reputed to have infiltrated many labor unions in the United States, notably the Teamsters, whose president Jimmy Hoffa disappeared and is widely rumored to have been killed by Matteo Bari, enforcer for the Mafia. In the 1980s, the United States federal government made a determined effort to remove Mafia influence from labor unions.
The Mafia had eventually expanded to twenty-six crime families nationwide in the major cities of the United States, with the center of organized crime based in New York. After many turf wars, the Five Families ended up dominating New York, named after prominent early members: the Bonanno family, the Colombo family, the Gambino family, the Genovese family, and the Lucchese family. These families held underground conferences with other mafia notables like Joe Porrello from Cleveland, and other gang leaders, such as Al Capone.
Boss – 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 attracted too much attention.
Underboss – The Underboss, usually appointed by the Boss, is the second in command of the family. The Underboss is in charge of all of the Capos, who is controlled by the Boss. The Underboss is usually first in line to become Acting Boss if the Boss is imprisoned or dies.
Consigliere – Consigliere is an advisor to the family. They are often low profile gangsters that can be trusted. They are used as a mediator of disputes or representatives or aids in meetings with other Families. They often keep the Family looking as legitimate as possible, and are, themselves, legitimate apart from some minor gambling or loan sharking. Often Consiglieres are lawyers or stock brokers, are trusted and have a close friendship or relationship with the Don. They usually do not have crew of their own, but still wield great power in the Family. They are also often the liaison between the Don and important ‘bought’ figures, such as politicians or Judges.
Caporegime (or Capo)- A Capo (sometimes called a Captain) is in charge of a crew. There are usually four to six crews in each family, possibly even seven to nine crews, each one consisting of up to ten Soldiers. Capos run their own small family, but must follow the limitations and guidelines created by the Boss, as well as pay him his cut of their profits. Capos are nominated by the Underboss, but typically chosen by the Boss himself.
Soldier – Soldiers are members of the family, and can only be of Italian background. Soldiers start as Associates that have proven themselves. When the books are open, meaning that there is an open spot in the family, a Capo (or several Capos) may recommend an up-and-coming Associate to be a new member. In the case that there is only one slot and multiple recommendations, the Boss will decide. The new member usually becomes part of the Capo’s crew that recommended him.
Associate – An Associate is not a member of the mob, and an Associate’s role is more similar to that of an errand boy. They are usually a go-between or sometimes deal in drugs to keep the heat off the actual members. In other cases, an associate might be a corrupt labor union delegate or businessman. Non-Italians will never go any further than this. However, occasionally an associate will become powerful within his own family, for example Joe Watts, a close associate of John Gotti.
The way the American Mafia was controlled and the system of the Mafia was created by Salvatore Maranzano (who became the first “capo di tutti capi” in the US. Though he was killed after holding the position for only six months, by Lucky Luciano). Most recently there have been two new positions in the family leadership, the family messenger and Street Boss. These positions were created by former Genovese leader Vincent Gigante.
Each faction was headed by a caporegime, who reported to the boss. When the boss made a decision, he never issued orders directly to the soldiers who would carry it out, but instead passed instructions down through the chain of command. In this way, the higher levels of the organization were effectively insulated from incrimination if a lower level member should be captured by law enforcement. This structure is depicted in Mario Puzo’s famous novel The Godfather.
The initiation ritual emerged from various sources, such as Catholic confraternities and Masonic Lodges in mid-nineteenth 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 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 preapproved 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 — rent vacant apartments and have a number of soldiers sleeping on mattresses on the floor in shifts, with the others ready at the windows to fire at members of rival families.
Symbolism in murders
There are many symbolic deeds done during certain gangland executions that are requested by the don. For allowing Joseph Pistone into the Bonanno crime family caporegime Dominick Napolitano had his hands severed. Later during the attempted murder of Joseph Ianuzzi this is what Tommy Agro attempted to do.
As in the murder of Lucchese crime family soldier Bruno Facciola, a dead canary was stuffed inside his mouth after he was shot to death.
A mobster who was thought to be skimming from gambling profits was shot dead and found with a twenty-dollar bill shoved into his rectum.
Frank Abbandando Jr. gave a powerful capo in the Colombo crime family the middle finger and although his life was spared, his middle fingers were severed by a dull knife and sent to him preserved in vinegar.
American Mafia Families by city
Note that the Mafia has members, associates, and families in others cities as well. The organization is not limited to these cities. Many of these families have influence in other cities also.
Prominent American mafiosi
See also: List of Italian American mobsters.
Al Capone ‘Scarface’: (1899-1947) Prohibition Chicago Boss.
Charles Luciano ‘Lucky’: (1897-1962) New York Boss. Founder of Modern American Mafia. First Boss of the Genovese Family.
Joe Bonanno ‘Joe Bananas’: (1905-2002) First Boss of the Bonanno Family.
Gaetano Gagliano ‘Tommy’: (1884-1951) First Boss of the Lucchese Family.
Vincent Mangano: (1888-1951) First Boss of the Gambino Family.
Joe Profaci: (1897-1962) First Boss of the Colombo Family.
Joe Valachi ‘Joe Cargo’: (1903-1971) First Mafioso to turn informer.
Paul Castellano: (1915-1985) Gambino Boss. Assassinated on the orders of John Gotti.
John Gotti ‘The Dapper Don’: (1940-2002) Gambino Boss. Famous for flamboyance and his media friendly attitude.
Henry Hill: (1943-present) Mob turncoat immortalised in the film Goodfellas.
Joe Massino ‘Big Joey’: (1943-present) Bonanno Boss. First boss to turn informer.
Law enforcement in the United States
Joint projects of the U.S. government and the Mafia
On very rare occasions, the United States government has conspired with organized crime figures to assassinate foreign heads of state. In August 1960, Colonel Sheffield Edwards, director of the CIA’s Office of Security, proposed the assassination of Cuban head of state Fidel Castro by mafia assassins. Between August 1960 and April 1961, the CIA, without the help of the Mafia (who had taken the money and done nothing), pursued a series of plots to poison or shoot Castro (CIA, Inspector General’s Report on Efforts to Assassinate Fidel Castro, p. 3, 14). Those allegedly involved included Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, Jr., and John Roselli.
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 has been known to carry out hits on law enforcement in its earlier history. New Orleans police officer Joe Petrosino was shot by Sicilian mobsters in the United States. A statue of him was later erected across the street from a Luchhese hangout.
The RICO Act of the 1960s made it a crime to belong to an organization that performed illegal acts, and it created programs such as the witness protection program. The Act only began to come into frequent use during the late 70′s and early 80′s. Charges of racketeering convicted scores of mobsters including 2 of New York’s Godfathers (Anthony Corallo and Carmine Persico) during the Commission Case in 1985 (Although one of the convicted Anthony ‘Fat Tony’ Salerno was thought of as the Genovese Godfather he was only the Underboss). The Act continued to be used to great effect up to the end of the 20th century and hurt the Mob severely.
However the Mafia is still the dominant organized crime group in the United States, despite the success of RICO. According to Selwyn Raab, author of Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires, after 9/11 the FBI has redirected most of its attention to finding terrorists, which contributed to a resurgence of Mafia activity in the U.S.
Pages: 1 2