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For the Mafia, and indeed for all organized crime, that time may well be right now. Business has seldom been better. As during Prohibition, big-time criminals profit by providing goods and services that are either downright illicit or, where legal, are handled by people who are highly vulnerable to underworld pressures. The Mafia now dominates the manufacture and distribution of pornographic books, magazines and movies, a business that has doubled in a decade to $2.2 billion a year. It has become heavily involved in bootleg cigarettes and coffee. Most of the Mob's mainstay businesses are doing better than ever: gambling, loan-sharking, narcotics, hijacking, extortion and labor racketeering. No one outside the tight-knit Mafia organization knows the full extent of its operations, but estimates culled from a variety of law enforcement agencies suggest that the Mafia takes in at least $48 billion in annual gross revenues and nets an incredible $25 billion or so in untaxed profits. By contrast, Exxon, the largest industrial corporation in the U.S., reported sales of $51.6 billion and net profits of $2.6 billion in 1976.
The criminals plow lots of their profits back into their rackets or, even more ominously, into a wide range of legitimate businesses that affect Americans' lives from cradle (diaper services) to grave (funeral parlors). Increasing amounts of Mob money are pouring into real estate, construction companies, liquor stores, meat-packing companies, trucking firms, hotels, bars, restaurants, laundries and vending machines. Indeed, no facet of U.S. commercial life is safe from Mafia infiltration in the form of investment offers—often handled through lawyers or front men, of course. Justice Department officials believe that the Mafia may own as many as 10,000 legitimate firms, which generate annual profits estimated at $12 billion.
In addition to the sums that Americans pay directly for the mobsters' wares, there are substantial hidden charges. Chicago authorities estimate that because of Mob operations, the average citizen pays an additional 2¢ on the dollar for almost everything he purchases on the legal market—the passed-along business costs of extra theft insurance, additional security forces and outright extortion.
Organized crime flourishes in part because of a peculiar moral obtuseness—or anger at tax-happy authorities—on the part of many Americans. Extraordinary numbers of otherwise honest people see little harm in patronizing discount cigarette vendors and neighborhood bookmakers, in buying "hot" merchandise at bargain prices, even in using the expensive and illegal services of loan sharks. The cut-rate cigarettes are a way of beating the state out of its own very