The Nation: THE MAFIA Big, Bad and Booming

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are said to own 24% of the Aladdin Casino and virtually to control its operation. A court affidavit disclosing the probe was the first official word of Mob holdings in a Las Vegas casino since Nevada authorities supposedly ran them out of town about ten years ago.

Spilotro, who operates from his modest, $55,000 stucco house, also watches over the Chicago Mob's investments in Las Vegas casinos and controls loansharking, narcotics and prostitution along the Strip. Says a Justice Department official: "Spilotro has become the most powerful man in Las Vegas, next to Moe Dalitz [a legendary mobster on the Strip]. Spilotro takes a cut of all illegal activities of any consequence." He spends much of his time traveling by private jet on Mob business in California, where he has helped Fratianno and Rizzitello guide new Mob investments in narcotics trafficking, bookmaking, loan-sharking and extortion from legitimate businessmen as well as from illegal Mexican immigrants who work in garment-manufacturing firms owned by the mobsters. The Eastern and Midwestern hoodlums have run into stiff competition from entrenched indigenous gangs in at least one field—narcotics. This is still largely in the hands of the so-called Mexican Mafia, the Nuestra Familia, the Black Guerrilla Army and other independents.

Despite the dangers of life in the Mafia, Mob recruiters find no shortage of eager applicants. To replenish the ranks, depleted during the years of intense federal pressure, Mafia clans across the country reopened their membership books in 1975. Since then scores of new soldiers have signed up. Among them were a number of "greenies," immigrant gunmen from Sicily.

What motivates someone to enlist? A Mafia defector summed it up for TIME: "Money, power, recognition and respect." Most grew up in slums, where the neighborhood's most visibly successful men were connected with the Mob. Says Chicago Police Commander William Hanhardt: "The man with the big money and a fancy car is a man of prestige. It's something to aim for." There are practical benefits to membership: protection from competition, easy access to skilled lawyers and, if a Mafioso is jailed, financial support for his family.

A new soldier starts at the bottom, breaking in as a senior thug's driver, bodyguard or shylock debt collector. He earns about $20,000 a year, in the form of cash from his boss, a salary from a phantom job in a Mob-infiltrated business or a share in the proceeds of a racket. If his superior approves, the new man can start some minor enterprise of his own—loan-sharking, bookmaking, labor racketeering. If he demonstrates a taste for violence, business acumen and organizational skill, he will rise rapidly.

For some hoodlums, the ultimate goal is to become a boss and enjoy "the feudal respect and tribute paid all dons by their soldiers. Says Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau: "Power is as important to these people as money."

An ironic fact of life in the Mafia is that its mobsters always have money problems. For one thing, the tidal wave of cash from the rackets, mostly in small bills, is difficult to handle. The Gambino family solves this by paying friendly bank employees to exchange small bills for big ones that can be transported easily in satchel-size bundles.

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