Crime has been rooted in American life since that period, dating back to the days of the 13 colonies, and now remains common in the streets of America. In America, illegal acts are bound to occur, especially if they have a concrete credibility structure. The explanation is that somebody will often want to undermine the justice system and mess with the laws and legislation so that, according to their desires, they can change it, giving rise to a tsunami of corruption. During the end of the 19th to the 20th century, huge amounts of immigrants poured in, belonging to all races and religions, especially the underprivileged Italian citizens, thus transforming America into a safe-haven for these immigrants. However, since they were not able to get employed in well-paid jobs immediately, they resorted to joining low-level street gangs to feed their families. Inspired by the Mafia in Sicily, the Italian-American gangs made their impact through the booming bootleg business of liquor. By 1950, they had completely evolved from the low-level street gangs fighting to make a minimum amount to support their families to a preeminent organized crime network that was not only a part of robbery activities but various underworld activities like loan-sharking, prostitution, etc. They had become well-known as the Cosa Nostra, which means our thing. They had turned into their cult, which flourished on its extreme level of secrecy and absolute power to bribe and intimidate almost every official and influential leader in all fields, especially the jurisdiction of America and their economic activities. Charles Luciano’s “commission” at the beginning of 1990 allowed them to increase their control and get more involved in the American life through their power, greed, and intimidation (The Making of the Mob). Since the law and enforcement department were also significantly intimidated by their power and control, and thus avoided to intervene in their criminal activities, especially in the beginning of the 20th century. But the tables soon turned in the 1980’s and 1990s, when more ethical and tough agents were employed to eliminate these flourishing criminal activities at the hands of these mobsters.
Not to our surprise, Italian-based crime was not the only one trying to destroy the American life; there were other various forms of organized crime as, but as the Italian-based crime took over all every single corner of the United States, it started to affect not only America’s economy but also its political decisions. Unlimited corruption and bribing of all the influential government leaders allowed them to seep into the American life successfully. They had complete control in the industrial running as well, especially the multi-national American operating businesses, which were not restricted to just pure business activities, but also racketeering. When observing the social aspect, their behavior had led to a lot of resentment among them, thus causing a significant rift between the Italians and the Americans, other ethnic groups as well. Despite the efforts made in eradicating them, these criminal activities have been so deep-rooted in the American culture from that time that they have managed to mark their territory in the present world as well, especially in the business world. Hence, this paper aims to provide a detailed analysis of the origins of the Italian-based organized crime and how it affected America politically, economically, and socially between 1920 and 1990.
Italian-Based Organized Crime and its Effect on Politics through Corruption and Bribery of Government Officials
Before, the advent of the wave of mafia and mobsters, the word “Bagman” was used to describe American salesmen, who would be in possession of their product all the time, so that they would not be able to miss any opportunity of selling their products. However, later on, bagman became a very common term to address mobsters, who were well-known for carrying around money not only used for bribery purposes but also the one was taken from notable officials like politicians, government officials, policemen, etc. for investment in numerous illegal activities. The underworld had given this term a whole new meaning, which distorted the role of American salesmen (Sifakis 26). Being present in such an environment, criminal activities like bribery became a mundane activity, and this catalyzed the rise and prominence of the mafia world. Since all the mobsters would conveniently bribe the policemen, judges and other influential people involved in law and enforcement into freeing from jails through giving them bribery. Thus, ensuring the safety of their lives and their family’s, so that were sure that the policemen would not budge from this agreement. This way no criminal was persecuted and thus continued to roam around in the American streets, ensuring that acts of corruption, murder, and bribery prevailed, thus showing the loss of political power of the notable leaders of America and extent of the control on the mobster in judicial and political matters.
Furthermore, one the most influential and powerful men of Al-Capone was Jake “Greasy Thumb” Guzik. Famous for being the financial wizard of the underworld, Guzik played an integral role in the prosperity of Capone (Sifakis 26). He was responsible for being a bagman for paying off law and enforcement agents like the policeman and influential politicians. He used to sit in St. Huberts Old English Grill and Chop House to distribute the payoffs/bribes to the district police officers, subordinates of politicians and sergeants of the law and enforcement department. Other clients who came to collect their bribes also included numerous Chicago mayors and their notable personalities. He was dedicated towards his financial duties that he even died while giving his payoffs to the politicians and police officers at the St. Hubert, and enjoying his lamb chops and Moselle. His commitment and expertise in the financial matters show how equipped the mafia world was bribing the government officials and nothing could stop them getting things done their way (Reuter 89).
Apart from Guzik, there were others who were also responsible for handling financial matters. Frank Costello had been noted to handle mob payoffs in New York. Followed by this Joe Cooney is also known for taking care of the bribing matters involving the police forces, thus earning the title of Joe the Coon. According to historical records, Joe used to send around $10,000 to the commissioner’s office almost every weekend, and this amount had doubled under the rule of mob kings, Joseph A. Warren and Grover A. Whalen. In analyzing this corruption scenario in America, one cannot just entirely blame the mafias for bribing the government officials and politicians. These greedy politicians and officials have themselves admitted that rejecting these bribes would be foolish of them because for them their amounts outweighed the consequences of corruption. Filling their bank accounts was more important than guaranteeing the safety of the inhabitants of Americans and its political activities. Mob activities were widespread to the extent that they had even reached the international market, thus allowing them to become a part of the political activities. The absence of sound and ethical police forces and officials had allowed the mobs to conduct their businesses publically, and thus giving them a free pass from getting charged for criminal activities like murder, robbery, gambling and continuation with illegitimate businesses (LaLumia 179).
Furthermore, these open bribing was not enough that the mafia even had their people working in the law and enforcement agencies like police departments (Marzulli). The most famous case of the corrupt New York City police detectives belonging to the Luchese crime family, Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa showed how conveniently the mafia had permeated in the police departments and planted their men there so that they could easily continue with their illegal activities without being uninterrupted. Getting paid around $4,000 per month from the Luchese underboss, Anthony (Gaspipe) Casso, the duo not only committed murders, extortion, racketeering, illegal gambling, and narcotics. But also obstructed the almost sound judicial system by passing along confidential police information to their mafia bosses, especially the Luchese crime family during the 1980’s and 1990’s. In the words of the prosecutor, Mitra Hormozi, they were not similar to the old-fashioned mobsters, who just stick to the underworld. These two had the added advantage of being a part of the police department, this allowing them to get away with all the heinous acts they had committed. They had the ideal give and took relationship with the underworld in which they got paid around $65,000 per murder by Casso, and in return they warned Casso of any future police visits (Marzulli), thus ensuring that his arrest was inevitable. Considering how they had committed eight murders, one can just imagine the amount of money both of them would have made through this double life. Followed by this, in 1986 (Marzulli) once they arrested a mafia named Jimmy Hydell and handed him to Casso because of some rivalry between them, and in turn got $30,000 for completing this task (Marzulli). Their cruelty and unethical behavior caused the death of an innocent man named, Nicholas Guido, who was mistaken for some mafia who had plotted to kill Casso. All these discrepancies in the police department had caused a lot of chaos, unrest, and distrust among the citizens.
The extent of Italian mob’s control and presence was remarkable. They had all the high officials of America locked up in their back pockets. They were well aware of the fact that this world revolved around money and anything could be achieved through the language of money. Thus they continued to allocate large amounts of money towards their racketeering issues. Since they had suffered at the hands of poverty once they migrated to America, so they knew that being well-equipped with a strong financial background would take them to places, which they could not have imagined before. Sadly, these were and still are the principles of politics and have been accepted by everyone, because it has been said numerous times that once you are in power, you are bound to be misuse that excessive supply of power, thus eventually becoming corrupt.
Italian-Based Organized Crime and its Effect on American Economy through its Takeover of Legitimate Businesses and its Illegal Operations in All Aspects of Racketeering
Not only had the Italian-Based organized crime taken over the American politics, but they had made a significant impact on the economy as well, especially through its control on the legitimate businesses and fair share in the illegal operations in all aspects of racketeering. According to the book “Gotham Unbound: How New York City Was Liberated from the Grip of Organized Crime,” between the 1920 and 1990, the Cosa Nostra had emerged as a significant economic power, which was accompanied by its insurmountable social status and uncompetitive political say in political matters.
Reading Jacob’s book gives you an insight of the industrial control of the mafia. In 1980’s, the industrial activities were mostly controlled by the five major organized-crime families, namely the Genovese, Gambino, Lucchese, Bonanno, and Colombo (Jacob 112). In the 20th century, the garment industry, it was further divided into the designers, contractors, and trucking companies. Not to our surprise, these were also under the influence of the underworld. The biggest example of the mob involvement was of the Colombo family, who had taken over the Master Truckmen of America, which was a clothing industry trucking cartel, thus easing their involvement in leading the trucks to their desired location for their personal business activities. Followed by this they had control over ILGWU Local 102, and the brokered contracts ILGWU had with garment industry of Chinatown. Moreover, they would exercise their illegal power over the fish shipments and threatened the vendors if they did not deliver fish to the families of the underworld first. This unfairness was further aided by the presence of the mafia’s people in the fish markets, who were responsible for the delivery of the fish stock. “Local 359” was the name given to the spies of the mafia working in the fish market. To get protection from any loss of product, the mob created the “Watchman’s Association Protection Racket.” Additionally, they had even stepped in the air-cargo industry, where the Lufthansa Heist drew a lot of attention. Since Cosa Nostra controlled a significant amount of trucking companies, so in 1978, Metropolitan Import Truckmen robbed the Lufthansa Airlines cargo hangar at the John F. Kennedy Airport and stole huge amounts of jewelry and cash. They had their men appointed as union officers, for example, Harry Davidoff was assigned by Jimmy Hoffa to run Local 295 as a favor for helping him take over International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT). Followed by this, they even had control over the exhibition trades at Javits Convention Center, hence giving them a share in their businesses as well. They had even reached the waste-hauling industry, through a very shrewd strategy. During that time, no external organization was interested in tasks like garbage picking in the United States, because of the presence of the underworld, thus making the sole owners of the waste-management system as well, for example, the P & S Sanitation Company in the Bronx. As mentioned before, they had successfully marked their territory in all the labor unions, thus smoothly permitting them in New York’s prominent construction sites.
Famous cases of mobsters like John Gotti and Philip Rastelli revealed that the underworld earned a significant amount of money through drug trafficking, which was also supported by the presence of their Swiss accounts (McFadden). Chief of Sicily’s Mafia and his partners were found guilty of running an international ring of heroin clients and money laundering activities in a pizza parlor. Prominent mobsters like John Grotti and Philip Rastelli were also charged with racketeering and labor racketeering respectively. According to authorities (MacNee 53), New York Commission, which is responsible for policy-making, is said to be ultimate mob control in the nation and which has significant mafia involvement. In 1980’s such measures allowed the mafia to enter globally as a host of legitimate businesses as well thus adding up to their income and share in the economics. Using the power of muscle has also helped them take over a lot of business tycoons. Their involvement in heroin, cocaine, and morphine has allowed them to expand to Turkey, Switzerland, and countries like Bermuda.
Italian-Based Organized Crime and its Social Effects, through New Growing Hate Towards all Italian-Americans from People of Other Ethnic Groups
Despite being influential in the major industries as well as the American politics, these Italians were still subjected to excessive racial and ethnic discrimination at the hands of white people. Even the innocent ones who had no involvement in criminal activities were labeled as mobsters and thus mistreated according to that.
The 1969 New York Mayoral Campaign was a clear depiction of the open racial discrimination existed against the Italians during that time (Lizzi 43). Anglo-Saxon Protestants like John Lindsay showed that a New Yorker could only be considered a minority or a white, pro-minority or a complete racist citizen, thus proving that there were no other distinctions. Notable running contenders like Mario Procaccino strongly agreed with the notion that the African Americans, as well as the Puerto Ricans, had been subjected to unjustified discrimination at the hands of the white people. Since Procaccino had managed to touch the hearts of the Italians, they had finally realized that they did not deserve this mistreatment and racial discrimination, thus leading them to not vote for leaders like George Wallace, who were not advocates of racial equality. Moreover, they also felt that this discrimination could be attributed towards their significant role in the mafia activities, thus destroying the overall image of the Italians. Hence, to stand up against this ongoing discrimination, a political group by the name of Italian-American Civil Rights League was found by a mafia called Joseph Colombo in 1970. This group was responsible for eliminating the stereotypical image of Italians in New York and thus started with charging the FBI for targeting the Italians for being a part of the Cosa Nostra and even went on to deny its mere existence. They even took extreme measures like boycotted multi-national companies like Alka-Seltzer, Ford Motor Company, and United States Attorney General John Mitchell to avoid the public mentioning of words like the “mafia,” “mobster” and “Underworld.” Despite their warnings, Ford went on to fund a T.V show called the F.B.I, which openly portrayed Puerto Ricans as people who could only adopt the role of mobsters, mafias, and gangsters. Due to this Italian-American Civil Rights League finished all ties with Ford. Such behavior, primarily in their defense, subjected them to having conservative characteristics. Moreover, numerous movies and shows have been created to this date that depicts Italians as mafias, lords of the underworld, or illegal immigrants, and when they react to it, then they are depicted as being too sensitive. It is funny how all the Italian Americans have been characterized as mafias, despite their living standards and innocence (LaGumina 34).
Moreover, in their defense, Italian-Americans like Joe DiMaggio, Frank Sinatra, Fiorello H. La Guardia, Lido A. Iacocca, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, Eleanor Cutri Smeal and Andrea Cuomo are just a few of the people who have accomplished so much, thus providing a different angle of the Italian-Americans (Hall).
Rising just like their Roman Legions and then permeating into the American culture, Italian-based organized crime has had a significant impact on America politically, economically as well as socially. Their role as mafias has altered the way people used to view Italian Americans and the way the judicial system operates. Despite being subjected to excessive bribery and corruption, the judicial system has managed to survive and aims at ensuring equality for all law-abiding citizens. The justice system is still working on implementing laws to remove the aftermath of the era of Italian-based organized crime and continue to strengthen its control over American businesses and remove the persisting rifts between the Americans and Italian-Americans.
Hall, Stephen S. “Italian-Americans Coming Into Their Own.” The New York Times . The New
York Times, 14 May 1983. Web. 22 May 2017.
Jacobs, James B. Gotham Unbound: How New York City was Liberated from the Grip of
Organized Crime . New York: New York University Press, 1999. Print.
LaGumina, Salvatore J. WOP!: A Documentary History of Anti-Italian Discrimination in the
United-States . Lancaster: Guernica, 1999. Print.
Lalumia, Joseph. “”Mafia” as a Political Mentality.” Social Theory and Practice 7.2 (1981): 179
92. JSTOR . Web. 22 May 2017.
Lizzi, Maria C. “‘My heart is as black as yours’: white backlash, racial identity, and Italian
American stereotypes in New York city’s 1969 mayoral campaign.” Journal of American
Ethnic History , vol. 27, no. 3, 2008, p. 43+. General Reference Center GOLD . Accessed
21 May 2017.
MacNee, Marie J., and Jane Hoehner. Outlaws, Mobsters & Crooks: From the Old West to the
Internet . Detroit: UXL, 1998. 3 Vols. Print.
Marzulli, John, and Larry D Mcshane. “‘Mafia Cops’ Sentenced to Life behind Bars.” NY Daily
News . Daily News Staff Writers, 07 Mar. 2009. Web. 21 May 2017.
McFadden, Robert D. “The Mafia of the 1980’s: Divided and Under Seige.” The New York
Times . The New York Times, 10 Mar. 1987,
r-seige.html Web. 21 May 2017.
Reuter, Peter. “The decline of the American Mafia.” Public Interest , no. 120, 1995, p. 89+.
General Reference Center GOLD ,
7CA17379694&it=r&asid=d1d62eb8d4d30044c1661f9d235faa95. Accessed 21 May
Sifakis, Carl. The Mafia Encyclopedia. New York: Facts On File, 2005. Print.
The Making of the Mob: New York . Dir. John Earlier. AMC Studios, 2013. AMC . 15 June 2015.
Web. 20 May 2017.