Bramuda’s Blog


Posted on: November 15, 2008


The Sicilian Mafia, or simply Mafia, or even more correctly Cosa Nostra, is a criminal secret society of men which first developed in the mid-19th century in Sicily. An offshoot emerged on the East Coast of the United States during the late 19th century following waves of Sicilian emigration (see also Italian diaspora).

A dictionary of the Italian language – the Devoto-Oli – describes mafia as: “A complex of small clandestine associations (the cosche: gangs) governed by a code of silence (the omertà) and being in control of some business activities and of party patronage in the administration of the Region of Sicily“.

According to historian Paolo Pezzino: “The mafia is a kind of organized crime being active not only in several illegal fields, but also tending to exercise sovereignty functions – normally belonging to public authorities – over a specific territory […]. It is therefore a form of criminality implying some conditions: the existence of a modern state claiming the exclusive right to legitimate monopoly over violence; an economy that is free of feudal bonds […]; the existence of violent people able to operate on their own, imposing their mediation even on the ruling classes”.[1]

Origin of the term ‘mafia’

The word “mafia” is derived from the old Sicilian adjective “mafiusu” which has its roots in the Arabic mahjas, meaning “aggressive boasting, bragging”. Roughly translated it means “swagger”, but can also be translated as “boldness, bravado”. In reference to a man, “mafiusu” in 19th-century Sicily was ambiguous, signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising, and proud, according to scholar Diego Gambetta.[2]

The connotation of the word with the criminal secret society was made by the 1863 play I mafiusi di la Vicaria, ‘The Beautiful (people) of Vicaria’, by Giuseppe Rizzotto and Gaetano Mosca, which is about criminal gangs in the Palermo prison. The words “Mafia” or “mafiusi” (plural for “mafiusu”) are never mentioned in the play, and were probably put in the title because it would add local flair.

The association between “mafiusi” and criminal gangs was made by the association the play’s title made with the criminal gangs that were new to Sicilian and Italian society at the time. Consequently, the word “mafia” was generated from a fictional source loosely inspired by the real thing and was used by outsiders to describe it. The use of the term “mafia” was subsequently taken over in the Italian state’s early reports on the phenomenon. The word “mafia” made its first official appearance in 1865 in a report by the prefect of Palermo, the marquis Filippo Antonio Gualterio.

Leopoldo Franchetti, an Italian deputy who travelled to Sicily and who wrote one of the first authoritative reports on the mafia in 1876, described the designation of the term ‘Mafia’: “the term mafia found a class of violent criminals ready and waiting for a name to define them, and, given their special character and importance in Sicilian society, they had the right to a different name from that defining vulgar criminals in other countries”.

Some observers have seen “mafia” as a set of positive attributes deeply rooted in popular culture, as a “way of being”, as illustrated in the definition by the Sicilian ethnographer, Giuseppe Pitrè, at the end of the 19th century: “Mafia is the consciousness of one’s own worth, the exaggerated concept of individual force as the sole arbiter of every conflict, of every clash of interests or ideas.” [3]

Many Sicilians did not regard these men as criminals but as role models and protectors, given that the state appeared to offer no protection of the poor and weak. As late as the 1950s, the funeral epitaph of the legendary boss of Villalba, Calogero Vizzini, stated that “his ‘mafia’ was not criminal, but stood for respect of the law, defense of all rights, greatness of character. It was love.” Here, “mafia” means something like pride, honor, or even social responsibility: an attitude, not an organization. Likewise, in 1925, the former Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emanuele Orlando stated in the Italian senate that he was proud of being “mafioso”, because that word meant honorable, noble, generous.

The real name: “Cosa Nostra”

According to some mafiosi, the real name of the Mafia is Cosa Nostra (literally “our thing”), meaning ‘our world, tradition, values’. Many have claimed, as did the Mafia turncoat Tommaso Buscetta, that the word “mafia” was a literary creation. Other Mafia defectors, such as Antonio Calderone and Salvatore Contorno, said the same thing. According to them, the real thing was “cosa nostra”. To men of honour belonging to the organization, there is no need to name it. Mafiosi introduce known members to other known members as belonging to “cosa nostra” (our thing) or “la stessa cosa” (the same thing). Only the outside world needs a name to describe it, hence the capitalized version of the words: Cosa Nostra.

Rituals of Sicilian Cosa Nostra

The orientation ritual in most families happens when a man becomes an associate, and then, a soldier. As described by Tommaso Buscetta to judge Giovanni Falcone, the neophyte is brought together with at least three “men of honor” of the family and the oldest member present warns him that “this House” is meant to protect the weak against the abuse of the powerful; he then pricks the finger of the initiate and spills his blood onto a sacred image, usually of a saint. The image is placed in the hand of the initiate and lit on fire. The neophyte must withstand the pain of the burning, passing the image from hand to hand, until the image has been consumed, while swearing to keep faith with the principles of “Cosa Nostra,” solemnly swearing “may my flesh burn like this saint if I fail to keep my oath.”

The Sicilians also have a law of silence, called omertà; it forbids the common man, woman or child to cooperate at all with the police or the government, even if the woman knows the name of her husband’s killer.

History of Sicilian Cosa Nostra


It has long been debated as to whether or not the mafia has medieval origins. Deceased pentito Tommaso Buscetta thought so, whilst modern scholars now believe otherwise. It is possible that the ‘original’ mafia formed as a secret society sworn to protect the Sicilian population from the threat of Spanish marauders in the fifteenth Century. However, there is very little historical evidence to suggest this. It is also feasible that this ‘Robin Hood‘ myth was perpetuated by the earliest known mafiosi as a means of gaining goodwill and trust from the Sicilian people.

After the revolutions of 1848 and 1860, Sicily had fallen to complete disorder. The earliest mafiosi, then separate, small bands of outlaws, offered their guns in the revolt. Author John Dickie claims that the main reasons for this were the chance to burn police records and evidence, and to kill off police and pentiti in the chaos. However, once a new government was established in Rome and it became clear that the mafia would be unable to execute these actions, they began refining their methods and techniques over the latter half of the nineteenth century. Protecting the large lemon groves and estates of local nobility became a lucrative but dangerous business. Palermo was initially the main area of these activities, but the Sicilian mafia’s dominance soon spread over all of western Sicily. In order to strengthen the bond between the disparate gangs and so ensure greater profits and a safer working environment, it is possible that the mafia as such was formed at this time in about the mid-nineteenth century.

Mafia after the unification of Italy

From 1860, the year when the new unified Italian state first took over both Sicily and the Papal states, the Popes were hostile to the new state. From 1870, the Pope declared himself besieged by the Italian state and strongly encouraged Catholics to refuse to cooperate with the state. In mainland Italy this took a peaceful character. Sicily was strongly Roman Catholic, but in a strongly tribal way rather than an intellectually informed way, and had a tradition of suspicion of outsiders. The friction between the Church and the Italian state gave a great advantage to violent criminal bands in Sicily who could claim to peasants and townspeople that cooperating with the police (representing the new Italian state) was an anti-Catholic action. It was in the two decades following the 1860 unification of Italy that the term Mafia came to the attention of the general public, although it was considered to be more of an attitude and value system than an organization.

The first mention in official law documentation of the ‘mafia’ came in the late 1800’s, when a Dr. Galati was subject to threats of violence from a local mafiosi, who was attempting to oust Galati from his own lemon grove in order to move himself in. Protection rackets, cattle rustling and bribery of state officials were the main sources of income and protection for the early mafia. Cosa Nostra also borrowed heavily from masonic oaths and rituals, such as the now famous initiation ceremony.

Fascist era

During the Fascist period in Italy, Cesare Mori, prefect of Palermo, used special powers granted to him to prosecute the Mafia, forcing many Mafiosi to flee abroad or risk being jailed. Many of the Mafiosi who escaped fled to the United States, among them Joseph Bonanno, nicknamed Joe Bananas, who came to dominate the U.S. branch of the Mafia. However, when Mori started to persecute the Mafiosi involved in the Fascist hierarchy, he was removed, and the Fascist authorities proclaimed that the Mafia had been defeated. Despite his assault on their brethren, Mussolini had his fans in the New York Mafia, notably Vito Genovese.

The post-war revival

After Fascism, the Mafia did not become powerful in Italy again until after the country’s surrender in World War II and the U.S. occupation. The United States used the Italian connection of the American Mafiosi during the invasion of Italy and Sicily in 1943. Lucky Luciano and other members of the Mafia, who had been imprisoned during this time in the U.S., provided information for U.S. military intelligence and used Luciano’s influence to ease the way for advancing American troops.[4]

The U.S. Office of Strategic Services, precursor to the CIA, deliberately allowed the mafia to recover its social and economic position as the “anti-State” in Sicily, and with the U.S.-mafia alliance forged in 1943, this became the true turning point of mafia history and the new foundation for its subsequent 60-year career. Others, such as the Palermitan historian Francesco Renda, have argued that there was no such alliance. Rather, the mafia exploited the chaos of post-fascist Sicily to reconquer its social base. The OSS indeed, in its 1944 “Report on the Problem of Mafia” by the agent W. E. Scotten, pointed to the signs of mafia resurgence and warned of its perils for social order and economic progress.

An alleged additional benefit (from the American perspective) was that many of the Sicilian-Italian Mafiosi were hard-line anti-communists. They were therefore seen as valuable allies by the anti-communist Americans, who allegedly used them to root out socialist and communist elements in the American shipping industry as well as wartime resistance movements and postwar local and regional governments in areas where the Mafia held sway.[citation needed]

According to drug trade expert Dr. Alfred W. McCoy, Luciano was permitted to run his crime network from his jail cell in exchange for his assistance. After the war, Luciano was rewarded by being released from prison and deported to Italy, where he was able to continue his criminal career unhindered. He went to Sicily in 1946 to continue his activities and according to McCoy’s landmark 1972 book The Politics of Heroin in South-East Asia, Luciano went on to forge a crucial alliance with the Corsican Mafia, leading to the development of a vast international heroin trafficking network, initially supplied from Turkey and based in Marseille — the so-called “French Connection“.

Later, when Turkey began to eliminate its opium production, he used his connections with the Corsicans to open a dialogue with expatriate Corsican mafiosi in South Vietnam. In collaboration with leading American mob bosses including Santo Trafficante Jr., Luciano and his successors took advantage of the chaotic conditions in Southeast Asia arising from the Vietnam War to establish an unassailable supply and distribution base in the “Golden Triangle“, which was soon funneling huge amounts of Asian heroin into the United States, Australia and other countries via the U.S. military. [5]

The modern Mafia

In the 1980s and 1990s, however, a series of internecine “gang wars” led to many prominent Mafia members being murdered, and a new generation of mafiosi has placed more emphasis on “white-collar” criminal activity as opposed to more traditional racketeering enterprises. In reaction to these developments, the Italian press has come up with the phrase Cosa Nuova (“the new thing”, a play on Cosa Nostra) to refer to the revamped organization.

Salvatore Riina

Salvatore Riina

The main split in the Sicilian Mafia at present is between those bosses who have been convicted and are now in jail, chiefly Salvatore ‘Totò’ Riina and Leoluca Bagarella, and those such as the recently caught capo di tutti capi Bernardo Provenzano, who are on the run, or who have not been indicted. The incarcerated bosses are currently subjected to harsh controls on their contact with the outside world, limiting their ability to run their operations from behind bars under the Italian law 41 bis. Antonino Giuffrè – a close confidant of Provenzano, turned pentito shortly after his capture in 2002 – alleges that in 1993, Cosa Nostra had direct contact with representatives of Silvio Berlusconi while he was planning the birth of Forza Italia.

The deal that he says was alleged to have been made was a repeal of 41 bis, among other anti-Mafia laws in return for electoral deliverances in Sicily. Giuffrè’s declarations have not been confirmed. The Italian Parliament, with the support of Forza Italia, extended the enforcement of 41 bis, which was to expire in 2002 but has been prolonged for another four years and extended to other crimes such as terrorism. However, according to one of Italy’s leading magazines, L’Espresso, 119 mafiosi – one-fifth of those incarcerated under the 41 bis regime – have been released on an individual basis. [1] The human rights group Amnesty International has expressed concern that the 41-bis regime could in some circumstances amount to “cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment” for prisoners.

Prominent Sicilian mafiosi

Law enforcement in Sicily

In Sicily there has been a long history of police, prosecutors and judges being murdered by the Mafia in an attempt to discourage vigorous policing. The Italian government officials who were assassinated because of their attempts in bringing the Mafia to justice are called Excellent Cadavers.

There is some evidence that in Sicily, law enforcement seems to be finally gaining the upper hand over the Mafia organizations, through stronger laws and the breaking down of the “code of silence” or “Omertà“. A huge help in fighting the military side of the Mafia has been provided by many so-called pentiti (Mafia members who dissociated for a milder judicial treatment), like Tommaso Buscetta.

In recent decades, one of the most famous figures in Sicily in the context of the Mafia has been Totò Riina, who in 1992 ordered the murder of the magistrates/prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino.

Recently, former Italian Prime Minister, Giulio Andreotti (Democrazia Cristiana) stood judicially accused of relationships with the Mafia, but the case partially collapsed because of the expiry of the statute of limitations. In more detail, the trial court stated that proof of relationships with the Mafia did not exist for the period after 1980. On the other hand, the trial court, and the appeal, stated that his connection with the Mafia had been constant and well-documented until the early 1980s.

Structure of the Sicilian Cosa Nostra

Known as the Honored Society among Mafiosi, the chain of command is organized in a pyramid similar to a modern corporate structure.

Traditional terminology

  1. Capo di Tutti Capi (the “Boss of All Bosses”, namely Matteo Messina Denaro for the Sicilian Mafia and Renato Gagliano for the Sacra Corona Unita; not applicable to the American Mafia)
  2. Capo di Capi Re (a title of respect given to a senior or retired member, equivalent to being a member emeritus, literally, “King Boss of Bosses”)
  3. Capo Crimine (“Crime Boss”, known as a Don – the head of a crime family)
  4. Capo Bastone (“Beat Head”, known as the “Underboss” is second in command to the Capo Crimini)
  5. Consigliere (an advisor)
  6. Caporegime (“Regime head”, a captain who commands a “crew” of around ten Sgarriste or “soldiers”)
  7. Sgarrista or Soldati (“Soldier”, made members of the Mafia who serve primarily as foot soldiers)
  8. Picciotto (“Little man”, a low ranking member who serves as an “enforcer”)
  9. Giovane D’Onore (an associate member, usually someone not of Italian or Sicilian ancestry)

Sicilian Mafia structure

  1. Capofamiglia – (Don)
  2. Consigliere – (Counselor/Advisor)
  3. Sotto Capo – (Underboss)
  4. Capodecina – (Group Boss/Capo)
  5. Uomini D’onore – (“Men of Honor”)

American Cosa Nostra

The Sicilian Mafia’s power in the United States peaked in the mid-20th century, until a series of FBI investigations in the 1970s and 1980s reduced the Mafia’s influence. Despite its decline, the Mafia continues to be the most dominant criminal organization operating in the U.S. and uses this status to maintain control over much of both Chicago’s and New York City’s organized criminal activity. The Mafia and its reputation have become entrenched in American popular culture, being portrayed in movies, TV shows, commercial advertising and even video games.

The American Mafia, specifically the Five Families, has its roots in the Sicilian Mafia, but has been a separate organization in the United States for many years. Today, American Cosa Nostra cooperates in various criminal activities with the different Italian organized crime groups which are headquartered in Italy. It is wrongly known as the “original Mafia”, although it was neither the oldest criminal organization, nor the first to act in the U.S. In 1986, according to government reports, it was estimated that there are 1,700 members of “La Cosa Nostra” and thousands of associate members. Reports also are said to include the Italian-American Mafia as the largest organized crime group in the United States and continues to hold dominance over the National Crime Syndicate, despite the increasing numbers of street gangs and other organizations of neither Italian nor Sicilian ethnicity. American Cosa Nostra is most active in the New York metropolitan area, Philadelphia, New England, Detroit, and Chicago, but has members in many other major cities around the United States and also participates in international criminal activities.


Origins: The Black Hand

Mafia groups in the United States first became influential in the New York City area, gradually progressing from small neighborhood operations to citywide and eventually international organizations. The mafia started with the “The Black Hand“, extorting Italians (and other immigrants) around New York city. Black Hand gangsters would threaten them by mail if their extortion demands were not met. They might “decorate” the threats with a hand covered in black ink at the bottom of the page. As more Sicilian gangsters immigrated to the U.S., they expanded their criminal activities from extortion to loan-sharking, prostitution, drugs and alcohol, robbery, kidnapping, and murder.

Giuseppe Esposito was the first known Sicilian Mafia member to emigrate to the United States. He and six other Sicilians fled to New York after murdering eleven wealthy landowners as well as the chancellor and a vice chancellor of a Sicilian province. He was arrested in New Orleans in 1881 and extradited to Italy.

New Orleans was also the site of the first Mafia incident in the United States that received both national and international attention. On October 15, 1890, New Orleans Police Superintendent David Hennessey was murdered execution-style. Hundreds of Sicilians were arrested, and nineteen were eventually indicted for the murder. An acquittal followed and with it came rumors of bribed and intimidated witnesses. The outraged citizens of New Orleans organized a lynch mob and proceeded to kill eleven of the nineteen defendants. Two were hanged, nine were shot, and the remaining eight escaped[2]. In the 1910s and 1920s in New York City, the Sicilian Mafia developed into the Five Points Gang.

[edit] The rising: the Prohibition

Charles "Lucky" Luciano, one of the most famous American bosses

Charles “Lucky” Luciano, one of the most famous American bosses

Mafia activities were restricted until 1920, when they exploded because of the introduction of the prohibition. Al Capone’s Syndicate in 1920s ruled Chicago.

By the end of the 1920s, two factions of organized crime had emerged, causing the Castellamarese war for control of organized crime in New York City. With the murder of Joseph Masseria, the leader of one of the factions, the war ended uniting the two sides back into one organization now dubbed Cosa Nostra. Salvatore Maranzano, the first leader of American Mafia, was himself murdered within six months and Charles “Lucky” Luciano became the new leader. Maranzano had established the code of conduct for the organization, set up the “family” divisions and structure, and established procedures for resolving disputes. Luciano set up the “Commission” to rule their activities. The Commission included bosses from six or seven families.


In 1951, a U.S. Senate Committee, led by Democratic Tennessee Senator Estes Kefauver, determined that a “sinister criminal organization” also known as the Mafia operated around the United States.

In 1957, the New York State Police uncovered a meeting of major American Cosa Nostra figures from around the country in the small upstate New York town of Apalachin. This gathering has become known as the Apalachin Conference. Many of the attendees were arrested and this event was the catalyst that changed the way law enforcement battles organized crime. This war continues today.

In 1963, Joseph Valachi became the first American Cosa Nostra member to provide a detailed look at the inside of the organization. Having been recruited by FBI Special Agents, and testifying before the US Senate McClellan Committee, Valachi exposed the name, structure, power bases, codes, swearing-in ceremony, and members of this organization. All of this had been secret up to this point.

Today Cosa Nostra is involved in a broad spectrum of illegal activities. These include murder, extortion, drug trafficking, corruption of public officials, gambling, infiltration of legitimate businesses, labor racketeering, loan sharking, prostitution, pornography, tax fraud schemes, and most notably today, stock manipulation schemes.


The Mafia had eventually expanded to twenty-six crime families nationwide in the major cities of the United States, with the center of organized crime based in New York. After many turf wars, the Five Families ended up dominating New York, named after prominent early members: the Bonanno family, the Colombo family, the Gambino family, the Genovese family, and the Lucchese family. These families held underground conferences with other mafia notables like Joe Porrello from Cleveland, and other gang leaders, such as Al Capone.

  • Boss – The head of the family, usually reigning as a dictator, sometimes called the “don”, or “godfather”. The Boss receives a cut of every operation taken on by every member of his family. Depending on the Family, the Boss may be chosen by a vote from the Caporegimes of the family. In the event of a tie, the Underboss must vote. In the past, all the members of a Family voted on the Boss, but by the late 1950s, any gathering that large attracted too much attention. [7]
  • Underboss – The Underboss, usually appointed by the Boss, is the second in command of the family. The Underboss is considered the Boss that is in charge of all of the other Capos, who is controlled by the Boss. The Underboss is usually first in line to become Acting Boss if the Boss is imprisoned or dies.
  • Consigliere – Consigliere is an advisor to the family. They are often low profile gangsters that can be trusted. They are used as a mediator of disputes or representatives or aids in meetings with other Families. They often keep the Family looking as legitimate as possible, and are, themselves, legitimate apart from some minor gambling or loan sharking. Often Consiglieres are lawyers or stock brokers, are trusted and have a close friendship or relationship with the Don. They usually do not have crew of their own, but still wield great power in the Family. They are also often the liaison between the Don and important ‘bought’ figures, such as politicians or Judges.
  • Caporegime (or Capo)- A Capo (sometimes called a Captain) is in charge of a crew. There are usually four to six crews in each family, possibly even seven to nine crews, each one consisting of up to ten Soldiers. Capos run their own small family, but must follow the limitations and guidelines created by the Boss, as well as pay him his cut of their profits. Capos are nominated by the Underboss, but typically chosen by the Boss himself.
  • Soldier – Soldiers are members of the family, and can only be of Sicilian background. Soldiers start as Associates that have proven themselves. When the books are open, meaning that there is an open spot in the family, a Capo (or several Capos) may recommend an up-and-coming Associate to be a new member. In the case that there is only one slot and multiple recommendations, the Boss will decide. The new member usually becomes part of the Capo’s crew that recommended him.
  • Associate – An Associate is not a member of the mob, but more of an errand boy. They’re usually a go-between or sometimes deal in drugs to keep the heat off the actual members. In other cases, an associate might be a corrupt labor union delegate or businessman. [8] Non-Sicilians will never go any further than this. However, occasionally an associate will become powerful within his own family, for example Joe Watts, a close associate of John Gotti.

The way the American mafia was controlled and the system of the mafia was created by Salvatore Maranzano (who became the first “capo di tutti capi” in the US. Though he was killed after holding the position in only six months, by Lucky Luciano). Most recently there have been two new positions in the family leadership, the family messenger and Street Boss. These positions were created by former Genovese leader Vincent Gigante.

Each faction was headed by a caporegime, who reported to the boss. When the boss made a decision, he never issued orders directly to the soldiers who would carry it out, but instead passed instructions down through the chain of command. In this way, the higher levels of the organization were effectively insulated from incrimination if a lower level member should be captured by law enforcement. This structure is depicted in Mario Puzo’s famous novel The Godfather.


The initiation ritual emerged from various sources, such as Catholic confraternities and Masonic Lodges in mid-nineteenth century Sicily[9] and has hardly changed to this day. The Chief of Police of Palermo in 1875 reported that the man of honor to be initiated would be led into the presence of a group of bosses and underbosses. One of these men would prick the initiate’s arm or hand and tell him to smear the blood onto a sacred image, usually a saint. The oath of loyalty would be taken as the image was burned and scattered, thus symbolising the annihilation of traitors. This was confirmed by the first pentito, Tommaso Buscetta.

A hit, or assassination, of a “made” man had to be preapproved by the leadership of his family, or retaliatory hits would be made, possibly inciting a war. In a state of war, families would go to the mattresses — rent vacant apartments and have a number of soldiers sleeping on mattresses on the floor in shifts, with the others ready at the windows to fire at members of rival families.

Joint projects of the U.S. government and the Mafia

The United States government has conspired with organized crime figures to assassinate foreign heads of state. In August 1960, Colonel Sheffield Edwards, director of the CIA’s Office of Security, proposed the assassination of Cuban head of state Fidel Castro by mafia assassins. Between August 1960 and April 1961, the CIA, with the help of the Mafia, pursued a series of plots to poison or shoot Castro (CIA, Inspector General’s Report on Efforts to Assassinate Fidel Castro, p. 3, 14, archived at: Those allegedly involved included Sam Giancana, Carlos Marcello, Santo Trafficante, Jr., and John Roselli.

During World War II, the US government, worried about sabotage on the ports and shipyards of New York, made a deal with high level members of the mafia. In return for the freedom of Lucky Luciano, the mafia would use their influence with the dockworkers and underworld connections to ensure the safety and continued use of the ports.

Law enforcements in the U.S.

In several Mafia families, killing a state authority is strictly forbidden, and even conspiring to commit such a murder is punishable by death. The mobster Dutch Schultz was reportedly killed by his peers out of fear that he would carry out a plan to kill New York City prosecutor Thomas Dewey.

The Mafia began a steep decline in the late-1970s and early 1980s due in part to laws, such as the RICO Act that made it a crime to belong to an organization that performed illegal acts, and to programs such as the witness protection program. This was followed by a resurgence in the late 1980s into the 1990s as the Mafia sought out new avenues of revenue. These factors, combined with the modest dissolution of the distinct Italian-American community through death, intermarriage, the lack of continued Italian immigration, and cultural assimilation, resulted in the appearance of a reduced Mafia presence in the United States.

In the mid-20th century, the Mafia was reputed to have infiltrated many labor unions in the United States, notably the Teamsters, whose president Jimmy Hoffa disappeared and is widely rumored to have been killed by the Mafia. In the 1980s, the United States federal government made a determined effort to remove Mafia influence from labor unions.

Today, the Mafia is still the dominant organized crime group in the United States, but its power and influence continues to decline due to aggressive FBI investigations which have led to mob informants, violation of mob rules, family infighting, and death or imprisonment of its top leaders. Recent setbacks include relentless prosecution of the Five Families and arrests of the Chicago Outfit’s hierarchy.

According to Selwyn Raab, author of “Five Families: The Rise, Decline, and Resurgence of America’s Most Powerful Mafia Empires”, after 9/11 the FBI has redirected most of its attention to finding terrorists, which led to a resurgence of Mafia activity in the U.S.

The Mafia in the American popular culture

For a long time, the Mafia has been a topic of movies, books and other media.

See also: List of Mafia movies

hoods to their rise in the world of organized crime. As their crime empire expands, they have to deal with many problems, including their own differing opinions on how to run their business, the local Godfather, and the psychotic Mad Dog Coll.

  • The New Orleans Mafia was linked to the Kennedy assassination in Oliver Stone’s film JFK.[10]
  • Mafia is a video game based on two Mafia families feuding with one-another.
  • Noir, an anime series featured the Mafia in episodes 8-9.
  • Two Batman graphic novels by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, showcase the slow changeover of power in the criminal underworld of Gotham City, with the traditional Mafia families becoming overshadowed by Batman’s Rogues Gallery.
  • Another DC comics character, Helena Bertinelli, aka The Huntress, is the daughter of a Mafia family, who became a costumed crimefighter after her family was killed in a hit by a rival gang. She would later infiltrate the Gotham Mafia as a Capo, and provide Batman with an “Atlas of organized crime”, prompting him to compliment her for the first time ever.

The Saint Valentines Day Massacre – The film traces the history of the incident, and the lives affected and in some cases ended by it.

It has been noted for its relationship to the movie Goodfellas. Both movies are based upon the life of Henry Hill, although the character is renamed to “Vincent ‘Vinnie’ Antonelli” in My Blue Heaven. In some ways My Blue Heaven is a sequel to Goodfellas, as Goodfellas ends with Hill’s dissatisfaction with life in the Witness Protection Program, while My Blue Heaven starts out Hill’s life after the move. Goodfellas stays much closer to the facts of Hill’s life, but a lot of Hill’s experiences are reflected in the latter film (in an addition, My Blue Heaven flashes title cards on the screen listing the chapter headings in Hill’s books.) While Goodfellas was based upon the book Wiseguys by Nicholas Pileggi, the screenplay for My Blue Heaven was written by Pileggi’s wife, Nora Ephron, and much of the research for both works was done in the same sessions with Hill. The movie was filmed primarily in the California city of San Luis Obispo and the surrounding area.


  • Mafioso. A history of the Mafia from its origins to the present day (1976) Gaia Servadio, Secker & Warburg
  • The Sicilian Mafia: The Business of Private Protection (1993), Diego Gambetta, Harvard University Press, ISBN 0-674-80742-1
  • Cosa Nostra. A history of the Sicilian Mafia (2004) John Dickie, Coronet, ISBN 0-340-82435-2
  • Organized Crime: An Inside Guide to the World’s Most Successful Industry (2004) Paul Lunde, ISBN 0-7894-9648-8
  • Cigar City Mafia: A Complete History of the Tampa Underworld (2004), Scott M. Deitche, Barricade Books ISBN 1-56980-266-1
  • Excellent Cadavers (1995) Alexander Stille, Vintage ISBN 0-679-76863-7
  • Io e la mafia: la verita’ di Giulio Andreotti by Antonio Nicaso, Monteleone Editore, 1985.
  • Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002

The Last Don – By Mario Puzo The Godfather – By Mario Puzo Omerta – By Mario Puzo The Sicilian – By Mario Puzo The fortunate Pilgrim – By Mario Puzo

See also


  1. ^ The mafia, by Domenico Airoma]
  2. ^ This etymology is based on the books Mafioso by Gaia Servadio, The Sicilian Mafia by Diego Gambetta, and Cosa Nostra by John Dickie (see books).
  3. ^ Giuseppe Pitrè, ‘Usi e costumi, credenze e pregiudizi del popolo siciliano’, Palermo 1889
  4. ^ “The wartime collaboration of Sicilian-born Salvatore “Lucky” Luciano with the United States Navy may have made the Allied invasion of Sicily smoother than it otherwise would have been, but the Iron Prefect’s enforcement of the Duce’s laws had already made most mafiosi sympathetic to the American cause, or at least hostile to the Fascist one.” The Mafia from
  5. ^ The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, by Alfred W. McCoy with Cathleen B. Read and Leonard P. Adams II, 1972, ISBN 06-012901-8
  6. ^ ‘Top Mafia boss’ caught in Italy
  7. ^ Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002
  8. ^ Capeci, Jerry. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to the Mafia. Indianapolis: Alpha Books, 2002
  9. ^ “Mafia’s arcane rituals, and much of the organization’s structure, were based largely on those of the Catholic confraternities and even Freemasonry, colored by Sicilian familial traditions and even certain customs associated with military-religious orders of chivalry like the Order of Malta.” The Mafia from
  10. ^ “The New Orleans family is famous for its possible involvement in the murder of President John F. Kennedy along with the Dallas, TX faction of LCN. The Oliver Stone movie JFK (Kennedy) focuses on the possibility of a conspiracy and also the Mafia’s involvement in the assassination.” New Orleans, LA. 26 Mafia Cities – New Orleans, LA. Retrieved on June 19, 2005.

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