Organized Crime in America Joanne Klein March 8, 1996 Period 4 One morning, as Mario Luigi opens his family-owned shoe store, a small envelope on the ground catches his eye. He immediately knows what it is-another black hand letter from the Mafia. "If this goes on much longer, I will surely go out of business," he thinks angrily. "Immigrating to America did me no good. The Mafia is everywhere." One of the reasons immigrants came to America was to escape criminal organizations like the Mafia. The Mafia is a secret, terrorist organization that began in Naples, in southern Italy.
From Naples, the Mafia spread first to the island of Sicily, off the toe of the Italian boot. After ruling there for many centuries, the Mafia spread to America in the 1870 s and 1880 s, when it was brought over from Italy and southeastern Europe by immigrants. The immigrants brought with them their traditions of violence, crime and secret criminal organizations. Although most immigrants were honest and hard-working, looking for a new start and a better life, some immigrants from Italy belonged to the Mafia and other criminal organizations. Like Mario Luigi, many Italian immigrants received a "Black Hand" letter. Black Hand letters were a type of blackmail used by the Mafia to demand money.
The letters were marked with drawings of a dagger, pistol or other lethal weapon. If the letter was paid off, there would be no trouble until the next letter. However, if the letter was not paid off, theimmigrant's store or business could be wrecked, a member of their family could be assaulted, or the immigrant himself could be killed. In an actual case, a wealthy Brooklyn butcher named Gaetano Costa received a Black Hand letter in 1905 saying, "You have more money than we have. We know of your wealth and that you are alone in this country. We want $1, 000 which you are to put in a loaf of bread and hand to a man who comes in to buy meat and pulls out a red handkerchief.
Costa refused, and as a result one morning some Mafia members came into his store and shot him to death. Witnesses to the crime couldn't risk their lives today anything about it. They were bound by the Omerta code of silence, which literally means the "ability to act like a man." You might be wondering where the term "Mafia" comes from. Historians say the Mafia began in the 13 th century when Italy was fighting the French Angevins. Their slogan was "Morte alla Francia, Italia Anel a!" This means "Death to the French is Italy's Cry!" The word Mafia comes from the first letter of each word in the slogan. However, the American Mafiosi do not agree.
They say the term Mafia came from when a French soldier raped a Palermo maiden on her wedding day, Easter Monday, 1282. Consequently, angry Sicilians struck back by killing an entire French troop. More Sicilians joined in, going from town to town killing the French and raping their daughters. "Mafia" became their name when hysterical mothers ran out in the streets screaming, "Ma fia, ma fia!" ("My daughter, my daughter!" ). Another organization connected to organized crime is the Camorra. Like the Mafia, the Camorra originally spread from Naples to Sicily.
They too ruled parts of the island for many centuries. The Camorra also enforced the Omerta code so well that no witness to a crime dared say a word for fear of being killed. In America, the police knew very little about organized crime because of the Omerta code. Police even thought the Black Hand letters came from a Black Hand Society, instead of the Mafia or the Camorra.
Lieutenant Joseph Petrosino was the first American to realize that crime was organized and very dangerous. Lieutenant Petrosino was a stocky, 5 8 man with a round head, slightly pock marked face, and black eyes. He was born in the coastal town of Salerno, near Naples, and later moved to America. Petrosino was also the first to become convinced that Black Hand letters were not from freelance extortionists, but from a highly organized and powerful mob. He persuaded his superiors to appoint a special Italian squad. Petrosino headed the squad, which met in the old Metropolitan Police headquarters on Mulberry Street in New York.
This squad was the first to make complete records on the Mafia and its members. Petrosino risked his life every day to gather information that identified the principal Mafiosi. One of his greatest accomplishments was in 1900, when he uncovered a plot to murder Italian King Humbert. He sent the information abroad and foiled the plan. Petrosino received very little support from the police and the public. Despite all his efforts and information, Petrosino could not make the government officials or the average American believe in the Mafia.
Knowing it was up to him, in one year Petrosino personally made 700 arrests. Among these was the arrest of Enrico Alfa no (Err icone), the chief of Camorra. Petrosino deported him back to Italy and turned him over to the Italian police. He also knew that Ignacio Lupo (Lupo Wolf) was the chief of the Mafia but Petrosino could not catch or arrest him. A new wave of Black Hand violence swept over New York in 1907, and again Petrosino was forced to fight it on his own. Joseph Tra no, an Italian merchant, came to Petrosino with a black hand letter wanting $500 on pain of death.
Petrosino gave him marked bills and set a trap. He then followed and arrested Vincenzo Abadezza (one of Lupo Wolf's principal lieutenants) and eight others. Two notebooks were found on one of the suspects. One notebook contained the names of twenty Mafia members. The other listed the names of sixty laborers who were paying $1 to $3 a week to extortionists. Even so, when Petrosino brought this case to court, the judges did not believe the whole idea of organized crime.
Therefore, Abadezza received only 2 1/2 years in prison, and the others received only a few days in jail. After the trial, in January, 1909, Petrosino went to Italy using a different name. Although he told almost no one, Lupo Wolf learned about the trip and Petrosino's fake name. In Italy, Petrosino obtained the records of more than 600 criminals who had immigrated to America. In Palermo, on March 13, 1909, he ate in a restaurant on Marino Square, then walked toward the Hotel di Palma. Unfortunately, he never made it.
On his way, two men came up behind him and shot four bullets into his back and head. Although there were many witnesses, their lips were sealed by Omerta. Petrosino's death stirred New York for a short, intense campaign against Mafia chiefs. This resulted in Lupo Wolf's arrest and jailing on a counterfeiting charge.
At this point, the Mafia became more careful and the city changed back to its old attitude of indifference. The Mafia no longer sent Black Hand letters, but switched over to power and persuasion. The Mafia then sank virtually out of sight, making it much more effective. The Prohibition era began in 1920, following the ratification of the 18 th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States in 1919. It has been said that Prohibition was the engine that drove the gangster era. Many Americans ignored Prohibition, thus giving organized crime a new way to make money-bootlegging whiskey.
Bootlegging was essential to organized crime and saved the great criminal gangs from collapsing after World War I. Bootlegging continued to be a major criminal pastime that deeply involved the Mafia. Bloody wars were fought for control, and in Chicago alone more than 1, 000 men died in bootleg wars. Liquor was smuggled across the border from Mexico or Canada, but many gangs had to make their own liquor to guarantee supplies. They could either sell it through the clubs and bars they owned, or through the distributorships they controlled. At the end of Prohibition, bootlegging declined but did not disappear because of high liquor taxes.
Prohibition made the gangsters bold enough to commit outrageous acts in public. A famous example is the St. Valentines Day massacre... Al Capone wanted to kill Bugs Moran, leader of the Irish Northside Gang. On February 14, 1929, Capone had his men dress as police officers and pretend to arrest members of the gang, hoping Moran would be there. Although Moran was not there, Capone's men made six gang members stand against the wall and blasted them with machine-guns.
When Moran heard about the crime, he remarked "only Capone kills like that." Capone heard this and answered, "Only Moran kills like that." Some people even thought the police actually were the culprits, and Capone denied having anything to do with the crime. Alphonse Capone ("Scarface Al" or the "Chicago Gangster") was born in 1899 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He grew to be a Chicago crime leader and Public Enemy #1, although others did more to develop organized crime. He claimed he "owned Chicago" and "owned the police" which in a sense, he did.
Capone also "owned" alderman, states attorneys legislators, governors and congressmen. To control election returns he had his gangsters intimidate and terrorize voters. Capone once beat up the mayor of Cicero on the front steps of a courthouse while a police officer guiltily tried not to look. He received the name Scarface Al after his left cheek was cut in a fight over a girl by Frank Galluccio, whom he later hired as his personal bodyguard. Despite the St. Valentines Day massacre, Capone could not be convicted of murder but he was convicted of income tax evasion.
He was sentenced to 11 years at a federal prison in Atlanta, but was later transferred to Alcatraz (the "Rock") in 1934. During his imprisonment, Capone's health deteriorated. He was released in 1939 a hopeless paretic from untreated syphilis. He had gone "stir crazy " in Alcatraz (not uncommon).
After this, Capone lived in his Florida family mansion for eight years until his death on January 25, 1947. Organized crime has been linked to what may be the greatest crime of the century. The Mafia may have been responsible for the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Frank Ragano, a mob lawyer, says he delivered the message from Teamsters head Jimmy Hoffa to Mafia bosses Sam Traficant e and Carlos Marcello, to "kill the president." Although Ragano thought it was a joke, he later realized that the rest of them were serious. The Mob had the "motive, means and opportunity" to kill the President.
A well-known gangster in modern times was Joseph ("Joe Bananas") Bonanno. Bonanno was born in Sicily in 1905, moved to America, moved back to Italy, and returned to America in 1925. Although he was the smallest of New York's Big Five gangsters, he wanted to be the largest power in syndicated crime in America. As his power grew, he saw to it that Brooklyn speakeasies bought whiskey from his sources. Doing this without using threats and pressure made Bonanno a most remarkable booze seller for that time. After a big boss moved up, Bonanno was named to head a large part of the boss's crime family.
As the head of this family, he soon became a millionaire. As a result, he started some new businesses and covered up the income so well that the IRS never caught him. Bonanno operated clothing factories, cheese firms and funeral parlors, where he started the custom of double decker coffins. These had room for an extra corpse under the false bottom to hide Mafia victims. In October, 1964, Bonanno was kidnapped at gunpoint. He was to disappear for 19 months while the Banana War took place between Bonanno's son and Gasp a Digregoria, who was to replace Bonanno.
Still under constant threat of death, Bonanno made a compromise to quit and let Di gregorio take over. Instead of keeping up to the compromise, Bonanno fought inthe Banana War and would have won but for a heart attack in 1968 that forced him to retire. Another compromise was made, so Bonanno went to Arizona and gave up holdings he had in NewYork. As the last of the five original bosses, Bonanno's departure marked the end of a nera. We have seen how organized crime came to America in the 19 th Century, grew through the Prohibition era, and is now fading in importance.
Although organized crime was a major threat to some people much earlier on, modern society does not have to worry about organized crime any more. Today we worry about random violence and other disorganized crime. The only semi-known Mafia figure left is John Gotti, and he is serving a long sentence in federal prison. The Omerta Code and Mafia standards of loyalty and proper behavior are no longer being honored. As for Mario Luigi, if he were opening a store today, he probably would not have to worry about the Mafia. Since there are no Black Hand letters any more, all Mario Luigi would have to worry about would be paying his legitimate bills.
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