Made In America


Al Capone's 1925 mugshot in Miami, Florida.



Omertà May Be Dead; the Mafia Isn’t



Published: January 22, 2011

EXCERPTS from The New York Times:

“QUITE a coincidence: In January 1961, Robert F. Kennedy, newly appointed as attorney general of the United States, orchestrated the first concentrated attack on the American Mafia. Almost to the day 50 years later, the government swept up more than 120 people in a smorgasbord of racketeering indictments, mainly in the New York area….

The sweeping arrests also reflect a major change in Mafia strategy. There were no celebrity names reminiscent of former kingpins like John J. Gotti or Vincent Gigante, known as “Chin.” The alleged bosses are virtually unknown outside of law enforcement circles. Like the dons of the 1930s and 1940s, they maintained low profiles and, unlike the flamboyant Mr. Gotti, were presumably aware they were running secret organizations….

Since the birth of the American Mafia in 1931, New York has been its crown jewel. While other major cities and regions were limited to one family, or borgata, New York was afflicted with five powerful ones, now known as the Bonanno, Colombo, Gambino, Genovese and Luchese groups. (There is also a satellite unit, the DeCavalcantes, in New Jersey.)….

Federal officials, as recently as five years ago, boasted that the New York Mafia had been expelled from its main bastions: private garbage carting, the garment center, the construction industry, waterfront cargo and control of key unions. But the current indictments tell a different tale — most allege that the mob was behind corrupt construction deals and waterfront shakedowns through infiltration of unions….

There are several reasons for this. High-end gamblers prefer wagering with the mob rather than with state-authorized gambling operations like Off-Track Betting, where you have to pay taxes on your winnings. Moreover, the mob is adept at running bookmaking mills and, even when arrests occur, sentences are rarely harsh….

The timing of the government crackdown, which included some raids on gambling networks, might put a crimp into an exceptionally profitable venture for the mob — the Super Bowl next month. A study by the New York Police Department’s Organized Crime Control Bureau 20 years ago estimated that more than $1 billion was wagered on the Super Bowl with mob-linked bookies in the New York area.

Another huge money-producer, loan-sharking, is customarily a partnership with illegal gambling. Compulsive bettors in debt to a bookie frequently have recourse only to a loan shark for quick cash. Hard economic times can be a bonanza for mob lenders. They learned during the Great Depression that honest business owners will seek usurious loans when banks are reluctant to finance small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Above all, though, the mob’s ability to survive is a legacy from Charles (Lucky) Luciano. He was a brilliant criminal executive who created the framework, culture and ground rules for the American Mafia 80 years ago. Luciano realized that other ethnic gangs were loosely organized, usually involved in just one type of crime and easily obliterated when their leaders were imprisoned. Hence his cardinal principle: the organization — the family — was supreme and not reliant on a single individual or one racket. Whenever a boss or a capo was removed, a replacement would be waiting in the wings to keep the loot flowing.

So, while the unveiling of the indictments last week by Attorney General Eric Holder was a sharp warning that the Mafia was again on the Justice Department’s radar screen, we should bear in mind the mob’s previous Lazarus-like revivals. The removal of the current crop of Mafia barons will probably engender a new generation of mobsters. There have always been, and always will be, ambitious, greedy wise guys who are willing to risk long prison sentences for the power and riches glittering before them. The Mafia is wounded, but not fatally.

Selwyn Raab, a former reporter for The Times, is the author of ‘Five Families: The Rise, Decline and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires.'”

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