At the beginning of the decade, even J. Edgar Hoover denied its existence. Its structure was a mystery, and if it had a name, no one on the outside was sure of what it was. Yet, almost unnoticed, it exerted a profound impact on American life. It still does. Small wonder that Valachi, the thug-turned-informer, doubted that anybody would believe or care when he talked about an organization called La Cosa Nostra.
Today people do care. Organized crime is suddenly a high-priority item in Congress. The Nixon Administration and several key states are striving to improve law-enforcement efforts. The Justice Department is sending special anti-Mob "strike forces" into major cities, more money is being spent by police forces, and more men are being thrown into the battle. Hollywood makes movies about it (The Brotherhood), and readers have put it on the top of the bestseller list (Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather and Peter Maas's The Valachi Papers). Organized crime is no longer quite the mystery that it was. It is a vast, sprawling underground domain impossible to trace fully; but there is now longer any doubt that its most important part, its very nucleus, is La Cosa Nostra (LCN), otherwise know as the Mafia.*
* "Mafia," literally, means swank, or dolled up, but it probably derives from a Sicilian term meaning beauty or pride. In the context of crime, Mafia applies to the older, strictly Sicilian element of the Mob. "La Cosa Nostra," or Our Thing, is a broader term that means the modern American-born organization.
Its reality borders on fantasy. Many Americans still find it difficult to fully believe that their nation harbors an evil entity capable of stealing billions while destroying the honor of public officials, the honesty of businessmen and sometimes the lives of ordinary citizens. The evidence that it does these things and more has become all too credible. The image persists of the color gambler who speaks quaint Runyonesque, or the romantic loner-Jay Gatsby, say-who has his own somehow justifiable morality, or of the paternalistic despot who challenges society by his own peculiar code.
The Multiplier Effect
There are bits of truth in all the impressions, but all fall short. The biggest and most important truth is that La Cosa Nostra and the many satellite elements that constitute organized crime are big and powerful enough to affect the quality of American life. LCN generates corruption on a frightening scale. It touches small firms as well as large, reaches into city hall and statehouses, taints facets of show business and labor relations, and periodically sheds blood. It has a multiplier effect on crime; narcotics, a mob monopoly, drives the addicted to burglaries and other felonies to finance the habit. Cosa Nostra's ability to flout the law makes preachment of law and order a joke to those who see organized crime in action most often: the urban poor and the black. Say Milton Rector, director of the National Council on Crime and Delinquency: "Almost every bit of crime we study has some link to organized crime."
Yet La Cosa Nostra itself, the Italian core of organized crime, consists of only 3,000 to 5,000 individuals scattered around the nation in 24 "families," or regional gangs, each headed by a boss and organized loosely along military lines. There is no national dictator or omnipotent unity giving precise direction on all operations. Rather, the families constitute a relatively loose confederation under a board of directors called the Commission. From this soft center the mob's web spreads to many thousands of allies and vassals representing most ethnic groups. "We got Jews, we got Polacks, we got Greeks, we got all kinds," Jackie Cerone, a member of the Chicago gang, once observed with both accuracy and pride.
In many respects, says Ralph Salerno, who was the New York City police department's chief Mafia expert until his retirement in 1967, the leadership has always been a "happy marriage of Italians and Jews." Salerno adds: "It's the three Ms-moxie, muscle and money. The Jews provide the moxie, the Italians provide the muscle, and they both provide the money." In the public mind, however, Cosa Nostra is identified with the Italians, and about 22 million Italian-Americans are being hurt in reputation by the depredations of a very few.
In money terms, the organization is the world's largest business. The best estimate of its revenue, a rough projection based on admittedly inexact information of federal agencies, is well over $30 billion a year. Even using a conservative figure, its annual profits are at least in the $7 billion-to-$10 billion range. Though he meant it as a boast, Meyer Lansky, the gang's leading financial wizard, was actually being overly modest when he chortled in 1966: "We're bigger than U.S. Steel." Measured in terms of profits, Cosa Nostra and affiliates are as big as U.S. Steel, the American Telephone and Telegraph Co., General Motors, Standard Oil of New Jersey, General Electric, Ford Motor Co., IBM, Chrysler and RCA put together.
How It Works
Two years ago, the President's Commission on Law Enforcement and Administration of Justice simply threw up its hands at the prospect of estimating the crime conglomerate's full penetration. "The cumulative effect of the infiltration of legitimate business in America cannot be measured," it said. Robert Kennedy, who began the first big push against the Mafia when he became Attorney General, warned that "if we do not on a national-scale attack organized criminals with weapons and techniques as effective as their own, they will destroy us." No one now disputes its potential for destruction.
Despite its continuing evolution, organized crime follows certain basic patterns that vary little. It must buy or force freedom from the law and from accepted rules of commerce. It must milk gambling, the narcotics trade, industrial relations and usury. It must find outlets for its accumulated profits. These are its main forms of activity:
- THE POLITICAL FIX takes many forms, but the most important, from LCN's view, is obtaining the cooperation of the policeman and the politicians. East of the Mississippi, particularly, it is the rare big-city government that is completely free of the fix. In Newark, corruption is rampant. One gangster recently confided to another that $12,000 a month flows to police supervisors for protection-which sometimes goes beyond a shield for illicit activities. When he vacationed on the West Coast last spring, for example, Thomas Pecora, a boss of Teamsters Local 97 as well as a Mafia man, took along a Newark city detective as a bodyguard.
Newark Police Director Dominick Spina was recently indicted for failing to enforce gambling laws. He was acquitted. Mayor Hugh Addonizzio has refused to give his personal financial records to a grand jury that asked for them. So pervasive is the aura of corruption, a governors committee reported, that it contributed heavily to the Newark riot of 1967, in which black resentment of police was a major factor.
In Illinois, La Cosa Nostra exerts major influence in a dozen Chicago wards and dictates the votes of as many as 15 state legislators. Known as the West Side Bloc, a newspaper euphemism to avoid libel suits, the Mob opposes anticrime bills in the state legislature, forces gangsters onto the payroll of Mayor Richard Daley's Chicago machine, and corrupts the city police department. Salvatore ("Momo") Giancana may be hiding in Mexico, but his stand-ins, Tony ("Big Tuna") Accardo and Paul ("The Waiter") DeLucia still pack influence. Example: When a Justice Department report charged 29 Chicago policemen with being grafters, Daley pooh-poohed the allegations, took no action. Some of the 29 were subsequently promoted.
Protection can also mean death for informers. Richard Cain, once chief investigator for the Cook County, Ill. sheriff's office, gave lie-detector tests to a quintet of bank robbery suspects. Cain, now in prison, was not after the guilty man but in search of the FBI informant among the five. The tipster, Guy Mendolia Jr., was subsequently murdered.
Three federal men arrived in Columbus last year to investigate gambling. They were soon arrested by local police, accused of being drunk in public. The G-men were acquitted and eight Columbus cops were indicted for taking $8,000 a month in bribes.
Ralph Salerno, co-author of an upcoming book on the Mob, The Crime Confederation, estimates that the votes of about 25 members of Congress can be delivered by mob pressure. New Jersey Congressman Cornelius Gallagher was an associate of Joe Zicarelli, a Cosa Nostra power in New Jersey. Zicarelli's command over Gallagher was strong enough, in fact, to bring Gallagher, whom Zicarelli calls "my friend the Congressman," off the floor of the House of Representatives to accept Zicarelli's telephone calls. Although Gallagher has denied the allegation with varying degrees of indignation, he has never bothered to sue LIFE for its disclosures about him. He has since been re-elected, and remains a member of the House Government Operations Committee, which watches the federal agencies that watch the Mob.
Even the judiciary is not beyond reach, and the Mob has a special set of instruction for judges on the payroll. An FBI "bug" placed in the First Ward Democratic organization on La Salle Street, a favorite gathering place for Chicago gangsters, overheard the following conversation between Illinois Circuit Court Judge Pasqual Sorrentino and Pat Marcy, a friend of the Chicago LCN family. What should he do, Sorrentino asked, if federal agents questioned him about his associations with gangsters? Marcy's answer: "Stand on your dignity. Don't answer those questions. Tell them they're trying to embarrass you. Stay on the offensive. Remember, you're a judge." The trouble is, of course, that Sorrentino and some of his colleagues, on federal as well as state benches, have forgotten just that fact.
Nowhere has organized crime subverted more than a tiny minority of public officials. But a minority can be enough both to undermine law enforcement and to bend legislation to a shape pleasing to the mob.
- GAMBLING is far and away the Mob's biggest illicit income producer, more than taking the place that bootleg liquor held during Prohibition. No one can more than guess how much money is bet illegally in the U.S. each year, but a conservative estimate is that about $20 billion is put down on horse racing, lotteries and sports events. Perhaps a third is pure profit for LCN and its affiliates.
In the slums, the bets are usually on "the numbers." The gambler picks the number that he think will come up in the some agreed-upon tabulation-the total dollars bet at a race track, for example-and puts down as little as 25¢ or as much as $1. In some places $10 bets are allowed. The bet taker himself, called the policy writer, is too small-and too vulnerable-to be a formal member of La Cosa Nostra. He works instead under contract as a "sharecropper."
Bookmaking is next up the ladder from the number, and the bookmaker, who usually employs several solicitors, is a man of substance. When FBI agents seized Gil Geckly, the king of layoff men (a banker to smaller bookies), in Miami in January 1966, his records showed that on that day alone he had handled $250,000 in bets, for a profit, by his own reckoning, of $129,000. He is now appealing a ten-year prison sentence in the case.
An operator like Beckley is not necessarily a full member of LCN. Beckley has a kind of associate status, in which favors and profits flow back and forth. As in certain other areas, LCN is content to get a cut while leaving active management to a relative outsider. Another big layoff man, Sam DiPiazzo, once told of an attempt by Giancana's Chicago family to extort 50% of his six-figure take. As DiPiazzo related the story, he was forced to go before a committee in Chicago, where he haggled the bite down to a mere $35 a day. His big bargaining point was that he cooperated with "the Little Man," Louisiana Family Boss Carlos Marcello.
General affluence and increasing public interest in sports such as football and basketball hike the stakes and make the potential for corrupting athletes great. Even if he does not succeed in fixing a game, the Cosa Nostra agent finds information about a team's morale or physical condition priceless in helping him to set odds. On just such an information hunt, a scout for Chicago Handicapper Burton Wolcoff wangled his way into the clubhouse of the Los Angeles Dodgers a few years back. Learning that Sandy Koufax, who was scheduled to pitch that day, was having even more arm trouble than usual, the agent flashed the news to Wolcoff, who put down $30,000 against the Dodgers. Koufax gave up five runs in early innings and the Dodgers lost.
The National Football League has gone to considerable lengths to detect the fix, relying, ironically, on Gil Beckley. Apparently the league operated on the theory that it take one to know one. "I want the games squared," Beckley told league officials when he announced his proposition. "If I know that something's wrong, I'll give you the name of the club. But I won't give you names of the players." Tips from Beckley have touched off a number of secret investigations by the league.
Until the mid-'60s, one of Cosa Nostra's most profitable gambling operations was at one of the few places in the U.S. where most kinds of gambling are legal: Las Vegas. The Mob's technique there, known as "skimming," was as simple as larceny and as easy as shaking the money tree: a part of the cash profits from six LCN-controlled casinos was simply diverted before the figures were placed in the ledger books. How much cash was spirited away in this manner, eluding both state and federal taxes, no one can say precisely. After the Government became aware of mob influence and forced the gangsters out of most of the casinos in 1966 and 1967-LCN still has interests in two big casinos-revenue reported for tax purposes jumped by more than $50 million a year.
- LOAN-SHARKING OR USURY nets several billions-it is impossible to say how many-in revenue for the Mob. Dollar for dollar, usury is LCN's best investment; though the gross is lower than it is in gambling, profit is higher. Interest rates commonly run at 20% per week, or, in the Mob's words, "six for five"-borrow $5 on Monday and pay back $6 by Saturday noon, the normal deadline. Borrowers are frequently gamblers who have lost heavily or hope to make a big strike, but they also include factory workers, businessmen on the verge of bankruptcy, or anyone else who needs cash but cannot meet a bank's credit check.
Many of the Cosa Nostra's legitimate business fronts were acquired when the owner could not pay his debt. Some public officials were acquired in the same manner. Over his head in various business deals, James Marcus, the former Water Commissioner of New York City, took a loan at 104% annual interest. When he was unable to pay, the gangsters found him a willing victim for other schemes, including graft on city projects. In the case of Marcus, as with many other public officials, the loan was almost certainly a come-on for what the Mob really wanted: a good friend in a high place. Marcus, Mobster Anthony ("Tony Ducks") Corallo, and Contractor Henry Fried were convicted in the kickback scheme.
- NARCOTICS TRAFFIC, chiefly in heroin, is less lucrative than gambling, but still profitable enough, bringing in more than $350 million in revenue and $25 million in profits. Because of the risks involved in peddling drugs directly, Cosa Nostra once again contracts the retail trade to its sharecroppers, saving for itself the less dangerous and infinitely more profitable role of importer and wholesaler. The sums involved are substantial. By the time opium from Turkey, the chief supplier for the U.S., is processed into heroin and shipped to New York, it is worth about $225,000 per kilogram. The price to society is beyond measure.
So far, there is no evidence that the Mafia has tried to penetrate the marijuana market. The source of supply in Mexico is too close, and the competition from travelers passing over the border too intense. One unforeseen byproduct of the Federal Government's crackdown on the marijuana trade, however, may be to create in LCN monopoly. If the "independents" are driven out, the mobsters might find pot as profitable as heroin. Just that happened in bookmaking, when police put many freelance operators out of business.
- LABOR RACKETEERING has no price tag, but obviously nets the Mob many millions. It takes several forms. One of the simplest is extortion. The gangsters might thus inform a small businessman, who has perhaps only a dozen employees, that from that minute on his enterprise is unionized. Though the employees may never know that they belong to a "union"-and never receive any of the benefits of being in a union-the employer nevertheless pays the "union organizers" the workers' initiation fees and monthly dues. In another variation, the bogus union settles for "sweetheart" contracts that are grossly unfair to the workers it is supposed to represent. The difference between what a legitimate union might win for the workers and what the Mob union actually obtains is split between the mobsters and the company owners. In one such contract, writes Donald Cressey in his definitive work, Theft of the Nation, the president of a paper local won his union only one paid holiday a year: Passover. His membership was exclusively Puerto Rican.
In other ways as well, union racketeering can be as profitable to a company as it is to the Mob. Once the gangsters have taken over a union-they find their easiest prey in unskilled and semi-skilled occupations-they can guarantee both labor peace and a competitive edge over other companies in wages and benefits. There is, of course, a fee, but that is often lower for the businessman than the real costs of strikes or higher wages.
- BUSINESS INFILTRATION is the organization's fastest-growing source of revenue. Its interests extend to an estimated 5,000 business concerns. Indeed, Cosa Nostra's penetration of the aboveground world of finance and commerce is probably the greatest threat that it poses to the nation today. A business can be acquired in any number of ways, from foreclosure on a usurious loan to outright purchase. LCN, after all, has more venture capital than any other nongovernmental organization in the world. New York's Carlo Gambino and his adopted family own large chunks of real estate in the New York area valued at $300 million. Until recently, they also ran a labor consulting service. Marcello of New Orleans, another real estate millionaire, has been buying up land in the path of the Dixie Freeway and hopes to make a bundle in federal highway funds.
Once brought under the Mob's umbrella, a business almost always ceases to operate legitimately. If it is a restaurant-favorite targets-or a nightclub, it buys coal or oil from one LCN affiliate, rents linen from another, ships garbage out through still another. Its entertainers, parking-lot attendants and even its hat check girls must always be approved by the Mob-and sometimes they must kick back part of what they take in. When the gangsters were big in Las Vegas, they sometimes used skimmed cash to supplement the fees paid to featured performers. The under-the-table funds went untaxed and left the compliant performer with an obligation. This was repayed by appearances elsewhere at the Mob's request.
Unfortunately, the gang's business methods do not stop with such relatively innocuous, if illegal, tactics. The giant Atlantic & Pacific grocery can testify to that. Taking control of a company that manufactured detergent, the powerful New York-New Jersey gangster brothers, Gerardo and the late Gene Catena, tried to put the product on A. & P. shelves. When the A. & P. officials rejected the inferior Brand X, marketed by the Catenas' Best Sales Company, the brothers tried traditional means of persuasion. Four A. & P. employees died violently. Six stores were fire-bombed. Finally, two union locals threatened to strike, rejecting out of hand a contract that seemed more than generous.
Dumbfounded by tactics not taught at the Harvard Business School, A. & P. officials seemingly never connected Catena detergent with strikes and terror. The government did, however, and impaneled a grand jury to investigate the Catena brothers' marketing procedures. Brand X was apparently not worth the bother of federal heat. The Catenas got out of detergents, the unions signed their contracts, and the A. & P. was left at peace,
Generally, the Mob favors businesses in the service and retail fields, particularly things like coin-operated machines, liquor stores and laundries. These offer, among other advantages, cash turnovers susceptible to skimming. With these, companies the mobsters can rake off funds without anyone, particularly anyone in the Internal Revenue Service, being the wiser. When FBI agents searched the house belonging to the son Buffalo Boss Stefano Magaddino last December, they found in a suitcase $521,020 in skimmed cash, most of it from Magaddino's 15 companies in the Buffalo area. It may not have been worth all of Magaddino's trouble. Not only has the Government confiscated his money, but the other mobsters are infuriated because Magaddino had told them that he had no funds to help them meet common expenses. This month, in fact, LCN's top hierarchy took the highly unusual step of sending a team to investigate Magaddino's finances. Mrs. Magaddino, who had never looked into the suitcase, was also upset. "Son of a bitch!" she muttered when the FBI carted the money away. "He said we have no money for Florida this year. $500,000!"
Jukeboxes, funeral parlors, small garment firms and other marginal enterprises that have long attracted gangsters have little effect on the general economy. Big-time constructions is another matter, and by playing both the union and management sides, LCN begins to exercise major impact. The Crime and Delinquency Council's Milton Rector says air-freight trucking operations have been so deeply penetrated that gangsters could bring New York's Kennedy Airport "to its knees at any time."
As the boodle piles up, repositories bigger than Magaddino's suitcase must be found. Many millions go to foreign banks. Switzerland, with its numbered bank accounts, is the favorite. Funds from these reservoirs often come back in the forms of "loans" for investment purposes. Asked to produce collateral for a jukebox import deal, Philadelphia Boss Angelo ("Mr. A.") Bruno quickly came up with a certified check backed by a Swiss account. The amount: $50 million.
What Kind of Man?
Cosa Nostra's business sophistication should not be surprising, since some of the bright young men in the Mob are as astute and innovative as their peers in any other field. What kind of man joins La Cosa Nostra today? To be in the organization itself-as distinct from its many affiliates-he must, first of all, be Italian or Italian descent. Until 1952, he had to be a certified killer as well. That requirement has been dropped, and the recruiters look for a young man who has, besides the necessary venality, some protective coloring. The older men are not always happy about the change. "They shouldn't let nobody in this unless he's croaked a couple of people," New Jersey's Angelo ("Gyp") DeCarlo was once heard to mutter. "Today you got a thousand guys in here that never broke an egg."
There have been other, though less important changes induced by both shifting life styles and the desire to escape notice. Years ago, anyone could tell a mobster by his loud dress and, most particularly, his large, wide-brimmed, white hat. Now, the tendency is to dress like a businessman, in conservative Brooks Brothers gray.
One custom that had to be dropped was the kiss of greeting between members. "Charlie Lucky (also known as Salvatore Luciana or Lucky Luciano) put a stop to this and changed it to a handshake," Joe Valachi told Author Peter Maas. " 'After all,' Charlie said, 'we would stick out kissing each other in restaurants and places like that' "
Ostentatious living has gone out as well, despite the fact that even the lowliest members are often millionaires. The Government provides one good reason. If a man spends much more than he shows on his income tax return, the IRS can nail him for tax fraud. Few of the bosses thus claim or openly spend much more than would a moderately successful businessman. The ancient, somewhat puritanical code of the Mafia, which dislikes display, provided another reason for simple style. The late New York boss Vito Genovese, for example, used to drive a two-year old Ford, spent little more than $100 for his suits, and lived in a modest house in Atlantic Highlands, N.J. When his children and grandchildren visited him, Genovese, very much the kindly paterfamilias, would cook them up a huge pot of spaghetti.
Another legacy from the Sicilian Mafia is Cosa Nostra's almost mystical concept of respect. Something like the Oriental notion of "face," respect means more to a Cosa Nostra mobster than money. If he does not have the regard of his fellow members, he is nothing, even in his own eyes. An equally high value is placed on loyalty. It is not always honored, to be sure, but it nevertheless remains a powerful binding force within the organization. Indeed, the very human characteristics of respect and loyalty, together with the organization's dynastic structure, offer some clues to its remarkable durability. Son follows father, underboss follows boss, and the line continues over the decades.
Another element seems to be a sense of unity against a world viewed as hostile. The chaotic history of Sicily remains an unconscious memory. There, amid poverty and foreign intrusion, survival and prosperity depended on one's own immediate group and one's own rules. Does the younger generation have any qualms about what it is doing? It would seems not. In The Godfather, the Dartmouth-educated son of a New York boss gives his bride what is probably the typical rationale. Members of Cosa Nostra, he reasons, are no worse than any other Americans. "In my history course at Dartmouth, we did some background on all the Presidents, and they had fathers and grandfathers who were lucky they didn't get hanged."
Perhaps. They were not, however, likely to employ the sadistic methods that Cosa Nostra still finds useful. Despite the more businesslike image of the younger gang leaders, many mobsters are still animals in fedoras. If Sam Giancana moves, as he has, with Frank Sinatra on one level, his henchmen move on another. One of the most chilling conversations that the FBI has overheard involved two of Giancana's hoods telling a third, "Jackie," about the murder of one of their colleagues, a 350-pounder by the name of William Jackson.
James Torello: Jackson was hung up on that meat hook. He was so heavy he bent it. He was on that thing three days before he croaked.
Fiore Buccieri (giggling): Jackie, you shoulda seen the guy. Like an elephant, he was, and when Jimmy hit him with that electric prod . . .
Torello (excitedly): He was floppin' around on that hook, Jackie. We tossed water on him to give the prod a better charge, and he's screamin' . . .
Despite Cosa Nostra's obvious frightening strengths, new problems and challenges are coming at it from several sides. In the slums, for instance, its control of gambling and vice is being contested, sometimes successfully, by the blacks, Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans who want a share of the action. In Buffalo, the blacks at first worked a bargain with Magaddino by which they would control the numbers racket, giving him only a 10% tribute. Later, when he ran into trouble with the authorities, they stopped the 10% entirely. That was nothing compared to the trouble that Ruggiero Boiardo had in Newark. There Negroes not only took over the lottery but also shook down Boiardo's numbers men and occasionally took shots at them.
There are, in addition, internal disputes, like the messy slaying of New York Boss Albert Anastasia in 1957. Even though he has never been east of Flatbush, a Cosa Nostra man still look upon himself as a Sicilian or a Neapolitan, distrusting the other. Nor is the Commission itself what it once was. Two places, vacted by death, have not been filled. Two of the commissioners, Philadelphia's Angelo Bruno and New York's Joe Colombo, command little respect; Detroit's Joe Zerilli rarely attends meetings. A former commissioner, New York's Joe Bonanno, was kicked out in 1964 and his family reassigned when he attempted to kill off some of the other bosses (see box on page 27).
The Law's Delay
Where is the law? Why, despite some troubles, does Cosa Nostra survive and thrive? Beyond its own inherent strength and tradition is its ability corrupt civil officials. Probably no other group in history has made such a fine art of corruption. Without the fix, Cosa Nostra would not last out the year. Nor are local cops the only ones who yield to temptation. Three days after a report one skimming in Las Vegas was sent to to the U.S. Attorney General's office in 1963, a complete copy was in the hands of the criminals cited in the report. The conduit for that leak has never been found.
Even in the absence of official dishonesty, law enforcement has often proved inept. Most city and state police agencies are still not equipped to deal effectively with clever, well-financed conspiracies that extend across city and state lines. The FBI is better trained, of course, but its special agents hardly constitute a national police force, and were never intended to do so. Until the beginning of the decade, federal authorities merely nodded while the mobsters nibbled away at the country. Besides, coordination among law-enforcement agencies at all levels is frequently weak or totally absent. Even when pressure is applied vigorously, resulting in arrests and convictions, LCN can quickly fill personnel gaps.
Not that prosecution is easy under the best of circumstances. The gansters' well-paid legal corps takes full advantage of the Bill of Rights. The Mob's muscle often takes care of potential witnesses. It takes a brave citizen to call the police. Also, most of the evidence gathered by the FBI, until recently, was not admissible in court.
Much is changing. Though more vigilant observation might have detected it long before, a major revelation occurred in 1957, when New York state police happened upon a meeting of the Commission and its lieutenants at the estate of Joseph Barbara in upstate Apalachin. The authorities were able to find out who the mobsters were and, more importantly, that they were together. In 1962, Joe Valachi, the Cosa Nostra soldier-turned-informer, confirmed and explained what the FBI had been hearing from its bugs for months. Though he looked at the Mob from the bottom up, Valachi's remarkable memory nonetheless provided invaluable insights into its organization. From January 1961 to December 1968, the Government indicted 290 members of Cosa Nostra and obtained 147 convictions, with many cases still pending. Some of the bosses themselves have been jailed, while many have found their activities severely curtailed because of continuous scrutiny.
Most of the surveillance has come from electronic bugs and telephone taps, which have supplied something like 80% of the information the Government has on the Mob. While bugging is still the subject of considerable controversy-and can be a serious danger to civil liberties if misused-a law passed by Congress last year at least clarifies the Government's powers and gives the Justice Department broader jurisdiction. For the time being, electronic snooping seems to be a necessary, if risky weapon.
Federal funds are now available in increasing amounts to help city and state agencies prepare for the challenge. Two major bills now pending in Congress could have significant results. One would strengthen the hand of prosecutor and grand juries in mounting investigations and make involvement in organized crime behind its screen of bogus legitimacy.
Beyond new statutes and energetic reinforcement, the nation needs another, stronger weapon: public indignation. There is not nearly enough of that in the U.S. No other Western, industrial country in modern times has suffered criminal abuses on such a scale. America's porous, pluralistic and permissive society offers extraordinary opportunities, chances to hide and to advance, for the enterprising and imaginative criminal. But, most fundamentally, U.S. society helps the criminal by toleration (occasionally even admiration) and by providing a ready market for his services. Illicit gambling thrives because of the popular demand for it. Politicians of questionable integrity remain in office because the electorate allows it. Entrepreneurs who half-knowingly accept dirty money with the rationale that business is business are as corrupt as grafting politicians.
Tolerating the Mob
In large measure, the modern Mob lacks the traditional justification for crime-the bitter spur of poverty. It also lacks the occasional, near-heroic dimension of defying law and the established order for the sake of rebellion. It is by and large a middle-class sort of Mob, more or less tolerated by the affluent. Among the public there is often a certain psychological hypocrisy. Rage is great over conspicuous criminal acts, but there is less anger over the far more harmful depredations that are the specialty of organized crime. Until there is a popular revolt, La Cosa Nostra will probably endure.