“La Cosa Nostra”, a phrase that was very popular phrase in the beginning of the 19th Century when the whole world was dreaming of the “American Dream” and when the Manhattan was all socked with Jazz after the post-world war II era. Sicilian immigrants coined and brought the phrase to America.
The Sicilians originated from Sicily, Italy. Many fled to America due to the heightened political rivalry between the Fascists and the Capitalists. Benito Mussolini in 1925 led the Fascists political faction campaign to eradicate the Sicilians who were in support of Capitalism. He wanted to influence the Sicilians’ life, which would strengthen and legitimise his political power and dominance.
Politicians who received a lot of support from the Mafia politically influenced Sicily by then. They were hardcore individuals of character and mind where their family meant more than surviving and they originated from peasant backgrounds. They therefore came up with the phrase, “La Cosa Nostra” which means “This thing of ours” or simplified “Cosa Nostra” meaning, “Our thing”. The Mafia operated as a family with a boss heading each family and they controlled a certain area of a town known as “Borgota” meaning neighbourhood. The area they controlled was sovereign and free from external influence by other families.
When these families shifted into America, they carried with them all their culture and traditions including the Mafia traits and codes of conduct. These later evolved into the American Mafia. Unlike the Sicilian Mafia, which was characterised by many small-sized families of few members, the American mafia consisted of few families with more members. The American mafia also known as “The Mob” or the “Italian-American Mafia”, turned out to be a very strategised and organised system, which bore the name “Organised Crime” in American systems.
The American Mafia came to influence the life of the Americans due to the manner in which
these crime families came to rule certain neighbourhoods, cities, states, which came to build a
lot of fear amongst businessmen, judges, politicians, government officials including the
President himself. An American president speculated to have been assassinated by the Mafia
was J. F. Kennedy.
They were brutal and straight forward when it got to handling their businesses and criminal entities. It was not always suit and tie since high caliber guns, knives and professional hitmen acted where it was difficult to negotiate by word of mouth. Street gun wars were a thing of norm just as depicted in the movies, “Honor Thy Father (1973)” and “The Godfather Part II (1974)”.
American Mafia influenced heavily areas such as New York’s Brooklyn and Manhattan areas, Chicago, Philadelphia and New Jersey. They also had high influence but a smaller presence in other towns and cities such New Orleans, Las Vegas, Florida and Denver but those cited ex-ante, they had the greatest influence. The most influential Mafiosi came from New York families.
New York had five big Italian crime families namely: Bonanno, Gambino, Colombo, Genovese and Lucchese. Other notable crime families included Kansas City family from Kansas City-Missouri, Philadelphia family from Philadelphia-Pennsylvania, New Orleans family from New Orleans-Louisiana and Trafficante crime family from Tampa-Florida. All families had the same structure, roles for each member and procedures of handling all its affairs as an organised crime group.
The families had a top leader who headed all the families. He was referred to as the “Bosses of the Bosses” or the “Capo dei Capi” also “Godfather”. This was the most respectable rank of the entire Mafia crime world. He headed the New York five families, Buffalo crime family and the Chicago Outfit. These families formed “The Commission” which consisted the bosses of all the top crime families. Only one person held the godfather position and after his death up to date, no one has really ever gotten to his seat due to diplomatic matters of the concerning the families.
The Boss of the Bosses, Salvatore Maranzano after the “Prohibition Era” where the government had banned alcoholic drinks, structured the whole mafia group into families in 1931 after the murder of Joseph Masseria during the “Castellammarese War” of 1928. He formed two families with his accomplice, Charles Lucky Lucciano who was Masseria’s top soldier. Maranzano was therefore ranked as the top boss hence earning “Capo dei Capi” title. He established the code of conduct “Omerta”, set up the family divisions and structures and methods of disputes resolution. Two big families were formed, the Genovese and Gambino where Lucky Luciano was named the boss of the Genovese Family.
The structure of the mafia was well defined, stratified and all roles of the members were followed to the letter. After the Boss of the Bosses, they had the Bosses “Dons”, who headed each individual family. Their roles included running the family businesses and controlling the regions or territories that they occupied. He received a cut of every operation conducted by the family. This was an elective position where the Caporegimes conducted voting and in case of a tie, Underbosses were involved. Initially all members voted in a Boss but due to the much attention created by such gatherings in the 1950s, only bosses and underbosses were involved.
Some of the most notable bosses of the families were; Bonanno family founded by Salvatore Maranzano, Colombo family founded by Joe Profaci, Gambino family by Vincent Mangano, Genovese family by Lucky Luciano and Lucchese family by Tony Gagliano. Other bosses that came later who got quite influential in the Bonano family included Joseph Charles Bonanno popularly referred to as “Joe Bananas”. Being the youngest-ever bosses of the crime families, he was involved in ordering hits of bosses in The Commission. One of his notable investments was funeral homes in Brooklyn, which were suspected to have been used in disposing off dead bodies by building double-decker coffins, which would fit two bodies and buried at once with the disguise on one body.
Philip Rastelli also called “Rusty” was from the same Bonano family. He was quite well known of loansharking where he would charge 250%-300% interest rates per loan offered
which generated one million dollars revenue per year back in the seventies. His power was shifted to another boss by The Commission called Carmine Galante, popularly referred to as
“The Cigar Man” because he would be rarely seen without one. He was a vicious man with over a total of suspected eighty mob hits.
His main business was heroin drug trafficking which made him fifty million dollars annually. Rastelli and Frank Tieri saw selling narcotics as crime to The Commission because it generated a lot of heat and unwanted attention from the authorities due to the nature of the dealings, which led to his assassination lobbied by The Commission. Rastelli sent his soldier Joseph Massino to carry out the hit. He was assassinated by hitmen at restaurant during lunchtime in Brooklyn; he died with a cigar still in his mouth. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York refused to offer him a funeral mass due to his notoriety.
In the Colombo family, there was Carmine “Junior” Persico also known as, “The Snake” or “Immortal” who was their long time boss. He was constantly on the streets and led jobs for the family such as illegal gambling, bookmaking, loan sharking, hijacking and murder-forhire. He started his crime life at the age of sixteen in the Garfield Boys Gang in Brooklyn before “being made”. He worked together with Joe Gallo and his brothers in the gang.
In the Gambino family, they had many more crazier, ruthless and vicious bosses. They included Albert Anastasia who served a mobster, hitman then a boss. He was known to be the most ruthless and fearsome crime figures in America. He spearheaded the modernisation of the American crime family. He was a labour racketeer where he was the top boss of the International Longshoremen’s Association where he controlled six labour chapters in Brooklyn. He was also involved in horse betting races but he lost money there. He served in the World War II as a soldier so that he could escape convictions of his crime. He was murdered at a barbershop in Midtown Manhattan, a hit that was arranged by Genovese and Gambino because of selling membership fees of his crime family at fifty thousand dollars each.
Carlo Gambino also known as “Don Carlo”, he headed the Gambino family and also The Commission after the imprisonment of Vito Genovese. He knew drugs were lucrative and profitable especially cocaine and heroin but he ordered no drugs to be sold by the Mafia due to generating unwanted attention from the authorities and also they saw them a society destroyer. He was linked to the murder of Albert Anastacia over the sale of hard drugs. He mentored the famous Aniello Dellacroce who was his underboss who came to mentor John Gotti later on. He had been nicknamed “The Polack” due to his square-shaped face although he never stomached that, it was never used at his earshot. Carlo died of a heart attack at his home early morning at age seventy-four in 1976.
Paul Castellano proceeded Gambino in leadership of the family in 1976-1985. He was a capo under boss of Vince Mangano’s successor Albert Anastasia. Castellano was a white-collar business mafia who invested into such businesses where he faced charges of tax evasion and racketeering. He was known of building a lavish home in the resemblance of the white house, English garden and an Olympic-size swimming pool. Castello had banned made men from dealing in drugs so when the FBI planted bugs in Ruggiero’s house, Angelo Ruggiero and Gene Gotti were arrested for dealing heroin. This sparked war between him and Gotti because he threatened to demoted him. Paul Castellano was gunned down at Sparks Steak House in Midtown Manhattan by John Gotti’s hitmen as he watched across the street.
John Gotti rose into power, which raised many eyebrows of the new stylish and flamboyant mafia boss. He had so many nicknames like, “Teflon Don”, “Dapper Don” which were used to amplify his flamboyance and elegance to the general public. He disliked Castellano passionately due to his old-school leadership skills example refusing to deal in heroin trafficking. He ordered Castellano’s hit without even consulting The Commission, he watched it happen across the street and after it was done, he was driven over to the scene to view the body of his boss while still in his car. He loved and led a lavish lifestyle where he would wear suits costing twenty thousand dollars each.
He got away with high profile cases, which earned him the media name, “Teflon Don”. Some of the cases he got acquitted included two murders, federal racketeering and conspiracy, illegal gambling loan sharking and armed hijackings. He was well known of intimidating witnesses, juries, government and plaintiff lawyers, investigators and government officials through corruption or assassination contracts. He portrayed himself as a good man in the public in order to hide his underworld criminal businesses and activities. At his leadership, the Gambino family was the strongest American Mafia family with an annual net income of five hundred million dollars where Gotti made ten to twenty million annually.