Yes, New York's Five Families Still Exist
Here is a revised and expanded version of a story written for The Insider Magazine about the current state of New York's Five Families.
The way it typically works is, following a years-long investigation, the FBI and/or NYPD make the arrests. In Mafia cases, these usually assume the form of predawn raids (when the "bad guys" are home sleeping).
While the lead investigator flashes a warrant, the squad of agents (or detectives and uniformed police officers) gets to work, barging through the front door and searching for incriminating evidence. One such arrest in Toronto in 1971, while arresting Francesco Caccamo for small-time stuff, possessing a handgun and counterfeit money, police happened upon a 27-page document inside a kitchen cabinet. Written in an archaic Italian script, the paper was titled: Come Formare una Societa, (How to Form a Society).
It revealed the rules for forming a 'Ndrina, the Ndrangheta's basic organizational unit and the rough equivalent of a Cosa Nostra family. The find was of monumental importance in that it proved the Calabrian Mafia's existence in Canada.
As noted previously, the mob is usually exposed when law enforcement makes arrests. Only then can newspapers (usually tabloids) print the story, which will brim with colorful nicknames and "alleged” acts of murder and racketeering.
What the public fails to grasp is that the story is only a glimpse of some of the crimes allegedly committed by one or more men. As sweeping as an indictment is, it remains the proverbial "tip of the iceberg."
When the newspapers do cover a mob story, it generally details elderly men who committed crimes going back decades. Take last month's Vincent Asaro trial. Billed as the big Lufthansa Heist case -- the $6 million robbery, the largest in American history at the time, was spotlighted in Goodfellas -- the jury returned a shocking acquittal for the 80-year-old defendant, who was once close pals with James “Jimmy the Gent” Burke.
The mob is not the power it once was. But is it finished? Has it reverted back to the street gangs from which New York’s Five Families originally emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries?
Certain facts and information from mob sources seem to suggest otherwise.
The Mafia is a secret society
Members hide their allegiance, not to mention their crimes (as well as mob relationships, meetings, etc.) They don't refer to themselves as anything -- not Mafia, the mob, not Cosa Nostra....
The social clubs are all shuttered and there’s no more John Gotti – meaning today, “household names” can't be found in the mob.
The New York crime families have benefited from terrorism, which has absorbed a larger allotment of the FBI’s resources. Law enforcement officials said as far back as 2011’s Mafia Takedown Day that the FBI was reorienting itself finally, following 9/11.
The recent shootings in California and the large-scale attacks in France are likely causing even more of the FBI’s men and material to withdraw from the battle against organized crime.
Historically the Mafia was able to reach the level of power it once did due to the FBI’s focus on Communism. Terrorism may possibly prove to be the “new” Communism.
The American Cosa Nostra was organized specifically to perpetuate itself. No matter how many single individuals are knocked out by death or prison, the structured institution itself, last year pegged by the FBI as about 8,000-strong (including inducted members and associates), continues—and learns.
FBI Dramatically Reduced Its Mafia Focus
Today two FBI squads are investigating the New York mob. At the height of the Fed’s war on the Mafia, there were five units, one for each crime family. In June 2013, the FBI first reported that there were only two New York City-based squads watching mobsters – a more-than 50% reduction.
The Mafia, meanwhile, is trying to lower its profile and become as invisible as possible, officials and experts said.
Crime families also have changed in major ways. First off, they are less territorial and more willing to cooperate with each other. In terms of organization, Mafia crews are more isolated. This way, members and associates have less knowledge about a family’s overall workings. This mitigates the damage if an undercover agent slips into a crew. Also if a crew member decides to flip, he will not have as much to offer his handlers other than what’s happened inside his own crew.
The families are less involved in crimes with lifetime penalties, including murder, which supposedly is banned. In terms of revenue-generating rackets, the ones that do the most damage when uncovered have been outlawed. Financial fraud, the pump-and-dump boiler-room-type scams that served as a major racket in the early 1990s are “outlawed” businesses for mobsters, as much as narcotics supposedly is.
The mob is reverting to its original core competencies: loan-sharking, extortion, gambling, narcotics and infiltrating organized labor. They find an occasional blockbuster niche. These days these include offshore online gambling and the illicit selling of legal drugs such as Viagra. With the Boomers continuing to age, Tony Soprano's Centrum scheme may be next, who knows?
Families are adding to their ranks. A group of men recently got their "buttons" at a location in Brooklyn courtesy of the Genovese crime family.
“They can replenish when they see fit but they have to stay within the quotas set by Luciano,” said a Mafia source. Quotas were established, along with the official five families in 1931.
Still, the mob has suffered. Law enforcement’s large-scale efforts, which really gained RICO act steam in the 1980s, did serious damage.
In April of 1998 newspaper reports declared the Commission was defunct. "The commission's demise," said one report, "is another sign of the Mafia's continuing decline. Most investigators say that without the planning and oversight the commission provided, the Mafia will have trouble rebuilding the interfamily rackets that from the 1940's to the 1990's siphoned huge payoffs from vital city industries like construction and garbage collecting."
But in a 2011 appeal, we learned that the Colombo civil war "ended in 1992 or 1993 because so many family members had been killed or arrested." However, the two factions remained. "The Commission would not allow the Colombo Family to induct new members until the family got itself in order. [Jackie] DeRoss, [William] Cutolo, and several others got together and decided to attempt a reconciliation, operating with Persico as their captain. In about 1998, the Commission decided to back the Persico faction; Persico became the family's acting boss, and Cutolo became the acting underboss." (On another note, if Cutolo was made underboss by the Commission, as this filing suggests, it blows out of the water Jerry Capeci's theory about the Persicos setting "Wild Bill" up by promoting him.)
Created in 1931 under Charlie “Lucky” Luciano’s auspices, the Commission provided planning and oversight for the Mafia’s “inter-family rackets.” It was only abolished in the past few years, said a source, a Queens-based mobster. Is this a major blow, however? Probably not, as the crime families “have their way of doing things,” as the source said.
Three Families in Operation
Three of the New York families (the Genovese, Gambino and Luchese borgatas) are in full operation. The Bonannos and Colombos are in disarray due to law enforcement's efforts, turncoats and dry snitches -- as well as weak leadership on the street.
The Colombos have suffered from having a boss calling the shots from a prison cell for the past few decades. Carmine Persico, 82, is in for life, serving time in Butner federal prison in North Carolina. The Colombo crime family had that inter-family civil war in the 1990s (the family's third) when acting boss Vittorio “Little Vic” Orena and those who supported him sought to assume control from the family's historic boss because they all felt they needed a more powerful boss on the street to give the family more weight.
The war ended when Orena was sent away for life under questionable circumstances. Persico retains control.
For the Colombos to return to power they first need a new boss. Only when a well-respected Colombo mobster finally wears the crown will the family -- the mob's youngest and most violent -- be able to truly rebuild.
I was informed that there have been discussions about distributing the Colombo members and doing away with the crime family. This may still be an open subject. New York's Four Families....
The Bonannos also have been hurt by prison. The arrests in January 2013, originally as part of the Lufthansa indictment put away Bonanno acting boss Thomas “Tommy D” DiFiore for nearly three yearsa. Official boss Michael “Mickey Nose” Mancuso is in prison now and has four more years. (Unless Vincent “Vinny Gorgeous” Basciano, serving life, is still the official boss, that is.)
So it seems that the families able to muster enough men to show power on the street and run scams also are helmed by powerful and accessible bosses -- meaning they are out of prison.
The Genovese family has historically never revealed its true bosses even to other crime families. This helped buffer the family from law enforcement. It also helped to strengthen the family’s hand at sit downs.
“We met with the West Side several times to take care of a certain situation,” a source once explained. “Every time we met, they had different guys in there! We had to start from zero every f—ing time!"
Evidently by sewing small-scale confusion and aggravation into such situations, by simply having new “officials” show up at meetings who “knew nothing” about a particular issue or problem, the Genovese hierarchy was able to win more sit downs – or at least to lose fewer.
The mob’s collective eye is ever focused on the 1931 organizational plan. The three operational families are helping to run the remnants of the other two. New York’s Gambinos also have a level of control over the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante family.
Mafia Alliances With Outsiders
The Gambinos reportedly raised Frank Cali to boss in the crime family's ruling hierarchy. (Even if they didn't "officially" the question is academic). Cali, not Domenico Cefalu, has strong ties to certain Sicilian Mafia families, including the Inzerillos. A past investigation revealed there’s possibly large-scale drug trafficking resulting from certain overseas meetings Cali attended in Sicily.
Drug trafficking generates vast sums of illicit revenue and is among organized crime's few profit centers capable of offsetting the major losses stemming from law enforcements devastating breakup of the mob's historic stranglehold over labor unions. Fortunes so vast rolled in that the Mob's earnings dwarfed what its members pocketed even during Prohibition, when gangsters, who previously were homeless pickpockets, became millionaires and even billionaires. As a result, the New York underworld's cyclical ethnic evolution stopped with the Italians, who replaced previous underworld dynasties consisting of Irish and Jewish racketeers, for example. (C. Alex Hortis, in The Mob and the City, makes a convincing case for this being why organized crime inAmerica has remained dominated by the Italian Mafia rather than a new generation of gangstersfrom another ethnic background.)
In other words , New York's leading organized crime groups remained Italian-American primarily due to the massive success attained following the Mafia's wholesale infiltration of a wide range of labor unions (in sectors including apparel, trucking, waste management, kosher chicken, etc.) across the U.S., and the herculean fortunes that resulted. (See the Concrete Club and Windows Case.)
Building the required infrastructure needed to run a successful global drug smuggling ring necessitates large alliances with overseas groups, to provide product, to launder money, etc.
The U.S. serves mainly as the "storefront" -- the world's premier marketplace for narcotics.
Allying itself opportunistically with other criminal organizations is among the mob's chief ways of doing business. With interfamily rackets waning it'd seem the Mob would seek to offset those losses by increasing its alliances with other criminal groups in the past few years.
The facts suggest that that is precisely the case.
Consider that, in February 2014, a Ndrangheta crew (from the Mafia based in Southern Italy's Calabria region) was found operating in New York – helping operate a billion-dollar drug trafficking ring. It partnered with crews from two of the Five Families: the Bonannos and Gambinos. Members of all three groups have been indicted.
This year, Ndrangheta member Gregorio Gigliotti was arrested for acting as a drug broker between the Calabrian mob and the Mexican cartels. He operated a Queens, N.Y.-based pizzeria in a neighborhood known to be overseen by a powerful Genovese capo. An investigation sought, and failed, to link the capo and the Ndrangheta trafficker.
Also newsworthy, a possible common denominator between Matty Madonna and the Luchese family's gambling ring and Canadian law enforcement's recent routing of the Rizzuto Cosa Nostra organization (now co-helmed by Leonardo Rizzuto, the last living son of former Montreal boss Vito Rizzuto) and two key allies: the Hells Angels and Syndicates street gang, which originated amid the outlaw motorcycle club's violent war with the Rock Machine MC. (160 homicides resulted from the biker war). A black member of the Hells Angels' Montreal chapter launched the gang.
Both cases were linked to the Bloods, though the Syndicates more indirectly than the Luchese-affiliated Nine TreyGangsters.
The very notion of the Mafia allying itself with the likes of a high-profile street gang whose members sport colors, signing via hand gestures and making pronouncements regarding the killing of police officers deeply concerns law enforcement agencies in both countries.
Yet with such alliances having happened in the past, chances are they will happen again.
The United Blood Nation is heavily concentrated throughout New York City. Widely known for its rivalry with the Crips, The Bloods members wear the color red.
As many as 20,000 members are believed to have sworn an oath to the gang. That’s a lot of gangsters.