Guest Author - Vance R. Rowe
Why is it that many Americans are enthralled by the notion of the American Mafia? Is it the power, the money, the respect, or a mix of all three?
During the mid-19th century, the Mafia flourished in Sicily. That was until Benito Mussolini rose to power and declared war on the Sicilian Mafia. Mafia bosses and others then fled to the United States and between 1880 and 1910, more than 500,000 immigrants and first-generation Italian Americans had called New York City home. Most of these immigrants were farmers, craftsmen, and unskilled workers. Most were law-abiding citizens but some looked for a better, easier, way to make money and had formed gangs that extorted money, stole goods and committed murder, all against their own people.
However, it wasn’t until the Volstead Act was passed and alcohol was prohibited in the United States, so organized began to get bigger and richer by bootlegging alcohol either by making it themselves or having it brought in to different cities from Canada, who had no prohibition laws.
Money brought greed and many criminal organizations battled for territories in their respective states and cities, in order to be able to get more money. Al Capone became rich and infamous due to bootlegging illegal liquor into Chicago from Canada.
Later, when Prohibition was repealed in the United States, organized crime was no longer making money hand over fist for selling alcohol illegally, so they had to come up with other ways to make money. Some ways were extortion, illegal gambling, and prostitution. New York City was getting bigger for organized crime but members of the American Mafia were disorganized and there was a free-for-all where money and murder were concerned. That was until a man named Charles “Lucky” Luciano became a boss by way of murder and intimidation.
He then gathered together the bosses of the Five Families in New York City and re-organized crime. Luciano put together what would be come to be known as “The Commission”. The Commission included bosses of at least twenty crime families across the country. It was similar to a company’s Board of Directors. New York City became the “hub” of organized crime and consisted of five criminal organizations, run by Carlo Gambino, Joseph Profaci, Vito Genovese, Tommy Lucchese, and Joseph Bonnano. Over the years, the names of the criminal organizations stuck, except for the Profaci family which was re-named for the new boss, Joseph Colombo.
However, besides Luciano and Capone, the most famous mob boss was probably John Gotti. John Gotti became the boss of the Gambino crime family in 1985 after the then boss Paul Castellano was gunned down in front of Sparks Steakhouse in New York City. The murder was ordered by John Gotti. Gotti was flashy and loved the attention he was getting from people and the press. When the federal government failed to secure convictions for Gotti in different criminal procedures, he became known as the “Teflon Don” and this was a slight against the FBI and the FBI vowed to get him.
They finally did after wire-tapping an apartment above Gotti’s social club. The apartment was used by Gotti to hold his meetings. Gotti’s underboss, Sammy Gravano was arrested when the feds heard that he killed his brother-in-law and perpetrated other crimes, on the wire taps. Gravano then turned state’s evidence against Gotti. In 1992, Gotti was finally convicted of several different crimes including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, racketeering, illegal gambling, loansharking and other crimes as well.
He was sentenced to life in prison without parole and was transferred to United States Penitentiary in Marion, Ohio. He died in 2010 from complications due to throat cancer in the United States Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri. This was the end of the American Mafia as we knew it then.