The Nation: THE MAFIA Big, Bad and Booming

  • Share
  • Read Later

(4 of 12)

All are of Italian ancestry, most with roots in Sicily. Of course, the nationwide number of mobsters involved in organized crime is far higher and knows no ethnic limits. Rednecks dominate the Georgia underworld. Blacks and Hispanics run most of the rackets in their neighborhoods. Jews, Greeks, Chinese and Irish Americans all help swell the totals.

Then why does the Mafia attract so much attention? Many Italian Americans complain that the notoriety is excessive, and damaging to millions of law-abiding citizens; to assuage their sensibilities, the Justice Department has stopped referring to the Mafia by name. No matter what the organization is called, it dominates much of American crime. Many nonmember gangsters are allied to it, usually kicking back a share of their take to the dons; some criminologists estimate that at least 50,000 hoods can be considered confederates of the Mafia. The Mafia is by far the best organized criminal group in the U.S. and the only one with a national structure: 26 families—five of them in New York City* —of from 20 to 1,000 "button men," or soldiers.

The familiar Mafia lore that has become commonplace knowledge through movies and fiction is essentially true. All the made men are bound by a loyalty oath of blood and fire. They are divided into regimes, or squads, under the command of caporegimes, or lieutenants, who in turn take their orders from the clan's dons. Years ago, the don was both a prince of crime and social arbiter among Italians in his territory. But the breakup of the old Italian neighborhoods has stripped away his social functions—and any romanticism that might have surrounded him. Today he is no more than a hoodlum who has reached the top by outwitting, frightening, maiming or killing his rivals. Says Schiller: "We are dealing here with brutality and inhumanity beyond belief."

The Mafia is overseen nationally —but loosely—by the Commission, a dozen or so dons who usually, but not always, defer to the dominant boss in New York because he controls the most men and rackets. He may not get his hand kissed as often as Marlon Brando and Al Pacino did in the Godfather films, but he is first among equals. Since Gambino's death, two New York dons have been competing for his crown as capo di tutti capi. They are:

> Chunky, balding Carmine Galante, 67, who has spent nearly half his life in prison for bootlegging, gambling, narcotics trafficking, extortion, assault and homicide. Known to associates as "Lillo" and "the Cigar," he has an unrivaled reputation for ruthlessness. During his latest term in prison, 15 years at Lewisburg federal penitentiary, even the guards feared him. Says a Mafia defector: "If you don't jump when he says to, there's no second chance." Comparing Galante with Gambino, New York Mafia Expert Salerno says: "If someone got out of line, Gambino would say, 'Lean on him a little,' and then six months later, 'Lean on him again.' Galante would say, 'Hit him.' "

After being paroled in 1974, Galante took over control of the Mafia family once run by Joseph ("Joe Bananas") Bonanno, who retired to Tucson, Ariz., in 1964. At first, Interim Boss Philip Rastelli was unwilling to step aside. Gunmen killed his stepson, James Fernandes, on a Brooklyn street. Rastelli got the

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  12. 12