Free Organized Crime AND Vice Research Paper Sample
Community Resources in Corrections
While organized crime can refer to any hierarchically structured and excusive association of people governed by specific rules, who carry on criminal activities for financial gain and who show a willingness to use violent or other illegal act in order to perpetuate their existence; in the United States, organized crime is most commonly linked to the Italian-American mafia (Abadinsky, 2010). To be sure, although there are a number of organized criminal networks operation in or against the U.S. that include a range of ethnicities and national origins, such as the Russian mafia, the Mexican drug cartels, and Chinese triads; the Italian-American mafia, which is formerly known as “La Costa Nostra”, by far has had the longest and most extensive history of operations, influences, and effects than any other network
I. Early Beginnings
For all the violence, depravity and death that the La Costa Nostra in has become known for, its roots suggest a much worthier purpose. The history of the Italian-American mafia begins in ancient Italy, and more specifically, the island of Sicily. Sicily’s geographic position made it vulnerable to colonization. Indeed, over the centuries, Sicily was invaded and/or taken over by forces from North Africa, Italy, Spain, France, as well as pirates and bandits. As a result, local groups of Sicilian men organized themselves into groups that would fight the invaders and provide protections for local communities that government officials were unable or unwilling to provide (McCarthy, 2011). These groups would eventually come to be known as mafia, and the men were part of the mafia as “mafioso”. In those ancient times, being part of the mafia was considered an honor as it illustrated the commitment and loyalty that one had to one’s family, home and community (FBI, n.d.). As an underground anti-government movement, the mafia developed a number of rules, codes of conduct and oaths of loyalty that allowed them to communicate with one another without the authorities understanding; operate without the authorities knowing; and meeting without the authorities detecting.
II. The Birth of the Italian-American Mafia
Like many citizens of many other European countries, there were significant numbers of Italians began immigrating to the U.S. in the late 1800s. Most immigrated for economic reasons, namely they felt that the chances to make money in the U.S. were better than they were in Italy. This resulted in the majority of Italians settling in cities and regions where labor needs where the greatest such as New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Moreover, many of the new Italian immigrants were willing to work in conditions and for pay that was substantially lower than what most Americans would accept. Consequently, Italian communities increasing became subject local prejudice attitudes that limited the opportunities of many Italians to prosper.
As a result of these circumstances, two tendencies within the Italian communities began to surface. First, some groups of Italian men began taking part in criminal acts as a means of supporting themselves in the absence of more legitimate opportunities for work. Second, some groups of Italian men began organizing themselves as a means to protect their communities from American prejudiced attitudes and actions. Within a short time, these two tendencies merged into one combined criminal element. The earliest known criminal action by an Italian-American groups, for example, occurred in late 1880s in New Orleans. The Matranga family immigrated from Sicily to New Orleans in the 1870s. Unable to find “legitimate work”, the family eventually began settled the prostitution and alcohol business. Not satisfied with what they were able to achieve with “woman and booze”, the Matranga’s eventually expanding to protection services, labor extortion and corruption such as forcing employers to pay bribes in order to ensure that laborers, mostly of Sicilian or Italian origin would show up for work (Gauthreaux, 2007).
New Orleans, was also the venue for what would become a traditional aspect of the Italian-American mafia, namely inter-community wars. Indeed, about the same time that the Matrango family was establishing itself in the local prostitution, alcohol and labor industries; the Provenzano family, another recent immigrant from Sicily, was also establishing itself as protector and provider of the local shipping and produce industry. Eventually, the two families’ expansions challenged each other which lead to open warfare among the groups that eventually ended with the death of the New Orleans’ Chief of Police David Hennessey (Gauthreaux, 2007).
III. The Rise of the La Costra Nostra
While Italian immigration to the U.S., as mentioned, had been consistent since the late 1880s, the trend increased at the after the turn of the century. One of the reason for this was the widespread economic difficulties that Italy and all of Europe was facing. While many of these immigrants had no criminal tendencies, a significant number were attracted to join local Italian criminal gangs as a means of survival. It is important to note that the turn of the turn of the century influx would also include some of the early Italian-American mafia’s most notorious leaders including Sicilians Giuseppe Masseria, and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Naples native Vito Genovese. To be sure, many if not most of the future leader of the Italian-American mafia began their careers working within one of the already established protection gangs or criminal networks that had already been established.
While the Sicilian influence on the Italian-American mafia was significant, it was not necessarily something that was planned. First, Sicilians composed a significant number of immigrants from southern Italian. Second, the vast majority of Sicilian immigrants were unskilled laborers (McCarthy, 2011). Accordingly, Sicilians were the most likely to suffer from prejudice attitudes; and also the most likely to be barred from finding legitimate employment opportunities. Consequently, Sicilians were the most likely segment of the Italian immigrant community to join the gangs that provided money, protection, and status.
This, however, changed in the 1920s when Benito Mussolini came to power in Italy. One of Mussolini’s goals was to eliminate the power and authority of the Sicilian mafia as they posed an alternative to his rule. Accordingly, Mussolini implemented a campaign to eliminate the mafia from Sicily. In order to escape death, many of the Sicilian mafia leaders fled the island to the U.S. The resolute was that many of these new criminal immigrants found positions in domestic Italian-American criminal gangs or were, at least, able to influence how the gangs operated. One of the key elements of this synergy was that, as mentioned, many of the domestic Italian-American gangs were already headed by or significantly staffed by people that were born in Sicilian or had Sicilian roots.
IV. Civil War
Despite the common bond of Sicily, or at least southern Italy, as Italian-American criminal gangs evolved, they became increasingly aggressive towards other Italian-American criminal gangs. Indeed, one of the biggest conflicts that would eventually lead to the progression of Italian-American gangs from unorganized thuggery to business-like efficiency was the Castellammarese War from 1929 to 1931 (Buchanan, 1998). The war pitted two Italian-American criminal gangs (the Castellammarese faction versus the Masseria faction) from Sicily or with Sicilian roots in a battle for control of the New York City prostitution, protection, gambling and racketeering markets. Since New York, was one of the largest centers of the Italian-American criminal network, the outcome of the war would prove to have national effects. In the end, the Castellammarese gang, which was headed by an older generation of Sicilian was able to gain the upper hand. This lead to the organization of the well-known “five-families” (Morello, Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese, and Colombo) of New York under the rule of the Castellammarese leader, that would eventually come to dominate the American mafia leadership.
V. Unified Front
Although the Castellammarese faction was able to win the war, the victory was short lived. Soon after claiming power, the leader of the Castellammarese family was killed. Without an overall leader, there was no barrier stopping the reignition of infighting among the five families of New York, as well as between other Italian-American criminal gangs in Chicago, New Jersey and Philadelphia. As a result, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, who had originally been a member of the Masseria faction before arranging for the death of his boss Giuseppe Masseria, called for a meeting of all Italian-American criminal gang bosses to discuss ways in which “work” could be organized in a manner that satisfied everyone without the need to get into costly gang wars that hurt the overall effect of their enterprises (Buchanan, 1998). Luciano would eventually become the actual leader of the Genovese family and the nominal leader of all the five families.
The result of that meeting was an arrangement known as the “Commission”. The reason and goal of the Commission was to establish a governing body of Italian-American criminal gang activity that split the nation into regions that would be “managed” be specific criminal gangs; would establish a regulatory mechanism to analyze and rule on differences or conflicts between gangs or as they would later be termed as “families”.
VI. Vice is the Spice of Life
But what this have to do with the vice crime in America? One of the most important developments that helped to seal the connection between organized crime and vice crimes was the passage of the passage, ratification, and entry into force of the Eighteenth Amendment in December 1917 and January 1920 which outlawed the sale, production. Importation, transportation and consumption, beer, wine, and all other alcoholic beverages. While initially passed as a measure to help one of the social ills that many thought was ruining American life, namely the widespread acceptance of drunkenness; the prohibition did not account for the immense desire among American to have a drink. With such a high desire for an illegal substance, the Italian mafia was one of the first groups in society to not only realize the potential money that could be made in supplying underground alcohol, commonly known as “bootlegging” but was also had the specific infrastructure, personnel and networks to implement an underground alcohol market (Blumenthal, 2011). To be sure, the years of establishing mafia influences in labor, trucking, and dock-workers; along with connection to gangs across the nation and in Italy, as well as bribing a large number of political and police authorities; the Italian mafia was well positioned to plan, develop, and initiate a bootlegging operation that included the manufacture, distillation, storage, transport, and sales of alcohol across the nation.
Although the mafia was able to develop a thriving bootlegging operation during Prohibition, it was still not acceptable or legal to drink openly. Instead, many mafia gangs established underground bars known as “speakeasies” where patrons would go to enjoy a drink without worry of getting caught. Naturally, these places offered a number of other illicit services such as prostitution. Accordingly, while the early mafia gangs might have also been involved with individual prostitution rings, Prohibition allowed for it to be organized on a city, regional and nation-wide basis. To be sure, the supply of prostitute to politicians and other government authorities was one of the ways that the mafia was able to run their bootlegging operations without police or state interference. Again, the elements that made organized crime groups effective such as the readily available staff; levels of management, loyalty and violence, were also helpful in establishing and running prostitution rings.
Naturally, with the ability to have a drink or cavort with a prostitute, it was not long before gambling also became an aspect of the mafia’s Prohibition era activities. Accordingly, not only gambling rooms or access to bookmakers became common to the speakeasies, dance halls and brothels that the mafia were running as part of their bootlegging operations. As with prostitution, gambling was also a useful way of getting control over powerful people who could provide political cover for mafia operations.
The mafia involvement in vice increased after the formation of the Commission. Indeed “organized” criminal activity stabilized after the agreement to settle intra-gang tensions through negotiation was introduced. Organized crime here refers to criminal activity that requires management in order to be effective and profitable to those taking part in it. These include the most basic vice crimes of prostitution, gambling, and later pornography. To be sure, Luciano, who was widely considered the “boss of bosses” after the establishment of the Commission mainly focused on gambling, with his life-long friend Meyer Lansky. Lansky would go on to be influential in the establishment of gambling operations in Florida, New Orleans and Cuba. Moreover, it was Luciano’s control over prostitution in New York City that lead to his eventual arrest and conviction (NYT, 1936).
Abadinsky, H. (2010). Organized Crime 9th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Blumenthal, K. (2011). Bootleg: Murder, Moonshine, and the Lawless Years of Prohibition. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.
Buchanan, E. (1998, Dec. 7). Lucky Luciano: Criminal mastermind. Retrieved from http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,989779-1,00.html
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). (n.d.). Italian organized crime. Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/organizedcrime/italian_mafia
Gauthreaux, A. (2007, May 18). An inhospitable land: Anti-Italian sentiment and violence in Louisiana, 1891-1924. Retrieved from http://scholarworks.uno.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1515&context=td
McCarthy, D.M.P. (2011). An economic history of organized crime. Retrieved from http://www.libertarianismo.org/livros/dmpmaehooc.pdf
New York Times (NYT). (1936, Jun. 8). Lucania convicted with 8 in vice ring on 62 counts. Retrieved from http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive/pdf?res=9904E3D81230E13BBC4053DFB066838D629EDE