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The Mafia's History:
American Mafia History
The American Mafia started out as street-level gangsters, originating as Black Hand loansharks and extortion rings in the early 1900s. The Five Points Gang became notorious in the 1910s and 1920s, and with the advent of Prohibition, many mafiosi became bootleggers thanks to a nationwide ban on alcohol sales. However, this also led to numerous gangland and turf wars, especially in New York and Chicago; in Chicacgo, Al Capone was duking it out with Bugs Moran. The New York war (known as the Castellammarese War because one of the warring factions came from Castellammare del Golfo, a small town in Sicily, and later became the Bonanno family) was different because it ultimately changed the course of the Mafia forever. It began when Joe "the Boss" Masseria, head of the Morello (later Genovese) crime family, began to shake down the other Italian gangs and coerce them to pay a hefty tribute ("street tax") to him, especially the Brooklyn-based Castellammarese Clan, which was led by Salvatore "Little Caesar" Maranzano. Maranzano resisted, and soon enough, both sides went to war in 1929, with Masseria having a slight advantage in terms of manpower; the Castellammarese Clan, however, was much more cohesive thanks to its military-style hierarchy and Maranzano's charismatic leadership. Meanwhile, as the war dragged on, a new faction of younger, Americanized Italian mobsters emerged on both sides - the Young Turks. Led by an upstart gangster named Charles "Lucky" Luciano, they believed that the two Mustache Petes were too old-fashioned and had to go. To do this however, Luciano had to secretly eliminate his own boss in order to make peace with Maranzano. So Masseria was taken out in a Coney Island restaurant in April of 1931, allowing Maranzano to be the nominal victor, but he became too power hungry by declaring himself boss of all bosses at a meeting in upstate New York, rankling many of the Young Turks, and reneging on the peace deal he made with Luciano. The Young Turks decided Maranzano had to go, and Luciano sent hitmen disguised as tax agents (Maranzano was facing a potential IRS audit like Al Capone before him, and was about to be indicted on tax evasion charges) to Maranzano's office at the Helmsley Building in September of 1931 and eliminate Maranzano (despite putting up a fight, he was garroted, stabbed and shot multiple times). The murders of Masseria and Maranzano in 1931 paved the way for Lucky Luciano's rise to power. He not only restructured the American Mafia by introducing a Commission to resolve disputes among the families, but also branched out to work with other ethnic mobs (including the Jewish mafia and the Irish Mob) to form a National Crime Syndicate. To ensure that the other mobsters are falling in line, Luciano even formed a Brooklyn-based gang of Italian, Irish and Jewish hitmen called Murder, Inc. to function as the Syndicate's murder-for-hire and enforcement arm; it was led by Albert Anastasia and Louis Buchalter, who were both notorious hitmen and labor racketeers. This group of hitmen and contract killers was estimated to have committed at as many as 900 murders between 1931 and 1951. However, things didn't go well for Luciano, and he was deported back to Italy in 1946 following his conviction for running a prostitution ring; he later formed ties with the Sicilian Mafia to distribute drugs in the United States. It was at this time that the Mafia started considering dealing in drug trafficking, and it immediately split into two camps; the pro-drug trafficking faction believed that it was a lucrative business, while the anti-drugs faction thought drugs were bad for business and would bring attention. The pro-drug trafficking faction eventually won out, and many lower-ranking mobsters began to deal with the Sicilians and other drug traffickers to import narcotics into the USA. Joe Bonanno, the boss of the Bonanno crime family, had crews that were actively dealing in drugs, and even set up Montreal as an outpost for importing heroin into the United States. Carlo Gambino, boss of the Gambino family, used Zips (imported Sicilian mafiosi) to import heroin via his cousins, while Vito Genovese actively pushed for narcotics trafficking, but was imprisoned on presumably trumped up charges of drug dealing. Despite a "ban" on narcotics trafficking imposed in the 1950s, many families often dealt drugs on the sly, and bosses such as Paul Castellano (Carlo Gambino's cousin and brother-in-law) turned a blind eye and generally tolerated it as long as no made man was caught dealing drugs. The Kefauver hearings in 1951 determined that a vast criminal conspiracy operated by Italian mobsters did exist behind the scenes, and the Apalachin Meeting of 1957 really confirmed its existence. It was set up by Vito Genovese, Lucky Luciano's former underboss, who aimed to wrest control of the Genovese family from Frank Costello, his main rival and to become the Boss of all Bosses after eliminating Albert Anastasia, the boss of the Mangano (now Gambino) family in October of 1957. Around 100 mobsters attended the meeting at this small town not far from Binghamton, New York, but it turned into a big disaster when a curious state trooper got wind of it (and sent in reinforcements). More than 60 mobsters were caught including Genovese himself; others nabbed include Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano, Joe Profaci and Santo Trafficante; Tommy Lucchese, Stefano Magaddino and Sam Giancana themselves eluded capture, while Joe Bonanno claimed he was not there at the meeting despite being caught by state troopers in a nearby cornfield. Genovese was blamed for the ensuing debacle, and he ended up in prison for trumped-up charges on narcotics trafficking in 1959. Another big blow to the mob came in 1963 when a low-level soldier named Joe Valachi became the first made man to flip by providing a good glimpse into the inner workings of the Mafia. By this time, the FBI started to put more effort into cracking down on organized crime activities, and the passage of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) in 1970 also helped federal prosecutors in building cases against individual mobsters and their families. By the 1980s, the federal government was able to crack down on the Mafia's activities, culminating in the Mafia Commission Case (which was spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani, an ambitious US attorney and future mayor of New York City who viewed the Mafia with nothing but contempt). Also, with many of them facing lengthy prison sentences, an increasing number of mafiosi began to cooperate with the FBI in 1990s. Among the more notable cooperating witnesses (or "rats", as the Mafia calls them) was Sammy Gravano, whose testimony helped take down John Gotti, Vincent Gigante and other bosses in the 1990s; Joe Massino was another example, when he became the first official boss to become an informant in 2005. Phil Leonetti, Dominick Montiglio, Jimmy Fratianno, Gaspipe Casso (though he was later thrown out) and Salvatore Vitale were also good examples of mobsters becoming informer. Despite these convictions and informants (and with the FBI now focusing more on terrorism since 9/11), the American Mafia remains a formidable force and is quietly rebuilding its lost power base, as it's rumored to earn between $50 and $90 billion a year; it now outsources some of its work to other gangs in order to avoid FBI attention.
Criminal Activities The Mafia Is Involved In:The Mafia does love to get their hands dirty in any illegitimate activities, from construction to garbage hauling to labor racketeering to murder-for-hire.
- Labor racketeering: The Mafia is very notorious for infiltrating unions, especially in construction, garbage hauling, food services, cargo/airport services and clothing. Tommy Lucchese had a hand in controlling the Garment District, while the Detroit mafia was involved with Jimmy Hoffa and the Teamsters; Albert Anastasia had control of the Brooklyn docks, and had ties to the International Longshoremen's Association through his younger brother Anthony. The New York families even had enough power within these unions to bring construction activities within the city to a standstill, if they didn't get the right payoffs. The crimes involved in labor racketeering included union shakedowns, embezzling from workers' benefit plans, rigging union elections in favor of mob-friendly candidates, coercing companies into hiring mob-controlled workers, and providing "no-show" jobs to mobsters.
- Garbage hauling: One area that is very notable for mob infiltration is garbage hauling. The Mafia got into this industry when cities outsourced their garbage hauling activities to outside contractors, and that meant potential for the mob to infiltrate these garbage hauling companies. The so-called “garbage mobsters” who ran these operations often falsified paperwork and tampered with waste scales, sometimes to skim profits from the business, and sometimes to hide dirty money in it. Crew bosses and members often got no-work, no-show “consulting” positions at the firms, which gave them a legitimate reason to explain their income. They also divvied up routes in cities, rigged contract bids to favor mob-controlled garbage haulers, and strong-armed non-mob controlled haulers and customers in order to quash any outside competition and keep their prices artificially high. The Genovese family still has some control over garbage hauling, through Alphonse "Allie Shades" Malangone, a capo who also has some control over the Genovese family's interests in the Fulton Fish Market. The Sopranos is also accurate in its portrayal of the North Jersey hauling market around the turn of the 21st century; the division of New Jersey into myriad municipalities makes it hard to catch corrupt deals like this, though the State a has stepped in to block this when it has the resources.
- Construction: Another area that is rife with mob activity is construction. Most major construction projects in New York City could not go ahead without the Five Families' approval, especially if the contract was above $2 million; also many mobsters in major cities were provided with "no-show" jobs in mob-controlled construction companies to explain their income to the IRS. The Mafia bribed or threatened union leaders in order to obtain a piece of the action whenever they got a construction project, and in some cases, took over the union leadership themselves. Once the Mafia had its grip on a union, it could control an entire industry, and could halt or slow down a project if contractors and developers didn't make the right pay-offs. These pay-offs to mob-controlled contractors and unions often forced non mob-controlled contractors to pass these costs down the chain, including developers, brokers, etc., and in turn, forcing real estate prices to skyrocket.
- Cargo services: Another area that's rife with mob infiltration is in cargo services, especially in the trucking, airport services and dockyards. Albert Anastasia, in addition to being a mob-hired hit-man, also had a great degree of control over the unions at the Brooklyn docks, while the Five Families had crews at Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, committing crimes such as truck hijacking and infiltration of unions, among other activities. The Teamsters were mob-influenced, especially during Jimmy Hoffa's tenure; he even had connections with the Detroit mafia. The mob would oftentimes infiltrate and shake down unions and businesses servicing this industry, and coerce them into placing mob-friendly candidates. The Lucchese family has had a stranglehold on the Garment District, through their infiltration of various businesses and unions.
- Infiltration of legitimate businesses: The mob would often infiltrate legitimate businesses through various means, from running protection rackets, shaking them down, providing legitimate "no-show" jobs to mobsters, forming shell companies, and as a cover for illicit activities. Restaurants, waste haulers, bars, construction companies, clothing and airport services were rife with mob infiltration.
- Food distribution: This area was also rife with mob activity. Paul Castellano used his Dial Meat Purveyors as a way to strong-arm poultry distributors and supermarkets into stocking his products, thanks to his prior experience as a butcher early in his mob career, while the Bonanno family used pizza joints as a cover to smuggle and distribute imported heroin in the United States; Joe Bonanno even had behind-the-scenes interests in the cheese industry during his 60+ years in the mob. The Fulton Fish Market is still rife with mob activity, especially with the Genovese and Bonanno families forcing non-mob affiliated competitors to pay a "tax" in order to sell their fish. Mobsters even infiltrated and shook down restaurants, bars and nightclubs if their owners could not pay back the loan they owed, or if they failed to pay the extortion "tax".
- Garment manufacturing: Clothing is another sector that's still rife with mob infiltration. The Lucchese and Gambino families have had significant interests in the trucking and production in New York's Garment District, with corresponding influence and control of various Teamsters and Ladies Garment Workers' locals, alongside with their Jewish allies Lepke Buchalter and Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro. The garment industry is divided essentially into two parts: the jobbers who design and sell the garments, and the contractors who assemble and sew the apparel. The bulk of the products were made-up in Chinatown, so there was a constant movement back and forth between the garment district located mainly between 34th and 39th Streets and the makers located south of Canal Street, three miles down the island. The trucking operation was the life-blood of the business, connecting the heart (the district) to the limbs (Chinatown.) Whoever controlled the trucks controlled the garment industry, which by the 1950s was employing more than 300,000 workers. With their control of the trucking and garment workers unions, the Mafia could essentially put a halt to goods coming in and out of the Garment District if the right payoffs weren't made.
- Financial crimes: Why else would the mob ignore this area? From tax evasion and counterfeiting in the 1920s and 1930s, to money laundering in the 1960s, to "pump-and-dump" stock scams and mortgage fraud in recent years, the Mafia has been involved in many financial crimes. They were also involved in confidence tricks such as Ponzi schemes, advance-fee fraud and are now making a foray into identity theft and cybercrimes, oftentimes with other organized crime groups. The Bonanno family was heavily involved in stock market scams during the Internet bubble of the 1990s, where they would coerce stockbrokers into selling fraudulent penny stock to unsuspecting investors. During the late 2000s recession, mobsters took advantage of the ongoing crisis by participating in mortgage scams, whether through predatory lending schemes or mortgage fraud.
- Political/governmental corruption: American politics is rife with corruption, especially in cities and small towns, where machine politics still has a sway over the locality's budget. New York and Chicago were great examples of machine politics, and mobsters would take advantage of this in exchange for political favors and to rig contracts in favor of mob-controlled businesses; Tommy Lucchese and Frank Costello often jockeyed with one another over who would control Tammany Hall. The mob would sometimes offer bribes to politicians and crooked officials in exchange for turning a blind eye to organized crime activities. In the 1990s, two NYPD officers were revealed to be working for the Mafia as mob-hired hitmen and contract killers, and were on the Lucchese family's payroll for years.
- Illegal gambling: Gambling has always been a very important business in the Mafia. From card games and numbers running to betting on horses and other sports, the Mafia has earned cash from all of them. They operated many illegal and luxurious gambling operations throughout the United States, while police officers and politicians turned a blind eye to these gambling rackets in exchange for payoffs. Las Vegas, Cuba and Atlantic City became gambling meccas, and the mob took notice. Though the Mafia has a diminished influence in Las Vegas, its long-lasting impact on the gambling mecca's development will be felt for decades to come.
- Sports betting: The mob was also heavily involved in sports betting, especially in horse racing, college sports and boxing. 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. Frankie Carbo and Tommy "Ryan" Eboli were deep into rigging boxing matches, and even became the Mafia's unofficial commissioners for boxing.
- Loansharking/shylocking: Illegal gambling and sports betting also led to the rise of a new activity - loansharking. One of the key moneymakers for the Mafia is to provide loans to degenerate gamblers, drug addicts and those with a bad credit history at high interest rates, and often with the ominous threat of violence if they did not pay back. By the 1960s, loan sharks grew even more coordinated, and could pool information on borrowers to better size up risks and ensure a borrower did not try to pay off one loan by borrowing from another Loan Shark.
- Pornography: Prostitution became another moneymaker for the Mafia, as they began to infiltrate peep show booths, porn distributors and child pornography, especially around Times Square, during the decline of New York City in the 1970s. The Gambino family had interests in that area, especially through Robert DiBernardo, who was one of the very few thought to have become 'made' in the Mafia without committing a murder. His name was later used to discredit Geraldine Ferraro's run for the US Senate in the 1990s, when her ties with the mobster were questioned. Lucky Luciano was accused of pandering and deported back to Italy, despite little or no evidence that he was actually running prostitution rings. Michael "Mikey Z" Zaffarano, a now-deceased capo in the Bonanno family, even had interests in adult-only movie theaters.
- Extortion: The Mafia has been involved in extortion of various types from the start, as it started out as Black Hand extortion rings in the early 1900s. Eventually, mobsters began to strong-arm businesses, unions, and freelance criminals, forcing them down to pay a "street tax" in exchange for operating in territories the Mafia controlled in a given area. They could shake down businesses and individuals in many ways, including loansharking, confidence tricks, protection rackets, and shakedowns. Often, the ominous threat of violence was often employed in many of these rackets, to ensure that these businesses, individuals, etc. are falling in line.
- Narcotics trafficking: This became the mob's biggest moneymaker after bootlegging declined in the 1930s, as the Mafia began to dabble into the drug trade. However, this split them into two groups, with the pro-drug faction advocating in favor of it, while the anti-drug faction believed it would bring in law enforcement heat on them. Eventually they pro-drug faction won out, and many low-ranking mobsters began to deal extensively with the Sicilians and other organized crime groups. Bosses such as Paul Castellano, Carlo Gambino and others often turned a blind eye to drug dealing, as many of them took a cut in exchange for dealing it on the sly. The Bonannos became very notorious for heroin trafficking, especially under Joe Bonanno, who sent his underboss Carmine Galante to set up Montreal as an outpost for importing drugs into the United States from Sicily in the 1950s.
- Contraband smuggling: From bootlegging and gunrunning in the 1920s and 1930s to cigarette smuggling and human trafficking, the Mafia has been involved in all sorts of contraband smuggling, as a way to evade import duties/taxes and to smuggle in banned items. Bootlegging became the Mafia's primary moneymaker in the 1920s, as many of the Young Turks began their mob careers during Prohibition. By the time Prohibition was repealed in 1933, many of them were millionaires, and soon dabbled in other areas such as numbers running, labor racketeering and narcotics trafficking (drug trafficking eventually became the mob's biggest moneymaker, but it also attracted attention).
- Murder-for-hire: The Mafia would have failed if it did not employ any threat of violence in regards to its illicit activities. Murder, Inc., a Brooklyn-based band of Italian and Jewish hit-men, became the National Crime Syndicate's enforcement arm, and committed as many as 800 hits to ensure mobsters are falling in line. Bugsy Siegel and Albert Anastasia began their careers as hit-men, as did many of the mobsters in the 1920s, becoming bodyguards and enforcers for more powerful bosses. Many made men usually begin their careers as hit-men, committing murders on behalf of their mob superiors. The Sicilian Mafia is very notorious in this, as they not only killed rival members, but also went after law enforcement officials, judges, politicians and anybody who dared to cross them; even women and children of made members were not spared, especially if a made man decided to cooperate with authorities. Paolo Borsellino and and Giovanni Falcone, two government prosecutors who led an anti-Mafia crusade in the 1980s, learned this the hard way when both were killed in separate car bombings in 1992, forcing the Italian government to crack down on the Sicilian mob's activities.
- Armed robbery: Many mobsters began their mob careers serving as enforcers and armed robbers, and by the 1970s, mobsters were hijacking trucks coming out of JFK Airport, and then selling the stolen merchandise to known fences across New York City. John Gotti, Joe Massino and Sal Vitale began their mob careers as truck hijackers in the 1960s, as did many of the Young Turks in the 1920s. Even Paul Castellano began his mob career in the 1930s by holding up a haberdasher; despite being asked to identify his accomplices, he refused to so (and served a three-month stint as a result of his refusal to rat out), earning the respect of local mobsters, especially his cousin Carlo Gambino.
- Auto theft: The Gambino family has had a big hand in auto theft rings, especially through Roy De Meo, one of the mob's most feared hitmen. He would sell stolen cars to chop shops, who would strip them of their auto parts to be sold to scrap dealers. Criminals are also hopeful that there is little incentive on the part of the victim to search their stolen vehicle, as even if the car is found, recovery may cost more (in insurance, legal, and transportation fees) than the car is actually worth, especially if the stolen car is of low value. A chop shop must be able to take apart a car without damaging the parts and keep them organized. Time is of the essence: more cars processed equals higher profits. There is no advantage to a large inventory, as it can be done more efficiently in a "JIT" (Just In Time) manner by asking a thief only when cars are needed.
The Mafia Initiation Ceremony
The Mafia solicits specific people for membership — one cannot just choose to join up. Also, in order to become a made man, the inductee had to be a male of full Italian descent (though this restriction has been loosened over time, some Mafia families are more restrictive of whom they want to bring in than others). An associate of a crime family who was in the police force or attended a police academy cannot become a made member of the Mafia. Before being inducted, a potential made man is required to carry out a contract killing. Traditionally this was in order to prove loyalty to the Mafia, but in modern times this also serves to show that one is not an undercover cop; any murder committed for personal reasons "do not count". Committing one's first contract killing is referred to as "making your bones", and a potential inductee who does it earns his "button" in the Mafia - meaning that he is on track to becoming an official member. However, earning one's "button" does not always involve killing; good "earners," or experienced associates who have not necessarily murdered for the Mafia but are good in earning money, have in the past earned their "button," or become made men, due to their other valuable contributions beyond contract killing. Until the 1980s, one only had to be involved in a murder (such as driving the getaway car) or be a major "earner" for the family in order to fulfill the requirements. It was not until the Donnie Brasco fiasco, which revealed that undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone was on the verge of being made into the Bonanno crime family, that a rule was made that potential inductees must actually perform a killing. When introducing one made man to another, the phrase "a friend of ours" is used, indicating that he is a member and business can be discussed openly with him. If the person being introduced is an associate or civilian to whom business should not be mentioned, the phrase "a friend of mine" is used instead. Made men are the only ones who can rise through the ranks of the Mafia, from soldier to capo, consigliere, underboss, and boss. There is another obstacle — all potential inductees have to be considered and approved by the Mafia Commission. During the Castellammarese War, Mafia families would often recruit new members in large numbers; as they could not be recognized by the other families, they easily approached the rival capos and rubbed them out. To put a stop to this, all families were now required to give a list of prospective members to the Commission. It was circulated among the other families and eliminated the risk of not being recognized, and also gave the opportunity of removing any inductee which some other family had a problem with. If such an inductee were to become a made man, individual disagreements between him and any other member could easily spark turf wars.
To become made, a potential recruit would first have to be sponsored by an officially made man, generally a capo or soldier. The associate must have at least two sponsors (prior to the Donnie Brasco scandal, only one sponsor was needed), one of whom must have known him for some time. The sponsor knows the associate and vouches for his reliability and abilities. Although a capo or other senior member will determine the prospective member's credibility, ultimately it's at the boss's discretion as to who may become made. When the crime family "opens the books" (accepts new members), an associate will get a call telling him to get ready and be dressed. He is then taken to a private place for the ceremony to take place, usually done in a dark room or in the basement of a fellow mobster’s house. At a table sits the boss, the underboss, consigliere and some of the family's capos and soldiers. The mobster is then told that this is a closed and secret society (the boss also talks about the secret society's history), that the only way out is in a box, and that this ‘thing of ours’ comes before your blood family. A gun and a knife are put in front of the inductee, with the boss asking the would-be member if he would use these to defend his fellow members - the inductee has to say yes. The mobster's sponsor would then prick the inductee’s trigger finger until blood came out. The blood would then be put on a picture of a saint and the picture placed in the hands of the inductee. Then the boss lights the picture on fire and while the wiseguy juggles it in his hands, the boss says: "If you divulge the secrets of our life, your soul will burn in hell just like this saint". Then the newly made guy kisses the higher-ups on both cheeks. The details of a Mafia induction ceremony were a carefully kept and closely guarded secret for years. But in 1963, Joe Valachi’s testimony before a Senate subcommittee shined a spotlight on the mob; furthermore, the FBI managed to successfully bug an initiation ceremony of New England's Patriarca crime family in 1989 (the Patriarca family lost a lot of respect when this was exposed). The Mafia inductions described above is the ceremony conducted by the Sicilian Mafia as well as most American Mafia families. Circumstances can alter some of the details of the ceremony, such as an induction in prison or a quick induction during a gang war.
There are, however, procedures and rules that govern the induction of new members:
- The inductee must be of full Italian heritage on both sides, a change in previous policy requiring that only the father’s lineage be Italian.
- Names of proposed members, and the deceased members they replace, must be circulated to the other families, who have two weeks to lodge an objection — for example, the candidate is an informer or the candidate is an associate of another family.
- Families may not replace a police informant until he gets murdered or dies naturally.
- New members can be “made” only as replacements for mobsters who have died, although each family is allowed to add two new members at Christmastime.
- An associate of a crime family who was in the police force, attended a police academy, or served as a corrections officer cannot become a made member of the Mafia.
- Families may never replace a member the family has killed.
Privileges and Restrictions
After the induction ceremony, the associate becomes a made man and holds the rank of soldier in the Mafia totem pole. A made man enjoys the full protection and backing of the Mafia establishment as long as he remains in favor and earns enough money, a percentage of which must be passed up the hierarchy. A made man is traditionally seen as "untouchable" by fellow criminals; he is to be respected and feared. Killing or assaulting a made man for any reason without explicit permission of the higher-ups is a big no-no which is punishable by death, regardless of whether the perpetrator had a legitimate grievance; however, a made man can be killed if a strong argument is provided and the higher-ups green-light it. 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. All made men have to follow these rules:
- They must vow to stay loyal to the Mafia for life and kick a fixed portion of their earnings to their superiors.
- Whenever they're called in by their superiors, they must oblige without reservation.
- They must also never cooperate with authorities in any way and must serve out prison sentences without complaint - hence the vow of Omerta.
- Members are not allowed to commit adultery with another family member's wife, daughter or girlfriend.
- Made men must abstain from both using and selling drugs of any kind, though this rule has oftentimes been ignored.
How the Mafia is Structured:The Mafia is structured in a way so the higher-ups cannot be traced back to a single crime. This also allows the higher-ups to pass the orders down the line, while the grunts kick in a piece of whatever they earned to their capos and so on.
- Capo di tutti i capi - the Boss of all Bosses in a particular area. More a media title than anything of significance in the American or Sicilian Mob; crime family bosses are seen as peers and don't pay tribute to or take orders from each other. The only boss to ever claim this title for himself was Salvatore Maranzano after "winning" the Castellammarese War in 1931, and he got to enjoy it for less than six months. Before long, Maranzano's nominal second-in-command Lucky Luciano and his fellow Young Turks thought Maranzano was just as greedy and hidebound as Masseria was before him, and they decided to retire the title, and Maranzano along with it. An older term, capo consigliere, denoted the first among equals of the New York bosses, who would arbitrate disputes between families; this went by the wayside during the Castellammarese War and was never reestablished afterwards.
- The Commission: Luciano's answer to the capo di tutti i capi title. Originally consisted of the bosses of the Five Families in New York, the boss of the Buffalo family, and Al Capone, with substantial input from "associates" such as Meyer Lansky. Other cities, such as Detroit and Philadelphia, once had seats on the Commission, but later lost it. Later pared down to just the Five Families with the Bonannos thrown out the Commission in the 1980s due to their generally disruptive behavior in the Mafia (though they later regained their Commission seat in the 1990s), with Chicago doing its own thing, but it still has a seat on the Commission; the idea worked so well that the Sicilian Mafia was encouraged to form a similar body. The Commission is headed by a nominal Chairman, who was not seen as the capo di tutti capi as law enforcement usually claimed it to be; in the mob, crime bosses are viewed as equals, and having a Mafia overlord runs contrary to this idea (Luciano saw what happened to Masseria and Maranzano - the power went into their heads, and they immediately became arrogant in treating their subordinates). Luciano became the first Chairman of the Mafia Commission after establishing it in 1931. Contrary to popular belief, the Commission does not "rule" the Mafia (see above re: bosses, orders, and tribute), but acts as a body for settling disputes that might otherwise lead to violations of "honor" and all-out turf wars—think more of a United Nations of the Underworld or a board of directors of mob bosses rather than a King of the Mafia (or even a Parliament of the Mafia). Only the Commission can approve a new boss before he could take over officially, allow who can become a made man and who can't, and vote on issues (such as the narcotics trade) that might require inter-family cooperation. Though the bosses used to meet more often, greater law enforcement scrutiny in the 1980s and an increasing number of mob informants, notably Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, have forced the Commission underground, and the families now send lower-level members such as capos to discuss business and resolve inter-family disputes. Also, the five New York City bosses have not met with each other since Paul Castellano was killed in late 1985, as the last meeting took place a month before his death (though there was a mini-Commission meeting in 2000, most of the attendees at the time were acting bosses with the lone exception of Joe Massino of the Bonanno family).
- Chairman of the Commission: There was no "ruler" of the Commission, but there was a nominated Chairman or Head of the National Commission. This was used as a substitute to the role of boss of all bosses, as that had the connotations of the old Mustache Pete system of one-man rule.
- 1931-1946 - Charles "Charlie Lucky" Luciano - arrested in 1936 and then deported back to Italy in 1946
- 1946-1951 - Vincent "The Executioner" Mangano - head of the conservative/Sicilian faction, disappeared in April 1951
- 1951-1957 - Frank "The Prime Minister" Costello - stepped down after assassination attempt by Vito Genovese in May 1957
- 1957-1959 - Vito "Don Vitone" Genovese - imprisoned in 1959 and died in February 1969
- 1959-1964 - Joseph "Joe Bananas" Bonanno - forcibly retired in October 1964, died in May 2002
- 1964-1976 - Carlo "Don Carlo" Gambino - died of heart attack on October 15, 1976
- 1976-1985 - Paul "Big Paul" Castellano - murdered on December 16, 1985
- 1985-1992 - John "The Dapper Don" Gotti - imprisoned in 1992 and died on June 10, 2002
- 1992-1997 - Vincent "Vinny Chin" Gigante - imprisoned in 1997 and died December 19, 2005
- 1997-2004 - Joseph "Big Joey" Massino - imprisoned in 2003, then became a government witness in 2004
- 2004-present - unknown
- Chairman of the Commission: There was no "ruler" of the Commission, but there was a nominated Chairman or Head of the National Commission. This was used as a substitute to the role of boss of all bosses, as that had the connotations of the old Mustache Pete system of one-man rule.
Ranks Within Each Family
- Boss - The official head of a particular family. "Don" is an honorific, not a title: in today's Italy it's reserved to priests. Since Mafia families in Sicily are more numerous and smaller than those in the United States, the title is not as distinguished, although the boss still has paramount authority within his region. "Hits" on individuals under his family's protection are at the sole discretion of the boss, and he also decides who is allowed to become a formal member of the family ("opening the books" is a term used by the Cosa Nostra to induct new members into a family). Much of the boss's other duties include settling disputes (holding "sit-downs") between family members and other crime families, relaying orders down the chain of command, receiving a tribute from the family's capos (and rarely, soldiers and associates serving directly under him) and promote or demote ("knock down" or "break") family members at will. Murdering (or attempting to murder) an official boss is a big no-no in the Mafia, as the Commission would order the usurper's death for killing his own boss without explicit permission (only the Commission can authorize a hit on a boss - though this rule has oftentimes been flouted many times).
- Underboss - The second-in-command of a mafia family and usually becomes the boss if the official boss is unavailable (death, prison, on the lam, etc.). The underboss's power varies by family: some are mere figureheads, while others could be very influential, sometimes running a faction within the family or in rare cases, becoming the de facto or effective head of the family even if the official boss is free. The former types are often "knocked down" (demoted), or "whacked" (take a guess) when their patron is no longer guiding their fortunes or if they fall out of favor with the boss. Will collect tribute from most of the family's captains (some, known as "king's men", have the honor of handing theirs directly to the boss), taking a hefty cut before passing it up, and may be in charge of larger rackets requiring citywide coordination (for example, sports betting, which requires bookies across an urban area to hedge each other's bets to collect profit with minimum risk). It should be noted that Capobastone is used mainly within the 'Ndrangheta, though.
- Consigliere - The third-in-command of a Mafia family, a consigliere is an advisor or counselor to the boss, with the additional responsibility of representing the boss in Commission meetings with other crime families. In theory, he is one of the few allowed to argue with the boss, when he thinks what the boss is doing could destroy the family. Most "consigliere" types in media (such as Tom Hagen) are actually based on Mob lawyers. Though the Commission specified a counselor in each family to act as their eyes and ears, most Real Life mob bosses treated it as a lower-level position. Many families often use the position for a veteran who knows the ins and outs of the family's power, but does not wish to rise to the boss or underboss position for whatever reason. Chicago would be a subversion, with the "consigliere" being a sort of "boss emeritus" aka capo consigliere (mobsters Tony Accardo and Paul Ricca held this title, and exercised behind-the-scenes control of the Chicago Outfit for nearly 50 years while letting lower-level capos such as Sam Giancana or Joey "Doves" Aiuppa hold the title of boss). Nicodemo Scarfo was another subversion, as he became the boss of the Philly Mob when the previous boss, Phil Testa, was assassinated while the underboss, Peter Casella, was "chased" to Florida. At the time of Phil Testa's death, Scarfo was the consigliere. A consigliere generally has one soldier underneath him as an aide-de-camp and source of additional income; the lack of attachment to a crew supposedly makes him more "impartial" and obviously makes him less powerful.
- Acting Boss/Street Boss/Front Boss - A rank unique to the American Mafia, appearing in response to the increase in the number of racketeering convictions since the 1980's, rendering most "official" bosses and underbosses no longer at liberty to control the day-to-day operations of their families. This responsibility usually ends up being delegated to a capo (who still operates his own crew in the meantime), who can send a "messenger" to receive orders from the boss and pass along tribute. Even when the official boss is free, this structure is at times maintained as a facade to prevent law enforcement from determining where exactly orders are coming from - the Genovese family is a notable user of this since the 1970s and have been playing bait-and-switch with law enforcement using this tactic, as they would oftentimes prop up "dummy" bosses (usually high-ranking capos) while the official boss remains hidden from law enforcement scrutiny. May sometimes in fact be the de facto boss in all but name, especially if the official boss is old, ill, or kept incommunicado in prison, and if the Street Boss would rather keep a low profile. (Note: This, essentially, was the rank Tony Soprano occupied for most of the series.).
- Messaggero - Another rank that's unique to the American Mafia, this also appeared in the aftermath of the Apalachin Meeting in 1957, though it was increasingly used in the 1980s, especially after the Commission Case, which forced the bosses to hold their sitdowns away from law enforcement scrutiny. The boss can sometimes delegate one of his men to serve as a liaison between him and the other crime families, reducing the need for sit-downs of the mob hierarchy, and thus limit the public exposure of the bosses. In other cases, the boss can use a messenger to relay orders down the chain of command and as a facade to prevent law enforcement from knowing where orders are actually coming from. Vincent Gigante, John Gotti, Joe Massino and other bosses oftentimes used their relatives as emissaries, especially in the wake of the Commission Case.
- Ruling Panel - Another rank unique to the American Mafia, this also appeared in response to greater law enforcement scrutiny in the 1980s, as most of the "official" bosses faced long prison sentences. The boss sometimes delegates a panel/ruling committee of high-ranking capos (who still operate their own crews at the same time) to run the day-to-day operations of the family while the boss retains ultimate control of the family from behind bars, and usually relays his orders to the family via a "messenger", who could then send orders down the chain of command to avoid suspicion. The families can also use these ruling panels as a way to prevent law enforcement from knowing who's actually calling the shots, and to shield the higher-ups from law enforcement scrutiny.
- Capodecina/Caporegime - Also known as a captain, skipper, capo, or "crew chief," the capo may oversee a borgata, faction or crew of soldiers as he can efficiently control in a certain territory or racket assigned to him. Grants permission for all criminal activities in his crew (unauthorized activities may run afoul of another crew or another family's rackets), collects a share of every score, and passes a fixed sum on to the higher-ups of the family. Capos are, in effect, the family's "middle management." Their control over the family's earners and shooters gives them a great deal of power, and they are often the kingmakers if the boss position becomes vacant (if the official boss dies, retires or is incapacitated). The latter title is unique to the Italian-American Mafia. Sometimes, if a capo is in good graces with the boss (especially if they're a good earner and is respected by the other wiseguys), then the official boss may promote the capo to street or acting boss (while running their own crew), especially if the boss is imprisoned, ill, semi-retired, wants to lay low or as a facade to prevent law enforcement from knowing who's actually in charge. On occasions, a capo may be placed in charge of a faction that a family has significant interests in; for example, the Genovese family, which has four crews in its New Jersey faction, appoints one of the capos to supervise it. Another example was John Gotti, who was the de facto head of the Gambino family's blue-collar crews prior to becoming boss.
- Soldier - a soldato, "wiseguy", "button man", or "made guy." This is the lowest level of mobster or gangster who is considered a full member of the "family". A "soldier" must have taken an oath in which he has sworn to follow the rules of the Mafia (such as the omertà), and in some organizations must have killed a person in order to be considered "made."note This entitles them to the full protection of the family in question. Killing or assaulting a soldier, or even infringing on their rackets without explicit permission of their higher-ups, is a big no-no in the mob, as the offender will meet a violent end. American mafiosi may refer to a made man among other made men (as in introducing them; two made men must always be formally introduced by a third party known to both, even if they're father and son) as "a friend of ours." Picciotto is used within the Sicilian Mafia and indicates someone of a lower rank than that of Soldato. In the American Mafia, only males of Italian descent can become a made man, and must trace their lineage through their father's side.
- Associates - "Giovane d'onore" (man of honor), "cugino" (cousin), or "connected guy". An associate is a person who is not a soldier in a crime family, but works for them and shares in the execution of and profits from the criminal enterprise. In Italian criminal organizations, "associates" are usually members of the criminal organization who are not of Italian descent, or junior members who may someday rise to become soldiers for the family; this process can take a decade or longer depending upon the family and the individual's qualifications. This can be tricky sometimes; associates with a history of making serious money often command respect beyond their title (Jimmy Burke of Wiseguy and Goodfellas fame, barred from being made on account of being Irish and not Italian, was a de facto capo for the Lucchese family in the '60s and '70s due to his high-dollar heists). Distinctions are usually drawn between those associates loosely associated with the family, and those who have gone "on record" with a specific soldier or captain; the latter are more tightly controlled in their dealings and are usually candidates for membership. American mafiosi may refer to an associate as "a friend of mine" (rather than "a friend of ours," a quiet warning to watch what is said in their presence). Giovane d'onore is unique to the Camorra. Non-Italians will never go beyond this rank, but many of them, such as Meyer Lansky, Bugsy Siegel, Bumpy Johnson and Mickey Cohen were widely respected and even commanded the respect of actual Mafia members.
- Note: At one time, one had to be a full-blooded Italian to be a full member of the American Mafia, but the rules seem to have loosened as time went on. Despite this flexibility, some of the Mafia families may be more stringent than others as to who they want to induct.
The Mafia Families:There were, at one point, 20+ Mafia families in the United States, though many have since become defunct or are in decline because of increased law enforcement scrutiny, internal warfare, or old age. New York City Mafia Families:
Bonanno Crime Family
- Bonanno crime family - Has a huge presence in northern Brooklyn (Williamsburg, Bushwick, Knickerbocker Avenue and Greenpoint), southern Brooklyn (Bay Ridge, Bensonhurst, Bath Avenue), Queens (Ridgewood, Maspeth, Middle Village, Sunnyside and Metropolitan Avenue) and Staten Island with smaller crews and factions in Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester, New Jersey, Florida and Canada (the family had a crew in Tucson, AZ until Joe Bonanno's forced retirement in the 1960s); the family also has a "Zip" faction. Though a mid-sized family (approx. size is between 150-200 made men), it sometimes held the number one spot, especially with the feds hammering down indictments on the other families in the 1990s. Oftentimes the unruliest of the Five Families (owing to its independent streak since the Castellammarese War; the family's generally disruptive behavior even threw them out of the Commission in the 1980s), the Bonanno family originally hailed from Castellammare del Golfo, a small seaside town in western Sicily. Many of its earliest members came from this town and settled down in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, including family namesake Joe Bonanno; the family was very tight-knit and considered to be the most Sicilian of the Five Families, partly because most of them came from Castellammare del Golfo or had personal ties to that region. Eventually, the family came under the control of Salvatore Maranzano, who came to the United States after escaping from Mussolini's death squads in the 1920s and fancied himself as a mob version of Caesar; but Joe "the Boss" Masseria, the boss of the Morello gang, soon saw him as a growing threat to his power base, and tried to violently take over the Castellammarese Clan's bootlegging rackets. But Maranzano resisted, and this led to a turf war that only ended with Masseria's death in 1931. With Masseria out of the way, Maranzano declared himself to be the Boss of all Bosses, reneging on the peace deal he made with Lucky Luciano prior to Masseria's death to ensure peace between the two sides. The power went into his head, and he too was eliminated by Luciano in late 1931, who sent hitmen to his office posing as IRS agents (Maranzano was facing an IRS audit like Al Capone before him, and using this info, Luciano makes a move before Maranzano gets to him). With the old guard eliminated, Maranzano's protege and ambitious underboss Joseph "Joey Bananas" Bonanno took over in late 1931. Bonanno even forged close ties with Joe Profaci, boss of the Profaci (now Colombo) crime family and with Steve Magaddino (his cousin and boss of the Buffalo family); he even became a major heroin trafficker despite repeatedly denying any involvement. But, he harbored even bigger ambitions and sought to become the boss of bosses (after Vito Genovese failed in his own bid to become the Mafia's kingmaker) by eliminating several of his rivals (notably Gambino and Lucchese) on the Commission in the 1960s; however, this plot was exposed when Joe Colombo (a capo in the Profaci family and the designated gunman) told about Bonanno's plan to Gambino and the rest of the Commission. Bonanno was ordered to come forward several times but each time, he was a no-show, and simply fled New York by faking his own kidnapping in late 1964; at the same time, he was facing a grand jury subpoena investigating organized crime activities in the aftermath of the Valachi hearings. The Commission replaced him and installed Gaspar DiGregorio as boss in 1965, but it wasn't acknowledged by Bill Bonanno (Joe Bonanno's son), triggering an internal turf war that only ended when Bonanno was forced to retire to Tucson, Arizona in late 1968. After Bonanno's forced retirement, the family was known to have a revolving door of weak and ineffectual bosses in the 1970s, and its troubles didn't end as Carmine Galante, a former underboss to Joe Bonanno and known drug pusher, attempted to seize control but was eliminated in 1979, allowing Philip "Rusty" Rastelli to regain full control of the family (he was originally installed as boss in 1973, but faced a lengthy prison sentence for racketeering). Rastelli then faced another challenge from several Galante loyalists who thought he was too weak to run the family and wanted to avenge Galante's death, but they too were eliminated by Rastelli supporters led by Joe Massino, his protege and underboss. But the Donnie Brasco incident (in which an FBI agent infiltrated one of the crews and almost got made), however, did throw the Bonannos out of the Commission (other reasons for being kicked out of the Commission included their generally disruptive behavior, the fact that they were notorious for being drug pushers and the on-and-off infighting that's been going since Joe Bonanno's ouster in 1968) for most of the 1980s (Sonny Black Napolitano, whose crew was unwittingly infiltrated by Joe Pistone aka "Donnie Brasco", ended up dead and his hands were chopped off as a warning to others to never shake hands with law enforcement; several other wiseguys connected to Sonny Black were either dead, demoted in rank or imprisoned); by this time, they were largely regarded as a joke by both the FBI and wiseguys in the other families. But being stripped of their Commission seat actually worked to the Bonannos' favor as they were the only one of the Five Families to avoid an indictment on the Mafia Commission Trial, thus allowing them to quietly rebuild their lost power base while the other families were hammered down with indictments, lengthy prison sentences and mobsters flipping left and right to save their skin. Massino, Rastelli's Number Two, took over as boss in 1991, and he quickly worked to rebuild the family to its former glory by the dawn of the millennium by adding new made members (bringing the family membership back to approx. 160 made men), and expanding into Wall Street scams, union racketeering and white-collar fraud; Massino was even proud that the Bonanno family never had any of its wiseguys flip since 1931. But this all came crashing down in 2002 when several of his button men flipped, especially Salvatore "Good-Looking Sal" Vitale, who regarded Massino as a older brother-like figure to him, but once Massino gets out of jail in 1992, their relationship slowly becomes shaky to the point that Massino wants him dead, and this becomes the catalyst for Vitale to flip in 2003. Massino faced a lengthy prison sentence, and it was upgraded to the death penalty in 2004 after one of the murders he committed was traced back to him. In hopes of saving his life, he became the first official boss of a crime family to turn rat, testifying against Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano, his handpicked successor, in 2005. Once again, the Bonannos are now in shambles after Massino flipped against his former mob colleagues and are still struggling to rebuild themselves in the aftermath. The family is now headed by Michael Mancuso, who took over as boss following Basciano's imprisonment in 2013.
Colombo Crime Family
- Colombo crime family - Big presence in western Brooklyn (notably Red Hook, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Park Slope, Gowanus and Carroll Gardens) and Staten Island, with smaller crews and factions in Manhattan, Queens, Long Island and Florida; also has a crew based in Los Angeles (the family used to have a faction in New Jersey, but that has been disbanded since the 1990s). Currently the weakest of the Five Families thanks to numerous informants (current membership is around 110-130 made men), ineffectual and/or publicity-hungry bosses and internal wars since the 1960s (this family used to be much stronger thanks to its ties with the Bonannos). Originally a small and fairly-well organized gang of Sicilian mafiosi hailing from the town of Villabate (not far from Palermo, Sicily), the crime family was originally known as the Profaci crime family after the first boss, Giuseppe Profaci, who established good ties with Joe Bonanno, the boss of the Bonanno crime family at the time. But, he was known to be a penny-pincher and notoriously greedy (he even demanded a $25 monthly tribute to be kicked up to him), and his tightfisted attitude led to the first family war in the late 1950s. It was ignited by Joe Gallo, a renegade capo who wanted a greater share of the loot Profaci kept for himself; at first, it seemed that Gallo would win this battle (because he had secured the backing of Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese, Profaci's arch-enemies on the Commission), but soon enough, most of the family's 150+ wiseguys chose to back Profaci. Carmine Persico, a Gallo loyalist, later switched sides and rejoined the Profaci faction when he realized Gallo was the wrong horse to bet upon, knowing that Profaci had the money, the arms and the men to keep this battle going. After secretly switching sides, Persico decided to betray the Gallo crew by trying to strangle Joe Gallo's younger brother Larry to death at a bar, but he survived the murder attempt thanks to a passing policeman who witnessed the attack, forcing Persico and his men to flee, and as a result of this, Persico was nicknamed "the Snake" for betraying the Gallo crew. Profaci died of cancer in 1962, but his underboss Joe Magliocco continued the battle against the remaining Gallo crew. The war ended with Gallo's arrest in 1963, but Magliocco soon became embroiled in an audacious plan allegedly hatched by Joe Bonanno to eliminate several of their rivals and take over the mob. However, their plans sputtered to an abrupt halt when Joe Colombo, another capo in the Profaci family, exposed their plot to the Commission. For his reward, Colombo took over the family in 1963 after Magliocco was forced to step down (since the other bosses knew that he had several health issues and would die anytime soon, they let him go but ordered him to retire and pay a $50,000 fine; Bonanno was also ordered to come forward several times but was a no-show despite being asked to explain, and he fled to avoid being killed in 1964 by staging a phony kidnapping); with Carlo Gambino's backing, he changed the family name from Profaci to Colombo. However, much to Gambino's dismay, Colombo was too publicity-friendly, as he claimed the FBI was falsely targeting Italian-Americans by forming a political group to decry the FBI's actions, and allied with Meir Kahane and the Jewish Defense League. Colombo's antics later came back to bite him when he was later gunned down and put in a coma in 1971 during a rally at Columbus Circle; he never recovered from his wounds and died as a result of it in 1978. This incident led to another internal turf war, and the family pinned the blame on Joe Gallo, though it was speculated that Colombo's rivals, including Gambino, ordered it; Gallo was later shot to death in 1972 while dining with his family, thus ending the war, with the remaining Gallo crew later joining the Genovese family. Carmine Persico took over the family in 1972, but spent much of his reign while imprisoned, and used a series of acting bosses and ruling panels to run the family and maintain his grip on it from prison. Persico and his acting boss, Gennaro "Jerry Lang" Langella, were later indicted on the Mafia Commission Case in 1986, facing 100+ year life sentences; to ensure that he remains as the official boss, Persico even groomed his son Alphonse to become the acting boss, but Allie Boy was convicted in a separate trial. Persico then nominates Victor Orena, his cousin and a capo to become the street boss, but Orena harbored bigger ambitions. The family would split again for a 3rd time in the early 1990s when Orena, who felt Persico was out of touch and was planning to do a TV interview (much like how Joe Bonanno did one in 1983 after writing a tell-all book about his life, and how the TV interview was later used in the Mafia Commission Trial), tried to take over as boss. While Persico won the battle after 12 deaths (including three innocent bystanders), 18 associates missing and 12 of his members turning informer (and still runs the battered family from behind bars), the Colombos have been weakened in recent years because of numerous informants and more government crackdowns in the 2000s.
Gambino Crime Family
- Gambino crime family - Big presence in southern and western Brooklyn (Bay Ridge, Bath Beach, Gravesend, Bensonhurst and the Brooklyn docks), Queens (Howard Beach, the Rockaways and JFK Airport), Long Island and Staten Island, with smaller crews and factions in Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester, New England, New Jersey, California and Florida (the family once had a crew based in Baltimore until the 1990s); the family also has a big "Zip" faction (the Cherry Hill Gambinos). Once the biggest crime family (under Carlo Gambino's reign, it had around 450 made men, but that has since dipped to approx. 225-250 made men in the 1990s), it is now a former shell of itself due to John Gotti's media antics and subsequent imprisonment in 1992. The family had its origins in the large Brooklyn faction of the Morello (now Genovese) crime family, and broke off into its own family. It first came to prominence under the Mangano brothers (Phil and Vincent), who held an iron fist over the Brooklyn waterfront, thanks to their underboss Albert Anastasia, but the relationship between Anastasia and the Mangano brothers was an uneasy one from the start. Anastasia later took over as boss after eliminating the Mangano brothers in 1951 (Phil's body was found in a swamp in Brooklyn, while Vincent vanished without a trace), and was known to be a ruthless boss, thanks to his prior experience as the head of Murder, Inc. in the 1930s. However, Anastasia's past would come back to bite him, as he had murdered his own boss without the Commission's approval, and he was assassinated in a famous gangland hit in 1957 orchestrated by Carlo Gambino and Vito Genovese. Carlo Gambino, the family's namesake and Anastasia's underboss, later took over as boss and led it to prosperous times, thanks to his ties with Tommy Lucchese, the boss of the Lucchese family, and both of them would further solidify this alliance into a relationship when Gambino's son Thomas married one of Lucchese's daughters in 1962. Gambino eventually became the Mafia's de facto boss of all bosses as the other families in New York and elsewhere were facing various troubles, such as illness (for the Lucchese family), internal warfare (within the Bonanno and Colombo families) and legal problems (within the Genovese family and Chicago Outfit). But before his death in 1976, Gambino made his biggest mistake by naming his cousin Paul Castellano as his heir and successor over his underboss Neil Dellacroce, who was the most likely candidate for succeeding Gambino, but was imprisoned at the time for tax evasion, effectively splitting the family into two factions; the pro-Dellacroce faction, which was led by John Gotti, Dellacroce's protege, believed that Castellano did not earn his stripes on the street, and was seen as a pampered yes-man who inherited the position simply because of his blood ties to Gambino despite being a big earner for the family. Though he disapproved of Gambino's choice of picking his cousin as boss, Dellacroce still managed to keep the peace between the two factions for the next 9 years until his death from cancer in 1985. But despite this, there were simmering tensions between Gotti and Castellano, as the latter became increasingly greedy; Castellano even began to demand a 15% tribute (instead of the usual 10%) in some cases; though there was an unofficial "ban" placed by Gambino, who ordered his men not to get caught dealing drugs, this was often flouted as even Castellano often turned a blind eye to this "ban" by accepting drug payments from several of his capos, including the Zips (imported Sicilian mafiosi), and from the Gotti and Roy DeMeo crews. By this time, the federal government was initiating a crackdown on organized crime, especially the Mafia — it was spearheaded by Rudolph Giuliani, an aggressive US Attorney who saw the mob with nothing but contempt — and began to actively target the Five Families' leadership, with Castellano topping the list because he was the Mafia Commission's chairman at the time. By 1985, Castellano was in a slew of problems, ranging from legal pressure from the federal government, personal problems with his family (after they found out about his affair with his maid) and dissension among the ranks within the Gambinos, especially from the Dellacroce/blue-collar faction. After Dellacroce's death from cancer in December 1985, Castellano was gunned down outside Sparks Steak House a few weeks later on the orders of Gotti, who was reportedly angry that Castellano was a no-show at his mentor Dellacroce's funeral (other reasons included Castellano's greed, the prospect of Castellano ratting out his henchmen and bosses in the wake of the Commission case because he often badmouthed them, and a fear that he might kill Gotti in a dispute over the family's unofficial "ban" on drug dealing). Gotti took over following Castellano's assassination, but his tenure as boss was marred by frequent indictments (as he was under intense FBI scrutiny since the 1970s), assassination attempts by rivals who were outraged at the unsanctioned hit on Castellano, and his media-hungry profile. By the early 1990s, Sammy Gravano (his underboss), fed up with Gotti's antics, decided to cooperate with the FBI. Gotti was imprisoned for life in 1992 after ducking several attempts by federal prosecutors to have him indicted, and subsequently died of cancer 10 years later; his brother Peter took over as boss in 2002, but he too was imprisoned for life, and still runs the family from behind bars. Since then, the family has been quietly rebuilding its former shell after John Gotti's demise.
Genovese Crime Family
- Genovese crime family - Large presence in Manhattan (Little Italy, 116th Street/East Harlem, Lower East Side, Greenwich Village and the Manhattan/New Jersey waterfronts), the Bronx (Morris Park, Pelham Bay and Arthur Avenue), Westchester, northern New Jersey and Connecticut, with smaller crews and factions in Queens, Brooklyn and Florida (the family also has a small crew in Springfield, Massachusetts). Regarded as the Ivy League of the Mafia, the family is still the strongest and biggest of the Five Families (the family size has historically varied from 250 to 470 made men; current membership is around 275-300 made men). The oldest of the New York families, it was known as the Morello crime family and eventually came under the control of Morello capo Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, who had a penchant for violence and was notoriously greedy. His heavy-handed attempts to strong-arm and control the other Italian gangs, especially the Williamsburg-based Castellammarese gang, led to a bloody turf war in 1928; the Castellammarese War claimed at least 150+ lives and dragged on until Masseria was gunned down at a Coney Island restaurant in 1931. Salvatore Maranzano, now the nominal victor of this turf war, immediately wasted no time into reorganizing the Five Families (and by extension, the entire Mafia) under his control by declaring himself the boss of bosses; the Young Turks, led by an upstart gangster named Charles "Lucky" Luciano(the Young Turks were a younger generation of Americanized mafiosi, and were swayed by Maranzano into fighting for him), realized that Maranzano was much greedier than they originally thought. So, they decided that the boss of all bosses had to go, and Luciano takes over in September of 1931 after Maranzano was eliminated. With the old guard out of the way, Luciano can now consolidate his own power. Luciano then revolutionized the American Mafia by forming a Mafia Commission (and becoming its 1st chairman) to settle disputes and encouraging the other bosses to work with each other instead of "hitting the mattresses". However, he faced an indictment from Thomas Dewey for running a prostitution ring in 1937 and was deported back to Italy in 1946, where he worked with the Sicilian mafia to establish an international drug trafficking empire. The family was taken over by Frank Costello, Luciano's consigliere and a key political fixer; he had huge gambling and white-collar rackets in New York City and was craving to go legitimate; it was once said that no municipal judge or politician could accept their position without Costello's personal backing. He even had behind-the-scenes influence over Tammany Hall (the local Democratic political machine) through proxies such as Carmine DeSapio and Robert Wagner. The Kefauver hearings in 1951 were aimed at proving that a secret Italian organization based on strong family ties was behind a big organized crime conspiracy in the United States, and Costello's reputation took a big hit because of this. By the late 1950s, he faced a growing threat from Vito Genovese, who was Luciano's former underboss and was silently eliminating allies of Costello after returning to the United States in 1945 (notably Albert Anastasia, head of the Mangano family and William "Willie Moore" Moretti, Costello's underboss). By 1957, Genovese, with the sufficient backing of Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese, then ordered a hit on Costello in May; Costello manages to survive the hit, got away with only a scalp wound thanks to the gunman's unintentional warning and steps down to avoid further bloodshed. Genovese takes over after Costello retires, orders a hit on rival mob boss Albert Anastasia and called for an emergency meeting of mob bosses to explain the power vacuum in New York that's been going on since the botched hit on Costello, to consolidate his power base, and as well as to discuss the drug trade in late 1957. But, the Apalachin Meeting turned into a big fiasco as it exposed the Mafia to legal scrutiny for the first time, and the other bosses (notably Gambino and Lucchese, who switched sides and supported Costello, Luciano and Lansky) had him falsely implicated on a drug charge. Later, in 1963, a low-level soldier in his family named Joe Valachi became the first made man to flip and testify about the American Mafia's inner workings; Valachi feared Genovese ordered a hit on him, hence his reason to cooperate with federal authorities. Genovese continued to rule the family from prison (via ruling panels and acting bosses) until his death in 1969. Though the family was run by a series of "dummy" bosses after Genovese's death, Philip "Benny Squint" Lombardo (the family's street boss since 1962) was regarded as the de facto boss and had the final say in family matters, especially since 1969. But ill health forces Lombardo to step down and name Vincent "Chin" Gigante, the alleged gunman behind the Costello hit, as his successor in 1981; Gigante later names Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno as his "dummy" boss. Gigante further shielded himself from law enforcement scrutiny by feigning insanity and pretending to have a low IQ; this ruse worked until 1997, when he was imprisoned for multiple racketeering and murder charges. He ran the family from prison until his death in 2005, and since his death, it is implied the family now uses a ruling panel of capos to manage its daily affairs and to avoid FBI attention, with Liborio "Barney" Bellomo (a protege of Vincent Gigante and the head capo of the 116th Street crew) pretty much having the final say on family matters, in a matter that's reminiscent of Philip Lombardo in the 1970s.
Lucchese Crime Family
- Lucchese crime family - Has a large presence in the Bronx (especially Morris Park, Arthur Avenue, Pelham Bay and Throggs Neck), East Harlem, Westchester, New England and northern New Jersey, with smaller crews and factions in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn, Staten Island, Long Island, Queens and Florida. The family began as a splinter crew of the Morello family, taking over its rackets in the Bronx. It was something of the Franz Ferdinand of the Castellammarese War, as Masseria's attempt to violently replace the family's boss ended up throwing the rest of the family under the sway of Maranzano and starting open conflict between the two groups. Widely reckoned as the smallest (The family manpower has often hovered between 120 and 160 made men) and most peaceful family of the Five Families (until the 1980s), the family's first official boss was Tommy Gagliano, who preferred to keep a low profile. He expanded the family's grip on the Garment District and often used his underboss, Tommy Lucchese to do business with the other families. Gagliano died in 1951, but names Lucchese as his successor before his death. Lucchese continued to maintain the family's grip on the Garment District, and soon controlled trucking rackets at the new Idlewild (now JFK) Airport; he also built close relations with Tammany Hall (the local Democratic Party political machine) and with politicians such as Carmine De Sapio, Robert F. Wagner and Vincent Impellitteri while jockeying with Frank Costello over the control of Tammany Hall. Lucchese also backed Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino in their fights to take control of their respective families, but chose to build a closer relationship with Gambino after the disastrous Apalachin Meeting of 1957 (Gambino's son married his daughter in 1962, and in return, Lucchese gave Gambino access to rackets at JFK Airport). Lucchese later died of cancer in 1967, and was replaced by Carmine Tramunti, who had a good relationship with the other bosses; Tramunti later branched out in construction and narcotics trafficking. Tony "Ducks" Corallo took over as boss in 1973 after Tramunti was indicted and convicted for narcotics trafficking in the French Connection case. Under Corallo's reign, one of the most infamous robberies took place - the Lufthansa Heist. It occurred when several truck hijackers linked to Jimmy "the Gent" Burke and Paul Vario ran off with nearly $6 million in cash and jewelry. Corallo, facing life imprisonment following the Mafia Commission trial in 1987, names Victor Amuso and Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso as the new boss and underboss respectively, but it proved to be a disaster, as both Amuso and Casso were known to be violent hitmen and drug traffickers; also, the two of them came from the Brooklyn faction, while their predecessors came from the Bronx-East Harlem faction. Soon enough, the two ordered anybody that was a purported informant to be marked for death, which actually forced wiseguys in the family to flip because of the increasingly erratic behavior of Amuso and Casso; Amuso even ordered the whacking of the entire New Jersey faction when they failed to show up for a sitdown and pay a hefty tribute - they actually demoted the Jersey Crew's head capo, Anthony Accetturo, to the mere rank of a soldier and replaced him with an Amuso loyalist; Accetturo later flipped when Amuso ordered a hit on his wife, despite the Mafia's longtime ban on harming women, but never went through with it because of massive indictments against many mafiosi at the time. Both Amuso and Casso were captured in 1993, but Gaspipe decided to flip in 1994, revealing that two NYPD officers named Louis Eppolito and Steven Caracappa were on the Lucchese family's payroll for several years, working as contract killers for the Mafia (Eppolito even had relatives who were in the mob, but could never become made because he was a cop). Both Eppolito and Caracappa were sentenced to life imprisonment, but Casso was thrown out of the Witness Program in 1998 for numerous infractions. Amuso still runs the battered Lucchese family to this day via the help of ruling panels and acting bosses, a trait shared with the other Mafia families in New York.
Northeastern Crime Families
Northeastern United States:
- Buffalo/Magaddino crime family - Nicknamed the Arm, this family ran much of upstate New York, with satellite crews in Rochester, Youngstown (Ohio), Toronto and southern Ontario. Originally founded by Stefano Magaddino (Joe "Bananas" Bonanno's cousin), this family is now largely in decline because of internal warfare, a dispute with Bonanno in the 1960s and the death of Stefano Magaddino in 1974.
- De Cavalcante crime family - the inspiration behind the Sopranos, this family runs rackets in Newark and Trenton (Atlantic City is under the Philly Mob's control, while northern New Jersey is under the influence of the Five Families).
- Scarfo/Philadelphia crime family - Also nicknamed the Philly Mob, this family has control of Philadelphia, the Delaware Valley, South New Jersey and Atlantic City. The Philly mob was once a peaceful crime family, but is now very notorious for its violent succession of bosses and multiple gangland wars in the 1980s and early 1990s. It even inspired Bruce Springsteen to write something about Philip "Chicken Man" Testa - the one they blew up in Philly last night. Nicodemo Scarfo ran the family for most of the 1980s, but was infamous for having a penchant for violence, causing many of his wiseguys to turn state's evidence against him, notably his nephew and underboss Phil Leonetti.
- Patriarca/New England crime family - Nicknamed the Office, it controls much of New England and is split into two factions - Boston and Providence. Was once very powerful under Raymond Patriarca, the family's namesake between the 1950s and 1980s, but internal disputes and a war with James "Whitey" Bulger (who was actually an FBI informant) and his Winter Hill Gang nearly led to this family's decline, although it has been quietly building back its lost power base.
- Pittsburgh crime family - has control of Pittsburgh, Western Pennsylvania and portions of Eastern Ohio. The family has been largely in decline since the death of John LaRocca in 1984.
- Bufalino/Scranton-Wilkes-Barre crime family - Largely in decline, the family controlled NE Pennsylvania, the Scranton-Wilkes-Barre area and the southern tier of New York. Joe Barbara, one of the earlier bosses of this family, was involved in the infamous Apalachin Meeting of 1957 following Albert Anastasia's death.
- Rochester crime family - This family broke off from the Buffalo crime family in the 1960s to become its independent group. Like the Pittsburgh and Scranton families, the family has receded much of its criminal activities following the convictions of its top members in the 1990s.
Southern United States Crime Families
Southern United States:
- Tampa Bay/Trafficante crime family - controls much of southern Florida (including Tampa Bay), except for Miami, which is an open territory. They reached their peak strength under Santo Trafficante Jr., who had gambling rackets in Cuba and had ties with Fulgencio Batista, then the president of Cuba in the 1950s. When the Cuban Revolution came by, he lost his gambling rackets and was involved in a botched CIA plot to rub off Castro; he was also presumably involved in a plot to kill JFK, though this has been disputed. Since his death, the family has been in decline, allowing the New York mafia to take control of rackets in the area.
- New Orleans crime family - Once controlled Louisiana, this family (also nicknamed the Combine) has been largely defunct due to Carlos Marcello's death in 1993. If the Genovese and Gambino families are the Yankees and Mets, the New Orleans family would be the Cincinatti Reds; they were the first known Mafia organization in the company (controlling groups of Italian stevedores in the aftermath of the American Civil War), before, too sure in their own power, they killed a police chief and were all but wiped out by an angry lynch mob. Marcello was aligned with Sam Giancana and Santo Trafficante, and was allegedly involved in a plot to kill JFK. In the 1980s, due to a string of convictions, the family has now receded much of its activities.
- Dallas crime family - Once controlled Dallas, Houston and Austin, this family is now largely defunct since the 1990s. May have been involved in the plot to kill JFK, as Jack Ruby had been known to meet Joseph Civello, the boss of Dallas Mafia at the time.
Midwestern United States Crime Families
Midwestern United States:
- Chicago Outfit - Apart from producing Al Capone, the Chicago Outfit also had influence over many of the Midwestern mafia families. The 1920s were marked with bloody turf wars, and the Outfit started to work behind the scenes following the St. Valentine's Day massacre. In 1932, Capone was charged with tax evasion, and was replaced by bosses (notably Paul Ricca and Tony Accardo, who had de facto control of the Outfit for nearly 50 years) who hated the spotlight. Soon enough, they expanded into Las Vegas and Hollywood, where they had begun to shake down labor unions and controlled gambling rackets. Sam Giancana, the street boss in the 1960s, was allegedly involved in a plot to kill Castro, and later, JFK; he was pushed out of power because of his too high-profile behavior. In the 1980s, the government managed to rid Las Vegas of mob influence, thereby diminishing the Outfit's hold on casinos. Though diminished in power, the Outfit still remains one of the more active Mafia families alongside the Philly Mob and the Five Families.
- Detroit Partnership - One of the more active Mafia families, this family has control over the Detroit metro area and parts of southern Ontario. It was involved with the Teamsters, notably with Jimmy Hoffa in the 1950s and 1960s; it is alleged that Joe Zerilli may have been involved in Hoffa's disappearance. Despite federal indictments, the family remains one of the more active Mafia families.
- Cleveland crime family - Nicknamed the Mayfield Road Mob, it was once one of the more active mafia families and had control over much of Ohio. In the 1970s, it was involved in a turf war with Irish mobster Danny Greene over control of union rackets; the war ended when Greene was killed in a car bomb planted by rival mobsters. In 1983, Angelo Lonardo, a high-ranking member of the Cleveland mob, decided to turn informer and give state's evidence against his fellow mobsters; this ultimately diminished the power of the Cleveland Mafia, still recovering from the war with Danny Greene and is now largely defunct.
- Kansas City crime family - has control of Greater Kansas City and Nebraska. It was involved in gambling rackets in Las Vegas with the backing of the Outfit. Operation Strawman, a sting operation that included wiretapping phones of reputed mobsters, revealed that Kansas City mafia was involved in the skimming of gambling profits at the Tropicana Casino.
- St. Louis crime family - once an arm of the Kansas City Mafia, it broke off in the 1960s to become a separate crime family. Largely in decline since the 1990s.
- Milwaukee crime family - controls Milwaukee and Madison, it is largely in decline since the death of Frank Balistrieri in 1993. He was known to use car bombs to wipe out his enemies, and was once involved in a sting operation set up by the FBI (who had sent Joe Pistone), but declined to set up a vending machine operation with Pistone.
Western United States Crime Families
Western United States:
- Los Angeles crime family - Has control of Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. It used to be much more powerful until the 1950s; the family has been in decline since Frank De Simone's death in 1967. For this reason, the family is nicknamed the Mickey Mouse mafia because of De Simone's incompetence (he never expanded the crime family). Jack Dragna, the previous boss, had earned a seat on the Commission thanks to his strong ties to the Five Families; he was also involved in a brief war with Mickey Cohen in the 1950s. In the 1980s, Jimmy Fratianno, a former underboss, decided to flip after he feared his rivals might order a hit on him; this ultimately diminished the power of the LA crime family, which has never recovered since then.
- Denver crime family - This family once controlled rackets in Denver, Boulder and Pueblo in Colorado. Defunct since the 1990s.
- San Francisco crime family - This family once controlled Northern California and San Francisco. Defunct since the 1990s.
- San Jose crime family - This family once controlled San Jose, the Bay Area and Santa Clara County. Like the other West Coast Mafia families, it is defunct since the 1990s.
Mob Lingo:The American Mafia has a unique and colorful lexicon of describing things. Its collection of slang has been building for more than a century. Many of its words have entered mainstream language.
- administration: the upper-level, three-man power structure/ruling panel of an organized crime Family, composed of the boss, underboss, and consigliere.
- associate: an almost-there; someone who works with and for wiseguys, but who hasn't been sworn in as a member of the Family.
- babania: Heroin, as in dealing. Lucrative but risky for mob insiders because if they're busted, long prison terms might compel them to cut a deal and squeal.
- babbo: A dope, idiot, useless underling.
- beef: a complaint or disagreement within the organization, usually discussed during a sit-down with higher-ups in the Family.
- books, the: euphemism for membership in the Family, since nothing is ever written down. When there is an availability (when someone dies), the books are "opened." When no one is being "made," the books are "closed."
- Boss of all bosses/Capo di tutti i capi: Term used by the media and law enforcement to describe an extremely powerful boss who wields significant influence within the Mafia. The LCN does not use this term since 1931, as the only person to hold it (Salvatore Maranzano) was murdered, and the title has been replaced by a Commission of mob bosses.
- borgata: a crime Family; brugad. Sometimes used to describe a crew or faction within a Family.
- broken: a made man who is demoted in rank or "knocked down". Though much better than being shelved, banned from the LCN or rubbed out, the wiseguy loses a lot of power when they're demoted from a very powerful underboss to a mere soldier.
- brugad: a crime family; borgata.
- bug/wire: An eavesdropping device, often used by informants to secretly record their conversations with their Mob colleagues. The wire device/bug transmits to a remote location where law enforcement agents monitor what is being said. Wearing a wire is viewed as risky since discovery of a hidden wire by a criminal could lead to violence against the mole or other retaliatory responses. At other times, FBI agents can install a bug inside mob hangouts to eavesdrop on conversations.
- burn: to murder; synonyms: break an egg, clip, do a piece of work, hit, ice, pop, put out a contract on, whack, knock off, bump off, rub out.
- button: a "made" member of the Mafia; soldier, wiseguy, goodfella, Man of Honor.
- cafone/gavone: a phony or embarrassment to himself and others; "gavone" (slang pronunciation)
- 'cagnolazzi': "wild dogs" – young wannabes working for, but not yet initiated into the Mafia.
- cement shoes/cement overcoat: A largely fictional method of disposing bodies in a body of water, hoping that someone will not find the body. This is where the term "sleeping with the fishes" came from.
- chased: to be permanently banned from the Mafia and barred from associating or doing business with any made members. The punishment is merciful in that the offender is given a pass, but they are stripped of their button/membership in the Family.
- cleaning: taking the necessary steps (driving around, stopping in various locations) to avoid being followed.
- clock: to keep track of someone's movements and activities.
- comare: a Mafia mistress; "goumada" (slang pronunciation).
- come in: To go see the boss when summoned without question.
- The Commission: The American Mafia's ultimate governing authority on mob matters.
- compare: crony, close pal, buddy. Literally, "godfather" in Italian.
- contract/piece of work: a murder assignment.
- Cosa Nostra: Italian for "this thing of ours," a mob family, the Mafia.
- crank/junk business: Euphemism for narcotics/drug trafficking, especially heroin.
- crew: a group of soldiers that takes orders from a capo.
- cugine: a young toughguy looking to be made.
- double-decker coffin: A disposal method generally used by the Mafia, hoping that nobody will be able to find the corpse. Bodies of mob victims were tucked and concealed in hidden compartments below ones already in coffins.
- earner: someone whose expertise is making money for the Family. Someone who brings in a lot to the Family is considered to be a good/big earner.
- eat alone: to keep for one's self; to be greedy.
- empty suit: someone with nothing to offer who tries to hang around with mobsters.
- enforcer/muscle: a person who threatens, maims, or kills someone who doesn't cooperate with Family rules or deals.
- Farm out: Pass on a murder contract to another family.
- Feds: Federal law enforcement agents. In the 1920s, it was the IRS; in the 1950s, it was the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, and in the present day, the FBI.
- fence: someone with worldwide outlets to liquidate swag.
- flip: To become an informant, a government witness, to break the vow of omerta, and cooperate with law enforcement.
- friend of mine: introduction of a third person who is not a member of the Family but who can be vouched for by a Family member.
- friend of ours: introduction of one made member to another.
- get a place ready: To find a burial site.
- gift: A bribe, sometimes for a juror.
- give a pass: To grant a reprieve from being whacked.
- gofer/gopher boy: An errand boy for a mobster. Many mob wannabes often start out as errand boys.
- going: About to be whacked.
- going south: stealing, passing money under the table, going on the lam.
- goombah, goomba, gumba, gumbah: Sicilian slang for the Italian compare; plural: goombata
- hard-on with a suitcase: mob lawyer; feminine: half a hard-on with a suitcase.
- heavy: to be armed with a weapon, packed up.
- hot place: a location suspected of being the target of law enforcement or surveillance.
- iron out: To straighten out things, especially disputes, beefs and vendettas before they spiral out of control.
- joint, the: prison; synonyms: the can, the pen, go away to college, doing time, the slammer, Hoosegow, mainline joint, skinner joint, stoney lonesome, lockup, glasshouse, bucket, club fed, greybar hotel, big house, calaboose, castle, cooler, country club, crowbar hotel, digger, farm, guardhouse, hole, jug, juvie, pokey, rock, sneezer, stockade, the clink, brig, stir, skookum house, cage, coop, behind bars.
- kiss of death: sign given by mob higher-ups that signifies that a member of the crime family has been marked for death, usually as a result of some perceived betrayal. It's usually a sign that the member has fallen out of favor with the higher-ups.
- loanshark: someone who lends mob money at an exorbitant interest rate; a shylock.
- loose cannon: an unpredictable person who may cause long-term and unpredictable damage, whether through violence or by ratting out.
- made: to be sworn into La Cosa Nostra; synonyms: to be "straightened out," to get your button, get inducted.
- make a marriage: to bring two parties together for legitimate or illegitimate Family issues.
- make your bones: Carrying out the first contracted (an on-the-book hit approved by the boss) killing in order to be accepted into the Mafia and become a made man. The hit proved absolute loyalty to the Mafia and, after the Donnie Brasco debacle, to show that the potential recruit is not an undercover police officer. Murders committed for personal reasons do not count.
- mattresses, hitting the, taking to the, going to the: going to war with a rival Family or gang.
- meat eater: a corrupt cop (not exclusively mobspeak).
- message job: placing the bullet in someone's body such that a specific message is sent to that person's crew or family
- Mustache Petes: Old-fashioned or older generation Mafiosi.
- nut, the: mobspeak for "the bottom line"; also the gross profit figure.
- Omerta: the code of silence and one of the premier vows taken when being sworn into the Family. Violation is punishable by death.
- off the record/books: an action taken without the knowledge or approval of the Family.
- on the record/books: an action sanctioned by the Family.
- on the carpet: The situation that occurs when a made guy's performance is harshly criticized by his superior.
- on the lam: Moving secretly. Indicted mobsters, in an effort to avoid arrest, might go "on the lam," changing their address, moving secretly from place to place.
- on the pad: Designation for a law enforcement officer who is paid by the underworld to ignore and turn a blind eye to certain criminal activity.
- on the spot: Set up for assassination.
- one-way ride: Euphemism for an execution method, where the victim is taken to a remote location and is killed off.
- piece: a gun.
- pinched/picked up: arrested.
- pizzo: an 'tax' (extortion money) which retailers and freelance criminals alike pay tin exchange for operating in the territories the Mafia controlled in a given area.
- problem: A liability, someone likely to be whacked.
- put on a shelf/the shelf: a made man who is forced into retirement. Instead of being permanently banned from the LCN or whacked (rubbed out), the made man is no longer active and loses his power within the organization even though he is an official member.
- rat: a member who violates Omerta; synonyms: squealer, informant, canary, snitch, stool pigeon, yellow dog, pentito, tell-tale.
- sit-down/table: a meeting with the Family administration or with other Families to settle disputes.
- shakedown: to blackmail, muscle in, extort or try to get money from someone; also to give someone a scare.
- shylockbusiness: the business of loansharking.
- skim: Tax-free gambling profits, as in the money taken that is not reported to the IRS.
- sleeping with the fishes: Euphemism for a mob victim whose body was disposed of in the sea or other body of water.
- stand-up guy: someone who refuses to rat out the Family no matter what the pressure, offer, or threat.
- swag: stolen goods, also an acronym for "stolen without a gun."
- tax: to take a percentage of someone's earnings.
- through the eye: a message job through the eye to say "We're watching you!"
- through the mouth: a message job through the mouth to indicate that someone WAS a rat.
- vig: the interest payment on a loan from a loanshark (short for "vigorish"). Synonym: juice, vigorish.
- vouch for: to personally guarantee—with one's life—the reputation of someone dealing with the Family.
- walk talk, take a walk: to conduct a sensitive discussion while striding up and down the block to avoid being overheard on those pesky bugs.
- waste management/garbage business: euphemism for organized crime.
- wire: An electronic surveillance device secretly placed on an undercover operator to tape incriminating conversations.
- wiretap: Tapped phoneline so law enforcement can record any incriminating conversations.
- Witness Protection Program: Federal program used to provide security and a new identity to mobsters who chose to cooperate with law enforcement
- Young Turks: Younger, less traditional generation of Mafiosi. Less likely to live by the old rules.
- Zips: Derogatory term used by Americanized mobsters for their imported Sicilian Mafiosi cousins.