It should be noted in Real Life that there are in fact two Mafias: the Sicilian Mafia and the American Mafia. The first has operated in Sicily at least since the unification of Italy (and possibly much longer, though most of their history has been heavily romanticized). It limits its membership to Sicilian males with no police relatives, and despite massive prosecutions in Italy and starting from the 1980s, they still have a heavy presence in Sicily today. They accomplished this by sending politicians on their payroll straight to Parliament, and sadly the reveal of an MP sitting in the national anti-Mafia commission to have ties or suspected ties with Cosa Nostra is not that infrequent.
Historians are still somewhat unsure as to when and where exactly the Mafia began on Sicily, as the Mafia itself has tended to heavily romanticize and exaggerate its own history. But Sicily semi-frequently facing various invasions by bigger powers throughout history having been in the hands of the Romans, the Arabs, the Normans, and the Spanish, and finally the British,note the Neapolitans,note and the Italians (a citizen of Sicily identifying as a Sicilian rather than an Italian is not uncommon today) definitely played a role in creating a general distrust towards any outside authorities claiming dominion. What is also established is that the Mafia's structure and hierarchy show clear inspiration from customs and ideals upheld by Roman noble families.
All that being said, 19th-century modernization in Sicily seems to have had the biggest role in establishing the modern Sicilian Mafia. Reforms led to the division of large noble-held estates among large numbers of smaller landowners (the number of landowners in Sicily increased at least a hundredfold over the 19th century). This resulted in many more disputes and a lot of banditry, which the underfunded official courts and police (first of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and then of the Kingdom of Italy) could not handle. On the theory that poachers make the best gamekeepers, local nobles and prominent citizens therefore hired the strongest bandits to settle local disputes in lieu of the official authorities; the bandits eventually began running things to their own advantage, in cooperation with their more "respectable" patrons. The Sicilian Mafia is therefore heavily localized, with dozens of families controlling single towns or (in cities like Palermo) neighborhoods rather than whole regions.
The American Mafia began with loosely-knit protection gangs known as Black Hands, taking orders from emigrated Sicilian mafiosi. Charles "Lucky" Luciano, both a member of the Sicilian Mafia (under Joe Masseria) and a graduate of the infamous Italian-American Five Points Gang, drew members from other parts of Italy (or rather, other parts of Little Italy) under his umbrella, knocked off the old hats (known in the day as "Mustache Petes"), and reorganized the American Mafia along territorial lines (doing away with gangs based on where in Italy the mafioso's families were from). Each city in the country was given to one family, except for New York, which famously got five. This structure, along with the "Commission" (an executive body designed for resolving disputes, which included at its inception the bosses of the Five Families, the boss from Buffalo, and Chicago boss Al Capone, and at times included other families such as Philadelphia and Detroit; the modern "Commission" now consists of the bosses of the Five Families and the boss of the Chicago Outfit) is generally believed to have held up today, despite heavy law enforcement pressure. Modern-day candidates for "made guys" must be "of Italian descent," which can mean varying things according to which family is making the decision; some families, such as the Chicago Outfit, do not heavily stress the "made guy" role and do a lot of business with associates of non-Italian ethnicity (indeed, the "Chicago Outfit" was originally a coalition of many ethnic gangs, including Irish, Italians, Jews, and Poles, under the leadership of Al Capone's predecessor Johnny Torrio, who all agreed not to interfere with the other gangs' bootlegging operations; the Italians, being the most organized and having connections to the massive operations in New York, were merely first among equals); other families, such as the Bonannos, have substantial "zip" (imported Sicilian mafiosi) crews and are more stringent on whom they do business with.note
Both Mafias (and similar Italian groups such as the Camorra,note Sacra Corona Unita,note the 'Ndranghetanote and the Corsican mafianote ) generally operate in the same manner: collection of protection money, "street taxes" on freelance criminals, union racketeering, out-and-out larceny, and gambling make up most of the income, with drug money and prostitution being big moneymakers for some parts of the family. Each "rank" within the Mafia taxes the one below it (fixed sums for capos, a percentage for soldiers and associates); money only goes from downstream to upstream. Despite the law of omertà and considerable sanctions for speaking to law enforcement, a number of mafiosi in both countries have turned state's evidence/become a pentito (Italian term for the same thing) to save themselves from long prison terms.
As a bit of a sidebar, different families have different reputations, accurate or not. These are particularly strong with the non-New York mob (the New York mob being seen as the "vanilla" Mafia): the Detroit Partnership is noted for its brutality and its connections with the unions (that whole Teamsters/Jimmy Hoffa business? Detroit), the Philly Mob is known for being totally dysfunctional (especially under Nicodemo Scarfo, who ran it like an iron-fisted tyrant), the Tampa Mafia for its complex relationship with Cubans and longing for the halcyon days of the '50s (when the Cubans were in Cuba as partners instead of being in Miami as rivals), the Los Angeles mob is often viewed as a joke (nicknamed the "Mickey Mouse Mafia"), the Chicago Outfit is inextricably linked in the public imagination to bootlegging and Al Capone, etc. The New York and Chicago mobs (particularly the latter) are often seen as having influence beyond their region. New York has strong influence in Montreal, New Jersey, and Philadelphia often playing kingmaker in these outfits (see, e.g.: Philip "The Chicken Man" Testayou know the one they blew up in Philly last night whose death was the result of tensions between pro- and anti-New York factions in the Philly mob; see also the most famous depiction of a non-New York, non-Chicago American Mafia outfit). Meanwhile, Chicago has traditionally controlled everything west of it.
In addition to the traditional "bread-and-butter" crimes such as loansharking, gambling, extortion, and murder (see Murder, Inc.), the American Mafia has even branched out to other areas, such as bootlegging and gunrunning, especially in the 1920s and 1930s. They even ventured out into other crimes such as labor racketeering, political corruption, and white-collar crimes, oftentimes with other ethnic gangs. What made the American Mafia different from other ethnic criminal gangs was their unique chain of command, which was set up to insulate the higher-ups from law enforcement heat AND that they were able to infiltrate legitimate institutions of society such as businesses and political institutions in a way no other criminal society has ever done before.
The Mafia's History:
With the advent of Prohibition, many mobsters quickly became bootleggers thanks to the national ban on alcohol sales, profiting from it by setting up illegal breweries and speakeasies. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini's crackdown on the Sicilian mob in the 1920s also changed things as many mafiosi fled to set up shop in America. However, it also led to numerous Mob Wars in large cities, as the Italians competed with each other and with other ethnic gangs for control over booze rackets. In Chicago, the Neapolitan Al Capone and his Chicago Outfit duked it out with not only the Sicilians, but also with Bugs Moran and the Irish Mob. But it was the New York war which ultimately changed the course of the Mafia and organized crime in general forever.
The Castellammarese War (as it was known because one of the warring factions came from Castellammare del Golfo, a seaside town in western Sicily) began when Joe "the Boss" Masseria, head of the Morello gang, bullied the other Italian gangs into paying a hefty "street tax" to him and hijacked their bootlegging rackets. But Salvatore Maranzano and his Castellammarese Clan openly defied Masseria's high-handedness, and soon enough, both sides went to war in 1929. While Masseria had a slight advantage in manpower, Maranzano's charisma and his gang's cohesiveness (as Castellammaresi domiciled in other cities such as Buffalo and Philly lent their support to Maranzano) evened out things.
But as time passed, it slowly became a generational conflict between the old guard Sicilian mafiosi, derisively nicknamed Mustache Petes, and a new faction of younger, Americanized mobsters called the Young Turks. Led by Charles "Lucky" Luciano, the Young Turks believed that the Mustache Petes were slow at adapting to American customs. To do this however, Luciano had to kill his own boss in order to make peace with Maranzano. So Masseria was taken out to a Coney Island restaurant in April of 1931, where he was killed while playing cards with Luciano. Reportedly, Luciano excused himself to the restroom, when Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Bugsy Siegel and Joe Adonis abruptly burst in and shot at Masseria.
After Masseria's death, Maranzano hosted a Criminal Convention in upstate New York. Despite introducing many of the rules that still govern the Mafia and the totem pole hierarchy to insulate bosses from the law, he declared himself the mob's King of Thieves, rankling other mafiosi and reneging on the peace deal he made with Luciano, who wanted a power-sharing arrangement. Reportedly, Maranzano hated Luciano's association with Jewish mobsters and wanted to strongarm the Garment District rackets that Luciano controlled. Realizing they just replaced one despot with another and that Maranzano was just another Mustache Pete at heart, the Young Turks decide to kill him. They knew he was facing an IRS audit like Capone before him, and leveraging this to their advantage before he gets to them, they sent hitmen disguised as tax agents to his office in September of 1931; despite putting up a fight, Maranzano was garroted, stabbed and shot multiple times.
After Maranzano's death, it was originally believed a purge of Mustache Petes took place in late 1931. These rumors were seemingly confirmed by Joe Valachi's testimony in later years, but despite a few old-timers in Pittsburgh, Newark and Los Angeles being bumped off, this has been since debunked.
Knowing what happened to Masseria and Maranzano when they declared themselves boss of bosses the power went to their heads, and they immediately ill-treated their henchmen Luciano decided it's better off to rule by consensus rather than having a supreme leader. The Commission serves as the mob's board of trustees, where the various bosses would resolve issues, pass ukases that affect the Mafia, and vote on things that required inter-family cooperation. This way, the mob could operate more efficiently rather than waging turf wars that not only attracted attention, but also slowed everything down. Also, the bosses were to hold meetings every five years to talk about issues plaguing the underworld unless an emergency that needed everyone's attention. The original Commission in 1931 composed of the Five Families, the Buffalo Arm and the Chicago Outfit, though other cities such as Philadelphia and Detroit have had Commission seats at times.
Being an equal-opportunity gangster, Luciano encouraged his peers to work with each other and with other ethnic groups, noting how older mafiosi opposed their younger members' desire to work with other ethnic gangs, let alone fellow Italians. The Young Turks wanted to branch out, knowing the many ways they could rake in money, but were frequently stymied by the Mustache Petes, who felt these outsiders weren't a part of their world and distrusted them. The Young Turks soon concluded that these dinosaurs were too dead-set and archaic in their mindset to see the boons of working with each other and with non-Italians. Luciano also believed that the initiation ceremony was a Sicilian anachronism that didn't relate to the business-oriented American lifestyle. However, Lansky and Genovese persuaded Luciano to keep the ritual, arguing that they needed the rituals to promote obedience to the bosses and to placate Sicilians. Luciano remained committed to omertà to protect the families from legal prosecution and retained the structure that Maranzano established.
One of the first problems the Commission faced was when Albert Anastasia alerted them of Dutch Schultz's intent to kill US Attorney Thomas Dewey. Almost immediately, the bosses kiboshed the proposal, knowing what could happen to them if a federal prosecutor was killed. Instead, the Commission had Schultz killed off. 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 Sicilians to distribute drugs into the United States.
Siegel had been sent out to Las Vegas to oversee construction of the new Flamingo Hotel since the early 1940s. However, Luciano and his allies became increasingly wary of Siegel, wondering how the original budget of $1 million somehow ballooned to $6 million, and suspected he and his mistress Virginia Hill were skimming off mob money for their personal interests and planned to escape should the project fail. Despite Lansky's attempts to have Siegel spared, the bosses were tired of Siegel's mess and had him killed in his Los Angeles home by an unknown gunman on June 20, 1947. When the American government (especially the Federal Bureau of Narcotics commissioner Harry Anslinger, whom Luciano pejoratively called him S.O.B. Asslinger when he was deported) got wind of Luciano staying in Cuba in hopes of sneaking back into the United States illegally, they immediately threatened to halt all medical supplies unless the Cubans expelled Luciano; the Cubans caved in and deported him to Genoa, Italy.
By the late 1950s, Batista, who was becoming increasingly unpopular with the lower and middle classes, was in the midst of trying to suppress a nascent communist rebellion led by Fidel Castro. Despite generous support from the CIA to have the rebellion crushed, Batista hightailed to Portugal in 1959, allowing Castro to seize power and align Cuba with the Soviet Union instead of the West. Viewing them as symbols of capitalist decadence and immorality, Castro then nationalized all American-owned industries and shuttered the Mafia-owned businesses, causing the mob to lose millions and set their eyes on Las Vegas, as well as work with the CIA in having Castro overthrown, but those attempts later became PR disasters, especially when the Americans severed all diplomatic ties (until 2015) and imposed an economic embargo that still stands to this day. Despite the setback they had in Cuba, they soon set their sights on Las Vegas, especially when Nevada legalized gambling. Because of the tremendous money-making opportunities in Vegas, the Commission declared it to be open turf not under the control of any family, meaning that any family crew can set up shop there.
High-profile hearings led by Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-TN) in 1951 determined that a vast, behind-the-scenes criminal conspiracy operated by Italians did exist, but it did nothing to dent the Mafia. It was the Apalachin Summit in late 1957 that really confirmed the Mafia's existence. It was set up by Genovese, who aimed to wrest control of the Luciano family from Frank Costello and become the King of Thieves after killing Anastasia, the boss of the Mangano (now Gambino) family in October 25, 1957. Around 100 mobsters attended the meeting at this small town in upstate New York, but it turned into a huge debacle when a curious state trooper got wind of it and sent in reinforcements to arrest them. More than 60 mobsters were caught including Genovese himself; others nabbed include Carlo Gambino, Paul Castellano, Giuseppe Profaci and Santo Trafficante. Tommy Lucchese, Steve Magaddino and Sam Giancana eluded capture, but Joe Bonanno wasn't so lucky, as he was captured in a nearby cornfield despite claiming to visit a friend. Genovese ended up taking the blame, and he ended up in prison for presumably trumped-up charges on drug trafficking in 1959. Despite the attendees' convictions, they were overturned on appeal as there was no evidence of any wrongdoing before the meeting was broken up. Even then, the fallout from Apalachin was very damaging for a criminal syndicate that valued secrecy.
Another blow to the mob came in 1963, when a low-level grunt named Joe Valachi became the first made man to openly flip by providing the public a good glimpse of the Mafia's inner workings in front of Congress. While there were other mob informants before him, Valachi was the first to openly admit being one. Due to this, the Commission paused new inductions with a few exceptions before "reopening the books" in 1975 to replenish the depleted ranks.
Also at this time, President John F. Kennedy was killed on November 22, 1963, halting the Valachi hearings for the time being. Although Lee Harvey Oswald was quickly identified as the gunman, numerous irregularities in the records along with Oswald's own murder by a mob-linked nightclub owner named Jack Ruby soon led to many Conspiracy Theorists questioning Who Shot JFK?. While the mob hated JFK's younger brother Robert F. Kennedy for hounding them down since Apalachin, it remains controversial on whether a supposed clique (which sometimes included the Mafia itself) ordered JFK's death and is best discussed elsewhere.
Another serious threat to the Commission came from within, when Joe Bonanno planned to kill Carlo Gambino, Tommy Lucchese, Steve Magaddino and Los Angeles boss Frank DeSimone in 1963note . To do this, he solicited Profaci boss Joe Magliocco's support, who farmed this out to Joe Colombo, but the opportunistic Colombo instead spilled the beans to the intended targets. The Commission demanded an explanation for this, but only Magliocco showed up while Bonanno ran away by staging his own kidnapping and later going into hiding. Magliocco was spared but was forcibly shelved, while Colombo took control of the Profaci family. Bonanno was eventually exiled to Arizona for good in 1968 when he negotiated a truce with the Commission.
Thanks to stronger gambling control laws passed by the Nevada legislature in the 1970s, it allowed corporations to take over casinos, further weakening the Mafia's hold on Las Vegas. RICO cases against mobsters in other cities also weakened the Mafia in those areas. Its success in the Commission Case later enabled prosecutors to go after other criminal groups such as the Hells Angels and Latin Kings. The threat of RICO can force defendants to Confess to a Lesser Crime as the asset seizure would make it hard to pay a defense attorney. Despite its harsh provisions, RICO can be easily proven as it focuses on psychological behavior and most offenses committed under it are considered inchoatenote .
Despite the slow usage, RICO is a potent weapon in racketeering cases for several reasons:
- On the grounds of respondeat superior, an entire gang can be taken down rather than individuals, thus doing an Obvious Rule Patch that allowed bosses to evade trials because they didn't commit the crime personally. Evidence that bosses got their cut or relayed orders was sufficient enough. Anyone ordering a crime involving the enterprise was as guilty as the actual culprit.
- Through a court order, RICO forces violators to forfeit illegal gains and post a performance bond in lieu of an asset freeze. It ensures there's something to seize so they can't be whisked out of the country before judgment.
- State-level crimes such as arson and gambling can now be used as part of federal charges against a defendant. It was applied under the theory that the old crime is now being punished under the "enterprise" and "pattern of racketeering" elements of federal law, and was exempt from double jeopardy, being tried twice for the same crime.
- Normally, a suspect must be charged within a certain time after the commission of most federal crimes. RICO expanded the Statute of Limitations to indefinite on a criminal basis, depending on when the last not the first crimes were committed for the entity.
- Labor racketeering became a key component of RICO. Instead of criminal trials, prosecutors can request to have a union federally monitored. They only have to prove that the unions were being used for illicit activities.
- To crack down on omertà, long prison sentences and hefty fines could convince mobsters to turn informer. Through a Witness Protection program, it can entice them to start anew.
- Besides criminal actions, RICO allows private parties to seek civil suits requesting injunctive relief against those involved in a "pattern of racketeering." These were intended to address the economic and organizational framework of ongoing criminal conspiracies. Also, assets can be seized without notice upon an ex parte determination that they were used in criminal activities. In this case, criminal charges need not be given against a defendant. In contrast to criminal prosecutions, only the lesser standard of proof a balance of probabilities is required under RICO's civil provisions, which means the defendant must prove they legally acquired said assets. If successful, the victim can force the defendant to pay treble damages (i.e., the defendant must pay 3x the amount of damages as determined by the judge).
With many mobsters facing life imprisonment, they simply began to spill the beans left and right in 1990s. Aside from Joe Valachi, among the more notable stool pigeons was Sammy Gravano, whose testimony helped take down John Gotti, Vincent Gigante and others in the 1990s. Joe Massino was another example, when he became the first official boss to become an informant in 2005. Other tactics used in obtaining information included constant surveillance of mob haunts, using lip-reading experts, eavesdropping on Mafia social clubs and haunts via "bugs" and tapped phones, and having someone wear a Hidden Wire or Tracking Device, though that ran the risk of them getting killed if a "pat-down" was done and the person was forced to strip down.
Across the pond, the Italian government itself had a sluggish start in the 1970s, but the repeated killings of prosecutors, cops, and civilians (sometimes in broad daylight) by the Corleonesi clan and its boss Salvatore Riina forced them to take a harder stance on the Sicilian mob and pass their version of the RICO Act. In fact, while the American Mafia generally shuns killing cops due to long prison sentences for even assaulting one, their Sicilian cousins have no qualms brazenly gunning down politicians or journalists. The crackdowns intensified with the Maxi Trials of the 1980s, in which 338 mafiosi received long sentences and their convictions upheld by the Supreme Court of Cassation. Much of the evidence came from Tommaso Buscetta, who became an informant in 1984 after several of his relatives were murdered. In retaliation, the two leading prosecutors in the Maxi Trials (Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino) were assassinated in separate car bombings in 1992. This resulted in more crackdowns, forcing the Sicilians to recede their illegal activities much further while letting other criminal groups take the heat. Later FBI memos revealed that the American and Sicilian mob bosses wanted to kill Giuliani for his role in the anti-Mafia operations, but backed out when warned of possible LE retaliation.
To frustrate the feds' efforts, the Mafia sometimes used Walk and Talk to avoid being heard on bugs and prevent lip-reading experts from picking up their conversations by covering their mouths or whispering, shunned telephones for fear of having their convos taped, did "pat-downs" to see if someone is wearing a wire, used Trouble Entendre that won't hold up in court as a confession, and "swept" their Legitimate Businessmen's Social Club for bugs regularly. More bizarre cases to duck prosecution included invoking the 5th Amendment during government hearings, laying low to become fugitives, feigned mental illness like Gigante, or a faked kidnapping like Bonanno.
While the tactics used by law enforcement significantly crippled many Mafia families on both sides of the pond, the most powerful brugads remain dominant in their turf, even if the new laws put more mobsters in jail and made it harder to operate.
Criminal Activities The Mafia Is Involved In:
The Mafia does love to get their hands dirty in any illegitimate activity, be it construction or illegal gambling.
- Labor racketeering: The Mafia became notorious for infiltrating labor unions, especially in the construction, garbage hauling, food services, freight, and clothing sectors. 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, while Nicodemo Scarfo had control over the local contracting and bartending unions in Atlantic City. The New York families even had enough power to halt construction activities within the city if they didn't get the right payoffs. The crimes involved in labor racketeering included union shakedowns, theft of union benefit plans, rigging elections in favor of mob-linked candidates, forcing companies into hiring mob-controlled workers, and providing "no-show" jobs to mobsters. Because of the Mafia's involvement in labor racketeering, many now perceive unions to be inefficient and corrupt. The film On the Waterfront is a good example of detailing the rampant corruption, extortion, and racketeering on the New Jersey dockyards.
- Garbage hauling: One area that is very notable for mob infiltration is trash disposal. To reduce strain on their overstressed budgets, many cities in the middle of the 20th century stopped allowing commercial entities to make use of city trash services; the private companies that replaced them often used drivers from unions that were already mob-controlled, making their corruption trivial. 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 ill-gotten gains in it. Crew members often got "no-show" jobs at these firms to give a legitimate reason to explain their income. They also divvied up routes in cities, rigged contract bids to favor mob-controlled garbage haulers, and quashed any outside competition to 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 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 a myriad of municipalities makes it hard to catch corrupt deals like this, though the state has intervened to block this when it has the resources. This racket has also gone transatlantic; the Camorra started on this when Naples started outsourcing its waste management in the 1990s, and gummed up the works so thoroughly that trash was a huge issue for about 20 years thereafter.
- Construction and real estate: Another area that is rife with mob activity is construction and real estate services. In the 1970s and 80s, most projects in New York could not go ahead without the Five Families' approval, especially if the contract was above $2 million. Many mobsters in major cities were given "no-show" jobs in mob-controlled contractors and unions to explain their income to the IRS, while union leaders were coerced in order to grab a piece of the action whenever they got hold of a construction project, and in some cases, took over the union leadership themselves. Once the Mafia had its grip on a union, it secretly could control an entire industry and could 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 outsiders to pass these costs down the chain to the consumer, and in turn, forcing real estate prices to skyrocket. Plus, the mob has always ingrained itself within real estate crimes, such as "swampland-in-Florida-for-sale" scams, predatory lending schemes and equity fraud.
- Freight services: Another area that's rife with mob infiltration is in the freight industry, especially in trucking, airports 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 "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. This went hand in hand with:
- Bankruptcy fraud: Businesses depend upon lines of credit for nearly all day-to-day activity. This gave the mob ample opportunity for "bust-out" schemes. By controlling a legitimate business off-the-books (either through infiltration, or founding one with a front man and "nut money"), the Mafia could use the business's credit lines to obtain resalable items worth much more than the business itself; in the end, a dilapidated shell of a company was left to wipe out the debts through bankruptcy.
- Food distribution: This area was also rife with mob activity. Genovese capo Ciro Terranova became known as "The Artichoke King" due to his monopoly on the common Italian foodstuff. Joe Profaci was "The Olive Oil and Tomato Paste King" as his descendants still have a strong ownership stake in the US branch of Italian brand Colavita. Paul Castellano used Dial Meat Purveyors as a way to strong-arm meat distributors and supermarkets into stocking his poultry products, thanks to his prior experience as a butcher early in his mob career. The Bonannos used pizza joints as a cover to smuggle and distribute heroin into the United States; Joe Bonanno even had shadow interests in major cheese distributors such as Grande Cheese and Saputo & Sons during his mob career. The Fulton Fish Market is still rife with mob activity, especially with the Genovese family forcing outside 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". The Luccheses used their influence in Kosher food distributors to force supermarkets into stocking their products, while the Philly mob had control over the local bartenders union in the 1970s and 1980s.
- Garment manufacturing: Clothing is another sector that's still rife with mob infiltration. The seasonal and trend-driven nature of fashion means that interruption is a very expensive proposition, and manufacturers will pay large sums to ensure their products are on the shelves at the right time. 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 shuffling 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), and whomever controlled the trucks controlled the garment industry, which by the 1950s was employing more than 300,000 workers. Via their control of the trucking and garment workers unions, the Mafia and their cronies could essentially put a halt to goods coming in and out of the Garment District if the right payoffs weren't made.
- White-Collar Crime: Why 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 always 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 force brokers into defrauding investors. During the late 2000s recession, mobsters took advantage of the ongoing crisis by participating in mortgage scams, whether through predatory lending schemes or Insurance Fraud. Through Michael Franzese (the son of Sonny Franzese; was nicknamed the Yuppie Don for his youthful appearance), the Colombos established a gas-tax evasion scheme to cheat the government via phony companies while selling the gas on the black market.
- Political corruption: American politics is still rife with corruption, especially in cities and small towns, where machine politics still dominates a locality's budget. New York, Atlantic City, and Chicago were great examples of machine politics, and mobsters would take advantage of this to curry political favors and rig contracts in their favor. Tommy Lucchese and Frank Costello often jockeyed with one another over dominance of Tammany Hall. The mob would sometimes offer bribes to crooked politicians and officials in exchange for turning a blind eye to organized crime activities. In the 90s, two NYPD cops were revealed to be on the Lucchese family's payroll as contract killers for the mob.
- Illegal gambling: Gambling has always been a very important and lucrative business in the Mafia in fact, many of the early mob families started out as numbers running operations. From card games to sports betting, the Mafia has raked in 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 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.
- Numbers game: Also known as the policy racket, the Italian lottery, or the daily number, this is a gambling racket where a bettor attempts to pick three digits to match those that will be randomly drawn the following day. For many years, the "number" has been the last three digits of "the handle", the amount race track bettors placed on race day at a major racetrack, published in racing journals and major newspapers in New York. Allegations of the racket being rigged led to the use of random numbers such as the middle three digits of the number of shares traded that day on the New York Stock Exchange. Unlike state lotteries, bookies could extend credit to the bettors and policy winners could duck paying taxes. Different policy banks would offer different rates, although payoffs of 600 to 1 were typical. Since the odds were stacked against the bettors, policy runners raked in top dollar.
- Coin-operated machines: This is another traditional racket that came in many flavors, such as "one-armed bandits," jukeboxes, pinball games, and illegal arcade cabinets. Frank Costello made huge profits from these coin-ops in New York, and later on in California and New Orleans when the police raided his slot machine rackets. Eventually, mobsters installed these machines in the back room of bodegas and restaurants in exchange for a monthly "rental fee" and would "chase out" outsiders who tried setting up shop. Since there's no paper trail, the mobster can report the money earned as income. In fact, part of Joe "Donnie Brasco" Pistone's operation involved setting up a phony "coin-op" in Milwaukee. To do this, he had to get permission from the Bonanno bosses, as there was a similar racket owned by the local Mafia family and operating in another family's turf required Commission approval. Mob boss Frank Balistrieri and his sons were later jailed for racketeering.
- Sports betting/Match fixing: 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 the Boston College men's basketball team. BC player Rick Kuhn, Henry Hill, and others associated with the Lucchese crime family manipulated the results of the games during the 19781979 basketball season. Through bribing and intimidating several other 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. They would oftentimes pay boxers to deliberately win or lose a match, especially high-profile ones.
- Loansharking/shylocking: Illegal gambling also led to the rise of a new activity: loansharking. Another prime moneymaker for the Mafia is to provide loans to desperate gamblers, freelance criminals, drug addicts, and those with a bad credit history at usurious interest rates, and oftentimes with threats of violence if they did not pay back. In fact, gambling and loansharking go hand-in-hand like PB&J. By the 1960s, loan sharks grew even more coordinated and could pool information on borrowers to ensure someone did not try to pay off one loan by borrowing from another Loan Shark. In other words, they have become aware of the scheme used by borrowers, namely "robbing Peter to pay Paul." Similar tactics are used by the sarakin in Japan and Ah Long in Malaysia to heckle and embarrass defaulters.
- Pornography: Prostitution became another moneymaker for the Mafia, as they began to infiltrate peep show booths, porn distributors and smut, 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 to the mobster were questioned. Lucky Luciano himself 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" via strong-arm tactics in exchange for operating in Mafia-controlled territories. Unlike the "Black Hand" rackets, which generally sought a single large payoff, these rackets sought more livable sums on a continual basis. 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 they are falling in line.
- Narcotics trafficking: This became the mob's biggest moneymaker after bootlegging declined in the 1930s. However, this split them into two groups, with the pro-drug faction winning out. Soon, many low-ranking mobsters began to deal actively with other organized crime groups. The idea that bosses were against drugrunning is false, as they often turned a blind eye and got their cut from the drug sales in exchange for dealing on the sly. Joe Bonanno became very notorious for specializing in heroin and opium, as he and his henchmen used Canada as an outpost for smuggling junk from Sicily and Turkey while using pizza joints as a front.
- Contraband smuggling: From bootlegging and gunrunning in the 1920s and 1930s to cigarette smuggling and human trafficking in recent years, the Mafia has been involved in all sorts of contraband smuggling to evade import duties and bring in banned items such as pirated CDs, exotic animals and illegal guns. Rum-running became the mob's primary moneymaker in the 1920s, as many of the Young Turks began their mob careers during Prohibition, and by the time it was repealed in 1933, many of them were millionaires, and soon dabbled in other areas such as numbers running, labor racketeering and narcotics trafficking. In the 80s, the Colombo family formed a gas tax evasion scheme with the The Mafiya by siphoning off money that would have went to the federal government.
- Murder: 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. 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 families of made members were not spared, especially if they decided to become stoolies. 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. Although shooters are popularly known as "hit men" and Mafia murder jobs are called "contracts", these are not murders-for-hire; Mafia button men are expected to offer their services on demand, with no financial consideration beyond their normal mob income.
- 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. This earned him 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 DeMeo, 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
Before being inducted, a candidate is required to carry out a contract killing. Traditionally, it was done in order to prove loyalty to the Mafia, but in modern times, it also serves to show that one is not an undercover cop (no, cops may not legally conspire to murder or assault a civilian); any murder committed for personal reasons "do not count." Committing one's first contract murder is referred to as "making your bones," and a wannabe who does it earns his "button" in the Mafia meaning he's on track to becoming made. However, earning one's "button" does not always involve killing; good "earners," or experienced associates who have not necessarily murdered for the Mafia but have good rackets or schemes, have in the past become made men due to their valuable contributions beyond murder-for-hire. At times, though valued by higher-ups for their economic contributions, "earners" who have not committed a murder for the Mafia are sometimes derided by those made men that have committed murder to be initiated; made men who have carried out killings may ridicule those initiated due to their economic contributions as having "bought their button." The prospect does not necessarily have to be the gunman, but is expected to be if asked (particularly if they know the victim; having an associate perform every murder would give potential victims a big red flag as to whether a hit can be expected or not).
Many times, they will perform as a backup shooter or lookout, drive the car used to transport the body or a secondary diversion car, act as part of a clean-up or burial crew, or even serve a similar role for an aborted attempt. For example, mob stoolie Joe Valachi's main piece of "work" that qualified him for induction was renting a lookout apartment adjacent to one where a major Masseria figure was thought to live (the mark had moved shortly before the hit attempt). The murder of Paul Castellano involved 13 principals, of which only four were primary shooters (and most were either already made or ineligible to become so). Generally, anything that could get them indicted as a principal in conspiracy to commit murder would be sufficient. Many are simply "dry cleaned;" rather than being used for a specific murder, an initiate is called out for an unspecified "piece of work," watched closely, then dismissed without discussing the matter further. Also, nobody is ever going to check if the proposing captain was lying; mafia members are not police officers and do not conduct investigations. This can and has led to abuse, with some captains even accused of "selling buttons," or proposing initiates in exchange for a payoff. The killing proves that the inductee is dedicated in joining the Mafia, knows the risks and penalties involved if he gets out of line, and most importantly, it confirms that he is not a cop. Though the killing rule was imposed to weed out potential candidates in the past, it seems to have died out in recent years for the most part.
When introducing one made man to another, the phrase "a friend of ours" is used, indicating that official business can be discussed openly with him. But the phrase "a friend of mine" is used instead if the third person is an outsider it means certain pressing matters can't be disclosed openly. Plus, introducing two made men always requires a neutral, third party.
Made men are the only ones who can rise through the ranks of the Mafia. There is another obstacle all potential inductees have to be vetted by the Commission. During the Castellammarese War, families would often recruit in bulk; as they could not be recognized by the other families, they easily approached the rival capos and rubbed them out. To stop this, all families now furnish a list of prospects to the Commission, which is then circulated among the other families so they get a shot at the vetting process.
Plus, the Commission imposed a cap on each family's size and roster to prevent unauthorized expansions. The Genovese and Gambino families each are allowed to have around 450 made men, while the Bonannos have a limit of around 300 made men, and the Chicago Outfit, the Luccheses, and the Colombos each have a limit of around 200 made men. Other families, such as Detroit, New Jersey, and New England each have a variable range of 50 to 100 made men, depending on their proximity to New York, the amount of rackets, the pool of candidates to draw from, and the family's significance. These are theoretical limits that are seldom, if ever, reached in modern days; there simply aren't enough rackets to allow a comfortable living for the 1500 or so made men in New York, nor are there enough associates with the qualities to induct them.
When the crime family "opens the books," the associate will get a call telling him to get ready and be dressed. He is then taken to a pre-selected and covert place for the ceremony. The family higher-ups, and some of the capos and soldiers sit in a circle, as well as other inductees if they're joining in as well. The boss then asks the other members if they have reservations about the candidate, to which they say no. The associate is then told that this is a closed and secret society, they must follow the Mafia's rules, the only way out is in a box, and this 'thing of ours' comes before your blood family.
Typically, a gun and a knife are put in front of the inductee with the boss asking if he would use these to defend his fellow members in troubling times the inductee must say yes. Then, the inductee's trigger finger is pricked until blood came out. The blood would be put on a saint's picture, then the picture is 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 reveal the secrets of our life, your soul will burn in hell just like this saint," asking the inductee to repeat the vow of Omertà. Then the newly made guy kisses the higher-ups on both cheeks.
The initiation ceremony was by no means universal; Chicago is not thought to have adopted it until the reign of Joey Aiuppa, with previous inductees simply swearing fealty to Al Capone or later bosses on a religious text. Similarly, New England did not use the ceremony in the days of informer Vinnie Teresa. Also, a refusal to join the Cosa Nostra was interpreted that the candidate is actually an undercover cop or informant trying to infiltrate the family. While there may be variations of the oath, the basic wording remains the same.
The details of a Mafia induction ceremony were a closely guarded secret for years. But in 1963, Valachi's testimony shed a light on the mob (the FBI had obtained similar information from mob informer Greg Scarpa Sr. several years before, but it wasn't known until much later). Furthermore, the FBI managed to successfully bug an initiation ceremony of New England's Patriarca crime family in 1989, but the Patriarcas were humiliated when this was exposed. Although the FBI pulled out Joe Pistone before he could become made, it wasn't until 2005 when the FBI finally managed to have another undercover agent get inducted into the Gambino family. The inductions described above is the rite 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.
As described above in the bugged induction ceremony in 1989, the tapes revealed that mafiosi felt a sense of kinship when they joined, as it most likely came about because they placed a vow to stay loyal. The oaths themselves talk about family bonds and the rules of secrecy represent the family loyalty as well as a sense of self-preservation. Despite all the differences between the mafiosi in both Italy and America, there is a sense of brotherhood.
- The inductee must be a male of full Italian heritage on both sides, a change in previous policy requiring that only the fathers lineage be Italian.
- A potential inductee may have to do a contract killing, also a change in previous policy. Prior to the Donnie Brasco scandal, only one had to be part of a murder, such as driving the getaway car. The killing proves that the inductee is fully dedicated in joining the Mafia, knows the risks and penalties involved if he gets out of line, and most importantly, it confirms he is NOT an undercover cop.
- The new member must have at least two sponsors who must have known him personally for some time. They know the associate personally and vouch for his street cred.
- Names of proposed made men and the deceased ones they will replace must be sent to the other families, who have some time to lodge an objection for example, the candidate is a rat or if they work for 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.
- Mafia families cannot recruit in bulk or "open the books" without prior authorization from the Commission.
- An associate who attended a police academy, or served as a corrections or police officer cannot be officially made.
- Families may never replace a member the family has killed.
- Mafiosi made in Sicily can join an American brugad and vice versa, but they can never be promoted.
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 sum or portion of their earnings to their superiors. Any activities they do are "put on record" or "registered" with their capo so that they'll profit from these rackets and plan further schemes.
- Whenever they're called in by their superiors, they must oblige ASAP without reservation even if their wife's pregnant, or their parents are on their deathbed. They must always defer to their bosses and put La Cosa Nostra first and foremost over everything.
- They must also never cooperate with authorities in any way, never be seen walking around with cops, 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.
- No one can present himself directly to another made member. There must be a third person to do it.
- Made men must abstain from both using and selling drugs of any kind, though this rule has oftentimes been ignored.
- Similarly, made men must abstain from counterfeiting money, bonds, or stock certificates, and must never kill with explosives. Again, all of these have frequently been honored only in the breach.
- Made men must never kill police or judges. This one has held up, and even the Zips (who famously don't follow these rules at home) honor them in the US and Canada.
- Any disputes or grievances between two or more made guys must be brought to the higher-ups' attention.
- Whenever they're talking over the phone or in person, they often have to drop hints instead of speaking directly about a situation.
In exchange for his loyalty, a made man gets full access to his crime family's protection and resources. His organization is also expected to look after his family and sometimes pay for legal fees if he is imprisoned.
A made man must have enough success in his schemes in order to remain in favor with his superiors and avoid becoming a problem. Some associates become soldiers because of their usefulness in strong-arm work, but even they must demonstrate an ability to earn money. A soldier will be given profitable rackets to run by his superiors, but for the most part they must also generate money on their own. In essence, it's George Jetson Job Security for any mafioso, as even lucrative rackets can go dry if they don't have good backup schemes. Some soldati are wealthy because they choose to keep a low profile, while others are broke becauese of their free-spending habits In recent years, as Italian-Americans have gentrified and mob rackets have become both a lot more lucrative and a lot more rare, it's not uncommon for an associate to already be a millionaire at the time he is proposed for membership.
Though many mafiosi have been killed by the mob over the years, some were given a pass, but received other penalties for falling out of line. For example:
- Taxed: The mobster is forced to make a large cash payment to an offended individual, forced to relinquish a lucrative racket, or both.
- Broken/pulled down. The mobster is demoted in rank and usually loses influence and wealth, especially when they're demoted from a powerful underboss to a mere soldier.
- Put on a shelf. The mobster is forced into early retirement and stripped of his responsibilities, even though he's an official member.
- Assigned unfavorable rackets or territories. As a sign that the mobster is beginning to fall out of favor from his superiors, they're given dead-end jobs where they won't be making enough money.
- Chased or stripped of their button. For very severe offenses, the mobster is permanently declared persona non grata within the Mafia and barred from associating or doing business with any made members under pain of death.
- Angelo Bruno's consigliere Antonio Caponigro was brutally beaten up and killed by Vincent Gigante's crew in 1980 for assassinating his own boss without Commission approval. Dollar bills were stuffed in his mouth and anus as a sign that he was too greedy. Caponigro loyalists Frank Sindone, John Simone, and Alfred Salerno also met similar fates.
- Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano's hands were chopped off because he, albeit unknowingly, introduced undercover FBI agent Joe "Donnie Brasco" Pistone to other wiseguys. As a warning, mobsters must not be seen shaking hands with cops. Similarly, Anthony Mirra, the mobster who introduced Pistone to Benjamin "Lefty Guns" Ruggiero and Sonny Black, was shot dead in his car.
- A dead canary was stuffed into Lucchese mobster Bruno Facciolo's corpse as a sign that he was an informant, when in reality, he wasn't.
- Rocco Marinucci's body was found a year to the day after Phil Testa's death in 1982, with firecrackers stuffed into his mouth and throat. As Marinucci was involved in Testa's death, Salvatore Testa stuffed the firecrackers on Marinucci's corpse to symbolize the bomb used on Testa.
- Sam Giancana was shot once in the mouth and 5 times in the neck or under his chin as a message for silence. Joey Aiuppa and Tony Accardo may have feared he would spill the beans about the Chicago mob's operations or its involvement in the CIA's plot to kill Castro in front of a Senate panel.
- Johnny Roselli's body, chopped into pieces, was found a year later in a 55-gallon oil drum weighed down with heavy chains in Dumfoundling Bay near Miami. This may have been done because Roselli had revealed too much about the John F. Kennedy and Fidel Castro murder plots during his Senate testimony, or that he hoarded an unfair portion of the mob's interests in Las Vegas.
- Joseph "Joe Jelly" Gioelli, one of Joe Gallo's top enforcers during the 1st Colombo family war, was invited on a deep sea fishing trip out of Sheepshead Bay, and was killed and dumped in the ocean for siding with the Gallos. The next day, a car drove by the Gallo crew headquarters and tossed out a package containing Joe Jelly's coat wrapped around some dead fish, with the message being that he was Sleeping With The Fishes.
- Paul Gulino sealed his own doom for "placing his hands" on Bonanno consigliere Anthony Spero. Threatening or assaulting a made man is a big no-no, and as Gulino wasn't made, he was killed by his friends.
- Likewise, Tom and Rosemary Uva, a Bonnie and Clyde-type couple who robbed mafia social clubs for the thrill of committing crimes, were killed by Gambino capo Dominick Pizzonia. As with Gulino, infringing on a Mob-owned establishment like a social club means that the person is usually marked for death.
- John Petrucelli, a Lucchese family associate, was murdered because he refused to kill Gus Farace, another mob associate who had killed DEA agent Everett Hatcher. A hood was placed over his head, which is a Sicilian message for "never keep secrets from your bosses."
How the Mafia is Structured:
The Mafia is structured in a way so the higher-ups cannot be traced back to a single crime, allowing them to pass orders down the chain of command, while the grunts kick in a piece of whatever they earned to their capos and so on. This chain of command was introduced by Sal Maranzano in 1931 as a way to structure the mob along the Roman legions and to maintain order after the Castellammarese War, while the Commission was established by Luciano, who preferred to have a council of bosses governing the mob instead of someone demanding tribute from other bosses, but retained the structure Maranzano established.
- Capo di tutti i capi - the Boss of all Bosses in a particular area. More a media title than anything of significance, 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 Sal Maranzano after "winning" the Castellammarese War in 1931, and he got to enjoy it for less than six months. Before long, the Young Turks thought Maranzano was similar to Masseria, and they decided to retire the title and Maranzano along with it. An older term, capo consigliere, denoted 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 capi title. Originally consisted of the bosses of the Five Families in New York, Buffalo, and Chicago, with substantial input from "associates" such as Meyer Lansky. From time to time, other cities once had seats, but later lost it. Today, it is pared down to just the Five Families and the Chicago Outfit. It worked so well that the Sicilians were encouraged to form a similar body. The Commission is headed by a nominal chairman, who is not the King of Thieves despite media portrayals bosses are viewed as peers regardless of stature and having a mob overlord ran contrary to this idea. Luciano became the first Chairman 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 the final arbiter for settling disputes think more of a panel of bosses than a King of the Mob (or even a Parliament of the Mafia). Only the Commission can approve a new boss, vote on who can join, and cooperate on inter-family rackets. Though the bosses used to meet more often, greater scrutiny and an increasing number of informants have forced the Commission underground. The families now send emissaries to discuss in secret, as evidenced by bugged conversations between mafiosi in Buffalo seeking guidance from New York on filling the vacant underboss position in 2017.
- 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 to substitute the role of boss of bosses, as that had the negative connotations of the old Mustache Pete system of one-man rule. Luciano became the first chairman in 1931, but it remains unknown who took over after he was deported back to Italy in 1946. Joe Massino was the last verified chairman before he flipped in 2005.
- 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 families in Sicily are more numerous and smaller than those in America, the title isn't as distinguished, although the boss still has paramount authority within his turf. He is the only one who can authorize hits on people under his family's protection and decide who can be inducted. Being the top decision-maker of a family, other duties include holding sit-downs, 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 promoting or demoting family members at will. While only the Commission can authorize a hit on bosses, they've turned a blind eye occasionally, particularly if the boss wasn't popular. A boss will typically use the pecking order to stymie efforts to arrest him, making it quite difficult to directly implicate him in a crime as he relays it down the chain of command. If there is no boss, the underboss typically takes charge in an acting capacity, but the Commission has to approve it after the family capos are polled on who should take over.
- Underboss - The second-in-command of a mafia family and usually becomes the boss if the official boss is unavailable or incapacitated. The underboss's power varies by family: some are mere figureheads, while others could be very influential to the point of becoming the de facto 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, denoting the head of an 'ndrine (clan). Typically, the underboss arbitrates many of the disputes, but if it's a major problem, he might consult with the boss, but the boss is the one who retains ultimate authority. However he makes his illegal earnings, it is a significant enough amount to make his position one of envy, especially when prestige and the possibility of additional advancement are weighed. Just like the boss of a family, an underboss may also have a right-hand man as his protege, and the protege may speak in place of them or carry out additional tasks for the underboss.
- Consigliere - The third-in-command of a Mafia family, they're an advisor or counselor to the boss, with the additional responsibility of representing the family in Commission meetings. 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 IRL mob bosses saw it as a lower-level position for a veteran who knows the ins and outs of the family's power, but does not wish to rise 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 dominated the Chicago Outfit for nearly 50 years while letting lower-level capos front as the boss. Nicky Scarfo was another subversion, as he became the boss of Philadelphia when the previous boss was assassinated while the underboss was banished to Florida. 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. Like the underboss, some consiglieri are mere mouthpieces for the boss, while others can be quite influential.
- Acting/Street/Front Boss - Temporary roles unique to the American Mafia, appearing in response to increasing LE scrutiny, rendering most "official" bosses incapable of controlling their families. It usually ends up being assigned 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, it is kept as a veneer - the Genovese family has been playing bait-and-switch with the law via this tactic since the 1970s by propping up "dummy" bosses to mask the hierarchy. This tactic has been copied by the Chicago Outfit and the Detroit Mafia as a way to shield the real boss from legal prosecution. May sometimes in fact be the de facto boss in all but name, especially if the official boss is incapacitated and if the Street Boss would rather keep a low profile. There may also be acting underbosses, consiglieres, and capos, but these are often temporary roles. (Note: This, essentially, was the rank Tony Soprano occupied for most of the series, what with the nominal head of the DeMeo crime family being a "permanent guest of the Federal government"/serving a life sentence in prison).
- Messaggero - Another rank that's unique to the American Mafia, this also appeared after Apalachin, though it was increasingly used in the 1980s, especially after the Commission Case. The boss delegates one of his men to serve as a liaison between him and the other crime families, relay orders down the chain of command, and as a cover to prevent outsiders from knowing who's calling the shots.
- Ruling Panel - Another rank unique to the American Mafia, this also appeared in response to greater LE heat in the 1980s, as most of the "official" bosses faced long prison sentences. While he retains final control even in jail, the boss creates a panel of high-ranking capos to run the daily operations and usually relays his orders via a "messenger", who could then send orders down the chain of command to avoid suspicion. The families can also use these ruling panels to prevent outsiders from knowing who's actually calling the shots and to shield the higher-ups from law enforcement scrutiny. Although the Genovese family has an official boss, FBI investigations have confirmed a power-sharing arrangement similar to a committee, with the "dummy" bosses having discretion to make decisions without approval since the 1970s (although they still have to put it on record with the boss), thus clouding the structure.
- Capodecina/Caporegime - Also known as a captain, skipper, capo, "group leader," or "crew chief," he oversees a crew of roughly 10-20 soldiers and many more associates as he can efficiently control in a certain area 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 cut of every score from his underlings, and kicks up a portion his crew earned to the higher-ups. 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 are often the kingmakers if there is no official boss in fact, protocol dictates that the capos must be polled on who should be the the boss before the Commission greenlights the decision. The latter title is unique to the American Mafia. Sometimes, if a capo is in good graces with the boss, especially if they're a good earner and are respected by the other wiseguys, the official boss may promote the capo to street or acting boss, especially if the boss is imprisoned, grooming an heir, or as a guise 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 five crews in its New Jersey faction, appoints one of the capos to supervise it.
- Soldier - a soldato, "wiseguy", "button man", or "made guy." This is the lowest level of mobster who is considered an official member of the "family". Soldiers must take an oath in which they've sworn to follow the rules of the Mafia (such as omertà), and with a few exceptions, must kill a person in order to be considered "made."note It gives them the full protection of the family in question. Killing or assaulting a soldier, or even infringing on their turf is a big no-no, as the offender will meet a violent end even if they had a legitimate grievance. Made men will refer to each other as "a friend of ours" which means anything can be openly discussed. Out of protocol, two made men must always be formally introduced by a third party known to both sides, even if they're father and son. 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. Another caveat is that only the Commission approves who can join, as the list of wannabes gets passed on amongst the families to reject undesirables (cops, informants, etc.).
- 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. It can also be tricky sometimes, as associates with a history of making serious money often commanded respect beyond their title. Distinctions are drawn between those associates loosely associated with a family versus those who are "on record" with a specific made guy the latter are more tightly controlled in their dealings and are usually prime candidates for membership. American mafiosi may refer to an associate as "a friend of mine," a quiet warning to watch what is said in their presence as the person is an outsider. Giovane d'onore is unique to the Camorra. Non-Italians will never go beyond this rank, but many of them, such as Meyer Lansky, Jimmy "the Gent" Burke, Bugsy Siegel, Bumpy Johnson, and Mickey Cohen were widely respected and even earned the respect of actual mafiosi. Although Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa were not inducted as they were NYPD officers, they solicited their services to the New York mob as cold-blooded hitmen.
- 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 families may be more stringent than others on who they want to induct.
The Mafia Families:
At one point, there were 26 Mafia families in the United States, though many have since become defunct or are in decline because of increased law enforcement scrutiny, internal warfare, a decline in racketeering activities, not enough pool of wannabes to draw from, or old age.
New York City Families:
- 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, and Florida. They also have a "Zip" crew (the Knickerbocker Avenue Zips), a large faction in Canada, and a now-defunct crew in Arizona. Though a mid-sized family with membership hovering between 150 and 250 made men, they sometimes held the top spot, especially with the feds hammering down indictments on the other families in the 1990s. Being that they're seen as wild hillbillies owing to their independent streak since 1931, they're also the unruliest, as their generally disruptive behavior even threw them out of the Commission in the 1980s.
Many of the family's earliest members came from Castellammare del Golfo, a seaside town in western Sicily, and settled down in Williamsburg, including family namesake Joe Bonanno. It was also very tight-knit and considered to be the most Sicilian of the Five Families as most of them were Castellammarese or had personal ties to that town (and the family still has links to its place of origin). Eventually, the family came under Sal Maranzano's sway, who came to America after escaping from Mussolini in the 1920s, fancied himself as the mob's Julius Caesar, and used a phony real estate development company as a cover for his illegal rackets. But Joe "the Boss" Masseria, head of the Morello gang, saw Maranzano and the Castellammarese Clan as a growing threat to his power base and tried to violently shake them down. Maranzano resisted, and this led to a bloody Mob War that only ended with Masseria's death in 1931.
With Masseria dead, Maranzano declared himself Boss of Bosses, breaking the deal he made with Luciano prior to Masseria's death to ensure peace between the two sides. Soon enough, the power went into his head, and Maranzano wanted to kill Luciano and his allies. But Luciano somehow got wind of this, and using this info, alongside the fact that Maranzano was facing a tax audit like Al Capone before him, he makes a move before Maranzano gets to him, and the Capo di Capi is eliminated on September 10, 1931 by hitmen posing as IRS agents.
With Maranzano dead, his apprentice Joe Bonanno took over in late 1931. While he claimed ignorance on his mentor's death, it is implied that he secretly (albeit reluctantly) went along with the hit given that in the tell-all he wrote years later, he mentioned that Maranzano hated how younger mafiosi were willing to work with outside ethnic gangs, fearing it was against the traditional Sicilian values he wanted to retain. Nicknamed "Joe Bananas" because it implied he was crazy, Bonanno forged close ties with bosses of his generation like Luciano and Costello, knowing the money he would rake in by openly working with other gangs. He even became a major drug lord despite blatantly denying any involvement, working with other criminal gangs to smuggle heroin into America via the family's stranglehold on Canada. Because of his deep involvement in drugs, the Bonannos were pejoratively nicknamed the "Heroin" family. He also aggressively expanded in areas such as Wisconsin and Arizona, making his peers feel that he's trying to steal their rackets by "planting flags all over the world." And like his deceased mentor, Bonanno harbored a desire to become the boss of bosses by attempting to take over the Commission and killing rivals he despised in the 1960s.
But Bonanno's plan came to a sputtering halt when Joe Colombo, a capo in the Profaci family and the designated gunman, instead spilled the beans to the Commission. Bonanno was ordered to come forward several times, but he was a no-show and simply went AWOL in late 1964. At the same time, he was facing a federal subpoena investigating his racketeering activities. While Bonanno later claimed in a TV interview that he was picked up by the Buffalo mob, it certainly was a Blatant Lie as everyone in the mob thought it was a Faked Kidnapping. It is very likely that during this 19-month period, Bonanno hid in various safehouses both in the States and Canada with armed bodyguards as he was a marked man. After months of no word from Bonanno, the Commission named Gaspar DiGregorio (who was already dismayed at Bonanno for making his son Bill the family consigliere) as the new boss in 1965, but it wasn't acknowledged by Bonanno's son, triggering an internal Mob War. However, virtually no action took place until an attempted sit-down in early 1966 resulted in a shootout. Nobody was killed, but the Commission shelved DiGregorio. The bungled hit on Bill also forced Joe to come out of hiding, and the shootings then intensified. The war only ended when Joe and his sons Bill and Joe Jr. were forcibly exiled to Arizona in late 1968, while Paul Sciacca, a DiGregorio loyalist, was named the new boss.
After Bonanno's exile, the family had a revolving door of ineffectual bosses in the 1970s and it didn't end there. Although Sciacca was named boss in 1968, some of his capos attempted to kill him but they were eliminated. Sciacca himself was removed from power in 1971 after being imprisoned on narcotics trafficking charges. Natale Evola was named boss, but had a brief reign as he died of cancer in 1973. The Commission then appointed Philip "Rusty" Rastelli to head-up the troubled family, but Carmine Galante, Bonanno's former underboss, seized power despite no Commission backing. He even tried to anoint himself boss, but the Commission immediately had him killed in 1979 for many reasons, mainly that he didn't share any drug profits with the other families and murdered 8 members of the Gambinos. Despite this, renegade capos such as Alphonse "Sonny Red" Indelicato still didn't accept Rastelli as boss and wanted to avenge Galante's death, almost thrusting the family into another internal Mob War, but the threat died out when Indelicato and two other capos were rubbed out by Rastelli's protege Joe Massino in 1981, forcing the remaining renegades to acknowledge Rastelli as don. However, the Donnie Brasco incident, in which a FBI agent infiltrated one of the crews and almost got made, forced the Commission to remove the family from the panel, aside from the rampant heroin smuggling and the infighting that's been going on since 1964. Dominick "Sonny Black" Napolitano, whose crew was unwittingly infiltrated by FBI agent Joe Pistone, ended up dead and his hands chopped off as a warning to never shake hands with cops, while several wiseguys tied to Sonny Black were either killed, demoted in rank or imprisoned.
With Rastelli in damage control mode, the other families viewed the Bonannos as pariahs and feared his overreliance on "junk men" to make up for the losses could endanger them. By then, the Bonannos became the Butt-Monkey of the mob, but it actually benefited them as they were the only family to avoid an indictment on the Commission Case, allowing them to quietly rebuild their power base while the other families were hammered with long prison sentences and mobsters turning rat.
After Rastelli's death in 1991, Joe Massino took over as boss. Massino quickly worked to rebuild the family to its former glory by adding new made men and expanding into white-collar rackets such as union racketeering and securities fraud. Wary of the surveillance that took down his contemporaries (notably John Gotti and Vincent Gigante), Massino shunned the usual haunts, avoided using phones as he knew they could be bugged, arranged family meetings in remote and/or unusual locations by passing them off as "family vacations," and used a clandestine cell system for his crews to reduce contact with other wiseguys however possible. By doing so, it enabled Massino to fly below the radar while his peers faced long prison sentences. Upset at family namesake Joe Bonanno's tell-all book and how it was used in the Commission Case, Massino tried to rename the family after himself, but it didn't catch on outside the mob. Pulling a page from Chin Gigante, Massino ordered his men to touch their ears when referencing him, causing the FBI to mockingly nickname him "the Ear" when they heard about it.
By the late 90s, the Bonannos made a comeback as they were now the strongest family thanks to Massino being the only official boss still on the streets, allowing him to impose new by-laws at a Commission meeting in 2000. Aware how Donnie Brasco nearly destroyed the mob, Massino decreed that wannabes must be supervised by two made members for some time before being sponsored in hopes of testing their reliability, added restrictions on inducting those with drug convictions, restored the full-blood rule that was sparsely enforced, and encouraged made men to induct their sons. By doing this, it would make a capo less likely to snitch as the defector's son would be vulnerable if they squealed. Massino was even proud that the Bonannos never had any rats since 1931.
But this all came crashing down in 2002 when several of his button men actually flipped, especially Salvatore Vitale, who saw Massino as a Big Brother Mentor to him and was his Number Two. Their relationship became sour once Massino got out of jail in 1992 to the point Massino wanted him dead, and this became the ultimate catalyst for Vitale to flip in 2003. Massino faced life imprisonment, and it was upgraded to the death penalty in 2004 after one of the murders he ordered was linked to him. In hopes of saving his life, he became the first official boss of a crime family to turn rat, testifying against his handpicked successor Vincent "Vinny Gorgeous" Basciano in 2005. Once again, the Bonannos are in shambles and still struggling to rebuild themselves to this day. The family is now headed by Michael Mancuso, who took over as boss following Basciano's imprisonment in 2013.
In 2020, an FBI investigation revealed that through their Zip crew, the Bonannos still maintain links to their place of origin in Sicily, as evidenced by documented meetings between mafioso Francesco Domingo and several members of the Bonanno 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 has some small-scale ops in New Jersey, but there hasn't been a functioning crew since the 1990s). Currently the weakest of the Five Families due to numerous informants (current membership is around 100-120 made men), ineffectual and/or publicity-hungry bosses, and internal wars since the 1960s, the Colombos used to be much stronger thanks to their ties with the Bonanno family.
Originally a small and fairly-well organized gang of Sicilian mafiosi hailing from the town of Villabate (not far from Palermo), 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; he also became close with the Detroit mob after two of his daughters married the sons of mobsters Bill Tocco and Joe Zerilli. Profaci also gained more territory for his small gang in Brooklyn after Joe Masseria had rival mob boss Salvatore D'Aquila whacked in 1928. Despite Masseria's attempts to strongarm his rackets, Profaci resisted, silently aligning himself with the Castellammarese Clan due to his ties with Bonanno while also becoming a wealthy man thanks to his olive oil and tomato paste businesses, which served as covers for his rackets (and still exist to this day as his relatives still own the Italian olive oil brand Colavita).
On the flip side, Profaci was quite the arrogant skinflint in mob circles, even going so far to demand a $25 monthly "tax" from his men but paying chump change to them. The "tribute" was supposedly a war chest to bribe crooked officials and foot the legal bills of imprisoned soldiers, but Profaci hoarded most of it to himself, which became a source of contention in the late 1950s. The rising dissent against Profaci finally burst open at the seams when he abruptly balked at giving Joe Gallo a lucrative numbers racket formerly owned by Brooklyn-based capo Frank "Shots" Abbatemarco, who was killed for not paying the "tribute" Profaci always demanded from his men. Gallo was widely considered to be a hot-headed capo and the alleged gunman behind the Albert Anastasia hitnote .
At first, it seemed that Gallo would win this battle as he secured the backing of Carlo Gambino and Tommy Lucchese, Profaci's Arch-Enemies on the Commission, and kidnapped several of the family's top skippers (including underboss Joe Magliocco), but most of the wiseguys sided with Profaci. Carmine Persico, a Gallo loyalist who would eventually become boss, secretly changed alliances and became Profaci's right-hand man when he realized that Profaci was willing to drag it out. After switching sides, Persico decided to officially betray the Gallos by trying to kill Gallo's younger brother Larry at a bar via strangulation, but he survived the murder attempt thanks to a passing policeman who witnessed the attack, forcing Persico and his men to flee via a side exit. Because of his treachery, Persico was derisively nicknamed "the Snake" for betraying the Gallo crew, but it was never used in his face. The Gallos later tried to murder Persico twice, but he survived both attempts. Profaci died of liver cancer in 1962, but his underboss Joe Magliocco continued the battle against the Gallo crew.
The war ended with Gallo's arrest in 1963, but Magliocco soon became embroiled in Joe Bonanno's audacious plot to eliminate several of their rivals and take over the Commission. Magliocco went along with it because he despised how Gambino and Lucchese supported the Gallo revolt. However, their scheme sputtered to an abrupt halt when Joe Colombo, another capo in the Profaci family and the designated gunman, squealed about their plans to the Commission. Since the other bosses knew that Magliocco was having health issues, he was spared but was forced to pay a $50,000 fine and resign in favor of Colombo. Bonanno was also ordered to come forward several times, but he was a no-show despite being asked to explain and staged a bizarre but phony kidnapping so he could lay low in Canada for a while. With Gambino's backing, Colombo was named the new boss. As the Five Families became public knowledge during this period due to the Valachi hearings, the family was now publicly referred to as the "Colombo" family.
But to Gambino's dismay, Colombo was too publicity-friendly, as he frequently claimed the FBI falsely targeted Italian-Americans. Colombo even went so far to give TV interviews, form a political group to decry the FBI's actions, and ally with Rabbi Meir Kahane, the militant leader of the Jewish Defense League who similarly felt that Jews were being persecuted. Colombo's henchmen and peers derisively thought of him as a lapdog for Gambino, but they couldn't make a move due to Gambino's support at the time. They eventually got their wish when Colombo was gunned down during a rally at Columbus Circle in 1971, relapsing into a coma which he never recovered from and died in 1978. This triggered the second internal war and the family pinned the blame on Joe Gallo, though it was speculated that Colombo's rivals, including Gambino, ordered it because he was bringing too much publicity. Gallo was later killed in 1972 while dining with his family. Eventually, the war continued on-and-off as the Gallo crew itself splintered apart into two factions that started fighting each other. To resolve the conflict, the Commission negotiated an agreement in which the remaining Gallos peacefully joined the Genovese family.
Carmine Persico took over the family in 1973, but used a series of "acting" bosses and ruling panels to rule the Colombos as he spent much of the time being jailed or on the lam. Persico and his acting boss, Gennaro "Jerry Lang" Langella, were later indicted on the Mafia Commission Case in 1986, facing 100+ year life sentences. Many have pointed out that the Colombos suffered more long-term damage than any other family as a result of the trial as Persico was younger than his peers. To retain his grip on the family, Persico even groomed his son Alphonse as his heir, but Allie Boy skipped bail and was convicted in a separate racketeering trial. Persico then nominated his cousin Victor Orena as a fill-in and granted him two powers rarely given to acting bosses inducting new members and ordering hits. It was a Catch-22 as Persico made it clear that Orena's role was temporary until his son's release.
However, Orena harbored bigger ambitions, felt envious of the Persicos dominating the family, and thought Carmine himself was out-of-touch with the rank-and-file. Remembering how Joe Bonanno's tell-all book and TV interview was used as evidence in the Commission Trial, Orena feared Persico was planning to pull a similar stunt, thereby bringing even more heat on the family. Orena first asked the Commission to summarily remove Persico and declare him boss, but the Commission refused, saying that Orena should instead follow Mafia protocol by asking the family capos if they supported him or Persico. Orena then asked consigliere Carmine Sessa to poll the capos on who should be boss, but Sessa instead warned Persico of Orena's machinations. Outraged that Orena tried to usurp his position, Persico ordered his death, but it also triggered the third and bloodiest of the internal turf wars.
The conflict soon spiraled out of control and raged until Orena was convicted on RICO charges and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1992. As the war dragged on, the Commission stripped the family of its seat, while plans were proposed to split its manpower and resources among the remaining families. Lucchese underboss Anthony Casso even planned to absorb the Colombos with his own to end the war, but backed out after realizing the other bosses would never accept this idea. While Persico won the battle after 12 deaths (including three innocent bystanders), 18 associates missing and 12 of his men turning informer, the Colombos have been weakened in recent years because of the war and more government crackdowns in the 2000s. Despite being imprisoned, Persico continued to run the family until his death in 2019, but the Colombos still have yet to recover from the tumultuous 1990s. Many have commented about how the Colombos have been decimated over the years, all because Persico wanted to keep his power even after repeated indictments, his treachery, and pressure from his peers to step down. After Persico's death, his cousin Andrew "Mush" Russo took over, having been indicted in September 2021 for labor racketeering. Russo himself died in April 2022 due to old age, and it is now unknown who is running the borgata.
- 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 also has a big "Zip" faction (the Cherry Hill Gambinos), and formerly had a small crew based in the Baltimore area until the 1990s. Once the biggest crime family, it is now a shell of its former self due to John Gotti's media-hungry antics and subsequent imprisonment in 1992. Under family namesake Carlo Gambino's reign, it had around 450 made men, but that has since dipped to between 200-225 made men in recent years.
The family had its origins in the large Brooklyn faction of the Morello (now Genovese) crime family and branched off in the 1920s. It first came to prominence under the Mangano brothers (Phil and Vincent), who controlled the Brooklyn waterfront rackets thanks to their underboss Albert Anastasia, but their relationship was rocky from the start as Vincent resented Anastasia's close ties to Luciano, Costello, Bonanno and other top mobsters outside his family, and his strong influence on Murder, Inc. and the waterfront unions. The two men regularly squabbled, having to be pulled apart possibly for the protection of the older Mangano, who was no physical match for his younger underboss. In addition, Mangano was seen as a Mustache Pete reluctant at adapting to the American customs younger mafiosi readily accepted and lacked the muscle that Anastasia carried even beyond the family.
Anastasia later took over the family after eliminating the Mangano brothers in 1951, with Phil's body left to rot in a Brooklyn swamp, while Vincent vanished without a trace. Anastasia was known to be a ruthless boss, thanks to his past experience as the head of Murder, Inc. in the 1930s, and with Costello and Bonanno's prodding, the Commission confirmed Anastasia's ascension as head of the renamed Anastasia family, partly because Costello wanted a strong ally against the resentful Vito Genovese, who hated Costello for being named boss and considered himself the rightful successor to Luciano. However, Anastasia's past came back to bite him, as he murdered his own boss without obtaining the Commission's approval, on top of trying to muscle in on Lansky's casino rackets in Cuba. Furthermore, Anastasia was considered to be an unpredictable and hot-headed man, and the other bosses were concerned someone in his family secretly sold membership "buttons" for $50,000 to unqualified persons, a blatant violation of Commission rules that rankled many wannabes in the other families, who had to wait for some time before joining the Mafia. He was assassinated in a famous gangland hit in 1957 orchestrated by Carlo Gambino and Genovese.
Gambino, the family's namesake and Anastasia's successor, led it to prosperous times thanks to his strong ties with Tommy Lucchese. Both of them would further solidify this alliance into a relationship when Gambino's son Thomas married one of Lucchese's daughters in 1962. Not only that, he also started inducting Sicilian mobsters ("Zips") in an aggressive effort to expand into international rackets and smuggle in heroin despite the so-called "ban." To further strengthen his grip on the family, he even promoted his cousin Paul Castellano as street boss, and commanded an army of roughly 450 made men and 2,000 wannabes. Remembering how past attempts to dominate the mob through violence failed spectacularly, Gambino became the Mafia's de facto grandmaster through silent manipulation, while the other families in New York and elsewhere were facing various problems such as turf wars, legal issues or leadership crises. But before he died in 1976, Gambino made his biggest mistake by naming Castellano as successor over his underboss (and the preferred choice) Neil Dellacroce, who was imprisoned at the time for tax evasion.
This rankled the blue-collar, pro-Dellacroce faction, as they contemptuously thought of Castellano as a pampered Yes-Man who got the job due to nepotism despite being a big earner for the family. Castellano took control of the "white collar crimes" that included construction, labor unions, garbage hauling, and other big money rackets, while Dellacroce retained the "bread-and-butter" activities such as bookmaking, loansharking, auto theft, and gambling. To keep a check on Dellacroce's acolyte, the brash John Gotti, Castellano relied on the Roy DeMeo crew, while also allying with an Irish gang called the Westies in construction rackets. Though he disapproved of Gambino's choice of picking Castellano 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. Even then, there were simmering tensions between Gotti and Castellano, as the latter became increasingly greedy and reclusive. Castellano even demanded higher tributes instead of the usual 10% in some cases and though there was an unofficial "ban" placed by Gambino, who ordered his men not to get caught dealing drugs, this was often ignored as even Castellano hypocritically accepted drug payments from several of his capos, including the Zip faction, and from the Gotti and Roy DeMeo crews.
At this time, Rudy Giuliani, an aggressive US Attorney who thought the Mafia was an eyesore to honest Italian-Americans, urged the government to launch a criminal case against the Five Families by actively targeting the bosses with Castellano topping the list as he was the Mafia Commission chairman at the time. By 1985, Castellano was in a slew of problems, ranging from legal pressure from the feds, personal problems with his family after they got wind of his affair with his maid, and growing dissension among the rank-and-file, many of whom despised his heavy-handed approach by steering towards the "white collar" rackets while greedily taking most of what the blue-collar crews earned and paying them potatoes. A few weeks after Dellacroce's death in December 1985, Castellano was gunned down outside Sparks Steak House on Gotti's orders, who was reportedly angry that Castellano was a no-show at his mentor's funeral; other reasons included Castellano's greed, the prospect of him turning informer in the wake of the Commission case as he often badmouthed other mobsters behind their backs, and a fear that he might kill Gotti in a dispute over the unofficial "ban" on drug dealing. To get around with killing Castellano without permission, he pitched this idea to several important figures of his generation in the other families (except Chin Gigante, who was close to Big Paul at the time), who tacitly nodded their approval for the hit.
Gotti took over after Castellano's assassination, but his tenure was marred by frequent indictments as he was under intense FBI scrutiny since the 1970s, assassination attempts by rival mob bosses who were outraged at the unsanctioned hit on Castellano (particularly Chin Gigante, who was quite close with Big Paul), and his media-hungry profile. Many of his own henchmen and contemporaries hated him for his flamboyant personality, and by the early 1990s, his underboss Sammy Gravano, fed up with his boss's antics, decided to spill the beans about Gotti's crimes. Though Joe Massino was a staunch supporter of Gotti as both began their mob careers as truck hijackers and Gotti at one point tried to have the Bonannos regain their Commission seat, their relations slowly became strained in the 1990s as Massino feared that Gotti had planned to kill him and elevate his brother-in-law Sal Vitale as boss of the Bonannos. Gotti was imprisoned for life in 1992 after ducking several attempts by federal prosecutors to have him indicted and died of cancer 10 years later.
Though Gotti's brother Peter took over in 2002 and ran the family even behind bars until his death in 2021, the Zips are now the dominant faction and have adopted a low profile. In March 2019, Frank "Frankie Boy" Cali, the street boss for the family, was murdered outside his home, which became the first murder of a boss since the Castellano hit. Initially thought to have been ordered internally by rival mobsters, the threat seemed to have subsided when it turned out a lone gunman obsessed with the debunked far-right QAnon conspiracy theory was responsible for the Cali hit, though fears still remain that he could be killed as outsiders usually meet a violent end if a made man is killed without authorization. Dominick "Italian Dom" Cefalù, the capo of the Zip crew, has taken over as the new don after Peter Gotti's death.
- 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 organized crime, the family is still the strongest and biggest of the Five Families, as the roster has historically varied from 250 to 450 made men; current membership is around 250-275 made men.
The oldest of the New York families, it was originally known as the Morello crime family and was led by the Morello brothers, who originally came from Corleone and dominated organized crime in Italian Harlem, Greenwich Village and the Bronx as a Black Hand extortion ring. Soon enough, they quickly expanded into bookmaking, armed robbery, and loansharking. In the 1910s, the Morellos entered into a brief gang war with the Neapolitan Camorra and absorbed the remnants after the Camorra were defeated. In the 1920s, two breakaway factions, one in southern Brooklyn and another in East Harlem, branched out to become their own families, even though the Morellos became wealthier through bootlegging and prostitution. Eventually, the family came under the control of Morello capo Giuseppe "Joe the Boss" Masseria, who had a known penchant for violence and was notoriously greedy. His heavy-handed attempts to dominate the other Italian gangs in exchange for a "street tax," especially the Brooklyn-based Castellammarese Clan, provoked a violent response, which claimed at least 150+ lives and dragged on until Masseria was clipped while having lunch with Lucky Luciano at a Coney Island restaurant in 1931. It is said that Luciano took a bathroom break when four gunmen suddenly burst in and started shooting at Masseria. Reportedly, the gunmen involved in the Masseria hit were Vito Genovese, Bugsy Siegel, Joe Adonis and Albert Anastasia.
Sal Maranzano, now the nominal victor of this turf war, immediately wasted no time in reorganizing the the entire Mafia under his control by openly declaring himself the boss of bosses. Reacting negatively to this, Luciano realized that Maranzano was not much different from Masseria, as both were Mustache Petes who frequently stymied the Young Turks' desire to branch out to other ethnic gangs. So Luciano and his allies decided that the boss of all bosses had to go, and Maranzano was killed in late 1931, allowing the Young Turks to effectively dominate the American Mafia.
With the old guard out of the way, Luciano now consolidated his own power base, appointing Genovese as underboss and Frank Costello as consigliere. He then revolutionized the American Mafia by forming a Commission to settle disputes and encouraging the other bosses to work with each other instead of "hitting the mattresses." By doing so, this enabled Luciano to become the de facto boss of bosses without declaring himself as one openly, aware that his peers would react negatively just as they did with Masseria and Maranzano before. However, he faced an indictment from US attorney Thomas Dewey for pandering in 1937 and was sent back to Italy in 1946, where he worked with the Sicilian mafia to establish an international drug trafficking empire. Many have noted that Luciano would never directly involve himself in such a racket and that the case itself was bogus. Having set up multiple layers of insulation, it would have been significantly out of character for Luciano to be directly involved in any criminal operation, let alone a prostitution ring.
Although Genovese was the prime candidate to succeed Luciano, he himself faced a murder indictment and fled to Italy in 1937, so the family was taken over by Costello, a key political fixer. Costello had huge gambling and white-collar rackets in New York City, and was always craving to go legitimate. It was once said that no municipal official or politician could accept their position without securing 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. But the Kefauver hearings in 1951 were aimed at proving that a secretive Italian organized crime conspiracy existed 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 felt he should be boss while silently eliminating allies of Costello after returning to the United States in 1945, most notably 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, though Costello manages to survive the hit by getting away with only a scalp wound thanks to the gunman's unintentional warning, and steps down to avoid further bloodshed.
Taking over after Costello's forced retirement, Genovese then ordered a hit on rival mob boss Albert Anastasia and called for a national mob meeting to explain the growing power vacuum in New York that's been ongoing since the botched hit on Costello and consolidate his power base in late 1957. But the Apalachin Meeting turned into a debacle as it exposed the Mafia to outside 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 drug charges. To make matters worse, a low-level mob soldier named Joe Valachi became the first made man to testify about the American Mafia's inner workings in front of a Congressional panel. Valachi feared Genovese ordered a hit on him, but the threat of the death penalty became his rationale to cooperate with federal authorities in 1963. While there were other mafiosi who were secretly passing intel to the FBI, Valachi became the first to openly admit being one. Although his disclosures never led to any major prosecutions, Valachi gave a good glimpse of the Mafia's inner workings. Genovese continued to rule the family from prison via ruling panels and acting bosses until his death in 1969.
After Genovese died, the family was nominally led by a ruling panel of "dummy" bosses, but the real man in charge was Philip "Cockeyed Phil" Lombardo, the family's street boss since 1962. A reclusive man who who hated attention, Lombardo took a relaxed approach in doing things and used a committee of high-ranking capos as fronts to shield himself so the FBI would go after the wrong man while he remained hidden. Even then, Lombardo made it clear to them that they were required to get his approval before making any major decision. This elaborate ruse appeared to have worked for him, as Lombardo was never caught and retired a free man in 1981 by appointing Vincent Gigante, the alleged gunman behind the Costello hit, as his successor. To disguise this transition, Lombardo also designated Anthony "Fat Tony" Salerno as the new "front" boss. While it was originally thought that Salerno and the "dummy" bosses before him were running the show, Salerno's protege Vincent "The Fish" Cafaro, who had turned informer in 1986, revealed that this ruse was going on since 1969.
Chin Gigante proved to be even more cautious and shadowy than Lombardo. He also ruled through "Fat Tony" Salerno, but that was just the start. Not only did he limit his contact with his underlings to some of his cronies, he rarely spoke louder than a whisper, insisted that nobody in the mob ever mention his name, and ordered his men to beat up anyone who defied his warning. Others got around this by pointing to their chins, making "C" shapes with their hands, or using the Speak of the Devil trope as indirect references.note He also shielded himself from law enforcement scrutiny via Obfuscating Insanity and Playing Sick, and rarely ventured outside for fear the feds could covertly plant bugs. It worked until 1997, when he was imprisoned for multiple racketeering and murder charges, and finally admitted to pulling the "crazy stunt" as a way to throw off investigators for years in 2003.note Besides that, Gigante tried to murder John Gotti for killing his own boss in 1986, though he came off as a hypocrite since he actually partook in the unsanctioned attempted hit on Frank Costello in 1957, who barely escaped with a scalp wound.
Gigante ran the family from prison until his death in 2005. Since his death, the family now uses a committee of capos to manage its daily affairs with Liborio "Barney" Bellomo (a protege of Gigante and capo of the 116th Street crew) at the helm in a manner reminiscent of Lombardo in the 1970s. Even after Chin's death, the family remains strong and successful because of its continued devotion to secrecy on top of the very few informants who have defected. The information lockdown makes it difficult to gain intel from informants or from wiretaps.
- 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.
It began as a splinter crew of the Morello gang's East Harlem faction, becoming an independent group taking over their Bronx-based bootlegging rackets in the early 1920s. It was something of the Franz Ferdinand of the Castellammarese War as Joe Masseria's attempt to violently replace the family's boss and impose a street "tax" on them caused the rest of the family swing to Sal Maranzano's faction, starting open conflict between the two groups. Since family membership has often hovered between 100 and 120 made men, the Luccheses were widely reckoned as the smallest and most peaceful of the Five Families until the violent purges led by Vic Amuso and Anthony Casso in the 1980s. The family's first official boss was Tommy Gagliano, who preferred to keep a low profile, concentrating on their criminal activities in the Bronx, Manhattan and New Jersey. He expanded the family's grip on the Garment District and often allowed his underboss Tommy Lucchese to do business with the other mob families while remaining hidden in the shadows. Gagliano kept such a low profile that virtually little is known about his reign from 1931 until his death in 1951.
Before his death, Gagliano annointed Lucchese as his successor. Lucchese continued to maintain the Garment District rackets and soon controlled trucking operations at the new Idlewild (now JFK) Airport. He also jockeyed with Frank Costello over domination of the Tammany Hall political machine. 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 - in fact, Gambino's son Thomas married his daughter Frances in 1962. In return, Lucchese gave Gambino full access to rackets at JFK Airport. By 1962, Lucchese and Gambino were the dominant forces on the Commission, as they encouraged internal turf wars within the Colombo and Bonanno families, and had Genovese imprisoned on presumably trumped-up narcotics charges.
Lucchese 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 infamous French Connection case. Corallo expanded the family's rackets in labor unions, construction, and garbage hauling. The latter became one of their prime rackets, what with a cartel of mob-linked haulers and unions forcing customers into using them. One waste hauler, Robert Kubecka and his brother-in-law Donald Barstow, were murdered by capo Sal Avellino when they repeatedly refused to join the mobbed-up cartel. Under Corallo's reign, one of the most notorious robberies took place - the Lufthansa Heist. The heist occurred when several truck hijackers linked to Jimmy "the Gent" Burke and Paul Vario ran off with nearly $6 million in cash and jewelry. Like his predecessors, Corallo took a laid-back approach in running the family, as he even was content with the reduced yearly tribute he got from the New Jersey faction. Though he never discussed business during sit-downs or on phones as he feared the conversations could be taped, Corallo used a car phone in his Jaguar. He was unaware the car itself was bugged by the New York state police's organized crime unit. The recordings were later used against him during the Commission Casenote .
When Paul Castellano was killed by John Gotti in late 1985, Corallo teamed up with Chin Gigante, boss of the Genovese family, to have Gotti and his loyalists killed for murdering a boss without Commission backing but failed several times as Gotti was surrounded by media all the time, though the Lucchese and Genovese hitmen do kill Gotti's underboss Frank DeCicco in April of 1986. Facing life imprisonment following the Commission Trial in 1987, Corallo named Victor Amuso and Anthony "Gaspipe" Casso as the new boss and underboss respectively, but his replacements proved to be poor choices, as both of them were known to be violent hitmen and drug traffickers. Even worse, the duo came from the Brooklyn faction, while their predecessors came from the Bronx faction, causing many resentful wiseguys in the other crews to perceive them as interlopers who lacked the proper qualities of being mob leaders.
Soon enough, the two ordered hits on anyone who was a purported informant, but it backfired as many mafiosi such as Alphonse D'Arco and Peter Chiodo were later forced to flip because of Amuso and Casso's increasingly erratic behavior. Amuso even ordered the entire New Jersey faction killed when they balked at Amuso's demands for a hefty 50% of their proceeds instead of the paltry sum they offered, even going so far to demote the faction's head capo, Anthony Accetturo, to the mere rank of a soldier and replace 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 Amuso 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 many years working as contract killers for the Mafia; Eppolito even had relatives who were in the mob, but could never become a made man 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.
In May 2019, informant John Pennisi testified that in 2017, Amuso sent a letter to underboss Steven Crea ordering Bronx-based Matthew Madonna to step down as acting boss in favor of Brooklyn-based Michael "Big Mike" DeSantis, and that Amuso will initiate a second purge of the Bronx faction if Madonna defied his orders. Pennisi also confirmed the family now operates with a total of seven crews - three in the Bronx-Harlem-Westchester faction, three in the Brooklyn-Long Island faction, and one in the New Jersey faction.
Other crime families outside New York City:
- Magaddino/Buffalo 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 Magaddino's death in 1974.
- DeCavalcante/New Jersey 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 Jersey City and the parts of NJ further north are under the Five Families' control).
- 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.
- LaRocca/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. This was the central organization followed by the book I Heard You Paint Houses and its film adaptation, The Irishman.
- 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.
- Trafficante/Tampa Bay 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 Fidel 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/Marcello 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/Civello 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.
- 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.
- Zerilli crime family/Detroit Partnership - 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.
- Scalish/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.
- Civella/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.
- Giordano/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.
- Balistrieri/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.
- Dragna/Los Angeles crime family - Has control of Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. It used to be much more powerful until the 1950s, but the family has been in decline since Frank DeSimone's death in 1967. For this reason, the family is nicknamed the Mickey Mouse mob because of DeSimone'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.
- Smaldone/Denver crime family - This family once controlled rackets in Denver, Boulder and Pueblo in Colorado. Defunct since the 1990s.
- Lanza/San Francisco crime family - This family once controlled Northern California and San Francisco. Defunct since the 1990s.
- Cerrito/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.
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.
- beard: An individual who fronts for a business or operation. The "upfront guy" who is represented to be the owner or boss of the business or operation, thereby, hiding the people who have true ownership.
- beef: a complaint or disagreement within the organization, usually discussed during a sit-down with higher-ups in the Family.
- biscuit: A gun, or a narcotic pill. As in "Make sure your biscuits loaded." Or "I think she on biscuits!"
- books, the: Euphemism for membership in a 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 outsiders to describe an extremely powerful boss who wields significant influence within the Mafia. It hasn't been used since 1931, as the only person to hold it (Salvatore Maranzano) was murdered, and the title has been replaced by a council of mob bosses.
- borgata: A crime Family in the U.S.
- broken: A made man who is demoted in rank, "pulled down" or "knocked down". Though much better than being shelved or clipped, a wiseguy loses power when they're demoted from a very powerful underboss to a mere soldier.
- brugad: A crime family; "borgata" rendered in Sicilian dialect.
- 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.
- bust out: To either fraudulently "bankrupt" a business; or refers to a mob guy who's always broke. As in, "Hes been a bust out all his life."
- buy him a hat: A phrase typically used to connote a bribed policeman or government official. As in, "I bought the cop a hat."
- button: A "made" member of the Mafia; soldier, wiseguy, goodfella, Man of Honor.
- capo di tutti capi: The Boss of all Bosses, usually a phrase by outsiders to indicate an extremely powerful boss who wields significant influence in the Mafia. The Commission was created in 1931 to replace this title and prevent turf wars from breaking out.
- 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 offender is spared, but are essentially declared Persona Non Grata within the mob.
- Christian: Human in the Sicilian mob.
- Civilian: A non-criminal
- 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. Replaced the Boss of Bosses title in 1931 to prevent turf wars from breaking out, it is the mob's version of a board of directors.
- compare: Crony, close pal, buddy. Literally, "godfather" in Italian.
- consigliere: An adviser to the boss. Often acts as the family diplomat sorting out problems both internal and with other families.
- contract/piece of work: A murder assignment.
- Cosa Nostra: Italian for "this thing of ours," the Mafia.
- cosca: Sicilian term for Mafia crime family led by a capobastone or boss.
- cowboy: A soldier or associate who is perceived as hotheaded.
- crank/junk business: Euphemism for narcotics/drug trafficking, especially heroin.
- crash car: A crash car is a diversion car used during a hit or a robbery to thwart any oncoming police car. The crash car literally blocks or "crashes" any pursuing vehicles.
- crew: A group of soldiers that takes orders from a capo.
- cucuzza: Italian word for cucumber. Italians use it as a derogatory phrase to mean an idiot or dummy.
- 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. More an item of legend than something actually done; when burying a victim, it helps to not do anything to make law enforcement's job easier, such as providing an exact date of burial.
- Cupola: Sicilian Commission.
- 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.
- fence jumper: An underworld associate or inducted member who abruptly changes crews or family allegiance.
- fifty/fifty runner: a bookmaker who works in partnership with a bookmaking office or "bank". Typically, the runner will provide the customers and control the collections and payofffs, and the bank will provide the bankroll should a betting customer win and handles the logistics of the office, receiving the telephone bets and keeping records. The runner and the "bank" will split any profit 50/50 (this is also known as having a "half sheet").
- flip: To become an informant, a government witness, to break the vow of omerta, and cooperate with law enforcement.
- Friday night/Saturday night: A common code of conduct in the Mafia; members go out with mistresses on Friday and wives on Saturday. This is designed to prevent wives from running into girlfriends by accident.
- 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.
- fugazy: A phony or counterfeit item; not the real thing.
- 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.
- give-up: A theft coordinated with the person who is ostensibly being robbed, such as a truck driver.
- 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
- green eyes: Greedy. Particularly used by members to refer to overly avaricious bosses.
- hard-on with a suitcase: Mob lawyer; feminine: half a hard-on with a suitcase.
- heavy: To be armed with a weapon, packed up.
- The Honored Society: The Sicilian Mafia
- 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.
- knockdown loan: Money provided by a loanshark with a predefined payment plan. Contrast with "vig loan" where only the interest is required to be paid regularly.
- knockaround guy: "A street guy". It can define anyone from a mere associate up to a boss. As in, "Hes been a knockaround guy his whole life."
- layoff: In illicit gambling operations, laying off means to hedge a bet with another bookie to correct for an imbalance in one's own collected bets. For example, if a Patriots-Jets game has a large amount of action on the Patriots and a smaller amount of action on the Jets, a bookie will place a Patriots bet with a layoff bookie so that if the Pats win he has enough money to pay the winners. The Mob's well-organized and well-capitalized structure meant (and means) that many independent operators, such as Bumpy Johnson in Harlem, would use the Mob to prevent their own banks from being wiped out.
- 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.
- lugger: because card games and dice games are often "floating" games with the location kept secret to avoid police raids and arrests, a "lugger" is often used. Prospective players will congregate at a pre-determined location and be driven to the game surreptitiously by a "lugger", keeping the location of the game hidden.
- lupara: An Italian word used to refer to a sawn-off shotgun of the break-open type. Provides easy concealment, and a wider shot spread due to a shortened barrel.
- lupara bianca: Journalistic term to indicate a Mafia slaying done in such a way that the victim's body is never found, such as remote locations, dissolving the body in acid, or burying the corpse in the concrete found in construction sites. It also prevents the family of the victim from holding a proper funeral in absence of a body, and allows the killers to go Karma Houdini.
- 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 cop. Murders committed for personal reasons do not count.
- mamaluke: An idiot.
- 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).
- Men of Honor: Sicilian Mobsters.
- message job: Placing the bullet in someone's body such that a specific message is sent to that person's crew or family.
- mulignan/moolie: "Eggplant." A derogatory term for African-Americans.
- Mustache Pete: Pejorative term for old-fashioned or older generation mafiosi.
- nut, the: mobspeak for "the bottom line"; also the gross profit figure.
- Omertà: The code of silence and one of the premier vows taken when being sworn into the Family. Violation of this is usually punishable by death.
- off the record/books: An action taken without the knowledge or approval of the Family.
- on the arm: Goods/services provided to Mafia members free of charge by legitimate businesses.
- 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.
- Pentito: Informants in Sicily.
- phone man: A person who works in a bookmaking office taking telephone bets.
- piece: A gun.
- pinched/picked up: Arrested.
- pizzo: A 'tax' (extortion money) which retailers and freelance criminals alike pay in exchange for operating in Mafia-controlled turf.
- problem: A liability, someone likely to be whacked.
- put on a shelf/the shelf: A made man who is forced into early 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.
- shy book: An individual loanshark's list of loans due payment. Considered company property in the event that the mobster flips or gets whacked.
- shylock business: 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.
- social club: An offshoot of mainstream Italian-American culture, these were private storefront clubs where mobsters could go to hang out with each other. Most mob business was conducted out of these. Famous ones include the Ravenite (Neil Dellacroce's, then John Gotti's home base in Manhattan), the Bergin Hunt and Fish Club (the Gotti home base in Queens), the Triangle Social Club (Vincent Gigante's home base in Little Italy), and the Motion Lounge (the home base of the Sonny Black crew infiltrated by Donnie Brasco). Now more or less history due to appreciating real estate prices and increased surveillance of mob-owned establishments.
- stand-up guy: Someone who refuses to rat out the Family no matter what the pressure, offer, or threat.
- strongarm: Protection rackets.
- 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.
- to be with: To be affiliated with an organized crime member. As in, "He's been 'with' so and so for years!"
- to clean: As in "make sure you're clean when you come." It means to not carry a gun, or to drive around and watch if any law enforcement is on you; to shake any law enforcement "tail".
- to get a workout: A beating.
- vig: The interest payment on a loan from a loanshark (short for "vigorish"). Can also refer to a 10% surcharge on an even sports bet. Synonym: juice, vigorish, Tropicana.
- vouch for: To personally guaranteewith one's lifethe 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.
- wire room: A central exchange for gambling operations. Named as such for its large number of landline telephones.
- 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, Siggys, Siggies, Jeeps: Derogatory terms used by Americanized mobsters for their imported Sicilian Mafiosi cousins.
- Ziganette: A popular Sicilian card game played both in Italy and America. Mob families make a lot of money operating a ziganette game in that the stakes can run into thousands of dollars per hand.
While some mobsters like Crazy Joey Gallo appreciated their monikers, others felt it was too embarrassing for them. For example, Carmine Persico was called "the Snake" by his rivals because he betrayed the Gallo crew by siding with Joe Profaci during the 1st Colombo family war in the 1960s. Persico hated it, but the name caught on among fellow criminals. Meanwhile, Joe Bonanno was called "Joe Bananas" by the New York newspapers due to a typing error, but he preferred to be called "Don Peppino."