Colombo crime family

The Colombo crime family is the youngest of the “Five Families” that dominates organized crime activities in New York City, United States, within the nationwide criminal organization known as the Mafia (or Cosa Nostra).

In 1928, Joseph Profaci formed the Profaci crime family. Profaci would rule his family without interruption or challenge until the late 1950s. The family has been torn by three internal wars. The first war took place during the late 1950s when capo Joe Gallo revolted against Profaci. The first war lost momentum in the early 1960s when Gallo was arrested and Profaci died of cancer. The family then came together under boss Joseph Colombo. In 1971, the second family war began after Gallo’s release from prison and the shooting of Colombo. Colombo supporters led by Carmine Persico won the second war after the exiling of the Gallo crew to the Genovese family in 1975. The family would now enjoy over 15 years of peace under Persico and his string of acting bosses.

In 1991, the third and bloodiest war erupted when acting boss Victor Orena tried to seize power from the imprisoned Carmine Persico. The family split into factions loyal to Orena and Persico and two years of mayhem ensued. In 1993, with 12 family members dead and Orena imprisoned, Persico was the winner more or less by default. He was left with a family decimated by war. In the 2000s, the family was crippled by multiple convictions in federal racketeering cases and numerous members becoming government witnesses. Most observers believe that the Colombo crime family is the weakest of the Five Families of New York City.

Origins

In September 1921, Joseph Profaci arrived in New York City from Villabate, Sicily, Italy. After struggling in Chicago with his businesses, Profaci moved back to Brooklyn in 1925 and become a well known olive oil importer. On September 27, Profaci obtained his American citizenship. With his olive oil importing business doing well, Profaci made deals with friends from his old town in Sicily and one of his largest buyers was Tampa mobster Ignazio Italiano. Profaci controlled a small criminal gang that operated mainly in Brooklyn. The dominant Cosa Nostra groups in Brooklyn were led by Salvatore D’Aquila, Frankie Yale, Giuseppe Masseria, and Nicola Schirò.

On July 1, 1928, Brooklyn mobster Frankie Yale was murdered by Chicago Outfit boss Al Capone’s hit-men. Capone murdered Yale because Yale refused to give Capone, a Neapolitan, control over the Unione Siciliana fraternal association. Yale’s murder allowed Profaci and his brother in-law Joseph Magliocco to gain territory for their small gang. Profaci’s gang gained territory in Bensonhurst, Bay Ridge, Red Hook and Carroll Gardens while the rest of Yale’s group went to the Masseria family.

On October 10, 1928, the capo di tutti capi, Salvatore “Toto” D’Aquila, was murdered, resulting in a fight for D’Aquila’s territory. To prevent a gang war in Brooklyn, a Mafia meeting was called on December 5, 1928, at the Statler Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio. The site was chosen because it was neutral territory outside New York under Porrello crime family control and protection. The main topic was dividing D’Aquila’s territory. Attendees representing Brooklyn included Profaci, Magliocco, Vincent Mangano (who reported to D’Aqulia family boss Alfred “Al Mineo” Manfredi), Joseph Bonanno (who represented Salvatore Maranzano and the Castellammarese Clan), Chicago mobsters Joseph Guinta and Pasquale Lolordo, and Tampa mobster Ignazio Italiano. At the end of the meeting, Profaci received a share of D’Aqulia’s Brooklyn territory, with Magliocco as his second-in-command.

The Castellammarese War

Months after the D’Aquila murder, Joe Masseria began a campaign to become Capo di tutti capi (‘Boss of Bosses’) in the United States demanding tribute from the remaining three Mafia groups in New York City which included the Reina family, the Castellammarese Clan and the Profaci family. Castellammarese Clan boss Salvatore Maranzano began his own campaign to become ‘boss of bosses’, this started the Castellammarese War. Masseria along with his allie Alfred Manfredi, the new boss of the D’Aquila family ordered the murder of Gaetano Reina. Masseria believed that Reina was going to support Maranzano to become the new ‘boss of bosses’. On February 26, 1930, Gaetano Reina was murdered and Masseria appointed Joseph Pinzolo as the new boss of the Reina family. During the war Profaci remained neutral, while he secretly supported Maranzano.

The Castellammarese War ended when Charles “Lucky” Luciano, a Masseria lieutenant, betrayed him to Maranzano. Luciano set up the murder of Masseria on April 15, 1931. Maranzano then became the new Capo di tutti capi in the United States. Within a few months, Maranzano and Luciano were plotting to kill each other. On September 10, 1931, Luciano had Maranzano killed and created the Mafia Commission. Now there would be five independent Cosa Nostra families in New York City and twenty one additional families across the United States that were regulated by a supreme Commission in New York. Profaci and Magliocco were confirmed as boss and underboss, respectively, of what was now known as the Profaci crime family.

First Family War (1960-1963)

Joseph Profaci had become a wealthy Mafia boss and was known as “the olive-oil and tomato paste king of America”. One of Profaci’s most unpopular demands was a $25 monthly tribute from every soldier in his family. In the late 1950s, capo Frank “Frankie Shots” Abbatemarco became a problem for Joe Profaci. Abbatemarco controlled a lucrative policy game that earned him nearly $2.5 million a year with an average of $7,000 a day in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In early 1959, Abbatemarco, with the support of Gallo brothers and the Garfield Boys, began refusing to pay tribute to Profaci. By late 1959, Abbatemarco’s debt had grown to $50,000 and Profaci allegedly ordered Joe Gallo to murder Abbatemarco. However, other versions of the story indicate that Gallo played no part in this murder. In return for Abbatemarco’s murder, Profaci allegedly agreed to give the Gallos control over Abbatemarco’s policy game. On November 4, 1959, Frank Abbatemarco walked out of his cousin’s bar in Park Slope, Brooklyn and was shot and killed by Joseph Gioielli and another hitman. Profaci then ordered the Gallos to hand over Abbatemaro’s son Anthony. The Gallos refused and Profaci refused to give them the policy game. This was the start of the first family war. The Gallo brothers and the Garfield boys (led by Carmine Persico) were aligned against Profaci and his loyalists.

Colombo and Italian American Civil Rights League

The Commission rewarded Colombo for his loyalty by awarding him the Profaci family, which he renamed the Colombo family. The 41-year-old Colombo was the youngest boss in New York at the time. He was also the first boss to have been born and raised in the United States.

Along with former Gallo crew member Nicholas Bianco and New England family boss Raymond Patriarca, Colombo was able to end the war. As a reward for his loyalty, Bianco was made into the Colombo family. As boss, Colombo brought peace and stability to the broken crime family. However, some Cosa Nostra bosses viewed Colombo as Carlo Gambino’s “puppet boss” and felt he never deserved the title. Colombo’s leadership was never challenged due to his support from Carlo Gambino. In 1968, Gallo crew leader Larry Gallo died of cancer.

In 1969, Colombo founded the Italian-American Civil Rights League, dedicated to fighting discrimination against Italian-Americans. Many mobsters disapproved of the League because it brought unwanted public attention to the Cosa Nostra. Colombo ignored their concerns and continued gaining support for his league. On July 28, 1970, Colombo held the first league demonstration, a big success. In 1971, months before the second demonstration, the other New York bosses ordered their men to stay away from the demonstration and not support Colombo’s cause. In a sign that the New York bosses had turned on Colombo, the league’s chief organizer, chief organizer Gambino family capo Joseph DeCicco, resigned ostensibly due to ill health. In 1971, Joe Gallo was also released from prison. At the time of his release, Gallo said the 1963 peace agreement did not apply to him because he was in prison when it was negotiation.

Second Family War (1971-1975)

On June 28, 1971, Colombo held the second League demonstration at Columbus Circle in Manhattan. As Colombo prepared to speak, an African-American man, Jerome Johnson, walked up to Colombo and shot him in the back of the head three times; seconds later, Colombo’s bodyguards shot Johnson to death. The shooting did not kill Colombo but left him paralyzed and permanently incapacitated for the last seven years of his life; he died of natural causes on May 22, 1978. Although many in the Colombo family blamed Joe Gallo for the shooting, the police eventually concluded that Johnson was a lone gunman. Regardless, the Colombo shooting triggered the Second Colombo war.

Colombo’s Consigliere Joseph Yacovelli became the family acting boss, and he directed a new campaign to murder Joe Gallo and his crew. On April 7, 1972, acting on a quick tip, four gunmen walked into Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy and killed Joe Gallo as he was dining with his family. Looking for revenge, Albert Gallo sent a gunman from Las Vegas to the Neopolitan Noodle restaurant in Manhattan, where Yacovelli, Alphonse Persico, and Langella were dining one day. However, the gunman did not recognize the mobsters and shot four innocent diners instead, killing two of them. After this assassination attempt, Yacovelli fled New York, leaving Carmine Persico as the new boss.

The Second Colombo war continued on and off for the next several years. In 1975, the Gallo faction itself split into two groups that started fighting each other. To finally resolve the conflict, the New York families negotiated an agreement in which Albert Gallo and his remaining crew left the Colombo family and peacefully joined the Genovese family. The Gallo wars were finally over.

The family under Persico

Following the high-profile media exposure of Joseph Colombo and the murderous excesses of Joe Gallo, the Colombo family entered a period of comparative calm and stability. With Colombo in a coma, the family leadership went to Thomas DiBella, a man adept at evading the authorities since his sole bootlegging conviction in 1932. However, DiBella was unable to prevent the Gambino family from chipping away at Colombo rackets, and the Colombos declined in power. Poor health forced DiBella to retire in 1977, and Colombo died in 1978. The Colombo family was facing another power vacuum.

During the 1970s, Carmine Persico had grown in stature within the family and was considered to be the clear successor as boss. However, Persico had spent much of this time in prison, and it was unclear if he could effectively rule the family from prison. Nevertheless, Persico took control, designating Gennaro “Jerry Lang” Langella as his street boss until his release in 1979. In 1986, both men were convicted on massive Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges in the Mafia Commission Trial and sentenced to 100 years. In a separate RICO trial related only to the Colombos, Persico was convicted with several other family heavyweights and sentenced to 39 years in prison.

Mafia historian and New York Times organized-crime reporter Selwyn Raab later wrote that the Colombos were damaged more than any other family in the long term as a result of the Commission Trial. Raab pointed out that although Persico had been in charge of the family for 14 years prior to his conviction, he was only 53 years old at the time and “at the peak of his abilities.” In contrast, the other New York bosses were in their seventies and likely would have ceded power to mafiosi of Persico’s generation in any event. Knowing that there was virtually no chance that he’d ever be free again, Persico named his older brother, Alphonse “Ally Boy” Persico, as acting boss to ensure the family’s ill-gotten profits would still flow to him. However, Allie Boy skipped bail on loansharking charges a year later. Persico then named Victor Orena as the new acting boss. It was understood that Orena was merely keeping the boss’ chair warm for Alphonse “Little Allie Boy” Persico, Carmine’s son, who had also been convicted in the 1986 “Colombo Trial.”

Third Family War (1991-1993)

Orena, an ambitious capo from Cedarhurst, was initially content with serving as acting boss. By 1990, however, Orena had come to believe Persico was out of touch and causing the family to miss out on lucrative opportunities. He was also alarmed at Persico’s plans for a made-for-television biography, fearing that prosecutors could use it as evidence in the same way they had used Joe Bonanno’s tell-all book as evidence in the Commission Trial. He therefore decided to take over the family himself. Using his strong ties to Gambino boss John Gotti, Orena petitioned the Mafia Commission to declare him the official boss of the Colombo family. Unwilling to cause more conflict, the Commission refused. Orena then instructed consigliere Carmine Sessa to poll the capos on whether Orena should become boss. Instead, Sessa alerted Persico that Orena was staging a palace coup. On June 21, 1991, an enraged Persico sent gunmen under Sessa’s leadership to murder Orena at his house. However, Orena managed to escape before the gunmen could strike. The third Colombo war had begun.

Twelve people, including three innocent bystanders, died in this gang war. More than 80 made members and associates from both sides of the Colombo family were convicted, jailed or indicted. These included Persico’s brother Theodore “Teddy” Persico and his son Alphonse Persico, DeRoss, and Orena’s two sons, Victor, Jr. Orena and John Orena. While both sides appealed to the Commission for help, the war continued. On November 1991, Gregory Scarpa, a Persico loyalist, was driving his daughter and granddaughter home when several Orena gunmen ambushed them. Scarpa and his relatives managed to escape.

The war continued until 1992, when Orena was convicted on massive RICO charges and sentenced to 100 years in prison. As it turned out, the real winners in the war were federal prosecutors. They had initially made little headway in their efforts to undermine the gang. As the war raged, though, at least 12 members turned informer, mostly to save their lives. The highest-profile member to flip was the consigliere, Sessa. With their help, 58 soldiers and associates—42 from the Persico faction and 16 from the Orena faction—were sent to prison. George Stamboulidis, who prosecuted most of the cases arising from the war, later said that the two years of bloodletting helped prosecutors destroy the family from within. He credited the large number of informers with helping them to build big cases sooner than they would have otherwise been able to. Raab later wrote that Persico’s attempts to keep control of the family from prison nearly destroyed it.

While the Colombo war raged, the Commission refused to allow any Colombo member to sit on the Commission and considered dissolving the family. Lucchese underboss Anthony Casso proposed to merge the family with his own to end the war, while in 2000 plans were proposed to split its manpower and resources among the remaining families. In 2002, with the help of Bonanno family boss Joseph Massino, the Commission finally allowed the Colombos to rejoin them.

The family after Third Colombo War

With Orena out of the picture, Persico designated his son Alphonse as acting boss. “Little Allie Boy” officially took over after his 1995 parole, but didn’t rule for long. In 1999, he was arrested in Fort Lauderdale after being caught in possession of a pistol and shotgun; as a convicted felon he was barred from carrying guns. Shortly afterward, he ordered the murder of underboss William “Wild Bill” Cutolo, a supporter of Orena during the Third Colombo War. Cutolo’s son, vowing revenge, offered to wear a wire and pose as a prospective Colombo associate. Based on evidence from this wire, Little Allie Boy was indicted on RICO charges. Realizing he stood no chance of acquittal, he pleaded guilty to the state charges in February 2000 and to the RICO charges in December 2001. In 2004, Alphonse Persico and Underboss John “Jackie” DeRoss were indicted for the Cutolo murder. In December 2007, both men were convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Family consigliere Joel “Joe Waverly” Cacace took over running the family until 2003 when he was imprisoned on murder and racketeering charges.

The family then came under the influence of Thomas “Tommy Shots” Gioeli, who took over as street boss. In June 2008, Gioeli, underboss John “Sonny” Franzese, former consigliere Joel Cacace, captain Dino Calabro, soldier Dino Saracino and several other members and associates were indicted on multiple racketeering charges which included loan sharking, extortion and three murders dating back to the Colombo Wars. If convicted, they are all facing life sentences.

After Gioeli was imprisoned, Ralph F. DeLeo, who operated from Boston, Massachusetts, became the family’s street boss. On December 17, 2009, the FBI charged DeLeo and Colombo family members with drug trafficking, extortion and loansharking in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, Florida and Arkansas.With DeLeo’s imprisoned, Andrew “Andy Mush” Russo, once again took control of the family. On January 20, 2011, street boss Andrew Russo, acting underboss Benjamin Castellazzo, consigliere Richard Fusco, and others were charged with murder, narcotics trafficking, and labor racketeering. In September 2011, Castellazzo and Fusco pleaded guilty to reduced charges. In December 2011, is was revealed that capo Reynold Maragni wore a wire for the FBI and gained information about Thomas Gioeli’s role in the 1999 murder of William Cutolo.

Bonanno crime family

The Bonanno crime family is one of the “Five Families” that dominates Organized crime activities in New York City, United States, within the nationwide criminal phenomenon known as the American Mafia(or Cosa Nostra).

Founded and named after Joseph Bonanno, for over 30 years the family was one of the most powerful in the country. However, in the early 1960s, Bonanno attempted to seize the mantle of Boss of bosses, but failed and was forced to retire. This touched off a period of turmoil within the family that lasted almost a quarter-century. It was the first of the New York families to be kicked off The Commission (mafia) (a council of the bosses that helps to maintain order in the Mafia), due to infighting for the boss’s mantle and allegations the family was actively dealing heroin. Later, the family faced shaky leadership, with the acting boss Carmine Galante murdered in 1979 at the command of Philip Rastelli, the actual boss. The family only recovered in the 1990s under Joseph Massino, and by the dawn of the new millennium was not only back on the Commission, but was the most powerful family in New York. There were also two major setbacks: in 1981, they learned that an FBI agent calling himself Donnie Brasco had infiltrated their ranks; and in 2004, a rash of convictions and defections culminated in Massino becoming a government Informant.

Sicilian origins

The origins of the Bonanno crime family can be traced back to the town of Castellammare del Golfo located in the Province of Trapani, Sicily. The Bonanno Mafia clan was led by boss Giuseppe “Peppe” Bonanno and his older brother Stefano as advisor. The strongest ally of the Bonanno clan was the boss of the Magaddino Mafia clan Stefano Magaddino. During the 1900s, the Bonanno and Magaddino Mafia clans feuded with Felice Buccellato, the boss of the Buccellato Mafia clan. After the deaths of Stefano Bonanno and Giuseppe Bonanno the youngest of the Bonanno brothers Salvatore took revenge, killing members of the Buccellato clan. In 1903, Salvatore Bonanno married Catherine Bonventre and on January 18, 1905 she gave birth to Giuseppe. Three years later Salvatore Bonanno moved his family to New York City. While away Stefano Magaddino took over running the Bonanno-Magaddino-Bonventre Mafia clan. Salvatore Bonanno along with members of the Bonanno-Magaddino-Bonventre clan began establishing dominance and control in the Castellammarese community of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. While operating in Brooklyn, the Castellammarese leaders were able to preserve the criminal organization’s future. In 1911, Salvatore Bonanno returned to Sicily and died of a heart attack in 1915. Stefano Magaddino arrived in New York and became a powerful member of the Castellammarese clan. In 1921, Magaddino fled to Buffalo to avoid murder charges. The Castellammarese clan was taken over by Nicola Schirò.

Castellammarese War

In 1927, violence broke out between the two rival New York Mafia factions and soon developed into a full out war known as the Castellammarese War. The conflict started when members of the Castellammarese clan began hijacking truckloads of illegal liquor that belonged to Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria. The Castellammarese clan was based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and led by Nicola “Cola” Schirò who tried to work with Masseria. But one of the group’s leaders Salvatore Maranzano wanted to take control over New York’s underworld. Maranzano took control of the Castellammarese clan continuing a bloody Mafia War.

The Castellammarese faction was more organized and unified than Masseria family. Maranzano’s allies were Buffalo family Boss Stefano Magaddino, Detroit family Boss Gaspar Milazzo and Philadelphia family Boss Salvatore Sabella, all Castellammarese. Maranzano’s faction included mobsters Joseph Bonanno, Carmine Galante, and Gaspar DiGregorio. Maranzano was also close to Joseph Profaci future boss of the New York Profaci family. Finally, Maranzano established a secret alliance with Bronx Reina family Boss Gaetano Reina, a nominal Masseria ally.

After Reina’s murder on February 26, 1930, members of the Masseria faction began to defect to Maranzano. By 1931, momentum had shifted to Castellammarese faction. That spring, a group of younger mafiosi from both camps, known as the “Young Turks”, decided to switch to Maranzano and end the war. This group included future mob bosses Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Vito Genovese, Frank Costello, Tommy Lucchese, Albert Anastasia and Joe Adonis. As leader of the Young Turks, Luciano concluded a secret deal with Maranzano and promised to kill Masseria. On April 15, 1931 Masseria was murdered ending the long Castellammarese War.

Maranzano’s murder and the Commission

After Masseria’s death, Maranzano outlined a peace plan to all the Sicilian and Italian Mafia leaders in the United States. There would be 24 organizations (to be known as “families”) throughout the United States who would elect their own boss. In New York City, Maranzano established five Cosa Nostra families: the Luciano family under Lucky Luciano, the Mangano family under Vincent Mangano, the Gagliano family under Tommy Gagliano, the Profaci family under Joseph Profaci, and the Maranzano crime family under himself. Maranzano created an additional post for himself, that of capo di tutti capi, or Boss of Bosses.

Although Maranzano was more forward-looking than Masseria, at bottom he was still a Mustache Pete. It did not take long for Maranzano and Luciano to come into conflict. Luciano was not pleased that Maranzano had reneged on his promise of equality, and soon came to believe he was even more hidebound and greedy that Masseria had been. Maranzano, in turn, grew uncomfortable with Luciano’s ambitions and opposed his partnership with Jewish mobsters Meyer Lansky and Bugsy Siegel. Maranzano secretly plotted to have Luciano killed. However, after Lucchese alerted Luciano that he was marked for death, Luciano struck first on September 10, 1931. Jewish gangsters hired by Luciano murdered Maranzano in his office. Now in control of the Cosa Nostra, Luciano replaced the “Boss of Bosses” with The Commission to regulate the Mafia’s national affairs and mediate disputes between families. Luciano was appointed the first chairman of the Commission.

The Bonanno era

After Maranzano’s death, Bonanno was awarded most of Maranzano’s crime family. At only 26 years old, Bonanno was the youngest Mafia leader in the nation. Years later, he claimed not to have known about the plot to eliminate Maranzano, but it is very unlikely that Luciano would have allowed him to live had he still backed Maranzano. Bonanno directed his family into illegal gambling, loansharking, and narcotics. The family also built significant criminal interests in California and Arizona. With the support of his cousin, Buffalo crime family boss Stefano Magaddino, Bonanno also expanded into Canada.

Like Maranzano, Bonanno believed in the Old World Mafia traditions of “honor”, “tradition”, “respect” and “dignity” as principles for ruling his family. He was more steeped in these traditions than other mobsters of his generation. The Bonanno family was considered the closest knit of the Five Families because Bonanno tried to restrict membership to Castelammarese Sicilians. He strongly believed that blood relations and a strict Sicilian upbringing would be the only way to hold the traditional values of the Mafia together.

Over the years, Bonanno became a powerful member of the Commission due to his close relationship with fellow boss Joe Profaci. In 1956, the relationship between the two bosses became stronger when Bonanno’s son Salvatore “Bill” Bonanno married Profaci’s niece Rosalie. The Bonanno-Profaci alliance deterred the other three families from trying to steal their rackets.

The Bonanno War (1964-1969)

The stable power relationship between the families collapsed with the death of Joe Profaci in 1962. Bonanno was now threatened by an alliance of Tommy Lucchese and new boss Carlo Gambino.[ At the same time, Bonanno was facing rising discontent within his own family. In the early 1960s many of the Bonanno family members were complaining that Bonanno spent too much time at his second home in Tucson, Arizona.

In 1963, Bonanno and Joe Magliocco, Profaci’s successor as boss of the Profaci family, conspired to wipe out several other mob leaders, Stefano Magaddino, Carlo Gambino, Tommy Lucchese and Frank DeSimone. Magliocco was given the task of wiping out Gambino and Lucchese, and gave the contract to one of his top hit men, Joe Colombo. However, Colombo instead alerted Gambino and Lucchese. The other bosses quickly realized that Magliocco could not possibly have planned this by himself. Knowing how close the Bonanno and Profaci families had been over the last three decades, they viewed Bonanno as the real mastermind. The commission summoned Magliocco and Bonanno. In view of their pioneering roles in the New York Mafia, the commission intended to go easy on them, with nothing more than a fine and loss of their family. However, only Magliocco showed up. He admitted his role in the plot and was forced to give up his family to Colombo.

On October 21, 1964, Bonanno disappeared and wasn’t heard from again for almost two years. After months of no word from Bonanno the Commission named capo Gaspar DiGregorio the new boss.Gaspar “Gasparino” DiGregorio The family split into two factions, the DiGregorio supporters and the Bonanno loyalists. In the media the event was referred to as the “Banana Split” or “Banana War”. The Bonanno loyalists were led by Bonanno’s brother-in-law Frank Labruzzo and his son Bill Bonanno. In 1966, DiGregorio arranged for a sit-down in a house on Troutman Street in Brooklyn. DiGregorio’s men arrived at the meeting, and when Bill Bonanno arrived a large gun battle ensued. The DiGregorio loyalists had planned to wipe out the opposition, but they failed, and no one was killed.

In May 1966, Bonanno reappeared and rallied a large part of the family to his side. He claimed that Magaddino, acting on behalf of the commission, sent two of his soldiers to kidnap Bonanno and held him captive for six weeks. However, this account is almost certainly false based on contemporary accounts of the time. Several of Bonanno’s button men were overheard expressing their disgust that Bonanno “took off and left us here alone”, and New Jersey crime boss Sam DeCavalcante was overheard saying that Bonanno’s disappearance took the other bosses by surprise. Bonanno may have had another reason to disappear—he was facing a subpoena from U.S. Attorney Robert Morgenthau, and faced the choice of either breaking his blood oath or going to jail for contempt. Further peace offers from both sides were spurned with the ongoing violence and murders. The Commission grew tired of the affair and replaced DiGregorio with Paul Sciacca, but the fighting carried on regardless.

The war was finally brought to a close with Joe Bonanno, still in hiding, suffering a heart attack and announcing his permanent retirement in 1968 (he went on to live to the age of 97, dying in Tucson in 2002). The commission accepted this offer, with the stipulation that he never involve himself in New York Mafia affairs again under pain of death. Both factions came together under Sciacca’s leadership. His replacement was Natale “Joe Diamonds” Evola as boss of the Bonanno family. Evola’s leadership was short lived – his death (from natural causes) in 1973 brought Phillip “Rusty” Rastelli to the throne.

Rastelli regime

Due to the infighting of the Bonanno family, it was spurned by the other families and stripped of its Commission seat. Rastelli took charge of a seemingly hapless, doomed organization. Rastelli’s former friend Carmine Galante became a powerful and dangerous renegade.

Having previously acted as a focal point for the importation of heroin to the USA via Montreal, Galante set about refining the family’s drug trafficking operations. The incredibly lucrative deals he was able to make made the family a fortune, but with the other four families being kept out of the arrangements, Galante was making a rod for his own back.

When eight members of the Genovese family were murdered on Galante’s orders for trying to muscle in on his drug operation, the other families decided he had outlived his usefulness at the head of the Bonanno family. On July 12, 1979, Galante was shot dead by three men, at a restaurant in the Bushwick area of Brooklyn.

Rastelli took over once again, but the family’s internal strife was far from over. Three renegade capos – Philip Giaccone, Alphonse “Sonny Red” Indelicato and Dominick “Big Trin” Trinchera – began to openly question Rastelli’s leadership and apparently to plot to overthrow him. With the blessing of the other families, Rastelli had the three men wiped out in a hit arranged by then-street boss Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano, as well as the future Boss Joseph “Big Joe” Massino.

In August 2006, the alleged boss of the Montreal Cosa Nostra, Vito Rizzuto, was extradited from Canada to the United States to face charges in the 1981 murder in New York of the three Bonanno captains. Vito Rizzuto was released from prison in Colorado and returned to Toronto, Canada, on October 5, 2012.

Donnie Brasco

Two of the men involved in the murder of the three rogue capos were Benjamin “Lefty Guns” Ruggiero and his capo Dominick “Sonny Black” Napolitano. Ruggiero had an associate, Donnie Brasco, whom he proposed for full family membership. In reality, Brasco was undercover FBI agent Joe Pistone, conducting what would become a six-year infiltration of the family.

Pistone’s undercover work led to numerous charges against the Bonanno family. Both Ruggiero and Rastelli received lengthy sentences. On August 17, 1981, Napolitano was shot and killed in a basement by Ronald Filocomo and Frank “Curly” Lino as punishment for admitting Pistone to his crew. Anthony Mirra, the man who had brought Pistone to the family, was also killed.

Pistone was on the verge of becoming made when the FBI ordered him to end his operation on July 26, 1981. Pistone wanted to become made, believing that if it got out that a Mafia family had allowed an FBI agent into its ranks, it would destroy its reputation for invincibility. However, Pistone’s superiors felt it was too dangerous. After the Donnie Brasco affair, the Mafia Commission removed the Bonanno family from the panel. However, when the federal government pressed charges against the New York Cosa Nostra leadership in the Mafia Commission Trial, the Bonannos avoided indictment. They were thus the only family whose leadership wasn’t decimated as a result of the trial. The leaders of the other major families were all sent to prison for life, with the Lucchese family losing its entire hierarchy. As a result, the Bonanno family was able to keep its leadership intact and build up its power again.

Under Massino’s command

Rastelli’s death in 1991, following a period in which he ruled the family from inside prison, saw the promotion of Massino to the top spot. However, Massino had been the real power in the family since the mid-1980s. One of his first acts was to change the family’s name to “the Massino family.” Like other mafiosi, Massino had been very displeased at Bonanno’s tell-all book, A Man of Honor, and believed he’d broken the code of omertà by writing it. However, the change never stuck, and most people outside the family continued to use the old name.

Remembering the pitfalls that landed other bosses in prison, Massino adopted a more secretive way of doing business. He shut down the family’s social clubs, believing they were too easy to bug. He also streamlined the family’s chain of command, assigning a group of capos to oversee a particular enterprise and report to underboss Salvatore Vitale. He also barred family members from speaking his name. Instead, they were to point to their ears when referring to him—a nod to how Genovese boss Vincent Gigante told his men to point to their chins rather than use his name. Remembering how close Pistone/Brasco had come to actually becoming made, Massino required any prospective soldier to be “on record” with a made man for at least eight years before becoming made himself. He also strongly encouraged his men to volunteer their sons for membership, believing that they would be less likely to turn informer and be more loyal. However, the family already had a reputation for loyalty; it was the only family that had never seen one of its members turn informer in the seven decades since the Castellammarese War.

Massino not only concentrated on the narcotics trade as had become mandatory for a mob boss, but also in other areas less likely to draw the attention of the authorities than drugs, such as the Mafia’s stock trades of racketeering, money laundering and loan sharking. A close friend of Massino’s, and boss of the Gambino crime family, John Gotti, also helped to get the Bonannos a seat on the Commission again. Over the next 10 years, the family steadily increased its power. By the mid-1990s, the FBI reckoned Massino as the most powerful Mafia boss in New York and the country. He was the only full-fledged New York boss who wasn’t in prison.

Massino turns informant

The family managed to keep its nose clean until 2000, when a pair of forensic accountants who normally worked on financial fraud cases discovered that Barry Weinberg, a businessman who had partnered with capo Richard “Shellackhead” Cantarella in several parking lots, had failed to report millions of dollars worth of income over a decade. Told he faced a long prison term unless he wore a wire and incriminated his Bonanno partners, Weinberg agreed to cooperate. One of Weinberg’s other partners, Augustino Scozzari, also agreed to cooperate. Between them, Weinberg and Scozzari captured hundreds of incriminating statements from Cantrella and his crew.

In October 2002, armed with this evidence, the government won a 24-count RICO indictment against 21 Bonanno soldiers and associates. The biggest names on the indictment were Cantarella—who was serving as acting underboss while Vitale was awaiting sentencing for loansharking and money laundering—and capo Frank Coppa. Within a month of his indictment, Coppa agreed to become a government witness, becoming the first made man in the Bonanno family’s history to break his blood oath. Soon after agreeing to cooperate, Coppa directly implicated Massino in the Napolitano murder, and also implicated Cantarella and Vitale in the 1992 murder of New York Post delivery superintendent Robert Perrino, who was a Bonanno soldier. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, Cantarella negotiated his own plea bargain in December, and agreed to testify against Massino and Vitale.

Massino and Vitale were charged with the crime in 2003 after two of their capos turned themselves over as witnesses for the government. Vitale also faced charges for the murder of Perrino. Up to this point he had been utterly loyal to his boss. However, Cantarella and Coppa told FBI agents that Massino suspected Vitale was an informer and wanted him killed. When the FBI notified Vitale of this, Vitale decided to switch sides himself. He was followed in rapid succession by four other soldiers and associates. Massino now faced eleven RICO counts, including seven murders. In a separate indictment, Massino was charged with an eighth murder, that of Montreal-based capo Gerlando “George from Canada” Sciascia, which carried the death penalty. With seven of his former henchmen testifying against him, his conviction in July 2004 was a foregone conclusion. Four months later, Massino became the full-time boss of an American crime family to turn informant, sparing himself the ultimate penalty for the murder of Sciascia. By this time, 90 of the family’s 150 made men were under indictment.

Massino is believed to be the man who pointed the FBI towards a spot in Ozone Park, Queens, called “The Hole”, where the body of Alphonse Indelicato had been found in 1981. Told to dig a little deeper, authorities duly uncovered the remains of Dominick Trinchera and Philip Giaccone, as well as a body suspected to be that of John Favara, a neighbor of Gambino family boss John Gotti who had killed the mobster’s son in a car/bicycle accident, and paid with his life.

Massino is also believed to have provided the police with information on a number of high ranking Bonanno Family members and former acting boss Vincent Basciano, whose conversations with Massino were taped in late 2004 and early 2005 by the turncoat himself. Before Massino became an informant himself, his acting boss on the outside was Anthony “Tony Green” Urso, but his tenure was short-lived as he too was imprisoned on numerous charges, leading to Basciano taking control. Vincent Basciano’s term as acting boss was hampered with his arrest in late 2004, but with Massino’s eventual betrayal, authorities claim that Basciano assumed the top position in 2005, is allegedly the current Boss and leading the broken Bonanno family from his prison cell.

The authorities continue to plague the family, with the February 16, 2006 arrest of acting boss Michael Mancuso on murder charges, while alleged Boss Vincent Basciano was convicted on charges of conspiracy to murder, attempted murder, and illegal gambling and was sentenced to life imprisonment in late 2007. The main charge against him was that he conspired to murder both the judge and prosecutor in the case, as well as Patrick DeFilippo, a fellow Bonanno crime family captain.

Basciano’s leadership

Bonanno family Boss Vincent Basciano named Brooklyn business owner Salvatore “Sal the Ironworker” Montagna, as the new “acting boss” of the Bonanno Family. Sometimes referred to as “Sal the Zip” due to his Sicilian birth, Montagna was closely associated with the Bonanno Sicilian faction, including Baldo Amato and capo Cesare Bonventre. Montagna started as a soldier in capo Patrick “Patty from the Bronx” DeFilippo’s crew. In 2003, Montagna became acting capo after DeFilippo’s arrest on murder and racketeering charges. Law enforcement sources have stated that Salvatore Montagna was tabbed as “acting boss” with Vincent Basciano’s consent to maintain the Bonanno Family’s base of power within the Bronx faction of the Bonanno crime family.

The Bonanno family’s base of power was traditionally held by the Brooklyn faction from the time of Family patriarch Joseph Bonanno until the eventual rise of Queens faction leader Philip “Rusty” Rastelli in the early 1970s. The ascension of the Bronx faction began with Basciano’s promotion to acting boss, eventual ascension to the top position of Boss, continued through Michael Mancuso’s short tenure and now remains with Sal Montagna acting on behalf of Basciano.

In July 2004, The New York Times reported that federal prosecutors in Brooklyn “say that overall, in the last four years, they have won convictions against roughly 75 mobsters or associates in a crime clan with fewer than 150 made members.”[21] In February 2005, Bonanno family Capo Anthony “Tony Green” Urso pleaded guilty to racketeering, murder, gambling, loan sharking and extortion charges, while Capo Joseph “Joe Saunders” Cammarano, along with soldier Louis Restivo pleaded guilty to murder and racketeering charges.”

Twelve Bonanno family member and associates, seven over the age 70, including acting consigliere Anthony “Mr. Fish” Rabito and respected soldier Salvatore Scudiero were indicted and arrested on June 14, 2005 on charges of operating a $10 million a year gambling ring.”

The defection of former Bonanno family Bosses Joseph Massino and Salvatore Vitale, along with four high ranking former Capos, has caused the Bonanno family to lose power, influence and respect within the New York underworld to a degree not seen since the Donnie Brasco incident. With Nicholas “Nicky Mouth” Santora as “acting underboss” for the imprisoned Michael Mancuso, and Anthony Rabito as the alleged consigliere, Montagna was capable of running the day-to-day operations on behalf of Vincent Basciano. On February 6, 2007 acting underboss Nicholas Santora, acting consigliere Anthony Rabito, captains or former captains Jerome Asaro, Joseph Cammarano, Jr. and Louis Decicco were indicted on racketeering charges.

Current position of the family

Under the rule of former Boss Joseph Massino, the Bonanno family climbed back to the top of New York’s crime family hierarchy and once again became a top power in America’s underworld, but high level defections and convictions have left the family a shell of its former self once more during its long criminal history. Vincent Basciano is serving a prison sentence for racketeering and Salvatore Montagna has been deported to Canada. Both were appointed acting bosses during Massino’s imprisonment and after Massino’s defection to the FBI.

A March 2009 article in the New York Post stated that Salvatore Montagna was the acting boss of the Bonanno crime family. The article also stated that the Bonanno family current consists of approximately 115 “made” members. Montagna was later deported to Canada in April 2009 leaving the family to create a ruling panel until a new boss was chosen.

On January 11, 2010 Jerry Capeci quoted sources as saying that Nicholas Santora and Anthony Rabito, who were both released from prison in 2009 and are still unable to meet freely with their fellow wiseguys, are supporting capo Vincent Asaro to become the new boss of the family. Asaro also has close ties to Queens-based mobsters from the Lucchese, Gambino and Genovese families who have voiced their support for him, sources say. A key player in the recent talks is Vito Grimaldi, who is viewed as an adviser to the Zips (Sicilian mobsters in the United States). Capeci’s sources say Asaro, who for many years has had dealings as both a mob supervisor and cohort of Sicilian wiseguys, may win Grimaldi’s support. Another candidate with key Sicilian backing is current acting boss Vincent Badalamenti. Due to Joseph Massino deciding to cooperate with the FBI, both sides agree that the family will no longer take orders from the man he previously appointed acting boss, Vincent Basciano.

In January 2012, prosecutors indicted the hierarchy of the Bonanno family on racketeering and extortion charges. These charges were primarily based on information from government informant Hector Pagan. Those arrested were Nicholas Santora, James LaForte, Vincent Badalamenti, and soldiers Vito Balsamo and Anthony Calabrese. All five defedants pleaded guilty to lesser charges and were given sentences ranging from six to 18 months. Anthony Graziano (Pagan’s ex father-inlaw), who was arrested in 2011, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison.In June 2013, Michael Mancuso, who is currently imprisoned was named the new official boss of the family. Mancuso is first man to hold this title since boss Joseph Massino became a government witness in 2005. Mancuso controls all decision making from prison while his underboss Thomas DiFiore is running the family on the streets.

American Mafia

The American Mafia, commonly known as the Mafia, Italian Mafia, Italian Mob, or the Mob in the United States, is an Italian-American criminal society. Similar to the Sicilian Mafia, the Italian-American Mafia is a secret criminal society without a formal name. Its members usually refer to it as Cosa Nostra (Italian pronunciation: [kɔza nɔstra], Italian for “our thing”). The press has also coined the name “National Crime Syndicate” to refer to the entirety of U.S. organized crime, including the Mafia. The Mafia emerged in New York’s Lower East Side, other areas of the East Coast of the United States, and several other major metropolitan areas (such as New Orleans) during the late 19th century and early 20th Century following waves of Italian immigration, especially from Sicily. It has its roots in the Sicilian Mafia, but is a separate organization in the United States. Neapolitan, Calabrian, and other Italian criminal groups, as well as independent Italian-American criminals, eventually merged with the Sicilians to create the modern pan-Italian Mafia in North America. Today, the American Mafia cooperates in various criminal activities with the Sicilian Mafia and other Italian organized crime groups, such as Camorra, ‘Ndrangheta, and Sacra Corona Unita. The most important unit of the American Mafia is that of a “family” as the various criminal organizations that make up the Mafia are known. Despite the name of “family” to describe the various units, succession is not necessarily hereditary, though it can be.

The Mafia is currently most active in New York City, New Jersey, Philadelphia, New England, Detroit, and Chicago; with smaller families, associates, and crews in places such as Florida, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Texas. There have been at least 26 cities around the United States with Cosa Nostra families, with many more offshoots, splinter groups and associates in other cities. There are five main New York City Mafia families, known as the Five Families: the Gambino, Lucchese, Genovese, Bonanno and Colombo families. At its peak, the Mafia dominated organized crime in the U.S. While each crime family operates independently, nationwide coordination is provided by the Commission, which consists of the bosses of each of the strongest families.

Law enforcement still considers the Mafia the largest organized crime group in the United States. It has maintained control over much of the organized crime activity in the United States and certain parts of Canada (See Rizzuto crime family). Today most of the Mafia’s activities are contained to the Northeastern United States and Chicago where they continue to dominate organized crime despite the increasing numbers of street gangs and other organizations that are not of Italian origin.

The first published account of what would evolve into the Mafia in the United States came In the spring of 1869. The New Orleans Times reported that the city’s Second District had become overrun by “well-known and notorious Sicilian murderers, counterfeiters and burglars, who, in the last month, have formed a sort of general co-partnership or stock company for the plunder and disturbance of the city.” Emigration from southern Italy to the Americas was primarily to Brazil and Argentina, and New Orleans had a heavy volume of port traffic to and from both locales.

Mafia groups in the United States first became influential in the New York City area, gradually progressing from small neighborhood operations in Italian ghettos to citywide and eventually national organizations. The Black Hand was a name given to an extortion method used in Italian neighborhoods at the turn of the 20th century. It has been sometimes mistaken for the Mafia itself, which it is not. Although the Black Hand was a criminal society, there were many small Black Hand gangs. Black Hand extortion was often (wrongly) viewed as the activity of a single organization because Black Hand criminals in Italian communities throughout the United States used the same methods of extortion. Giuseppe Esposito was the first known Mafia member to immigrate to the United States. He and six other Sicilians fled to New York after murdering eleven wealthy landowners, and the chancellor and a vice chancellor of a Sicilian province. He was arrested in New Orleans in 1881 and extradited to Italy.

New Orleans was also the site of the first Mafia incident in the United States that received both national and international attention.On October 15, 1890, New Orleans Police Superintendent David Hennessy was murdered execution-style. It is still unclear whether Italian immigrants actually killed him or whether it was a frame-up by nativists against the reviled underclass immigrants.Hundreds of Sicilians were arrested on mostly baseless charges, and nineteen were eventually indicted for the murder. An acquittal followed, with rumors of bribed and intimidated witnesses.The outraged citizens of New Orleans organized a lynch mob after the acquittal, and proceeded to kill eleven of the nineteen defendants. Two were hanged, nine were shot, and the remaining eight escaped. The lynching was the largest mass lynching in American history.

From the 1890s to the 1900s (decade) in New York City, the Sicilian Mafia developed into the Five Points Gang and were very powerful in the Little Italy of the Lower East Side. They were often in conflict with the Jewish Eastmans of the same area. There was also an influential Mafia family in East Harlem. The Neapolitan Camorra was very active in Brooklyn, also. In Chicago, the 19th Ward, which was an Italian neighborhood, became known as the “Bloody Nineteenth” due to the frequent violence in the ward, mostly as a result of Mafia activity, feuds, and vendettas.

* Prohibition era

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On January 17, 1920, Prohibition began in the United States with the Eighteenth Amendment making it illegal to manufacture, transport or sell alcohol. Despite these bans, there was still a very high demand for it from the public. This created an atmosphere that tolerated crime as a means to provide liquor to the public, even among the police and city politicians. The profits that could be made from selling and distributing alcohol were worth the risk of punishment from the government, which had a difficult time enforcing prohibition. There were over 900,000 cases of liquor shipped to the borders of American cities.  Criminal gangs and politicians saw the opportunity to make fortunes and began shipping larger quantities of alcohol to American cities. The majority of the alcohol was imported from Canada, the Caribbean, and the American Midwest where stills manufactured illegal alcohol.

In the early 1920s, fascist Benito Mussolini took control of Italy and waves of Italian immigrants fled to the United States. Sicilian Mafia members also fled to the United States as Mussolini cracked down on Mafia activities in Italy. Most Italian immigrants resided in tenement buildings. As a way to escape the poor life style some Italian immigrants chose to join the American Mafia.

The Mafia took advantage of prohibition and began selling illegal alcohol. The profits from bootlegging far exceeded the traditional crimes of protection, extortion, gambling and prostitution. Prohibition allowed Mafia families to make fortunes.As prohibition continued victorious factions would go on to dominate organized crime in their respective cities, setting up the family structure of each city. Since gangs hijacked each other’s alcohol shipments, forcing rivals to pay them for “protection” to leave their operations alone, armed guards almost invariably accompanied the caravans that delivered the liquor.

In the 1920s, Italian Mafia families began waging wars for absolute control over lucrative bootlegging rackets. As the violence erupted, Italians fought Irish and Jewish ethnic gangs for control of bootlegging in their respected territories. In New York City, Frankie Yale waged war with the Irish American White Hand Gang. In Chicago Al Capone and his family massacred the North Side Gang, another Irish American outfit. In New York City, by the end of the 1920s two factions of organized crime had emerged to fight for control of the criminal underworld: one led by Joe Masseria and the other by Salvatore Maranzano. This caused the Castellammarese War, which led to Masseria’s murder in 1931. Maranzano then divided New York City into five families. Maranzano, the first leader of the American Mafia, established the code of conduct for the organization, set up the “family” divisions and structure, and established procedures for resolving disputes. In an unprecedented move, Maranzano set himself up as Boss of All Bosses and required all families to pay tribute to him. This new role was received negatively, and Maranzano was himself murdered within six months on the orders of Charles “Lucky” Luciano. Luciano was a former Masseria underling who had switched sides to Maranzano and orchestrated the killing of Masseria.

After prohibition ended in 1933, organized crime groups were confronted with an impasse and needed other ways to maintain the high profits they had acquired throughout the 1920s. The smarter of the organized crime groups acted prudently and expanded into other ventures such as: unions, construction, sanitation, and drug trafficking. On the other hand, those Mafia families that neglected the need to change eventually lost power and influence and were ultimately absorbed by other groups.

* The CommissionImage

As an alternative to the Boss of All Bosses, Luciano set up the Commission, where the bosses of the most powerful families would have equal say and vote on important matters and solve disputes between families. This group ruled over the National Crime Syndicate and brought in an era of peace and prosperity for the American Mafia.  By mid-century, there were 26 official Commission-sanctioned Mafia crime families, each based in a different city (except for the Five Families which were all based in New York). Each family operated independently from the others and generally had exclusive territory it controlled. As opposed to the older generation of “Mustache Petes” such as Maranzano and Masseria, who usually worked only with fellow Italians, the “Young Turks” led by Luciano were more open to working with other groups, most notably the Jewish-American criminal syndicates to achieve greater profits. The Mafia thrived by following a strict set of rules that originated in Sicily that called for an organized hierarchical structure and a code of silence that forbade its members from cooperating with the police (Omertà). Failure to follow any of these rules is punishable by death.

The rise of power that the Mafia acquired during Prohibition would continue long after alcohol was made legal again. Criminal empires which had expanded on bootleg money would find other avenues to continue making large sums of money. When alcohol ceased to be prohibited in 1933, the Mafia diversified its money-making criminal actives to include (both old and new): illegal gambling operations, loan sharking, extortion, protection rackets, drug trafficking, fencing, and labor racketeering through control of labor unions. In the mid-20th century, the Mafia was reputed to have infiltrated many labor unions in the United States, most notably the Teamsters and International Longshoremen’s Association. This allowed crime families to make inroads into very profitable legitimate businesses such as construction, demolition, waste management, trucking, and in the waterfront and garment industry. In addition they could raid the unions’ health and pension funds, extort businesses with threats of a workers’ strike and participate in bid rigging. In New York City, most construction projects could not be performed without the Five Families’ approval. In the port and loading dock industries, the Mafia bribed union members to tip them off to valuable items being brought in. Mobsters would then steal these products and fence the stolen merchandise.

ImageMeyer Lansky made inroads into the casino industry in Cuba during the 1930s while the Mafia was already involved in exporting Cuban sugar and rum. When his friend Fulgencio Batista became president of Cuba in 1952, several Mafia bosses were able to make legitimate investments in legalized casinos. One estimate of the number of casinos mobsters owned was no less than 19. However, when Batista was overthrown following the Cuban Revolution, his successor Fidel Castro banned American investment in the country, putting an end to the Mafia’s presence in Cuba. Las Vegas was seen as an “open city” where any family can work. Once Nevada legalized gambling, mobsters were quick to take advantage and the casino industry became very popular in Las Vegas. Since the 1940s, Mafia families from New York, Cleveland, Kansas City, Milwaukee and Chicago had interests in Las Vegas casinos. They got loans from the Teamsters‘ pension fund, a union they effectively controlled, and used legitimate front men to build casinos. When money came into the counting room, hired men skimmed cash before it was recorded, then delivered it to their respective bosses.

This money went unrecorded, but the amount is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Operating in the shadows, the Mafia faced little opposition from law enforcement. Local law enforcement agencies did not have the resources or knowledge to effectively combat organized crime committed by a secret society they were unaware existed. Many people within police forces and courts were simply bribed, while witness intimidation was also common. In 1951, a U.S. Senate committee called the Kefauver Hearings determined that a “sinister criminal organization” known as the Mafia operated in the nation. Many suspected mobsters were subpoenaed for questioning, but few testified and none gave any meaningful information. In 1957, New York State Police uncovered a meeting and arrested major figures from around the country in Apalachin, New York. The event (dubbed the “Apalachin Meeting”) forced the FBI to recognize organized crime as a serious problem in the United States and changed the way law enforcement investigated it. In 1963, Joe Valachi became the first Mafia member to turn state’s evidence, and provided detailed information of the its inner workings and secrets. More importantly, he revealed Mafia’s existence to the law, which enabled the Federal Bureau of Investigations to begin an aggressive assault on the Mafia’s National Crime Syndicate.Following Valachi’s testimony, the Mafia could no longer operate completely in the shadows. The FBI put a lot more effort and resources into organized crime actives nation-wide and created the Organized Crime Strike Force in various cities. However, while all this created more pressure on the Mafia, it did little to curb their criminal activities. Success was made by the beginning of the 1980s, when the FBI was able to rid Las Vegas casinos of Mafia control and made a determined effort to loosen the Mafia’s stronghold on labor unions.

* RICO Act

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When the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO Act) became federal law, it became a highly effective tool in prosecuting mobsters. It provides for extended criminal penalties for acts performed as part of an ongoing criminal organization. Violation of the act is punishable by up to 20 years in prison per count. The RICO Act has proven to be a very powerful weapon, because it attacks the entire corrupt entity instead of individuals who can easily be replaced with other organized crime members.Between 1981 and 1992, 23 bosses from around the country were convicted under the law while between 1981 and 1988, 13 underbosses and 43 captains were convicted. While this significantly crippled many Mafia families around the country, the most powerful families continued to dominate crime in their territories, even if the new laws put more mobsters in jail and made it harder to operate. With Sammy Gravano agreeing to cooperate with the FBI and turn state’s evidence in 1991, he helped the FBI convict top Mafia leaders in New York. Although not the first Mafia member to testify against his peers, such a powerful mobster agreeing to do so set a precedent for waves of mobsters thereafter to break the code of silence to do the same; giving up information and testifying in exchange for immunity from prosecution for their crimes. Aside from avoiding long prison stretches, the FBI could put mobsters in the United States Federal Witness Protection Program, changing their identities and supporting them financially for life. This led to dozens of mobsters testifying and providing information during the 1990s, which led to the imprisonment of hundreds of mobsters. As a result, the Mafia has seen a major decline in its power and influence in organized crime since the 1990s.

In the 21st century, the Mafia has continued to be involved in a broad spectrum of illegal activities. These include murder, extortion, corruption of public officials, gambling, infiltration of legitimate businesses, labor racketeering, loan sharking, tax fraud schemes and stock manipulation schemes. Another factor contributing to the Mafia’s downfall is the assimilation of Italian Americans, which left a shallower recruitment pool of new mobsters. Although the Mafia used to be nationwide, today most of its activities are confined to the Northeast and Chicago. While other criminal organizations such as Russian Mafia, Chinese Triad, Mexican drug cartels and others have all grabbed a share of criminal activities, the Mafia continues to be the dominant criminal organization in these regions, partly due to its strict hierarchical structure. Law enforcement is concerned with the possible resurgence of the Mafia as it regroups from the turmoil of the 1990s and the FBI and local law enforcement agencies focus more on homeland security and away from organized crime since the September 11 attacks.In 2002 the FBI estimated that the Mafia earns $50–$90 billion a year. To avoid FBI attention and prosecution, the modern Mafia also outsources a lot of its work to other criminal groups, such as motorcycle gangs.

* Structure

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The American Mafia operates on a strict hierarchical structure. While similar to its Sicilian origins, the American Mafia’s modern organizational structure was created by Salvatore Maranzano in 1931. All inducted members of the Mafia are called “made” men. This signifies that they are untouchable in the criminal underworld and any harm brought to them will be met with retaliation. With the exception of associates, all mobsters are “made” official members of a crime family. The three highest positions make up the administration. Below the administration, there are factions each headed by a caporegime (captain), who lead a crew of soldiers and associates. They report to the administration and can be seen as equivalent to managers in a business. When a boss makes a decision, he rarely issues orders directly to workers who would carry it out, but instead passed instructions down through the chain of command. This way, the higher levels of the organization are insulated from law enforcement attention if the lower level members who actually commit the crime should be captured or investigated. This provides what the intelligence community calls plausible deniability.

There are occasionally other positions in the family leadership. Frequently, ruling panels have been set up when a boss goes to jail to divide the responsibility of the family (these usually consist of three or five members). This also helps divert police attention from any one member. The family messenger and street boss were positions created by former Genovese family leader Vincent Gigante.

  • Boss — The boss is the head of the family, usually reigning as a dictator, sometimes called the Don or “Godfather”. The boss receives a cut of every operation taken on by every member of his family. Depending on the family, the boss may be chosen by a vote from the caporegimes of the family. In the event of a tie, the underboss must vote. In the past, all the members of a family voted on the boss, but by the late 1950s, any gathering such as that usually attracted too much attention. In practice, many of these elections are seen as having an inevitable result, such as that of John Gotti in 1986. According to Sammy Gravano, a meeting was held in a basement during which all capos were searched and Gotti’s men stood ominously behind them. Gotti was then proclaimed boss.
  • Underboss — The underboss, usually appointed by the boss, is the second in command of the family. The underboss often runs the day-to-day responsibilities of the family or oversees its most lucrative rackets. He usually gets a percentage of the family’s income from the boss’s cut. The underboss is usually first in line to become acting boss if the boss is imprisoned, and is also frequently seen as a logical successor.
  • Consigliere — The consigliere is an advisor to the family and sometimes seen as the Boss’s “right-hand man”. He is used as a mediator of disputes, and a representative or aide in meetings with other families. In practice the consigliere is normally the third ranking member of the administration of a family and was traditionally a senior member familiar with how the organization is run. A boss will often appoint a trusted close associate as his consigliere.
  • Caporegime (or capo) — A caporegime (also captain or skipper) is in charge of a crew, a group of soldiers who report directly to him. Each crew usually contains 10–20 soldiers and many more associates. A capo is appointed by the boss and reports to him or the underboss. A captain gives a percentage of his (and his underlings’) earnings to the boss and is also responsible for any tasks assigned, including murder. In labor racketeering, it is usually a capo who controls the infiltration of union locals. If a capo becomes powerful enough, he can sometimes wield more power than some of his superiors. In cases like Anthony Corallo they might even bypass the normal Mafia structure and lead the family when the boss dies.
  • Soldier (Soldato in Italian) — A soldier is a member of the family, and traditionally can only be of full Italian background (although today many families require men to be of only half Italian descent, on their father’s side). Once a member is made he is untouchable, meaning permission from a soldier’s boss must be given before he is murdered. When the books are open, meaning that a family is accepting new members, a made man may recommend an up-and-coming associate to be a new soldier. Soldiers are the main workers of the family, usually committing crimes like assault, murder, extortion, intimidation, etc. In return, they are given profitable rackets to run by their superiors and have full access to their family’s connections and power.

Rituals

The initiation ritual emerged from various sources, such as Roman Catholic confraternities and Masonic Lodges in mid-19th century Sicily and has hardly changed to this day. The Chief of Police of Palermo in 1875 reported that the man of honor to be initiated would be led into the presence of a group of bosses and underbosses. One of these men would prick the initiate’s arm or hand and tell him to smear the blood onto a sacred image, usually a saint. The oath of loyalty would be taken as the image was burned and scattered, thus symbolising the annihilation of traitors. This was confirmed by the first pentito, Tommaso Buscetta.

A hit, or assassination, of a “made” man had to be approved by the leadership of his family, or retaliatory hits would be made, possibly inciting a war. In a state of war, families would “go to the mattresses” — an Italian phrase which roughly meant to go into battle.

Mafia rules and customs

In order to be invited into the American Mafia and become a member one must perform a series of tasks, such as committing murder for the family and not for one’s own personal benefit. When the boss decides to let a member into the family one will be part of a ceremony, involving the drawing of blood, swearing an oath over a gun or holy picture, and obeying the rules of the organization. In New York City, the Mafia created customs and traditions which the members have to follow. If one breaks any of the rules they can be killed by another member of the family and usually the murder is committed by the people closest to that person.

  1. “Omertà” – is the oath or “code of silence”, never talk to the authorities.
  2. “Ethnicity” – only men of Italian descent are allowed to become full members. Associates, partners, allies etc. have no ethnic limits.
  3. “Family secrets” – members are not allowed to talk about family business to non-members.
  4. “Blood for blood” – if a family member is killed (by another member) no one can commit murder (in revenge) until the boss gives permission.
  5. “No fighting among members” – from fist fights to knife fights.
  6. “Tribute” – every month; members must pay the boss; also giving the boss a cut on any side deals.
  7. “Adultery” – members are not allowed to commit adultery with another family member’s wife.
  8. “No facial hair” – members were not allowed to grow mustaches; part of the Mustache Pete way.

Homosexuality is reportedly incompatible with the American Mafia code of conduct. In 1992, John D’Amato, acting boss of the DeCavalcante family, was killed when the family learned of his sexual relationships with other men.

Symbolism in murders

  • In 1981, for allowing undercover FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone, alias Donnie Brasco, to infiltrate the Bonanno crime family caporegime Dominic Napolitano, also known as Sonny Black, had his hands severed after he was killed. This was because he had Pistone shake hands and introduced to others as a “friend of ours” or a made man when he was not.
  • In the 1990 murder of Lucchese crime family soldier Bruno Facciolo, a dead canary was stuffed into his mouth after he was shot to death. He had also been stabbed and shot in both eyes.
  • On April 18, 1980, Philadelphia Mafia consigliere Antonio Caponigro had Angelo Bruno killed without the The Commission’s approval. Caponigro and his brother-in-law Alfred Salerno were taken to an isolated house in upstate New York and tortured before being killed. Salerno had been shot three times behind the right ear and once behind the left ear. The autopsy showed that a rope had been tied around his neck, wrists, and ankles, and most of his neck and face bones shattered. Caponigro had been suffocated, beaten, repeatedly stabbed and shot, and was found in a garbage bag. Around $300 was stuffed up Caponigro’s rectum as a sign that he had become greedy.