History of La Cosa Nostra

Running Header: {History of La Cosa Nostra} History of La Cosa Nostra UNK Dr. Neal CJ 380 12. 01. 2011 Envision a world where crime is king; a world where mobsters were more influential than political figures, controlled law enforcement, and ran cities to line their own pockets. They stole from whom they wanted and murdered those that got in their way. While it sounds like something out of a movie, it actually happened here in the United States in the first half of the 20th century.

The American Mafia has evolved over the years as various gangs assumed and lost dominance: the Black Hand gangs around 1900; the Five Points Gang in the 1910s and ’20s in New York City; Al Capone’s Syndicate in Chicago in the 1920s. Since the 1900s, thousands of Italian organized crime figures, mostly Sicilian Mafiosi, have come illegally to this country. The Italian Immigrants crowded into older lower class neighborhoods of American cities, sometimes given names such as “Little Italy”. These neighborhoods suffered from overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions.

Living together in such closed communities created little more than a microcosm of the society they had left in Europe (par. 3, Black Hand). Some criminals exploited this fact, and began to extort the more prosperous Italian’s in their neighborhood creating a crime that would eventually snow-ball into an epidemic known as ‘The Black Hand’ (par. 3, Black Hand). The extortions were done anonymously by delivering threatening letters demanding money, signed with crudely drawn symbols, such as a knife or a skull. People paid the Black Hand extortionists in the fear that American law had no understanding, or power, to help them (par. , Black Hand). Many who fled here in the early 1920’s helped establish what is known today as La Cosa Nostra or the American Mafia (par. 10, FBI). La Cosa Nostra, or the LCN as it is known by the FBI, consists of different “families” or groups that are generally arranged geographically and engaged in significant and organized racketeering activity (par. 30, FBI). The LCN is most active in the New York metropolitan area, parts of New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, and New England. It has members in other major cities and is involved in international crimes (par. 1, FBI). During the 1920s Prohibition era, when the 18th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution banned the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcoholic beverages, Italian-American gangs along with other ethnic gangs entered the booming bootleg liquor business and transformed themselves into sophisticated criminal enterprises, skilled at smuggling, money laundering and bribing police and other public officials (par 2, History Channel). By the end of the ’20s, two primary factions had emerged, leading to a war for control of organized crime in New York City.

The murder of faction leader Joseph Masseria brought an end to the gang warfare and in 1931 Sicilian-born crime boss Salvatore Maranzano crowned himself the “capo di tutti capi,” or boss of all bosses, in New York (par 3, History Channel). Two of the most powerful La Cosa Nostra families, known today as the Genovese and Gambino families emerged from Maranzano’s restructuring efforts. Maranzano named Luciano the first boss of what would later be known as the Genovese family. Unhappy with Maranzano’s power grab, Lucky Luciano had him murdered that same year (par 3, History Channel). Charles “Lucky” Luciano became the new leader.

Luciano then masterminded the formation of a central organization called the Commission to serve as a sort of national board of directors for the American Mafia, which by then consisted of at least 20 crime families across the country (par 3, History Channel). New York, which had become America’s organized-crime capital, had been divided into five main Mafia families; everywhere else the Mafia operated, there was just one crime family per city. The Commission’s role was to set policies and mediate disagreements among the families (par 3, History Channel). In 1936, Luciano was sentenced to 30 to 50 years in prison.

Ten years later, he was released from prison and deported to Italy, never to return. When he was convicted, Frank Costello became acting boss (par. 49, FBI). Costello led the family for approximately 20 years until May of 1957 when Genovese took control by sending soldier Vincent “the Chin” Gigante to murder him. Costello survived the attack but relinquished control of the family to Genovese. Attempted murder charges against Gigante were dismissed when Costello refused to identify him as the shooter (par. 50, FBI). In 1959, it was Genovese’s turn to go to prison following a conviction of conspiracy to violate narcotics laws.

He received a 15-year sentence but continued to run the family through his underlings from his prison cell in Atlanta, Georgia (par. 51, FBI). The Genovese family went through a succession of bosses until Lombardo, his two captains in prison and his health failing, turned full control of the Genovese family over to Gigante, the man who tried to kill Costello 30 years earlier (par. 56, FBI). Gigante ran the family from behind the scenes while pretending to be mentally ill until he was convicted of racketeering and murder conspiracy in December 1997.

Gigante’s odd behavior and mumbling while he walked around New York’s East Village in a bathrobe earned him the nickname “the Odd Father” (par. 58, FBI). The other powerful New York mafia family was the Gambino Family. The Gambino family was named for its most powerful boss, Carlo Gambino, a smart, cunning individual with a fascination for the works of Prince Machiavelli. His sharp business sense, and traditional values, earned him the respect of his allies. Don Carlo was never arrested during his career as boss, and he died of natural causes in 1976, leaving brother-in-law Paul Castellano in charge of operations.

From 1976 until his assassination by John Gotti in 1985, Castellano would come to be known as the “Boss of Bosses”. Big Paulie Castellano was never a mobster in the classic sense, but rather a racketeer. He didn’t even hang out with other gangsters, preferring the company of businessmen, and other “important” individuals. Castellano had few enemies, but John Gotti believed Aniello Dellacroce should have been made boss, and he had often been chastised by Castellano for dealing drugs and conducting operations without prior consultation.

When Big Paulie was arrested by the FBI after bugs planted in the mobsters home had provided several hours of recorded evidence, rumors began to circulate as to whether he would rat out fellow Gambino Family members, John Gotti, now acting in lieu of Dellacroce who had recently died of brain cancer, decided it was time to plan Big Paulie’s retirement (par. 1, Gambino Family/Paul Castellano). Castellano was gunned down outside Sparks Steakhouse in Manhatten as Gottie and Sammy the Bull Gravano watched from a nearby car. Throughout the 80s, Gotti earned the nickname, the “Teflon Don”; for none of the charges brought against him would stick…

At least until the early 90s, when he was indicted and tried on a RICO (Racketeer Influenced, and Corrupt Organizations) case; this time facing a prosecution armed with mobster turned informant Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, who had been Gotti’s own underboss, and who provided damning testimony against his former boss, particularly about about the Castellano murder. Gotti was sentenced to life imprisonment, and later made several attempts at a second trial, all of which were denied. John Gotti died of cancer in the Springfield, Missouri federal prison hospital, on June 10th, 2002 (par. 1, Gambino Family/ John Gotti).

Another of the five families is the Bonanno crime family, originally headed by then twenty-six-year-old Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonanno, Sicilian-born and one of the youngest bosses of all time. The Bonanno War or “Banana Split” occurred when the Commission demoted Bonanno to underboss, sparking fervent family in-fighting among those who sided with Bonanno and those who sided with the new boss, Paul Sciacca. The fighting continued until 1968, when Bonanno suffered a heart attack and retired, though by this point the Commission had stripped the Bonanno family of its seat (par. 3, Investigation and Discovery).

Troubles with the law have plagued the family, leading one newspaper to report that 75 of its 150 members have been indicted on various charges (par. 5, Investigation and Discovery/ Bonanno). The Columbo Family is the fourth of the five families. Following the Castellamarese War of 1929-1931, the family emerged as the Profaci family. It was headed by Joseph Profaci, without much threat to his leadership, until the 1950s. After Profaci’s death, Joseph Magliocco took over for a short time before the family was handed over to Joe Colombo, and the family bears his namesake to this day (par. , Investigation and Discovery/ Columbo). The family has been greatly depleted from its heyday, and continues to be ruled by Carmine Persico, now 73 years old, from prison with help from those family members who remain on the ground (par. 6, Investigation and Discovery/ Columbo). The Fifth Family, the Lucchese crime family, as it is known today, emerged out of the Castellamarese War of 1929-1931, with Gaetano “Tommy” Gagliano serving as the appointed boss and Gaetano “Tommy” Lucchese as the appointed underboss.

The family was known for its successful forays into industries such as trucking and clothing. Following Gagliano’s death in 1953, Lucchese took over and successfully ran the organization for many years with an excellent reputation. He never received a criminal conviction in his 44 years in the Mafia (par. 1, Investigation and Discovery/ Lucchese). By the mid-20th century, there were 24 known crime families in America, comprised of an estimated 5,000 full-fledged members and thousands of associates across the country.

Prior to the 1960s, some government leaders, including FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, voiced skepticism about the existence of a national Italian-American organized crime network and suggested instead that crime gangs operated strictly on a local level. As a result, law enforcement agencies made few inroads in stopping the Mafia’s rise during this period (par. 6, History Channel). Since its beginnings La Cosa Nostra has been involved in a variety of rackets including gambling, loan sharking, labor union corruption, prostitution, and drug trafficking to name a few.

Labor unions provide a rich source for organized criminal groups to exploit: their pension, welfare, and health funds. There are approximately 75,000 union locals in the U. S. , and many of them maintain their own benefit funds. In the mid-1980s, the Teamsters controlled more than 1,000 funds with total assets of more than $9 billion (par. 66, FBI). Labor racketeers attempt to control health, welfare, and pension plans by offering “sweetheart” contracts, peaceful labor relations, and relaxed work rules to companies, or by rigging union elections (par. 67, FBI).

Labor law violations occur primarily in large cities with both a strong industrial base and strong labor unions, like New York, Buffalo, Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Philadelphia. Senator Estes Kefauver’s Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime did not out rightly expose the complete, brutal reality of the Mafia to the American public. Nor did the Appalachian incident ignite immediate action on the part of the federal government. However, something changed when dozens of Mafia bosses met one 1957 November day at Joseph Barbara’s estate to select Vito Genovese as the boss of bosses.

The response by law enforcement of the past had been to try to take down the bosses. But what became evident with the realization of the existence of such a “syndicate” was that even if Mr. Big were removed, his family would remain intact; it would simply transfer hands, usually resulting in the family being renamed. New legislation would have to be of an entirely different mold in order to be of any use to law enforcement, and such a campaign wouldn’t come into play until after the death of FBI Director Edgar J. Hoover (par. 9, The Mafia and American Law).

In 1970, Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, this proved to be a powerful tool in the government’s war on the Mafia, as it allowed prosecutors to go after crime families and their sources of revenue, both legal and illegal. During the 1980s and 1990s, RICO laws were used to convict numerous high-level mobsters. Some Mafiosi, faced with long prison sentences, broke the once-sacred code of omerta and testified against their fellow mobsters in exchange for a place in the federal witness-protection program.

At the same time, Mafia membership declined as insular Italian-American neighborhoods, once a traditional recruiting ground for mobsters, underwent demographic shifts and became more assimilated into society at large (par. 7, History Channel). References GangRule. com, The Black Hand. (2011). Retrieved 6:52, December 7, 2011, from http://www. gangrule. com/gangs/the-black-hand Italian Organized Crime, (2011). The Federal Bureau of Investigation website. Retrieved 2:32, December 7, 2011, from http://www. fbi. ov/aboutus/investigate/organizedcrime/italian_mafia Mafia in the United States. (2011). The History Channel website. Retrieved 5:25, December 7, 2011, from http://www. history. com/topics/mafia-in-the-united-states. The Five Families. (2011). The Investigation Discovery website. Retrieved 2:32, December 7, 2011, from http://investigation. discovery. com/investigation/mobs-gangsters/five-families-03. html The Gambino Family. (2002). The Gambino Family website. Retrieved 6:52, December 7, 2011, from http://www. gambinofamily. com/carlo_gambino. htm

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