History of La Cosa Nostra
Envision a world where crime is king; a world where mobsters were more influential than political figures, controlled law enforcement, and ran cities to line their own pockets. They stole from whom they wanted and murdered those that got in their way. While it sounds like something out of a movie, it actually happened here in the United States in the first half of the 20th century. The American Mafia has evolved over the years as various gangs assumed and lost dominance: the Black Hand gangs around 1900; the Five Points Gang in the 1910s and ‘20s in New York City; Al Capone’s Syndicate in Chicago in the 1920s. Since the 1900s, thousands of Italian organized crime figures, mostly Sicilian Mafiosi, have come illegally to this country. The Italian Immigrants crowded into older lower class neighborhoods of American cities, sometimes given names such as “Little Italy”. These neighborhoods suffered from overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions. Living together in such closed communities created little more than a microcosm of the society they had left in Europe (par.3, Black Hand). Some criminals exploited this fact, and began to extort the more prosperous Italian’s in their neighborhood creating a crime that would eventually snow-ball into an epidemic known as ‘The Black Hand’ (par.3, Black Hand). The extortions were done anonymously by delivering threatening letters demanding money, signed with crudely drawn symbols, such as a knife or a skull. People paid the Black Hand extortionists in the fear that American law had no understanding, or power, to help them (par.4, Black Hand). Many who fled here in the early 1920’s helped establish what is known today as La Cosa Nostra or the American Mafia (par. 10, FBI). La Cosa Nostra, or the LCN as it is known by the FBI, consists of different “families” or groups that are generally arranged geographically and engaged in significant and organized racketeering activity (par. 30, FBI). The LCN is most active in the New York metropolitan area, parts of New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, and New England. It has members in other major cities and is involved in international crimes (par. 31, FBI). During the 1920s Prohibition era, when the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banned the sale, manufacture and transportation of alcoholic beverages, Italian-American gangs along with other ethnic gangs entered the booming bootleg liquor business and transformed themselves into sophisticated criminal enterprises, skilled at smuggling, money laundering and bribing police and other public officials (par 2, History Channel). By the end of the ‘20s, two primary factions had emerged, leading to a war for control of organized crime in New York City. The murder of faction leader Joseph Masseria brought an end to the gang warfare and in 1931 Sicilian-born crime boss Salvatore Maranzano crowned himself the “capo di tutti capi,” or boss of all bosses, in New York (par 3, History Channel). Two of the most powerful La Cosa Nostra families, known today as the Genovese and Gambino families emerged from Maranzano’s restructuring efforts. Maranzano named Luciano the first boss of what would later be known as the Genovese family. Unhappy with Maranzano’s power grab, Lucky Luciano had him murdered that same year (par 3, History Channel). Charles “Lucky” Luciano became the new leader. Luciano then masterminded the formation of a central organization called the Commission to serve as a sort of national board of directors for the American Mafia, which by then consisted of at least 20 crime families across the country (par 3, History Channel). New York, which had become America’s organized-crime capital, had been divided into five main Mafia families; everywhere else the Mafia operated, there was just one crime family per city. The Commission’s role was to set policies and mediate...