l over the United States. Running both illegal and legal businesses they have captivated the lives of the country. Here is an overview of the history of this power that knows everything and everyone that has power or wishes to rise to power.
The beginning of organized crime goes back to the 13th century. The Mafia was formed in Sicily to help farmers from being terrorized by French and Spanish looters (Waller, p.16). It was not until the 19th century that the Mafia began to show up in cities like New York and New Orleans. By World War I, every major city had powerful local gangs, not necessarily a Mafia group.
The Mafia’s discipline held all of the gangs together. The Mafia had only two major objections dealing with crime. There was to be no drug dealers in the Mafia and prostitiution was not allowed. The cheif weapons of the Mafia were death threats and the code of omerta'(the code of silence). When omerta’ was broken, the police cleaned up the mess while the rival gang took over.
Prohibition brought the birth of organized crime to the United States. Prohibition was ratified on January 29, 1919 but didn’t take hold until 1920 (Compton’s,p.1). Prohibition, which was the 18th Amendment of the Constitution, made it illegal to buy, sell, or transport alcoholic beverages. It also opened a new market for illegal booze to those who would risk it. Prohibition also proved to be filled with murder and corruption. Men like Lucky Luciano, Dutch Schultz, Al Capone, Meyer Lansky, and Vito Genovese got started during this time.
Prohibition began with the sale of foreign booze that was smuggled into the country. After several raids and many thousands of dollars lost, the mob turned to more producing of their own illegal alcohol. Bootlegged whiskey was known as “white lightning” (Waller,p.29). Illegal alcohol was sold two ways: you could put it in bottles or it was sent to the taverns in tin cans.
The highly violent city of Chicago had been divided up into five different turf areas for bootleggers. This agreement would have worked out except that one major bootlegger was excluded from the deal. The O’ Donnell brothers had controlled the southern most area of Chicago but had not been allowed to join the meeting. This group of brothers eventually met their match after many years of war.
The city of Chicago had been split up between six gangs. It was an agreement over areas of control. The noth side of Chicago was divided between Al Capone and Dion O’Banion. O’Banion was to control the beer while Capone controlled the hard liquor. This eventually led to the death of O’Banion. The south side of the city was ran by the Genna family. The west side was controlled by the Valley Gang while the southwest side was ran by the Saltis-McErlane Gang. To the far south side the Ragen’s Colts controlled the bootlegging industry (Waller,p.31).
During this time, a new weapon came into play. The Thompson submachine gun, also known as the tommy gun or chopper, became a major factor in criminal activity. This machine gun also became known as the Chicago violin because of its heavy use in the city.
It was a sad day for several organized gangs when Prohibition was repealed. On December 5, 1933 the 21st Amendment was passed making it legal to buy, sell, and transport alcoholic beverages. The fourteen years of Prohibition had made the mob and Mafia grow powerful and rich.
One of the most famous mobsters of all time was Al Capone. Born Alphonse Capone in Brooklyn, New York, he was the son of immigrants from Naples, Italy (Waller, p.27). Although Capone was of Italian descent, he was never a member of the Mafia.
As a teenager Al Capone was involved with crime. His first crime job was as a bouncer in a mob bar called Harvard Inn (Waller, p.27). In 1918, Capone married a woman of Irish background. Then in the early part of 1919, Al Capone moved to Chicago with John Torrio to work for Torrio’s uncle.
Once Capone got his bootlegging business running he came in contact with his first rival, Dion O’Banion. After several problems with the Chicago police, Capone moved to a near by town of Cicero, Illinois (Waller, p.32). There Capone rigged elections to control local politicians.
Capone quickly rose to power in the midwest. He controlled most of the criminal activities the happened outside New York. Capone even made friends with the head of the New York Mafia, Lucky Luciano. Together they attempted to calm the blood shed and secretly increase the underworld’s power. By the age of 26, Al Capone managed over 1000 employees with a pay roll of more than $300,000 a week (Compton’s, p.1).
One of the largest incidents that Al Capone was tied to was that of the mass slayings of six mobsters on Febuary 14, 1929. This notorious even became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (Compton’s, p.1). Although Capone was suspected of this crime, he was in Florida at the time of the killings. He later told police that he had over 300 witnesses to his story but he was still considered the main suspect.
Unfortunately for Capone, his days of living the high life were headed down hill. A man by the name of Eliot Ness, who headed the Special Investigation Squad, went after Capone looking for any reason to put him behind bars. Eliot Ness and his men were dubbed “The Untouchables” for their resistance to accept bribes or threats from the mob (Jacobs,p.44).
Capone’s time in the sun ran out on March 13, 1931 when he was indicted for tax evasion. Capone received a quick trial and was found guilty on October 17, 1931. He was sentenced to eleven years in prison, $50,000 in fines, and $30,000 for court costs (Jacobs, p. 50).
Al Capone was sent to Atlanta Federal Penitentiary on May 4, 1932. While there, a rumor of a maximum security prison being built off the coast of California surfaced. It was said that this prison was to house the most infamous criminals and the most deadly killers. In August of 1934, Al Capone was moved to the “Rock” (Jacobs, p. 52). Known as the “Rock”, Alcatraz Island was soon to be the most famous prison ever to be built.
Capone’s days of happiness were far gone when in Febuary of 1938 he had began to show symptoms of advanced syphillitic disorder (Jacobs,p.52). Upon hearing the seriousness of his condition in the prison infirmary, Capone confessed his sins to a priest. Capone was also dubbed no longer able to run his operations back in Chicago.
Al Capone left Alcatraz on January 6, 1939 and was transfered to a prison near Los Angeles (Jacobs,p.52). There he received an operation to attempt to cure his illness. On November 16, 1939 Al Capone was released on good behavior. He lived the remainder of his life in seclusion fearing being hunted by fellow mobsters.
Al Capone died January 25, 1947 of a brain hemorrage. He was burried in Chicago’s Mount Olivet Cemetery without full rites of the Catholic church. Capone died a penniless man (Jacobs, p. 53).
Another man who started his rise to power during the Prohibition era and also later controlled the national network of organized crime was Lucky Luciano. Luciano’s birth name was Salvatore Luciana but went by such names as Charlie Lucky, Charles Luciano, and Charles Ross (Waller, p. 24). He moved to the United States in 1904. Luciano became a member of the Mafia as soon as his late teens. He never liked publicity and never lost his temper.
Lucky Luciano was the right hand man for Giuseppe Masceria, also known as Joe the Boss. Luciano eventually wanted his turn at power so he had Masceria murdered. With the death of Masceria and the respect Luciano received from the killing, he soon became the head of the Masceria crime family. Soon Lucky Luciano planned the murder of all the Moustache Petes, the old time Mafia bosses (Waller, p. 51).
With the old leaders dead and the new ones in place, Luciano was crowned the “Boss of Bosses” without his own wanting (Jacobs, p. 70). Also during this time, the formation of an organization known as the Syndicate was happening. Luciano had attempted to gain control of the political figures but had to deal with a group of investigators trying to tie him with organized crime.
In an effort to get the investigation team off his back, Luciano came up with a plan. New York’s governor, Franklin Roosevelt, was running for president and needed the primary votes of his own state. To do so he must win the votes of Tammany Hall which was controlled by Luciano and his associates. Roosevelt had agreed to get the investigator off Luciano’s back for the votes but the deal turned bad (Jacobs, p. 72).
As soon as Roosevelt had secured his winning of New York, he immediately turned against the mobsters to win a public appeal. Luciano soon afterwards became public enemy number one. Now he was in the public eye which was against his own wishes. Luciano then redirected his criminal activities to less violent measures.
The mob was soon highly involved with gambling, both legal and illegal. Luciano saw an untapped market in the Caribbean and Cuba where he set up casinos. Until he was ran out of Cuba by a new head of power, Fidel Castro, Luciano was without many troubles (Jacobs, p. 74). All the while, Special Procecuter Dewey continued to try to tie Luciano with the Syndicate.
Although Mafia law refused it, Luciano was quickly being identified as having a part in many of New York’s prostitution cases. In an attempt to get witnesses against Luciano, an offer was made to all criminals that they would receive their freedom if they would testify against Lucky Luciano (Jacobs, p. 75). Soon after, a Grand Jury indicted Luciano for heading a prostitution and criminal ring. Luciano fled to his resort in Hot Springs, Arkansas where he felt he would be safe.
Luciano was eventually picked up by federal marshals but the sheriff of Hot Springs refused to extradict him (Jacobs, p. 75). The sheriff was forced to give Luciano up and he arrived in New York to face 90 counts including being involved with compulsory prostitution. Lucky Luciano had the chance to face up to 1950 years in prison if convicted (Jacobs, p. 75).
There were 68 witnesses against Luciano and their testimony took over three weeks. Upon being questioned at his trial, Lucky Luciano proved himself to be liar. On June 7, 1936 Luciano was found guilty on all counts. Being an immigrant, Luciano was exiled back to his native country of Sicily in 1946 (Jacobs, p. 78).
Lucky Luciano’s luck had ran out. His old time partner Vito Genovese wanted Lucky gone but not killed by his men. Instead Genovese set Luciano up for a huge drug bust by the Sicilian police. The presure of knowing of Genovese’s plan and his problems by the Italian National Police caused Lucky Luciano to have a fatal heart attack on January 25, 1962 (Jacobs, p. 78). An era of bootleging mobsters had drawn to an end.
During World War II, the United States were under mob rule. Many gambling outfits were started to help ease the pain of loved ones going to war. Besided, the police were not effective since many of the best police were fighting Germany. Heroin was rapidly imported from Europe at this time (Waller, p. 65). Vito Genovese was even a close friend of Italy’s dictator, Benito Mussolini.
As a huge way to make money, the mob controlled the black market. They sold everything from blankets to radios. They even sold illegal alcohol because so much was needed for the war (Waller, p. 66). The mob was very thankful for the war because while men were fighting, the mob grew rich.
Also during this time, there was a large expansion of the mob. A nation wide network was developed called the Syndicate. The mob bosses were spread from California to Florida instead of mainly being around New York. They started peddling drugs, mainly herion, against Mafia law. Through their expansion, the head of the F.B.I., J. Edgar Hoover, denied the existance of a coast to coast criminal organization (Waller,p.87). Also the mob began to move their casinos just miles off the coast of the United States to avoid problems with the police.
In 1960 John F. Kennedy was elected president. He appointed his brother, Robert Kennedy as Attorney General. Robert Kennedy then quadrupled the number of Justice Department people assigned to fight organized crime (Waller, p. 91). This was the beginning of a down fall for many of America’s most notorious mobsters.
Robert Kennedy received his big break when a man who was scared for his life in prison decided to become a government witness against organized crime. This man, Joe Valachi, soon after had a $100,000 bounty on his head to any mobster able top take him out (Waller, p. 93). Joe Valachi had been involved with the mob for several years and knew enough to put many people away for life.
Between the years of 1960 and 1963, more members of the mob from the New YorkNew Jersey area went to jail than in the thirty years before then(Waller,p.94). Robert Kennedy also went out to get men like Jimmy Hoffa who were involved with the mob through professional organizations like unions. Jimmy Hoffa was truely involved with the mob and his death was the cause of his own stupidity.
Jimmy Hoffa was sent to jail for misusing union pension funds that were developed for the use of the Mafia. He was released from prison on a pardon from President Nixon and wished to return to being the head of the Teamsters Union. This was not possible so he began to cause problems. Hoffa, while in prison, disrespected a mobster by the name of Tony Provenzano, known as Tony Pro, by hitting him in front of inmates. This proved to be the beginning of the end of Jimmy Hoffa.
When Hoffa wasn’t allowed to return to power he made a serious threat to the mob. He said, “Before I lose the union… I’ll go to the Grand Jury” (Hoffman,p.207). Very soon after that Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, the boss of the Genovese crime family, gave the orders to have Hoffa killed. The Deroit mob had told Hoffa to cool it but he kept on coming (Demaris,p.296). As Tony Pro had promised, Jimmy Hoffa was going to disappear.
The Detroit mob had to dispose of Jimmy Hoffa quickly before he rose too many questions they didn’t want to answer. One very large one was about the fact that money from the Teamsters pension fund had helped build Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. At one time it was even stated that Jimmy wouldn’t be running anywhere because he would soon be dead (Hoffman, p. 216).
On July 29, Donald Frankos got furlough from prison and was to return on August 1, 1975. Being in prison was a perfect alibi so he was used as a hit man in Jimmy Hoffa’s disappearance and death. The others men involved in the murder were John Sullivan, Jimmy Coonan, Salvatore (Sally Bugs) Briguglio, and Chuckie O’Brien who was Jimmy Hoffa’s adopted son. On July 30, 1975, Chuckie O’Brien and Sally Bugs met Hoffa at the Red Fox in the Bloomfield Township and that was the last time Jimmy Hoffa was seen alive.
Jimmy Hoffa was escorted to a house up in the mountains where his killers were waiting. Donald Frankos and Jimmy Coonan were poised and shot Jimmy Hoffa on sight. Hoffa was then carried downstairs and his body was dismembered. Before Hoffa’s head was distroyed, Frankos took a lock and gave it Coonan as a good luck charm. Originally they had planned to take the body to Central Sanitation Services, a garbage disposal company, to be crushed in old cars (Hoffman, p. 221). When suspition arose of there wereabouts of Hoffa’s body the sanitation company refused to keep the body.
In December of 1975, Joe Sullivan moved the remains of James Hoffa in oil drums from Michigan to New Jersey (Hoffman, p. 224). There Hoffa’s body was placed in the Meadowlands in plastic bags, the home of the Giants (Hoffman, p. 225). There was construction being done on the stadium by mob ran companies so it left an easy disposal of Hoffa’s body. Donald Frankos was paid $60,000, Coonan and John Sullivan were each paid $55,000, and Joe Sullivan was paid $30,000 for burying the body. Maybe in the future this can be shown to be a solid fact instead of several men’s stoties.
Organized crime in America has evolved over this century. It now deals more with legal businesses than ever before. There are still killings but with a large crackdown on organized crime there is a new sense of panic. There is no knowing how many of the businesses we work for are owned by the mob and we may never know. I do not believe that any one person could comprehend the vast empire of organized crime in our country.
Organized Crime in America
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New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1992.
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New York: Delacork Press, 1973.
4.Demaris, Ovid. The Last Mafioso.
NewYork: Times Books, 1981.
5.Gosch, Martin A. and Hammer, Richard. The Last Testament of Lucky Luciano.
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6.Jacobs, Timothy. The Gangsters.
New York: Mallard Press, 1990.