Super Mafia Bros

After - Jersey Shore Guidos
After - Jersey Shore Guidos

Before - The Sopranos
Before - The Sopranos

Thesis: Organized crime was an exceptionally divisive factor in the socioeconomic revolutions of the 1920's and 1950's. Criminal syndicates and other illegitimate groups took advantage of a weak police network and poorly-enforced laws to empower themselves dramatically, quickly growing beyond the control of law enforcement. They utilized bribery, intimidation, blackmail, and many other manipulative techniques to gain influence and extort financial resources from law-abiding business and private citizens.

1920's Organized Crime

  • Prohibition - This nationwide policy was designed to purge alcohol and it's associated societal problems from American society. Proponents argued that alcohol was responsible for political corruption, domestic abuse, a general decline in health, among other factors. Also, temperance was considered patriotic since the grain used in alcohol could be rerouted to the troops on the WWI front and the brewing business was predominantly German, then a US enemy.
    • 18th Amendment - Stated that, after a 1 year grace period, it would be illegal to manufacture, distribute, transport, or sell any form of alcoholic beverage within the jurisdiction of the United States. Violators would be subject to arrest and appropriate punishment and all related contraband items would be destroyed.
    • Volstead Act - This further enforced the Prohibition Amendment by prohibiting intoxicating beverages, regulating the manufacture, production, and sale of high-proof spirits for other than consumption purposes, and ensuring an ample supply of alcohol for use in scientific research and in the development of fuel, dye and other lawful industries.

Capone and His Captors - America's Struggle with Organized Crime.
Capone and His Captors - America's Struggle with Organized Crime.

  • Regardless of a federal ban on alcoholic beverages, the public still fiercely desired the beer, wine, and hard liquor they had become so accustomed to. A vast market, combined with corrupt, ineffective enforcement of the 18th, allowed gangsters and other loosely-affiliated criminal clans to reap significant profits.
    • Moonshine - Enterprising freelancers and organized gangs alike distilled their own spirits, since Prohibition had forced most legitimate distilleries to shut down. These new improvised products were often stronger than commercial alcoholic beverages.
    • Speakeasy's - These were cleverly disguised bars, usually run by wealthy businessmen or the mob. Here, anyone with the money could indulge in a drink right under the noses of law enforcement. (21 Club, etc.)
    • Bootlegging - Criminals illegally smuggled alcohol form rural distilleries to their vast urban markets, often crossing state lines and evading attempts by the Coast Guard and other government officials to interdict them.

  • Prohibition was directly responsible for the growth of the urbanized, Italian Mafia, who engaged in the illegal production and sale of alcohol, using these profits to "buy" political influence and amass vast fortunes for their leaders. Many colorful gang bosses characterized this era, many of whom have become household names.
    • Alphonse Gabriel "Al" Capone (January 17, 1899 – January 25, 1947)
      • Capone was born to a poor immigrant family in Brooklyn, New York. He quit school after the 6th grade and promptly associated with a notorious street gang, the Five Points. He was accepted as a member, and taken under the wing of its leader Johnny Torrio.
      • In 1920, Torrio invited Capone to Chicago where the former had become an influential lieutenant in the Colosimo Mob. This syndicate was involved in both illegal racketeering activities in violation of the Prohibition Amendment, as well as illegitimate business interests and political relations with public officials, unions, etc.
      • After the assassination of their boss "Big Jim" Colosimo, Torrio succeeded to full leadership of the gang and selected Capone as his second-in-command. Here, Capone gained valuable experience and expertise as the strong right arm of the most powerful mafia faction in Chicago.
      • In 1925, Capone became the boss when Torrio was seriously wounded in an assassination attempt and retired to Brooklyn. Capone expanded Colosimo's operations significantly, acquiring or eliminating numerous rival gangs and acquiring their turf and "racketeering rights".
      • Capone's reign of terror culminated in the St. Valentines Day Massacre (February 14th, 1929). Here, 7 associates of the rival "Bugs" Moran Mob were machine-gunned against a garage wall by several of Capone's henchmen posing as police. This sparked public outrage and FBI probes into his activities.

external image capone-mug-shot.jpg
    • Charlie "Lucky" Luciano (November 24, 1897 – January 26, 1962)
      • Luciano immigrated with his parents from Sicily to NYC in 1906. By age 10, he was already involved in minor criminal activities including mugging, shoplifting, and extortion; in 1916 he spent 6 months in jail for selling heroin. Once out, he joined the same Five Points Gang as Capone, Frank Costello, and other greats.
      • The nickname "Lucky" came from both his success at evading arrest and winning crap games. Luciano was also one of the few gangsters to survive a "one-way ride"; he was abducted, beaten, stabbed repeatedly with an ice pick, had his throat slit, and was left for dead on a Staten Island beach, and lived to tell the tale.
      • In 1920 he joined the ranks of New York's rising crime boss, Joe Masseria, and by 1925 had become Masseria's chief lieutenant, directing bootlegging, prostitution, narcotics distribution, and other rackets. Luciano's faction became embroiled in a bloody gang war with a rival Mafia under Salvatore Maranzano. (1930-1931)
      • Luciano took advantage of this turf war for his own benefit. On April 15, 1931, Luciano lured Masseria to a Coney Island restaurant and had his leader assassinated by several loyalists. 6 months later, on September 10th, he had his arch-rival Maranzano eliminated by a handful of loaned gunmen.
      • With both major Mafia leaders in NYC terminated, Luciano informally established himself as the "boss of all bosses". By 1934 he and the leaders of other crime "families" had developed the 1st national crime syndicate/cartel. Even after being deported, Luciano continued to smuggle drugs and aliens into the US.

external image 300px-Charles_Luciano_e.jpg

1950's & Onward Organized Crime

In the 1950's, crime lords turned their attention from alcohol to smuggling illicit drugs, which rapidly gained momentum. While their operations changed slightly, the crime syndicates ways of business remained relatively unchanged since the 1920's. As this and the red scare was occurring, the public's increasing fear of organized crime realized, and there was pressure on our government to handle the crime situation; the 1950's and years afterward saw a strengthened commitment by our government to suppress crime organizations, to ease the minds of average Americans.

La Cosa Nostra

  • Founded by Luciano
  • Led by a council, whose board was composed of the heads of the families that comprised La Cosa Nostra.
  • Consisted of more than 20 major Italian crime families, and spanned urban centers all over the U.S (at least 26 major cities), with 3,000 members within the United States, and more than 250,000 world wide.
  • Supposedly hired by the CIA to assassinate Fidel Castro, possibly allured by their secret murders, kidnappings, extortion, and bribes - not to mention weapon trafficking.
  • Started to import illicit drugs and other narcotic substances.
  • Activity is currently worth $100 billion annually
  • Declared a “sinister criminal organization”.

Frank Costello, head of La Cosa Nostra, testifying before the Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce
Frank Costello, head of La Cosa Nostra, testifying before the Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce

Committee to Investigate Crime in Interstate Commerce

  • Estes Kefauver, a newly elected representative from Tennessee who wanted to make a name for himself, formed a special committee to investigate criminal organizations.
  • There was little evidence to support their claims that criminal organizations had a firm foothold in US cities, even though this claim was widely believed to be true.
  • The findings of this committee spurred the FBI and future federal officials to pursue members of criminal organizations.

The FBI & the Government Renews its Resolve

  • Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and J. Edgar Hoover made organized crime a priority.
    • The FBI and many police departments established narcotics divisions during the 1950's.
    • Established an informant/ former murderer, Joseph Valachi, as the head of La Cosa Nostra

  • With the help of Lyndon B. Johnson, Congress passed the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) and the Organized Crime Control Act (1970).
    • RICO loosely defined what organized crime was, giving law enforcement agencies greater ease at tackling crime families – the makeup of criminal organizations.
    • 23 bosses, 13 underbosses, and 42 captains were prosecuted and convicted within a 10 year span, compared to only a few high-profile arrests in the 1920's and 30's.
    • Both acts made catching members of crime families possible, and successful prosecution of criminals soared after these acts were passed.

  • President Nixon declared a "war on drugs" in 1972, devoting lots of money(not acquired thrugh lucrative means :) ) to create agencies, support systems, and enforcement protocols to help eradicate the primary trade commodity of the major criminal organizations.

Get a playlist! Standalone player Get Ringtones